Possible minunderstanding with SSI back pay... path to a solution?
June 2, 2014 3:55 PM   Subscribe

Social Security filter: got back pay that seemed legit at first, but now am not sure. Thoughts?

So, a long story short, I'm Deaf; disabled under SSI (Social Security Income) rules. I worked for one and an half year, from x 2012 through x 2013. The income I earned from working was too high for me to go back on SSI until a couple or so months ago. I had an appointment several weeks ago, got it all worked out, explained my income situation and how the money in my bank account had reduced and how now, I'm ready for my SSI to reinstate (until/if I find another job). I was asked to explain my income history, etc, and then I was told I would get 3 months back pay for January, February, and March 2014. I had a niggling thought in the back of my mind, because I was definitely over $2,000 (the SSI resource limit) during those months, but I thought I had made it clear to the employee I was working with, so I assumed it was a legit backpay and left. A few days after the appointment, I received the expected back pay in my bank account.

Today, I got a letter explaining that I was due back pay for...

-two months that is over three years ago!
-January 2014
-rest of months in 2014 until my first real SSI pay this month (I think) that would come 6 months later

I was completely taken aback by this letter. Here's why: I was definitely over the resource limit for those two months over three years ago. I had already communicated this with SSI. Also, I was over the resource limit for January, as well as a couple of the months that the future (uncommunicated to me in person at the appointment) back pay would cover. I was told the back-pay would be for months in 2014, not three years ago.

I know the obvious answer would be to go to the office in person, or call and clear this up. However, I don't want to lose the back pay, as it has really helped me financially, and given me financial peace of mind, and the letter says something to the event of "this decision supersedes past decisions", which kind of makes me assume that even though I was over the resource limit in those referenced months in the letter (and common sense should prevail that as I was asked my income history, the month after I stopped working probably would still put me over the resource limit), it does not count. I was also never told about the additional months back pay coming in six months in person, at my appointment.

I do not want to end up having to owe SSI money down the road, if they find out that the backpay was inaccurate, so I want to clear this up without having to face headaches down the road. To further complicate matters, I may have a freelance gig, so not sure how that would work with SSI. I'm thinking about just not continuing with the freelance gig, so it doesn't complicate things with SSI. (I would earn approximately $1000 or so per month with the freelance gig.) I also don't want getting a job down the road (that is, a full-time or at least permanent job) to further complicate things with SSI. Also, wait times at the office is insanely long, and this seems like a silly matter that should be easily resolved, or at least cleared up, but I'm just not sure.

I've had a few other confusion with SSI in the past, mostly due to their (allegedly) antiquated systems, and some headaches. I'm tired of having to deal with that, but right now, I don't have a choice, as finding a job has been next to impossible for me.

I need help/insight/guidance in navigating this issue. Am I right to worry about this? Or should I just assume the lady helping me at the SSA knew what she was doing, understood my situation in full (should've, the information was right there in front of her on the computer screen), and that this backpay is legit?

Thanks. Information is intentionally kept vague due to security, but if you want further information, i'll try my best to furnish it. And, I understand you aren't my lawyer, SSA representative, etc. When I say resources, I mean money in my bank account.
posted by dubious_dude to Law & Government (7 answers total)
SS is pretty damn arbitrary sometimes. I have to deal with them on behalf of a few individuals and it has left my hair a bit whiter over the years.

I will say in my experience which may not be indicative of all experiences, I have had reasonable luck in appealing decisions involving reclaiming back pay.
The chain of reasoning I have used in the appeals has been:
We reported everything we've had to > Social Security made the determination to make the payments > We assume Social Security knows what they are doing (ha) > We have already spent the money sent > It would be financially burdensome to pay this back.

That has worked the three times I've tried it.
Which may or may not work for you.
posted by edgeways at 4:30 PM on June 2, 2014

Yeah, I don't understand HOW she (and SSI in general) could have misunderstood me, though. I already made it clear of what my resources/financial situation was like during those months. The information was also right there on the computer screen.

Part of me is thinking snarkily... if those people can't get something as simple as this right, why are they employed? I could do a better job than them. Apologies in advance if that sounds rude, everyone is human and humans make mistakes, but, I mean, if this was truly a mistake, it's a pretty basic one to make!

Pardon me. I had a bad day (found out a job interview I had lined up tomorrow, second round, was unexpectedly cancelled, with the position on hold for no apparent reason), so I'm feeling bitter and frustrated with this - I got the letter in addition to the bad news. Hate it when I get bad news in a full swoop.
posted by dubious_dude at 5:25 PM on June 2, 2014

SSI is a huge network with complicated rules. It sounds as if she miscalculated back pay some how. This is common. Depending on your area there may be a lawyer who works in poverty law to help you clear this up. It happens way more often than you'd think. They will garnish from future payments until our is paid off
posted by AlexiaSky at 5:49 PM on June 2, 2014

Thanks for the response, AlexiaSky. If it was truly a mistake, I wouldn't mind just paying the full amount back to get it over with. Would you recommend I contact SS directly? Having a lawyer may be a hassle because of: a) time, b) communication factor, and c) it would seem a bit silly over an issue like this.
posted by dubious_dude at 5:51 PM on June 2, 2014

You can try on your own . But there are low cost and free lawyers who will look at your case and help you put redarding overpayment messes. Look in any big city essentially. I know resources in Chicago but that probably won't help you. Oh and don't trust if you get a recalculation that it is actually right.
posted by AlexiaSky at 7:07 PM on June 2, 2014

Talk to one of the lawyers at Bread for the City. They're free, I know for a fact that they find ways to communicate with clients through all kinds of disability and language barriers, and SSI/SSDI law is a major part of what they do.
posted by ActionPopulated at 10:09 AM on June 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thanks, ActionPopulated! I'll give them a try. Appreciate it, big time!
posted by dubious_dude at 2:58 PM on June 3, 2014

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