Friday, December 11, 2015

December 11, 2015--Social Insecurity

There was a big envelope waiting in the mail from the Social Security Administration.

Rona looked at me seemingly concerned.

"Nothing to worry about," I said, "Must be my annual benefits letter. You know, the COLA amount for next year. The cost of living adjustment. How much more I'll be getting."

"Good, since we just got our COLA for the apartment. Maintenance is going up three percent beginning in January so it would be good if the Social Security increase will offset it."

Upstairs I opened the envelope. The letter was five pages long. "Let me get to the money shot," I said, thumbing through them. "Here it is. It says, 'We review Social Security benefits each year to make sure they keep up with the cost of living.'"

"That's good," Rona said, "That's what I was waiting to hear. To see how they are making sure we keep up with the cost of living."

"You're not going to like this then," I said, avoiding eye contact.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean it looks as if I'll be receiving less come January than I am now."

"That can't be," Rona said, snatching the letter out of my hands. "How much have you been getting?"

"Let me look." I thumbed through my checkbook. "$2,200 a month."

"And in January?"

"If I'm looking in the right place, "$2,186. Fourteen dollars a month less. That comes to . . . let me see . . . $168 a year."

"This is their version of helping you keep up with inflation?"

"I seem to remember hearing something a few months ago that the Social Security people determined there is no inflation and so there will be no COLA."

"In the meantime they came up with a negative COLA--they adjusted you down?"

"Unless they made a mistake, it looks that way."

"Let me talk to them," Rona snapped. There was a service number to call. "No surprise, the recording says there's a 35 minute wait time."

"There are about 50 million seniors receiving Social Security and probably half of them right now are calling because they got versions of the same letter. I wonder how many very old folks will die on line while waiting for someone to pick up."

"You're so cynical," Rona said. "But I bet I know what happened."

"What's that?"

"The only other thing listed is the deduction for Medicare. They say come January they'll deduct $202.30 a month. I'll bet that's more than this year. Do you know how much they currently withhold?"

"Not really," I confessed. "You know I don't pay that much attention to money matters. You do it for both of us. And in fact very well," I blew Rona a kiss.

She didn't respond.

In the meantime, on hold for half an hour, we listened to Social Security Muzak.

Impressively, someone picked up at the end of exactly 35 minutes. For some reason that made me feel optimistic that there had been a mistake in my calculation. How could they send me less while saying they review my benefits each year to make sure they are keeping up with inflation?

I needed to identify myself and provide authorization for Rona to ask about my account.

After doing that, Rona asked if there was an error. There wasn't. She then inquired if the new, reduced monthly benefit was in fact less than at present. It was confirmed.

"Why would that be?" As we suspected because they increased the Medicare deduction.

"How does that help us keep up with inflation?" Rona asked with a hint of attitude. It doesn't, she heard back.

"Let me see if I have this right--you determined there's no inflation and so there was no COLA." Correct. "But at the same time you're withholding $168 a year more, which is a form of increasing our cost of living--we have to come up with that amount." Silence.

"Right?" More silence.

"No wonder everyone is going crazy about the government," Rona said, "I know it not your fault, but really? This is the kind of letter you send? To people struggling to live on Social Security?" Again no response.

The SS representative had probably been fielding calls of this kind all day. Likely mainly from people less fortunate than we for whom $168 less a year will present real problems.

"More votes for Donald TRUMP," I said. "You know, Mad As Hell. Blah, blah, blah."

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