Welfare debts hobble working poor as they re-enter workforce

Thousands of Erie County welfare recipients each year are on the hook to repay money they should never have received.

News Story (New York)

Sandra Tan
Buffalo News
December 5, 2018

Tags: Public Benefits

Organizations mentioned/involved: Neighborhood Legal Services (Buffalo)


The regulations that govern public benefits are complex, extensive and processed by a giant bureaucracy. The rules can trip up those who are taking their first fledgling steps toward self-sufficiency and saddle them with unexpected debts.

“The law is very dense. I liken it to the tax code,” said Penny Selmonsky, supervising attorney for the Neighborhood Legal Services Public Benefits Unit. “Very few people understand it.”

Some debts are the result of the recipient’s own bad choices. Some are the result of innocent mistakes. About 90 percent of overpayments are considered errors that do not merit fraud investigations but must be repaid.