By March Twisdale
In Part One, I shared how our family found itself deserted by the Social Security Administration, for over ten months and counting…
Thankfully, I speak Spanish. Thankfully, the Mexican Consulate helped us piece together this bureaucratic puzzle. Thankfully, I have a cell phone service that allows me to call Mexico. Thankfully, after a woman put me on hold because I asked if she spoke English, a nice young man picked up my call and stuck it out with me as we blundered our way through a muddled conversation filled with imperfect English and Spanish. When he found my husband’s birth certificate, first I started screaming, then I started laughing. Later, I cried.
Of course, our debacle wasn’t over. “When will we hear back?” I asked of the Burien Social Security Office employee, as she photocopied my husband’s birth certificate. “A couple weeks,” was the reply.
A couple weeks came. And went. So, I reached out to the Social Security Department by phone, no longer trusting the staff at the Burien Office. The nice gentleman on the phone was confused and then annoyed. According to him, they were simply sitting on it. No forward progress.
Keep in mind, we filed for my husband’s retirement benefits in April and it’s now December. The nice gentleman on the phone said he would put in a “RUSH” order, which would require the staffers at Burien to process our application within three (3) weeks, and then he apologized. Profusely. I said, “It’s got to be awful denying people their benefits, with no real power over the situation.” He said, “Yes, it is awful.”
A few days later, my husband discovered he was unable to sign up for Medicare, because the Social Security Department was still “processing” his retirement benefits, putting him in danger of missing the post-retirement Medicare Sign Up Deadline. If you miss it, they penalize you every month for life!
So, I grabbed my phone and called up Pramila Jayapal’s office (again) to ask for help. They flew into action! About two weeks later…my husband’s much-delayed SS benefits finally landed in our bank account, and he was able to sign up for Medicare. Whew!
My take away that I hope to share with you all today is that it’s okay to enjoy and appreciate systems when they work. Just know, in your heart of hearts, that sometimes those nets fail, and if you don’t have the time, energy, support or resources to solve the problem…what then?
If I didn’t speak Spanish. If I wasn’t able to visit the Social Security Office seven (7) times. If I didn’t have a cell phone that offered service in Mexico. If I worked full-time. If I didn’t own a car! In so many ways, my struggle was easy, because we are firmly middle class. What if we weren’t?
There are people in America who are being failed by these systems, and this problem is only going to get worse in the times to come. The cracks are widening. The foundation upon which we stand is shrinking. The darkness below us is growing. And any one of us might fall.
In which case, remember this: You are 100 times more likely to solve your own problem than a burned-out government employee hamstrung by endless, sticky red tape. Do not sit around being miserable, because you’re waiting for someone to come and rescue you. They may not be coming. Stand up! Face the problem. Ask for help. Then ask again, from someone else. And the next person! Expand your search. Be relentless. Never give up.
Then, move on with your life. Confident and proud of yourself, as a problem-solver. Not a victim.