The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘Social Security Administration’

THE SINS OF THE FATHER

“Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.”

Exodus 20:5 (KJV)

There are some conservative American Christians who believe that the government is conducting a systematic attack on their beliefs.  They point to an increasing volume of anecdotal evidence to support this claim.  But in light of recent events, perhaps they will have to re-examine their view.

It would appear that at least one governmental agency has taken the admonition in the above Scriptural verse to heart and has decided to act as God’s instrument to fulfill it.  It may come as a surprise to most of us but that agency is the IRS.  Perhaps IRS has misread the verse from Exodus and believes that it is the Supreme Being – or at least the Supreme Enforcer of Righteousness.

Most people when they hear from the IRS are, like Queen Victoria, “Not amused.”  There is nothing very funny about anything that agency does – or threatens to have the ability to do.  That sentiment has long preceded the obvious politically motivated refusal to give conservative organizations a tax exempt determination.

But even the IRS has reached a new low – leading one to believe that somewhere there really is a bottomless pit.  Thanks to an act of Congress, the former time limit of ten years that the agency had to collect taxpayer debts has been lifted.  And the IRS has wasted no time taking advantage of its newly extended abilities to reach into the taxpayers’ pockets.

The problem isn’t that the agency is collecting monies that a specific taxpayer has failed to fork over to them.  The agency feels that it is perfectly correct to collect those funds from the descendants of the taxpayers who originally incurred them.

Now this may astound you but there are apparently some “errors” which occur in the course of governing this great country.  In fact, there are quite a few of them which occur regularly.  In previous posts I made reference to how the IRS annually sends refunds to people who fraudulently claim that the government owes them money.

From sending millions in over 200 separate refunds to a single address in Florida or similarly sending half a million bucks claimed on 100 returns to one address in Bulgaria, the agency has shown its abilities in mastering the fine art of ineptitude.  But the current rampage against the taxpayer comes not from the IRS’ own inadequate procedures but rather from another federal entity.

If you’ve been amazed at how inept the roll out of Obamacare has been, it should be no surprise that the same agency which was responsible for that debacle, HHS is also the source for other mistakes which the IRS is trying to set right.  And the particular division of HHS which apparently screwed up is none other than the Social Security Administration.

SSA not only administers retirement benefits into which all Americans are forced to pay through payroll deductions or, in the alternate, on their tax returns.  But it also administers disability payments to workers who are (purportedly) unable to work due to physical impairment or mental issues.  The second of these two programs has been fraught with fraud.  Even SSA acknowledges that.

But while the erstwhile crooks who con the taxpayers out of their hard earned dollars by making false disability claims has increased substantially in recent years, there have always been some who made false claims or received benefits after they no longer qualified.  It is these people who are currently being targeted by IRS.  Or more correctly, it is their children who are being forced to make restitution for these “overpayments.”

Let’s think about this for a moment.  Purportedly, a person received payments to which he or she was not entitled – let’s say 40 years ago.  Then, for lack of anything better to do, someone in SSA noticed that their agency had made a $350 mistake.  And they decide that going after this will help relieve the national debt.  So they inform IRS that there is a balance due them for the mistake which they originally made.

But there’s a problem.  The individual who received this overpayment died ten years earlier.  Not to be deterred by this, the IRS has figured out that their child, who was four when this problem started, is still alive and has a refund due on her return.  So the IRS flags her return and deducts the overpayment to her parents from her return and sends her a notice, explaining why her refund is $350 short of what she was expecting.

I’m not sure this program will prove to be anything near the windfall either for IRS or SSA that pursuing and shutting down fraudsters who collect around $50 MM per year in bogus refunds receive would prove to be.  Frankly, I doubt it.

As this will do little to contribute to federal revenues, I can only assume that the IRS is adhering to the principles espoused in our quote from Exodus.  It will be interesting to see if some religious group decides to file suit to block this program, citing the once venerable precept of “Separation of church and state.”  Meanwhile, it appears that the sins of the father will indeed be heaped upon the children.  We’ll have to stay tuned to see for how many generations that will last.

