Feds Stop Snatching Tax Refunds -- Because They Got Caught

The government says it has stopped one of its illegal activities, according to the Washington Post.

The Social Security Administration announced Monday that it will immediately cease efforts to collect on taxpayers’ debts to the government that are more than 10 years old.

The action comes after The Washington Post reported that the government was seizing state and federal tax refunds that were on their way to about 400,000 Americans who had relatives who owed money to the Social Security agency. In many cases, the people whose refunds were intercepted had never heard of any debt, and the debts dated as far back as the middle of the past century.

“I have directed an immediate halt to further referrals under the Treasury Offset Program to recover debts owed to the agency that are 10 years old and older pending a thorough review of our responsibility and discretion under the current law,” the acting Social Security commissioner, Carolyn Colvin, said in a statement.

Hm. That "discretion under current law" may be a major caveat. The confiscations without warning that were taking place were allowed because someone -- we still don't know who -- snuck a change of the statute of limitations into the 2008 farm bill. So from that perspective, "current law" allowed Treasury to do what it was doing.

But children are not obligated to pay their parents' debts from their own assets, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Treasury was violating that in taking the children's tax refunds. And there's the matter of due process, which the federal government was just ignoring outright. Someone should face prosecution for violating Americans' rights.

Along with the Washington Post's Marc Fisher, who deserves credit for reporting the government's actions in the first place, Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley deserves credit for taking the issue on from Congress.

In a letter to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew on Monday, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said that government agencies were apparently “not properly notifying individuals or allowing them to inspect records of the debt they supposedly owe, which are violations of the law.”

Grassley said that although Congress did authorize the government to seek payment on old debts, the law “says nothing about allowing the government to offset payments from an individual to pay debts not in his or her name. It is unclear where the government has that authority.”

The senator said that Congress created a rigorous system to ensure that debt collection is handled transparently but that “it appears that agencies are abusing this system.”

Well, we have an abusive government that beats up on law-abiding citizens.