Widow's benefits taken away, woman told she has to pay it all back
BATON ROUGE - One woman says it's a terrible injustice and her bills are mounting. Two years after receiving widowers benefits from the Social Security Administration, Donna Deshotels says she's been informed that she'll have to pay it all back.
Deshotels says she got a letter in the mail from SSA about two weeks ago that says there's been a mistake and she's been overpaid. She now has 30 days to pay about $41,000 back and is worried she'll have to sell her home and the possessions inside.
"I got this letter saying they were going to take away my widow's benefits... And I was only going to get $27.60 a month, and I had 30 days to pay them back $41,000 because they should have never paid me to begin with," Deshotels said.
When Deshotels retired from the West Baton Rouge Parish School System in 2017, she started collecting widow's benefits. Her husband died in 2012.
"I filled out all my paperwork at school, I called Social Security. I did everything I was supposed to do and the lady said, 'Well, you're eligible for widow's benefits,'" Deshotels said.
She used the widow's benefits to pay down the mortgage, but she's suddenly been cut off and doesn't think she did anything wrong. It's all because Deshotels was a teacher with a pension.
There are 15 states where teachers or other public workers are penalized for what's called Government Pension Offset and Louisiana is one of those states. Others include Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia*, Illinois, Kentucky*, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio, Rhode Island*, and Texas. (Starred states mean only some school districts are affected.)
Deshotels has been in touch with Congressman Garrett Graves' office about the ordeal.
"We don't agree with those deductions," Graves said. "We are working with a number of constituents, people in Louisiana that are being affected by this."
Deshotels started cutting back every way she can think of, she's even stopped using her air conditioning. She says with the absence of the widows benefits, her pension will not cover all of her bills.
"I want an explanation why," she said.
2 On Your Side reached out to the Social Security Administration but it wouldn't talk about Deshotels' specific case for privacy reasons. Information about why Deshotels was overpaid and an explanation of the error made was not provided. Deshotels has appealed her case with SSA.
In the letter, SSA says if it does not receive Deshotels repayment within 30 days it will hold back her full benefit starting with the payment she would normally receive, which is the $27.60. SSA will continue withholding the benefits until the overpayment is recovered.