Press Release of U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer

For Immediate Release:
April 11, 2014  
Contact:
Washington D.C. Office (202) 224-3553

Boxer, Mikulski Urge Social Security Administration Not to Penalize Taxpayers for Decades-Old Social Security Overpayments  

Senators Highlight Washington Post Story on Woman Whose Tax Refund Was Seized to Repay an Overpayment to an Unknown Relative in 1977

Washington, D.C. - U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) today called on the Social Security Administration to end the policy of seizing taxpayers’ refunds to hold them accountable for decades-old errors made by the agency that led to the overpayment of benefits. 

The Senators highlighted a story on the front page of the Washington Post this morning that detailed the case of Mary Grice, whose tax refund was seized by the U.S. government to repay an overpayment of benefits made to an unknown member of her family in 1977.  

“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 in a letter today to the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Carolyn Colvin. “Grice and other families like hers are unfairly being held responsible for decades-old errors at the Social Security Administration – even though many of these taxpayers were children at the time the error was made. Too many of these families are now finding themselves trapped in a mess of paperwork and red tape that is both costly and time-consuming.”  

These garnishments are possible because of a provision in the 2008 Farm Bill, which allowed the Social Security Administration to pursue claims owed to it for overpayments beyond what had previously been a ten-year statute of limitations. However, the law gives the Social Security Administration the discretion not to pursue repayment of the debt in cases where doing so would be “against equity and good conscience.”  

“Garnishing taxpayers’ refunds to pay for debts that are more than a decade old – and incurred through no fault of their own – is a policy that cannot be continued in good conscience,” the Senators wrote. “Therefore, we ask you to immediately use the discretion granted to the Social Security Administration under the law to waive recovery of overpayments more than ten years old if the beneficiary is not at fault.”  

The Senators also asked the agency to provide a summary of its efforts to recover overpayments that are more than a decade old, and to detail how many of the cases involve individuals who were minor children at the time the mistake was made. 

The full text of the letter follows:  

April 11, 2014 

The Honorable Carolyn W. Colvin
Acting Commissioner
Social Security Administration
6401 Security Boulevard
Baltimore, MD 21235-0001 

Dear Acting Commissioner Colvin:  

We are attaching an article from the Washington Post about Ms. Mary Grice of Takoma Park, Maryland, who had her tax refund garnished because the Social Security Administration had erroneously made an overpayment to an unknown person in her family in 1977 almost four decades ago. 

According to the Washington Post, this and similar garnishments are possible because of language in the 2008 Farm Bill that lifted the ten-year statute of limitations on seizing tax returns and other federal payments to offset claims owed to the U.S. Government.  

While this policy of seizing tax refunds to repay decades-old Social Security overpayments might be allowed under the law, it is entirely unjust. Ms. Grice and other families like hers are unfairly being held responsible for decades-old errors at the Social Security Administration – even though many of these taxpayers were children at the time the error was made. Too many of these families are now finding themselves trapped in a mess of paperwork and red tape that is both costly and time-consuming. 

Current law allows for the recovery of overpayments to be waived for any person who is “without fault” if the Social Security Administration Commissioner determines that the recovery would be “against equity and good conscience.” Garnishing taxpayers’ refunds to pay for debts that are more than a decade old – and incurred through no fault of their own – is a policy that cannot be continued in good conscience. In particular, we believe that this “good conscience” clause prohibits recovering overpayments from beneficiaries who were minor children at the time of the error. 

Therefore, we ask you to immediately use the discretion granted to the Social Security Administration under the law to waive recovery of overpayments more than ten years old if the beneficiary is not at fault. We also ask you to give us a summary of the efforts to recover overpayments that the Social Security Administration is currently pursuing or has pursued because the statute of limitations was lifted. In that summary, please tell us how many of the affected individuals were minor children at the time that the mistake was made.  

Sincerely,  

Barbara Boxer
United States Senator  

Barbara A. Mikulski
United States Senator 

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