It’s official. I’m now a qualified governmental retiree! I visited this county’s social security office in Quincy on Monday and got put into the system a couple of weeks before officially turning the retirement age. While I had completed the preliminary application on Sunday (those are available online every day of the week from 0700 to 1900 (in non-governmental parlance, that’s 7:00 a.m. to 7 p.m.). Nowhere that I saw online did it say that you had to go to the real cement-block and mortar building in Quincy until at the very end of the application when I submitted the application.
Having served in state government for a handful of years, I thought I could go to the social security office at 0800 Monday before I needed to be at a news conference. Well, I got to review a whole bunch of things before the office in reality opened up at 0900 and I got to see an employee at about 0920 (9:20 a.m.).
I still remember signing up for social security in Miami when I was 13. My mom took me. I came out of there so proud that I was a ‘real’ worker now, not just someone who sold greeting cards door-to-door (please don’t do that these days!), raised parakeets for sale with my grandmother, gave clarinet lessons (hey, I was still learning from my dad myself, but I knew more than my students, right?) and working odd jobs in offices. What followed were a few years of combining junior and senior high classes and homework with hours weekly working at a coffee house (I love music!), modeling (I loved the beautiful clothes!), and writing (my first published work appeared in Seventeen magazine when I was 15). After a bit of college, I started working with Eastern Air Lines, making the-then amazing salary of $345.00 a month!
I don’t think I saw the inside of a social security office again for a couple of decades. I think it was when I got divorced. I’ve only lost my card once or twice over the years (don’t take this for granted … you only get ten in a lifetime, I just learned!).
Other things I learned during this process: Unless you have a big disability and need to take your social security early ... DON’T! It affects your benefits for the rest of your life. It also caps the amount of money you can earn over a certain dollar amount without being heavily penalized. In other words, you can end up working more for the same money because the government takes more of your money over that cap.
The nicest thing I learned about our local social security office is that the folks who work there really and truly care about you, from the guard who gives you your order-in-line ticket when you sign in to the preliminary staffer who takes the details. Any special questions or circumstances, you move up the chain to another nice staffer who has more knowledge of how to locate the answers. I lucked out with (#1) Christina, and (#2) Roberto. Now, I’m looking forward to sipping something fruity and smooth, swinging in a hammock on a palm-lined beach … well, no, actually, that’s not going to happen in this lifetime, but it does take a bit of stress off of me, which is probably better for me and just as good for my temperament.
It almost feels like winning the lottery might, at least in my imagination. I’ve already gotten lists going that itemize some home improvements, bills paid off, a short trip or two with Rick … in truth, not all of these will be possible, at least in the near future.
But at least now there’s a bit of leeway to squeeze in something extra every now and again. I paid into this system for 53 years. My employers have paid into this system for 53 years. This is not a governmental handout, but a forced governmental savings plan to help those gaining some age on them to have more flexibility in their more mature years.
I’m thankful for this program that was developed way before my birth by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s when poverty levels among senior citizens exceeded 50 percent. Women and minorities were excluded for the most part until program changes in the 1950s and 1960s made social security into a universal coverage entity.
I’m grateful that I outlasted all of my griping about FICA being taken out of my paychecks for a ‘someday’ concept that at age 13 I didn’t understand.