Social Security Claws Backs $34K from a Disabled Blind Worker for “Overpayments” Going Back 23 Years!

On November 5th, Anderson Cooper interviewed me on 60 Minutes together with nationally syndicated journalist, Terry Savage, and three Social Security clawback victims. These are just three of the 2 million plus Social Security recipients Social Security is clawing back each year!

Why so many clawbacks? Simple. Social Security doesn’t have the data it needs to correctly calculate benefits for tens of millions of us. Or it has the information on day 1, but doesn’t process it. Or it inputs the wrong information. Or it mixes up your earnings record with someone else’s. Or it makes the wrong benefit calculations. I’ve seen all of this and more.

It can take decades for the System to find the data it needs or process the data it has. In the meantime, it “overpays” – month after month after month. We’ve seen clawbacks going back 45 years! Overpays is in quotes because Social Security’s clawbacks demand letters come with no explanation, let alone proof that that what they claim was a mistake is not, itself, a mistake. And, trust me, Social Security’s mistakes are very often mistakes about mistakes.

But once one of the System’s 10 million claims advisors is assigned to collect what the Agency suddenly decides you owe, they are primed to treat you as their prey and recover every red penny of their, potentially, phony number.

As Terry and I write in our new book, Social Security Horror Stories — Protect Yourself from the System and Avoid Clawbacks, the clawbacks can range from $100 to hundreds of thousands of dollars. They are, in our experience, typically in the $30K to $100K range. Virtually all are due to Social Security’s own mistakes. But the Agency’s mantras are:

Our Mistake Is Your Mistake

Pay Up Or We’ll Cut Your Benefit — Immediately

We Don’t Need to Explain Anything

We Don’t Need to Answer the Phone or Call You Back at the Time and Date We Said

Due Process? Haha.

Appeal? Haha. Guess Who Pays the Administrative Law Judges.

Despite repeated requests, no one from Social Security was willing to appear on 60 Minutes to defend its practices or discuss the three specific victims Anderson Cooper interviewed. But a week before the show aired, the Agency waived the clawbacks of each of the three victims. In other words, the Agency can act humanely and follow its legal mandate not to clawback victims when doing so would go against “equity and good conscience.” But it will only do so when its atrocious behavior is publicly exposed, i.e., when it faces embarrassment.

Social Security’s has a new Commissioner — former Maryland Governor. Martin O’Malley, is, from all accounts, a wonderful person. But he’s running an abusive agency. And every day he waits to fix the system, it issues another over 5,500 (2 million divided by 365 days) clawbacks. Terry and I are receiving emails daily from Social Security’s victims. One story is worse than the next. Below, please find a recent example — from Ana Zambrano, in her own words.

Commissioner O’Malley, please read Ana’s story. But also, please read what follows. It’s five steps you can immediately take to stop Social Security from continuing to violate the law by issuing clawbacks that go against equity and good conscience.

We’re happy to meet with you and discuss a host of ways you can materially fix the system in a matter of days. Half of our book covers scams Social Security is, itself, running — scams you can end overnight. Yes, you are new to the problems. We aren’t. We just wrote an entire book about them. It’s time we meet.

And, yes, we are aware of the new information system you just announced that promises to exchange information with payroll providers. It’s long overdue and we applaud you for it. But it will take years to implement, wil miss many, if not most, of the clawbacks and do nothing to address the System’s scams. Meanwhile, Commissioner O’Malley, another 5,500 clawback letters were issued today — on your watch.

Ana Zambrano’s Clawback Horror Story

My name is Ana, and I am 42 years old. I live in Folsom, CA with my partner. Here is my Social Security horror story. My kidneys failed in Oakland, CA in 2001 due to a very rare kidney disorder (Glomerulonephritis). As a result of the associated extreme blood pressure swings, I became blind due to detached retinas. I began receiving Social Security disability benefits (SSDI) for myself and 3-year-old son that same year. I then attended blindness skills training school (Braille, home living skills, outdoors mobility, and PC screen reading technology) at the Colorado Center for the Blind in Littleton, CO for two years in order to get my life back and make myself employable. After working in a couple decent jobs, I decided to return to school to further build on my skills. I completed my Bachelor’s degree in public policy (Magna Cum Laude) through Arizona State University in 2018. Soon after that, I landed my first solid job (with the State of California) since losing my sight nearly 20 years prior to that date.   

I remain blind to this day, and the journey has been difficult. Despite my kidney loss and sudden permanent blindness, I was able to obtain gainful periodic employment at several organizations between 2006 and the present day. I tracked all of my payment history and presented it to SSA on several occasions since 2006. I repaid any past small overpayments SSA showed me I needed to pay back – and why – and also paid back a more recent $17,000 overpayment in mid-2023. I had repeatedly asked SSA to stop paying me benefits during my most recent job, but they did not. I saved every penny knowing that I would need to pay back this amount in full.  

Nonetheless, SSA in January of this year claimed to have overpaid me and my son dating back 23 years to 2001 by over $34,000 – with repayment required in full within 30 days. SSA also claims to have no record of my appointments or conversations with them over the past two decades, and will provide no answers or explanations as to why I owe them even more money at this point in time. I have experienced a total lack of due process — no explanation, no proof underlying this 23-year clawback. The amount they are requesting is roughly equivalent to my full year salary. Paying this amount will completely upend my finances and life – through no fault of my own. I feel betrayed by the federal agency that is charged with providing a safety net for people like me who unexpectedly face the severe challenges associated with sudden and permanent blindness. I have contacted U.S. Representative Kevin Kiley and U.S. Senators Padilla and Butler from California to request assistance with my case.

Five Steps to End Egregious Clawbacks

Commissioner O’Malley. Here is a five-step action plan to end Social Security’s abusive clawback practices.

  1. Eliminate Clawbacks of Benefit “Overpayments” Made After 18 months. This includes overpayments due to lack of data — data that Social Security has had years to collect, but is relying on generally unaware or incapacitated recipients to provide.
  2. Create a Social Security Clawback Determination and Review Committee (CDRC) to issue and review all clawbacks on a uniform basis. The clawbacks would follow due process. This includes providing clawback victims a full and clear explanation of the alleged overpayment and all recordings, applications, doctors’ reports, and all other data used to support the clawback. The Committee would have enough staff to respond immediately to clawback victims’ requests for information, clarification, and options.
  3. Require the CDRC to follow SSA’s overarching legal mandate to waive clawbacks that would go against “equity and good conscience.” This would require reimbursement of clawbacks made in the past that violate equity and good conscience.
  4. Immediately reinstate all suspended benefits, which would not, themselves, be subject to clawback, until the CDRC has reviewed the clawback, justified it based on evidence and given the clawback victim the opportunity to appeal based on that evidence.
  5. Waive All Clawbacks Based on Social Security’s Own Mistakes regardless of whether the recipient can prove abject poverty.

 


 

 

Read the original article on Kotlikoff’s Substack.

 

 

 

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