Valdosta Daily Times

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April 16, 2014

People with old Social Security debts get reprieve

WASHINGTON — People with old Social Security debts are getting a reprieve — for now.

The Social Security Administration had been participating in a program in which thousands of people were having their tax refunds seized to recoup overpayments that happened more than a decade ago.

On Monday, Acting Social Security Commissioner Carolyn W. Colvin said she was suspending the program while the agency conducts a review.

Social Security recipients and members of Congress complained that people were being forced to repay overpayments that were sometimes paid to their parents or guardians when they were children.

The Social Security Administration says it has identified about 400,000 people with old debts. They owe a total of $714 million.

So far, the agency says it has collected $55 million, mainly by having the Treasury Department seize tax refunds.

Colvin said she was suspending the program “pending a thorough review of our responsibility and discretion under the current law to refer debt to the Treasury Department.”

“If any Social Security or Supplemental Security Income beneficiary believes they have been incorrectly assessed with an overpayment under this program, I encourage them to request an explanation or seek options to resolve the overpayment,” Colvin said.

The program was authorized by a 2008 change in the law that allows Social Security and other federal agencies, through the Treasury, to seize federal payments to recoup debts that are more than 10 years old. Previously, there was a 10-year limit on using the program.

In most cases, the seizures are tax refunds.

The Washington Post first reported on the program.

Democratic Sens. Senators Barbara Boxer of California and Barbara Mikulski of Maryland complained about the program in a letter to Colvin.

“While this policy of seizing tax refunds to repay decades-old Social Security overpayments might be allowed under the law, it is entirely unjust,” the senators wrote.

After Colvin’s announcement, Boxer said in a statement, “I am grateful that the Social Security Administration has chosen not to penalize innocent Americans while the agency determines a fair path forward on how to handle past errors.”

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