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Social Security – Part 2: Non-Retirement Benefits

Social Security is not only a retirement program. It also provides a safety net for the short- and long-term disabled, the aged poor and survivors of deceased contributors to Social Security.

Even if you are healthy now, do not dismiss the importance of disability benefits. According to the Social Security Administration, a 20-year old has a three-in-ten chance of becoming disabled before retirement age. Imagine what those odds must be for older people.

Today’s is an easy lesson on the non-retirement benefits provided by Social Security. There are several programs but Crabby Old Lady will concentrate on the three most important ones.

[Also, check out the Privatization: Recent Developments section at the bottom of this post. Crabby will append this section (or publish full entries) as developments warrant.]

Survivor Benefits
Certain family members are eligible for survivor benefits when a Social Security contributor dies. There is the small lump-sum benefit that most survivors are eligible for, along with the following. (Remember, these benefits are for survivors of deceased relatives who contributed to the program for a minimum of ten years during their working lives.)

Widows and widowers may receive survivor benefits at their full retirement age - 65 or slightly more, depending on birth year - or reduced benefits at age 60.

Disabled widows and widowers may receive benefits as early as age 50.

Unmarried children, disabled children and even dependent parents age 62 and older may receive survivor benefits. Some divorced spouses may be eligible and in some circumstances, survivors can work while receiving benefits. The Social Security website has a clear explanation.

Social Security Disability Insurance
The SSDI program pays benefits for workers who suffer a medical condition or disability that prevents them from working for a year or more, and the benefit continues until they can return to work. The benefit converts to the retirement program if a worker continues to be disabled until normal retirement age.

Other family members may be entitled to benefits when worker is disabled. They include:

  • A spouse at age 62 or older

  • A spouse of any age if caring for the disabled person’s child under age 16 or who is disabled

  • Disabled children

  • In some cases, divorced spouses

These benefits are allowed for eligible children whether biological, adopted or step-children. More detailed information can be found here.

Social Security Income
SSI provides assistance for those in dire financial need who have no Social Security benefits. It is paid for from general tax revenues, not the Social Security fund, but is managed by the Social Security Administration.

This program is a cash benefit to help with the basics – food, clothing, shelter – and may also include food stamps and home energy assistance. Among those who are eligible are the aged, and blind and disabled adults and children with little or no income.

The amount of the benefit depends on income and other resources and can be reduced depending on the value of assets. Generally, however, a home and the property it is on, a car, a small life insurance policy and a burial plot do not reduce benefit payments.

The Social Security website has complete information including elegibility requirements and calculators for SSI and all its programs. And by the way, given the bureaucracy of most government agencies, it is a pleasant surprise to Crabby to find that the Social Security website, is one of the best-organized, thorough and easy-to-use sites anywhere online, particularly considering the complexity of the programs being handled there.

So far, none of the privatization partisans – pro and con – has addressed what might happen to these related Social Security programs if a privatization system is adopted. It is essential that these benefits continue for it is by the treatment of its least advantaged citizens that a nation must be judged. All it takes, sometimes, for anyone to join their ranks, is an unfortunate accident that can happen in the blink of an eye.

There. You are almost finished with Crabby Old Lady's Social Security backgrounder. The next installment will explain the Trust Fund and then you'll be finished with the basics. After that, Crabby will lead you through the maze of privatization fact and fiction as the political battle for this crucial change in policy heats up.

Privatization: Recent Developments
Kicking off his Social Security privatization campaign last Monday, 6 December, President Bush met with a bipartisan group of congressional leaders to discuss the issue. This was a move to get the ball rolling with Congress because the president cannot push through privatization without support from both sides of the aisle.

In briefing the press on this meeting (and in past discussions), White House spokesman, Scott McLennan, never once mentioned that word – privatization – and you are unlikely to ever hear it from government proponents. The White House prefers such phrases as “strengthening" or "saving Social Security,” “personal savings accounts,” “personal retirement accounts” and “ownership of the system,” which McLennan used throughout the briefing. Crabby will use "privatization."

