A scathing letter, signed by eight members of Congress, was sent to the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, blasting the agency for providing incorrect and misleading information to Congress during an October 18 hearing.
The correct information only became public after 11 Investigates and our Cox Media Group sister stations in partnership with KFF Health News, submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, asking for the number of Americans affected by overpayment notices from the agency. The letter made it clear that the agency, which is expected to hold the public’s trust, fell short in more ways than one.
Kirk Woods is a Pittsburgh native and Air Force Veteran. He tells 11 Investigates, he received his overpayment letter last December. His checks were reduced while the agency tried to recoup the $6,000 they said they overpaid Woods.
“They have zero credibility now,” Woods said. “It’s already hard enough, times are hard enough, and to have to pay money you know you don’t owe, it’s disheartening.”
Now, Woods says he can’t pay his bills and he might lose his housing. After having a lung removed this year and his car repossessed, the VA is helping him buy groceries and personal hygiene products.
“All these people are in financial hardship because of their error,” Woods said. “It’s not fair that we should be punished because of the mistake they made.”
Woods is even more furious about the misleading testimony the Acting Commissioner of the SSA gave Congress during a hearing on October 18. When asked during that hearing, how many Americans face overpayments, the agency’s Acting Commissioner presented a number that was half the actual amount. The real number was more than 2 million people, which was only made public because of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the paper the Acting Commissioner was reading from, submitted by 11 Investigates and our Cox Media Group sister stations.
Our reporting on the facts prompted a letter of apology from the SSA. The Acting Commissioner wrote, “I provided a preliminary, unvetted and partial answer” and added, “I very much regret not contacting you with more information right away.”
Now, eight congressmen are making it clear in a new letter that it’s unacceptable that the agency failed to disclose the mistake for seven weeks and only did so following our request for public records. The Congressmen added, “We remain concerned that the SSA appears to have delayed informing the committee of the incomplete and unvetted nature of the information provided at the hearing until the day that this omission was made public as a result of the SSA’s response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.”
For beneficiaries like Kirk Woods, it raises even more questions.
“I was furious, I was furious,” Woods added. “If they’re going to mislead Congress, us people who receive these benefits, we don’t stand a chance.”
The Subcommittee on Social Security gave the SSA a Jan. 1 deadline to answer a list of questions, including the verified number of people who receive overpayment notices from the SSA each year, and confirmation that the agency has reviewed and verified all other information that it has provided to the committee.
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