This fact was confirmed for me this afternoon. I returned to speak with Social Security for the third time. As I was waiting for my number to be called so I could give them their money back (yes, you read that correctly), I reflected on why this giant government program is in so much trouble.
It is my opinion that the bigger an enterprise gets, the less efficient it becomes. And Social Security may be the biggest of them all. I always thought I wouldn’t have to deal with this treasured government nugget until I was much older. Every so often, I get the little pamphlet telling me that I’d make approximately $7 a month if I retired now; I file them and go on with my life.
Then the muppets arrived. This was my first clue that this experience wouldn’t be simple.
Because they were born under 1,300 grams, they qualified for disability payments. If I may go off on a tangent for a moment – 1,300 grams is a totally random designation. Per their policy, a baby born at 2 pounds 13 ounces is disabled, while a baby weighing in at 2 pounds 14 ounces is just dandy. Reality check – babies of either size are going to spend a significant amount of time in the NICU.
Most babies arrive in a hospital and have their social security number the next day. Not my muppets. Because of their disability (born at 970 and 1,005 grams respectively), they were entitled to $201 per month to supplement their lost income. What income most newborns typically rake in, I do not know. We had to go down to our local Social Security office and meet with a representative to set up payments before they would assign the boys Social Security numbers. And not having a Social Security number is generally frowned upon – especially later in life (when they do actually have income).
We were told we would not receive any money for the first month. This is so Social Security can verify that the children remain disabled. Here’s a thought – if a baby is born premature, chances are they will remain prematurely born. They would receive a check each month (except the first) that they spent even a single day in the NICU.
We were asked to call immediately when the boys come home so no overpayment occurred. Both boys were home by August 9. I alerted Social Security on August 10. On August 15, we received two additional checks. On August 17, we received letters saying we’d be receiving two additional checks. Nothing mentioned why we were getting this. I better call and clarify, I thought to myself.
Nope. This plan of action require there to be a working phone number for the local Social Security office. There is not. Down to the government office went I to wait in line. (Really it’s take a number and sit in a chair, but go with me here.) No one was really able to explain to me what these additional checks were for. But once we got everyone along the same general line of thought, they assured me everything was taken care of. But wait. Even though we gave notice about homecoming at the beginning of the month and went in to personally speak with representatives in the middle of the month, this was not enough time to halt the checks sent out for the month of September.
Our Social Security contact warned us about this. “Happens all the time. You’ll just want to save those checks and bring them back.” Well isn’t that just the picture of efficiency. Print the checks, pay for the postage, send out the money and then ask people to make time to bring it back to you. Let’s try that in reverse and see how well that works out…
That is how I found myself sitting in the Social Security office again this afternoon. I’d returned the checks and was sitting in a chair waiting for the window staffer to find someone authorized to print a receipt for me. (I felt it was well worth the extra time to stay firmly put until I had proof of receipt that I’d returned the checks.)
When I was initially called to the window, I explained the situation and presented the checks. The staffer asked me why I was returning money. I let her know that the boys were premature and had spent time living in the NICU. She asked if the boys had been in the hospital; when I answered affirmatively she said they were entitled to the money. I again explained that they were home now. She instead asked how old they were. After several circles like this, she accepted the checks and went in search of someone who could print a receipt.
Allegedly, everything is now clarified and straightened out. I give it 50/50 odds that the boys receive a check for October.