Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Idiocracy

Have I mentioned that we have not been able to file our taxes because we can't find Genevieve's Social Security card? Yeah, we haven't been able to. And I want my money. At the beginning of this school year, when BD made his annual pilgrimage to get replacement copies of the kids' birth certificates and such in order to register them for school, we had all four of their certificates and Social Security cards together in a manila envelope, and we put it somewhere safe. Very, very safe, apparently, because exhaustive searching has turned up Calvin's original, missing-until-now birth certificate, as well as Joshua's that could not be found at the beginning of this year, but not the most recent batch.

I tell you all this as background for the most ludicrous example of red tape that I personally have ever encountered. Having finally given up on the search, I decided yesterday to bite the bullet and just go get a replacement card. Before leaving work, I went to the Social Security Administration's website and patted myself on the back as I printed out the form and filled it in, then stopped on the way to pick up the older kids and got a certified copy of GK's birth certificate to show as proof of her identity. I continued on the midtown-downtown loop, picked up the kids from school, then stopped in at the SSA's office on Monroe before getting the baby from Montessori school.

I walked in and was directed by the security guard to take a number and stand behind the red line near window A. These directions were repeated in a sign posted next to the elaborate computer set-up that was there in place of the usual "Please Take a Number" ticket dispenser. I pressed the number one and "enter" and a printer printed out a numbered receipt-like ticket. That's thousands of taxpayer dollars well spent, I thought as I took my place behind the one other person waiting. And then we waited. And waited. And waited. The kids were in the row of chairs right next to me thumb wrestling and behaving reasonably well, but that would only last so long and I didn't want to be late to get Genevieve to the tune of $20 per minute for unplanned after-care. Jeez lady, I thought, studying the curly do of the woman at the window, just give it up already. She was having what sounded like the same four-sentence conversation with the two women at the window in a continual loop. I gave myself another mental pat on the back for being prepared. I'm not very smart, see.

When I finally got to a window, I told the woman I needed a replacement card for my daughter and handed her the completed application along with the newly-acquired birth certificate and my driver's license. When I say "completed application," I mean complete except for one blank: the one where her social security number should go.

"What's her social security number?" a voice droned from behind the propped-up application.

"I don't know," I replied, "that's why I need a replacement card."

"Uh oh," she said "you up the creek then."

That's right. According to an office of the United States Government, I can not be told my child's social security number because I do not already know my child's social security number.

We ran through a list of possible places I might find the number. School form? Pediatrician's office? That blank is blank, because I don't carry my child's card around with me, on account of I live in a crime-filled craphole and I don't want my kids' SS numbers used to open fraudulent credit card accounts. Last year's taxes? Um, not filed yet. I know, I know! We're working on it. I want that money too! So no, her number is not written down anywhere. We don't have it. We can't find her original card, that's why we need a new one. If I knew her number, why would I need her card? So she can apply for a summer job?

I went round and round with this woman. I explained why we don't have her number anywhere. She told me stories about how they can no longer do an "alpha search" for anyone's number because when they enter a person's name and DOB, more than one name pops up. And that might result in them, employees of the United States Social Security Administration, seeing people's information. Information such as their social security numbers. And that would be bad, see? And then I would say "Okay, I can accept that you can't look up the number for me. But there must be a procedure in place for this. I'm not the only person who has ever needed a replacement card and been unable to produce the number. What's the process here? What do I need to do?" And she would stare at me blankly and tell me there is no process. Then we'd start again. At one point she said to the empty area behind her head "Can anyone think of a way she can get her child's Social Security number?" Crickets chirped. She got up and made a show of criss-crossing the apparently empty back office. Then she sat down and we had the whole conversation again, with the added info that some schmoe earlier claimed that the east office had looked up numbers for him recently, and maybe they would do it for me, she didn't know, they're not really supposed to but you never know what people in other offices will do. So that was reassuring. Unwilling to drive a half-hour to the east office on the word of some guy who, for mysterious reasons, apparently has regular and repeated need for look-ups of unknown social security numbers, I countered her "There's nothing you can do" with another "I don't accept that." Tired of me at last, she waved me toward the waiting area and told me I could ask a supervisor.

Out of both time and patience, I growled at the kids to "Come on!" and stormed toward the door, cursing and muttering under my breath much like the three other people who had left the office during the time I had been there. Why had I been so smug? How had I assumed that I was somehow better equipped than the lady with the large body and tiny head who had left window C in such a huff? I realize I'm a screw-up for losing my kid's SS card and not having written her number on any one of many official forms, but I presumed that I was not the biggest lost cause the government had ever seen. I can't decide what's scarier: that I might be that bad off, or that the agency in charge of the nation's social security is stymied by such a small request.

5 comments:

Rita.the.bookworm said...

Holy shit! I know where my kids' cards are at this very moment, just because I happen to have needed them very recently. But, I lose things regularly. Things get stolen, too. Houses get broken into and stuff is taken. There has to be some way to get that card. Man, what a world, huh?

L said...

OMG, what a nightmare! I've been to that office. sounds like something I'd end up doing. you're not a loser!

Secret Agent Mom said...

The red line kills a part of my soul.

katherine said...

i'm sure there is a way to get this fixed. you should just tell them to "make it work." that usually works for me. in the meantime, may i suggest that you let EA come over there and organize y'all? she did my closet, and she's like a magician.

Rita.the.bookworm said...

Yeah, that "make it work" is a good idea. Also, in Zippy, she said that her mother would just smile and repeat, "Can you direct me to the person who can make this happen?" again and again, up the ladder until she got to someone who could get the results she needed.

There has GOT to be some way around that. Poor child. Her parents go to jail for tax evasion because they lost her social security card. She can't get a job because her parents lost her social security card. She can't file for benefits because her parents lost her social security card. She can't leave the country because her parents lost her social security card. That's insane. What if you just make up a number for her and when they call you on it, say, "How do you know it's wrong? Do you have her number available? Can you TELL IT TO ME?"