The stories that have been shared show us why Social Security matters to us all.
They are stories of lives changed – seniors who have worked their entire lives and now can pursue a special dream, disabled workers, children whose parents died when they were young and so many others. Whether the stories are joyous or sad, the people telling them were helped by the economic security and stability provided by Social Security. We thank them for inspiring and sharing with us.
Sandra Stark, Vancouver, Washington:
My story about Social Security begins near the shoreline of Lake Erie on a quiet street in Point Place, Ohio. Here, in the mid-sixties, Peter, my husband, and I had chosen to raise our children. The community abutted the Michigan State line and bustled with similar young families who’d purchased their first tract houses. The close, friendly neighborhood spanned three short streets.
Six-year-old Danny was looking forward to first grade in the fall. Diane, a rambunctious four-year-old with red hair, and chubby seven-month-old Paul completed our family.
On a late June evening, our friend Richard joined us for dinner. He arrived on his Harley. My husband’s eyes lit up when he saw the bike, almost a replica of one he’d owned when he was in the Air Force. Supper ended and Peter borrowed the motorcycle to complete his church canvassing.
I’d gone inside to bathe baby Paul while Richard played with the other children. Mid-bath, the phone rang and that moment changed our lives forever. An accident had left my husband seriously injured. All week Peter lay in a coma, fighting for his life. On the eighth day, he died.
I’d been a stay-at-home Mom and now I was a twenty-seven year old widow with three small children. A horrifying grief gripped my heart leaving me numb – powerless. Then slowly, another pain and an inner panic began to take hold. How could I manage funeral expenses, medical bills, a mortgage and three children to feed and clothe? Our small insurance policy was inadequate. My working mother – a widow living on the west coast – came to help. She insisted I set an appointment with the Social Security Administration and apply for spousal and dependent benefits. She helped me complete the paperwork and I was eligible.
The benefits provided economic security for me and my children. It also gave me the chance to reinvent my life. I was able to heal and prepare for our future. All three children grew and thrived to become productive, successful adults. I shudder to think what would have happened to the four of us without Social Security benefits.
I will be forever grateful to our Social Security system.
Mariza Hernandez, Ontario, California:
I first found out about Social Security Benefits in October 1995 when my husband passed away in a fatal car accident that we where in. It also left my 4 month old son disabled for life. At that time I was 20 years old not working and having to care for a baby who needed alot of medical care. If it wasn’t for Social Security Survivors Benefits I don’t think I could care for my child the way I did. Social Security gave me the opportunity to stay at home with my child and take him to therapy and to provide the best care that I could offer. Once my son went to a special day school, I also was able to go back to school and get a degree. Since he is permanently disabled Social Security will provide him with benefits that will help him be independent and have a good quality life regardless of his disability.
My father was killed in an automobile accident when I was 10 in Scottsdale, Arizona. I was the eldest of 6 children and my mother was pregnant with my youngest sister. Social Security Survivor’s benefits enabled my mother to stay at home and raise all of us until my sister was in high school. She then was able to go back to work. We were never in danger of losing our home, thereby creating the stability that is important after such a loss. Twenty years later my youngest brother was in an accident and sustained a serious head injury. My mother again called upon Social Security to assist him. Twenty years later, although still impaired, he leads an independent life. His benefits continue to sustain him. His life would not be easy without Social Security.
Janice E. Moore:
I became a widow in 1997. I was truly blessed to receive Social Security for my three children; twins, a boy and a girl, age 14; and a son, age 11. Our lives were shattered when my husband and their father passed away. Having the Social Security income was a definite Godsend. It certainly was a huge challenge to finish raising my children alone. However, the situation was made so much easier by the fact that I knew that I could count on the Social Security income every month. The Social Security program helps families when they are in need. Thank you.
I retired from my longest time with one organization, the Federal Government, in May of 2007. I was 63 years old and old enough to start drawing Social Security wages early. I had reached my wits end with my job and my health, but finding out that I qualified for my small pension and Social Security gave me the incentive to call an end to full-time work. I’ve never been sorry to have retired although I miss the pay which was more than double what I live on now, but you can’t have your cake and eat it too now can you? I have managed to pick up a few temporary part-time jobs which have helped with the pinch from Wall Street as I wait for them to give me back what they stole from me. I keep very busy with volunteer work and taking care of myself, my house, and car which is key to feeling good.
