Ch. 9 investigation into Social Security overpayment gets Washington’s attention

CHARLOTTE — A Channel 9 investigation is gaining traction in the nation’s capital, with lawmakers demanding answers from the Social Security Administration. There are even calls now for congressional hearings.

It all comes in the wake of our reporting on billions of dollars in overpayments to vulnerable Americans who are now being asked to pay it back. This week, Channel 9′s Madison Carter spoke with several families in Charlotte who were sent life-altering letters from the SSA.

Channel 9 and our sister stations, along with KFF Health News, have been telling stories like these around the country. Now, lawmakers in Washington are demanding answers on the overpayment outrage.

“It was two and a half years before they approved his claim,” Marty McKenzie told Carter.

When McKenzie’s adult son could no longer work, she said she was forced to support him while the system caught up.

“Rent, car payments, medical bills, everything,” she said.

When it finally did years later, she said she got a Social Security disability check on her son’s behalf.

“I got nervous about the amount of money they sent us. And I want to say it was probably between 35, $40,000,” she said.

McKenzie went to the Social Security office to make sure everything checked out. She said they told her the amount was correct, saying it included back payment for the years her son’s claim was being processed.

“Well, about three or four months after that, we got a letter saying ‘you owe back almost $14,000. We overpaid you and we’re going to stop his disability,’” McKenzie told Carter.

McKenzie said she went back to the same Social Security office that previously cleared the dollar figure.

“So you’re telling me after I made a visit, you’re going to, and you told me everything was OK? You can’t be held accountable for any of the work you do? She goes, ‘no, not really. You owe it back,’” McKenzie said.

“There’s a lot of ways to hold their feet to the fire, a lot of ways to put public pressure on them,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown.

Our investigation caught Brown’s attention. She chairs the Social Security subcommittee in the Senate.

“We’ve let the federal agency know we expect them to stop and not penalize those people,” she said.

Congressman Mike Carey serves on the House subcommittee. He’s pushing for hearings ASAP.

“I don’t want anybody to ever be in that situation again. So that’s why I think we need to have a hearing,” Rep. Carey said. “We need to come to grips with where we are right now, find out what the problems are and fix the problems.”

“Fortunately, we’ve been in a position to help him. If not, he’d probably be living under a bridge,” McKenzie said.

McKenzie wanted to share her family’s story because she said many Americans don’t have the luxury of financial support to fix the government’s mistake.

“We retired about three years ago now, and it’s not what I expected in retirement,” she said.

Channel 9 has been asking the Social Security Administration for over a year how many people are impacted by overpayments, but the administration won’t say. It’s a move that has lawmakers calling for more transparency.

The SSA has denied our requests for an interview but in a statement for our original investigation, said it is required to try to recover the money when the agency catches an overpayment.

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Madison Carter

Madison Carter, wsoctv.com

Madison is an investigative reporter and anchor for Channel 9.

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