Benefit Bulletin: House Hearing: Social Security Overpays Disabled Beneficiaries, Then Demands Money Back

Benefit Bulletin: House Hearing: Social Security Overpays Disabled Beneficiaries, Then Demands Money Back

Edward Cates, Chairman of the Board, TSCL

The House Subcommittee on Social Security recently learned that about 1 million people a year have received letters from the Social Security Administration (SSA) stating that they were paid benefits to which they weren’t entitled. The overpayments can accumulate several years before the SSA realizes the payments were inaccurate. But by then, the recipient has spent the money, and the overpayments can be in the tens of thousands of dollars.

The erroneous payments are putting low-income disabled beneficiaries in a bind when they find out about the errors, which can sometimes happen through no fault of their own. The demand that the overpayments must be returned occurs even when the SSA made the mistake. Social Security’s complex rules can cause trouble for beneficiaries, and staffing shortages have made the SSA all but unresponsive. Beneficiaries, especially those with disabilities, can have trouble understanding what they are supposed to report.

With Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits (a form of low-income assistance administered by the SSA), the amount of money due each month can change as income changes. Most of the overpayments involve the SSI program, which provides benefits to adults with little or no income and who are blind, disabled, or at least 65.

Sometimes overpayments can involve the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), which assists disabled people who earned their benefits through work. To be considered disabled under the SSDI program, the government has strict earnings limits, which in 2024 can start as low as $1,110 a month before rising to $1,550. Working disabled beneficiaries are expected to report any income changes, but sometimes, the SSA doesn’t take any timely action when they do, and overpayments occur.

To reclaim overpayments, the Social Security Administration typically reduces the individual’s monthly benefit to the correct amount and further withholds benefits until the overpaid amount is recovered. SSA can also garnish any tax refunds the overpaid individual may be due. During the 2022 fiscal year, SSA recovered $7 billion in overpayments, while another $21.6 billion remains outstanding.

There are many reasons for the improper payments that can occur when SSA doesn’t obtain necessary information. For example:

  • SSA earning rules are complicated.
  • SSI limits on what beneficiaries can save or own are very low and have not been adjusted for inflation since established in 1989. The asset limit stands at $2,000.
  • The Social Security Administration doesn’t have adequate staffing to keep up with its workload.
  • The system has built-in lag time in checking beneficiary income and relies on data submitted by the beneficiaries themselves.

The problem of dealing with overstatement letters and the SSA can be exasperating. They are hard to reach by phone, and some beneficiaries say that the SSA has lost the materials they have submitted. It’s also possible to get different answers from different people.

TSCL believes the SSA needs more adequate staffing to do a better job. But we strongly urge any of you experiencing problems with your Social Security or Medicare benefits to contact the constituent services staffer of your Representative in the House. You can look up your Representative at When you make such a request, you will need to first fill out a form giving the staffer permission to make inquiries on your behalf.

Are your Social Security benefits keeping up with your costs? Tell us! Please take TSCL’s 2024 Senior Survey _ .