COULD YOU DO ME A FAVOR?

It was very bleak and large, dark cumulus clouds overhung the Las Vegas Valley when Gracie and I left for the dog park around six-thirty this morning.  It reminded me a little of a winter day which I spent in the Orkney Islands – but the winds weren’t nearly as blustery and there was no sound of the splashing of the sea against the coastline.

When we returned home I gave Gracie her morning treats and took comfort in a hot cup of coffee, planning what I intended to accomplish.  But then, as I was listing out the tasks I had to do, the phone rang.  It was an elderly friend, David who had called.

David is in his late eighties and asked if I could do him a favor.  He wondered if I could take him to the Social Security office as he needed to get a copy of his Social Security card since he couldn’t find his.  My heart stopped.  There is nothing that I find more depressing than going into a government office building.  They are consistently bleak – as though by design – so that those who have business to attend to will exit as quickly as possible.

Nevertheless, David is a good friend and I know his vision makes it difficult for him to drive – and also makes it a bit hard for him to complete forms.  So I agreed to take him.

I picked him up and we arrived at the SSA office at 10:30.  When we walked in, we went to the kiosk and got a ticket and he filled out an application for a replacement social security card.  The waiting room was jam packed and as I listened to the conversation of those patrons who had occupied all the seats I gathered we were one of the few for whom English was a first language.

As David was completing his form I glanced at the number on our ticket to get an idea how long we would be waiting.  We were A 926 – and A 813 had just been called.  I shrugged my shoulders but then looked around and saw that there were 19 numbered windows in the facility and behind each was an employee.  I thought to myself, “Perhaps this won’t be so bad after all.”

Someone’s number was called near where we were standing and I scrambled over to the seat so that David could have it, beating out a twenty-something year old who was staring at it lasciviously.  And as luck would have it, a few minutes later another seat opened up next to David’s and I took it.

We had been in the building for about twenty minutes and they were only just calling A 822.  Perhaps this was going to take longer than I had anticipated.  But as I learned, some of those who had taken a number left in frustration and so that ultimately knocked about twenty people or so out of the queue.

Because I am inquisitive by nature I started looking around the office, giving up my seat to an elderly Hispanic lady who was sporting a foot bandage.  I walked to the end of the building which housed Window 19 and looked at the man behind the glass divider.

He had that dreadful look of ennui which comes from doing the same repetitive thing day after day for an entire career.  There was no emotion whatever on his face, as though his soul had been drained from his body.  And it was the same at Window 18 and Window 17 and with each of the employees down to Window 1.  Not a smile, not a grimace, nothing but a mindless stare.

And I noticed one other thing.  As I walked past each window there were none of the usual office decorations which commemorated the upcoming Holidays, whether that was Hanukah or Christmas or Kwanza.  Not the least bit of personalization of that 8’ x 8’ area that these folks called home during their work day.  I suspect that was more by edict than by choice – but after many years in this environment, I’m pretty sure the joy of the Holidays consisted for them as a day away from their bleak workplace.

A 853.  Only an hour into it  and only 73 more numbers to go. “ Please, God give me patience,” I said to myself.  So having completed my tour of the windows I stepped outside.  There were a number of signs posted on the entranceways but I hadn’t the opportunity to read them on our way in.  So I took a few minutes’ leave of David and sauntered out.

Of course, the signs appeared in two versions – English and Spanish.  As you might expect, one specifically stated that no firearms were to be taken into the building.  Even those who, under state or local law had a permit to carry weapons were prohibited from taking them inside this Federal property.  Of course, exempt from this were police and SSA security personnel.

In light of the Newtown, CT massacre of Friday, I have to admit that I found this almost laughable.  It’s as though posting it would have dissuaded Adam Lanza or anyone else whose goal was to wreak mass havoc from carrying out his mission should his target have been the SSA and not the Sandy Hook School.

