The Martinez Settlement: Lost Benefits and How It May Apply to You

Making Headlines:

As the result of a major class action settlement in 2009, the Social Security Administration (SSA) was required to repay more than $500 million to Social Security and Disability claimants formerly labeled as “fugitives.”

The issue:

Many individuals lost their benefits under the SSA’s “Fugitive Felon” program which prevented payments to individuals considered to be “fleeing to avoid prosecution.”

Overly broad definitions:

This dispute arose because the SSA relied on a program that contained overly broad definitions of important terms.  “Fugitive,” for example, was defined as “any person with an unsatisfied warrant,” regardless of whether the person was actively hiding from the law.  Similarly, anyone with an active court order or warrant as was noted to be “fleeing.”

Effect:

As a result of these inaccurate definitions, claimants were being denied benefits because of minor and 10+ year old offenses.  Many of these “fugitives” were unaware that a warrant even existed.

Another problem was that the SSA sometimes used an inaccurate method for identifying “fugitives.”  To locate these individuals, the SSA cross referenced its database with the data bases of police agencies concerning warrants.  If a match appeared, that claimant’s benefits were automatically suspended.  As a result of mistaken identity, many beneficiaries were incorrectly labeled “fugitives.”

Results:

In the case Martinez v. Astrue, the National Senior Citizens Law Center brought a class action lawsuit against the SSA on behalf of the people who lost benefits due to these faulty practices.  When a settlement was reached in 2009, the SSA changed its policy to suspend or deny benefits only if an individual’s felony warrant was issued for the one of the following offenses:

  1. Escape;
  2. Flight to avoid prosecution; or
  3. Flight-escape

In addition, the SSA agreed to stop collecting overpayments and to repay full retroactive benefits (adding up to over $500 million) to individuals suspended or denied since January 1, 2008.

For more information on how this settlement could affect you if you were deemed a “fugitive” and lost benefits, give us a call!

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