When Rosa Martinez was told that she was no longer eligible for Social Security Disability benefits because of a Miami, Fl. warrant for her arrest, she was confused. Martinez had never been to Miami, let alone committed a crime there. Yet the Social Security Administration refused to reinstate her assistance, and Martinez didn’t know what to do.
“They just told me I won’t be getting any more Social Security because I committed a crime in 1980. I was in a state of shock,” said the Redwood City, Ca. native. “And since then I became really sad and upset because I didn’t know what was happening to me. I was depending on this money.”
Martinez, 53, became the lead plaintiff in a 2008 class action suit filed on behalf of 250,000 beneficiaries who were wrongly identified as felons and denied Social Security Disability benefits. The denials began over 10 years ago, after the passage of a law which prevented fleeing felons from collecting disability benefits. The Social Security Administration had been misapplying the law and denying benefits to those who had warrants for minor infractions or simply shared a name with a felon.
According to Gerald McIntyre, lead attorney for the National Senior Citizen Law Center, the SSA’s warrant filtering system was ineffective and incorrect in the beneficiaries it weeded out. “The vast majority of class members were not fleeing at all,” said McIntyre, who filed the class action. “Many never knew that criminal charges were pending against them, let alone that a warrant had been issued.”
According to SSA Commissioner Michael Astrue, victims are being mailed notices informing them that they may reapply for benefits within six months. The SSA has agreed to repay benefits owed, but will not pay additional punitive damages for loss of income or pain and suffering.
Source: Disabled World, “$500 Million in Suspended Disability Benefits Returned“, 5 September 2010