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Blog Posted in avatar   Jonathan Farrell's Blog

Class Action Civil Case Calls Attention to Social Security Administrative Pit-fall

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By Jonathan Farrell
Posted Aug 27, 2010 in Politics
Ironically, as the Americans with Disabilities Act commemorates its 20th Anniversary, California legal advocates gave a press conference on July 27 as witness to the fact that Social Security owes about $700 million to people who had been wrongly cut off from their benefits.
"That number is what the Social Security Administration calculated. But we estimate that is closer to $1 billion," said Gerald McIntyre of the National Senior Citizens Law Center of Los Angeles office.
McIntyre spoke to the press at New American Media headquarters in San Francisco. He was part of a panel of attorneys and advocates familiar with the 1996 U.S. law saying that benefits must be cut off from SSA recipients fleeing from court prosecution.
McIntyre was the lead attorney in the civil class action law case against SSA. The lead plaintiff was Rosa Martinez of Redwood City, CA.
Her disability benefits were declined because of mistaken identity with someone with same name who had a 1980 felony warrant in Miami. Martinez then enlisted legal help because SSA reps would not listen even when she presented documented proof.
"Papers were filed in the summer of 2008, and an Oakland District Court Judge made the decision in favor in Dec. 2009," said McIntyre, making Martinez v. Astrue a landmark case. (Michael J. Astrue is the U.S. Social Security Commissioner.)
Now SSA under court order is restituting over 200,000 people nationwide who were erroneously denied benefits.
This 1996 SSA law was designed to eliminate fleeing felons from the SSA recipient rosters. "It was one of those regulations that did not really get enforced until about eight years later," said attorney Steve Weiss of the Bay Area Legal Aid office of Alameda County.
"This regulation was narrowly and distortedly interpreted by SSA officials, said Andy Chu, director and counselor of the Positive Resource Center of SF. It resulted in thousands of disabled and elderly people cut off from benefits.
"The potential of felons receiving SSA benefits is less than one percent of the population," noted McIntyre.
A "felony" could be as "something as stupid as a bounced check," said Jose Munevar, who also spoke at the press conference. In his case benefits had been cut off for just that reason.
Attorney Christopher Douglas of Legal Aid of San Mateo, noted that Munevar’s situation is not that uncommon. "Many people can have a warrant issued against them for whatever reason and not even know it."
"Something as simple as an unpaid bill going to into collections caused some SSA recipients lose benefits," said Weiss.
"This is why we want to get the word out to the public about this. So, that if people were wrongfully cut off from their benefits they need to contact Social Security. The first step is to seek advocate help," said McIntyre.
This can also apply to some Special Veterans Benefits. As a result of the Martinez v. Astrue case many people may be entitled to as much $10,000 to $40,000 retroactively in lost benefits or assistance through Social Security Administration.
For more information visit www.ssa.gov/martinezsettlement. In the SF Bay Area, people can get free legal assistance by contacting Bay Area Legal Aid at (800) 551-5554.
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