The Social Security Administration (SSA) recently removed a bar on recovery of old overpayments ten years or older. According to Emergency Message (EM)-22017, POMS GN 02210.003, 10-year Bar to Adjustment – Overpayment, has been archived. The policy set forth in that POMS section had prohibited adjustment of an overpayment more than ten years after the debt accrued when the means to collect by benefit withholding was available, but no recovery efforts were initiated. SSA’s justification? The policy was based on an outdated regulation of the Department of Health and Human Services; neither the Social Security Act nor the regulations bar such collections.
Does this mean there is no statute of limitations on collection of overpayments? Yes – and no. The overpayment must be assessed in a timely fashion. Under the rules of administrative finality, SSA must establish liability within the time frames for reopening a decision, which is generally two years for SSI claims and four years for Title II. See 20 C.F.R.§§ 404.988 & 416.1488. See, e.g., POMS SI 02201.005.E, which applying the rules of administrative finality to SSI overpayments, permitting the recovery of an SSI overpayment made more than two years in the past if the determination of the overpayment was made timely.
The EM cross references POMS GN 02205.005 -Contingent Liability for Title II Overpayment Recovery, meaning outstanding overpayments can be collected from any person receiving benefits on the same earnings record as the overpaid individual. Those individuals could include spouses, widows, children, or parents. See GN 02210.016 – Applying priority of adjustment – overpayment. If an overpayment was assessed against a mother or father years ago, for example, the benefits of a child receiving benefits on that same account could be “adjusted.”
And remember that even if adjustment of ongoing benefits is not an option, SSA has other means of collecting old, outstanding overpayments from other federal payments, including tax refunds, under the Treasury Offset Program. Several years ago, SSA faced much negative publicity when it attempted to collect old debts by those means.