A week ago, I wrote about the Republican Convention in general (dark, frightening and totalitarian) and their platform position on Social Security in particular (privatize it).
Last week's Democratic Convention was an entirely different animal, upbeat, encouraging and democratic emphasizing what we the people can accomplish together.
Plenty of pundits since then have tried to criticize the Democrats' gathering but it's been a stretch for them. And in contrast to the Republicans, here is the Democratic Party Platform [pdf] position (in part) on Social Security.
I have quoted more than I usually do but it's easy to read and in line what we have discussed and supported at this blog for a long time:
”We will fight every effort to cut, privatize, or weaken Social Security, including attempts to raise the retirement age, diminish benefits by cutting cost of living adjustments, or reducing earned benefits.
“Democrats will expand Social Security so that every American can retire with dignity and respect, including women who are widowed or took time out of the workforce to care for their children, aging parents, or ailing family members.
“The Democratic Party recognizes that the way Social Security cost of living adjustments are calculated may not always reflect the spending patterns of seniors, particularly the disproportionate amount they spend on health care expenses. We are committed to exploring alternatives that could better and more equitably serve seniors.
"We will make sure Social Security’s guaranteed benefits continue for generations to come by asking those at the top to pay more, and will achieve this goal by taxing some of the income of people above $250,000.
"The Democratic Party is also committed to providing all necessary financial support for the Social Security Administration so that it can provide timely benefits and high quality service for those it serves.”
All good. Now we must hold Congress and the new president to doing this.
Meanwhile, some bad news about Social Security.
As I was making notes for this post last week, an email arrived from the Social Security Administration.
Before I quote it, you need to know that “My Social Security” is a personal online account you can create at the Social Security website to make it easy for you to order a replacement card, for example, get a benefit verification letter, change your address, start or change direct deposit and so on.
Here is the pertinent part of the email (emphasis is mine):
”Starting in August 2016, Social Security is adding a new step to protect your privacy as a my Social Security user. This new requirement is the result of an executive order for federal agencies to provide more secure authentication for their online services.
“Any agency that provides online access to a customer’s personal information must use multifactor authentication.
“When you sign in at ssa.gov/myaccount with your username and password, we will ask you to add your text-enabled cell phone number.
“The purpose of providing your cell phone number is that, each time you log in to your account with your username and password, we will send you a one-time security code you must also enter to log in successfully to your account.”
This action will make My Social Security, which generally provides excellent service, unavailable to 73 percent of Social Security recipients because they do not have cellphones with text capability. Here is the chart from the most recent survey on smartphone ownership from the Pew Research Center published in April 2015:
You saw that, right? Only 27 percent of people 65 older have smartphones and although that is a big increase from the previous survey when 18 percent of the age group owned smartphones, it makes using the Social Security website unavailable to way more than half the people who receive Social Security benefits.
There is a link in the email to the webpage with a list of other means to contact Social Security – telephone, email, snailmail or a bricks-and-mortar office. But that's not good enough.
As fate would have it, on the day that I received this announcement from Social Security, I got locked out of my online bank account and was directed to go through that same system of getting a one-time security code.
It took so long for the email with the code to arrive that the page where I was to copy the code timed out. I tried again with same result. Then I spent an hour and 20 minutes on the telephone while one of the bank's technology officers tried to get me back into my account.
If you have ever tried to telephone Social Security, you know why they developed the My Social Security website in the first place and I have no faith that their extra security measure will work any better than my bank's does.
Certainly, cybersecurity is important and moreso for Social Security numbers that can be used for identity theft. But there MUST be a better way than locking out the majority of people the agency exists to serve.
I couldn't find a better address for someone in charge at Social Security so I sent an email with a copy of the above to the SSA press office.
You could do that too by following those links and using the senators' forms. If you want, copy and paste some of my post above. Or, check this page to see if a Committee member is your senator; hearing from a home-state constituent probably carries more weight.
If a Clinton administration were to make good on the Democratic platform's vision for Social Security, it would be a giant step forward for everyone's retirement now and in the future. Meanwhile, however, the requirement to own a smartphone to access your own Social Security information online is a step backwards.
UPDATE 9:40PDT: Because the bank I use has been sold, I need to update the routing number for the monthly direct deposit of my Social Security benefit. The new system is already in place at My Social Security and I do have a phone that accepts texts so I entered the number for the one-time code to be sent. The webpage told me to try back another time, my request could not be completed.