Social Security, Treasury target taxpayers for their parents’ decades-old debts

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by tulianr, Apr 11, 2014.

  1. tulianr

    tulianr Don Quixote de la Monkey

    A few weeks ago, with no notice, the U.S. government intercepted Mary Grice’s tax refunds from both the IRS and the state of Maryland. Grice had no idea that Uncle Sam had seized her money until some days later, when she got a letter saying that her refund had gone to satisfy an old debt to the government — a very old debt.

    When Grice was 4, back in 1960, her father died, leaving her mother with five children to raise. Until the kids turned 18, Sadie Grice got survivor benefits from Social Security to help feed and clothe them.

    Now, Social Security claims it overpaid someone in the Grice family — it’s not sure who — in 1977. After 37 years of silence, four years after Sadie Grice died, the government is coming after her daughter. Why the feds chose to take Mary’s money, rather than her surviving siblings’, is a mystery.

    Across the nation, hundreds of thousands of taxpayers who are expecting refunds this month are instead getting letters like the one Grice got, informing them that because of a debt they never knew about — often a debt incurred by their parents — the government has confiscated their check.

    The Treasury Department has intercepted $1.9 billion in tax refunds already this year — $75 million of that on debts delinquent for more than 10 years, said Jeffrey Schramek, assistant commissioner of the department’s debt management service. The aggressive effort to collect old debts started three years ago — the result of a single sentence tucked into the farm bill lifting the 10-year statute of limitations on old debts to Uncle Sam.

    No one seems eager to take credit for reopening all these long-closed cases. A Social Security spokeswoman says the agency didn’t seek the change; ask Treasury. Treasury says it wasn’t us; try Congress. Congressional staffers say the request probably came from the bureaucracy.

    The only explanation the government provides for suddenly going after decades-old debts comes from Social Security spokeswoman Dorothy Clark: “We have an obligation to current and future Social Security beneficiaries to attempt to recoup money that people received when it was not due.”

    Since the drive to collect on very old debts began in 2011, the Treasury Department has collected $424 million in debts that were more than 10 years old. Those debts were owed to many federal agencies, but the one that has many Americans howling this tax season is the Social Security Administration, which has found 400,000 taxpayers who collectively owe $714 million on debts more than 10 years old. The agency expects to have begun proceedings against all of those people by this summer.

    “It was a shock,” said Grice, 58. “What incenses me is the way they went about this. They gave me no notice, they can’t prove that I received any overpayment, and they use intimidation tactics, threatening to report this to the credit bureaus.”

    Grice filed suit against the Social Security Administration in federal court in Greenbelt this week, alleging that the government violated her right to due process by holding her responsible for a $2,996 debt supposedly incurred under her father’s Social Security number.

    Social Security officials told Grice that six people — Grice, her four siblings and her father’s first wife, whom she never knew — had received benefits under her father’s account. The government doesn’t look into exactly who got the overpayment; the policy is to seek compensation from the oldest sibling and work down through the family until the debt is paid.

    The Federal Trade Commission, on its Web site, advises Americans that “family members typically are not obligated to pay the debts of a deceased relative from their own assets.” But Social Security officials say that if children indirectly received assistance from public dollars paid to a parent, the children’s money can be taken, no matter how long ago any overpayment occurred.

    “While we are responsible for collecting delinquent debts owed to taxpayers, we understand the importance of ensuring that debtors are treated fairly,” Treasury’s Schramek said in a statement responding to questions from The Washington Post. He said Treasury requires that debtors be given due process.

    Social Security spokeswoman Clark, who declined to discuss Grice’s or any other case, even with the taxpayer’s permission, said the agency is “sensitive to concerns about our attempts to arrange repayment of overpayments.” She said that before taking any money, Social Security makes “multiple attempts to contact debtors via the U.S. Mail and by phone.”

    Grice, who works for the Food and Drug Administration and lives in Takoma Park, in the same apartment she’s resided in since 1984, never got any notice about a debt.

    Social Security officials told her they had sent their notice to her post office box in Roxboro, N.C. Grice rented that box from 1977 to 1979 and never since. And Social Security has Grice’s current address: Every year, it sends her a statement about her benefits.

