Settlement Money Owed to Seniors and Disabled Denied Social Security Benefits

Lawyers say most beneficiaries of $500 million settlement difficult to locate.

By Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou , EGP Staff Writer

Rosa Martinez, 52, of Redwood City was denied disability benefits for four months when the Social Security Administration confused her for a Miami woman with the same name and birth date, but who was eight inches taller and had an outstanding drug-related arrest warrant.

“First of all, I have never been in Miami, and I have never been accused of anything because I am a very honest person, hardworking person, and I was very, very disappointed,” Martinez, who stands 4’8”, said.

When she went to correct the mistake, the social security office staff turned her away, telling her it was up to her to prove she was in fact not the woman from Miami.

“Social security was really harsh on me. I needed the money to survive and they left me three to four months without benefits…,” Martinez said at a New America Media press conference last week.

But Martinez considers herself lucky compared to some of the estimated 200,000 to 300,000 others who were wrongly taken off the Social Security rolls due to mistaken identity or for having warrants out minor infractions.

Rosa Martinez, second from left, was denied her disability benefits and was forced to seek legal assistance to convince the Social Security Administration there was no arrest warrant out on her. (EGP photo by Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou)

Rosa Martinez, second from left, was denied her disability benefits and was forced to seek legal assistance to convince the Social Security Administration there was no arrest warrant out on her. (EGP photo by Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou)

Many of these people are believed to have unjustifiably gone without benefits for several years, and some may not have had, as Martinez did, family members or friends who could support them after their sole source of income went away.

“Believe me, it’s not easy to be sitting down and saying ‘Hey, I am almost homeless.’ Thanks to God that didn’t happen to me, and thanks to the lawyers,” she said.

In 2008, Martinez became the lead plaintiff of a national class action lawsuit, Martinez v. Astrue, against the Social Security Administration (SSA), that last fall resulted in a $500 million settlement benefiting people whose Social Security, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Special Veterans Benefits were stopped because their names showed up in an arrest-warrant database.

People who were wrongly denied benefits after Jan. 1, 2000, or who in some cases were refused assistance from 2000-2006 could regain some or all of the benefits back because of this court finding.

But the case’s lead attorney Gerald A. McIntyre and legal aid groups around the country are having trouble spreading the good news. They found that many people had moved from their original residences, presumably because they could no longer afford the rents or payments after losing their benefits.

Attorney Yolanda Arias of the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, LAFLA, believes there are 7000 “low-income seniors and disabled individuals” locally who were victims of mistaken identity or were denied their benefits because existing law was wrongly applied to them.

The group plans on doing outreach to organizations that reach a wide swathe of people they think are affected by the settlement. Deadlines apply to some of those who are eligible for settlement benefits.

“Thousands of people in Los Angeles County were illegally deprived of Social Security and SSI benefits,” McIntyre said, “Now they have the opportunity to receive enough money in back benefits to get decent housing and to make real changes in their lives.”

In many of these cases the victims were already struggling to get by when they lost their benefits, living on low-income budgets, possibly homeless or becoming homeless, and in need of the benefits to survive, the lawyers said.

In 1996, SSA started a program to withhold benefits from people “fleeing to avoid prosecution,” which at the time was considered an “innocuous” rule, McIntyre said.

“Who is going to commit a felony and then run down to the social security office while they’re fleeing to avoid prosecution?” he asked.

It was rare that this rule led to the denial of social security benefits, he said, but somewhere along the way, the SSA started to broaden its application to any person with an outstanding felony arrest warrant, no matter how minor, and even when the person was not “fleeing.”

Congress “apparently were pressured to apply this statute,” McIntyre said, because initially “there weren’t that many people who were affected.”

So the SSA started matching first names, last names, and social security numbers to information in federal, state and local warrant databases. Since SSA has the address of the person, its first step was to notify the law enforcement agencies so that the person could be apprehended.

If the person is not apprehended, the SSA would halt the benefits, but it turned out the majority of people who remained “at large” only did so because the authorities felt their offenses were too minor for extradition and were not interested in pursuing them. In some cases, those with warrants were never even notified the police had even issued something.

The SSA’s program would end up targeting people with warrants for such offenses as shoplifting at a convenience store, bouncing a check, or holding outstanding debts, McIntyre said, and in many cases it would target homeless people, who are frequently picked up by police for one offense or another.

As an added twist, if a warrant match was made but the person was not receiving benefits, SSA would then search its rolls by date of birth to find another match.

