Apr 28, 2014 0 Share

Lessons Learned

Social Security card in pile of money.

I think my aversion to dealing with government entities developed when I became an expat. The amount of bureaucracy surrounding an international move is astounding. Obtaining certified copies of government-issued documents, turning the certified copies into apostille certification (if you don’t know what apostille certification is, consider yourself lucky), waiting in line with a crumpled number in hand at each step of the way, and inevitably not having a crucial document and being forced to come back for another number another day … It’s no wonder I was avoiding the task of applying Cameron for Secure Supplemental Income (SSI) Benefits through the Social Security Administration. Just the hold time on the phone to schedule an appointment was enough to drive up my stress level. Last July, we had a phone appointment scheduled for the application, only something went wrong and the agent was expecting us in the office, so Cameron was deemed a no-show and the application was never made. My “Government Aversion Disorder” caused me to wait six months before I had the nerve to start the process anew.

Since Cameron has been working for two years, I wasn’t sure if he would qualify for SSI or SSDI, which is Social Security Disability Insurance. The application for SSDI can be done online, while the application for SSI cannot. I gave the SSDI application a shot but I kept receiving confusing form letters from Social Security as a result of my online application attempt. Finally, it came down to me having to bite the bullet and schedule an appointment at our local Social Security office.  (They offered a phone appointment, but I didn’t fall for that one again.)

Our appointment was for 9:00 a.m., and we arrived 10 minutes early to a lengthy line outside the building. I felt my anxiety level begin to rise. Did I have everything I needed? I had sent all the documentation requested through the online application form letters. They had returned the documentation to me, so I knew they had what they had asked for. Cameron’s birth certificate had not been returned yet, but I was sure they were just holding it until the face-to-face meeting.

Once the office doors opened at 9:00, things went pretty quickly. There were two lines, one for those with appointments, and one for those without. Cameron’s name was called within a few minutes, and we were seated at a desk with our Social Security representative. Who, by the way, was quite friendly and seemed very competent. (I know … I should let go of my prejudices when it comes to government employees, but I like to prepare for the worst.) The process was painless, and we were on our way home within an hour.

You would think, with as much time and effort as I’m putting into preparing Cameron for adulthood, I would’ve had a better understanding of Social Security benefits. I am a bit humbled by how much I have learned through the process of applying for benefits for Cameron. Here are just a few of the things I know now, but should’ve known sooner:

SSI benefits are the qualifying trigger for many other benefit programs, at both the federal and state levels. For instance, our local Vocational Rehabilitation agency bases economic need on whether or not the consumer is receiving SSI. Since Cameron is not currently receiving SSI, funding for postsecondary education or vocational support will be based on financial need, using my husband’s and my tax return as the determining factor.

Social Security must determine a person has a qualifying disability before the age of 22 in order for a disabled child of a retired person to draw SSDI. In Cameron’s case, if he is deemed disabled as a result of the SSI application, he will be eligible to draw SSDI when I, his father, or his stepfather begins to draw Social Security in retirement. The money Cameron would receive would not impact the money received by the retired parent.

Upon qualification for SSI, wages must be self-reported. I just assumed that because each paycheck has money going to Social Security that Social Security knew how much money you made. Come to find out, the tax money goes to the Treasury Department, and Social Security has no link to that data.

Anytime you send documents to a government agency, use Return Receipt Request. My Government Aversion Disorder applies to the post office as well. When I sent in Cameron’s birth certificate, I assumed that the preprinted envelope would be sufficient in getting the document to the right place. Not so much. My hope that the certificate would be returned to us at the meeting was a pipe dream. Now I get to deal with another government agency to request a new birth certificate to replace the lost one.

Start early. We were told the decision process takes four to six months. This makes a big difference for us financially. Had SSI been in place sooner, the amount of funding for programs Cameron would receive from Voc/Rehab would be greater. Money out of our pockets now is money that’s not available to Cameron later in life, when public funding sources might dry up.

All of the above nuggets of wisdom were out there all along, just waiting for me. I just chose not to attend to them, and am now kicking myself a little bit. Lesson learned.