On the other hand, McLennan repeated seven times the phrase, “Social Security is unsustainable.” Ignore it. It’s just spin to scare you and Crabby into going along with the privatization proposal without serious consideration of other options. Crabby will help you, in the coming months, to separate the spin from the known facts. (See Crabby’s recent take on euphemisms.)

On Thursday, President Bush made his first explicit statement, flatly refusing to consider raising Social Security contributions to pay for privatization which, it is said, would cost trillions of dollars over the coming decades.

"We will not raise payroll taxes to solve this problem," Mr. Bush told reporters after meeting with trustees of the Social Security system.
- The New York Times, 10 December 2004

In its email Tipsheet today, The Hill reports that unnamed congressional Republicans are saying the president needs to submit is own privatization bill if he wants legislation to pass in 2005:

"Republicans are particularly concerned that President Bush will simply issue a set of vague 'principles.' While that was Bush's strategy vis-à-vis last year's prescription drug bill, these Republicans note that revamping Social Security is much more contentious." be continued...

Social Security Privatization Series Index

Update By Oliver



that’s me up there on the desk – oliver the savannah cat trying to catch a nap a couple of days ago. ronni woke me up to take this picture and i don’t like to be disturbed when i’m sleeping. you can probably tell that from the look on my face.

if i leave these updates to ronni, she’ll mess them up...what does she know about what i i’m taking over. here goes.

first, apologies to archie the cockroach who used don marquis’s typewriter back in the 1930s to write prose poems about his life with mehitabel the cat. he got published in a real newspaper and books, and i’m stuck with this blogosphere stuff. but as archie used to say, wotthehell, wotthehell.

like that little bugger... he wouldn’t last long around me; bugs are yummy...i have trouble with the shift key so i’ll do this in lower case and leave it on the computer for ronni to mark up the html. she seems to like doing that. she spends way too much time at the computer, but she is such a sucker. all i have to do to get her to stop is hop up on the desk and pat her cheek softly with my paw.

1000022_img i’ve been living here now for seven weeks and let me tell you, it’s taking forever to train ronni. she went out and bought a whole lot of stupid cat toys – little foam balls, catnip mice, some silly balls with glitter stuff on them that tastes awful. dumb. dumb. dumb. anyone who likes a good chase around the house knows paper and cellophane and tinfoil are a lot more fun. plus, the rattling noise they make on the floor is really exciting. you should try it yourself.

i have my own doctor named mary xanthos and i’ve been to see her three times already. she gave me a shot and i didn’t even flinch. i’m tough. she also cleaned out some yukky earmites that made me itch, gave me medicine for a little cold i caught and some more medicine when one of my eyes got runny. i’m all better now and last time i was there, she said i weighed more than three pounds. heh, heh, heh. wait till dr. mary and ronni see how big i’m gonna get. savannah cats like me weigh 20 pounds or more when they grow up.

Ollieeating2004_12_06 i heard ronni tell someone on the telephone that when i’m bigger, she’s going to switch me to all dry food so she can leave me alone for up to two nights when she wants to go away. hah. that’s not ever gonna happen. i’ll go on a hunger strike when she tries and make her think i’m gonna die. i mean, would you wanna live only on crackers.

but even with all her mistakes, ronni is really cool. she plays with me every morning, every afternoon and every evening until i’m completely worn out and ready to snuggle up with her for a snooze. i love her very much and we’re gonna have a wonderful life together - once i finish training her.

your new blogging friend,

ps: there are some neat pictures of me here taken on the day after i moved in with ronni when i was really little. i think you can see i was kinda scared then, but i’m over that now.

Paul and Daddy



[5 October 1948] Daddy, when he returned from the War, was not what I had expected from Mommy’s stories. He was much more strict than Mommy about things like finishing all my dinner, making my bed just so and, in general, finding fault every day.


hillspan @ 2003-08-21 said:
The "greatest" generation ... the fact that they were all in the military/survived a war molded that whole generation. My father was the same way, my husband’s father too. Like your log.

Lady Astor's Theory of Aging

category_bug_journal2.gif Yesterday, I quoted an anecdote about Lady Astor who, when she was younger, worried that she would not be able to do the things she liked to do when she was 80, but when she got to that age, she found she didn’t want to do those things anyway.

