TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) -- Patricia Jennings has been alive 60 years, but if you asked the government, records show she died 22 years ago at the age of 38.
"Apparently I died April 1, 1990," Patricia said," and it wasn't declared until October 2011." Patricia said the Social Security office couldn't - or wouldn't - tell her how or where she supposedly died, or who reported the death.
When Patricia and her husband filed their 2011 taxes, they thought it odd that they still hadn't received Patricia's federal income tax return in July. When their tax preparer made a status check, he received a letter saying there was an error in filing because Patricia was deceased. Part of a form filed back to the government by the tax preparer reads, "The reject code states that the spouse is deceased. She looked very much alive when signing the return."
"At first I laughed," Patricia said. Then she realized bigger problems could be on the way. She and her husband were looking forward to that tax return to pay the mortgage.
Patricia, who uses a disability dog to help keep her balance due to a few different illnesses, also thinks the fact that she’s been declared dead may be why she’s had trouble getting disability recently. On top of that, she’s not sure the income she earned at a part time job since last October was properly contributed to social security. “It has caused a real hardship,” she said. “We might end up losing the house because of this.”
When Patricia learned of the mistake on July 19, she called the United States Social Security Administration in Washington, D.C. She said the woman she spoke with over the phone asked her a series of questions to determine who she was, then told her she could fix the problem. She told Patricia to give the government 10 business days. After that time, Patricia’s tax preparer tried again to e-file her taxes. He came back with the same message; Patricia was still “dead.”
On August 16, Patricia called Washington again. This time, they sent her to the Social Security office in Topeka. When she arrived there, they said they couldn’t help her and that she needed to go to the office in Emporia. Patricia had already spoken with the Emporia office over the phone and said the person she’d been in contact with wasn’t very helpful, and the runaround was getting exhausting. “Just having the money for the gas to run around and do all this to prove that I’m alive when it was a glitch in their system… it’s frustrating!”
Patricia isn’t alone. A CNN Money report from 2011 shows the Social Security Administration mistakenly declares about 14,000 people dead each year. “When I called the lady in Washington, D.C. she had jokingly said, ‘You’re the third one I’ve had this month,’” Patricia said.
13 News put Patricia in touch with her congress person, Rep. Lynn Jenkins’ Washington, D.C. office to see if they could help clear up the issue. After a short phone conversation Thursday, someone from Jenkins’ office said they would “resuscitate” Patricia as far as the government was concerned. And they told her she will not lose her house.
Anyone who has this time of problem is encouraged by Rep. Lynn Jenkins to call Social Security directly at 1-800-772-1213. "That is the main point of contact for the public, but we have more direct lines to resolve problems like this more quickly," Jenkins said. "That's why our district offices are there is to help people navigate the system and help resolve problems when the bureaucracy fails them."
Rep. Jenkins said – like Patricia - you can also call your representative or senator if that doesn’t solve your problem. "If they contact any of our offices, we will immediately get to work on making sure they correct this ridiculous error," she said.