• Joel Brown

    Staff Writer

    Portrait of Joel Brown. An older white man with greying brown hair, beard, and mustache and wearing glasses, white collared shirt, and navy blue blazer, smiles and poses in front of a dark grey background.

    Joel Brown is a staff writer at BU Today and Bostonia magazine. He’s written more than 700 stories for the Boston Globe and has also written for the Boston Herald and the Greenfield Recorder. Profile

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There are 21 comments on Social Security Clawbacks Are a Year-round Horror, Says BU’s Laurence Kotlikoff in New Book

  1. I’m so happy someone is talking about this, we have 2 disabled children we were received benefits for and now we owe thousands to social security because of overpayments even though we sent in our paystubs for years. It’s so frustrating because we feel trapped and our appeal has been denied and they refuse to waive the payments. Is there an advocate or anyone who could help us?

  2. On social security now. Good to know what to look out for. If this happens to my family, I will have to contact 60 minutes! Seems like this is happening way too much. Very informative.

  3. So glad people are finally talking about this. When we were going through this overpayment, everyone I talked to knew someone that this has happened to. It’s such a big problem. Things definitely must change. I am glad to write our congressmen, I hope you can get everyone to do the same.

  4. Complete garbage. Kotlikoff is bad-mouthing dedicated SSA career employees so he can sell a book. Most of what he says is incomplete, inaccurate or misleading. SSA is legally required to attempt recoupment of incorrect payments. Everyone has the right to file for a waiver of the debt. Read CFR 404.507 for the full definition of “fault”. And even if repayment is required the debtor can negotiate a partial recovery over as much as three years, interest-free, or longer under extreme circumstances.

    1. I think there are a number of issues.

      1. Yes, Kotlikoff does say some misleading things.

      2. The policies of the SSA are unfair. How can going after benefits paid to a child, who never signed anything, never could have committed fraud, be subject to clawback? People are not liable to any other debts of a parent.

      3. The SSA has allowed remote working for too long. People fax in earnings records, and apparently no on looked at or recorded them.

      4. The SSA needs to work with state and local governments and get them to explain they will not get SS if they get a pension. Many people do not understand this. They do not understand it will limit them from filing for spousal benefits.

      1. I believe that getting a pension from state or other government work will NOT eliminate SS for that recipient.

        It WILL reduce the amount of SS that recipient gets.

    2. I don’t agree with you at all!! I am one of those persons they are trying to claw back and I have done all the necessary phone calls, Waiver etc. and have gotten totally lost in the different answers I have gotten. You can’t even hire an attorney to help you because they tell you there is NO MONEY in it to defend you!!!! Social Security needs to clean up their ACT!!!! They are responsible and they should not be going after people if it is their FAULT!!!!

      1. Oh I agree!!!! The whole system is striaght BS!! You work report your earnings get a standard thank you letter then many years letter get a letter saying you owe and your money all of sudden is gone. Then going through this appeals process is trash too call your local office and one rep tells you one thing and another one tells you something different totally unprofessional but yet they have a job! Their actions are legalized distruction on a disturbing scale

  5. SSA is currently requiring $17,400 from me in overpayments due to an acknowledged error in their system. It is appalling that they are doing this to retired citizens, and unethical when they know their system has flaws and they don’t fix it.

  6. These horror stories are true! I have been fighting SSA for over 5 years for an overpayment that is outrageous. What they’ve been basically accusing me of is being overpaid for the entire time I was receiving SSDI. totally ridiculous and false. I have binders of proof that they’re wrong and have been stealing money from me this entire time. I appealed this issue and my case was heard by the Administrative Law Judge in August of 2022. Due to the pandemic my case was heard by telephone only. After waiting for over a year for her decision I finally received a notice that my appeal was denied. Definitely knew that was coming. I then went further with my appeal which was reviewed by the the Appeals Council. About 6 months later I received a notice from her stating that the appeal was referred back to The Administrative Law Judge for many, many errors that were made by SSA. The errors were basically the same as I had been complaining about since 2017. SSA took money from me without any explanation or even the dates it was taken and what for. One of the many errors she found my Master Beneficiary Record query confirms an overpayment period from February 2009 through June 2009 due to SGAD during my FPE and again from April 2016 through April 2017. Yet SSA claims that I was overpaid $43,828.00 during the period from February 1, 2009 through May 31, 2017. I have provided SSA with more than enough proof to prove that this ridiculous overpayment amount is their responsibility and error. Then I was given the information that my case is ‘a paper case’ and not a digital case. After all the years that SSA has kept beneficiary records digitally why would mine be only’on paper’. No one can answer that question for me.
    Please understand that the above information is only a small portion of what my case is about.

