New policy not automatic for beneficiaries with existing Social Security overpayments

WASHINGTON — 11 Investigates is getting answers for our viewers who are facing sticker shock from Social Security overpayments the federal government now wants them to pay back. This is a story 11 Investigates has been digging into for months and in response, the agency is now rolling out some major changes meant to lessen the burden on hardworking Americans who rely on Social Security to survive.

We sat down with the new Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Martin O’Malley. He says many of the sweeping changes taking effect are in response to the harm he’s seen caused by overpayments and what he calls a ‘cruel’ policy of withholding 100-percent of a beneficiary’s check if they fail to respond to an overpayment letter.

“Sometimes it takes an organization like yours lifting up a shortcoming for us to look at our data differently,” Commissioner O’Malley said to 11 Investigates in a sit-down interview.

One of the most significant changes went into effect last Monday. It ensures anyone facing a new overpayment has at most,10 percent of their check withheld to recoup overpayment debt, not the 100-percent claw back the agency had been using; however, for the millions of people already facing overpayments, it’s not automatic. Due to staffing challenges, the solution is for beneficiaries to request a waiver or an adjustment by calling 1-800-772-1213.

With the agency already facing a customer service nightmare with more beneficiaries than ever and staffing at a 27-year low, we asked if funneling another million people to a 1-800 number would jam up the hotline even more.

“It will certainly generate more calls, but we couldn’t allow this injustice to continue,” Commissioner O’Malley added.

11 Investigates decided to try that 1-800 number. The wait time when we called it was ‘greater than 60 minutes.’ We didn’t clog up the line by waiting to talk to a representative, but we did notice you can now request a call back instead of waiting on hold.

Congressman Chris Deluzio (D- PA17) said if you’ve been hit by an existing overpayment, you can try the 1-800 number, but he also offered another solution.

“Call my office,” Congressman Deluzio said. “Oftentimes, my team and I, as a member of Congress, can cut through some of that red tape and get through to agencies to help constituents.”

Commissioner O’Malley says you can file a waiver as many times as you want. If a beneficiary requests a rate lower than 10 percent to be withheld to recoup overpayment debt, it will be approved if the money can be repaid within 60 months or five years. This is also a new policy change that gives folks an additional two years to pay back money they owe the Social Security Administration.

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