Woman's SSI checks cut off after house burns down

Woman's SSI checks cut off after house burns down

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Shelia Dennis' house burned a year and a half ago and she now believes she's being unfairly punished because she had homeowners insurance. Shelia Dennis' house burned a year and a half ago and she now believes she's being unfairly punished because she had homeowners insurance.
Sheila was most recently informed that she owes the government $85,000 in overpayments for SSI. Sheila was most recently informed that she owes the government $85,000 in overpayments for SSI.

By DON DARE 
6 On Your Side Consumer Investigator 

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Shelia Dennis had received a small Supplemental Security Income check for 15 years. Her house burned a year and a half ago, and she now believes she's being unfairly punished because she had homeowners insurance.

For 15 years, Shelia has depended on supplemental security income to support herself. In the mid-nineties, she was diagnosed with sarcoidosis, an autoimmune disease.

Dennis' house in Coalfield burned out of control in February of last year. Firefighters could only keep the flames from spreading, but could not save her home. The place where her kids grew up burned to the ground.

She had homeowners insurance and Dennis and her now ex-husband split the settlement check. After discovering the cost to rebuild, the two decided to sell the land and use that money as a down payment on a new place.

Dennis made that $13,000 down payment in June, but it cost her those SSI checks.

For over a year, she copied pages and pages of receipts for living expenses to report to the Social Security Administration. She documented every expense, from furniture to fast food.

Dennis was told by the Social Security Administration she would need to report these things to continue to receive those checks.

"I did this and the next thing I know I'm being cut off my SSI," Dennis said.

Dennis was informed by Social Security in March that her resources exceeded $2,000 because the $47,000 insurance check counted against her yearly income. Keeping tabs of her expenses, Dennis accounted for more than $46,000 in replacement costs.

Because of a rule with SSI, recipients are not supposed to have any resources over $2,000.

Dennis was most recently informed that she owes the government $85,000 in overpayments for SSI.

"I even wrote a suicide letter because I thought that it was my fault," Dennis said.

With support from her family, she came to her senses. Shelia also has a mental health disorder and receives assistance from TennCare, but it's being cut November 19 because she no longer qualifies for SSI.  

Dennis went to the Social Security office and asked that her SSI be re-instated, but lost the appeal. Social Security officials say she won't be able to re-apply until 2015.

With no income, she'll lose everything.

"I won't have a place to live. And again, I would have to live on some kind of subsidized housing," Dennis said.

After 6 News contacted Social Security, Dennis was called and asked to return to Social Security in Oak Ridge. They told Dennis they have reconsidered, and she may file a new application now, instead of 2015.

They acknowledged that they made a mistake, and they are willing to start the process over to reinstate her disability.

As for a ruling, Dennis doesn't now when resolution will come.

Could Shelia have avoided all this? There are attorneys who specialize in Social Security benefits, but that was financially out of the question for Dennis. She's now praying her SSI will be reinstated. 

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