A Social Security Survivor’s Benefits Horror Story

Watching th 60 Minutes piece reminded me of something I went through long ago with Social Security, but my experience involved survivors’ benefits.

My mom died in 1975 when I was 11. When my older siblings turned 18, they collected survivors’ benefits from Mom’s social security, as long as they were full-time college students.

I turned 18 in April of 1982. After receiving one survivor’s benefits check – I think the amount was $236 or something – I got a letter saying my survivors benefits were terminated. I wish I’d kept the letter. I planned to save each payment so I could transfer to a 4-year university after two years of community college.

Dad and I went to the local Social Security office. The worker said my benefits were cut because I wasn’t a full-time college student. I told her that was because I was still in high school. She said that didn’t matter—some new rule had passed and apparently it meant people born during a certain timeframe fell through the cracks. When I told her it’s not possible to be a full-time college student and full-time high school student at the same time. She said I could have enrolled and not gone to class. She actually said that! How could that have even been possible, since I would have had to enroll several months before learning about the new rule? I hate crying in public, but I was sobbing as we left that office.

I wish I knew then what I now know about following up and writing effective complaint letters. But back then we took that single employee’s word for it. My grandma followed up with our then-Congresswoman who said there wasn’t anything she could do. (Grandma never voted for her again, either.) If I’d been half as tenacious then as I am today, maybe I could have reclaimed some of my survivors benefits after graduating high school and enrolling in college.

First I lost my mom, then I lost the same survivors benefits my siblings received – funds my mom worked so hard for; she worked up to the last couple weeks of her life, despite her illness. I took on student debt (long since paid off) and used scholarships and s Pell grant to pay for college, but never got that same financial leg up that my siblings had through their survivors’ benefits.

If only the IRS held themselves to the same standards when they underpay people as they use when they overpay by their own error, huh?

I figured I’d share my horror story in case you ever do a follow-up book on other ways the Social Security system has let down people who paid into it (and their survivors).

Terry Says

Thank you for sharing.  When we put all these stories in one place,maybe we can get the attention of Congress and the Treasury Secretary to FIX THE SYSTEM!

If we can do that we will help all those who are in such a terrible place.

Our Goals:

  1. Complete Moratorium on Clawbacks
  2. Reinstatement of all suspended benefits
  3. An independent hearing on EACH case before any demands or cuts
  4. An 18-month Statute of Limitations on Clawbacks

Sharing YOUR story helps us help others!  Thank you!