Snafu puts income, insurance at risk
By ROBERT STANGER
Social Security, which dates back to the Great Depression year of 1935 and the administration of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, has certainly been a boon to our family.
Basically, as is the case with millions of other recipients, it has allowed my wife and me to live during our retirement years without serious financial worries.
Although both of us benefited from small inheritances, without Social Security our lives would have been very difficult financially, since I was unable to create much of a “nest egg” during my working years, and Judith retired early from teaching due to family responsibilities, including having to care for a mentally handicapped son.
With the Social Security he was awarded due to his disability, our son, Bill, who is now 50, has been able to live a life in a very decent Youngstown group home largely independent from us and to enjoy a life of his own making.
To have had him living with us for all these past years would have been difficult, to say the least, and he certainly wouldn’t have been happy living at home either. With the group home as his base, Bill enjoys a way of life that would have been virtually impossible had he had to live with us.
The facility in which Bill lives, Windhaven House — actually three buildings — is located on Youngstown’s near South Side and is owned and operated by Mark Zidian.
It is on a main bus line, and Bill takes full advantage of that currently free Youngstown service. Nearby is the city’s Community Kitchen, also free, which he visits frequently and finds the fare quite palatable.
He can easily hop on a bus to visit us when he feels like it, which is usually when he is broke.
His room and board at Windhaven consume three-quarters of his disability benefit, which doesn’t leave him much for personal expenses.
He often visits an older friend of his, also with “mental issues,” who has an apartment just a short bus ride from where Bill lives. The two are frequent customers of nearby eateries.
Bill’s main source of support over the years, in addition to us, has been James, his younger brother, by 15 months.
James has been a member of Youngstown State University’s administrative staff since graduating from Boardman High School and YSU.
My wife has frequently noted that her second son arrived into this world with none of the birth trauma that marked Bill’s.
Both of us have long believed that the circumstances of Bill’s birth were a major, if not the entire, cause of his problems, which became evident not long after his birth
But Bill does enjoy a way of life as good as might be expected given his handicap, and one which would have been next to impossible had he been forced to reside with us, which for financial reasons could well have been necessary had it not been for his aid.
Bill’s room and board at his group home now runs almost $600 a month. It has not always been that high, but even at, say, $500 a month, the cost to us without Social Security for the 21 years that Bill has been at Windhaven would have been close to $126,000, an expense that would have been difficult for us to meet.
The aid Bill has received has also helped to support a very worthy facility which provides a place to stay for a not a few without hardly any other recourse.
All this said, the system certainly seems far from being without its glitches, and a situation we have been faced with of late has been exasperating, to say the least.
As the wife of a recipient, Judith, as a homemaker, has been entitled to a monthly benefit, even though she never contributed to the system. During her years of teaching, she paid into a teachers’ retirement fund.
My memory is faulty as to how long Judith had been an SS recipient until her benefits ceased last October. Her latest monthly benefit was $749.
In a call to the local office to inquire about the cessation (which involved enduring at least 30 minutes of canned music while waiting to speak to an agent) I was informed that the reason for the cutoff was that Judith had another pension which exceeded the amount of her Social Security benefit check. Such a large additional benefit, according to apparent Social Security regulations, disqualified her as a beneficiary.
When I protested to the agent that there was no such additional benefit, he said he would send us a form on which the cutoff would be explained more thoroughly.
A few days later the form arrived. It unbelievably stated that since Judith was receiving some $1,300 monthly from a teachers’ retirement fund in Texas, that she was no longer eligible for the benefit.
Since Judith had only visited the Lone Star State as a child, this was absurd, and I so indicated on the form when I returned it, noting thereon that she does now receive a small pension of $191 monthly from an Ohio State teachers’ retirement fund.
We are now patiently waiting to see if Social Security will remedy its error and restore Judith’s benefit. But we realize that a swift correction may take a while.
Meanwhile, we have received another notice from the government, saying that Judith owes Medicare a $680 premium. This was the obvious result of her having had her Medicare coverage obligation included in her now-canceled SS benefit. The $680 covers four months of unpaid coverage.
She will apparently continue to be assessed this monthly premium as long as she is listed as receiving her so-called “Texas pension.”
Although she was paying for her Medicare coverage through her benefit, it is now irritating to be told to pay for it by itself.
We possibly won’t pay for this coverage until the administration corrects its error and restores Judith’s benefit to what it was before the apparent mistaken identification with some retired Texas teacher.
But this does pose some risk of her losing her Medicare coverage. We hope it doesn’t come to that, since a person at Judith’s age, 84, certainly needs such coverage.
Robert Stanger has lived seasonally for over 40 years along the Allegheny River and has the stories to tell about it.