ELMIRA, Ore. -- A week before her 18th birthday, Courtney Poniewaz received a letter from the Social Security Administration stating she owed $4,491 to pay the agency back for a $60,000 overpayed to her father. Now 24, Poniewaz was told she no longer needed to repay the money.
"I asked [my dad], 'why I am getting the debt?' and he couldn't answer it. Neither could Social Security," Poniewaz said. "They said that they don't know why, and it doesn't matter anyways. I still have to pay it back."
Poniewaz and her three siblings were told they owed the SSA even though they didn't receive the $60,000 in overpayments from the administration. The agency said her father still owes the majority of the overpayment mistake, Poniewaz said.
Fed up with getting the run-around, Poniewaz called KVAL News in hopes of figuring out why the SSA was taking money from her.
The Social Security Administration collects old debts from hundreds of thousands of Americans, and in some cases it's from people who had never heard of any debt. In April, the Social Security Administration announced it would stop collecting debts older than ten years.
Courtney's father filed for disability in 1998.
The day after KVAL News aired Courtney Poniewaz's story, she said she was contacted by Eugene's Social Security office director, Jerry Rigg.
"He goes, 'Don't worry about it. I will get this pushed through for you'," said Poniewaz.
Poniewaz said she was overcome with relief after years of fighting for forgiveness.
"It was this huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. I was like oh god, this is finally done," she said. "I literally broke down at work, crying."
Poniewaz said the director apologized for the way she was treated. Immediately after Rigg's phone call, she called her siblings who also were being forced by the SSA to repay some of their father's debt.
"I let them know that I was on the news and that I was fighting this... and I got my money back!" she said.
Poniewaz said she was told that she was not liable to repay her father's debt, because she was under 18 years old when her father filed for disability. The SSA refunded the money they withheld from her tax returns, all $2,465 worth. She received the check on Friday.
"Keep fighting, keep going," she said. "It's going to get better. I have the letter to prove that it's going to get better."