It is a happy circumstance of aging that, in general, this holds true. Now, when I can’t stay at the party all night and be functional the next day, I no longer desire to be out that late. I don’t walk as fast as I once did, but I can’t remember anymore what the hurry was in years past, though New York City pedestrians have slowed down considerably in my 35 years here and I still trip over folks dawdling along the sidewalk.

And now that my metabolism has slowed to that of a slug, it is a handy coincidence that I can’t eat as much as I used to; I feel full on far less food.

But there are some changes in aging that require a bit of effort to accommodate.

Every morning of my life, I am grateful I live alone. No way would want a husband to see how I hobble, when I first get out of bed, for the 15 or 20 seconds it takes for the juice in my legs to start flowing again. They stiffen up also when I sit for too long and I’ve been known, at the end of office meetings or restaurant meals, to extend a conversational thread while I stand at the table until I can walk upright again.

There is an old joke about getting older that it takes twice as long to do half as much, and I recently discovered its truth for myself. It has long been my habit to do the weekly house cleaning on Saturday mornings. Polish up the bathroom, Swiffer the kitchen floor, dust the house, vacuum the rugs, change the bed, take out the laundry, etc. and by noon, the weekend was free and clear.

No more. I appear to myself to be moving at the same old pace from one chore to the next, but I’m never done by noon these days. Several years ago, when I painted the kitchen, I planned three days:

Day 1: Clear out everything, wash the stuff on top of the cupboards I never use, and wash down the walls and ceiling

Day 2: Prime and paint

Day 3: Touch up, clean up and replace all the kitchen stuff I never use

The kitchen’s been looking a little grungy lately, but based on my new house-cleaning experience, I’m at a loss for how much painting time to plan.

For all my life, I’ve been thankful for my cast-iron stomach; nails couldn’t give me a tummy ache. Now - not often, but just enough to give me pause – beef and sometimes onions cause a minor stir where I’ve never felt one before, and grapefruit, juice and whole fruit, leaves me a little sour.

To adapt, I’ve spread out the cleaning a bit during the week. I’m sure I’ll figure out a painting plan. And so far, I eat those iffy foods anyway. But the adjustment that most annoys me right now is shoes.

Yes, shoes.

When I first went to work in 1958, correct attire was dressier than today and part of that included high-heeled shoes – three inches worth in my case. I ran up and down the hills of San Francisco without a second thought to my feet. I danced all night in high-heeled shoes. I wore high-heeled shoes even with jeans. I love high-heeled shoes. They are gorgeous. They make any woman’s legs look great. They make us shorter folks taller. And they make you feel sexy.

I had so many shoes I was afraid, when I die, they’d look in my closet and call me Imelda.

Suddenly, one day about seven or eight years ago, I put on my high-heeled shoes and my feet ached just walking from the bedroom. They hurt so badly, I exchanged those high-heeled shoes for flats that day. And so it has been ever since.

It didn’t matter for many years because designers were creating only Olive Oyl shoes – those huge, clunky, ugly clodhoppers that looked even worse when young women wore them with colorful, long, gauzy skirts. A pretty shoe couldn't be found anywhere and it seemed the style was here to stay until the next millennium celebration. Then, a couple of years ago, beautiful, high-heeled shoes at last reappeared in abundance.

But it's too late for me. They are way too painful and it breaks my silly, little shoe heart as I press my nose to shop windows lusting after the hundreds of fabulous styles of high-heeled shoes.

I don’t mind much the hobbling first thing in the morning, nor the extended cleaning time nor the occasional stomach ache. But I do wish, unlike Lady Astor, that I didn’t still want, sometimes, to go prancing down the street feeling naughty and provocative in a pair of to-die-for, sexy, high-heeled shoes.

Old at 30???

category_bug_ageism.gif Today is my best friend’s birthday. She is 30 now, whip-smart, beautiful, humane, happily married since last June and on her way to a law degree next June. But the lead-up to this round-number anniversary has been hard. She says she is not young anymore and that, she believes, is a bad thing.

