Over the course of twenty-two years spent working at Social Security, I met a lot of people, some of whom were interesting, or off-beat, or just plain strange. From time to time I will share one of their stories. All names and indentifying information have been changed for this and any similar stories that follow. Other than that, the stories are true.
Today’s story is about Cora.
Clara was a small, very elderly, blue haired lady who lived in a local residential care facility. We found out that she had received countable interest on her savings account, which was not hard to do in 1983 when banks still paid decent interest. This caused her to have an SSI (Supplemental Security Income) overpayment of about $90.00. She came into the office when she got her notice. It was my job to interview her. She sat down in front of my desk and stared at me hard. I asked her how I could help her. Her eyes brimmed over and tears began to run down her cheeks. Her lower lip was sticking out a fair amount; it began trembling.
“Why are you people torturing me?” she demanded.
I was a very new claims representative, only out of class for a few months, still a trainee. I hadn’t learned any torture techniques yet. I carefully explained the rules on interest as income to Cora, when it was counted against the SSI check and when it could be excluded. She wasn’t impressed, and the waterworks continued. I forget exactly how the issue was resolved, but I am sure that no matter what the resolution was, Cora left the office with her belief reinforced that our purpose at Social Security in her world was solely to torture her.
A few months went by. I was now in the redetermination unit. People who receive SSI payments are checked about once a year to see if they have had any changes in their lives that might affect how much SSI they had been paid or should be paid in the future. These are called redeterminations. It was during Cora’s last redetermination that we had found out about her interest. I had just finished a long, complicated redetermination which took perhaps 45 minutes or so. That had been my first appointment of the day. I went and called my second appointment. It was Cora.
Her redetermination was very easy. It required only the short form, and she had no changes of any kind. None of her answers required any clarification or any development. I was done in five minutes flat. I indicated that we were done and thanked her for coming in.
There was a long silence. Her lower lip extruded and her eyes began to brim over. In an accusatory voice she declared, “You spent an hour with that last person and only five minutes with me!”
I was reminded of the old vaudeville joke, quoted by Woody Allen in one of his films. There are two women at a resort. One says, “The food here is terrible.” The other replies, “Yes, and the portions are so small.” Evidently, if we were going to torture poor Cora, we had better make a serious effort. Five minutes was simply not enough.