Monday, March 10, 2014

A Lesson on Supplemental Security Income

In October, I received a letter from Social Security Administration saying that Ben no longer qualified for SSI AND we owed a very large over payment for two years of SSI that Ben did receive. The letter showed that we owned two of the same car. I knew this was wrong and immediately wrote a letter. I thought it was a computer glitch.

Over the past five months, I have met with Social Security, spoke with several people over the phone and wrote countless letters providing documentation to show the cars we actually owned and filed appeals for the decision to revoke Ben's SSI during the two year period they think we owned these two cars.

Tomorrow I have another meeting. I am hoping we can get this straightened out. This situation has caused a lot of stress for us and has taken a tremendous amount of our time trying to unravel the problem. I have not written a post in almost a month, partially because my brain power has been consumed with this issue and the bathroom saga (qualifies for its own post) which has created its own set of applications and paperwork. This morning I lay in bed, waking too early because of this darn time change, and thought about what I have learned from this experience and what I could pass on to others. So here is what I have learned so far:

1. Keep records. My mom helped me organize mountains of letters from Social Security and to Social Security. I will be armed with a file box ready to bring with me tomorrow. I kept fairly good records of who I spoke with on the phone, but not great. I recommend a phone log with date, name, identifying number for person, and exactly what was said. If possible, record those phone conversations with their permission. If you do not have that capability, then write a summary of the conversation and send them a copy for their records and keep one for yourself.

2. Bring client with you to meetings. Tomorrow Ben is coming with us to the meeting. I have gone by myself in the past, and I think having Ben there will help see that it is not me they are helping, but Ben. *Please see the comment section. Depending on the type of meeting you are having, you may decide against bringing your child with you.

3. Not so easy to lawyer up. I have called and spoken to more attorneys in the past few weeks than I have in my life. Not one helps with over payments with SSI. They all help with getting SSI because there is money to be made from it. With over payments, clients potentially owe the government and they do not have money to pay a lawyer.

Also, SSI is a very specialized field and only lawyers with this knowledge will be helpful to you. It is an intricate and specific law so any type of lawyer will not do. Nor will you find one that wants to try it out. Believe me, I tried.

Legal Aid or some form of this free or sliding scale legal service in your area may be of assistance. I have waited for over a week to hear from them and the moment I wrote "lawyer up" in this post, they called me back. Karma or coincidence...I don't care as long as I have some help!

4. Be organized. This goes along with the keeping records - but good records are nothing if you cannot find anything. All documentation needs to be stapled, organized by date and kept in one folder, box or cabinet. It will help your case to show that you have kept up with everything and have it ready at your fingertips.

5. Take the emotion out. Coming from me this says a lot because I can yell with the best of them, but this will not help my son get what he needs. I am angry because at some point, either someone did not catch the mistake or let it slide, but now we are paying the price. However, making enemies with the staff at Social Security is only going to get me on a list somewhere, and not a good one. Stay calm, be direct and be prepared. Show respect for the people you are meeting with so they will give you the same amount of respect.

6. Be persistent. File all the appeals and waivers you are given. Attend the hearings and meetings. Get the names and phone numbers of people you meet with and contact them to ask questions. I do not recommend harassing them with phone calls. The staff are people just like us, trying to do their jobs. However, I have heard from more than one person that you may get different answers depending on whom you speak with.

7. Determine your worst case scenario. Worrying about the unknown is by far the worst kind of worrying. Making things up in your head often leads to inflated disaster. Once we got past the unknown, we realized that the worst for us would be to pay back the money. Since I heard from an attorney that you can setup a payment plan of just $25 per month until the amount is paid, we relaxed a bit. It may take us to our deathbed, but we can manage those type of payments.

8. Pray. A few words to your higher power can help at least relieve your stress and put it in the hands of something bigger than you.

Please say a prayer for us tomorrow - that we find a resolution and can move on.

** At 4pm today, I received a call from the person handling our claim at te Social Security Adminsitration. In order to give us more time, she asked to move the meeting to next week. She also gave me a list of items she needed for a complete review (many I have given before, but I will comply again).

13 comments:

  1. I cannot even imagine going through this. You have my utmost respect and admiration...best, best of luck when the meeting happens.

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  2. Ask the interviewer to look at the RVEH screens in the MSSICS file to see if this car's value is listed as belonging to both you and your spouse which would double the value. But is it your only car? One is excludable and the second is almost always countable and subject to the quite restrictive $3000 resource limit. I'd also bring all vehicle registrations and purchase documents, to be sure you can answer the questions.

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    1. This is very helpful. I will ask these questions and also bring the documents concerning our cars. We do have two.

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  3. And don't bring your son - you can't guilt SSA either you qualify or you don't

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  4. Thank you for your comment. When I spoke with the person we will meet with, I told her that I was planning on bringing Ben and she said that it was up to me, but that this was not a meeting to determine eligibility and unless he could sit for awhile, it may be a long wait for him. It sounded like it was going to be a long meeting, so I have decided against bringing Ben.

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    1. Bringing Ben wouldn't be guilting Social Security, it's putting a human face to numbers.

      Justin

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    2. And he is the only human receiving SSI as a disabled child and that is a reason for an SSA employee to ignore policy because he is more special than all the other special children? Of course he is more special to his parents and those who love him, but I don't think it is appropriate for SSA staff to apply their personal bias/emotions into making a payment decision with your tax dollars.

