I live in California.
My 14-yr. old son has been receiving family dependent SSA benefits (because of my husband's disability on SSA) since 2009. At that time, SSA determined that my son was entitled to the maximum family benefit rate as a dependent of his disabled father. I am the payee for my son and was not entitled to any benefits because I receive a pension from my job of 30 years.
I just received a letter from SSA stating they have overpaid my son over $23,000 from the last 3 years and that I need to pay it back. They said he was only entitled to half of the maximum family rate, because they had me on the account as a secondary dependent of my husband---even though they never paid me anything, as I had informed them of the pension I was receiving and didn't want benefits---which, by the way, the family rate is NOT based on what I receive.
I went in to my local SSA office and spoke with a claims rep and a Supervisor. First they were quite surprised there even was an overpayment, and could find no logical reason for it and thought it was a computation error. They said they would speak to the payment section in Richmond, CA. A couple days later the claims rep called me and gave me this explanation: Originally any qualifying dependents of my husband would receive the maximum family rate (currently $978/mo), and that the benefits would be split between the dependents, in my case 50/50: me and my son. However, because I was receiving a pension, I was not entitled to any benefits, so, to compensate for the maximum allowable, they raised my son's rate and awarded him with 100% of the family rate. SSA confirmed all this to me in a follow-up letter back in 2009. So all these years, he has received the full family rate amount.
But now they are saying they were wrong all that time and miscalculated his rate; that he should have only been receiving half of it these past 3 years. But by them splitting the family rate between the dependents, it really defeats the purpose of a "family" rate, and instead becomes an "individual" rate. Their mistake amounts to over $23,000 and they want me to pay it all back. Consequently, since any re-adjusted benefits they claim he is entitled to now ($489/mo) will stop when he's 18, simple math shows that for the next 4 years, his entire monthly benefit received will be just about zero, because they will be recouping the "overpayment." The claims rep replied this is very likely possible. They are essentially putting my son's welfare, and my family in devastating circumstances, especially asking me to pay back something that was their error, that they allowed to drag on for 3 years time, and through no fault of my own.
The claims rep also told me that when my son turns 16, he will THEN be entitled to the full family rate amount. What? What difference does it make whether he is 14 or 16 I asked. She answered, "Well, they are keeping you on the account as a "potential" beneficiary until he is 16, because that is the age at which he can be left home alone if the mother decides to go back to work. Therefore, since you are still on the account, he can only receive 50% of the family rate. Then SSA will take you off when he turns 16, and then he can get 100%." I told her that is the most ridiculous thing I ever heard. If indeed, I did go get a job, I'd be making even more money, so why would that then entitle him to 100% and not before? Makes no sense to me.
She then suggested I fill out a 7-page waiver form that says I cannot afford to pay back the overpayment. Of course there is no guarantee whatsoever that it will be granted after it is reviewed. My question is, would sending a copy of this completed form and perhaps a cover letter explaining all this to an administrator or someone up the chain of command be a better course of action? I don't have names of anyone to which I could address such a letter, but just returning this form to that claims rep alone left me with little hope of satisfaction. Any advice?