XENIA — Even as the Social Security Administration (SSA) has vowed to review its policy of issuing monthly overpayments to people only to demand the return of the extra money, the problem is far worse than previously believed, according to a continuing investigation by News Center 7′s I-Team and investigative reporters with Cox Media Group sister stations in partnership with KFF Heath News.
SSA has made more than $11 billion in new overpayments -- basically giving people more than they were supposed to receive in their monthly checks -- in fiscal 2022, according to the Social Security Administration’s annual financial report released this week.
Overpayment notices from the SSA are causing physical illness and leaving some facing possible financial calamity, including for one the prospect of becoming homeless.
People throughout the Miami Valley, including here in Greene County, have been trying to take care of the hefty overpayments at local SSA offices such as the one in Xenia.
I-Team and Cox Media Group reporters have heard from several hundred people across the country who said they have received overpayments and not one of them said they knew they were getting too much money until they received notice from the SSA - in the form of a letter - demanding payback of the overage.
“Taking that benefit away from me will make me homeless,” one recipient, Jesse Greatorex, told our reporting team.
Another, Lori from Florida, who did not want us to use her last name, said, “I got the letter stating that I owed $121,000. . . . I almost threw up when I opened that letter.”
Still another, Addie Arnold, said her overpayment notice ordered her to repay $60,000.
Greenville resident Tammy Eichler said, “It’s just scary to my husband and me. Where are supposed to come up with this money?”
A spokesperson with the SSA said the agency, by law, must try to get that money back. And when recipients cannot pay, the agency often lowers their monthly checks -- even when overpayments are from years earlier or when overpayments were the fault of the government.
Our reporting has discovered that as of Oct. 1, the SSA carried an uncollected balance of $23 billion in overpayments.
“There has to be accountability in Social Security, Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott said.
The investigation by KFF Health News and Cox Media Group has members of Congress demanding an SSA review of the payment program and answers from the acting head of the agency.
“We will be doing a top-to-bottom review to see how we can further reduce the error rate,” acting commissioner, Dr. Kilolo Kijakazi, said.
A group of U.S. senators has also cited the I-Team’s work in calling for the review. Democrat Sen. Sherrod Brown has introduced legislation.
“I want it to fix the people that it’s already happened to,” he said. “I want it to stop it from happening in the future.”
Congress is mulling several changes that could make it easier for people to avoid overpayments. One of those changes includes raising the limit on how much money a person is allowed to save.
In the meantime, families throughout the country are waiting for a remedy.
“Social Security should be to help people,” Addie Arnold said, “not to destroy them.”
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story inaccurately sourced KFF Health News for new data that was recently released. The data came from The Social Security Administration’s annual financial report.
©2023 Cox Media Group