Lawmakers calling for congressional hearings after 11 Investigates social security overpayments

PITTSBURGH — An 11 News investigation is gaining traction in the nation’s capital, with lawmakers demanding answers from the Social Security Administration and calls for congressional hearings.

This comes after our reporting on billions of dollars in overpayments to vulnerable Americans who are now being asked to pay it back. To date, the Social Security Administration has refused to tell us how many people are affected by these overpayments.

Kate, in Munhall, is just one of dozens of local folks we’ve heard from who says she’ll be paying back the money owed for the rest of her life. The Iraq War veteran got an overpayment letter in 2020.

“I was floored,” Kate tells 11 Investigates. “When you get a letter saying you owe thousands of dollars, it’s almost numbing. You think this is just a big misunderstanding. If I could just get someone on the phone, they will understand this, it will all go away.”

The Social Security Administration said her adult daughter, with developmental disabilities, was overpaid nearly $16,000 and the agency was demanding that money back.

“I just couldn’t believe it,” Kate recalled. “I grabbed the phone, tried to call, like ‘Why, what are they talking about?’ Every time I picked up the phone, I was on hold, or I’d get disconnected...day after day of making phone calls...waiting and waiting.”

Kate learned when a group home her daughter was living in went out of business, it didn’t cash one of her Social Security checks. That extra money sitting in her account bumped her assets above Social Security’s $2,000 “asset limit.” Her overpayment amount kept accumulating for 15 months and ballooned to just shy of $16,000.

“Every dime of that Social Security goes to my daughter’s housing and incidentals,” Kate added. “My daughter is entitled to Social Security and everyone who is entitled to Social Security should get what they’re entitled to.”

Kate isn’t alone. We teamed up with our sister stations in seven states and heard from dozens of beneficiaries who owe money they don’t have.

Five Congressmen have seen our reporting and they’re now calling for action. Representative Mike Carey from Ohio is on the House Subcommittee on Social Security. He’s calling for congressional hearings on these overpayments.

“They weren’t trying to game the system,” Rep. Mike Carey (R-Ohio) tells 11 Investigates. “They were trying to play by the rules. It’s very unfortunate. I don’t want anyone to ever be in this situation again.”

A large chunk of overpayments are because people, like Kate, unknowingly exceeded the asset limit. It’s $2,000 for individuals and $3,000 for married couples.

Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown says the law hasn’t changed in 40 years and it’s time to adjust for cost of living.

“We let the federal agency know not to penalize those people,” Brown (D-Ohio) tells 11 Investigates. “It’s not like they have a savings account of those overpaid dollars that they can simply pay back.”

Sen. Brown introduced bipartisan legislation called the ‘SSI Savings Penalty Elimination Act’ to raise that asset limit to $10,000 for individuals or $20,000 for married couples, which would help avoid some future overpayments. It’s legislation local congressman, Chris Deluzio, a Democrat for Pennsylvania’s 17th district, supports.

“This will raise some of those saving thresholds so people can put a little bit away for emergencies and not lose out on something they need as a lifeline like Social Security,” Rep. Deluzio said.

Kate says she’s relieved that legislation could help families like hers and that key members of Congress are as outraged as she is about the overpayments. In the meantime, Kate says the Social Security Administration is now withholding $120 from her daughter’s check each month until all $16,000 is repaid. It’s money she says is critical for her daughter’s around-the-clock care.

“The letter that they sent me is very clear: if my daughter can’t pay it back, they expect it from me,” Kate said. “So, they’ll garnish my retirement pay or my disability, whatever it is, they’ll get it back. If that means I give up my own Social Security, for my daughter to have that, then I’m willing to do that. Nothing would have been done had you not brought this to light. Even if it doesn’t help me and my daughter’s situation, to know other people aren’t going to have to go through the same life-altering experience, it’s a relief to hear. Finally.”

If you received an overpayment letter from the Social Security Administration, you’re not alone. We want to hear from you. Please email ahudak@wpxi.com.

If you need to reach the Social Security Administration, the number is 1-800-772-1213.

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