>> AFter spending several months living in a homeless shelter, Philadelphia home healthcare aid Laquesha had been counting on her federal income tax refund to pay for an apartment for her and her 11 year old daughter.>> I was going to move with that and actually get a car and actually start putting money up for her and stuff for the summer.
>> But in April, Johnson's check never came. She later learned the Department of Education was holding back her entire refund of more than $8,000 to pay off a debt of more than $17,000 in unpaid interest, principle, and fees.>> I'm Michelle Conlin with Reuters News in Philadelphia. More and more low wage Americans are finding their wages garnished, their tax refunds seized even their Social Security and disability benefits reduced, taken by the Federal Government acting as a debt collector to pay itself back for student loans.
>> In 2006 Johnson borrowed about $6,600 to pay for a medical assistance degree. After a few semesters, she left the school without graduating. In 2013, she thought her entire debt had been wiped out by a federal loan forgiveness program. She says she never heard another word about the loan until her tax refund was revoked.
>> It's basically it's torturing. It's haunting. I didn't think it was gonna double up, or stack up, or cause me to lose the money that I worked for all these years, all this year, this whole time, hard work that I done. Like and I don't appreciate it. I think it's not fair.
>> Johnson is not alone. Reuters revealed Federal records shows the government has covered nearly $8 billion through wage garnishments, tax refund seizures, and social security benefit reductions since 2015 alone. The Department of Education told Johnson it wouldn't give her an extreme hardship break, because it only did so for in an eviction or foreclosure.
Though shes out of the homeless shelter for now, she and her daughter are staying with friends. A few nights she has splurged on a $69 a night hotel room so they can have some privacy. The hot showers and air conditioning, she says, help them pretend they're normal.>> Yeah, I wanna be a strong person like I've been continuing to do.
I don't wanna give up on my independence. I'm gonna keep on going. Yeah, we have to live. We have to survive out here so we're gonna make it. We're gonna be all right. Because it's hard.>> You're not crying.>> No, it's hard.