I thank God for Social Security benefits. The stress and wear and tear on this old body and mind has diminished measurably. In fact you might be interested to know that I’m a two-time cancer survivor (1980 & 1993). I firmly believe that stress caused my cancers more than any other factor. On Social Security now, the pressures of everyday work in a place I hated with administrators who were mean and nasty to me is no more. I’m such a better person.
Kenneth Hudson, Cincinnati, Ohio:
My father died in a farming accident when I was only 8 and my brother was 12. Our mom took a job as a waitress to help make ends meet. My bother and I also got odd jobs after school. We took the small amount of money from my father’s life insurance and bought a small home in a little town.
Without the help social security benefits (survivor benefits) we would not have been able to make it the first few years after his death. I continued to “draw social security” until the maximum age and later was able to go on to college after high school.
I worked my way through school and went on to graduate school and got a degree in health care administration. It has always been fulfilling helping others. My family and I will always be grateful for the monthly benefit check which helped us through a very tough financial and emotional time in our lives.
My father, Charles Edward Foreman, died just after Christmas in 1974. His death was very sudden, and honestly I am not sure if he killed himself or not, as nobody will really talk about it. My father died of carbon monoxide gas at his place of work in the late evening. My mother was pregnant with my little sister; I had just turned 5 years old. My mother and I found him, as we went to visit him at work. It was very difficult as I did not understand that he was dead. As you can see I was very young, as was my mother. My father was older, in his late 30′s… I am older now than he was when he died. But my mother was in her early 20′s at the time.
When my father died, he did not have any financial plans. He loved us very much. I loved him too and still do. After he died, my uncle came and took my mother to the Social Security office in Texas to file for Survivor Benefits to help us. My father had just built us a new house since the baby was coming, and my mother did not make enough cutting hair to support the three of us. Soon we moved to Houston to be near other family, and my Uncle moved to live near to help. We received the Social Security until my sister and I each turned 18. I know it helped us stay together, and to keep us housed, warm, and fed.
Today I am 40, I have a disability myself and Social Security has been there for me. I am currently in training and I hope to become a Vocational Rehab Counselor in the next year. I have a short time left in my Program and V.R. in my state has been very important. Social Security is an amazing program, and I am happy that I paid into the system when I was working, and I will again soon. I am happy to know that it is there for others and that is a net that keeps our nation going and helps people when they are sick, disabled, aged, or survivors.
Richard (Last name withheld):
But for Social Security, I would be living on the street out of a grocery cart. I am a 70 year old able bodied vet with 26 years experience in law enforcement. Apparently, I’m “over qualified” for any work as no one will hire me…or give me an interview. Obvious age discrimination, but how do you prove that? Due to an incompetent retirement program and an expensive divorce, I’ve lost everything. Not qualified for unemployment. Not eligible for food stamps (I make too much money, SS only!) As such, I’m NOT EVEN COUNTED among the unemployed. I didn’t even get counted by the census. No mail, no knock, nothing.
I’m sick and tired of the way my country is being run. Congress votes themselves a raise but denies cost of living for Social Security recipients. How is that fair?
In 1972 my father suffered a massive heart attack and was unable to provide for my mother and my brother and sister and myself. After a year and a half of red tape he finally received his Social Security benefits. We were once again able to put food on the table, have new clothes and more. When I finished high school, I was able to go to college and still receive my Social Security benefits to help with the cost under Daddy’s disability.
Erick Chalfin, Redding, California:
My father passed away when my sister and I were age 5 and 7 respectively. I can’t remember what the months were like proceeding or following his death, but I do have a few vivid memories of him.
He was a plastic surgeon, and we lived considerably well in small-town New Jersey. My mother had been a retired special education teacher since my sister was born, and she last worked in a school district in Philadelphia, PA. When my father passed, somehow my mother was able to hold it together and figure out how to organize the family and keep going. I can’t imagine the strength she had to have used to keep our family from losing our home, moving, and changing our lives. I asked her only a few years ago what she would have done if we had not had the support from survivor benefits, and she replied that we probably would have moved back to Philly, and my whole life could have been drastically changed.
