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Government Aid Programs--A Battle of Give and Take
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.
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!
Wait! I Take It Back!
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! Wow! 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 do not fall into any of those categories, I do not qualify. So I am left without any health care at all until I reach age 65. (Well, I have minimal free care from the county in which I live, (and "minimal" is 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. 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 Nutritional 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 3 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 SS or Disability payments.) 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!
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.
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.