    “Their record-keeping seems to be very spotty,” she said.

    Treasury officials say that before they will take someone’s refund, the agency owed the money must certify the debt, meaning there must be evidence of the overpayment. But Social Security officials told Grice they had no records explaining the debt.

    “The craziest part of this whole thing is the way the government seizes a child’s money to satisfy a debt that child never even knew about,” says Robert Vogel, Grice’s attorney. “They’ll say that somebody got paid for that child’s benefit, but the child had no control over the money and there’s no way to know if the parent ever used the money for the benefit of that kid.”

    Grice, the middle of five children, said neither of her surviving siblings — one older, one younger — has had any money taken by the government. When Grice asked why she had been selected to pay the debt, she was told it was because she had an income and her address popped up — the correct one this time.

    Grice found a lawyer willing to take her case without charge. Vogel is exercised about the constitutional violations he sees in the retroactive lifting of the 10-year limit on debt collection. “Can the government really bring back to life a case that was long dead?” the lawyer asked. “Can it really be right to seize a child’s money to satisfy a parent’s debt?”

    But many other taxpayers whose refunds have been taken say they’ve been unable to contest the confiscations because of the cost, because Social Security cannot provide records detailing the original overpayment, and because the citizens, following advice from the IRS to keep financial documents for just three years, had long since trashed their own records.

    In Glenarm, Ill., Brenda and Mike Samonds have spent the past year trying to figure out how to get back the $189.10 tax refund the government seized, claiming that Mike’s mother, who died 33 years ago, had been overpaid on survivor’s benefits after Mike’s father died in 1969.

    “It was never Mike’s money, it was his mother’s,” Brenda Samonds said. “The government took the money first and then they sent us the letter. We could never get one sentence from them explaining why the money was taken.” The government mailed its notice about the debt to the house Mike’s mother lived in 40 years ago.

    The Social Security spokeswoman said the agency uses a private contractor to seek current addresses and is supposed to halt collections if notices are returned as undeliverable.

    After hours on the phone trying and failing to get information about the debt Mike’s mother was said to owe, the Samondses gave up.

    After waiting on hold for two hours with Social Security last week, Ted Verbich also concluded it wasn’t worth the time or money to fight for the $172 the government intercepted last month.

    In 1977, Verbich, now 57, was in college at the University of Maryland when he took a full-time job in an accountant’s office. Because he was earning income, he knew he had to give up the survivor’s benefits his mother had received since his father died, when Verbich was 4. But his $70 monthly checks — “They helped with the car payment,” he said — kept coming for a short time after he started work, and Verbich was notified in 1978 that he had to repay about $600. He did.

    Thirty-six years later, with no notice, “they snatched my Maryland tax refund,” said Verbich, a federal worker who has lived at the same address in Glendale, Md,. for 30 years and regularly receives Social Security statements there. The feds insisted that he owed $172 but could provide no documents to back up the claim.

    Verbich has given up on getting his refund, but he wants a receipt stating that his debt to his country is resolved.

    “I’ll put in the request,” a Social Security clerk told Verbich, “but in reality, you’ll never get anything.”

    Grice was also told there was little point in seeking a waiver of her debt. Collections can only be halted if the person passes two tests, Clark said: The taxpayer must prove that he “is without fault, and [that] repayment of the overpayment would deprive the person of income needed for ordinary living expenses.”

    More than 1,200 appeals have been filed on the old cases, Clark said; taxpayers have won about 10 percent of those appeals.

    The Treasury initially held the full amount of Grice’s federal and state refunds, a total of $4,462. Last week, after The Washington Post inquired about Grice’s case, the government returned the portion of her refund above the $2,996 owed on her father’s account.

    But unless the feds can prove that she ever received any of the overpayment, Grice wants all of her money back.

    “Look, I love a good fight, especially for principle,” she said. “My mom used to say, ‘This country is carried on the backs of the little people,’ and now I see what she meant. This is really sad.”

