CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Some families tell Channel 9 they’ve lost their Social Security benefits because of the stimulus checks they received during the pandemic.
This comes after Channel 9, along with our sister stations and KFF Health News, launched an investigation into Social Security overpayments. Social Security has been demanding people pay back billions of dollars the agency says it shouldn’t have given them.
Investigative reporter Madison Carter learned that for some families, stimulus checks from 2020 and 2021 are causing big problems years later.
- 9 Investigates: Social Security overpays billions to families then demands money back
- Social Security officials to review overpayment policies after Channel 9 investigation
- Social Security overpayments draw scrutiny and outrage from members of Congress
Julia Greune is blind and lives with cerebral palsy. Her parents spent her recent 43rd birthday fighting to get her monthly check back from the SSA. The administration stopped her payments entirely, and it’s not because Greune makes too much money; she doesn’t work. They said it’s because of COVID stimulus payments.
“She is not aware of any of this that’s going on at all,” said her father, Dave Greune.
During the pandemic, the federal government issued COVID stimulus payments. But some now say that money caused them to lose their social security benefits.
“‘We’re writing to let you know that we have paid Julia $7,374.72 too much supplemental security income,” Dave read from a letter sent by the Social Security Administration.
He said receiving the letter three years after the money was put in his daughter’s account was a shock, since they -- like all Americans -- didn’t ask for the cash. They believe it put them over their asset limit to receive benefits.
Katherine Romig oversees SSA issues at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities -- a liberal think tank.
“The resource limit for Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, is only $2,000,” Romig said. “The COVID stimulus payments in total were more than $2,000. It was a total of $3,200. So.”
She said the administration should’ve communicated better since the stimulus payments were not supposed to count as additional assets.
“The overpayment notice will be triggered as long as someone exceeds that limit, and excluded funds might be part of that -- the savings that they’re holding on to,” Romig said.
“There was no instruction,” Greune said. “There was nothing like, ‘you need to spend this like right away or else we’re going to penalize you a year from now.’ It just appeared in her account.”
The Greune family said they decided to save the stimulus money for a new wheelchair for Julia. Because of that, they say her balance was too high. To the SSA system, it appeared like she wasn’t eligible for SSI all those months.
“They want more than twice that amount back,” Greune said. “Plus, she’s been cut off for the last six months.”
Greune said he filed an appeal that same day but was told there’s no record of it in the system. He said he then dropped off documents in person, but again was told it wasn’t in the system.
“They’re still after me. Like, every month they send another letter. ‘Did you forget? You still owe us $6,000,’” Greune said.
Social Security’s own rules say those COVID stimulus checks should not count against benefits eligibility as assets or income. To make matters worse, many states determine Medicaid eligibility based on Social Security approval, so now Dave has gotten a letter saying Julia’s coverage needs to be reevaluated.
Following our earlier reporting, members of Congress called for a hearing to examine many of these issues. That’s currently scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.
The Social Security Administration has declined our requests for an interview.
(WATCH BELOW: Social Security officials to review overpayment policies after Channel 9 investigation)
©2023 Cox Media Group