The other sign which I saw was one announcing a change in office hours, effective 1/02/13.  This SSA facility will now be open M-F from 9:00 – 3:00 – except that on Wednesdays it will close at noon.  The previous hours were from 9:00 – 3:30 Monday through Friday.  So a massive work week which is currently  thirty-two and one half hours is being cut to twenty-seven.  Is this an effort to avoid having to comply with Obamacare?  I think not.

But I admit to feeling both outraged and envious.  When I was in my own businesses I don’t recall ever working less than sixty and usually eighty hours a week to keep the darn things afloat.  What a dummy I was.  Here I was busting my hump to try to make a go of it and I could have gotten a cushy job with the Feds at the mere cost of losing my personality.  I’ll have to weigh the pros and cons of that a bit longer.

Having completed my canvass of the exterior I wondered if there were anything inside that I might have missed.  Indeed there was a lot.

When I re-entered the building (A 861) I discovered it was lunch time.  Rather than looking at the unsmiling faces of those behind the windows, I saw that fifteen of them had been closed with stainless steel shutters and the two security guards were busily locking them down.  My heart sank as I realized this would greatly slow down the process of calling our number.

A seat was open next to David and I took it.  We were directly in front of a monitor which was broadcasting SSTV.  This included a short video extolling the wisdom of getting answers to all the questions we had regarding life in general and Social Security in particular by going to www.ssa.gov.  The commercial was hosted by George Takei of “Star Trek” fame and Patty Duke whom I best remember for starring in “The Flying Nun.” Oh, wait. That was Sally Field in the role of Sister Bertrille. So I guess I don’t remember Patty Duke’s work that well at all.

Of course, there were other announcements (in English and Spanish) which panned across the screen.  It surprised me that the same informational pieces were not also posted in Tagalog (Filipino).  Recently, the Department of Justice determined that Clark County, NV had a sufficiency of Filipino voters that our voting material also had to be available in their language.  Perhaps the DOJ and SSA don’t communicate with each other as they should.

It was after losing interest in these repetitive announcements on SSTV that I turned my attention to yet another sign which prohibited the use of cameras within the building.  I began to ask myself, “Why”?  Would posting pictures of this drab interior cause someone with suicidal tendencies to take the plunge and do themselves in? 

But as I reviewed this ban on photography, yet another posted item caught my eye.  It was placed at a height that only an NBA player could read – directly above the exit door.  The print was so infinitesimally small that it would have been virtually impossible to read by anyone who had not brought a magnifying glass with them.  It was entitled “GSA (General Services Administration) Rules and Regulations Regarding Conduct on Federal Property.”  For your edification, I have provided a link to this document which was crafted in 2005, here:

 http://www.aphis.usda.gov/mrpbs/asd/downloads/rules.pdf

Incidentally, the type that you see in this government download is exactly the same type that appeared on the wall of the SSA’s facility.  If you can read this at a height that is two feet above your head, posted in an exit way with people constantly leaving the facility, then you are a far better person than I.

A 925.  “Thank you, Lord.  Only one more to go.”  A 928.  What happened?  Where’s our number?  Then I remembered that SSTV had said that there were certain people with special needs who might be accommodated sooner but that we shouldn’t worry because our number would be called.  And it was – the very next time. 

“A 926 – Window 12.”

David and I made haste to the magic window and sat down.  A zombie-like employee addressed us with that warm greeting, “Yes?”  I looked at the man to see if his pulse were sufficient to last while we conducted our business with him.

When David explained that he required a replacement card, the man said, “You know you are only entitled to three replacement cards in a year or ten in a lifetime.  Have you exceeded these limits?”  David, said, “No, sir.  This is my first replacement card.”

To which our friend behind the window said, “Let me see your driver’s license.”  David handed it over together with his application for a new card.

