Kotlikoff: Social Security whistleblower claims widows losing thousands due to agency mistakes

Whistle | Courtesy of Steve Depolo/Flickr
Courtesy of Steve Depolo/Flickr

John McAdams works as a Social Security claims authorizer in Philadelphia. He’s worked for the Social Security system for 10 years. At possible risk to his career, John wrote to me blowing the whistle on a number of Social Security practices he considers unfair, dishonest and unworthy of our government. He has been trying internally to get Social Security to act appropriately in the cases he is questioning, but so far to no avail.

As those of you who have been following my PBS NewsHour Making Sen$e columns know, I’ve been repeatedly skeptical of the Social Security Administration. John is the first person working for it to come forward and provide a glimpse of what goes on inside the agency. Here’s what’s gone on in this case, according to John: people have been accidentally cheated out of higher benefits by uninformed staff. But rather than take the steps needed to inform the victims and make restitution, John’s superiors have turned a blind eye. Here’s what John wrote:

The problem: A person files for benefits. The claims taker accidentally signs them up for both WIB (survivor benefits) and RIB (retirement benefits). For most people it doesn’t have any effect – their PIA (primary insurance amount) was so low that their RIB would never have grown past their WIB. But for an unknown number of widows, having lost the ability to file for DRC’s (Delayed Retirement Credits), has already cost them tens of thousands of dollars — and will continue to cost them hundreds of dollars per month for the rest of their lives.

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Laurence Kotlikoff

Boston University economist Larry Kotlikoff has spent every week, for over two years, answering questions about what is likely your largest financial asset — your Social Security benefits. Find a complete list of his columns here.

Kotlikoff’s state-of-the-art retirement software is available here, for free, in its “basic” version. His new book, “Get What’s Yours—the Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security Benefits,” (co-authored with Paul Solman and Making Sen$e Medicare columnist Phil Moeller) was published in February by Simon & Schuster.

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