I know everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion. But let's be honest. Sometimes a lot of those opinions can be downright crazy. And when it comes to Social Security, lots of people share their half-baked or out-and-out nutty ideas with me. And today, I'm going to share some of them with you.
Crazy Idea No. 1: "I think the law should say this: If you haven't paid into Social Security, you don't get anything out of Social Security. Period."
My comments: On the surface, without thinking it through, this may seem to make sense to a lot of people. You must work and pay taxes into the program in order to reap the benefits of the program. But what about dependents and survivors? I went back to this guy and asked him this: "So, if a guy dies, you're saying his wife should not get widows benefits?" And this was his reply: "That's right. He should make plans to provide for his wife after he dies. It shouldn't be up to the government to take care of her."
The guy went on to explain that he is single, and that said a lot to me. Over the years, I've heard many single people who deeply resent the extra benefits that can be paid to the spouses and widows of their married counterparts. Some have told me they feel they're being cheated. Others have said they don't think it is their responsibility to support married people's spouses.
Of course, that's the same kind of argument that you hear from people who say they shouldn't have to pay taxes for education because they don't have any kids in schools. Or they shouldn't pay taxes for libraries because they don't read. Or they shouldn't pay taxes for public transportation because they never take the bus. All these benefits and services exist because they contribute to the betterment of a civilized society. And yes, that reasoning also applies to benefits for the dependents of survivors of people who have worked and paid taxes into the Social Security system.
Crazy Idea No. 2: "Social Security benefits should only be paid to retirees. Get rid of the disability program. It's a welfare program for deadbeats and losers. So, I say if you claim to be disabled, you should go on welfare."
My comments: This is another half-baked idea I've heard many times over the years. I think it stems from the perception that the Social Security disability rolls are filled with cheaters and con artists who have never worked or paid any taxes.
So, let's present some facts. First, you must work and pay taxes in order to qualify for Social Security disability benefits. Second, the Social Security disability eligibility criteria are quite severe, much more stringent than for many other public and private disability programs. Social Security law says you must have an impairment that is so severe it is expected to keep you from doing not just your old job but ANY kind of work for at least a year. Or it must be a terminal condition.
I went back to this guy and presented him with this scenario: "Let's say you've got two neighbors, Bill and Bob. They've both worked side by side at the same factory all their lives. At age 62, Bill retires and starts getting Social Security retirement benefits. But Bob has a massive heart attack at age 60 and starts getting Social Security disability benefits. So, you are saying that Bill is getting benefits that he deserves but Bob is getting welfare?" The guy stubbornly stuck to his guns and responded, "That's right. Disability is welfare!"
I think the root of some of these crazy beliefs is that the Social Security Administration does run another disability program that is a form of welfare. It's called Supplemental Security Income, or SSI. SSI pays a small monthly stipend (less than $800) to poor people who have disabilities. There is no work or taxpaying requirement to qualify for SSI, which does make it a kind of welfare disability program. But what many people don't know is that SSI is not a Social Security benefit and it is not funded out of Social Security taxes. It's an entirely separate federal program, funded out of general tax revenues, that just happens to be managed by the SSA.
Crazy Idea No. 3: "I don't think Social Security benefits should be paid to divorced women, especially divorced widows. Once a marriage ends, it ends. Why should my tax dollars support a guy's ex-wife? Besides, she should work and support herself. I worked hard all my life. These women shouldn't expect a government handout."
My comments: This is yet another questionable viewpoint I've heard many times over the years from hundreds of women. And they are frequently working women who resent the fact that stay-at-home moms can get Social Security from their husbands' account. And then it doubly irks them if the couple is divorced.
Consider this scenario: Bob and Carol were married for 40 years. When he was in his early 60s, Bob started chasing his 35-year-old secretary, Alice, and he eventually caught her. So, he divorced Carol and married Alice. According to this reader (and many other women), Carol shouldn't get a nickel of Bob's Social Security. C'mon! There is no way that is fair. I mean, for four decades, Carol raised Bob's kids and cooked his meals and washed his dirty underwear. And who knows what else she put up with! And for all that, she gets nothing!
Also, I know from experience that many people don't like the duration of marriage rule that says if you were married to a guy for 10 years, you are potentially eligible for some of his Social Security. They think it should be longer — like 20 years. They've told me that there are women out there who are bouncing around from one guy to the next, staying married for a little over a decade just to get his Social Security before moving on to the next sucker. Really? Do you seriously think there are women who plan their entire marital lives around the possibility of getting a couple hundred bucks out of some guy's Social Security account? And besides, she wouldn't get benefits from all these men. She would only get benefits from the one guy who has the highest benefit rate.
And even if there are a few women out there who have milked the system, there are far more Carols in this country — women who, as they reach their supposed golden years, get the shaft from a not-so-shining example of a husband!
If you have a Social Security question, Tom Margenau has the answer. Contact him at [email protected] To find out more about Tom Margenau and to read past columns and see features from other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.