Teen asked to payback Social Security money

January 4, 2012 8:33:01 PM PST
A Bay Area woman was barely out of diapers when Social Security accidentally began overpaying her benefits. Her mother suffered a debilitating injury, and now, more than a decade later, she's being asked to repay that money.

This story raises a lot of questions--first, can a child be held responsible for something that is no fault of her own? And if so, is there a way for her to appeal and get out from under that responsibility?

"I love her. She's my mom," said Johnna King.

King remembers her mom fondly. She was just 12 years old when her mother died of heart failure.

"We would play and we made up a funny game of like shadow puppets," said King.

This past summer, King received a notice in the mail billing her $1,282 for overpayments inadvertently made to her by Social Security between 1995 and 2000.

"At first I thought it was like a joke or something. I didn't understand how it takes them this long, over 11 years, to figure out they made a mistake," said King.

These things happen, we told you about a similar issue taking place in the California Department of Social Services. A lawsuit was filed that would prevent the state from going after children for overpayment of benefits. An attorney in that case says the kids overpaid by federal government are in a slightly better position. Social Security has an appeal process.

"I don't know how to handle that. I don't know who I'd talk to, who I'd call and what I would say when I called," said King.

How would any 19-year old know? Luckily, she knew about me and 7 On Your Side and made contact. That's when we went to work on her behalf. It turns out she could qualify for a waiver, but to get that she needs to show a hardship. In King's case, that's easy. The 19-year-old is delaying college because she can't afford tuition. Just to make ends meet, she is handcrafting and selling miniature toys. She simply can't afford to pay the $1,300.

"This would be over a full month's rent and we really couldn't afford to do that all at once," said King.

On her behalf, we made the case for the waiver and Social Security really helped, guiding her through the appeals process, and eventually granting her the waiver. She does not have to pay.