Important Information for Advocates Working with Social Security and Supplemental Security Income Recipients

Update on Class Action Settlement for Social Security and Supplemental Security Income Recipients

Last week a federal judge granted final approval of a settlement agreement which will end the Social Security Administration’s policy of denying or suspending benefits based on the mere existence of an outstanding arrest warrant.

Your clients stand to benefit immensely from this settlement.  Approximately 80,000 beneficiaries are eligible for over $500 million in withheld benefits.

ACTION: Help us spread the word and be sure to maintain contact information of any potential class members.    If you are interested in receiving more information and regular updates about the settlement’s implementation, join the National Senior Citizens Law Center’s “Martinez Settlement Listserv” by emailing

Settlement Details and Background

Under the agreement, SSA has stopped, as of April 1, 2009, suspending or denying benefits due to the mere existence of a warrant – unless the warrant is issued in a criminal proceeding on a charge such as flight or escape.  In addition, retroactive benefits will be paid to individuals who had benefits suspended or denied on or after January 1, 2007, or an administrative appeal decision after January 1, 2007 as well as those who had a live administrative claim on August 11, 2008, and who continue to be otherwise eligible.  This group includes those who requested reconsideration of a suspension prior to 2007 and never received a response.  All told, approximately 80,000 people in this group stand to receive over $500 million.  People in this group will not be required to file a new application or to have a continuing disability review prior to reinstatement.

The settlement also ensures that people whose benefits were suspended or denied between 2000 and 2006 will be notified and given a chance to re-establish eligibility with a protective filing date of April 1, 2009 if they contact SSA within 6 months of receiving the notice.  Any overpayments currently being collected from this group will be forgiven.  All told more than 200,000 people stand to benefit from the settlement agreement.

The settlement resolves a lawsuit, Martinez v. Astrue, challenging the enforcement of a narrowly drawn provision of the Social Security Act, which seeks to prevent people from using government benefits to flee from arrest.  Rather than trying to figure out who was actually fleeing prosecution, SSA implemented a computer dragnet that matched names in a warrant database to those at SSA.  Many of the matches and automatic benefit suspensions involved false or unproven allegations, minor infractions or long-dormant arrest warrants. Individuals losing benefits were routinely, inaccurately informed by SSA staff that they could not appeal decisions

Many elderly and disabled Americans rely on their retirement or disability benefits as their sole source of income.  Individuals who lost benefits under this policy were left without this crucial support resulting in massive debt, homelessness, illness or worse.

The case and subsequent settlement do not pertain to individuals whose benefits were denied or suspended because of an alleged parole or probation violation. 

The plaintiffs in the case are represented by the National Senior Citizens Law Center, pro bono counsel from the law firm of Munger, Tolles & Olson, the Mental Health Project of the Urban Justice Center, Disability Rights California, and the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County.

The agreement will not take full effect until the appeal time has run –November 30, 2009. Class members should make sure that SSA has their current address in ensure that they receive SSA notices.  Delivery of relief to class members will occur in phases throughout 2010 and beyond.  Join the “Martinez Settlement Listserv” for more details about the implementation.

For more information about the policy, the case and the settlement agreement click here.

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