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A costly ‘human error’

Prisock said her life turned upside down when she received the letter from the SSA in May 2023. She shared the document with Fox 4 and it reads as follows:

“We reduce Social Security benefits paid to widows or widowers if they also receive a government pension based on their own work. We reduce benefits by two-thirds of the amount of the pension. Your benefit is less than two-thirds of the amount of the pension. For this reason, we cannot pay you… We paid you $87,250.80 for June 2020 through April 2023. Since we should have paid you $45,736.80 for June 2020 through April 2023, we paid you $41,514 more than you were due.”

Essentially, Prisock wasn’t eligible to claim survivor benefits from her late husband because she also received a pension through the Teacher Retirement System of Texas.

She claims she told the SSA about her state pension and that an agent called her up when she first received the overpayment notice, admitting: “I made a mistake. I’m human… it was during COVID.”

“I’m human as well — and I didn’t make the mistake,” Prisock said, in a reasonable argument for why she shouldn’t have to dig up $41,000 to cover a government agency’s error.

Prisock’s letter from the SSA said she’ll receive her monthly retirement benefit check of $1,128.20 until the agency starts to collect the overpayment — at which point, it could reduce or halt her benefits until her debt is covered.

“I depend on my Social Security to help me with my retirement… to help me with my house payment, my car payment, my everyday bills,” she said in distress.

It may take some time before it's clear how the new changes announced by the SSA will impact Prisock's case.

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The SSA claws back billions

In recent years, the SSA has clawed back billions of dollars from overpayments to senior and disabled Americans.

The new changes introduced by Martin this month will:

  • Put a 10% cap on the monthly Social Security benefit that will be withheld by default if an overpaid beneficiary doesn’t respond to the agency’s demand for repayment
  • Increase the duration of repayment plans from up to 36 months to up to 60 months and beneficiaries will only need to provide a verbal summary of their financial situation to qualify
  • Beneficiaries will no longer bear the burden of proof in determining whether they were at fault in causing the overpayment

Furthermore, the audit that found the nearly $5 million figure in overpayments advised caution must be paid when the funds are initially being distributed: “SSA must be a responsible steward of the funds entrusted to its care by minimizing the risk of making improper payments and recovering overpayments when they occur.”

However, consider the SSA ended 2023 with $23 billion of overpayments still uncollected, many more Americans are likely to receive their own dreaded notice in the mail.

If you do receive an overpayment notice from the SSA, you’re typically given at least 30 days to pay back the full amount or to submit an official appeal for a waiver or reconsideration.


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Bethan Moorcraft is a reporter for Moneywise with experience in news editing and business reporting across international markets.


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