Lawmakers from both parties on Tuesday blasted the Social Security Administration for its continued targeting of taxpayers to collect on their parents’ decades-old debts, a practice that the agency promised to stop more than eight months ago.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) sent letters to acting Social Security Commissioner Carolyn Colvin expressing outrage that the agency has not lived up to its pledge.
“It is just plain wrong to hold these Americans responsible for decades-0ld mistakes made by the Social Security Administration or members of their family,” Boxer said in her letter. “These actions are not only at odds with your promise to end this practice, they run directly counter to the agency’s mission to promote the economic security of all Americans.”
Buchanan said he plans to introduce legislation in January that would prevent the Social Security Administration from seizing individuals’ tax refunds to settle its overpayments from more than 10 years ago.
“Penalizing people for the government’s failure to correctly calculate their parents’ benefits is outrageous,” Buchanan said in his letter.
The Washington Post first reported in April that the Treasury Department had confiscated $75 million in tax refunds from about 400,000 taxpayers whose ancestors owed money to Social Security, often because the agency had overpaid beneficiaries.
The government reimbursed some of the individuals whose refunds were intercepted, only to send out new notices that their debts remain and require repayment.
The Social Security Administration told The Post that it is reviewing its practice seizing refunds, known as the “offset program,” but that the agency cannot discuss specifics because of pending litigation.
The lawsuit in question, now pending in federal court in Greenbelt, Md., argues that the government has illegally confiscated tax refunds from tens of thousands of individuals since 2011 to “satisfy dubious claims of debts” for children who never themselves received Social Security payments and who were never notified that they owed anything.
The government has responded in court filings that the law does not bar the Social Security Administration from recovering funds from children who indirectly benefited from the overpayments. It further argued that the distinction between individuals receiving benefits directly or through a parent is “baseless.”
Buchanan disagrees with that position and has called for a hearing on the matter with the House subcommittee on Social Security, of which he is a senior a member.
“How are children responsible for their parents obligations?” the Republican said in an interview. “I just think legally that shouldn’t be a possibility.”
The 2008 Farm Bill authorized Social Security to pursue overpayments that are more than 10 years old by seizing tax returns. However, the law gives the agency discretion not to pursue repayment of the debt in cases where doing so would be “against equity and good conscience.”
In her letter, Boxer asked Colvin to detail the agency’s current policy regarding overpayments “so that the American people understand it and are assured that they will be treated fairly.”
Marc Fisher contributed to this report