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$500 Million in Suspended Disability Benefits Returned

  • Published: 2010-10-05 : Author: Social Security Disability
  • Synopsis: Social Security Administration wrongfully denied eligible beneficiaries because they believed applicants were wanted felons.

The Social Security Administration wrongfully denied eligible beneficiaries because they believed that the applicants were wanted felons.

A federal court that decided for Martinez vs. Astrue ordered the Social Security Administration to return $500 million worth of suspended benefits to approximately 250,000 beneficiaries. The beneficiaries, who were wrongly identified as felons, were deemed ineligible through an arrest warrant database. They were consequently denied of their benefits for the last 10 years.

Gerald A. McIntyre, the lead attorney for the National Senior Citizen Law Center, logged the class action after discovering that many beneficiaries were being cut off when the SSA erroneously applied a 1996 law which prevented fleeing felons from collecting benefits. The suit was initiated in 2008 when Rosa Martinez, 53, a resident of Redwood City, CA, stopped receiving disability assistance because of a 1980 arrest warrant filed in Miami, FL. However, Martinez has never visited Miami. Martinez said, "They just told me I won't be getting any more Social Security because I committed a crime in 1980...I was in a state of shock. And since then I became really sad and upset because I didn't know what was happening to me. I was depending on this money." Martinez became the lead plaintiff in the class suit. Likewise, many of the other victims shared similar names with known felons; others had warrants for minor infractions.

The SSA's warrant filtering procedure was supposed to ensure that fleeing felons cannot get disability benefits. McIntyre, on his reproach, said, "The vast majority of class members were not fleeing at all; many never knew that criminal charges were pending against them let alone that a warrant had been issued." McIntyre also criticized the SSA's method of matching the first and last names of the beneficiaries with Social Security Numbers. "If they cannot discover a match, they will dig by using dates of birth." The policy is still subsisting in selected parts of the United States.

SSA Commissioner Michael Astrue announced that they are currently mailing notices to the victims, informing them that they may reapply for benefits and submit a disability claim within the next six months. Under the terms of the settlement, in which the administration admitted no wrongdoing, the government is only repaying benefits owed, and will not be paying any punitive damages for loss of income or suffering.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a federal insurance program of the United States government that is funded by payroll taxes and is designed to provide an income for disabled individuals who are unable to work. If you are one of its rightful beneficiaries who received unfair or negative treatment, never sleep on your rights. Visit for more information about SSDI.

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