Social security filter: back-pay now being an overpayment. Options?
June 27, 2014 10:09 AM   Subscribe

SSI gave me 3 months of backpay and now is reversing course, saying I owe them, freezing my SSI payments. I've got a tight timeframe, not sure what to do to navigate this. Snowflake details under the fold.

As some of you might know, I'm Deaf, unemployed, and am on SSI. I was working a retail job up to late 2013, then resigned (currently job-hunting). Since then, I had too much money in my bank account (above the $2,000 resource limit). I didn't plan to restart SSI payments until my bank account went under $2,000, so I used the money for rent, bills, etc, until May, when my bank balance finally went under $2,000. I then made an appointment with SSI to reinstate my SSI payments. After discussing my situation with the SSI rep, the SSI rep told me she would issue me back-pay for 3 months, for Jan-March 2014. She asked me how I managed to care for myself in Jan-present, and I explained to her that I used what I had saved from my job and that the "savings" (in my checking account) had gradually reduced. I made it explicit that I was just then getting under the $2,000 resource limit. She assured me that the back-pay would be coming in a few days, and that I would be getting SSI in June 2014 and on. I left feeling happy about the extra money, but something in the back of my head told me the back-pay was wrong, as I was over $2,000 at the time of the issued back-pay. I figured it was just something the woman understood, but authorized anyway, to help me get on my foot. Perfect, or so I thought.

In early June, I got a letter from SSI saying they had issued the back pay (already received in late May), but the letter said that the back pay was for January and February 2011/January 2014, based on me being under the $2,000 limit. Not true. I had already explained to the first rep that I was over $2,000 in January, and what the heck did the 2011 dates have to do with anything? I was over $2,000 during that time too, and already had everything squared away. The letter didn't make much sense, and I didn't want SSI to catch up with the back-pay being issued when I was over the resource limit later on, so back to the office I went, this time without an appointment. I was assigned to a different representative, who was a bit rude. After explaining to him that I was actually over the resource limit during those times mentioned in the letter, and explaining that I was making sure I was actually entitled to the back pay, he said that sometimes letters from SSI could contain miscorrect information (re: the 2011 months), and asked me point blank "we gave you extra money. Are you happy?" I explained that I wasn't ungrateful, I was just making sure I was actually entitled to the back-pay, and that it was correct, because I didn't want to get into trouble later with the back-pay becoming an overpayment. He said it was what the system said was due me. We used an Ubi-Duo to communicate with each other (typing back and forth), and at the end, I asked for a printed transcript. He went completely off the point and said "well, just keep in mind that SSI can cut you off if you have too much in the bank." I found this to be very rude, and how did that answer my question? I felt it was a veiled threat, as it was completely off the point to what I asked, but I had no choice - I did my part, I communicated my concerns, I made myself perfectly clear, and they still claimed the money was mine. So, I left with mixed feelings, but knowing I did my part.

Fast forward about two weeks. After checking the website everyday to make sure I was still on track and receiving the July 2014 SSI payment, all of a sudden, the website stated I wasn't getting SSI, but didn't show any overpayments. Figuring it might be a website glitch, I waited several days, but nothing changed. Yesterday, I called the SSI 800 number, found out that they had incorrectly paid me the backpay, and was showing an overpayment for the three months of back pay being issued, plus the June 2014 SSI payment (because the back-pay given to me in late May had a domino effect on June.

Additionally, I haven't had time to completely spend down the back pay, which puts me over the resource limit. She set an appointment up for me to meet the person who was handling my case (incidentally, a completely different person from the last two people I talked with). I didn't receive an actual letter yet regarding the payment (she told me they were "putting it together").

I know this has been long so far - please bear with me. Here are a few questions/thoughts, because I'm really overwhelmed and unsure of the best next step to take.

a) I did my part to explain my concerns to the local office, even going out of my way during my own time, to ensure I was really due the back-pay. At my second appointment, when I used the Ubi-Duo, I noticed my previous conversation from the first appointment saved. It clearly said in the 2nd conversation that I was above the resource limit. I did my part, with due diligence. I figured SSI understood the situation, based on the information I provided them, and knew what they were doing.

b) I am ~$500 over $2,000 in my bank account right now (due to both the back-pay in late May and the payment in June 2014). The phone rep suggested spending down by paying a bill in advance, then bringing the receipt to the SSI office. However, my friends, who are knowledgeable with SSI, suggested I just withdraw cash instead, that SSI can't view individual transactions in your bank, only the balance. I'm not sure what the best option is. The phone rep said that if I went under $2,000 by July 1st, I would get my SSI resumed, but still would have to deal with the overpayment. I was told by someone else on an online forum that specializes with SSI/SSDI that if I remained over the $2,000 limit on July 1st, that would put me in 'overage' for July, and that if, in August, I was under $2,000, I would still not be able to reinstate my SSI until September. I cannot wait that long. I could prepay my August rent, but what's complicating this even further is that I've negotiated with my landlords to reduce my rent to $500 from $550 (due to my financial situation), and I already paid my July rent. If I prepay my August rent now, they may be suspicious and wonder how I could afford to pay two month's worth of rent in one month.