Instead, Social Security helped provide meaningful support for my family until I graduated from high school. Both my sister and I were able to go to college, and now we both have great jobs. I never thought I would end up working for Social Security, but now that I am here, I am so grateful for the program’s existence. In the event that nothing drastically changes in future years, I may be one of only a few that has received some form of benefit or compensation from SSA for almost my entire life.
Roberta Till-Retz, Iowa City, Iowa:
I am a proud and happy Social Security recipient (along with my husband). Social Security saved us – I retired in late 2006; June of 2008 we were flooded out of our home of 27 years and I had major surgery. Social Security truly came to our rescue, because my pension wasn’t great.
James Taylor, Reed Point, Montana:
Social Security virtually saved me from a very real possibility of a life-in-a-dumpster. Gave me a shot at sanity, sobriety and a…life. Given that life and the stability that SS provided, I am now engaged in an encore (professional) career. Got back to productivity. No life on the couch for this guy but I wouldn’t have had it save for the blessings of this terrific program. So THNX – FDR.
P.S. HATED payin’ into it –the whole of my life. (Raised very right-wing. Any excuse to avoid any “contribution.” So so glad I was made to save because I surely would not have otherwise.)
Sixty-six years ago in Minneapolis, Minnesota, my beloved father was killed in an auto accident. He was a passenger. Our family had four children ages 8 to 16; my mother was expecting another. Without Social Security funds awarded to each child until 18 years, we would not have been able to stay together, with our mother able to be at home until we were grown.
We kids found small jobs after we were 15 and Mom went to work when our youngest was 12. Social Security gave us a normal and secure childhood and I am thankful for it.
Tom Bartling, Janesville, Wisconsin:
Next to my bed I have an old prayer book from the early twentieth century. The black and worn book was my great grandfather’s. I never knew him; he passed in the midst of the great depression of 1933. Grandpa Edward was of Irish ancestry, muscular, hard working, and fun loving.
As I leaf through the pages of prayers, poems, and photos I often wonder what thoughts and ideas crossed his mind in those turbulent years. Great-grandmother Katie was also of Irish ancestry, small, educated, determined, and probably ahead of the times on woman’s rights.
Ed and Katie owned a small farm and dairy business west of Lancaster, Wisconsin. In addition they also housed and cared for one daughter and three younger grandchildren. These were tough times and everyone relied on each other for care and support. Early in the 1930′s money was becoming very scarce. There was never enough to live on, after paying the bills and credit obligations. By 1933 the farm and business fell to the creditors. Probably due to his age and all of the financial factors of stress and strain posed by the economic upheaval, Edward died. Katie and the kids started looking at options to survive as an intact family. Ed had a small Catholic Knights of Columbus Insurance policy. Also Katie had a sister in town, Jody, with a house that they were able to take shelter in. Then in 1935 thanks to the Roosevelt Administration and Frances Perkins, the Social Security System was established. At 68, Katie was able to apply and receive social security as one of the first recipients.
As the depression continued, the occupants supplemented their incomes with room rentals and food preparation for the temporary WPA and CCC workers that had come to the Lancaster area for employment. As time passed Katie was able to stabilize the financial situation for the family. Sometime later in the 1930s or 40s, the family sold the present house and moved to a larger house, which allowed for home dining and a catering business.
If it had not been for the development of Social Security it is hard to imagine what would of happened to Ed and Katie’s extended family. I believe when severe disasters, wars, or a financial catastrophe develop, only a government has the power, know how, or financial soundness to keep a country and its people afloat.
Brian Lundquist, South Portland, Maine:
My mother passed away when I was six years old, leaving my father to care for six children ranging in age from 6 to 16. He worked very hard to provide for us and to keep our family together, which was difficult, as being a single father was not common at the time. My two older brothers also worked to contribute to the family expenses, as did my three older sisters when they were able. The youngest, I also began working when I was a teenager. Often it felt like a battle. Are we going to be homeless? Are we going to be separated?
Social Security provided a critical bit of ammunition against poverty. The survivors benefits the six children received helped us deal with the realities of living in a month to month economic situation. The money provided from Social Security allowed my family to pay the rent and to eat – when otherwise it wouldn’t have been possible.
My father had to be very open with us about the finances. There was no hiding our situation. As a family, we were very aware from where money came from – and went. So, from a very early age, I have understood the critical importance of Social Security for everyone. Social Security allowed my family to pay the rent, to eat, and to stay together as a family.
