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Sen. Shaheen steps in to help Greenland widow whose Social Security funds were taken from bank account

GREENLAND - A local widow who was shocked after the government withdrew Social Security funds from her bank account without providing her notice continues to look for answers and a possible change in laws so that others don't experience the hardship she faced.

And she is already receiving help in that endeavor.

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen has sent a letter to the head of the Social Security Administration asking for answers and calling the erroneous and sudden reclamation of funds "disconcerting."

Christine Marchulatis said the $1,008 apparently mistakenly withdrawn from her bank account following her late husband Adam's death says the money has been restored, but she isn't resting until rules are changed so that the government must provide notice before they electronically remove funds.

Marchulatis, 68, was mourning the June 3 death of her husband of nearly 50 years when she went to the bank on June 18 and learned that his last Social Security payment had vanished from their account despite having been deposited at the beginning of the month.

The woman was already in a low place as a result of her husband's passing when the financial blow sent her reeling.

She later learned the government had mistakenly removed the funds apparently believing her husband had died in May - a situation that would have made the final payment returnable to the Treasury Department.

Marchulatis said it wasn't long after news of her struggles began appearing in the media that she began getting calls from others who have faced similar situations and from those wanting to help.

The widow said she received a big boost when she received a personal phone call from Shaheen who talked to her about the problem and expressed her desire to look into the incident.

Shaheen has followed up on her conversation with Marchulatis by sending a letter to Social Security Administration Commissioner Michael J. Astrue asking for an explanation for how such funds were mistakenly withdrawn.

Shaheen explains the situation in June 23 letter to Astrue and expresses a desire to make sure the situation is corrected.

"I am troubled by what I've heard, and I'm hoping that you can immediately address the situation so that other New Hampshire families and families around the country do not experience the same needless frustration," Shaheen wrote in the letter.

Marchulatis said she has also been contacted by representatives from the office of U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, whom she said is also looking into the laws surrounding automatic withdrawal of funds.

The widow said she has been supported completely in her efforts to correct the problem by Service Credit Union, which issued a statement indicating it values its members and made sure she did not suffer any financial loss or penalty as a result of the situation.

The statement indicates the credit union received Adam Marchulatis' death notice and followed protocol by contacting Social Security, which advised the institution to return funds so they could send the correct payment by check.

"It is customary for a financial institution to return funds after a death notification is received and fulfill SSA requirements. Service Credit Union exemplified exceptional member service by reversing all Mrs. Marchulatis' fees with this issue and calling Social Security office on her behalf."

Marchulatis said she is looking past her specific incident and hoping laws may be changed so that the government cannot withdraw funds electronically without at least providing account holders with some form of notice.

The widow noted that those who get Social Security checks by mail have notice when the government is seeking money back while those with direct deposit are apparently subject to sudden withdrawals.

Marchulatis noted that she poured through the entire 1992 Social Security benefits booklet provided to her husband and has found nothing informing recipients that payments are subject to unnoticed withdrawal.

"I don't want anyone else to go through the hell I went through. If it needs to be fixed, then it needs to be fixed," Marchulatis said.