To those nattering nabobs of negativity who don’t trust government to do the right thing, or even to stop doing the wrong thing once discovered, I just want to say: “You’re right.”
Last April, a Washington Post exposé about a bizarrely tyrannical debt collection program caused the Social Security Administration (SAA) to publicly promise it would cease and desist from said program. The Social Security bureaucracy had been snatching the income tax refund checks of grown children whose parents, many decades ago, had allegedly been sent excess money intended for the care and feeding of these then-youngsters by this same incompetent outfit.
The booty? A not insignificant $75 million. The victims? A whopping 400,000 of them.
Due process? The SSA didn’t go before a judge to prove these people owed a valid debt, nor even bother to inform folks that their tax refunds were being seized. Instead, the Social Security gang just flat-out took the money . . . surreptitiously, like any other thief in the night.
In a stark break with their name, Social Security officials decided to collect these “debts” by intercepting state and federal tax refunds before they could be sent to the adults whose parents or parent had allegedly received excess benefits some three or even four decades ago.
Of course, Congress has its bloody, rotten hands in this. A provision in the 2008 farm bill authorized SSA to beginning collecting overpayments going back beyond the 10-year limit that had been the law.
In some of these collection cases, the SSA wasn’t certain who exactly owed the money. In one case, the agency went after a child even when they could find the mother who supposedly owed the money. Why? The mother had already beaten them in federal court.
The SSA flouted more than common sense and decency. Children should not be held legally responsible for the debts of their parents.
Hasn’t this been settled law for at least the last couple of centuries?
“They are going after kids, and their briefs prove it,” explains Robert Vogel, an attorney litigating against the SSA, “They’re asking the court to be the first court in the United States to force a child to pay a debt incurred by the parents. It’s really quite disgusting.”
Mary Grice received a letter informing her that both her Maryland and federal tax refunds had been stolen by the Social Security collection agency. Her father died when the now 58-year-old was only four. Her mother received Social Security survivor benefits to help provide for Mary and Mary’s four siblings. Apparently, there was an overpayment related to one of the children’s benefits; SSA doesn’t even know on behalf of which child.
“What incenses me is the way they went about this,” Grice told The Post. “They gave me no notice, they can’t prove that I received any overpayment, and they use intimidation tactics, threatening to report this to the credit bureaus.”
Thankfully, after publicity back in April about the agency’s ugly tactics, acting commissioner Carolyn Colvin announced such collection efforts would stop. “I have directed an immediate halt to further referrals under the Treasury Offset Program to recover debts owed to the agency that are 10 years old and older pending a thorough review of our responsibility and discretion under the current law,” her statement read.
Mary Grice’s nearly $3,000 was returned.
Even at the time, though, those battling the SAA pointed out that the agency had not relinquished its stance that children could be held liable for the debts of their parents or forsworn their “right” to collect even 40-year old debts.
Now, just months later — you guessed it — the Social Security Administration is right back at it.
Mary Grice received a new letter asking, “Did you forget?” and demanding that she pay all the money the agency had just sent back to her, claiming she still owes the debt.
In court filings, the SSA argues that the distinction between overpayments paid to an individual and those paid to a parent for the benefit of that individual when a small child is a “baseless distinction.” The powerful bureaucracy asserts that Congress has granted it the awesome legal power to collect debts “as it sees fit.”
Incredibly, but completely in character, the Feds think Congress can trump the Constitution and centuries of common law, legalizing their right to simply take what they think they are entitled to from any American citizen by any means necessary.
If unchecked, where does behavior like this end?
Paul Jacob, December 28, 2014
This column first appeared at Townhall.com.