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Database Error Costs Social Security Victims $500M 299

Hugh Pickens writes "The Washington Posts reports that the Social Security Administration has agreed to pay more than $500 million in back benefits to more than 80,000 recipients whose benefits were unfairly denied after they were flagged by a federal computer program designed to catch serious criminals. At issue is a 1996 law, which contained language later nicknamed the 'fleeing felon' provision, that said fugitives were ineligible to receive federal benefits. As part of its enforcement, the administration began searching computer databases to weed out people who were collecting benefits and had outstanding warrants. The searches captured dozens of criminals, including some wanted for homicide, but they also ensnared countless elderly and disabled people accused of relatively minor offenses such as shoplifting or writing bad checks and in some cases, the victims simply shared a name and a birth date with an offender." (Read more, below.)
"The lead plaintiff in the class-action suit, Rosa Martinez, 52, of Redwood City, Calif., was cut off from her $870 monthly disability benefit check in January 2008 because the system had flagged an outstanding drug warrant in 1980 for a different Rosa Martinez from Miami. Officials said it is difficult to estimate how many social security recipients might be affected by the agreement but said the number is fewer than 1 percent nationally. 'What's remarkable about this case is thesheer number of individuals who were unfairly denied benefits and the size of the financial settlement they will receive,' said David H. Fry of Munger, Tolles & Olson, one of the pro bono attorneys who represented victims."
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Database Error Costs Social Security Victims $500M

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  • by 680x0 ( 467210 ) <vicky@steed[ ]om ['s.c' in gap]> on Wednesday August 12, 2009 @06:01PM (#29044539) Journal

    Sounds like Rosa Martinez might be getting back more than $870/mo worth. Even going all the way back to 1996, that's an average of about $40,000/mo per person.

    What are you smoking? $500 million, divided by 80,000 people is an average of $6250 per person, total. Assuming they were all getting $870 per month, they were being paid for an average of a little over 7 months.

  • by HiChris! ( 999553 ) on Wednesday August 12, 2009 @06:03PM (#29044573)

    Actually, even SSN are not 'unique'. They try and keep it unique for each generation, but they've already started reusing numbers.

    SSNs are not currently re-used. They may potentially be reissued but we are talking 50+ years from now. See []

  • by Attila Dimedici ( 1036002 ) on Wednesday August 12, 2009 @06:21PM (#29044753)
    The problem is that in all probability the database of the criminals does not have their SSN. Therefore there is no way to know if the Rosa Martinez in Redwood, CA is the Rosa Martinez with an outstanding drug warrant from Miami, FL or not. Of course it would have been nice if someone had thought this through before they passed a law, but then as we have recently discovered it is just too much work for Congressman to actually read the laws before they pass them.
  • Do away with it (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 12, 2009 @06:38PM (#29045009)

    We wouldn't have these problems if they simply did away with Social Security entirely. It was never meant to be a retirement plan for every citizen. It cannot possibly dole out the benefits it has promised to future generations. It is a freaking pyramid scheme, and a poorly planned one at that.

    I've been paying into it for decades now, and I'd still rather they just let me cut my losses. Think of the boost to the economy if OASDI and Medicare wasn't stolen from your paycheck. That and we could get rid of the entire bloated Social Security Administration and the vast mountains of useless paperwork generated by mindless drones.

    Really now, how long are we going to stare at the gaping bleeding wound in the economy and say to ourselves "dang, that hurts, should probably do something about that before I bleed out."

  • Re:How on earth... (Score:3, Informative)

    by vux984 ( 928602 ) on Wednesday August 12, 2009 @06:47PM (#29045121)

    I like how you leapt from assumption to assumption until you landed at your preferred conclusion.

    I'm curious what you think my conclusion was.

    The only assumption I made was that the parent poster has zero data whatsoever that would demonstrate that the people currently running health care aren't making worse mistakes / decisions.

    And my conclusion, for the record, really wasn't that government health care would be better or more reliable or anything. My point was that before we label the government as categorically unfit to run it, we should establish that the people currently in charge are actually doing a better job than the gov't would.

    As far as my bias on the subject, yes, I am in favor of govt doing what they are proposing. Everything I've read and seen about the actual bill (as opposed to stuff like that vacuum skulled Palin's fictional death panels) is quite reasonable.

    And there is clear evidence from Europe and Canada that government run health care is delivering better results than the status quo, and at lower costs.