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  5. Write to your congressperson, asking them to contact SSA on your behalf, in your letter explain succinctly explain the situation as well as including copies of your one car registration as well as a copy of this blog post to show you have tried to resolve this on your own . Congressional letters get attention from SSA management.

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    1. Thank you for this information. We do have two cars, but one is being paid through a loan. I will see how this next meeting goes and then take it from there.

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    2. https://secure.ssa.gov/apps10/poms.nsf/lnx/0501130200

      Read the section on multiple automobiles.

      •If only one automobile is used for transportation, totally exclude the value of that automobile. Follow the form completion instructions in SI 01130.200E.2.a. for the excluded automobile.


      •If more than one automobile is used for transportation, totally exclude the automobile with the greatest equity value. Follow the form completion instructions in SI 01130.200E.2.a. for the excluded automobile.


      •For any automobile that cannot be excluded for transportation reasons, consider excluding it under the provisions for property essential to self-support, plan to achieve self-support, or consider if conditional benefits apply.


      •If the automobile does not qualify for the exclusion, count the equity value of the automobile(s) as a resource. Follow the form completion instructions in SI 01130.200E.2.b. for any non-excluded automobile.


      It is rare that SSI will exclude two vehicles unless one is needed as part of one family member's business (realtor, gardener who goes from house to house) so that both members of the family require two vehicles as part of their daily activities. If one parent goes to the office or the shop every day and park the car in the parking lot, then the second car will probably not be excluded because they could make it work as a one car family - perhaps less convenient though.

      Since you have a loan out on one car, the equity value is going to be lower than the market value. Equity value is market value minus loan amount; if you sold it today and paid off the loan, how much cash would you get?

      The problem with using equity value to exclude a second car is that it is not static; every month the market value of all cars goes down and every month the amount owes on the car goes down as the loan gets repaid. So equity value actually increases over time. That is the point of paying off the loan. So paying the loan increases the equity which increases the countable value. You own more of the car so you could make more money if you sell it.

      If you don't have evidence of how much the payoff would have been on your car every month for the last two years, perhaps the lender could help you write an amortization schedule that shows how much your payoff would have been each month. Or, a clumsier method would be to just use the amount of the car payment. The problem with that method is that if you pay a loan off earlier, the total interest owed is less so it is not a true picture.

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    3. If you can get both cars excluded, then this won't be an issue later on. If you can't get both cars excluded, I think you may keep bumping up against the resource limit.

      And we haven't even touched on the amount of money in your bank accounts which is added to the value of the second car. The couple resource limit is $3000 and anything over that is deemed available to your son. Your son has a $2000 resource limit. So if he has zero and you and your husband have equity exceeding $5000 in your least expensive car, your child will not be eligible for SSI because of excess resources.

      The overpayment for the past months could be incorrect if the wrong amount of loan was considered, and if you didn't submit proof of the amount owed each month, the loan amount is most likely wrong each month. That doesn't change the current or the future.

      After all of this, if your son is still overpaid, you can request a waiver of the overpayment and SSA will decide if you are at fault. If you disagree with the denial of the exclusion of the second car or the denial of the waiver of the overpayment, you can appeal through an Administrative Law Judge, although this will be a long administrative process. But it may be worth it to you if the SSI is worth preserving for him as a minor child.

      You may also decide that you don't want to live your lives with the restrictions of a public assistance program and want to be able to save your money and manage your money as you see fit and buy as many cars as you think your family needs and save for a rainy day and just do without Medicaid and SSI. Once your child is 18, then it is only his money and any money that others give him that matters. His money also could include trust funds, 529 plans, savings bonds - other investments purchased for him by grandparents or well-meaning middle income family members, so be aware of that as well.

      Bringing your son along so that the employee can see who he is will not should not have any effect on the decision. All children receiving SSI are disabled, so although he is and should be special to you, the level of his impairments do not and should not impact whether or not SSA follows policy. There is an obscure provision in SSI about parents who bring their children home from institutions to be cared for at home, but those children require an extremely high level of care and are mostly bedridden or otherwise non-ambulatory, and unable to communicate or do any self-care. Those children might still get a few bucks ($30-50) from SSI even if their parents have too much income and would be able to stay on Medicaid.

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  6. If you are going to contact your Congressperson, perhaps another question to ask is why the SSI resource limit has only increased once since 1974 when the program began and the earned income exclusion of $65 has never increased. Back in 1974, the resource limit and the earned income exclusion were worth more in purchasing power than they are today - inflation means their value continues to erode.

    Also ask your Congressperson about what he/she is doing about providing appropriate funding for SSA to hire enough people to do the job they are tasked to do instead of thinking it is good policy to reduce the number of employees by not providing enough money to hire enough staff. Why is the overall number of staff dwindling over the years and is that okay with the Congressperson?

    A congressperson won't be able to change what you need to do and the office manager is still going to distribute the work to the staff who you are already dealing with who will still apply the policies laid out for them. It will mean that the case may be given higher priority that the rest of the people waiting for SSA to take action. And sometimes that should happen.

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    1. Wow - you have given me a lot of information and website resources. You have also posed questions that are serious ones to think about. I will be better informed when I go into the meeting, provide clear documentation and know that I have tried every available resource at my disposal. Thank you so very much.

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