I thought that was interesting.  SSA requires a driver’s license (among other forms of identification) for obtaining a new Social Security card.  But in order to vote in this state you don’t need to have one.  I guess that says something about how we value our priorities.

By the way, the Social Security card clearly states that it is “Not To Be Used For Purposes of Identification.”  Why they exist at all – other than for those who cannot remember their number (or in the case of some of us) their multiple numbers – is beyond me.  But I don’t make the rules.

Five minutes later our automaton friend handed David a piece of paper and asked him to review the information that it contained, to verify that it was accurate, “under penalty of perjury.”  David reviewed it and handed it back, affirming that the information was correct.

I really wanted to say, “Is that the same oath Bill Clinton took in his impeachment trial?”  But I thought that was only going to slow down the process and that the satiric nature of the comment would be lost on our friend behind the window so I held my tongue.

David got his receipt from the man behind the window with the pronouncement that his new Social Security card would arrive in the mail within two weeks.  This was delivered in the same monotone, uninspired way in which he had conducted the rest of his conversation.  And so we left.  It was nearly one o’clock.

I was hungry, as was David so I suggested we have luncheon together.  He thought that was a good idea.  As we were close to one of my favorite restaurants, we went there to dine. 

I ordered the Mongolian Beef luncheon special.  After a considerable amount of hemming and hawing, David went with the Cashew Chicken.  He really doesn’t like Chinese food – which I am sad to admit I knew.

Payback is a horrible thing.

ON DISABILITY

 Several weeks ago I drove into the parking lot of one of the local supermarkets where I shop regularly. As I was looking for a parking space, I noticed that one of my acquaintances had parked in one of the parking spaces designated for those who are handicapped. I also noticed that he had the appropriate “handicap” sticker hanging from his rear view mirror. I am not a car person so the only reason that I knew that it was his car was because of the “vanity plate” that his vehicle bore.

The individual of whom I speak is not handicapped. He is 28 years old, works out at the gym five times a week and is in excellent physical health. However, he “inherited” this sign from a deceased relative – and has no issues of conscience in using it. As he put it to me the one time that I drove with him, “It’s more convenient.”

When he made that statement I was undecided whether I should respond. But I did. My statement was, “You know, there are people who need to access these spaces because they have physical limitations. Don’t you feel guilty about taking their spaces?” His response was, “There are lots of handicapped spaces. They’ll find plenty available for them to park in.”

I didn’t pursue this further as it was obvious to me that I was dealing with someone who was too self-absorbed to care about the needs of others. While I think that I can be persuasive – I know my limitations.

I thought about this situation because I recently started documenting the number of ads I see on television for those who are “advocates for the disabled.” These ads offer their services to assist those who are disabled in obtaining their benefits from the Social Security Administration.

Since there are so many of these ads, I concluded that this must be a service that is needed. But then I thought about it – and wondered why someone would need that service. So I began doing a little investigation.

Apparently, more than six out of ten initial claims that are filed with SSA are denied by our friends in government. The exact statistics that I read were that 63/100 were rejected. But apparently the “advocates” understood the vagaries of the system.

Of those 63 who were rejected and used their services, they were successful in winning the cases of these claimants an average fifty percent of the time. That is to say, of the original 63 who were denied initially, 31 were subsequently approved.

I applaud their efforts – but I wonder why there is a need for these services. Let’s think about this for a minute.

There is probably no one reading this who believes in freely doling out taxpayer funds to people who are not qualified to receive them. I know that I am one of those.

But why shouldn’t the SSA do it’s job properly in the first place? If they approved legitimate claims to begin with and rejected those that were invalid, there would be no reason for these “advocacy firms” to exist. (By the way, the Federal Government has mandated that these firms charge the successful claimants a fee of 25% of the back due benefits that they ultimately receive).

The appeals process is so lengthy that it typically takes a minimum of three months to over a year – depending on the specific case – during which time the disabled individual has none of the benefits to which she is entitled. No income and no ability to support herself.

What a way to run a country.

 

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