    And finally, the govt ALREADY runs health care for the military and has for decades, and I don't think they've proven categorically unfit to run it -- and I don't see any horrific "death panels", nor do I see any "washington bureaucrats blocking doctors from giving care" either.

    This is why the health care reform debate is a shit-flinging monkey fight.

    Its a shit flinging monkey fight because, in this case, the right is making asses of themselves.

    (And I'm not saying the left don't make asses of themselves on a regular basis, but in this case, its the right.)

  • Re:How on earth... (Score:3, Informative)

    by c0nman ( 573940 ) on Wednesday August 12, 2009 @07:07PM (#29045337)

    Q20: Are Social Security numbers reused after a person dies?

    A: No. We do not reassign a Social Security number (SSN) after the number holder's death. Even though we have issued over 415 million SSNs so far, and we assign about 5 and one-half million new numbers a year, the current numbering system will provide us with enough new numbers for several generations into the future with no changes in the numbering system.

  • Re:How on earth... (Score:3, Informative)

    by vux984 ( 928602 ) on Wednesday August 12, 2009 @07:20PM (#29045457)

    The point began and ended with noting that the U.S. federal government is well-known for its gaffes, and that they're never referenced in any debate on health reform.

    And my counter point was that the private enterprise is known for its gaffes too, and covering them up, and denying any accountability. Not to mention operating at a far lower level of scrutiny. And all this isn't referenced either.

    I don't know why you took such a simple idea and ran for the hills with it

    If by "ran for the hills with it", you mean that I pointed out that your point really applies just as well vs private health care, then sure. Maybe I made the point with antagonistic rhetoric, but really, my point was as simple as yours, and directed right at it.

  • Re:How on earth... (Score:4, Informative)

    by NaCh0 ( 6124 ) on Wednesday August 12, 2009 @07:27PM (#29045547)

    With the current bill in congress, you don't even have to be a lawful immigrant. Perhaps that's why the government going to count the illegal aliens in the 2010 census. (presumably not asking their immigration status)

  • by jeffsenter ( 95083 ) on Wednesday August 12, 2009 @07:48PM (#29045769) Homepage

    My employer the Mental Health Project of the Urban Justice Center is one of the nonprofits on this lawsuit.

    The Press Release from

    The Social Security Administration (SSA) will repay over $500 million to 80,000 individuals whose benefits were suspended or denied since January 1, 2007, under a nationwide class action settlement which U.S. District Court Judge Claudia Wilken preliminarily approved on August 11, 2009. Many more people who were denied benefits between 2000 and 2006 will also have the chance to re-establish their eligibility. All told, more than 200,000 individuals will receive back benefits and/or have benefits re-instated under this settlement.

    The settlement resolves a class action lawsuit challenging SSAâ(TM)s unlawful policy of suspending or denying benefits based on warrant information. The lawsuit, Martinez v. Astrue, disputed SSAâ(TM)s interpretation of a narrowly drawn provision of the Social Security Act, which prohibits payment of benefits to anyone "fleeing to avoid prosecution" for a felony.

    Courts across the country have held that the law does not permit SSA to suspend or deny benefits without a finding that the person had the intent to flee. However, SSA had continued to suspend or deny benefits to thousands each month based only on a crude computer matching system using outstanding warrant information.

    This unlawful policy has had devastating consequences on the lives of elderly and disabled individuals, many of whom rely upon Social Security benefits as their only income and, without their rightfully due benefits, have been unable to pay for rent or other basic necessities. Moreover, the absence of a functioning appeal system left people without recourse to challenge these denials for years; individuals were routinely and inaccurately told that they could not appeal these decisions, even though an appeals process does in fact exist. This settlement will allow class members â" many of whom have been rendered destitute, homeless, and dependent on relatives and charity â" to rebuild their lives.
    A fairness hearing is scheduled to occur September 24, 2009, where Judge Wilken will hear any objections before deciding whether to grant final approval.

    Urban Justice Center, National Senior Citizens Law Center, Disability Rights California, Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County and pro bono counsel Munger, Tolles & Olson represent plaintiffs in this class action.
    Court documents and relevant materials can be found on this page. For more information, contact Emilia Sicilia.

  • by gbutler69 ( 910166 ) on Wednesday August 12, 2009 @08:10PM (#29045965) Homepage

    First off, social security isn't some charity program, paid for by other taxpayers. It is money that the citizens/criminals paid into the system and deserve to get back, regardless of what else they have done in life.

