A Personal Look at Social Security Reform
When I was younger, I was liberal. A large part of my “conversion” involved directly encountering liberal policies. A previous post discussed my experience on Medicaid, and explains how it evolved into my opposition to state-run healthcare.
My experience with the bureaucracy of the Social Security Administration showed me how the government needs to get out of another business: retirement.
When I was sixteen, my mother died. She was my primary caretaker, and I was entitled to survivors benefits. The first year after she died there was no-one to write the checks to (I had no legal guardian). When my aunt, my mother’s sister, took guardianship over me when I was 17, all of the back-checks were written to her, despite the fact that she was not responsible for me during that first year. When I moved into her apartment, she assured me that she would deposit the checks in a separate bank account and only withdraw $200 a month to cover increased food costs.
When the checks stopped the day I graduated high school, my aunt kicked me out of her apartment literally onto the streets of New York City, with everything I owned in black garbage bags. She informed me that she had decided to keep all of the money that she had received both for the year I was not living with her and the year that I was. This amounted to about $15,000. As far as I was concerned, it had just vanished.
What was my recourse? I went to the offices of the Social Security Administration to get my money back. That was my first mistake, thinking that this money was mine. I waited for three hours to speak to a representative. I do not mock and I do not kid: He was mentally handicapped. He would be my “case worker”.
He took my story down in chicken scratch, as he could not use a computer. He asked me to call him back so that he could update me after he spoke to his superiors. I called half a dozen times over the next month, but never received a call back. I decided to go down to their offices again. And I waited another three hours. After I finally was able to see my case worker, he informed me that his superiors had decided that my aunt had committed fraud and an investigation would be launched.
Three times agents visited her apartment. All three times she did not answer the door. After every planned visit, I went to the Social Security offices and waited for two-three hours to hear what had transpired. I was informed after the third failed visit that the investigation would then be closed. After I demanded to speak to the agents in charge, I was told they would give it one last attempt. On the forth attempt they were informed by the building owner that my aunt and her husband had moved to Maryland. She was “out of their reach” now. This time the case was officially closed.
The money that my mother had been forced to pay into this “plan” her entire life disappeared into the bank account of a selfish and vindictive sister. And her only child, and only survivor, was left with no legal recourse. If these were private funds, they would have been deposited with my trust fund, which still sits safely in a bank account in upstate New York. If these were private funds I would have been entitled to the total amount that my mother paid into the system over the course of her life, as opposed to the arbitrary number that the Social Security Administration chose after she died. If she died after my high school graduation, I never would’ve seen a dime of what she paid into the system at all.
Even as a liberal teenager, a sense of outrage permeated my perception of Social Security after this experience. The government forced my mother to give them money over the course of her entire career, immediately deducted from her paycheck. It was deducted during months where we had nothing to eat but macaroni and cheese and we were sleeping in the same bed because my mother couldn’t afford to buy me my own. The government knew better than my mother about how to take care of her financial matters. The government would take care of her when she retired or after she died.
They did a great job, right?