Stimulus Check Payment ‘Error’ Triggers Calls for Social Security Investigation

Reports have indicated that the Social Security Administration is demanding repayments.
Stimulus Check Payment ‘Error’ Triggers Calls for Social Security Investigation
A stimulus check issued by the IRS is seen in San Antonio, Texas, on April 23, 2020. (Eric Gay/AP Photo File)
Jack Phillips
10/20/2023
Updated:
10/20/2023
0:00

Several U.S. senators are seeking answers from the Social Security Administration (SSA) after the agency sent out repayment requests to recipients who also got COVID-19 stimulus payments.

Over the past week, a number of regional media outlets have published reports citing Social Security recipients saying they received the notices from the agency to repay it.

A Pittsburgh-area disabled woman who receives Social Security payments got $3,200 in stimulus checks since 2020. But now, the SSA has frozen her monthly Social Security payments and wants thousands of dollars returned, according to her father, Dave Greune.

“I just assumed since the government put the money in, they would understand that she’s going to have extra money,” Mr. Greune told WXPI-TV. He added that the agency demanded more than $7,000 in repayment but later revised the figure.

“They’re still after me,” Mr. Greune said. “Like, every month, they send another letter. Did you forget? You still owe us $6,000.”

In a separate incident, Jo Vaughn, a disabled 63-year-old in New Mexico, got $3,200 in federal  COVID-19 stimulus checks. In August 2023, she got a letter saying she needed to repay the government $14,026, she told KFF News, adding that the agency is “sending me to a very early grave.” Her Social Security checks, too, have stopped coming since August, she said.

Senators Send Letter

Those reports have prompted Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and Bob Casey (D-Pa.) to send a letter to the SSA’s acting commissioner, Kilolo Kijakazi, about repayment notices that were sent out in recent days.

“We are deeply concerned that beneficiaries are receiving overpayment notices in error, because SSA is not following its own determination to exclude [the stimulus payments]  from countable resources,” the senators wrote. “As you know, SSI benefits, while modest, have a substantial impact in the lives of the people who rely on them.”

They warned that “benefit suspensions and overpayment notices—regardless of the cause—can have a profound negative impact in their lives,” adding that it is a “lengthy bureaucratic process to restore eligibility” that also risks their access to Medicare or Medicaid.

SSA rules stipulate that COVID-19 stimulus payments, known as Economic Impact Payments (EIP), shouldn’t count against the asset limit. However, according to the local reports, individuals said they received overpayments and had to pay it back.

“These payments were disregarded as income for SSI recipients and as countable resources for 12 months,” the senators wrote. “In August 2021, SSA reversed its ruling and determined that EIPs would not be counted toward eligibility and payment amount for SSI purposes indefinitely.”

But they received advocates’ reports that it “suspended benefits and assessed overpayments to individuals receiving SSI benefits because of the stimulus payments” and are now demanding a response from the SSA within 30 days.

Changes?

Ms. Kijakazi, the SSA’s head, announced earlier this month that her agency would handle the way it deals with overpayments, although she did not make specific reference to overpayment requests due to stimulus checks.

“Despite our high accuracy rates, I am putting together a team to review our overpayment policies and procedures to further improve how we serve our customers,” she said.

According to a KFF Health report, Ms. Kijakazi said during a House Ways and Means hearing on Oct. 18 that SSA workers will attempt to “assiduously to pay the right person the right amount at the right time.”

She would review the overpayment process and how the notices are sent out. “We are holding ourselves accountable,” she said.

Aside from stimulus check-related requests, the SSA also has sent out letters demanding recipients pay the agency back after they were overpaid on their monthly benefits.

“Social Security is required by law to adjust benefits or recover debts when we establish that someone received payments to which they are not entitled and an overpayment occurs. We must maintain our responsibilities to taxpayers to be good stewards of the trust funds,” the agency spokesperson told news outlets last month in response to recent reports about the trend.

The spokesperson said that fewer than 0.5 percent of Social Security payments are overpayments and that “each person’s situation is unique, and we handle overpayments on a case-by-case basis.”

“Overpayments can occur for many reasons, such as when a beneficiary does not timely report work or other changes that can affect their benefits,” the SSA spokesperson added. “We continually strive to improve stewardship of our programs and reduce improper payments. While staffing losses and resource constraints have challenged our service delivery, our payment accuracy rates remain very high.”

A SSA’s inspector general report published in late 2022 stated that overpayments or underpayments can occur when the agency makes “mistakes in computing” or “fails to obtain or act on available information” regarding a recipient.

SSA workers, the report found, “incorrectly input student information on beneficiaries’ records, which resulted in SSA underpaying an estimated 14,470 beneficiaries approximately $59.5 million” last year.

The Epoch Times contacted the SSA for comment on Friday regarding the senators’ letter.

Jack Phillips is a breaking news reporter with 15 years experience who started as a local New York City reporter. Having joined The Epoch Times' news team in 2009, Jack was born and raised near Modesto in California's Central Valley. Follow him on X: https://twitter.com/jackphillips5
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