Sunday, January 08, 2006

SSA told to stop stealing from retirees

An issue revisited
Press Release: December 8, 2005 For Immediate Release
Federal Court Strikes Down Social Security Administration Policy Suspending Benefits for Elderly and Disabled
Contact: Gerald A. McIntyre, National Senior Citizens Law Center 3435 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 2860, Los Angeles, CA 90010
Office: (213) 639-0930, ext. 300 Email:
Jennifer J. Parish, Director of Criminal Justice Advocacy, Urban Justice Center
666 Broadway, 10th floor, New York, NY 10012 Office: (646) 602-5644 Cell: (646) 872-1686 Email:
Bill Lienhard, Project Director, Mental Health Project, Urban Justice Center
Office: (646) 602-5667 Cell: (917) 685-8181 Email:
Los Angeles Times Article Attached

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York ruled this week that it is illegal for the Social Security Administration (SSA) to suspend the benefits of elderly and disabled Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security beneficiaries whenever there is an outstanding felony warrant. The ruling, if it is not appealed, will affect thousands in New York, Connecticut and Vermont, most of them people with serious mental impairments who have no other source of income, who are often at risk of homelessness and whom law enforcement authorities have no interest in pursuing. “It leaves SSA with the dilemma of having one policy for the states of the Second Circuit and another for the rest of the country,” said Gerald McIntyre of the National Senior Citizens Law Center.

The decision came in the case of Felipe Oteze Fowlkes, at the time a Schenectady, NY resident, whose benefits were suspended in 2000 under a law that allows benefits to be suspended when a person is “fleeing to avoid prosecution” for a felony. SSA applies this provision with a broad brush and suspends benefits whenever there is an outstanding felony warrant regardless of whether or not the individual is aware of the charges. In Mr. Fowlkes’ case, it was two Virginia warrants, one for petty larceny and another for a 1995 voter registration offense, that were the basis for suspending his benefits. He had never been informed of either charge. The Court ruled in Mr. Fowlkes’ case that the plain meaning of the word “fleeing” requires intent and that, therefore, there must be a finding of intent before benefits can be suspended under this provision.

In each case where this suspension provision is applied, law enforcement authorities have already been notified where to find the individual but have decided not to seek the person’s arrest or extradition. Thus, in most cases, the underlying offenses are minor and often quite old.

The court ruling comes one day after SSA published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking which would enshrine in a formal regulation its policy of suspending benefits whenever there is an outstanding felony warrant. With the Second Circuit decision, it is now clear that this proposed regulation cannot be put into effect in New York, Connecticut and Vermont. It leaves SSA with the dilemma of having to decide whether to revisit its irrational and inhumane policy or to instead try to proceed with one policy for the states of the Second Circuit and another for the rest of the country.
Here is the December LA Times update on the issue