Some current and retired public employees hit hard by Social Security overpayments

PITTSBURGH — 11 Investigates has an update on our reporting about the millions of Americans being hit by Social Security overpayments, which the federal government is now trying to claw back. We’ve learned some current and retired public employees are being hit hard by overpayments because of two provisions from the 1980s.

>> Local families told they owe thousands they don’t have after Social Security overpayments

We talked to Ron Bonasso, a retired postal worker who says at age 71, his Social Security checks stopped coming altogether and he’s now working two jobs just to make ends meet. Bonasso says the first letter from the Social Security Administration came in 2018.

“They said in the letter that, ‘we noticed you had a pension from the postal service and this pension, there’s a certain way it needs to be calculated,’” Bonasso recalls.

Bonasso says the SSA told him his payments would be reduced over the next couple of years to make up for this, but that’s not what happened.

“I started getting raises from them. I was getting $200, $300, $400. It got up to $509 after two years,” Bonasso tells 11 Investigates.

Then, he says another letter came in 2020.

>> Lawmakers calling for congressional hearings after 11 Investigates social security overpayments

“They said ‘So we overpaid you because you should have gotten less,’” Bonasso told us. “They said the same thing in 2018, but they didn’t do it!”

In August, Bonasso says his checks stopped coming altogether.

“I called them up. Two and a half hours on the phone to get through,” Bonasso said. “They said, ‘Well we suspended you,’ well thanks for telling me. Why would you cut someone off? That’s not America anymore.”

Bonasso learned his overpayment of $7,200 was caused by the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and Government Pension Offset (GPO). It affects how the Social Security Administration calculates your retirement or disability benefits. If you work for an employer who doesn’t withhold Social Security taxes from your salary, any retirement or disability pension you get from work can reduce your Social Security benefits. This affects teachers in 15 states, police, firefighters, postal workers, air traffic controllers, federal government employees and some state and county workers.

Bonasso says the SSA should have known how to calculate his payments and they should have course corrected years sooner, before his overpayment amount ballooned.

“They made a mistake,” Bonasso said. “They want me to pay for the mistake - I don’t think so.”

He drives school buses part-time to make ends meet and works at a local gym for some extra income.

“I’m 71 years old,” Bonasso said. “I’m working two part-time jobs just to keep up. The economy is bad, let’s face it. Gas is high, it’s tough.”

There is bipartisan support to repeal the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and the Government Pension Offset (GPO). It’s called the ‘Social Security Fairness Act.’ (HR82 and S97)

The legislation has 301 co-sponsors in the house and support from 50 senators, including PA representatives, Chris Deluzio (D-Pa.), Summer Lee (D-Pa.) and Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pa.) and Senators, John Fetterman (D-Pa.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.). The legislation has been referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means and the Senate Finance Committee.

Bonasso is now working with Congressman Chris Deluzio’s office to try to get this resolved.

“I’m going to meet with someone and we’re going to talk everything over,” Bonasso said. “Then they’re going to do their part and send it to the SSA and see what they can resolve out of this. I’m positive about that. I haven’t had anyone this far to help me.”

Bonasso says the Social Security Administration needs to get its act together and the public needs to keep putting pressure on Congress to make a change.

“I’m getting penalized for something in 1980 and it’s just not fair,” Bonasso adds. “There are thousands of us getting penalized for this. I’m glad it’s getting out - it should be. We can’t get help. You are our help right now.”

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