Whose fault could that be?

Maureen Dowd, who is an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times might have something to do with it. Contemplating some new research which appears to show that severe stress leads to premature aging, she wrote in yesterday’s newspaper:

“So now…I have to be stressed about the fact that my holiday stress might cause me to turn into an old bat – instantly, just like it happened in Grimm’s fairy tales, when a girl would be cursed and suddenly become a crone.

“Or, just like this Christmas doll my sister brought home once that had an apple for a head; her face looked all juicy and white at the start of the week and then by the end of the week, it was all discolored and puckered.”

- The New York Times, 5 December 2004

Once again, age is depicted as a horror: “old bat,” “cursed,” “crone,” “puckered.” I don’t mean to pick on Ms. Dowd; her abhorrence at the inevitable physical changes of aging is only the most recent example I ran across of the abundant, negative references and advertisements promoting wrinkle remedies of dubious efficacy, repeated every day in various magazines, newspapers and on television. No wonder my friend – or anyone - is afraid.

We, as a culture, are terrified of getting old but, typically, its physical manifestations are uppermost in our consideration and unmentioned, always, is an underlying fear it represents: that activity, intellectual pursuit, ambition, desire and pleasure decline and disappear with age. But it’s just not so.

Over the weekend. I ran into another, different kind of column by one Reverend Dale Turner in The Seattle Times, which speaks to this. All of it is worth repeating, but here are three of his points:

“David Starr Jordan, the first president of Stanford, thought his most productive years were between the ages of 60 and 70, and Bertrand Russell, the humanist, was leading causes for peace in England when he was in his 90s."

“Our American youth cult has created the silly concept that in youth alone is beauty, excitement and achievement to be found. The joys of youth are often better in retrospect. ‘The carefree days of youth’ is really a misnomer. ‘Thank God,’ said Rudyard Kipling, ‘we never have to suffer again as we did when we were young.’"

“It is a mark of ingratitude to resent growing old. There are those who have been denied the privilege…”

- The Seattle Times, 4 December 2004

The entire column is worth a read. In an anecdote about the first woman to serve in the British Parliament, the good reverend also mentions a phenomenon I’ve noticed as I strive to embrace my aging self. Lady Astor, he tells us, had worried that when she was 80, she would not be able to do the things she liked to do. When she arrived at 80, however, she discovered she didn’t want to do those particular things any longer.

My young friend has come to one Lady Astor-style realization, at 30, years before I did: she no longer feels she must pull herself together perfectly just to go to the corner deli.

It is a terrible thing our society does to young people and all the rest of us when it bombards us daily from birth with messages that 30 is already old. It hurts me that my friend - whom I’ve known since she was 14 and with whom I grew close while she lived with me for several months on three separate occasions – must endure the same old prejudices of aging I’ve had to struggle against. She is wise beyond her years in some ways already and I know she will succeed . But shouldn’t we be done with all this by now?

Social Security - Part 1: Background

For some time, Crabby Old Lady has been researching Social Security and the coming push to privatize that federal program. In this series – to be occasionally published until the privatization question is resolved – Crabby will explain what the Bush administration is proposing, the arguments pro and con, other worthwhile solutions and, of course, her position.

Any readers young enough to think Social Security benefits are too far in their future to put serious thought to yet, think again. It is younger folks, under 55, on whom this proposal will have the most urgent impact, dramatically affecting the circumstances of their old age, and requiring immediate decisions should privatization come to pass.

Any younger readers who already believe the propaganda that Social Security won’t be there when they get old, again think again – it’s just that: propaganda. Social Security needs some fixing, but nothing as damaging as privatization.

Crabby knows this stuff can be dense going, but she's done the homework for you and she will make it a snap for you to ace the quiz.

Shortly after his re-election on 2 November, President Bush announced that privatization of Social Security is a “top priority” for his second term. This is as monumental a shift in policy and the overall economics of the United States as was President Clinton’s attempt to remake the healthcare system during his first term and as was Social Security’s creation. One of those initiatives failed and the other succeeded - perhaps beyond President Roosevelt’s wildest dreams for it.

