I-TEAM: ‘It’s hell;’ Social Security clawbacks driving some into homelessness

DAYTON — The News Center 7 I-Team has uncovered the problem of Social Security Administration (SSA) overpayments is putting such a financial burden on some beneficiaries, they’re in danger of becoming homeless.

And some people have already lost their homes.

The I-Team first exposed in September how families are being hit with overpayment notices from the SSA. Since then, as a part of our months-long investigation in partnership with WHIO-TV’s Cox Media Group sister stations and KFF Health News, we’ve heard from more than 400 families who’ve gotten demand letters in the mail from the agency asking them to pay back thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars.

>>PREVIOUS I-TEAM REPORT: ‘Social Security should help people;’ Families stuck paying hefty SSA overpayment bills

Anthony Hansbro and Gina Westmoreland welcomed the I-Team’s lead investigative reporter, John Bedell, into their Springfield apartment.

“If you look at our little humble abode, half of this is mine and half of this is hers,” Hansbro said.

The couple says they rely on their monthly Social Security checks to pay the rent and stay in the apartment.

“We solely depend on it to survive,” Hansbro told the I-Team on News Center 7 at 6:00.

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But they say overpayment notices they’ve each gotten from the SSA, demanding a combined nearly $39,000 back, has them worried they’ll soon be forced out of the apartment.

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“Being homeless – I’ve never been in that predicament before,” Hansbro said.

The Social Security Administration has reduced Hansbro’s monthly checks and stopped Westmoreland’s to get the money back. That lost income has them behind on rent payments and facing an eviction notice.

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“I can’t be sitting under no tent with my walker (partially) paralyzed,” Hansbro said. “But that’s what I’m facing.”

Nicole Eberhardt talked to our sister station, WSOC-TV at a hotel near Charlotte, North Carolina.

“I’m going to be evicted,” Eberhardt said. “I am a family of four. Me, my husband, my 14-year-old daughter, and six-month-old granddaughter. Where are we going to go?”

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

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More than a year after the federal government first cut off her disability benefits, Denise Woods drives nightly to strip malls, truck stops, and parking lots around Savannah, Georgia looking for a safe place to sleep in her SUV.

“It’s hell,” Woods told our sister station, ActionNewsJax in Jacksonville, Florida.

Her Chevy is the only home she can afford right now after the SSA stopped her roughly $2,000 monthly check until the agency can recoup the nearly $58,000 it said it overpaid her.

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

Hansbro mailed a letter to the I-Team’s John Bedell asking for help after seeing one of our previous investigations into billions worth of SSA overpayments. “Yes I did,” Hansbro said. “To the I-Team! And I said, ‘well, that relates to us! We’re going through the same thing.”

Hansbro says he’s upset so many American families just like his are now stuck with hefty bills they can’t afford.

“Instead of saying, ‘we, Social Security, made a mistake. We gave you guys too much and it was because of our calculation, we won’t penalize you for that,’ instead of doing that, which would be fair, they’re taxing us,” Hansbro said. “For money we don’t got. For their mistake!”

The Social Security Administration says when it realizes it miscalculated someone’s benefits and paid them too much, the agency is required by federal law to try to get the money back.

Following the I-Team’s reporting in September, the acting head of the SSA announced a full review of its overpayment policies and procedures.

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