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Steve Hansen How did my Social Security get pared to the bone?

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Posted: Wednesday, August 18, 2010 12:00 am

August marks the 75th anniversary of Social Security. Isn't it great that we can rely on the federal government to take care of us in our old age?

At least that's what I thought, until I tried to collect benefits. The way things were going in Washington, I figured I'd better grab mine at the early age of 62.

The lady at the Social Security office was really nice. Of course, no one answers the phone over there, but I still managed to do some behind-the-scenes maneuvers and got an appointment with her.

I had paid into this entitlement plan for over 26 years, so I knew my future would be assured.

I had worked hard. There were the U.S. Army and years of private practice in psychotherapy. In addition, there were my restaurant, retail, advertising and automobile business gigs. Oh yes, I almost forgot. There were also my college teaching appointments and work for the federal government, along with the state of California.

I just knew my relaxing moments on the Delta were just around the corner. Happy days were here again!

"How much am I going to get?" I inquired.

"Hummmm. It looks like almost $700," she replied. "But wait a minute. Aren't you part of the California State Teachers' Retirement System?" she asked.

"Well, yes," I said. "I did teach, worked as a counselor and ran a special education program for a public high school."

"Oh, in that case, we have to reduce your benefits by $303," she commented. "That will leave you $397."

"What? Wait a minute. I was forced to pay into this racket for 26 years! Now I'm only going to get $397?" I protested.

"That's right," she said. "There's nothing I can do about it. It's called the Windfall Elimination Provision."

"Oh, well. $397 is better than nothing," I said.

"Here's another thing," the gray-haired worker reported. "You made quite a bit of money last year."

"Yes," I replied. "I sold a condo that I had owned for years and had to report the capital gains as income. But that was only a one-time deal, and I gave a lot of that back in taxes!"

"Doesn't matter," she responded. "You made too much money, and now, I have to knock your payment down another $230."

"Unbelievable!" I thought. "Now I'm down to $167 per month. Billionaires like Warren Buffet are not subject to 'offsets for California teachers.' How can this be?"

"By the way, when you turn 65, the government will deduct another $124 for Medicare, Part B. That should leave you with a grand total of $43 per month. Have a nice retirement," she muttered, as a mean-looking security guard escorted me from the premises.

As I climbed in to my 12-year-old "Government Motors" pickup truck, the thought occurred to me: If Social Security had been a private life insurance company, there would have been endless congressional hearings over this. They'd be screaming about evil corporations ripping off the people. Executives would have gone to jail for fraud. But apparently, Ponzi schemes are perfectly legal — just as long as the U.S. government runs them.

Steve Hansen is a Lodi writer and satirist.

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