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Q: I am sick and tired of all these people who bring their parents over here from foreign countries and then immediately put them on their Social Security account. No wonder Social Security is going broke! I personally know two couples in my neighborhood who get Social Security. They brought their parents up from Mexico and now they are mooching monthly checks off the Social Security system. You can’t tell me this isn’t an outrage!

A: It might be an outrage if it were true. But it’s not. Either you’re lying about these two couples you “personally know,” or you’ve picked up on some xenophobic neighborhood gossip and fallen for another in the long line of urban myths about Social Security.

Let’s say you’re getting Social Security checks. And let’s say you have some parents living overseas. And let’s say you bring them here to live with you. And then, finally, let’s say you want them to get dependent parent’s benefits on your Social Security account. Do you know what you would have to do first?

Die! Social Security benefits to dependent parents are paid only on the account of a Social Security taxpayer who has died.

So, as for these two couples of whom you speak who brought their parents up from Mexico to get Social Security benefits — unless one or both members of the couple are dead, it simply can’t be true.

But let’s get back to you. Let’s say you conveniently thought you would simply die just so that your parents could get Social Security benefits on your record. It’s not quite that simple. They would have to jump through several other eligibility hoops before the government checks would start rolling in.

Here’s just one of them: Your parents would have to prove that you were supporting them before you died. So, unless you were sending half your paycheck to your parents before you died to pay their rent and buy their groceries, they simply couldn’t qualify for benefits on your record.

In the United States, there are only about 2,000 people getting monthly Social Security checks as a parent on a deceased adult child’s Social Security record. That’s 2,000 people out of about 50 million Social Security beneficiaries. So even those people legally getting parents’ benefits aren’t exactly bankrupting the system!

Q: I sure wish you would get off your kick of dealing with so many of Social Security’s political issues. I think you’re at your best when you stick to the basics and just answer people’s questions about Social Security. And here’s one for you: I am about to turn 62 and plan to file for my Social Security. But I am also a widow and could be eligible for my husband’s Social Security. I went to my Social Security office, and they said they couldn’t help me without an appointment. They told me to use their website and file my claim there. What do you say?

A: At times, I know that it may seem like I overemphasize the political and policy side of Social Security. I’ve spent the last 40 years either working for the Social Security Administration or writing this column. And in all that time, I’ve never seen so much pernicious propaganda about the program.

I really think it has a lot to do with the anti-government sentiment that prevails in this country. People will latch onto anything they read or hear — no matter how preposterous — if it supports their belief that the government is corrupt and that our elected officials are incompetent.

Anyway, whenever I come across misleading information, I feel obliged to set the record straight. Having said that, you may be interested and pleased to learn that I have gone back and looked at all of my columns for the past 12 months, and easily 80 percent of them dealt with the practical side of Social Security.

So now, I’ll get practical with you. I’m ashamed to admit that my former colleagues at the Social Security Administration did you an injustice. First, even though you should have made an appointment before visiting your local office, they really could have found someone to help you file your claim when you showed up anyway.

Second, the online process is not the way you want to go. That’s because you’ll have some decisions to make regarding the two benefits for which you’re potentially eligible. For example, you might want to take widow’s benefits now and switch to your own retirement benefits later on. Or it may be better to do it the other way around: retirement benefits now and widow’s benefits later. And the online application system just isn’t sophisticated enough to deal with those complicated situations and help you make a decision.

So you should call SSA at 800-772-1213 to make an appointment to talk to someone in person about your Social Security options.

If you have a Social Security question, Tom Margenau has the answer. Contact him at thomas.margenau@comcast.net. To find out more about Tom Margenau and to read past columns and see features from other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2011 CREATORS.COM

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