Walter Skinner, Moreland, Georgia:
My maternal grandparents retired without Social Security. My grandfather had cancer and was an invalid – eventually a bed patient. They survived economically by having one of their children, usually with a spouse and sometimes other family members, live with them for awhile. This setup would pay the rent and keep groceries on the table, but it was not always a happy situation. Usually, everyone was living in a couple of rented rooms in a house.
My father was a logger, and my mother did seasonal work in the pepper plant in Woodbury, Georgia, paying in enough quarters to be eligible for Social Security. In retirement, they generally lived in subsidized housing and had enough money from their Social Security to pay rent and pay for utilities, food and a few extras.
The important thing with Social Security is that, with the government controlling it, it is a guaranteed income. Many people, including many in my own family, if they had to invest part of their income for retirement, would retire having nothing on which to live.
In 1962 my father died at the age of 42 from lung cancer, leaving my mother (42), brother (10) and me (14). My father became ill in August, had surgery in October and died in January. In less than six months my mother was suddenly faced with mortgage payments, hospital bills, and supporting two children.
The funeral director in our small town (Cedarburg, WI) told my Mom about benefits available from Social Security that would help her. I remember my Mom telling me how this will help so much and that we will not be poor or have to move. Having grown up during the depression with only food stamps available was terrifying for my Mom.
In my senior year in high school I decided that I wanted to be a nurse. At that time student nurses couldn’t have a job while attending school. I felt my dreams being crushed. Where would I be able to get the money for tuition without being able to work? The guidance counselor suggested my Mom check to see if the Social Security benefits would help pay for my tuition. We found out that these benefits would continue until I graduated!
I sent in my applications, was accepted by Columbia Hospital School of Nursing in Milwaukee and started nursing school in the fall of 1966. The monthly checks continued until I completed my education. In 1969 I graduated and became a nurse. The benefits from Social Security helped me reach my goal. This benefit opened the door to my future and I have had a wonderful career over the past forty-one years.
I have cared for so many children and adults, mentored young nurses, collaborated with health care professionals to improve our health care system and continue to give back to society. I am not the only one that was on the receiving end of this benefit. My life would have been a lot different without this benefit from Social Security.
Anonymous from Wisconsin:
In May 2007 my husband was diagnosed with stage 4 head and neck cancer. After a hard fought battle he passed away in the fall of 2009. He was fortunate enough to have wonderful health insurance and a very supportive workplace, so the cost of treatments did not destroy us financially, even though it was very costly.
Before my husband passed away I stayed home with our three children, ages 5, 11 and 12, and took care of my family. I do work now but it is not nearly enough to cover all of our expenses. Before finding out that the children were eligible for Social Security, I remember feeling great despair, first about losing my wonderful husband of 15 years and then realizing that I did not now how I would support my family by myself.
Social Security was the answer to my prayers. The children began receiving Social Security shortly after their father passed. Even though the checks are in the names of the children, I am obviously significantly impacted by these payments. I feel so blessed to be receiving Social Security; without it we would be financially devastated. It is hard enough to lose a husband and father at such a young age, so having the financial burden lifted has made the transition a little easier.
Jane Gebel Prentice:
My mother was a young widow, with three babies, when our father died very young. Social Security survivor benefits made all the difference in our lives, as it was impossible in those days for a young mother to leave the home to work.
When I hear people complaining about Social Security, and how much it costs, I remind them that my mother, a widow with such young children in 1947, would likely have had to rely on family members or give up her children, without the Social Security survivor benefit that each of us children received. That couple of hundred dollars each month literally kept a roof over our heads, and I have always been grateful for it.
Anonymous from Texas:
I am one of many thousands of retired teachers who paid into the Social Security system all my life and earned the necessary quarters to draw my full Social Security benefit. But there is an offset that takes two-thirds of that earned benefit because I draw teacher retirement.
As a result I am denied my full Social Security benefit that I paid into. Because I and others receive teacher retirement, the government decided that they need to keep two-thirds of our Social Security. However, others who work for the state or the federal government can double or triple dip into more than one retirement fund. This not only affects teachers but policemen and firemen who all have dedicated their lives to helping others, but are denied our full benefits because we draw too much in teacher retirement or policemen retirement or firemen retirement.
