April 10, 2020 | by Chris Stein, CFP®, Finance Instructor at Colorado State University
What if Social Security Made an Error?

A reader would like advice on what to do if Social Security has made an error and they don’t seem to be fixing it.

“I found an error that SS made. I went down to the office and submitted paperwork to prove the error on 7/9/19. I have been fighting till this day for them to correct the error which they acknowledged in writing that they made. They denied my daughter’s benefits and reduced mine. Since then, they have paid my daughter her benefits, plus what was due retroactively. In November, they corrected my monthly payments. However, they still owe me $3,304.00 in back payments and the payment processing center has dragged its feet. I contacted my local senator, visited the local Social Security office several times, sent certified mail, and made multiple phone calls. They still haven’t paid me, nor do they return my calls. I went to the local office again to file for hardship and they wouldn’t even look at my paperwork. What do I do next? Thank you.”

You’ll Eventually Get Paid

The good news is that I think you’ll eventually get paid. Based on the facts you’ve given me – and if there’s nothing more to the story – you have in your favor the fact that it’s their error. Some things have a statute of limitations. But if it’s an error of theirs, I’ve seen them not apply normal statutes, where otherwise they might want to drag their feet to avoid dealing with it.

Now, is it taking a long time to fix it? I’m not shocked that it’s taking you awhile to get it all resolved. I see that – and hear that – all the time. They often do exactly what you’re describing: they immediately fix the problem going forward. (In your case, you said they corrected the monthly payments.)

But then, the retroactive correction is taking longer. (That’s all the payments they should have made to you.) Because I see this all the time, I’m guessing that the department that deals with retroactive payments is separate from the one that resolves ongoing, future benefits.

They fix the ‘forward’ part so they don’t get further in the hole with you, but it takes awhile to get that lump-sum payment out. But it’s likely to come.

Senator or Congressman?

You’ve done all the right things, including contacting your senator. Now, my understanding is that a congressional representative is the usual liaison between a citizen and the Social Security Administration, not a senator. So, you might want to check with your local congressman.

I would bet that senators have access to the same resources. But there are only two senators in every state. They cover the entire state and might be a lot busier with higher-level things than your congressman. There are usually lots more congressmen per state and they each represent a smaller area. Besides, they tend to be a bit more locally focused, mainly because they have to get re-elected every two years.

I tend to get a better response from the congressional offices than from senators. The only thing I might recommend is this: if you’re being stonewalled here, reach out to the staff at your congressional representative’s office and see if they might be able to help you.

You never know when you deal with the Government or with Social Security. They might find some reason, or technicality, not to do it.

But I think you’re going to get paid, based on what you said. You’re doing all the right stuff. It’s just going to be frustrating until the bureaucratic process gets it fixed.

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