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Food Stamps, Cash Assistance Article

The Food Stamp and Cash Assistance Program: Overpayments

The Food Stamp and Cash Assistance Program: Overpayments

by Southern Arizona Legal Aid, Inc.

What if DES gives me too much money or too many food stamps?

If DES gives you too much money or too many food stamps, it is called an overpayment.

How do overpayments happen?

Overpayments happen for various reasons. For example, DES may not budget your correct income or resources. Or, you may receive payments when you are not eligible for those payments.

What happens to cause the overpayment?

Even if it is not your fault that you were overpaid, DES may still collect the overpayment from you.

What should I do if I discover the overpayment?

To stop the overpayment from getting larger, you should contact your DES worker immediately if you discover you are being paid too much. Even if you discover the overpayment before DES, you may still be charged with an overpayment and you will be required to pay it back.

What should I do if I disagree with the amount of the overpayment?

You should request a fair hearing immediately by contacting DES. You should ask DES to explain the reason for the overpayment. You should also check whether DES calculated the overpayment correctly. If you think DES is wrong, you should tell the Judge why it's wrong.

How will DES collect the overpayment?

If you are not currently receiving benefits, DES can collect the overpayment by any legal means. For example, DES could keep your income tax refunds or sue you in court to garnish certain wages. Your credit may be affected if DES obtains a judgment against you.

Can I stop DES from collecting overpayment?

Probably not, but you may be able to control the amount you have to pay each month toward the overpayment. If you do not request a fair hearing, or you lose the fair hearing, the overpayment decision will become final and you will be responsible for paying it back.

If you are currently receiving benefits, DES will keep a portion of your monthly benefits to repay the overpayments.

If you are not getting benefits, you can make a payment plan with a monthly payment that fits within your budget. If you make regular monthly payments in the agreed upon amount, DES will probably not take your income tax refunds or sue you in court.

If you have questions about the overpayment, you should contact the DES Office of Accounts Receivable and Collections office at 1-800-236-1475.

What if my only income is social security disability or SSI?

By federal law, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and SSI benefits are protected from judgment. This means that if you are sued to repay the overpayment, a judge cannot order you to repay the debt from your SSDI or SSI.

However, if your Social Security Disability or Retirement benefits are more than $750 a month, DES can refer your food stamp overpayment to the U.S. Department of Treasury to collect the overpayment by reducing your SSA benefits. This is called administrative offset. Before your SSA check is reduced, you should receive a letter explaining the offset and advising you what to do if you disagree.

How can I get legal assistance?

There are various free legal service agencies throughout the state for people with low income, depending upon availability. For more information, contact the legal aid office in your area. Be sure to choose the county where you live on the right side of the page; and find an office near you under the "Find Legal Help" on this website.

Reviewed November 2003

Comments

On 9/6/07
Jennifer said
My fiance and I suffer from serious mental illnesses and are unable to work. We've spent most of the year in hospitals.He hasn't got income and my SSDI is being terminated.