Wednesday, September 13, 2006

it’s SO not about the money



First I’d like to thank everyone who has offered both congratulations and commiserations over the past few weeks; it has meant a lot to me.

Trust me, I would really like to resume to normal posting as soon as possible, but I have had problems with my broadband since the weekend which have only just been resolved. I’d like to post about something unbelievable that happened to me the other day.

All I had to do was call the US Embassy here in Dublin and report my grandmother’s death so I could stop her Social Security payments. I really honestly thought I was doing the right thing. Well, of course I was, but I still get angry when I think about the conversation that took place.

I chose my title for this post very carefully. This is really not about the money whatsoever. I hope having read what transpired you will see where I am coming from.

After reporting my grandmother’s passing to the Federal Benefits Division, the lady very kindly expressed her condolences, and after calling up her Social Security Number on her computer she remarked that she had reached a grand old age, which at 97, of course she had.

Then I was asked for the date of death. August 31st was my truthful reply.

Immediately I was informed that since she had died before the end of August, even though it was a matter of hours before, she had to forego ALL of her Social Security benefits for that calendar month, and since it had already been paid by direct debit, this lady on the phone had to inform me that in a few days her office would be reaching into my grandmother’s bank account and taking the money back.

Once again I must stress, it’s not about the money, nor is my annoyance directed at this lady in particular for I understand she was just doing her job.

Surely, in this day and age, in the 21st century, considering that you are dealing with what is supposedly the most powerful and civilized nation in the world, you would expect some kind of protocol in place whereby people reporting the death of family members can be treated with a bit of compassion?

Already I have thought of several different ways it the situation could have been handled, and I have received absolutely NO training in this area.

OK – if it was about the money, how many civil servants would it take to get a calculator and work out the differential to the day? But it isn’t about the money, like I said.

The one thing that really annoys me is that I know someone else out there with a bit more knowledge of the system would be able to declare the first of the month as the date of death and not have to go through this at all.

So why didn’t she ask me for a copy of the death certificate? You can be sure if my phone call was to claim money back off Uncle Sam she would have asked for it!

Even if reclaiming the money for August were absolutely necessary, what she could have done was request that I mail in or fax a copy of the certificate, THEN outline in a letter the reasons why the money needs to be reclaimed. This way, a phone call that is difficult to make in the first place isn’t made ten times harder.

Or alternatively, they could allow for a two-week waiting period when payments begin, which will mean they cannot be paid in advance and thus need not be reclaimed, unless the death is reported long after the fact.

Any beaurocracy worth its salt should appreciate my timely notification, no matter what the subject matter.

I was left feeling like it was the stupidest thing I could have possibly done.

2 comments:

Kav said...

Doesn't usually happen, but I ended up getting caught up in your blog and reading a few of your 50 stories. Great stuff. I'll return.

About this post: I nearly always find if you try and do the right thing in situations like that that you'll end up getting shafted, whereas Joe Bloggs who forgets to do it for a couple of months and then gives a false date gets off scot-free.

I'm just cynical though.

The Swearing Lady said...

Look, it's Kav!

Anyway, this kind of thing is all too common, unfortunately. I've heard so many reports of people being charged or having their benefits reassessed after their deaths - the State is still sending things for my father, despite the fact he died three years ago. It seems sensitivity and beaurocracy just don't mix. I'm sorry you had to go though it.