“That’s where someone like Rosa Martinez is in trouble, because I can assure you already today there have been several Rosa Martinez’s born in the United States. And that’s how someone like Rosa who has never had any contact with the criminal justice system gets wrapped up in it,” McIntyre says. In another case, a woman was confused for a man with the same name, but who had an arrest warrant.

As part of the settlement, the SSA has narrowed the application of the rule to only those who are fleeing to avoid prosecution, McIntyre said.

Los Angeles SSA spokesperson Veronica Diaz said they are notifying affected people in phases to help “manage this extensive” process. They expect to finish notifying people by September 2010. If the person has moved, they will use available forwarding addresses in the U.S. Postal system.

People in Los Angeles who need help applying for individual claims should contact LAFLA at 800-399-4529. They can get more information at http://www.lafla.org/service.php.

People located elsewhere in California can contact their local legal service office. Local area agencies on aging are also providing free referrals for legal services assistance to people aged 60 or older. A complete list of these agencies can be found at the California Department of Aging website http://www.aging.ca.gov/local_aaa/AAA_listing.asp.

Information about the class action settlement can be found at www.nsclc.org/areas/social-security-ssi/Martinez-Settlement and at the Social Security website www.ssa.gov/martinezsettlement.

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April 22, 2010  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

Comments

5 Responses to “Settlement Money Owed to Seniors and Disabled Denied Social Security Benefits”

  1. Henry Standish on June 15th, 2010 1:35 pm

    I am looking to start or join an existing advocacy or activist group fighting for a change in social security reform.
    I fought for disability rights for five years, finally I won my case and was awarded $26,000. I have received two payments, $8,000 and six months later $2,500. My monthly income from SSA is $1,200. I just received a letter stating that because my RESOURCES are over $2,000 for the month, I lose my SSI payment of $400 a month. This money I received is not a resource. It.s an award, for it to be a resource I must have control of the sum total. How do they get away with it?? the fact is the government has been diverting money meant for social security to other departments. our politians are ALL guilty of fraud, theft, and many other crimes

  2. ole s petersen on June 24th, 2010 11:43 am

    i have been denied old age benefits since june 2007. ssa tells me i will receive all benefits and back-pay in 2011 pursuant to the clark v. astrue decision by the court of appeals for the 2nd circuit. i have no assets and no income. harris county area agency on aging does not answer my inquiries. what can i do to expedite things?

  3. misty on April 28th, 2011 11:35 am

    Okay so what I am helping my elderly mother deal with is this..she is renting a room from me at a very low cost..ssi now wants to take away her benefits, because her boyfriend moved in..basically they are assuming that either he is giving her monetary help or she is paying for him..which neither is correct, he pays his own rent ..bills etc and she pays her own, plus she has physical and mental disabilities and needs her meds..I cannot afford to buy them for her and I am not her caretaker I do not get paid by the state for anything..I think this is unfair for them to cut her off because her boyfriend is now living with us..

  4. Cindy on June 8th, 2011 11:54 am

    I agree. I am now in the euthasia group of SSI. I was told by an SSI worker that due to the backlog it would be 12 months before SSI sends me a letter to see if I am still alive and when I send it back my appeal would be put in a stack of appeals and within 6 months I would recieve a date before the judge. This will be 2 and 1/2 years from my original application. If you have any evaluation for disablity and they write you can do 1 hour of sedentary work per WEEK. you will be turned down. 401 k is gone, long term and short term disablity is gone. house in foreclosure. car repossessed. Hey I have food stamps that feed me 3 weeks a month.

  5. antoinette ramirez on May 28th, 2013 4:05 am

    i applied in 1999 was homeless off and on feet with a hearing loss part deaf born that way my mom uses to collect ssi since i was infant well since i got older 18 i was on my own and i didnt really didnt understand how to read and fill out paper work [forms from soc sec.] had learning disibilies couldnt read or understand how to do this so i was denied 2000 didnt appeal didnt know how or what that meant so i apply in 2002 denid again hired lawler she trid ..told me i had arrest awarrent soc sec since me letter in 2005 tried for over 1 year finily i had to go out of state to ohio after 11 yrs later i did nt know i had warrent wow 11 years later then what got to me i didnt do the crime my exboy friend didso when i came back i gave them my paper work from ohio then i start to get it in 2008 then they gave gave me back pay for the lawsuit i was one of the client in san jose to get it first now im wait for the rest of it i got class a now waiting for class c 2000 to 2007 to get back pay i stuffered for so many years i tried to keep a job i made to many mistakes at the time now im 48 year of age with a 12 year son in school hopely it comes soon now what do i do next…. antoinette ramirez

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