I don’t know of any retired teachers, firemen or policemen who are living high on the hog. If we can afford to allow the Texas governor to live in an outrageously steep rental while the governor’s mansion is being fixed, we should be able to pay teacher retirees their full benefit. I get a check of $65 each month from Social Security. I was getting $39 for a few years. I am entitled to about $500 per month on my own and if I draw from my deceased husband’s social Security benefit, it would be about $800. Either would allow me to quit my full-time job for a newspaper where I make about $1,200 a month.
I have been paying medical bills for more than 20 years so I need to work but really hope I can retire permanently by the time I reach 70 in 18 months. The law that created this mess must have been past at midnight, while everyone was asleep. Nothing is fair about it and if this had happened to a government employee either state or federal, it would have been stuffed. Let’s be fair to those who sacrifice every day; policemen, firemen and teachers are being ripped off big time and this is a disgrace. (I am speaking on behalf of all retired teachers and for the firemen and policemen who also fit in this boat).
Marie Bartlett, Hendersonville, North Carolina:
Never did I think I would be drawing a Soc Sec benefit at the early age of 60 — I’m a “junior-senior” who is vibrant, active, with many solid work years ahead. But following a state budget crisis and layoff in 2009, with no job in sight, I was forced to accept my deceased ex-husband’s Social Security as a survivor benefit. I thank him every day, and I thank Social Security, as it prevented me from going bankrupt, even possibly homeless. I am now seeking permanent part-time work and feel blessed that I have a “cushion” for life. I am not as well off as some but much better off than others. In a country with increasing haves vs. have-nots, Social Security is, for many, the only soft place to land.
A Real Lifeline. My dad instilled in me a great sense of responsibility through his work ethic. A steelworker, he went to work even with four broken ribs. He didn’t bring home much money. He, my mom, my sister and I lived in a small apartment, and with no car, relied on public transportation in Minneapolis. When I look back on it now, I realize that we were poor.
My dad had to retire because of lung cancer. He wanted to work longer but couldn’t. Without Social Security, my mom and dad would have been homeless. I lived at home until I was 21 and because I was going to school, Social Security added a small amount to my parents’ income, which helped tremendously.
My parents were poor, but incredibly resourceful and frugal. After my father died, my mother lived on a small Social Security income for the remainder of her life. Because of her frugality and the fact that she could find decent low-income housing, she was actually able to save money from her $789 a month Social Security income. Just to put this in perspective, it was the year 2000 that she passed away. Social Security has been a real lifeline in my family.
When I was a small child of five I remember my parents talking about how my grandparents were receiving Social Security and what a help that was to them in their day-to-day living. My mother at the age of forty-one was widowed when my father died of cardiac arrest at the age of forty-eight. My mother was teaching at a parochial school, therefore, her wages were minimal. She received her teaching salary, survivor benefits, and Social Security for each child under the age of eighteen. There were five children in my family. She said many times she would never have been able to keep the family together without Social Security.
When I was in my forties there was talk about the solvency of Social Security. I remember saying that if I never received Social Security in my sixties it would be all right, since my family had received many benefits from the service.
As of February 3, 2010 I am now a widow receiving my husband’s Social Security payments. I am truly indebted to the Social Security Administration and the services it provides.
Selma Calnan, Bishop, California:
I have received three blessings from Social Security: in 1937 as a powerless observer, in 2001 as a grateful recipient, and in 2010— powerless again.
My grandfather lost his farm during the Great Depression and died of pneumonia due to exposure working on construction of the Roselawn Cemetery in Madison, Wisconsin. His compensation included two burial plots ensuring his resting place but leaving his widow homeless.
My beloved Swedish grandmother moved in with us as a very unwelcome mother-in-law to my unhappy mother–a situation so universal that it was a staple for some comedians. She was given one of the first Social Security checks and turned it over to my parents. She kept house, allowing my estranged parents to work their 18 hour days in restaurants and spend their days off apart—he in a tavern—she in marathon double features at all the movie theaters. She taught me Swedish Graces as her namesake and I was ecstatic to accompany her on the only two movies she ever saw: Greta Garbo in “Queen Christina” and Walt Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty.” Life at home was good with school as my other sanctuary until I was 15. The headlines: “Hitler Invades Poland” didn’t affect me, but Grandma mourned, “Ah hunsun, dat Hitler vants to rule da world.” I am convinced that God spared her from the horrors of World War II by taking her before Pearl Harbor, while robbing me of my only mentor.
