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People losing Social Security benefits after getting COVID stimulus checks, investigation finds

Updated: Nov 14, 2023

Congress
Congress

By Justin Gray, WSB-TV October 17, 2023 at 6:22 pm EDT


People are losing their Social Security benefits after getting COVID stimulus checks, investigation finds Social Security's own rules say those checks should not be counted against you for benefit eligibility.


ATLANTA — In a new development into a Channel 2 Action News investigation into overpayments by the Social Security Administration, we have now learned that some families are now losing their benefits because of money the government provided them as a stimulus.


Channel 2 consumer investigator Justin Gray has learned that the problem is tied to pandemic stimulus checks that people got from the federal government in 2020 and 2021.


Social Security’s own rules say those checks should not be counted against you for benefit eligibility, but now we’re hearing from people who say they lost their Social Security because of those payments.


Dave Greune’s daughter Julia’s only income is her monthly Social Security disability check. Julia is blind and has cerebral palsy.


“I just assumed since the government put the money in, they would understand that she’s going to have extra money,” Greune said.


But during the COVID-19 pandemic, $3,200 in stimulus checks called Economic Impact Payments were deposited in her bank account.


Now SSA has frozen her monthly payments and is demanding thousands of dollars be returned.


“The only reason that her assets were too much was because of the stimulus payments she got during COVID,” Greune said.


Channel 2 Action News in a joint investigation with Kaiser Family Foundation Health News first exposed last month how hundreds of thousands of families are being hit with overpayment demand letters from Social Security, even when it’s the government who made the mistake.


Since our report, the Social Security Administration announced earlier this month that it will review its overpayment policies.


But the policy for COVID stimulus payments is clear. Social Security’s own rules and guidance say “EIPs received under the CARES Act do not count as income.”


In an August emergency message, Social Security employees were directed to “accept the individual’s reasonable allegation regarding how much assistance was retained, for how long, and how the funds were held.”


But Kathleen Romig at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities said that doesn’t seem to be working as intended.


“I think as a policy matter, the principle of not punishing people for receiving this assistance really makes sense. But figuring out how to make that work is a difficult and maybe even impossible problem to solve,” Romig said.


“There were quite literally hundreds of millions of opportunities for people to have been caught up in this kind of error,” said Darcy Milburn with The Arc, a nonprofit working on behalf of people with intellectual disabilities.


In Greune’s case, Social Security is not just demanding back the stimulus payment but all the Social Security payments his daughter Julia received over that time too -- a total of more than $7,300.


“They’re still after me. Like, every month they send another letter. ‘Did you forget? You still owe us $6,000,’” Greune said.


In the wake of investigations into these overpayments, members of Congress called a hearing for Wednesday to look into the problem.


We know senators have been asking about the stimulus check issues for two years now, so we expect more questions on this.


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