  7. Kotlikoff is 100% correct. The only part of your statement that is correct is that we have the right to a waiver. However, SS office will not provide details of how they calculated the overpayment making it impossible to back into their numbers. They are a corrupt and incompetent organization feeding off the elderly and disabled. They exhaust the client with paperwork, threats and inaccurate information. The process is a nightmare that always leads to SS taking from clients with or without an advocate. The system needs a complete overhaul and transparency. Someone leading SS needs to be accountable. At a minimum time limitations need to be put in place along with a simplified calculation process.

  8. I have an adopted developmentally disabled son who lives in a state provided group home and has been on SS for 6 years. During this time SS has come after him 3 times for overpayments each one greater than the last. Everytime they give him a big check due to an error they come back 2 years later demanding it back. SS has demanded back nearly half of what they have given him during this time. It’s an exhausting process for the payee. The SS employees are not consistent in their responses. You cannot get complete details of how the overpayment was calculated. It’s a corrupt system taking advantage of the helpless. This appears to be mandated from the top leaders in our country. HOW CAN WE GET THIS SYSTEM OVERHAULED??? We need transparency, accountability and a simplified process. We need to do a better job of protecting this population who cannot protect themselves!

  9. My mother whom is on SSA $455/mos. and SSI/$476/mos. received in June 2021 the IRS Stimulus Payment of $1500. She is very frugal, saved some of it. She has 4 daughters and although she lives on her own, pays rent and some utilities/groceries we help her a lot. How can you live on $931/mos. in the first place right? She got a call 2 months ago from an SSA Rep asking her about her bank balance, it had accumulated to a little over $2000, she then received a letter stating that since June 2021 (when she got the stimulus check) she was over the $2000.00 threshold and from that month forward, each month she was over they terminated her SSI of $476/mos. plus, for a $1500 stimulus refund, she now owes $12,876.00 for each month her account was over. She now receives only $455/mos. and we are asking for a waiver and have to reapply for SSI. She’s 79 and crippled. It’s disheartening to say the very least.

  10. SSA sent me a letter demanding 10k returned in 30 days. I appealed and asked for a waiver. The basis for my appeal was I worked January and February then retired the 1st day of my birth month. I retired one year early at age 65. I was asked by my employer if I would continue one day a week to assist training the new people. I contacted SSA who stated “…typically don’t look at pre retirement income” so knowing I had a income limit because of early retirement, one shift a week would put me slightly over that limit by $25-$50 per week for the remaining 10 months of the year. I ended up working one shift per week for about 35 weeks in that time.

    My waiver was denied and when my appeal came up with an SSA employed judge, he asked me for in my own words the basis for my appeal, I told him during my months in retirement, I only worked one shift per week for a monthly income of about $1,600. Since I was aware of a limit. I stated that when I asked SSA prior to working, they stated that they don’t typically look at pre retirement income, so I went ahead with the shifts. The judge then stated that in fact, they don’t typically look at the income made pre retirement. I then stated that I knew that my income during my retired months would be close to the max or slightly over, in the neighborhood of $500 to $1,000 but certainly not the $10,000 SSA was claiming. I also included pay information from my employer showing that I didn’t work more than I stated and in fact took quite a few weeks off.

    When the judgement appeared from SSA it stated “I knew or should have known” that my income was over the maximum allowed and taken more aggressive steps to limit my income. Appeal denied.

    What I didn’t realize I needed to ask was if you don’t typically look at pre retirement income, how do you determine if I am within or exceed the outside income limit? Of course, their answer is they ask IRS for my total income for the year! Of course IRS absolutely looks at those two months I was full time prior to retirement, hence, pay back the $10k I grossed those two months that, by the way, was fully taxed by the time I received that money.

  11. I received a letter from SS in February of 2022 stating I received an overpayment of $2500 on my mother’s record when I was a teenager. This had to be over 45 years ago. I have no recollection and no proof of anything and of course my parents have been deceased for many years. I requested a waiver and still waiting to hear. This is outrageous! There needs to be a statute of limitations! There also needs to have some documentation of proof of these supposed overpayments. SS could state any amount and no way to prove otherwise.