In 2001 when my husband died after 53 years of marriage, I had no earnings of my own as a stay-at-home wife and mother. The second blessing of the Social Security widow’s pension shelters me from the humiliations and derision of the bad old days I remember.
In 2010, I celebrate its third blessing. My son David, who suffered from emphysema, slept sitting up in my front room for a year as he earned enough money for a used truck to get him to Montana and a cottage, promised for sweat equity. He soon collapsed and lingered near death for a month while I was powerless to help at age 86. He was awarded a Social Security Disability pension based on unsuspected asbestosis from exposure 30 years ago. Now we both have peace of mind and he keeps his dignity facing a very limited future.
Hope C. Bogorad, Washington, DC:
My stepfather, Thomas B. Cahill, was a conductor on the New York Central Railroad. Franklin Roosevelt traveled on his train when he was going home to Hyde Park. One day the President called Tom into his compartment. He told Tom that he was contemplating instituting a retirement insurance program for workers. He wanted to begin with railroad workers as a kind of experiment. He asked Tom what kind of program would be helpful to railroad workers after they could no longer work. I don’t know what Tom told him, but subsequently the Railroad Retirement Act was passed, the forerunner of the Social Security Act.
My father was a minister. Our church, locally and nationally, had a very weak pension policy: scarcely enough for food, let alone housing or medical costs. Originally Social Security did not cover ministers. I’ll never forget the joy on my father’s face the day he learned that ministers would be covered by Social Security and he could provide for himself and my mother in dignity.
Angela N. Stockwell, Athens, Maine:
Although money can never replace the love and guidance of a parent, the reality of life is such that money is needed in order to survive. In November of 2003, I lost my 28-year old son in an accident just eight days after he became a father for the first time. Eight days was all he had with his son; eight days to love his infant child. That little boy is now six years old, lives with his Mom in southern Maine, and although, he is growing up without his Daddy, his small family is secure in the fact that each month a check will arrive from the Social Security Administration to help defray living expenses.
That small boy will never know his Dad or share the special memories that define the man he will become. He will never share with his Dad the thrill of walking through the woods on junior hunting day in search of the great white-tailed deer; the thrill of casting his line into the waters to catch the ever elusive trout; or learning how to drive on the back roads of Maine. He will learn truth, honesty, and the American spirit from someone else. I am saddened that my son is no longer with us; I am saddened that my grandson has to grow up without his Daddy; but I am grateful that a program which began 75 years ago still exists today to help struggling families deal financially with the loss of a loved one.
Could one have imagined that a program begun in the 1930s during the Roosevelt Administration would still be providing financial support three-quarters of a century later to millions of American across this country? Matthew will only know his Daddy through the memories of others, but he will always know that Social Security will be there for him until he becomes a young man, all because socially conscious people like Frances Perkins and Franklin Roosevelt had a vision for the care of America’s elderly and its needy children. What a legacy!
Leisha AenneA Neelix:
Are you a senior citizen who worked hard in previous decades and now has the leisure time and money to pursue hobbies and travel? This is the category that fits me best since I got my SSN in 1954 under a different gender name and worked for 42 years before retiring. Since my ex of 29.5 years spent all our income, I could not save anything for retirement, so Social Security has been a lifesaver since I first received it in June of 2003. I am not disabled yet at 69 and was only recently halfway orphaned when my mother passed on at 88. My dad is still surviving at 95 and they both survived with Social Security. I went to last half of college on VA benefits after being in the US Navy for 4 years from 1963-1967. I am not old enough to remember life before Social Security!
My wife and I are volunteers for the VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) program sponsored by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). We see first hand how Social Security affects the lives of the retired and less fortunate. Without Social Security, many Americans would be destitute and some could never enjoy retirement in their last years. For many, Social Security is their lifeline out of poverty.
At times, politicians and others speak of Social Security in an abstract way. For our clients at VITA, there is nothing abstract about Social Security; it is sometimes their only source of income. Our clients are not politically savvy and less likely to speak up regarding program changes relying on others to do ‘the right thing’ and be a beacon of hope. Frances Perkins and others in the Roosevelt administration exemplified ‘beacons of hope’ to the less fortunate.
I look back on 78 years of life and realize I owe the Social Security program a tremendous amount. It is ironic that my parents, along with most other people we knew when I was growing up, thought Social Security was a bad policy.
