Local News

Apr 28, 2014 10:00 PM by Rick Spruill

6 Investigates: That Old, Family Debt Could Be Yours To Pay

CORPUS CHRISTI - The notice arrived on Treasury Department letterhead to Inelda Carlisle's mailbox one day this Spring.

They told her that, because her Dad owed money to the Social Security Administration, they were taking $654.40 from her tax refund to pay his debt.

Carlisle, an accounting department employee for a local utility company, suspected fraud.

So, she called the 800 number published on the notice. And waited 45 minutes for a representative to give her only a few details.

"The only information they could pull up was 1976 and 1980, and the address," she said.

After several phone calls spent cutting through the red tape, Carlisle was able to piece together the story.

The Social Security Administration audited it's books and found they'd given her Dad a little too much money as part of a disability claim, back in the 1970s.

They took Carlisle's refund because they can't go after Ramiro Rodriguez; he's been dead since 1993.

But, a federal farm bill, passed almost six years ago, removed the statute of limitations on the government collecting debts.

A single sentence, inserted in the bill by an unknown lawmaker, removed a barrier to collections.

KRIS-6 asked certified public accountant T. Hardie Bowman, to explain.

"Up until this farm bill was passed we had a 10 year statute of limitations for federal debts," he Bowman said. "And this new law simply extends (the) 10 years, retroactively."

And it applies to a variety of benefits, including the disability claim filed by Ramiro Rodriguez.

The program, while allowed under the law, has received universal resistance. Acting Social Security Commissioner, acting on the backlash, called a halt to the collections on April 14.

Read her statement, here. - PDF

But for Carlisle, the issue is about what she believes are shady collection tactics. That's because, until March, she knew nothing of her father's debt.

She said an official claimed they mailed her a notice: to Tomball, Texas, in 1980.

"In 1980, I was still living in Grand Forks, North Dakota," Carlisle said.

"I deal with customer service and I know what customer service is," she said. "And this is not customer service."

U.S. Representative Blake Farenthold said he expects to hear from the Social Security Administration on the collections efforts.

"This looks to me like it violates the due process clause along with common sense," he told KRIS-6 Investigates.

He said if officials are unwilling to guarantee a permanent halt to the ancient debt collections, more may be done to strip them of the power to go after children of those who've long since died yet owe Uncle Sam money.

But you can seek a refund. T. Hardie Bowman said to contact the Social Security Administration and appeal the collection. If that does not work, file a form 911 with the Internal Revenue Service.

For a copy of that form, click here. - PDF

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