PITTSBURGH — Millions of Americans are forced to pay back thousands in Social Security money that they rely on to survive. Since our 11 Investigates story first aired, many of you have reached out to us saying you’ve faced the same issues, including a daughter who says her mother’s monthly check was taken from her as she was dying.
“She passed away penniless,” said Renee Walker.
Walker says her mother received a letter from the Social Security Administration on Aug. 3 saying she owed $6,379. She died 10 days later.
“To be honest, I think it’s disgusting,” said Walker. “It’s vile. It’s evil. You’re talking about people’s lives here. They rely on these.”
In August, the Administration withheld what would have been Rita’s final monthly Social Security check.
“So their idea was to take the entire check for August, which they did,” said Walker. “They took the entire check. They did not want to give her her full check until February of 2024. They wanted to hold it for a few months, and she had no other source of income.”
Walker says they had to bring a letter to the hospital for her mom to sign.
“If she would not have signed it, they would have withheld her entire check for five months,” said Walker.
Records show the majority of the overpayments are from supplemental security income, or SSI, basically retirement-aged, low-income and/or people with disabilities who exceeded the income or asset limits.
“This is where they said she earned too much, which is not true,” said Walker. “They said that she earned $32,330 when she only worked for maybe a few months last year. She was sick.”
Audit records reveal that the Social Security Administration collects between $4-5 billion in overpayments each year but still has a grand total of $21 billion in overpayments it hasn’t recovered.
Jeffrey Shaw also reached out to Channel 11 after seeing our original 11 Investigates story. The letter he was sent says he owes $51,676.90.
“I think it’s wrong of them, trying to make people pay this money back, and they know for a fact that people don’t have this type of money lying around,” said Shaw.
Shaw says he’s disabled, which prevents him from working. He’s been receiving social security checks almost his entire life.
“I just think it’s wrong after all of these years, and I’m just now getting a letter,” said Shaw.
Union representatives for Social Security Administration employees say the agency is critically understaffed and the number of people entering the system is at an all-time high and overpayments can take years to catch. In a statement to 11 Investigates, the Social Security Administration said, “We continually strive to improve stewardship of our programs and reduce improper payments, while staffing losses have challenged our service delivery, our payment accuracy rates remain very high.”
Meanwhile, people like Jeffrey Shaw are left with unbearable financial stress and heartbreak.
“I just hope they straighten everything out,” said Shaw. “By the time I pay my rent, my utilities, my car insurance, I have nothing left. I have to actually stay home because I don’t have gas to run my car. I’m sitting here with maybe some change.”
“What I thought was, it’s not just my mom that this happened to,” said Walker. “Other people are going through it, too, and then I thought to myself, I need to say something because something’s not right. Something is very wrong here.”
If you’re wondering how many people were sent these letters, 11 Investigates asked that question, and the Social Security Administration says they weren’t going to talk about the specific number of people. Since our original 11 Investigates story aired, these are just two people who reached out to us from Western Pennsylvania among many others, and the e-mails continue to be sent to Channel 11.
New legislation has been introduced that might be able to help people who are receiving these overpayment notices. Currently, individuals who receive SSI benefits are limited to $2,000 in assets, and it’s $3,000 for married couples. The proposed legislation would raise the caps to $10,000 for individuals and $20,000 for married couples.
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