Tuesday, January 26, 2010


This post is nothing more than a rant about something I have to get off my chest.

A couple of weeks ago, I flew to Florida, primarily to help my sister-in-law sign up for Social Security retirement benefits. I researched it online before making the trip, and I learned that the SS office may ask to see documents like a birth certificate and maybe a divorce decree. Since I keep all of these important papers for Peg, I made sure to have them with me when I made the trip south.

On a positive note, I discovered that you can apply for benefits online these days. So, Peg and I sat in front of the computer the morning after I arrived, and we worked through the questions together. It was all pretty simple, and because of the research I had done, we actually had all of the information we needed. Right at the end of the process, though, it seemed like my computer had a "hiccup" or something, making me wonder if the application actually got submitted. I never received any confirmation, so I was left wondering. When I attempted to go back in and review the application, I was asked for a confirmation number. Based on this, Peg and I decided that it would be worth a trip over to the local SS office to confirm that the application had indeed been received and was being processed.

My GPS very easily took us to the address on the letter Peg had just recently received from the SS administration. One problem...they moved to a new office LAST JULY! Yet still sending letters (obviously photocopied) with the old address. Fortunately, the new address (further away, of course) was posted on the door of the old office, so once again we relied on GPS to get us there. We arrived at 3:15PM, and they close at 3:30PM. We had to take a number. There were 10 people ahead of us. Fortunately, their policy is that if you get there in time to take a number before 3:30, you WILL be seen that day. As we waited, we watched several people come in and ask questions of the employee who was stationed at a desk at the entrance. In every instance, this employee allowed the questioner to go on and on until they had finished explaining their dilemma, only to be told that she couldn't answer any questions...please take a number. Now, why didn't she stop them before they got going if she knew she wasn't going to be able to help them?

As an aside, even though this was a new facility, it still looked a lot like your typical DMV office. Rows of cheap chairs were set up for waiting. Somehow, you're made to feel like you're in detention back in high school. Like you're going to be in trouble if you're caught chewing gum. Crazy that they can't create a more inviting atmosphere in these places. But I digress.

Our turn comes, and as we approach Window #10, we are pleasantly greeted by a nice woman who is sitting behind a window that has bars on it. After returning the greeting and taking a seat, I explain that we applied online for retirement benefits, but were left wondering if the application had actually been submitted. She took Peg's Social Security number, typed it into her computer, and began nodding her head. Yes...the application had been received, and it was already being processed. Everything was in order, and within a few days Peg should expect to receive a letter by US mail telling her when her benefits would begin. We were relieved. I also brought up the issue of the letter showing the wrong address, and the agent was very apologetic. She even asked to photocopy the letter so she could show it to her supervisor and hopefully get the problem corrected. I was impressed by her interest and responsiveness.

When she returned with the letter, I mentioned that my research online had indicated that we might be required to produce certain official documents like a birth certificate in order to complete the application process. I told the agent that I had the documents in hand, and asked her if she needed to see them. She promptly began typing something into her computer again, nodding her head as before, and then replied, "No, there is no need for me to see the documents. You were able to provide enough information online that we could ascertain that you are who you say you are." She ended the session by reminding Peg to look for the letter in the mail, which should arrive after several days. We left feeling good that, even though we had made an unnecessary trip to the SS office, we could now rest easy that the application was complete. I only wish, in retrospect, that I had though to write down the name of our friendly agent!

The next day...my last day in Florida, was busy with other things. In fact, as is quite common, Peg never even looked for her mail on that particular day. Later that evening, I flew home. I still had Peg's important documents with me, since they are kept in a firebox at my house for safekeeping. Let's just say one of Peg's strong points is not keeping track of where things are...thus we decided long ago that I should hang onto her important papers.

Fast forward to the next morning. Phone rings. I answer. It's Peg...sounding all cheerful. "What's up?" I asked. "Guess what?" she replied. "When I went to walk the dog early this morning, I checked my mail, because I hadn't bothered to look yesterday...and I got my letter from Social Security!" Mind you, that means this letter arrived less than 24 hours after we had been told it would be several days...and more importantly, it arrived while I was still in Florida! We just never checked the mail that day. "So," I asked, "what did the letter say?" Peg's reply caught me completely off-guard. "It says that they need to see my birth certificate, my marriage license, and my divorce decree."


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