IRS seizure of Social Security payments a ticking time bomb

IRS seizure of Social Security payments a ticking time bomb

The Washington Post declared victory Tuesday for exposing the seizure of income-tax refunds to claw back alleged Social Security overpayments.

But the legal issue of garnishing money from the children of deceased parents remains legally contentious, and a senior senator is demanding answers from the agencies involved.

As reported here, backtracking Social Security officials announced they will now only pursue overpayment cases less than 10 years old. That timeframe was already set in Internal Revenue Service statutes, so the administration merely acknowledged the law.

Sen. Charles Grassley said the affair is far from over:

Is it fair and reasonable to pursue debts from the surviving children for payments to the parents? The statute of limitations language didn’t give permission to collect debts where the debtor is deceased.

Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, sent letters to Acting Social Security Commissioner Carolyn Colvin and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew requesting answers to more than 30 questions.

Grassley told Colvin that the Social Security Administration and the IRS, in their zeal to collect cash, acted in ways “possibly beyond what Congress intended,” adding:

It appears that SSA is not performing due diligence in notifying individuals or allowing them to inspect records of the debt they supposedly owe, which are violations of the law.

Other critics of the heavy-handed tax collectors say Social Security benefits could be the first fruits of an inter-generational money grab.

“This opens the possibility for the federal government to attempt to collect federal student loan debts from the children of deceased parents,” said Pamela Mullin, an activist with Student Loan Justice.

Watchdog reported in February that more than $1 trillion in federally backed student loans are outstanding. With compounding interest, there is little to no likelihood of repayment in the recipients’ lifetimes.

“There’s no legal precedent for minor children inheriting the debts of their parents,” Mullin said.

Upholding the IRS-Social Security garnishments program could set a costly new precedent.

Grassley gave Colvin and Lew until April 29 to respond to his legal and procedural questions.

Read more by Kenric Ward at

Kenric Ward

Kenric Ward

Kenric Ward is a national correspondent and writes for the Texas Bureau of Formerly a reporter and editor at two Pulitzer Prize-winning newspapers, Kenric has won dozens of state and national news awards for investigative articles. His most recent book is “Saints in Babylon: Mormons and Las Vegas.”


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