Big government does a lot of stupid things. But this thing is stupid even by big-government standards.
First, some key events.
1969: Joy Bordash’s father dies. Joy is 8 years old.
1979: Joy Bordash turns 18. She is no longer eligible to receive the monthly survivor benefits from her father’s Social Security coverage.
1994: Joy Bordash’s mother dies. Joy is 33.
2013: Joy Bordash, 52, receives a letter from the Social Security Administration threatening to withhold $333 from her federal tax refund because of something her mother allegedly didn’t do.
Before we go any further, let us pause, get up out of our chairs and exclaim in unison:
“Are you KIDDING me?”
And it gets even better.
SSA records don’t actually go back that far, so the SSA can’t actually prove that Mom didn’t do what she was supposed to have done. But the SSA is pretty sure she didn’t.
First of all, even if Mom overlooked something in 1994, what does that have to do with her daughter’s finances today?
That’s exactly what Joy wondered in July 2013 when she opened a letter from the SSA that said the agency had tried “several times to collect this amount but it has not been repaid.”
The letter added, “Congress passed a law that permits the Department of the Treasury to withhold Social Security overpayment from federal income tax refunds.”
Joy insists that was the first time she heard one word about a Social Security debt owed by her mother, who has been dead for two decades. Thinking it was just a silly mistake, the Akron woman figured she could clear up the whole thing with one phone call.
Ha ha ha.
During her initial conversation with the SSA, she says, she was told that her mother had received a letter about the situation in 1984.
The problem apparently was this: After her father’s death, Joy was eligible to receive monthly survivor benefits until she turned 18, which happened in August 1979. But the SSA mistakenly sent one extra $333 check that September.
Joy pointed out to Tonya, the woman at the other end of the line, that the payments were made to her mother, not to her. Tonya then acknowledged that Joy would not be responsible for a debt from 1979 that wasn’t even hers.
Not to worry, Tonya said. Everything would be straightened out.
Ha ha ha.
Fast forward to February 2014. Bordash opens her monthly bank statement and notices that her IRS refund has been deposited. But the amount of the check is wrong. The deposit is $333 less than it should have been.
Time to worry.
Another phone call to the SSA folks. After 55 minutes on hold, an employee named Steve says this was a huge mistake and tells her to fill out a “reclamation of funds” form, which he will send her.
On Feb. 25, she receives the form, promptly fills it out and mails it back.
Six weeks later, no word from the SSA. So on April 10, Bordash calls. After reaching a supervisor, she explains the whole story again, growing increasingly angry.
She asks a couple of questions:
Question 1: Who was the check payable to?
Answer: That was more than 30 years ago. Our records don’t go back that far.
Question 2: How do I know my mother didn’t pay this debt back in 1984 when you first notified her?
Answer: That was too long ago. Our records don’t go back that far.
The supervisor then informed her that Steve should not have sent a reclamation form because the debt had been turned over to collections and already was collected. She explained that they work in a call center, and to fix the problem Bordash would probably have to take off a day of work and visit her local Social Security office.
Bordash, who is “beyond perplexed,” then got ahold of her favorite columnist. “Have you ever heard of such a thing?”
No, I hadn’t.
I wondered whether Carmen Moreno had. She has no doubt heard plenty of bizarre tales, given her job as regional spokesperson for the SSA, based in Chicago.
I sent her a detailed email a week ago today, and another Wednesday morning. She didn’t respond to either. Thursday morning, I called her number and got her assistant, who said she had been in the office all week but that the Bordash matter was complicated and would take time to figure out. I told him she had until Monday.
Apparently, the folks at the SSA are just as baffled as Bordash.
Seems odd, because they didn’t have any trouble figuring out how to pocket $333 of her tax refund.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or firstname.lastname@example.org.