Social Security card and money (Image: Shutterstock)

The Social Security Administration released Thursday an interim final rule streamlining the waiver process for certain overpayment debts some beneficiaries may have incurred during the COVID-19 pandemic.

SSA will accept comments on the rule until Oct. 26.

As it stands now, if an individual is overpaid by the SSA, they can request a waiver to appeal the repayment. The Social Security actuary estimates roughly $238 million in debt owed will be waived.

Under SSA’s new rule, which comes in response to COVID-19, the SSA will apply a streamlined waiver process for Social Security, Supplemental Security Income and Special Veterans Benefits overpayments incurred between March 1 and Sept. 30, 2020.

Lawmakers’ Reaction

“In March, the SSA took unprecedented measures to protect beneficiaries’ income and healthcare coverage during the pandemic by not taking certain actions. This choice caused individuals to be overpaid, through no fault of their own,” according to a statement from House Ways and Means ranking member Kevin Brady, R-Texas, and other lawmakers on Thursday.

“This decision is the right call, and we applaud Commissioner Saul’s move to streamline the process to have this debt waived for taxpayers,” added Brady, along with Worker and Family Support Subcommittee Leader Jackie Walorski, R-Ind., and Social Security Subcommittee Republican Leader Tom Reed, R-N.Y.

Social Security Operations

On March 17, SSA closed more than 1,200 field offices to in-person service, “maximizing employees’ use of telework, and reprioritizing certain manual workloads to stop actions that could, under normal circumstances, have resulted in a reduction, suspension, or termination of benefits or payments under titles II, VIII, or XVI of the Social Security Act,” the organization said.

For instance, SSA “suspended the completion of title XVI redeterminations, a periodic review of an individual’s or couple’s non-medical eligibility factors such as income, resources, and living arrangement, during which our staff ensures that a recipient or couple is still eligible for” SSI payments and is receiving the correct amount of SSI payments.

Because SSA suspended certain actions due to the pandemic, “we did not establish some overpayment debts as timely as we would have if our offices had been operating normally.”

SSA added that it would have “processed manually the debts impacted by this action.” However, “due to our focus on prioritizing other more urgent workloads and reducing stress on the people we serve during the beginning of the pandemic, we did not take action on these types of overpayment debts.”

The lawmakers pointed out that SSA “will waive the overpayment if the individual is without fault in causing the overpayment, and if recovery would defeat the purpose of the program or would be against equity and good conscience. For Supplemental Security Income only, the SSA may also waive the overpayment if it would impede the administration of the program.”