Zombie debts are hounding struggling Americans. Will you be next?
Tens of thousands of Americans have received demands to repay alleged overpayments of government benefits often decades old plunging them into a Kafkaesque struggle against a faceless bureaucracy
This is what happens when the government targets you for zombie debt collection.
You receive a letter from your states department of human services claiming that you were overissued $4,132 in food stamp and cash benefits in the 1980s. Enclosed is a copy of the original overpayment notice they say they sent you when you were still listening to Madonna and Bobby Brown.
You dont remember ever seeing it before.
The letter informs you that, since you didnt respond immediately three decades ago, your 90-day window to request a fair hearing and contest the overpayment has closed. You now have a debt, and its past due.
The state threatens to refer this debt to the United States Department of Treasury, which has the power to withhold your federal tax return, your earned income tax credit, a portion of your military retirement pay even your social security disability check. You are barely making ends meet, so the financial loss might mean doing without meals, a utilities shutoff, or skimping on medication.
If they cant get the money from you, they will withhold your adult childrens tax returns. You read this correctly: the federal government will take your childrens money to resolve a 30-year-old alleged public benefits overpayment.
You have few options if you want to avoid this: you can pay the whole balance immediately, set up a monthly payment plan, or request an administrative review. But the process is impossibly Kafkaesque: you have to send evidence that you dont owe the debt, so youll need to find three-decade-old pay stubs and household expense receipts. And who can do that?
If youre lucky, youll eventually argue your case in front of an administrative law judge. But shell work for the very agency that sent you the letter.
You have no right to free legal representation, so if you cant find a legal aid or pro bonolawyer, youre entirely on your own.
With quiet but devastating regularity, zombie debt notices are arriving at the homes of tens of thousands across the US courtesy of the government and with the assistance of heavyweight tech companies. The Guardian can reveal that predatory policy changes, turbocharged by digital innovations, are producing a wave of aggressive debt collection that stretches back decades and targets the nations most vulnerable.
Last year, Team 3335 found out about government zombie debt first-hand. The family calls themselves Team 3335 because thats the address of the brick-faced single-family home in Steger, Illinois, that shelters three generations: 50-year-old Star Kaminski, her three children and the familys matriarch, 72-year-old Dreama Richardson.
When Dreama began to need more help with day-to-day chores, she and her daughter bought this modest place together, not far away from the public middle school where Star works as a librarian. Its a little crowded, but Star sees that as a gift, not a sacrifice. She likes her family near; they meet lifes joys and challenges together.
Before the letter came, they were doing pretty well.
Then, last September, the Illinois department of human services, or IDHS, sent Dreama a letter claiming she had been overpaid $2,500 in cash assistance and $1,632 in food stamp benefits over a period of 10 months in 1988 and 1989.
2019-10-18T02:45:05+00:00 October 18th, 2019|General|Comments Off on Zombie debts are hounding struggling Americans. Will you be next?