It’s forgivable that Ben Franklin didn’t include governmental bureaucracies with death and taxes as being the only certainties of life. After all, he died 143 years before that other Franklin – Roosevelt – laid the groundwork for the America’s administrative state.

This revelation came to me in early October, five days after my wife passed away, when a letter from the Social Security Administration notified me I was entitled to $255 in spousal survivor death benefits. The funeral home had reported the death a day after it happened, so I was surprised by how quickly the SSA sprang into action.

The letter told me to call a toll-free number about the benefit claim, which I promptly did. After going through an irritating introductory robo spiel (“What are you calling about?” etc.), the cheerful electronic voice promised to connect me to the right person. Instead, I got a recording telling me I had an estimated wait time of 45 minutes before I could talk to a human being.

I called twice more at different times over the next two days and got the same results. Then I realized how lucky I had been to get that far when the recording said, “All our lines are busy. Please try again later,” on my fourth call.

After several more fruitless phone calls during the following week, I checked the Social Security website for a solution. As I anticipated, there was no way to file a death benefit claim online, but it did mention that I could call my local SSA office instead of Washington.

I punched in a number, told the operator what I needed and was transferred to a phone that was picked up by a person. “Aha!” I thought. “I’m finally getting this done” No such luck.

The representative I spoke with offered his sincere condolences and took down my basic information. He then told me he was only a middle man – to actually file my claim, I still would have to talk to someone in Washington, but he could schedule a time for someone to call me. After doing some checking, he told me the earliest time I could receive a call would be mid-November, nearly six weeks away. I immediately agreed and wrote down the info on my calendar.

Before I hung up, I told the rep my wife and I had needed only short and simple phone calls to sign up for Social Security, so I couldn’t understand why there was such a convoluted process to collect a measly $255. He commiserated with me and said the rigmarole baffled him, too. “I’ve been here for 25 years and have never understood why it isn’t easier to get the death benefit,” he said.

Such are the ways of Rooseveltian bureaucracies.

When I finally received the phone call last Friday, it lasted about 10 minutes and was completely pointless. Instead of asking questions, the rep had me confirm information he obviously had in front of him. The only real question he asked was the city of my birth. When I gave the correct answer, I apparently proved I was not a lowlife trying to cheat Uncle Sam out of a small fortune.

A little background about the spousal death benefit is in order. It was included in the original Social Security Act of 1935, presumably to help grieving wives and husbands pay for their spouses’ burial expenses. The law capped the benefit at 3.5% of a person’s covered earnings, which would have been a maximum of about $315 when the law was adopted. Possibly nobody ever received such a large sum; in 1939, the average payment was $97 (roughly $1,709 in inflated-adjusted dollars).

Congress capped the lump-sum death benefit at $255 in 1954 ($2,388 today), and the limit was retained the last time the provision was overhauled in 1981 ($723 today).

In one respect, I’m glad the size of the benefit hasn’t changed in 63 years – it’s extremely rare when Congress puts on a display of frugality. On the other hand, I feel compassion for the poverty-stricken families who receive such a pittance when they have to bury a loved one. I know people who have spent more than $255 on a pet burial.

But despite the show of thriftiness, the Social Security death benefit – as it’s now constituted – wastes millions of taxpayers’ dollars a year.

It’s not the payouts that are wasteful, it’s the process. How many thousands of SSA employees spend millions of hours every year to take care of phone calls like mine? These are jobs that easily could be replaced by a web page (which probably would be more efficient, too).

Not only would streamlining the system save money, but it also would spare surviving spouses extra grief in their time of mourning.

Gerald R. Ford HwyBy John Ruberry

“Whether we like it or not, the American wage earner and the American housewife are a lot better economists than most economists care to admit. They know that a government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have.”
Gerald R. Ford, August 12, 1974.

Forty years later, a woman from Plainfield, Illinois, Kelly Alsip, is proving that Ford was a wise sage in regards to the acumen of the average American in regards to federal spending.

The Chicago Tribune’s Jon Yates writes a consumer affairs column, What’s Your Problem, that attempts to solve purchasers’ issues, things along the lines of “I got in a car accident and my insurer won’t pay my claim.”

Two years ago Kelly Alsip accidently made a $500 federal student loan payment–but she had already completely paid off that debt. Alsip promptly called the US Department of Education–and six weeks later she received a refund from the Treasury Department.

But last month out-of-the-blue Alsip received another $500 Treasury Department check. She suspects that it was a second refund from her 2012 error. Alsip tried to get an answer as to why she received that check, ignoring advice from her friends to just simply cash it.

And not surprisingly, she got nowhere, so she emailed the Trib’s Yates.