However in 1947 when I was 16, my father died as I was starting 10th grade in high school. My mother was not in good health and was unable to work. But thanks to Social Security and a World War I veteran payment, I did graduate in 1950.
Sometime later I married and had 4 boys, the oldest of which was no longer eligible for Social Security at the time of my first husband’s death in 1976. However the other 3 boys were 10, 7, and 3 respectively, with the youngest not yet in school.
As an only child of much older parents, I had no relations to help at this critical juncture in my children’s lives. The fact that the four Social Security checks came regularly every month enabled me to process a stable environment such as existed in the homes of most of their peers. All three matured socially and educationally because of my efforts and now have Master’s degrees.
When the youngest was able to be alone if he could not attend school, I went to college classes at Temple University and graduated 6 years later with a bachelor degree. The family maximum continued after my oldest left home to attend MIT in 1983. That happened to be the first year that no college help was provided. However, Social Security offices did warn me of that back in the 1970s.
When the next one left home to attend the University of Pennsylvania, I started to look for paid employment since only two checks were not enough to pay the bills. My youngest boy became independent before attending West Chester University because I was about to turn 60 and planning to marry again. This provided me with monthly payments on my first husband’s Social Security account.
Unfortunately I was only married for 9 years when my second husband died. I then chose the monthly check from my second husband’s account which paid more. Because of workable decisions, I am leaving the world better off than before I entered it.
After my fathers passing, my mother was left with a very limited income. However one of my sisters read an article pertaining to SSI benefits. She applied for this, which also made my mother eligible for Medicaid benefits. After a few months, my mother received a check for 11 cents. She assumed it was a mistake, but held onto it. The next month and for several more months the 11 cent check arrived. At the time first class postage was about 20 cents. Mother collected all the checks and enclosed them with a note saying she felt Social Security was wasting money sending such a small amount to her. The next month she received a letter with her small check, explaining that in order to be eligible for Medicaid she must accept and cash this check. My mother continued to receive her benefits till her passing at he age of 102.
Social Security has been an interesting revelation to me, at my current age of 66 1/2. As eligibility for Medicare begins at age 65, I will begin there. I was living in London, England, then and was seamlessly enrolled in Medicare via a telephone interview with the US Embassy, London. Four months later I moved from London, England, to the USA. Just prior to the move I notified the Internal Revenue Service of my new address in the US and its effective date. My understanding is that the line of communication runs as follows: IRS (Internal Revenue Service) to Social Security to Medicare. For at least six months thereafter Medicare accused me of still living in London.
In the end and after many phone calls on my part to Social Security and Medicare, an extraordinary phone call was initiated by Social Security to confirm my US residence. At long last my complementary insurance coverage was able to go through.
In this instance it appears that Social Security and Medicare were very proud of their separate domains and that communication between the two was at a lackluster pace.
At age 66 I dutifully called the 800 number for Social Security to inquire as to how I should enroll for retirement benefits, fully expecting to be instructed to visit a local Social Security office laden with umpteen documents. Instead I was courteously and efficiently interviewed then and there on the phone. Pending Social Security’s receipt of one document relating to my prior residence in England, my enrollment was activated. In that instance the communication with Medicare worked well. I received a revised Medicare card within three weeks. What more can I say? I experienced intense frustration on one occasion and just the opposite the next time round. I acknowledge that my comments do not address the substance of Social Security but rather its administration. I now look forward to enjoying its rewards.
I remember my grandmother — who probably didn’t ever put much money in, got something like $70 a month — this in the 50s. I think it was probably the only income she had. She lived in a house with a wood cookstove and a cistern and outdoor plumbing and had a big garden. For one’s birthday she might give you a dime or a quarter. A large sum for the time and for her income.
She spent some of that money on thread and handkerchiefs which she would crochet around. I still have and treasure them.
Anonymous in Minneapolis:
I started working in high school and worked, attended college and paid for a BA and a Masters degree. After almost 8 years of teaching I became unable to work. Social Security Disability Insurance provided me an income so I was not homeless and when I qualified for Medicare, I was helped even more.
The work incentives for SSDI allowed me to return to work. I returned to SSDI once during my 17 years of full time employment but it was brief. I didn’t need to lose all I had, a place to live, health care, job, etc., to go on welfare. Now at age 59 other medical conditions have added to the burden for what is required to work. I had another entire career though. I worked in social services helping people who were on Social Security resume employment. WOW.
