‘It’s Hell’: Georgia woman living in car after losing Social Security disability benefits

A woman from Georgia is living in her car after losing her disability payments due to a problem with the Social Security Administration (SSA). Demanding money back from the SSA for overpayments is a rising problem that we first reported on in September.

As a result, some people are now homeless.

Denise Woods has lupus and cognitive heart failure, yet she was able to rent a three-bedroom house with her adult son and grandchildren until March 2022, when the government abruptly ended her Social Security disability payments.

“It’s like a mansion to me now,” Woods said to Action News Jax Ben Becker as she now goes to Savannah strip malls, truck stops, and parking lots looking for a safe place to park her SUV in the only home she can now afford.

“This is where I sleep, I keep a knife in the door, I have everything here,” said Woods, who had crammed his entire existence into the back seat.

According to a letter received by the Social Security Administration, the government is requesting $57,968.60 in restitution after deciding that it overpaid her.

Woods is unable to make ends meet due to her infirmity; she can only work part-time and earns just $14 per hour. As a result, the agency is withholding her entire monthly check of $2,048 until February 2026.

“This shouldn’t be like for anybody in life or anybody,” said Woods, adding, “It’s hell.”

Becker has been reporting for months on what some term a crisis at the Social Security Administration in an Action News Jax investigation. Hundreds of consumers have told us that letters demanding reimbursement are arriving in their mailboxes.

After being sent to Woods disability compensation for a decade, the government later informed her that she was ineligible because she earned too much money in numerous professions.

“If I owe it to you, you said I worked hard and made a lot of money.” Why am I living like this if I make six figures? “I’m a college graduate, and I know how to manage money,” Woods explained.

In fiscal year 2023, the Social Security Administration recovered approximately $5 billion in overpayments, with an additional $21 billion remaining owed.

‘It’s Hell’: Georgia woman living in car after losing Social Security disability benefits

Beneficiaries are initially asked to repay the money directly, but the government more frequently than not recoups the money by lowering or discontinuing monthly benefits – it can also confiscate income and federal tax refunds.

“I want to get Social Security just to fix it,” said U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D), Chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Social Security. He speculated that the government might be misinterpreting a law requiring the recovery of all overpayments.

“If we can’t just get them to change administratively because, you know, they take an oath that they will follow the law, then we’ll have to do something else.” “That may imply that we need to change the law,” Brown explained.

Internal SSA documents obtained by KFF Health News and our parent company, Cox Media Group, show that very few recipients attempt to challenge the agency’s overpayment notices by filing for a waiver or requesting reconsideration.

Only 12% of the 2.2 million customers who received an overcharge in fiscal year 2023 sought compensation.

Advocacy groups and others say they don’t know how many individuals become homeless after losing their benefits, but they believe anecdotal reports are prevalent.

Living in a parking lot with cars and birds coming and going makes Woods feel imprisoned. “I wouldn’t wish this on the birds out here eating worms.” I don’t want to wish that on anyone.”

Because of how our research uncovered gaps in the system, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee said he would begin monthly meetings with the Social Security Administration to discuss how they are monitoring this issue.

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