‘We’ve heard you;’ SSA Commissioner says I-Team reporting led to changes with overpayments

DAYTON — The head of Social Security is crediting a News Center 7 I-Team investigation with opening the agency’s eyes to the problems with how it’s handling overpayments and efforts to get the money back.

Social Security Commissioner Martin O’Malley told the I-Team that they “couldn’t allow the injustice to continue.” He also talked about the changes he’s ordered to how the agency handles overpayments.

>> PREVIOUS COVERAGE: I-TEAM: Army veteran still struggling with Social Security clawbacks as some have benefits restored

The changes are happening after our series of I-Team investigations in partnership with our Cox Media Group sister stations and KFF Health News exposed problems.

“Sometimes it takes a crisis. Sometimes it takes an organization like yours lifting up a shortcoming for us to look at our data differently,” O’Malley said.

Some, but not all, of the families we’ve featured are getting help. Last fall, we introduced you to Dave Greune and his daughter, Julia. She is blind and has Cerebral Palsy. Her monthly Social Security disability payments were stopped after she got a Covid stimulus check.

Greune told us last month that the Social Security Administration (SSA) resumed Julia’s benefit checks.

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“It’s started up again. It’s being paid monthly,” Dave said.

Addie Arnold is the sole caretaker for her mentally and physically disabled niece, Justina, whose benefits have also been restored.

“It’s amazing because before, I felt like I didn’t have a voice or that no one was listening to what I was saying,” she said.

O’Malley told the I-Team that anyone currently dealing with an overpayment problem, even if they’ve applied and have been denied for a waiver or appeal, should reach out under these new agency policies.

“People should apply for a waiver. Again, there’s no limit to the number of times that they can apply for that waiver and they should apply again,” O’Malley said.

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The changes also extend the amount of time beneficiaries have to repay the overpayment debt and limit the agency from collecting 100 percent of a beneficiary’s check when they don’t respond to a demand letter, capping that at 10 percent.

Denise Woods, who we reported has been living out of her car since the SSA stopped issuing a monthly check because of an overpayment, is now receiving some of her monthly checks again.

“What I’m going to tell the employees is, ‘Hey, we’ve heard you. We’ve listened. This overpayment policy was cruel and was contrary to your innate compassion for the people you serve. And now was have a better policy,’” O’Malley said.

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