Florida retiree can't claim Social Security benefits after finding out he's not a US citizen 60 years later

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Florida retiree can’t claim Social Security benefits after finding out he’s not a US citizen 60 years later

He lived a complete life in the U.S. He went to school, worked in law enforcement, got married, raised a family, paid his taxes and voted in elections.

But in 2020 — when Klass was gearing down to live out his retirement in Clearwater, Florida — one of the benefits of a post-working life he thought that he earned was suddenly ripped away from him.

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Klass received a shocking letter from the Social Security Administration (SSA) stating he would not be sent the $1,649.90 monthly retirement benefits he’d previously been approved for because he’s not actually a U.S. citizen.

“I just was blindsided,” he told ABC Action News Tampa Bay. Here’s how this unusual mix-up happened.

‘A lot of trouble’

Klass was born in Canada. His mom was Canadian and his father was American, born and raised in New York. The family moved to the U.S. in 1959, and Klass has lived in the country ever since — believing he was a dual citizen.

He told the news station his roots were never questioned when he secured critical pieces of ID, including his Social Security card, driver’s license and voter registration card. He was approved to serve as a marine in the U.S. military and later worked for the New Jersey state police. He says his citizenship status was never questioned.

“I’ve been voting for over 40 years,” he chuckled, adding: “I guess I’m in a lot of trouble.”

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After working in the U.S. and contributing payroll taxes (which are used to fund Social Security), Klass thought everything was as it should be when he received a letter from the SSA in 2019 stating that he was entitled to retirement benefits and his first monthly payment of $1,649.90 would occur on the second Wednesday of January 2020.

But he never received a dime and instead got a letter disputing his right to retirement benefits.

Upon learning his status, Klass formally applied for U.S. citizenship, but was denied due to a lack of evidence that his father was present in the country for 10 years prior to his birth, according to Action News. Klass has since sought out the help of an immigration attorney and genealogist to help him in his fight for citizenship — and to get the benefits he thinks he’s owed.

“I worked my 50 years and I paid into my Social Security. They should be paying me,” he said.

Government clawbacks

Cases like Klass’ “don’t come around every day,” according to Fort Myers-based immigration attorney Indera Demine.

She told Action News it’s unclear how Klass got so far without his citizenship being questioned.

“For many years, the different [government] agencies didn’t necessarily communicate with each other,” she said. “The documentation that you need to renew your driver’s license or the Social Security benefits were not as stringent as they are now.”

Klass is by no means alone in fighting the SSA to either receive or hold onto Social Security benefits. In recent years, the agency has started clawing back billions of dollars in overpayments through notices to about one million Americans every year.

According to KFF Health News, the SSA has admitted in the past that many overpayments were the result of errors by the government rather than the people — often elderly, poor or disabled — receiving the extra money.

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