Terry Savage and I are collecting Social Security horror stories and posting them at my substack site, larrykotlikoff.substack.com. Sign up for free and take a read. If you have a story, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I copy below a story we just received. I thought I’d heard it all. But here we have the case of an 81 year-old widow being clawed back for $6,000 that she supposedly received 45 years ago! The story was written by her daughter who also lives in terror that she will be clawed back for child benefits she received starting at age 2.
In one day, Congress can stop Social Security’s acts of financial terrorism. All it needs do is pass a bill that stipulates that system overpayments beyond 18 months are not clawed back unless the overpayments are due to fraud by the recipient.
As is almost always true, Social Security provided no explanation about this clawback. It sounds like the Social Security clerk signed up the mother to receive benefits even through she would lose them due to the earnings test. But, given the family benefit maximum, benefits not paid to the mother should have been reallocated to the children. Hence, there should be no overall family-wide clawback. If Social Security mistakenly paid the mom benefits that were supposed to be paid to her kids, initially infants, benefits that would have been mailed anyway to the mom, no harm no foul.
My guess is Social Security has no documents dating back 45 years to verify the “overpayment.” But if the system’s “brilliant” software is making this decision, why did it take 45 years to find its mistake? My sense is there is a 50-50 chance the clawback is incorrectly calculated. But even if it were, common decency says let it go.
Social Security Claws Back an 81 Year-Old Widow for Benefits Allegedly Received in 1978!
I read an article on line, several weeks ago, about how the Social Security Administration was harassing a young man for a supposed overpayment, that was sent to his mother, when he was a child..
I have a similar scenario I’ve been dealing with for about 2 years. It concerns my 80 yr old mother’s SS checks.. and your story now has me worried that this may haunt my sister and I unless we can get it resolved..
I couple yrs ago, my mother received a letter from SS.. saying that they believed she was overpaid approx $6000.. about 45 yrs ago.. She was a young widow, and my sister and I were eligible to collect benefits from our father’s SS.. starting in approx 1977.. I was about 14 when my father died of cancer.. My mother had worked part-time for several years prior to his death.. and she continued to do so.. I remember her telling me that when she spoke to the man at social security office, he said he would divide the amount we were eligible to receive, into 3 checks each month.. One to my mother, one to my mother for me and one to my mother for my sister.. She told the man she planned to continue working, but he seemed to believe she wouldn’t.. and said that he would just set it up so her name was already in the system.. and if she quit working, it would be easier to add her benefit to the amount.. I have heard that explanation several times over the years.. as to why she got a check in her name.. So she did continue to work.. and remarried a few yrs later.. My sister and I both continued to recieve checks in our own name after we turned 18 while we continued to take college classes. When we stopped going to college the checks stopped..
Many years go by; my mother continued to work off and on over the next 30 odd years.. Eventually she decided to collect her own social security at age 66, I believe.. She collected her approximately $980 social security for 12-13 years.. Now, the SS administration believes she was overpaid, 45 yrs ago and owes nearly $6000. The first letter said they would be keeping her entire check for the next 7 months unless she filled out a certain form, claiming she didn’t believe she owed the money, because it wasn’t her fault, or paying it back would cause undue hardship.. She made several calls to get an appointment at the social security office in Lake Mary Florida.. but this was during the covid pandemic, and everything had to be submitted electronically or left in the drop box.. She wrote a letter explaining that she did not believe she was overpaid.. but due to it being 45 years ago, she has no paperwork that gives details of what the benefit amount was supposed to be, or whether that amount included a widow benefit, or was just for the children.. We have never been shown any paperwork from SS that proves how they came to this conclusion.. and we have no way at this late date to argue her case..
Eventually, after filling out forms it was concluded that she hadn’t proved she did not prove that she did not owe the money.. but since her monthly check is her only source of income, SS agreed in a follow up letter, to take $51 dollars a month, for several years until the $6000 was paid back.. Her checks continued to arrive, minus the $51 .. Until the beginning of the following year, when she again received a letter stating the exact same thing; that she owed thousands of dollars, and the SS administration was going to keep all her entire check for several months until they were paid back!.. At this point the Lake Mary FL branch office had reopened.. and we went in and talked to someone in person, thinking surely this would be an easy fix.. but again, forms were filled out, nobody could explain why they weren’t honoring the letter they send the previous year stating that $51 a month would be collected for the next several years.. After several trips to speak to people in person, we finally got a supervisor that reinstated the original agreement.. but my 81 yr old mother swears to this day she doesn’t owe it.. but has no way to fight it and has not seen any evidence that she actually does.. She is constantly terrified that her check will one day just stop showing up.. and she needs that money desperately.. as I said, it is her only source of income.. and my step father is in the same boat, with his health quickly deteriorating..