  12. My son’s Social security check was based on INCORRECT INCOME NUMBERS and he has been trying to get what he is entitled to for two years. He has submitted proof time after time of his actual income which is Zero since he has been disabled since multiple surgeries! He has also submitted APPEALS MORE THAN ONCE He doesn’t receive enough money to live on so at 87 years of age, I am trying to help him survive as well as his siblings, by getting him food etc. However, this has taken a toll on our lives that is unfair, since everyone in our family has worked and paid taxes all of our lives. We are reading about all of those people who have been OVERPAID! However, what about the people like my son, who is owed benefits plus interest because they based his check on inaccurate information and my daughter has taken him to the SS OFFICE a number of times to submit proof & he still has not received the amount of money he is entitled to. So since we have submitted all of the paperwork and waited over two years now, what can we do to make the SSA PAY HIM WHAT THEY OWE HIM

  13. My mother started receiving Social Security, and Medicare at the age of 55 due to a workers comp injury she was disabled. 26 years later, her Social Security check started being garnished because Medicare stated they paid for some of her workers comp medical claims over 20 years ago. Now they have put her in collections and are garnishing her Social Security check for something that took place over20 years ago. I just wanted to add to the story, because Medicare also is included in the Social Security horror story.
    My mother also had an incident where she needed to be airlifted from Jamaica back to the states due to a medical emergency it cost over $15,000 I filed a claim for my mother with Medicare for reimbursement and they denied her stating they did not cover out of the country claims, but the medical claim actually came from an air lift company here in the United States, I wrote several appeals and had a hearing, and they still denied her any reimbursement after showing proof that the claim, and the flight was all based out of Florida. How does one fight Social Security and Medicare?

  14. The offset that is referred to in the example of the MA teacher is well known by any worker in the public sector in Massachusetts as the state does not pay into the SS system so any SS is earned from other jobs that pay into SS. Ignorance is not bliss and would have been uncovered in a SS meeting.

    There are also several bills over the years that have been submitted to Congress to correct this. It also effects police and firefighters in Massachusetts.

  15. I had SSDI and did the back to work program in the end of 2019, I was about 3-4 months in and Covid hit……I was one of the first furloughed due to my stage 4 lung cancer. I called the SS Office and after many hours on hold I did get someone who I advised I was not doing the back to work program due to furlough………fast forward 7 months later and my job asked me to come back. I went back to work. I tried to call the SSDI Office and after many hours on hold, multiple times, then being hung up on I decided to take a day off work and went down to the office. There was no one in office and apparently those that didn’t get laid off or furloughed were working from home. I sent them a letter advising them that I was back to work on the program that can last up to a year I think.

    I figured that was the end if they needed anything else they would notify me by mail as always. Nothing came! Fast forward again to 08/2023 all of a sudden my checks stop out of the blue “no prior notice” matter of a fact I got the letter like 2 weeks later stating they were stopping my check…..called again and after about 2 hours got a voice asking about my check, they said I had been over paid $47,000 since 12/2020 to 07/2023. I had to stop working due to my lung cancer medical appts and the exposure to covid being too risky for me to which they should have known per my non-existent pay stubs. I filed waiver and appeal after waiver and appeal and was told to also do a hardship letter which I did.

    I was advised that I had a technician and given his name and number. I have called and left so many messages and this person never returns a call however they did send out a letter stating they had made a mistake and I only owe from 01/2021 to03/22 this letter was mailed out 4 months ago or longer…..more appeals and more calls to the technician and still nothing has been done, however they continue to send me a bill for $47,000. I went to the local office in December and they guy had said they reinstated my SSDI check but he didn’t know how much it was but I should receive it in 2-3 weeks due to Christmas mail. It is almost March and I have still heard nothing. As soon as I get my seated walker I will be going back to the office again for more clarification but I can’t go earlier due to you have to wait in line outside for an hour before they let you in then you have to be lucky enough to get a seat and I can no longer stand after about 6 minutes.

    This is a mess and I will see it through. In retrospect they owe my daughter several years of back pay as well. I applied for her through me and they never sent me anything but these letters once a year that say her monthly benefit would be this much but she was not eligible…..again many calls later and no one could tell me why. I finally did find out during this whole overpayment thing. Apparently after I applied they were supposed to send me a “Payee” form because she is a minor and they failed to do so, resulting in my daughter never receiving her benefit.

    Covid screwed the entire system up and now people like me are forced to live off of welfare and in my case her adoption subsidy. We right now get 1,200 for her subsidy and that will go down to 740.00 in august, a very small amount in food stamps and medicaid. I can not afford to even rent a studio apt for us and are forced to rent a room in someone else’s home with little privacy. It’s sad our society can not help and protect us from the wrong doing of social security. Sadly right now me and my daughter are better off than most in this situation.

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