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posted by LaminatorX on Tuesday April 15 2014, @04:25PM   Printer-friendly
from the Sins-of-the-Father-Visited-upon-the-Son dept.

The Washington Post reports that hundreds of thousands of taxpayers who are expecting refunds are instead getting letters informing them that because of a debt they never knew about often a debt incurred by their parents the government has confiscated their check sometimes on debts 20 or 30 years old. For example, when Mary Grice was 4, back in 1960, her father died, leaving her mother with five children to raise. Until the kids turned 18, Sadie Grice got survivor benefits from Social Security to help feed and clothe them. Now, Social Security claims it overpaid someone in the Grice family it's not sure who in 1977. After 37 years of silence, four years after Sadie Grice died, the government is coming after her daughter. "It was a shock," says Grice, 58. "What incenses me is the way they went about this. They gave me no notice, they can't prove that I received any overpayment, and they use intimidation tactics, threatening to report this to the credit bureaus."

The Treasury Department has intercepted $1.9 billion in tax refunds already this year $75 million of that on debts delinquent for more than 10 years, says Jeffrey Schramek, assistant commissioner of the department's debt management service. The aggressive effort to collect old debts started three years ago the result of a single sentence tucked into the farm bill lifting the 10-year statute of limitations on old debts to Uncle Sam. The Federal Trade Commission, on its Web site, advises Americans that "family members typically are not obligated to pay the debts of a deceased relative from their own assets." But Social Security officials say that if children indirectly received assistance from public dollars paid to a parent, the children's money can be taken, no matter how long ago any overpayment occurred. Many of the taxpayers whose refunds have been taken say they've been unable to contest the confiscations because of the cost, because Social Security cannot provide records detailing the original overpayment, and because the citizens, following advice from the IRS to keep financial documents for just three years, had long since trashed their own records. More than 1,200 appeals have been filed on the old cases but only about 10 percent of taxpayers have won those appeals. "The government took the money first and then they sent us the letter," says Brenda Samonds.." We could never get one sentence from them explaining why the money was taken."

 
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  • (Score: 5, Insightful) by Sir Garlon on Tuesday April 15 2014, @05:55PM

    by Sir Garlon (1264) on Tuesday April 15 2014, @05:55PM (#31896)

    I believe the article is still relevant even though the program has already been suspended. Many Soylent readers are learning about these particular IRS shenanigans for the first time. The fact that the shenanigans happened is kind of illuminating. The fact that the program was suspended shortly after the Washington Post reported on it is even more illuminating. (I speculate but cannot prove the program would not have been suspended if it hadn't made the papers.)

    --
    [Sir Garlon] is the marvellest knight that is now living, for he destroyeth many good knights, for he goeth invisible.
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  • (Score: 2) by hemocyanin on Tuesday April 15 2014, @07:58PM

    by hemocyanin (186) on Tuesday April 15 2014, @07:58PM (#31964) Journal

    Another thing this story highlights is that this is the result of a single sentence contained in a farm bill.

    W T F

    Obviously, we need a law that says simply, statutory provisions that are not on topic with a specific bill are void and ineffectual from the moment they are added. Farm stuff should go in farm bills. Tax stuff should go in tax bills. Farm-tax issues should go in farm-tax bills. Everything else tacked on should be considered a waste of ink. Making every bill a random hodgepodge of crap, makes it impossible for citizens to monitor and provide input on legislation. The only thing the hodgepodge is good for, is hiding shit.

    • (Score: 2) by mattie_p on Tuesday April 15 2014, @08:39PM

      by mattie_p (13) on Tuesday April 15 2014, @08:39PM (#31979) Journal

      I'm actually looking for that line. Anyone have it yet?

      • (Score: 2) by Sir Garlon on Tuesday April 15 2014, @08:51PM

        by Sir Garlon (1264) on Tuesday April 15 2014, @08:51PM (#31987)

        First article linked from TFS, fifth paragraph:

        The Treasury Department has intercepted $1.9 billion in tax refunds already this year -- $75 million of that on debts delinquent for more than 10 years, said Jeffrey Schramek, assistant commissioner of the department's debt management service. The aggressive effort to collect old debts started three years ago -- the result of a single sentence tucked into the farm bill lifting the 10-year statute of limitations on old debts to Uncle Sam.

        --
        [Sir Garlon] is the marvellest knight that is now living, for he destroyeth many good knights, for he goeth invisible.
        • (Score: 2) by mattie_p on Tuesday April 15 2014, @08:55PM

          by mattie_p (13) on Tuesday April 15 2014, @08:55PM (#31990) Journal

          No, I saw that line, I was looking for the line in the farm bill. But I found it. See my other post.

      • (Score: 5, Informative) by mattie_p on Tuesday April 15 2014, @08:54PM

        by mattie_p (13) on Tuesday April 15 2014, @08:54PM (#31988) Journal
        Never mind, found it. They're still breaking the law, though.

        SEC. 14219. Elimination of Statute of Limitations Applicable to Collection of Debt by Administrative Offset.

