Liz's advice on finance, credit, frugal living practices, & anything monetary is from the 'school of hard knocks,' research, & experience.
What Happens When You Need Help
To say applying for governmental assistance programs is frustrating and time-consuming would be a universal-class understatement. The requirements, redundancies and frustrations seem nearly endless.
Once final approval is granted, it is not over. Depending upon the particular program, you may need to go through almost all of it again on an annual or even quarterly basis to determine whether you continue to be eligible.
It raises your stress to nearly intolerable levels. The most maddening of all is the attitude of many politicians in referring to these programs as "entitlements," as if the money for these programs comes from some sacred coffer of the government to be doled out to those deemed worthy. This is untrue--these are programs into which we citizens have paid with our tax dollars taken from every paycheck from each and every job we have ever held. It is their own money, and it was supposed to be held in safety for our use later in life.
There have been enough headline-grabbing scandals of late that most of us know that is not what happened. Social Security is not "running out of money" because of excessive demand, but because the funds have been repeatedly raided (stolen!) by the government for use in other areas.
Clubhouse of the USA Royalty Class...
In theory, when you reach retirement age, you apply for and begin to receive your Social Security checks. The amount you get is based upon the largest salary you made at your most recent job. Not the highest salary you ever earned, but the most recent job! So, if you had a high-paying job for 20 years, and were the victim of corporate "downsizing," and ended up working at a fast-food joint, that is the salary upon which your Social Security payouts would be based.
It would not be a livable wage by any stretch of the imagination. This explains why you are seeing more and more elderly people working alongside teenagers flipping burgers or acting as "greeters" in stores. They need to supplement their meager Social Security checks with additional income. So much for retirement! So much for "security!"
To add insult to injury, raises in the amount of these checks are meager at best, and do not keep pace with inflation. The so-called "Cost of Living Adjustment" (COLA) is a begrudging admission that costs continue to rise. As of January 2012, we received a small increase. Big deal. There had been none--zip, zero, zilch--for the past three years in a row!
But Wait! There's More!
All of this is bad enough, but there is yet another evil twist. You are allowed to apply for your benefits early--by 2 whole years! So, at age 63, you can get your Social Security. But hold on--you'd better be desperate for any amount of additional income, because once that commitment is made, it is basically irreversible.
Here's how it works--if you apply early, you get a reduced amount of benefit. That is locked in forever. It does not adjust upward to the full amount you would have otherwise received when you do reach age 65. In my opinion, this is unjust.
I said it was an irreversible choice. Well, not technically, but for all practical purposes it is. For if you should change your mind, and decide you want to wait until you reach the golden age of 65, you would be required to repay in full every cent already distributed to you!
Who could do that? How can you repay money already spent on food, shelter and utilities? If people had that much "extra" money laying around that was not needed for daily living, they wouldn't need the Social Security income in the first place!
For many seniors these days, there is no supplemental income in the form of a company pension. Pensions are going the way of the dinosaur, with many companies not offering them at all, or else the pension funds were lost in one of the swindles and mismanagement fiascoes that have happened lately.
Medicare and State Programs
Once you become eligible for Social Security, at age 65 you also become eligible for Medicare. Make no mistake--even though you may have applied for and received early Social Security benefits, you still remain ineligible for Medicare until age 65.
It does not matter that in the meantime you may be left without any health care coverage at all, unable to afford a private insurer. The only people to get Medicare prior to age 65 are the disabled.
Most states have a complementary program that works with the Medicare system to supplement that coverage, which is incomplete at best. Here in California, that supplement is known as Medi-Cal. As a disabled person, my husband is eligible; I am not. To qualify for Medi-Cal, you must be:
- under 21
- over 65
As I did not fall into any of those categories at the time of this writing, I did not qualify. So I was left without any health care at all until I reached age 65. (Well, I had minimal free care from the county in which I live; "minimal" being a generous assessment, but that's a whole other article!
The amount you must pay out of your own pocket varies from zero to a substantial amount, depending upon a complicated formula, and the reason you are eligible for Medicare. If your only income is from Social Security or Social Security Disability, you will probably have very low or no co-pays at all.
However, if you have the grave misfortune to also receive a pension and/or be working at even a part-time job to supplement your SS income, watch out! Your co-pays just went up on a logarithmic scale.
An associate of ours finds himself in just this quandary--every time his doctor wants to send him for some test or other, it costs him $100 out-of-pocket, with multiple separate co-pays each for the office visit and for each lab or imaging department test ordered. This is a severe hardship. That's a lot of money for someone on low income, and it should not be required.
Food Stamps--Oh, Snap!
Most people are familiar with the concept of food stamps. That was the original name of this federal program, which currently is called "SNAP" (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). How very clever! Nonetheless, the majority of people still refer to this program as food stamps.
Applying for SNAP is another paperwork and re-reporting nightmare. Even though it is a federal program, it is administered locally by each state. All this does is add another layer of bureaucracy and paperwork.
There are very specific income and family-size guidelines to qualify, but of course, the exact formula and amounts are a deep, dark, classified secret. After all, they can't have people gaming the system! (As if that doesn't happen anyway!)
Misrepresenting income, omitting or lying about income is classified as a felony, and can land you in jail. My goodness! Again, the government acting as if it is their money being handed out, instead of our own tax dollars being returned to us when we need them.
Annual or quarterly re-reporting of income and assets must be done to determine continuing eligibility. More paperwork! The questions are very detailed and intimidating, asking about everything from your actual income, to bank accounts, any cash on hand, your vehicles, real estate, and so forth. Sign at the bottom with an anti-perjury acknowledgement.
