ATLANTA — A Channel 2 Action News investigation is gaining traction in the nation’s capital, with lawmakers demanding answers from the Social Security Administration. There are even calls for congressional hearings.
This all comes in the wake of our reporting on billions of dollars in overpayments to vulnerable Americans who are now being asked to pay it back.
Since our investigation aired September 14th, we’ve heard from families all across the country. Nearly 200 people have reached out to Channel 2 Action News, our sister Cox Media Group stations across the country and KFF Health news who partnered with us on the investigation.
“I think that is shameful,” Angela Worley told Channel 2 Investigation Reporter Justin Gray.
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The Social Security Administration told Jeffrey Shaw he owes more than $51,000.
“Where does anybody have that kind of money lying around?” Shaw said.
Tammy Eichler learned she’s not alone in this.
“I saw your segment and I’m like, Oh, I’m not the only one. There’s many, many, many people out there,” Eichler said.
Channel 2 Action News told you in our original investigation about how hundreds of thousands of families are getting demand letters from Social Security, to repay benefit overpayments.
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Even when it’s the government who made the mistake, you are on the hook for the money.
“It just feels like we’ve been failed,” Covington resident Kristen Cooper said.
Kristen’s husband Matt Cooper was shot in the head in the line of duty as a Covington police officer. Now, Social Security is demanding the Coopers repay $30,000 in overpayments.
The SSA is demanding the Coopers not only repay $30,000, it’s cutting their children’s monthly payments down from about $900 to just $150, because of a government calculation error.
“You think you grieved and then situations like this come up and it just brings back a level of anger and just the need to protect my family,” Matt Cooper said.
So, we took the Coopers and so many other family’s stories, along with our research to lawmakers in Washington.
“They weren’t trying to game the system, they were just playing by the rules,” Ohio Republican Congressman Mike Carey said.
Carey is pressing for the Social Security subcommittee he serves on to hold a congressional hearing.
“We do have a problem. We’ve got to address it. We’ve got to fix it. And the best way to do that is with a hearing,” Carey said.
Senate Social Security subcommittee chairman Sherrod Brown reached out to Social Security leadership after seeing our report.
“We’ve let the federal agency know we expect them to stop and not penalize those people,” Brown said.
Florida Sen. Rick Scott said citizens should not be held responsible for government mistakes.
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“If somebody lied, if there was fraud, then that person ought to be responsible for that. But when the Social Security Administration tells you a number, then they should be held accountable,” Scott said.
The Social Security Administration says it is required by federal law to recover any overpayments it discovers.
SSA recovered $4.7 billion of overpayments during the 2022 fiscal year but ended that year with $21.6 billion of overpayments still uncollected, according to a November 2022 report by SSA’s inspector general.
In many cases, the overpayments were the result of errors by the government rather than the person receiving the money, the agency has stated.
For example, in a disclosure covering some of the programs involved, Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance, collectively known as OASDI, the agency reported issuing about $2 billion of overpayments in the 2022 fiscal year, of which about $1.5 billion was “within agency control.”
“The beneficiary or third party provided the information we requested, but we failed to use the data/information to validate accuracy prior to making a payment,” the agency reported.
Social Security Administration spokesperson Nicole Tiggemann declined to comment for this article or to arrange an interview with the agency’s acting commissioner, Kilolo Kijakazi.
For some benefits, recipients are required to keep the Social Security Administration updated about changes in their circumstances, for instance, whether others are giving them food or a place to stay.
Beneficiaries can lose certain benefits if they earn or save too much. For individuals in the Supplemental Security Income program, which supports people with little or no income or other financial resources who are disabled, blind, or at least age 65, having more than $2,000 in the bank is generally disqualifying.
By the time the government catches mistakes, years can pass, and the amounts it says people owe can balloon to staggering levels. Social Security beneficiaries struggling to make ends meet described being overwhelmed and panic-stricken by initial demands that they repay the money within 30 days.
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