9 Investigates

People say COVID-19 stimulus caused social security overpayments, even though that money was exempt

ORLANDO, Fla. — A congressional hearing is expected as early as Wednesday after an investigation into social security overpayments.


Nine Investigates has been telling you for more than a month how Social Security has been demanding people pay back billions of dollars the agency says it shouldn’t have given them.

Now, we’ve learned some families say they’ve lost their Social Security because of money they got as extra help during COVID-19.

Social Security’s own rules say those COVID stimulus checks should not count against your benefits eligibility as assets or income.

But since our initial report last month, we’ve heard from people across the country saying that’s what happened to them.

Read: Lawmaker calls for hearing on Social Security Administration overpayments

Jesse Greatorex was one of those people.

He made a good living as an aviation mechanic until an accident at home six years ago. He now receives just $1,550 dollars a month, to support him and his two kids, but now that’s in jeopardy, “So, you get his letter and it says what?”

He tells us, “That I was overpaid from the months of April of 2020 to December 2020 and they would be talking my entire benefit amount to recoup that overpayment as they called it. The explanation? “They said I was working too much and making too much money during that time, which was also COVID lockdown and I was actually in the hospital.”

Read: State unemployment asking for repayments

Medical bills show he was in an Ohio hospital battling what doctors thought was cancer; the only explanation he can come up with is that his COVID-19 stimulus payments put him over the income limit for social security.

Without the money, he and his kids won’t have a place to live.

And he isn’t the only one.

Dave Greune’s daughter Julia is blind and has cerebral palsy.

Read: Hundreds of thousands of people face overpayment claims from Social Security

Her only income is her monthly social security check, but during the pandemic, she received $3200 in stimulus payments.

Now, SSA has frozen her monthly payments and is demanding more than $7000 back for the months of social security payments the agency now thinks she was ineligible to receive. Greune said, “I just assumed since the government put the money in, they would understand that she’s going to have extra money.”

Our investigation last month revealed how hundreds of thousands of families have been hit with overpayment demands from social security, even when it was the government who made the mistake.

Attorney Jen Burdick has helped many people fight overpayments, particularly if the overpayment notice came later, like the people who are getting them now.

Read: Social Security has overpaid $21 billion to people’s monthly checks & now it wants the money back

“I think a lot of people aren’t thinking about what caused this.”

In the wake of our reporting, the Social Security Administration announced it will review its overpayment procedures and policies, but the policy for COVID stimulus payments is clear.

In 2021, the SSA directed employees not to count stimulus money as income or assets for one year to avoid overpayments.

Later, that was changed to indefinitely.

Read: Seniors urge Congress to reform Social Security before program runs short on cash in 10 years

The problem, as Kathleen Romig at the center for budget and policy priorities notes, is once those COVID stimulus dollars went into a person’s account, and mixed with their other money, it would be impossible to prove if that money is still in the account years later.

Romig telling us, “The principle of not punishing people for receiving this assistance really makes sense. But figuring out how to make that work is a difficult and maybe even impossible problem to solve.”

The Social Security Administration has declined our repeated requests for an interview and refused to say how many people this has happened too but for Jesse, he says he would like not to be homeless, but wants more for other, saying, “For people, for elderly people I would like them actually have somebody that helps. That people who are sicker than I was or more injured those people have no chance to fight against this. These are people like myself that have paid into the system and earned benefits they should be getting.”

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Shannon Butler

Shannon Butler, WFTV.com

Shannon joined the Eyewitness News team in 2013.