A U.S. district court has approved a settlement agreement between the Social Security Administration (SSA) and a group of individuals who had their benefits automatically withheld because of outstanding arrest warrants against them. The SSA has agreed to repay more than $500 million in benefits that were withheld since Jan. 1, 2007.
The settlement resolves a class action lawsuit that challenged the implementation of a law that sought to prevent people from using government resources to flee from arrest. Instead of figuring out which Social Security recipients were actually fleeing prosecution, the SSA suspended benefits by using a computer matching system to match names in warrant databases to those at the SSA. However, many of the matches involved false or unproven allegations, minor infractions, or long-dormant arrest warrants.
Under the agreement, the SSA stopped suspending or denying benefits solely on the basis of an outstanding warrant as of April 1, 2009. Benefits will still be withheld if the warrant was issued in a criminal proceeding on a charge such as flight or escape. According to the National Senior Citizens Law Center, more than 200,000 people may see their benefits reinstated or receive back payments due to the settlement.