c) Regarding the overpayment, what should I do? I honestly did my part (see part A and the elaborate explanation above). I have already spent the back pay, and I really need SSI - after going under $2k. I live at an expensive apartment, and just can't deal with moving or another upheaval. I was told it's 4x$721 (the 3 months back-pay, then June's payment, because of the domino effect of the back-pay). I understand there's a waiver/reconsideration process, but would the local office be able to authorize the waiver on the spot?

d) If, eventually, SSI decides I do owe the money (and denies the waiver), would it arise suspicion if my parents paid the overpayment amount? Especially if it's paid in full. SSI would wonder if my parents can provide for me, then why should I get SSI? Or am I overthinking this?

e) Why is there an overpayment for June? The letter for the back-pay (even though it might've been invalid) clearly stated a 9-month timeframe you had to spend down the back-pay before it would count for resources.

Help! This is completely overwhelming for me, especially given the tight timeframe until July 1st, the fear that there will be a domino effect for July that won't allow SSI payments until September, and the complicating factors in this situation. It's also frustrating, because after I had confirmed for the second time in person that I really was due the back-pay, I went on vacation to California to visit my family and my grandmother, who has cancer, so I can't just pay the back-pay back now.

I also am not sure the best step to get under $2,000 before July 1st, and am not sure if prepaying rent is a good idea, given the circumstances. I'm also not sure if I should stick with my appointment (it's for July 2nd), or if I should just get under $2,000 and let SSI know, then do the waiver on paper. As you can see, I'm kind of unsure of anything at this point.

I'm not sure if there's many people here experienced with SSI/SSA, and that's what I'm so frustrated about. I've asked around all over the Internet, and nobody seems to really understand. I just feel lost on this.

Thanks in advance, I really appreciate your help. I'll be happy to answer any questions for clarification.
posted by dubious_dude to Law & Government (7 answers total)
Response by poster: Threadsitting for a good reason: correction, I meant overpayment when I said "they were putting it together", not future payments. My bad. Just wanted to avoid any minunderstandings down the road.
posted by dubious_dude at 10:13 AM on June 27, 2014

Have you spoken with an attorney yet? I believe you got a recommendation for an organization in your last post. An attorney familiar with SSI should be able to answer all of the questions you posted.
posted by insectosaurus at 10:13 AM on June 27, 2014

Response by poster: I had a feeling that would be one of the first questions being asked. Something I forgot to mention in the original post (got so much on my mind) - the recommendation given did not lead anywhere, as the agency was full with requests already. Also, they're closed today. This is more about the time-sensitive nature of the situation, too, which is why I'm asking here.
posted by dubious_dude at 10:15 AM on June 27, 2014

Best answer: Can you pop on down to your local Legal Aid clinic and ask? They are very familiar with strange SSI situations and may have someone who can take an urgent case.
posted by WidgetAlley at 10:42 AM on June 27, 2014

Here is the form and instructions for requesting either a reconsideration of the overpayment decision or a waiver or repayment adjustment . You should file one of them immediately, because "We will stop recovering the overpayment until we make a decision on your request."

To get a waiver, "You will have to prove that: The overpayment was not your fault; and Paying it back would cause you financial hardship or be unfair for some other reason." It sounds like you have a reasonable shot at proving both. However, that will not affect current and future payments.

I cannot advise on what SSA knows about cash withdrawals but will note (as you probably already know) that cash is included as a resource, whether it's in an account or under your mattress.

Prepaying the rent seems like a reasonable approach, and perhaps you can explain the asset limit situation to the landlord.

If your parents paid the overpayment amount, that would be considered unearned income.

Good luck.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 11:23 AM on June 27, 2014

Response by poster: Update: I've called LegalAid, and they said to walk in on Monday.

So, in the meantime, would you suggest I somehow withdraw money, either by paying August's rent, or using the money for something else that's non-frivilous (although I can't think of anything), so that way, I'll at least be under $2,000 for July? Or would you recommend I wait until Monday and see what LegalAid can do/suggest? My case is strange/complicated, but not necessarily that bad, so maybe a quick call from them to the SSI office would help clear matters up right away?

Also, when I'm explaining the situation/assets limit to my landlords, I would have to explain that I got a back-pay in a somewhat large amount, and they may feel turned off that I didn't communicate the improvement with my financial situation with them (the lease we signed specifically pointed to my responsibility to communicate with them when my financial situation improved; but I wasn't sure if the back-pay would stick or not, so that's why I didn't communicate with them about this). Also, how would I then spend down my potential future payments in August to keep under $2,000? That's why I'm truly unsure and perplexed on what to do. Then again, I could be overthinking everything.

posted by dubious_dude at 11:48 AM on June 27, 2014

Don't do anything yet - go talk to legal aid Monday.

If you need to, you can still withdraw enough to pay August rent or whatever and get under the limits before July 1, but you will have all of Monday to do that.
posted by zug at 12:56 PM on June 27, 2014

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