The Problem Solver called a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education, who said she has no idea why Alsip received the check and her agency would have no way to find out. The spokeswoman suggested Alsip call the department’s National Payment Center or the Direct Loans Service Center.

Alsip tried both. She gave up on the first number after waiting more than 10 minutes without getting connected to a customer service agent. The second number was no longer in service, she said.

The Problem Solver also called a spokesman for the U.S. Treasury Department. That spokesman said he, too, had no idea and directed Alsip to call the Treasury Department’s Fiscal Management Service office in Kansas City.

After making another round of calls, she finally got a human being on the phone. That person instructed her to call another person in a different office.

The telephone number she was given was a general number, so she used the dial-by-name directory to find that individual. But that person’s name was not listed and there was no operator available to speak with.

“And the mystery of the $500 check remains,” Yates added.

Yeah, $500 is not a lot of money to the federal government. But it’s a lot to me. And how many more errant $500 checks have been sent by our leviathan of a government? Or $5,000 checks?

Or even $5 million checks?

Does anyone know?

Of course not.

********************************************************

Olimometer 2.52

A new week has come with a new $350 goal to be made to pay DaMagnificent Seven and the less than magnificent mortgage.

Yesterday was a great imitation of Gave 6 of the 1976 world series. With less that two hours to go a single tip jar hitter made up the shortfall and gave us a full payweek in the last three.

It just goes to show you that the game isn’t over, until the last out is made.

The day has already started with a few hits of DaTipjar and if we can get another dozen tip jar hitter at $25 we can have the goal made at the beginning of the week rather than in the closing hours.

It will be much easier on my hairline and I don’t have all that much to spare.

Olimometer 2.52

Just click on DaTipJar below

Now there is another reason to kick in on a more permanent way

DaGuy low rez copy-psd

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And because it is a “deal” that means there is good news and bad news.

Good news:

Cuts of 39 bil

Military will be paid

No Abortion Money in DC

Bad news:

Cuts of only 39 Bil

Planned Parenthood keeps money

NPR Keeps money

In terms of right and wrong, of course the planned parenthood money is evil, but it has been evil for years, the fact that it is now on the table and more importantly will be on the table again is very important. Democrats control the senate, they control the White House and the media and the Dems had to go all out to preserve it.

As Col Allen West put it this morning: “It takes 5 miles to turn an Aircraft Carrier around but it’s heading in the right direction.”

In terms of the Tea Party Agenda this is an important change; culturally the “idea” of these cuts is huge and it’s just the beginning, particularly when we see so many democrats forced to give lip service to them, Stacy’s opinion not withstanding.

I would liken today’s results to the beginning of Chickamauga campaign. It began with General Rosecrans almost bloodless advance into Georgia flanking Braxton Bragg out of one position after another. Like that situation in Democrats have talked big but been forced to retreat again and again.

When the debt ceiling bill comes up and the budget fight comes I suspect we will also see democrats flanked out of their positions again and forced to retreat.

Bottom line? Everything we got we got with 1/3 of the power, what do you think will happen next year when we have the senate and perhaps the White House? Do you think a democratic minority in the senate will want to shut down the government in, say 2013 with a filibuster over PP and NPR? Lets remember that one of the reasons arch liberal Ted Kennedy was so successful is he repeatedly took a part of the loaf until he not only had all the bread but people were using his recipe to bake it. There is no reason why we can’t do the same.

As long as we don’t make the critical mistake Rosecrans made in the final battle we’ll be fine, but we have to keep them on the defensive or to put it another way:

Ride Right through them, they’re demoralized as hell!

Libertarian Leanings notes this message from the NYT

…one thing seems clear to Ms. Stolberg. The public is deeply confused and should be ignored as this debate goes forward. Americans hardly ever know what’s good for them, so often voting against their own best interests. Didn’t they just do it again when they put a Republican majority in the House of Representatives last fall? It would hardly do to consider anything so unreliable as American public opinion when government programs may be at stake. If there are any besides Medicare and Social Security.

Yeah who needs the people in a representative republic.

This actually is part of a theme where every liberal outlet is calling for republicans to announce their cuts in Medicare and social security. This has been constant since the election. The line is basically “if they don’t cut social security or medicare then they are not serious”.

This way they can minimize any cuts they have already announced. Of course if any such cuts come then it will be all about the mean republicans hurting seniors. The moment any such cut comes watch the media turn on a dime. For Example:

GOP leaders may talk tough about deficits and federal spending, but their proposed cuts assiduously avoid any mention of Pentagon programs, Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security. Since those programs, along with interest payments, consume most of the federal budget, that means Washington politicians will keep fiddling while Rome burns.

Let’s be clear, entitlement cuts ARE necessary and I have no problem moving the retirement age up two years for anyone born after 1960 (that includes me btw) but expect this to be the MSM meme right up until it happens.