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Saturday, December 9, 2023

Millions of beneficiaries overpaid by Social Security face repayment notices

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The Social Security Administration (SSA) is demanding the return of overpaid Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits meant for the disabled and low-income individuals. Notably, a significant number of Korean American seniors are among the recipients of these SSI benefits.

ABC News reported that “Social Security is overpaying billions to people and then demanding the money back.” While the SSA has not disclosed specific figures, officials estimate that millions are affected.

The Korean American community has voiced its concerns since some of its members have received these notices.

The SSA attributes these overpayments to beneficiaries’ additional income or concealed assets, like life insurance policies. However, many recipients counter this by claiming that the SSA’s system errors led to the overpayments and they are financially incapable of returning the funds. A paramount concern is that the majority of those who received these notices are disabled or low-income individuals, for whom any immediate deduction in their monthly benefits would be detrimental.

To qualify for federal disability benefits or SSI, an individual must not have been employed in the preceding year or earn more than $1,913 monthly. Additionally, they should possess less than $2,000 in liquid assets ($3,000 for couples). Applications are ineligible if the claimants have other assets, like life insurance policies. However, there have been instances where recipients, unaware of these stipulations, applied for SSI. Later, they realized they surpassed the income or savings limits, necessitating benefit returns.

Justina Worrell, 47, is employed part-time as a kitchen assistant at an Ohio-based nursing home. Afflicted with cerebral palsy, an intellectual disability, and a cardiac condition that necessitated an artificial heart valve implant at 20, she received a monthly disability stipend of $1,065. Recently, she was informed of her obligation to repay over $60,000. The SSA identified her part-time employment, where she earned $862 monthly to subsidize her living costs.

A Korean American community representative who assists seniors with Social Security matters commented, “The rules for SSI payments are problematic as they hinge on beneficiary-provided data.” The representative further highlighted instances where Korean Americans had their benefits revoked upon discovery of undisclosed savings or life insurance. “The SSA informs beneficiaries about their monthly entitlement,” the official stated, emphasizing that “if one receives more than the stipulated amount, consulting a social worker is prudent.”

In related news, the SSA has disclosed that SSI overpayments exceeded $265 million in the previous fiscal year.

BY NICOLE CHANG    [chang.nicole@koreadaily.com]