        (a) Elimination.--Section 3716(e) of title 31, United States Code, is amended to read as follows:

        ''(e)(1) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, regulation, or administrative limitation, no limitation on the period within which an offset may be initiated or taken pursuant to this section shall be effective.

        [[Page 122 STAT. 2245]]

        ''(2) This section does not apply when a statute explicitly prohibits using administrative offset or setoff to collect the claim or type of claim involved.''.

        (b) > Application of Amendment.--The amendment made by subsection (a) shall apply to any debt outstanding on or after the date of the enactment of this Act.

        Note it is an amendment to 31 USC 3716. The first portion of that law reads (emphasis mine):

        (a) After trying to collect a claim from a person under section 3711 (a) of this title, the head of an executive, judicial, or legislative agency may collect the claim by administrative offset. The head of the agency may collect by administrative offset only after giving the debtor--

        (1) written notice of the type and amount of the claim, the intention of the head of the agency to collect the claim by administrative offset, and an explanation of the rights of the debtor under this section;

        (2) an opportunity to inspect and copy the records of the agency related to the claim;

        (3) an opportunity for a review within the agency of the decision of the agency related to the claim; and

        (4) an opportunity to make a written agreement with the head of the agency to repay the amount of the claim.

        It does not appear that the bolded sections have been complied with. Can I get 1% of the profits from the class action suit now?

        • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Reziac on Tuesday April 15 2014, @11:54PM

          by Reziac (2489) on Tuesday April 15 2014, @11:54PM (#32076) Homepage

          I read it a couple days ago, and my first thought was...

          How is this not an ex post facto law?

          Second, aren't they often punishing the innocent, who had fuck-all to do with the debt and ordinarily would not have inherited it?

          But third, I think this was intended for and will be used largely to confiscate desirable real estate from farmers and ranchers, in cases like the current Cliven Bundy flap in Nevada. There's probably not a farm or ranch out there that doesn't have some outstanding federal debt, however small. Which would explain what it's doing in the Farm Bill in the first place.

          --
          And there is no Alkibiades to come back and save us from ourselves.
    • (Score: 2) by Sir Garlon on Tuesday April 15 2014, @08:57PM

      by Sir Garlon (1264) on Tuesday April 15 2014, @08:57PM (#31991)

      Obviously, we need a law that says simply, statutory provisions that are not on topic with a specific bill are void and ineffectual from the moment they are added.

      I agree with you; I wish it could be so. I mentioned that idea in conversation with a lawyer friend of mine, and he had an interesting counterpoint. He said that is essentially equivalent to a line-item veto [wikipedia.org], which sounds good at first until you think about what it does to checks and balances.

      --
      [Sir Garlon] is the marvellest knight that is now living, for he destroyeth many good knights, for he goeth invisible.
      • (Score: 2) by hemocyanin on Tuesday April 15 2014, @10:19PM

        by hemocyanin (186) on Tuesday April 15 2014, @10:19PM (#32033) Journal

        It isn't at all like a line item veto.

        1) A line item veto is an affirmative expression by the executive that a particular provision meets his/her disapproval. Making offtopic provisions void says nothing about whether the provision would or would not be vetoed.

        2) A line item veto power is held solely by the executive branch, and the legislative branch doesn't have control over the Executive's pen. Making offtopic provisions void puts the power of creating valid legislation exactly where it belongs -- in the legislature. If the legislature wants to actually pass a law on $topic, it knows exactly how to do it and has the power to do it.

        3) A line item veto infringes on the legislature's power, but creating a hodgepodge bill that can't be vetoed, infringes on executive power -- neither the line item nor the hodgepodge approach respect the traditional checks and balances. Ontopic bills however, would fully respect legislative power and executive power because it doesn't allow the Executive to usurp legislative powers, and it doesn't allow Legislators to hogtie executives with kitchen-sink bills.

    • (Score: 2) by naubol on Tuesday April 15 2014, @09:28PM

      by naubol (1918) on Tuesday April 15 2014, @09:28PM (#32008)

      No, the only obvious thing that it shows is that these off-topic single lines can be widely panned. It does not say whether this sort of thing is for the greater good or if legislatures need this sort of flexibility to do their job in a partisan culture. It could also be a case of addressing the symptom and not the underlying cause.

  • (Score: 2) by HiThere on Tuesday April 15 2014, @08:24PM

    by HiThere (866) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday April 15 2014, @08:24PM (#31976) Journal

    Also, you only have their word that they've suspended the program. (And suspended doesn't mean canceled.) But since the first notice that anyone gets that the program is operating is that their account has already been debited, there's no evidence that they haven't *already* lifted the suspension.

    This is another government "we're doing this because we can, and you can't stop us" activity proceeding without any "due process"...or, as far as can be determined based on the summary, without any available evidence to the person being "billed"? "fined"? And no evident legal basis for transferring the bill from the (deceased) presumptive debtor to the person that they are taking the money from. (One may exist, but it's not evident.)

    To me this reads as another instance of the govt. saying "We've got the power and you can't stop us." more than anything else. (Did I read the summary correctly that this was a retro-active extension of debt?)

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