SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — What would you do if you got a letter from the U.S. Government demanding eleven thousand dollars? That happened to a Sioux Falls man staying at the St. Francis House.

Julie Becker runs the St. Francis House, a place that helps people get back on their feet.
She watched 60 Minutes two nights ago. The show highlighted an odd practice by a government agency. Sending out big “back payment” checks, then demanding part of the money be returned.

The next morning, one of Becker’s residents came to her confused about letters he received from Social Security.

“One of our guests here at the St. Francis House had applied for benefits back in May of 2022,” said Becker.

The man received this Social Security check, with back payment, for more than $20,000. Five days later he received this bill from Social Security saying he owed the agency more than $11,000.

“Just take the eleven thousand out of the twenty thousand, explain it, and send him a check for nine thousand dollars. I think that’s smarter. It’s common sense, but this is the trap so many people get into,” said Becker, who has seen this same type of thing dozens of times while working at the non-profit.

The trap she is referring to is, too often, the demand for repayment from the Social Security Administration is lost or doesn’t come until years later, and the money from the big check has already been spent. Becker says all the unnecessary paperwork is too confusing for the average person.

“If there weren’t someone here advocating for them and explaining this paperwork like we have my staff Heidi, who is our Community Resource worker, and me, he would have just deposited this check and then not understood this,” said Becker. “And he said it yesterday. I don’t understand any of this, Julie. Will you explain it to me?”

We talked with two Social Security experts who tell us large back-pay checks are common after people first apply. They recommend people with questions reach out to the Ticket to Work program. It is staffed by certified specialists who do not work for the Social Security Administration but are knowledgeable about benefits. You can call them at: 1-866-968-7842 or 1-866-833-2967