Snapshot of the Creation of Social Security
In the days before Social Security, almost no workers were covered by employer pension plans and half the elderly population of the nation had insufficient income to support themselves. To compound this situation, the stock market crash of 1929 wiped out the savings of millions of Americans - rich, poor and in-between - and marked the beginning of the Great Depression that would last for a decade. At its highest level in 1933, unemployment climbed to 25 percent.

America believed it needed a change in leadership and in 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt defeated incumbent President Herbert Hoover in a landslide. At his inauguration in March 1933, President Roosevelt said, "I pledge you, I pledge myself, a new deal for the American people." And he delivered. Among the many New Deal programs designed to raise the United States out of the Depression was the Social Security Act. When he signed it into law on 14 August 1935, President Roosevelt said:

"We can never insure one-hundred percent of the population against one-hundred percent of the hazards and vicissitudes of life. But we have tried to frame a law which will give some measure of protection to the average citizen and to his family against…poverty-ridden old age.”

It worked, and it continues to work now nearly 70 years later. Social Security is the most popular and successful program instituted by the U.S. government in the history of the nation.

Nobody ever got rich from Social Security nor is that its goal. But, according to economist Jane Bryant Quinn, “it single-handedly keeps almost 40 percent of the elderly out of poverty, and saves tens of thousands of them from having to depend on their children for support.”

How Social Security Works: Collection of Funds
Elegant in its simplicity, the basics of Social Security are not difficult to understand, but pay attention. Crabby says you’re going to need this information through the coming months as the Bush administration tries to win friends and influence people to its position in the controversial battle privatization is certain to become.

Social Security is a pay-as-you-go system: the contributions of today’s workers pay the benefits of today’s retirees. Through a payroll tax, 6.2 percent of every worker’s salary goes into the system, deducted from each paycheck up to a current salary limit of $87,900. ($90,000 in 2005.) This contribution is matched by an equal 6.2 percent from workers’ employers.

Right now, and for some years to come, these payroll taxes produce a surplus. The extra money goes into the Social Security Trust Fund:

“The excess is borrowed by the U.S. Treasury, which in turn issues special-issue Treasury bonds to Social Security. These bonds totaled $1.5 trillion at the beginning of 2004, and Social Security receives more than $80 billion annually in interest from them.”


How Social Security Works: Payout of Funds
When a person begins to collect Social Security benefits, the monthly payment is calculated on the amount of lifetime contributions and age at retirement. The program allows workers to begin collecting as early as age 62, though benefits are then permanently reduced. Standard retirement age for full benefits is 65 for those born before 1938. It is being gradually increased for those born later. For example, Crabby Old Lady, born in 1941, is not eligible for full benefits until eight months after her 65th birthday. If a worker delays collecting Social Security benefits beyond the official retirement age, payments are correspondingly increased.

The Social Security Administration website will give you a rough estimate of the monthly payments you will receive upon retirement with their Quick Calculator.

Social Security benefits are tax-free as long as it is your only income or if you earn up to $25,000 per year. A single recipient earning between $25,000 and $34,000 a year is required to pay taxes on up to 50 percent of the Social Security benefit. And those who earn more than $34,000 a year pay taxes on up to 85 percent of the benefit. There is more information on Social Security and taxes here.

Whether you live to be 75 or 105, Social Security is a guaranteed lifetime benefit, increased over the years to account for inflation. In 2005, for example, the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA), based on the Consumer Price Index, will be 2.7 percent.

Why the Privatization Initiative and Why Now?
Privatization of Social Security is not a new proposal. The idea has been bandied about at least since the 1980s. The reason is that the demographics of the United States (and the entire world) are changing. Thanks to the baby boomer bubble and decreasing birthrates, the population is aging and in the future, there will be more people collecting Social Security than paying into it. This will create a deficit in Social Security that must be addressed now to insure future benefit payments for everyone as promised by the U.S. government.

Some people, currently led by President Bush, believe privatization is the way to do that. Others, who rarely get as much publicity as the administration, have different solutions. Crabby Old Lady will explain the various plans, their impact and their political angles (you knew there are political angles, right?) of it all in future installments.

