Published August, 2009

Martinez v. Astrue, Settlement Agreement (2009)

This settlement agreement settles a federal class action case challenging the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) application of the “fugitive felon” statute, the provisions of which prohibit the payment of certain public benefits, including Supplemental Security Income (SSI), if the payee is “fleeing to avoid prosecution, or custody or confinement after conviction” of a felony. The plaintiffs, represented by the National Senior Citizens Law Center (NSCLC), the Urban Justice Center, and others, allege that the SSA has been suspending payments of these benefits based solely on whether a recipient’s name and either date of birth or social security number matches those of an individual in various federal, state, and local warrant databases, without first confirming that the warrant is still active, involves avoidance or prosecution for a felony, or actually applies to the person whose benefits have been suspended. This is contrary to the plain language of the statute and repeated court rulings that provide that benefits may be suspended only when an individual actually has fled a particular state or locality with the specific intention of avoiding felony prosecution.

In the settlement, the SSA agrees that effective April 1, 2009, it will no longer deny or stop benefits because of an outstanding warrant in most cases. The change in policy affects those applying for or receiving OASDI or old age (retirement), survivor (widows and dependents including disabled adult children), and disability benefits, including SSDI benefits; SVB or Special Veterans Benefits; SSI or Supplemental Security Income benefits; and those serving as or applying to serve as a representative payees. SSA also agrees to provide over $500 million in back benefits that were unlawfully withheld to some individuals. In addition to this repayment, individuals whose benefits were denied between 2000 and 2006 will be given a chance to re-establish eligibility if they are still be eligible to receive payments. As a result of this settlement, more than 200,000 people may see their benefits reinstated or receive back payments.

The plaintiffs’ amended complaint is also available in the Resource Bank here.