Social Security — It’s Been Almost A Year. Pay This Lady Her Benefits
I often write about people who are having difficulty getting the benefits they are due from the Social Security Administration and today, I bring you the story of Sarah Bliner from Livingston NJ. Sarah lives at 17 Stonewall Drive, Livingston, NJ 07039. Her home phone is 973-5330635. Her cell is 973-477-5948. Her email is smbliner at gmail. Sarah’s permitting me to reveal this personal information in the hopes that someone at Social Security will read this column and, at long last, fix her problem.
Sarah, who turned 70 in September, has not received a penny from Social Security in almost a year. She had been collecting her spousal benefit, based on her spouse’s work record, since September 2016. Last November 2019, she submitted an application for her retirement benefit based on her own work record. On November 17, 2019 she applied retroactively for six months of retirement benefits back to May 2019. This would, of course, mean that she’d get a check for six months of benefits, which SSA notified her would be $9,955. That seemed like a nice payout but it comes with a cost. By taking her retirement benefit going back to May 2019, Sarah would be giving up the six months of delayed retirement credits (DRCs) she’d earned between then and her November application date. DRCs increase retirement benefits taken after full retirement age (FRA) by 8 percent per year so Sarah would be giving up a lifetime 4 percent increase in her retirement benefit for a onetime $9,955 payout.
So Sarah reconsidered.
On November 19, two days after she had filed for her retirement benefit, she went to her local Social Security office in Parsippany, NJ. She withdrew her application and told Social Security to resume her spousal benefit while continuing to delay her retirement benefit. On November 24, she received a letter stating that she would receive $9,995 and that her spousal benefits would end. When she contacted SSA, she was told that because she withdrew her application for her retirement benefit, her spousal benefits would be reinstated as soon as she repaid the $9,955.
After repeated attempts to repay the benefits in person, she was advised to wait for official notification from SSA before repaying the benefits. She has not received any Social Security benefits, either her spousal benefit or her retirement benefit, since November 2019.
Then, on June 14 2000, she received a letter from SSA stating that she owed $18,867. On June 15 2020, she mailed a check for the amount requested in the enclosed SSA return envelope. This check has still not been cashed so that money is, in her words, sitting in the Twilight Zone even though it’s still in her bank account.
She thinks that she spousal benefits she’s owed from May 2019 to when she turned 70 in September 2020 would exceed the amount that she must repay SSA as part of withdrawing her November 2019 application for her retirement benefit. So not only should she be receiving her retirement benefit with full DRCs now, she may also be due backpay from SSA.
SSA’s technical experts are knowledgeable about even SSA’s more arcane rules and procedures and they can be instrumental in resolving problems like this. In June 2020, one such technical expert helped Sarah draft a letter to the Collection Division and he submitted it on her behalf. But she has not heard back from anyone in that office since.
Sarah next reached out to her congresswoman who assigned a team member to assist her. They drafted a letter which, at the urging of the technical expert who earlier helped Sarah, they made sure to mention that she needs the benefit payments to pay her bills. As before, Sarah has still not heard anything from SSA.
As Sarah notes, she’d paid into Social Security since she was 17. All she wants now are the benefits that she is due.