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The So-Called 'New' Social Security Rules Are Actually the Old Rules There is just so darn much misinformation out there about new Social Security rules. These rules have to do with the eventual elimination of the maximizing strategies known as "file and restrict" and "file and suspend." Every single day, I get …Read more. How to Deal With the Social Security Earnings Penalties I've gotten more than a few emails recently from Social Security beneficiaries who are under age 66 and still working and who are trapped in the web of Social Security's convoluted earnings penalty rules and the way they are administered. Those …Read more. Long Gone Husband May Mean Extra Social Security to Some I gave a couple women very nice Christmas presents over the recent holiday season. And I'm not talking about the lingerie I got my wife or the coffee maker I got my daughter. I'm talking about the gift of extra Social Security benefits I got for two …Read more. The Lights Are Still Shining Brightly at SSA About a month ago, I wrote a column about possible declining service at the Social Security Administration. I pointed out that I get frequent emails from readers who complain about overflowing waiting rooms, generally unpleasant surroundings, and …Read more.
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選'm Not Getting Enough' is a Common Gripe


Q: My husband and I are both in our 80s and have been getting Social Security for about 20 years. But we've always felt that our benefits are too low. We've gone to the Social Security office several times over the years to get our benefits refigured. They've always said they checked into it and that we are being paid correctly. But we still just don't believe them. Is there something we can do to finally get this resolved?

A: I can tell you that based on my 32 years of working for the Social Security Administration, by far the No. 1 complaint that SSA representatives get is: "I don't think I am getting the right Social Security benefit amount." And surprise surprise: I never heard anyone allege that he or she was getting too much money. It was always that the Social Security check was too low!

I think this phenomenon results when senior citizens start talking and comparing Social Security benefit amounts. The person receiving less inevitably feels cheated. What they don't understand is that there are literally dozens of variables that determine the amount of a Social Security check: date of birth, earnings history, early retirement reductions, late retirement bonuses, etc.

Readers who follow this column know that I am often critical of SSA and the service the organization provides. But I can tell you there is one thing they are very good at: SSA is VERY CAREFUL and VERY ACCURATE about calculating Social Security benefits. There have been countless studies done by Congress and other oversight agencies concerning the accuracy of Social Security payments. And the studies show that SSA pays the right benefit amount something like 99.8 percent of the time.

I should clarify that I am talking about the accuracy of the initial calculation of a person's basic Social Security benefit amount. People getting ongoing Social Security checks can be paid incorrectly from time to time. But that's usually because SSA has faulty information. An example is when a worker is making more than the allowable limit and fails to inform the government of his or her earnings. This results in benefits being paid that were not due. Those kinds of "overpayments" are common. But the person's basic Social Security benefit amount is still accurate.

So, now back to the reader's question: To put that 99.8 percent accuracy rate another way, statistically, there are about two chances out of 1,000 that you are being paid incorrectly.

That means it's highly likely that despite what you think, you're getting the correct amount.

However, it appears you've been fretting about this for 20 years. If you're just not going to be able to sleep at night until you get this resolved, the only thing that I can suggest is that you go to your local Social Security office and demand to speak to a supervisor or the manager. He or she should give you better service than you think you received before.

Q: My mom lives in New York. I live in New Jersey. She is 83 years old. Right now, she gets a Social Security check and has a bit of money coming in from an annuity. But it won't be long until that extra money runs out and she'll only have Social Security to live on. She tells me that when her annuity runs out, Social Security will switch her to Medicaid and she'll be able to get by with that extra help and her Social Security check. Is this true? Is that the way it works?

A: Medicaid is sort of similar to the welfare version of Medicare. (Bill Gates will get Medicare when he turns 65, but he could never qualify for Medicaid.) But Medicaid is NOT run by the Social Security Administration; it's run by state welfare agencies. So normally, your mother would need to go to a welfare office to see if she can get Medicaid.

However, many people get on Medicaid automatically by qualifying for Supplemental Security Income payments. SSI is a federal welfare program that is managed by SSA. So, when your mom runs low on money, she would have to go to the Social Security office to see if she's eligible for SSI. If she gets SSI, they'll automatically put her on Medicaid. But if she has too much money (meaning if her Social Security check is too high to get SSI in New York), then she would have to go directly to a state welfare office to see if she can receive Medicaid without getting SSI.

The SSI rates vary from one state to another. So, she'll have to check with her local Social Security office to find out the eligibility rules in New York. But the income limit is usually about $1,000 per month. In other words, if her Social Security check is more than $1,000 per month, she probably won't get SSI and would have to get Medicaid directly from a welfare office.

If you have a Social Security question, Tom Margenau has the answer. Contact him at To find out more about Tom Margenau and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



1 Comments | Post Comment
I, too, "am not getting enough." I get $338 dollars a month, some one hundred dollars of which goes to pay my Medicare. I have a condominium and two IRAs, neither of which will pay me enough to survive. So I rent out the condo for more than my present rent and try to live off the difference.

It seems to me fantastic that Social Security, which originally was intended to save us from destitution, requires destitution of someone like me to receive a minimum amount that will keep me alive and NOT destitute. Apparently, SSI is like welfare--to be paid out to the absolutely impoverished. But I do not qualify--yet.

Despite my not having a job or not working at a place where SS was taken out of the paycheck, I wanted to pay into Social Security, but here in the U.S. I could not because I have been--against my will--either unemployed or employed at places which do not include Social Security as their method of pension-providing. I wanted to pay in but could not. Unemployment and a crappy job market was not my fault. In Ecuador, for example, people are allowed to pay into Social Security despite being unemployed...

Nor should anyone have to become absolutely destitute (in my case, rid myself of the IRAs and sell the condominium) to qualify for a minimum amount to be able to afford to go on living.

And the situation is not as you say it is, Mr. Margenau. You say, "I think this phenomenon results when senior citizens start talking and comparing Social Security benefit amounts." Instead of invidious comparisons, the seniors just cannot make it on the benefits they are given. It is not some additional and greedy calculus they are using. It is not something "immoral" in them nor sheer laziness nor any of those wicked motives the wealthy and better off have for impugning the motives of the working or retired poor. The benefits simply ARE too low.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Sal Hepatica
Fri May 30, 2014 11:12 AM
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