    Bzzzt! WRONG!

    ALL current Social Security recipients have received more in benefits than they EVER paid into the system. It IS NOT an investement! It is exactly what it says SOCIAL SECURITY. It is a TAX that all workers pay to fund the care and retirement of the older generation. It is good!

  • by Fulcrum of Evil ( 560260 ) on Wednesday August 12, 2009 @08:36PM (#29046195)
    Everybody = everybody. If you're in prison, they can figure that out by the marshalls escorting you. They don't know if you're listed because they don't check, since you're covered anyway. The whole point of this is so you don't have to spend so much effort on denying people. This is how you save money.
  • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Wednesday August 12, 2009 @08:58PM (#29046369) Journal
    There's no law preventing you from passing this information on to immigration...
  • Re:How on earth... (Score:3, Informative)

    by GaryPatterson ( 852699 ) on Wednesday August 12, 2009 @09:14PM (#29046499)

    As an Australian, I'm a bit surprised that we're held up as any kind of model for health insurance.

    The previous government insituted a 30% rebate on healthcare insurance, to help prop-up those companies with taxpayers funds. You get that back at tax time. Even with the rebate enticing people in, health insurance has risen many times since this policy came in.

    If you choose not to be in the private healthcare system, you pay a penalty at tax time that increases by 2% every year from 30 onwards. I think it's around $800 or so.

    On top of that, every now and then you see stories in the news about the rise of cosmetic surgery, done through private healthcare (and of course increasing premiums for all members). Several of them even advertise this, as well as alternative therapies.

    Finally, private hospitals don't run ambulance services or have emergency departments. That's all done on the public purse. They only do the things that make them money. And when any hospital performs an operation, they bump the cost up for privately insured patients who must pay the difference between the bill and the (lower) scheduled fee.

    So we've got welfare for corporations who apparently can't survive unless they're propped up by taxpayer money, penalties for refusing to get on board the gravy train, private hospitals picking and choosing what they'll treat and specialists making a fat pile of cash out of anyone on private insurance.

    There are plenty of good things about the system, but thre way insurance is handled is pretty awful.

  • Re:Unique Enough? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Dragonslicer ( 991472 ) on Wednesday August 12, 2009 @10:30PM (#29046927)

    "Unique Enough" isn't.

    It's unique enough for now. The current population of the US is a little over 300 million. There are 1 billion possible Social Security numbers. There haven't been 1 billion people alive in the US since Social Security started, and there won't be for probably 50-75 years, at which point they'd have to start reusing numbers of people that died 100 years earlier. Hopefully by then the government will have added another few digits, which would be enough to last for another thousand years or so.

  • Re:How on earth... (Score:3, Informative)

    by NNKK ( 218503 ) on Wednesday August 12, 2009 @10:46PM (#29047023) Homepage

    Illegal aliens have ALWAYS been counted in the census, regardless of who was in charge. Stop watching Fox Noise and go do some reading, starting with the Constitution. It says nothing about citizenship or immigration status. The present controlling language is in the 14th Amendment:

    "Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed."

    Even knowing how ignorant people are, it still amazes me how many bitch and moan about the federal government's actions without bothering to check the Constitution -- the owner's manual for our nation -- to see what it has to say.

  • Re:How on earth... (Score:3, Informative)

    by vux984 ( 928602 ) on Saturday August 15, 2009 @03:19AM (#29074525)

    ..of those that have no health insurance, about 0%.

    But that's not 300 million people now is it? So you just pick whatever suits you?

    I guess you havent let a tooth rot out. If you had,...

    I was in my early twenties, broke, and living on my own. After I spent an hour just rocking back and forth on the floor waiting for the pain to subside, well past the point where I had already tried to use a pair of pliers on it but couldn't get a grip... a friend took me to the hospital.

    You obviously worry constantly about every little ailment.

    You don't even begin to have a clue.

    Thats right. It ends in no pain every single time. The nerve dies. No nerve, no pain.

    While I believe you, that it would have eventually subsided, I didn't wait to find out. No sane person would have. ... your willfully blind ignorance

    This coming from a guy who thinks "prevention" is some sort of snake oil scam.

    But your right, its no longer productive to converse.

"Never face facts; if you do, you'll never get up in the morning." -- Marlo Thomas