See? That wasn’t so hard, was it? Crabby promises that no matter how arcane details of the Social Security privatization issue become, she’ll make it easy for you to understand. be continued...

Social Security Privatization Series Index

Euphemisms Schmeuphemisms

No one has been fired from a job in years. Nowadays, corporations right size their workforce by downsizing and RIFing (Reduction In Force) and even unassigning their workers.

Crabby Old Lady thinks it is bad enough to be out of a job without some misguided human resources (that means “personnel” these days) person thinking it is less painful by another name. And let’s get this straight: Crabby is unemployed, not displaced.

Regular readers already know of Crabby’s personal campaign for the acceptance of the word “old” instead of such cutesy replacements as golden-ager and third-ager, and she’s not too fond of senior citizen either though she grudgingly accepts senior. But these circumlocutions – call them euphemisms, political correctness or more sinisterly, Newspeak - are more widespread than in Crabby’s little blog world of aging.

Workers are no longer employees, they are associates, particularly when referring to lower-level jobs; the man or woman selling something in a store is now a sales associate, unless they are behind the counter at Starbucks and then they are partners. Janitors are building engineers and secretaries are administrative assistants, frequently shortened to admins which has become more demeaning than secretary ever was.

The vocabulary of the workplace has passed Crabby by. At her last place of employment, a vice president took her aside to explain that the words challenge or issue should be used in place of problem. Crabby still believes, however, when the website servers go down or revenue has dropped, it’s a problem. Challenges are met and issues are discussed, but problems can be solved.

The problem with euphemisms, whether politically correct or otherwise, is that they are misleading. They obscure meaning, are a form if disinformation and those who wield them want others to believe something that is not true. Here are some of the more common euphemisms in use today:

The U.S. Department of Defense was, until after World War II, the Department of War, a more precise description.

Collateral damage obscures its real meaning: civilian casualties – that is, dead people.

Ethnic cleansing is no less than genocide.

There has been a, thankfully, not-too-successful movement afoot to use homicide bombers in place of suicide bombers. In that way, readers are less inclined to think about someone who so believes in a cause, he or she is willing to die for it.

And make no mistake, Patriot and Peacekeeper missiles rain down death and destruction.

When a real-estate agent tells you a house is a fixer-upper, run for life. It is a money pit.

Pre-owned vehicles are used. Someone else owned them before you did.

Gaming has overtaken gambling, the better for states to promote acceptance of their lotteries, slot machines and casinos.

Shrinkage, in the new language of retail, is shoplifting.

Not so long ago, undocumented workers were called illegal aliens. Whether you believe they should be deported or not, the new phrase papers over their real status.

Substance abusers is the current polite description of drug addicts, though smokers are allowed now to be called nicotine addicts.

Mobile homes, if you have forgotten, were once trailers though neither has ever been easily movable.

The rainforest, when Crabby was kid, was the jungle. Where, she wonders, does George live now?

It is politically incorrect these days to call the underprivileged poor, but how much easier it is to ignore them with their new academic designation.

The differently abled, visually impaired and hearing challenged used to be crippled, blind and deaf, though you will be shunned today to use those politically-incorrect correct descriptions.

The pro-life folks seem to have a slight, semantic edge on pro-choice advocates, but it would be more honest to use anti- and pro-abortion. If you listen carefully next time the subject comes up on CBS News, you will see they have taken a different approach from most news organizations in referencing the opposing sides: abortion rights and anti-abortion rights.

Some of the above are amusingly transparent, but acceptance of the innocuous leads to confusion of the facts on important issues of public policy. Crabby considers political correct euphemisms to be nothing less than propaganda and those who insist upon them are seeking power over our thoughts.

George Orwell understood what happens to a society when the Thought Police take over.

Ronni and Paul



[1947] My brother Paul is among the earliest Baby Boomers, born in the first year – 1946 - of that infamous population bulge. Oh, how I loved being a big sister, showing off to new mothers in the neighborhood my six-year-old babycare skills.


michale @ 2003-08-20 said:
Love your log. Thanks for sharing your stories.