    Social Security, Treasury target taxpayers for their parents’ decades-old debts - The Washington Post
  2. Mike

    Mike Ol' Army Sergeant Monkey

    More government bullshit by an overreaching out of control government looking for money to hand out to voters who vote the "right" way
    Mountainman, tulianr and Dunerunner like this.
  3. Gator 45/70

    Gator 45/70 Monkey+++

    Happened to a guy I work with this year to the tune of 6 k that was seized on his tax return do to the fact his in-laws had collected SS on his wife as a child. To say he is chapped is an understatement. His in-laws have promised to pay him back. Good Luck with that !
    tulianr, Dunerunner and Mike like this.
  4. Dunerunner

    Dunerunner Brewery Monkey Moderator

    This has to stop!! Remember in November!!
    kellory and Mike like this.
  5. Mike

    Mike Ol' Army Sergeant Monkey

    I will remember. I don't vote republican, I vote conservative. If the true conservative is a Libertarian or a Dem, I will vote for them over an entrenched old guard republican any day of the week. We either get hold of this country by voting for conservatives, or we will split it in two along ideological lines.
    tulianr likes this.
  6. Dunerunner

    Dunerunner Brewery Monkey Moderator

    Problem is, Mike; that conservative Dem you vote into office gets strong armed by the DNC into voting the party line. Happens all the time and occasionally they are able to get a Republican to compromise and vote against the people as well. I used to feel as you do and thought I was pretty noble in doing so. Then I got burned by a Democratically controlled House and Senate. That ended the act of nobility for me!

    Once they are in office, all the BS they touted to get elected goes down the drain. Now, I vote for candidates who have conviction and believe in the Constitution.
    Last edited: Apr 11, 2014
  7. kellory

    kellory An unemployed Jester, is nobody's fool. Banned

    Give 'em hell, Mary! [reddevil]
    Mike and chelloveck like this.
  8. ozarkgoatman

    ozarkgoatman Resident goat herder

    This government is absolutely lawless
    William Antrum and Mike like this.
  9. Mike

    Mike Ol' Army Sergeant Monkey

    I agree with you. But I have been burned by RINOs like John McCain. I vote for the constitutionalist (aka conservatives)
  10. Dunerunner

    Dunerunner Brewery Monkey Moderator

    [​IMG] That is true, and that is why I am at this point now "Now, I vote for candidates who have conviction and believe in the Constitution." [​IMG]

    That's a demonstrated belief in the Constitution, not just a few well chosen sound bytes!
    chelloveck, Mike and kellory like this.
  11. natshare

    natshare Monkey+++

    The really sad part of all of this? A collection agency cannot continue to go after a debt they say they owe you, unless they can PROVE you owe the debt. The government? They just have to claim it's yours, and you're screwed!

    Funny, though, how when times get hard (and the Prez is giving away money to do-nothings and America hating countries, hand over fist), they start going after money that's questionably owed, at best.

    Just like we used to say, concerning re-enlisting (back in my Navy days), "One mo' reason!!" (NOT to!.....and in this case, not to vote for these schmucks!!)
  12. VHestin

    VHestin Farm Chick

    Collection agencies go after resolved debts frequently actually. Friend of mine out of the blue a few years back had someone call her about a debt that was paid off years ago, kept insisting she owes money, and her response was that she still has the paperwork proving the debt is nonexistent.

    What happens is that as noted in Grice's story, those who demand repayment of 'debts' have shoddy record-keeping so they don't care about the status of any 'debt', they just want the money.
    chelloveck and Mike like this.
  13. natshare

    natshare Monkey+++

    True, they excel at being obnoxious. However, if you request proof of the debt, in writing, and they cannot supply it, they have two choices:
    1. stop the harassment, or,
    2. keep it up, and be liable under consumer protection laws. Believe it or not, the government has been handy, from time to time, in this regard, by going after debt collection companies that ignore the law.

    The really strange thing? If your parent dies, and owes debt, that debt is owed by their estate, NOT their descendants! So unless you received some inheritance from their estate, you could legally tell Uncle Sam to go screw himself. My mother will basically leave nothing to any of us kids (except a few mementos of minimal value, that we'll never have to pay any inheritance taxes on). If they came after me, they'd be shocked at how quickly I could set my withholding up, so I always end up having to pay something to settle my tax debt at the end of the year! Can't collect from my refund, if I never have one, right?? ;)
    Mike, BTPost and kellory like this.
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