Monday, April 6, 2009

Some SSI Developments: Payment Reductions and Creditor Garnishments

The letters informing California SSI reciepients of the reduction of SSI State Supplement Payments back to 2008 levels are beginning to be received. One of our Benefits Specialists was at Social Security this morning and reported lines of people inquiring about these reductions.

Also, I've had many inquiries of late as to the viability of a creditor successfully garnishing an SSI recipient's monthly payment.

I Googled the question and was directed to the website Automatic Deposit Q&A. The answer is below:

Can Social Security benefits be garnished by creditors to pay a debt?

Section 207 of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 407) protects Social Security benefits from assignment, levy, or garnishment. However, the law provides five exceptions:

Section 459 of the Act (42 U.S.C. 659) allows Social Security benefits to be garnished to enforce child support and/or alimony obligations;

Section 6334 (c) of the Internal Revenue Code (26 U.S.C. 6334 (c)) allows benefits to be levied to collect unpaid Federal taxes;

Section 3402 (P) of the Internal Revenue Code allows beneficiaries to elect to have a percentage of their benefits withheld and paid to the Internal Revenue Service to satisfy their Federal income tax liability for the current year;

The Debt Collection Act of 1996 (Public Law 104-134) allows benefits to be withheld and paid to another Federal agency to pay a non-tax debt the beneficiary owes to that agency: and

The Tax Payer Relief Act of 1997 (Public Law 105-34) authorizes the Internal Revenue Service to collect overdue federal tax debts of beneficiaries by levying up to 15 percent of each monthly payment until the debt is paid.

The Social Security Administration's responsibility for protecting benefits against legal process and assignment usually ends when the beneficiary is paid. However, once paid, benefits continue to be protected under section 207 of the Act as long as they are identifiable as Social Security benefits using normal banking practices. For example, only social security benefits are deposited into a particular bank account.

If a creditor tries to garnish your social security check, inform them that unless one of the five exceptions apply, your benefits can not be garnished. You also may want to provide this same information to your financial institution and seek legal assistance if you believe it is needed.

NOTE: Supplemental Security Income payments cannot be levied or garnished.

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