But 37 years passed between when Social Security says it overpaid someone in the Grice family and when Mary Grice’s refund was taken. She was unable to find out from the agency exactly who received the overpayment — her mother or perhaps her father’s first wife, both of whom are no longer living.
The suspension of the collection effort is “the right thing to do,” said Grice’s attorney, Robert Vogel. “It’s a first step. The next thing they have to do is stop collecting debts from children under any circumstances.”
Vogel filed suit in federal court in Greenbelt last week, alleging that the government denied Grice due process by failing to give her notice of the debt and by taking the money from her, even though she was not receiving government benefits at the time the debt was incurred.
Vogel and several members of Congress argued that the government should not be holding children accountable for the financial acts of their parents. The Federal Trade Commission,on its Web site, advises Americans that “family members typically are not obligated to pay the debts of a deceased relative from their own assets.”
After The Post’s article was published late last week, many hundreds of taxpayers who had had their refunds intercepted came forward and complained to members of Congress that they had been given no notice of the debts and that the government had not explained why they were being held responsible for debts that their deceased parents may have incurred.
In a note Social Security officials sent to several members of Congress on Monday, the agency said, “We will be reexamining our responsibilities under current law for such referrals and will be notifying you of our conclusions upon completion of the thorough review.”
In a letter to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew on Monday, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said that government agencies were apparently “not properly notifying individuals or allowing them to inspect records of the debt they supposedly owe, which are violations of the law.”
Grassley said that although Congress did authorize the government to seek payment on old debts, the law “says nothing about allowing the government to offset payments from an individual to pay debts not in his or her name. It is unclear where the government has that authority.”
The senator said that Congress created a rigorous system to ensure that debt collection is handled transparently, but “it appears that agencies are abusing this system.”