As the nation reeled from covid-19, the federal government sent many Americans a financial lifeline.
But some recipients say the covid relief payments have triggered financial distress by jeopardizing their Social Security benefits.
The government has demanded they repay much larger amounts — thousands of dollars in benefits for the poor and disabled distributed by the Social Security Administration.
“The government gave this money to them with one hand. They should not be trying to take it back with the other,” said Jen Burdick, an attorney at Community Legal Services of Philadelphia who has helped many people contest repayment demands.
Jo Vaughn, a disabled 63-year-old in New Mexico, received $3,200 in federal covid relief. Then came a letter from the Social Security Administration dated Aug. 25, 2023, saying she owed the government $14,026.
“They are sending me to a very early grave,” Vaughn said.
The covid clawbacks show the trauma the Social Security Administration can cause when it claims to have overpaid beneficiaries, many of them highly vulnerable, then calls on them to pay the money back.
And the collection efforts illustrate the limitations and dysfunction that have come to define the agency.
Social Security Administration spokesperson Nicole Tiggemann declined to comment for this article or to arrange an interview with the agency’s acting commissioner, Kilolo Kijakazi.
In the wake of a …