Lawsuits Planned In Pennsylvania Amidst Social Security Scams And Benefits Interruptions

COVID-19 has devastated many hard-working Americans. Some have been laid off. Some have lost businesses. Others have lost loved one. But the long-term toll is probably greater than most realize. Because so many people are out of work, the average person will have to pay into Social Security for longer to receive a larger benefit. Coupled with the rise of scams, and you can understand why officials are so concerned.

Last year, Pennsylvania State Attorney General Josh Shapiro issued a statement: “This Consumer Protection Week, my Office is warning consumers that scam artists are out in full force, employing new tactics to achieve their same nefarious goals. I urge Pennsylvanians to be vigilant of this scam and, if you believe that you have been victimized, please contact my Office immediately. We are here to protect you, and we are working hard to put an end to these scams.”

Notably, the number of con artists are on the rise since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic — in part because they feed upon the financially exigent. Those who are already facing financial ruin are far more likely to fall prey to the scams.

A glitch in the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program has left many Pennsylvania residents confused and angry — especially after a series of glitches caused many to be paid accidentally. Some of these overpayments ran in the thousands of dollars. When officials realized what had happened, many weekly payments were reduced. This made it harder for residents who had already spent the first round.

Janice Roundtree said, “I’m really glad there was a moratorium on the utilities because I don’t know how we would have survived if they hadn’t done that. We would have had to be in some shelter or something.”

A subsequent Keystone Crossroads Investigation said that the website for such assistance had glitched out, leading to billions of dollars in overpaying — but more importantly, the system was unable to cope with the traffic increase, which led those subjected to the glitch without any way to receive new information. 

Community Legal Services litigation direction Sharon Dietrich said, “It was kind of shocking as PUA rolled out how many problems were connected to GSI.” Dietrich’s office also said that the program’s operation was led in an “unconstitutional and illegal manner,” especially after benefits were cut off without any first notifying affected residents.

Social Security is a federal benefit, which means where you live won’t have any real impact on your ability to receive that benefit (as long as you’ve paid into the pool like everyone else by working and paying taxes each year). For example, there wouldn’t be any difference in how you would apply to receive your Los Angeles Social Security benefit or your Philadelphia Social Security benefit. They work the same way. But each state has its own system to provide COVID-19 benefits to its systems in addition to federal aid, which means each system is subject to succeed or fail — on its own.

Now, a round of litigation is expected due to Pennsylvania’s failed response.