I’ve been collecting my retirement benefits from Social Security for about ten years. They’ve been pretty good at getting my checks to me on time. When I switched to automatic deposit there were a few months of confusion and delay but I lived through it. When I moved to El Salvador, I had a trusted family member withdraw what I needed from my Bank of America account and she’d send it to me by Western Union.
I became a permanent resident about a year ago and eligible to have my benefit automatically transferred to one of two banks in the country authorized to establish a Pensioners Account for American citizens. The Social Security Administration faithfully deposited my pittance on or before the third of each month…until this month of August. We have on-line banking and I always check my account before going to our bank in Chalchuapa to withdraw what we’ll need for the monthly bills, the 10% of my earnings which we give to our church, and as much as I’ve estimated we can put into our joint savings account. With four kids we get by and have enough for some of the simple pleasures which are available and fun for all. But when Uncle Sam fails to pay his debt on time, we quickly start to sweat. And it’s not from the tropical climate.
The first thing I did was email the Citizens’ Services office at the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador. They have been so helpful in the past, I expected a response no later than the next afternoon. They have my phone number and the consul or the officer in charge of whatever has called me in the past. If nothing else, I would have liked to hear some advice or get some comfort from a “we’re checking”. That was August 4th. Today is August 8th.
I also went on-line to SSA’s page and noted that the director announced all payments would be made on time now that the brouhaha over raising the debt ceiling was taken care of. That did not satisfy me. I found a “contact us” page and wrote an email stating my problem. I received a confirmation email and was told my petition would be responded to in the order of receipt. Again not comforting.
When I hadn’t heard from them by August 5th, I went on-line and found a number to call based on the last two digits of my SSN. The recording told me there was no one available to take my call. I then found an “out of country” 800 number and dialed it. First I had to put $5.00 of credit on my cell phone and pray that I wouldn’t use most of it up with options before I could reach an agent.
Mary was polite. Mary listened to my problem. Mary offered possible situations that might have occurred. Mary listened again as I told her that I had not changed any of my information or my status, that I had been receiving my benefit consistently for a year, that my bank’s computer showed it was not received, and that I need my money the day before yesterday.
Mary explained it had to be traced. I reminded her it was an electronic transaction that should have had no human hands involved not an envelope gone astray. She insisted it had to be traced. I wondered why she couldn’t just look at my account on her computer. She then told me to wait four or five days and see if it didn’t show up. I told her the SSA Director said everything was done on schedule. Again she spoke of tracing it. I asked how will I know what the trace discovered. She said they’d inform me. I asked by what media and let her know it takes almost a month for mail to get here. By now she was getting anxious to terminate the call. Her voice was getting more authoritative and less helpful. So, completely dissatisfied with my government, I thanked her sarcastically and hung up.
Margarita puts everything in God’s hands. Typical Salvadoreña that she is, she believes all you need to do is pray and if God wants you to get your SS check, it will come. I am not that kind of believer. I believe God gives you the faculties to resolve problems. He gives us doctors and medicine to heal us. He gives us teachers to educate us. He gives us government workers to resolve long or short distance problems. I’ve exhausted my alternatives. I can’t call my congressman. I don’t really have one. I can’t go to my local SS office and express myself. I don’t have one. And if you raise your voice to a federal employee you find yourself in Guantanamo. I’d send a message to Obama, but we’ve learned he really doesn’t give a damn about senior citizens on Social Security. That became evident to me when he immediately upon taking office decided that we shouldn’t get our cost of living raises.
So, we wait. Margarita is calm as usual. I feel my stomach and it’s not hunger. I wonder what God is thinking.