Now I am trying to walk. I am by no means well off. I do have a home I own and am paying my bills the best I can. My husband is retired and severely disabled. Without Social Security it is likely we both would be institutionalized at great expense to taxpayers. Now I am a homeowner, member of my community and working on recovery. Without Social Security benefits I might not even be alive to tell my story. It was a life saver and it made it possible for me to have a wonderful 17 year career helping others.
Stefan Lonce, Croton-On-Hudson, New York:
Social Security preserved my family. My father was a carpenter. He loved building things. He was almost 40 when he married and started building a family. My mother was a housewife. As part of the rent for our apartment in Buchanan, New York, my father helped maintain the building. On April 22, 1972, my father had a sudden, massive heart attack, while tending the furnace in our building. I was eight years old; I had three older brothers and two younger ones. As I watched the paramedics wheel my father’s body out to the ambulance, I worried about who was going to support my family. After my father’s funeral, my mother applied for Social Security survivors benefits, which we began receiving within weeks. Each month, after our seven Social Security checks had cleared, my mother, brothers and I headed for the supermarket, where we filled three grocery carts full of nonperishable food – six growing boys ate a lot.
Although she started working after my father died, without the Social Security survivors benefits that we received, my mother could not have afforded to raise my brothers and me together. We would have been split up, and most of us would have been sent to live with relatives, or would have been placed in foster care. Which is not to say that we lived extravagantly. We were frugal, but there were times at the end of the month when we were just about out of food. My mother always worried that she wouldn’t be able to afford keep our family together. My brothers and I all worked, to contribute to the household. The Social Security benefits, by themselves, just weren’t enough, although they later helped me pay for college.
For 75 years, Social Security has preserved millions of American families, like mine. Frances Perkins said that getting Social Security passed was her greatest accomplishment. FDR, Perkins, and the New Deal brain trust designed Social Security to be a self-funding social insurance program that provides guaranteed benefits to Americans who cannot work because they are elderly, or blind, or disabled, or whose spouse or parent has died.
In 2016, when Social Security’s expenses are projected to exceed its income, Social Security will have provided $2.6 trillion in benefits… to the federal government, which has appropriated Social Security’s surpluses since 1983, in exchange for non-marketable Treasury bonds. Those bonds are counted as part of the national debt. Will the federal government pay Social Security for its bonds? That’s the question we need to answer now, because if it the bonds aren’t paid, as seems likely, we will have a crisis of monumental proportions.
If Frances Perkins were alive today, she would demand that Washington address that impending fiscal crisis now, because Social Security preserves American families. And she’d say, “Happy 75th Birthday, Social Security… and, I hope, many more!”
Anonymous in West Virginia:
Social Security has been beneficial to our family in two ways. First, two years ago I had to give up my nursing career to care for my husband’s illness including Parkinsons with dementia, extensive heart disease involving several heart interventions including a four way bypass, and severe spinal stenosis. I was able to continue working until his dementia and his inability to walk became a problem. After trying for two years to care for him at home by myself, I had to place him in a local nursing home.
It has been difficult to manage the cost of medications and health care, but with Social Security and Medicare, we have been able to stay out of debt and retain our home. Of course, when he went into the nursing home, my income reduced to only my Social Security to maintain the home and pay all the bills. It requires a lot of budgeting, but without my check each month, I would probably be on welfare.
Secondly, six years ago, my son lost his wife in a car accident leaving him with a 7 year old son. Juggling a job, taking care of things at home, and caring for his young son became a real difficult task. Living in a rural area, there was no form of childcare available especially when he works shift work. My grandson is now 12 years old and for the first two years after his mother’s death, he spent a lot of time with his grandfather in our home when his father was working, along with my assistance when I was home. His presence helped to keep his grandfather busy, helping to stimulate his mind, and therefore postponing the time when his dementia became a serious concern.
Now that I am living alone, he stays with me when his father is working. He has been a great form of encouragment and helps to fill my lonely hours. Of course, he is receiving Social Security since his mother’s death, which will help with his primary education as well as college. It would have been difficult for his father to save for his education, work, and maintain a home by himself, if it had not been for his Social Security. God always provides, so thank God for Social Security.