Every time your income changes, so does your allotment from the SNAP program. So--you just got a 'COLA' raise in your Social Security? They already know that--both are government programs, and they talk to each other--so down went your allotment: "Oh, you got xxx dollars more, so that means you need xxx dollars less to buy food!"
They have no concept whatsoever that maybe that so-called "extra" money is not, in fact "extra," and did not become available for food, but instead would have allowed you to be less far behind on another bill--such as your utilities!
Again, the procedure for applying for government help to reduce your mortgage and keep your home is a nightmare of paperwork taking months of time. Intimidating, stressful and maddening are just three of the many adjectives I can think of.
It's more of the same gobbledygook same answers to same questions as for all the other programs. Tell me, now, if the governmental departments can talk to each other on the matter of social security and food stamps, then obviously they already have all your information on file. Be very certain that "Big Brother" is already here.
Why, then, the need to put everyone through the wringer and give them the third degree treatment, when the information--all of it--that they require is already in their possession? They claim it is not, but that's just a lie to keep you from knowing that Big Brother is a reality. George Orwell was right--he just got the year wrong.
So, you get your mortgage modification, and guess what happens next? Bingo! Your income just "went up" because you are now spending less on your house payment, so, you are penalized by having all of your other assistance programs reduced or eliminated. (The only things they cannot cut are Social Security or Disability payments.)
Now, you are right back where you started, but because your new payment level has just (on paper) raised your "available" income, you will find yourself ineligible for the other programs. Congratulations! You've received "government aid."
Inequality for All
No matter which governmental so-called "assistance" program, all are basically designed not to help, but to insure that the poor stay poor, and the wealthy stay wealthy.
These are not true assistance programs, offering a leg up, and the ability to enjoy a full life with the robust health that comes with adequate health care and nutritious food. Rather, they give with one hand and take away with the other, guaranteeing that the downtrodden stay "in their place," and cannot rise to any position of power to upset the proverbial apple cart.
We spend more money on foreign aid programs, and helping the poor and downtrodden in other countries than we do in helping our own citizens. I'm not saying that we should not offer assistance to others--I'm only saying that doing so at the expense of our own people is shameful.
In truth, there should be no connection between the two, for the former is true charity, and the latter, as previously stated, is simply a return of our own investment. TPTB (The Powers That Be) don't want to lose their positions of control or their posh lifestyles.
Forget any falsehoods that you were taught in school about the United States being a "classless" society. We have just as much a classed society as "Merry Olde England" with its Royalty and Peerage or India with its Caste system. The only difference is, we don't want to admit it.
Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on January 22, 2012:
You are so right. Sadly, the people paying in today, are supplying the funds being paid out to the elderly, because the money THEY paid in was stolen and misspent. It is so frustrating and maddening.
We need to fire all the politicians, and force them to live on what they consider a "livable wage" for everyone else!
I'm glad you liked my rant..thanks for stopping by!
poetvix from Gone from Texas but still in the south. Surrounded by God's country. on January 22, 2012:
While I am not a fan of "entitlement" programs as I see young, able bodied people abuse them daily, I do think the elderly who paid in are owed the money. They built this nation and are now suffering for it at the hands of corrupt politicians. I have no doubt anyone under sixty will never see a dime they paid in. We better all start looking for ways to be self reliant and work with each other to help each other for as you say so very well, they just dole out the bare amount needed to enslave and oppress. Thank you for a refreshing view on how our tax dollars are not being used for the best interest of the ones who paid them.
Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on January 21, 2012:
Hi, Owl Ka Myst--
Yes, isn't that maddening? The government wants to cry poor mouth, and balance the budget at the expense of the poor and the schools, when instead they should be looking at the excesses they spend on the politico's healthcare and pensions! THAT'S where they can make up the deficit. None of the rest of us get a lifetime pension for working a mere 4 years.
And, you probably don't "own" too much. Go for it.
Owl Ka Myst from In the Valley of Grapes on January 21, 2012:
Sad that I should say it, but if ya can't beat them, join them. Politicians get a great pension and healthcare for life after serving just one term.... And who pays for that?!
I have had to take myself to those assistance offices. That's how I finally memorized my SS#!
With things going the way they are, I have thought about going back. However, I 'own' too much to be eligible. Sure, I could sell a vehical, but the vehical I would sell won't be bought.
Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on January 20, 2012:
Thank you for stopping by and taking the time to share your experience. I am sorry you are on the receiving end of this shameful treatment. It is truly a sorry commentary on our society. Politics is, indeed a crime.
Michele Travis from U.S.A. Ohio on January 20, 2012:
This is a wonderful hub. I am on disabity due to epilepsy. Have had 2 brain surgeries. My last one is helping me, but I don't know for how long. There are lesions all over the left side of my brain. You are very correct on the problems people face when on disabilty. I get evelaluations every 2 years. I have another problems that will not go away, but the lesions will keep growing. So, I don't know what will happen. That is another reason, politics worries me. Sorry for going on and on. This is a wonderful hub.
Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on January 19, 2012:
Hi there, krissy72--
Thank you very much for your kind words and for sharing your experience. As you are painfully aware, you are but one of thousands to find out these truths the hard way. Hopefully, we can get the word out, and shine the spotlight on those who wish to keep the status quo--hopefully they can be shamed into doing the right thing for a change. Well, we can hope, can't we?
krissy72 from Ohio on January 19, 2012:
This is a very informative article and so very true. Government programs are a joke. From my own experiences these programs are there to help those who abuse it and the people who truly are struggling to make ends meet our turned away. Take my family we applied for food stamps and was turned down because our gross monthly was too much, even though half my husband's check goes to child support.