The U.S. Social Security Administration is making big changes to the way it recoups overpayments and beneficiaries will appreciate the adjustments.

After receiving public criticism for the heavy-handed, aggressive manner in which the agency recouped payments, the agency launched a comprehensive review of overpayment policies in October 2023. As a result of that review, Commissioner Martin O’Malley said his agency will implement four changes to the process of collecting overpayments:

  1. The agency is switching from intercepting 100% of an overpaid beneficiary’s Social Security payment to only withholding a rate of 10% of the monthly payment. This will result in a longer pay-back period, but will put less of a burden on the recipient.
  2. SSA will shift the burden of proof away from the beneficiary and to the agency when determining whether there is evidence the claimant was responsible for causing the overpayment.
  3. The agency is making it easier for overpaid beneficiaries to request a waiver of repayment when they believe they are without fault for the overpayment or without the ability to repay.
  4. Most beneficiaries will now have the option of requesting a repayment plan that calls for paying back the money over a period of 60 months, an additional two years from the current standard of 36 months. (To qualify, Social Security beneficiaries would provide a verbal summary of their income, resources, and expenses. Recipients of the means-tested SSI program wouldn’t need to provide any additional information.)

O’Malley, three months into his job, said in a Social Security Administration press release on overpayments that the agency must claw back the money by law. But these changes, especially limiting repayments to 10 percent of a person’s monthly benefit, make the process much more reasonable.

The changes come on the heels of news reports and some Congressional members complaining that recipients were receiving huge overpayment bills totaling to tens of thousands of dollars, driving some into dire financial straits or even homelessness.

“These injustices shock our shared sense of equity and good conscience as Americans,” he said.
Implementing these four measures will require changes to training and systems at the agencies 1,210 Social Security field offices. O’Malley said he next plans to tackle long wait times for service on the agency’s 800 number and the backlog in disability benefit applications.

Harris Beach’s Wills, Trusts and Estates team is closely following this and related issues. If you have questions, please reach out to New York estate planning attorney Lisa M. Powers at (585) 419-8869 and lpowers@harrisbeach.com, or to the Harris Beach attorney with whom you most frequently work.

This alert is not a substitute for advice of counsel on specific legal issues.

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