HENRY COUNTY, Ga. — It's maybe the worst 18th birthday present ever: a six-figure bill from the federal government.
A Georgia mother called Channel 2 Action News looking for answers after watching “WSB Tonight” last week and seeing how the Social Security Administration is going after people for things that happened when they were children.
Since then, Channel 2 investigative reporter Justin Gray had heard from families all over the country, including two Stockbridge college students who are now facing a lifetime of debt for something that allegedly happened when they were just children.
Omari Greene turned 18 in July 2018. In August, he received his first letter from the federal government saying he owed them more than $50,000.
Just after her 18th birthday, Omari's sister, Akira, got a letter as well, saying she owed more than $100,000 to the Social Security Administration.
“It’s not right. It’s not fair that’s she’s only 18, and she’s already started with a $100,000 debt that she didn’t accumulate,” said Omari and Akira’s mother, TaMeeka Greene.
“Say they want to purchase a home? And if they put that on their credit card, then what?” Gray asked TaMeeka Greene.
“You’re screwing them up before they have an opportunity to be an adult, and it’s not fair to them,” she said.
This is what’s happening. The Social Security Administration is using one key line from the 2008 Farm Bill as legal justification to go after old debts.
Last week, Gray introduced us to Ginger Snowden. The federal government wants her to pay for alleged Social Security overpayments to her father from more than 40 years ago when she was still a child.
“It was like, ‘How can you collect money from me?’ I just kept saying over and over again that I was 14 years old,” Snowden said.
In the Greenes’ case, just months before Omari turned 18, his father, Tim Greene, died. For years, Tim Greene battled end-stage renal disease and, during that time, he collected partial, and then full disability.
Now the Social Security Administration states it improperly paid him benefits for the children, and it is demanding those now newly adult children to pay up.
“It just seems if there was a problem here, someone should have stepped up in that 18 years and said something,” Gray said to TaMeeka Greene.
“Exactly. Why would you still give them a monthly check,” she said.
David Williams runs the Taxpayers Protection Alliance.
“This is shameful. There has to be a little bit of compassion, a little bit of common sense, and the Social Security Administration needs to say, ‘We messed up, we’re moving forward and we’re not going to ask for the money back,’” Williams said.
Williams normally fights to get the federal government to take better care of its money. But in this case, he said the Social Security Administration is going about this all wrong.
“The Social Security Administration should focus on fixing the problem moving forward, not trying to get back pay from someone where they made the mistake. The federal agency made the mistake. This is on the Social Security Administration,” Williams said.
But the federal government disagrees.
The Social Security Administration told Channel 2 Action News that it has a right to go after the money.
After complaints that date back to 2014, the Social Security Administration paused its collection efforts for review but started back up again in 2018, telling us in a statement, “Our review found we correctly applied the law and our regulations, policies, and procedures.”
The letters the Greenes received threaten that the federal government could collect the money from their tax returns or even garnish their wages.
The $150,000 debt is so big, the Greenes don't know what to do.
“I just stopped opening them, and they collect upstairs. I mean, what was I to do? Nobody had that type of money,” TaMeeka Greene said. “It’s foolishness.”
Gray contacted the Social Security Administration once again Wednesday. The Social Security Administration said it had already rejected one appeal from Omari Greene, but it did recently cut the amount he owed in half with no explanation.
When Gray reached out, a spokesperson said they will be getting in touch directly with the Greenes to discuss their case.
Gray also contacted several members of Congress to share the results of this investigation.
Channel 2 Action News turned over the Greenes’ documents to leadership on the House Oversight Committee.
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