2 Investigates

People left homeless from Social Security Administration benefits repayment burden

GEORGIA — Denise Woods drives around Georgia strip malls, truck stops, and parking lots, looking for a safe place to sleep each night.

“It’s scary. You just don’t know what each day is going to bring,” Woods said.

Everything she owns is jammed into the back seat of her car.

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According to a letter sent by the Social Security Administration, the agency is demanding back nearly $58,000 after determining it was overpaying her.

Because of her disability, Lupus, and congestive heart failure, she can only work part-time and makes just $14 per hour.

 So, the agency is withholding her entire monthly check - about $2,000 per month until February 2026. 

“I still don’t know how it happened,” said Woods, who has requested a waiver and is seeking a hearing. “No one will give me answers. It takes weeks or months to get a caseworker on the phone. They have made my life unbearable.”

We met Nicole Eberhardt at an extended-stay hotel recently.

It’s where she’s living now -- because losing her $1,700 monthly SSA check after the agency sent her an overpayment notice -- means the legally blind mother and grandmother also lost the roof over her head.

“I was using that money to actually pay for the apartment that we were living in,” Eberhardt said.

A Channel 2 Action News and KFF Health News investigation in September first exposed billions of dollars in social security overpayments.

Since then, we’ve heard from more than 400 people.

KFF Health News and Cox Media Group reporters interviewed people who have received overpayment notices and nonprofit attorneys who advocate for them and reviewed SSA publications, policy papers, and congressional testimony.

A 64-year-old Florida man said he could no longer afford rent after his Social Security retirement payments were garnished last year because he allegedly had been overpaid $35,176 in disability benefits. He said he now lives in a tent in the woods. A 24-year-old Pennsylvania woman living with her mother and younger siblings in public housing lost the chance to buy her own home because of an alleged $6,063 overpayment that accrued when she was a child.

The Social Security Administration has said it is required by law to attempt to recover overpayments. Notices ask beneficiaries to repay the money directly. Authorities can also recoup money by reducing or halting monthly benefits and garnishing wages and federal tax refunds.

The Social Security Administration did not make its leaders available for an interview. Spokesperson Nicole Tiggemann declined to answer questions about the cases of Woods and other beneficiaries, citing privacy laws.


In a written statement, Tiggemann acknowledged that receiving an overpayment notice can be “unsettling,” but said the agency helps beneficiaries navigate the process and informs them of their rights if they believe they were not at fault or cannot repay the debt.

“Even if they do not want to appeal or request a waiver, the notice says to contact us if the planned withholding would cause hardship,” Tiggemann said. “We have flexible repayment options — including repayment of as low as $10 per month. Each person’s situation is unique, and we handle overpayments on a case-by-case basis.”

In fiscal year 2023, the Social Security Administration collected about $4.9 billion in overpayments with an additional $23 billion yet uncollected, according to an agency report. Just $267 million was waived, the report said.

For people like Denise Woods, it all leaves them stuck with a bill, they can’t afford.

“This shouldn’t be life for anybody, shouldn’t be life for anybody, Woods said.

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