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Griffin Introduces Bill to Prevent Fugitive Felons from Receiving Government Benefits

Press Release

Location: Washington, DC

Congressman Tim Griffin (AR-02) issued the following statement after introduction of the Control Unlawful Fugitive Felons Act (CUFF -- H.R. 2418):

"Recent court cases have had the effect of expanding the eligibility of fugitive felony suspects to receive government benefits. It's outrageous that fugitive felons can avoid prosecution but still collect their Social Security disability or retirement checks. The Social Security Administration's (SSA) Inspector General, Patrick O'Carroll, brought the issue to my attention, and I worked with my colleagues on the Ways and Means Committee to draft legislation that will end this injustice by revoking the eligibility of people who are "the subject of an arrest warrant' for serious crimes."

Joining Congressman Griffin in introducing the CUFF Act are two Committee on Ways & Means Subcommittee Chairman, Congressman Sam Johnson (TX-03) of the Social Security Subcommittee and Dave Reichert (WA-08) of the Human Resources Subcommittee, who share jurisdiction over this issue.

"I am proud to join my colleagues to introduce this commonsense bill to stop Social Security benefits from going to criminals on the run. Those who break the law shouldn't be rewarded. I look forward to getting this bill passed in order to protect American taxpayers," said Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson.

"As a former Sheriff, I know that felons don't have to be actively fleeing from law enforcement to be breaking the law. This legislation restores language in the Social Security Act to its original intent and I am very pleased to be working with Rep. Griffin and Chairman Johnson on this. Americans deserve the peace of mind that comes with knowing their tax dollars are not supporting criminal activity through continued benefits to those breaking the law," said Human Resources Subcommittee Chairman Dave Reichert.

In August 1996, President Clinton signed the welfare reform law, Public Law 104-193, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, which restricted the eligibility of fugitive felons, and probation and parole violators for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments. Later, the policy was expanded to Social Security Retirement and Disability benefits, and Special World War II benefits.

In December 2005, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued a decision in Fowlkes v. Adamec, which held that the existence of an outstanding arrest warrant does not make a beneficiary a fugitive felon and that the term "fleeing" means "the conscious evasion of arrest or prosecution."

In December 2006, Clark v. Astrue was filed, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that the government's policy of suspending Social Security and SSI benefits whenever someone has an outstanding warrant for an alleged violation of probation or parole was unlawful. As part of the court decision in April 2012, as many as 140,000 beneficiaries had their Social Security or SSI benefits restored back to October 2006, at a total cost of nearly $1 billion.

In October 2008, in Martinez v. Astrue, plaintiffs argued that SSA policy requiring only an outstanding felony warrant for an individual to be considered a fugitive felon is not consistent with the statute or regulations, which require a finding of flight. Martinez was settled in September 2009, which resulted in the restoration of over 200,000 Social Security and SSI benefit recipients and the repayment of $700 million in benefits deemed unlawfully withheld from 80,000 people.

Griffin's bill revises current law to discontinue benefits for individuals who are "the subject of an arrest warrant …" compared to the previous language of "fleeing to avoid" arrest, which was the main legal challenge, in order to restore the policy to its original intent.

The existing process will remain a joint effort between SSA and Social Security Inspector General. SSA will also continue to send notification letters to beneficiaries before any benefits are discontinued, with the opportunity to grant good cause exceptions, if necessary.

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