Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Fun with the SSA


So today we finally decided to have Betsy’s name changed on her social security card (I know, it’s about time!) Betsy has had the form filled out for about a year, but we just never made it out to the Social Security Administration office (it just sounds like pain). Well today we had some free time in the morning, so we decided to go finally change her name.

Once we got to the SSA office, I thought everything looked great—there was a short line, 5 staffed windows—I thought we would be in and out in like 10 minutes.

So our number is called and we get up to the window. Betsy hands the form to the clerk.

“Ummm… let me check on something.”

So we wait for a minute while she goes in the back room.

“Ok, yeah, we can’t change your middle name.”

“What,” I said.

“You can’t make a last name your middle name. You just can’t do that. You can hyphenate your last name or combine them if you would like though”

“Uh, but, as it says on the marriage certificate, her new legal middle name is Huntington.”

The clerk looked a little puzzled, but continued the line that they couldn’t change her middle name.

So we asked to speak to the supervisor, who also vehemently claimed that they just can’t change the middle name.

Betsy then asked, “So haven’t you had people ask this before.”

They looked at us like we were crazy. “No, you can’t change your middle name, unless you have a court document.”

Here I chime in, “Well, this marriage certificate is a court document. See her name was legally changed to Elizabeth Huntington Croft.”

They just couldn’t quite understand that point. Apparently it is ok to change her name to Huntington-Croft, which is NOT her legal name, but to actually change it to her legal name—well that is just silly to even ask!

So I spent about 15 minutes going through the phone tree of the SSA 800 number, who then read off the website that said that in fact you really CAN change the Social Security name to her Legal name, as long as you have the marriage certificate showing her legal name (which we did!). But other than reviewing this policy, they were completely powerless (“I am sorry, if the office won’t do it, there is nothing I can do!”). And of course the nice ladies at the SSA office here in Chicago could care less what the 800 number SSA guy told me.

After about an hour of trying to explain to them their own policies and procedures (as read to me from the 800 number), I asked to see the documents they kept quoting to say that they couldn’t change the name. Of course they said nothing of the sort. What they did say though was that:

“We do not consider the middle name or suffix part of the legal name. Whether the middle name or suffix is included, omitted or incorrectly shown on evidentiary documents submitted with an SS-5 (Application for a Social Security number Card) does not matter.”

So pretty much they could have made her middle name “blaberlysquart” and it really wouldn’t have mattered!

Further searching among the policies of the SSA turn out that a California marriage certificate really is evidence for changing the middle and last name. Phew. Anyways, after we learned that her middle name isn’t really part of her legal name, we were totally ok with having her card read, “Elizabeth Croft.”

I guess seeing that we had agreed with them on something the clerk than offered to put her last name as “Huntington Croft,” with no hyphen, which would mean that her card would read, “Elizabeth Huntington Croft,” which would be good for getting a driver license and the like. So we did that.

Now though, I am wondering if there are going to be any problems in the future, say for instance if she files her taxes under Elizabeth Croft.

I guess we will see. And if it is ever a problem, I certainly hope we are in a place where the people at the SSA actually know what they are doing!

I swear, sometimes I just really wonder how, in a supervisory position, you wouldn’t know your own agencies policies—or at least the basics like changing your middle name!


Eva said...

Ugh. Did Eric ever tell you about his post office experience in Chicago? It took him 1.5 hours to convince them that the packages were in fact properly sealed and a lengthy phone call to the 1-800 post office number to get them to do their job. These lovely Chicagoans assumed that "flat rate envelope" means flat package!

There is no end to the incompetence of officals here. Soon, goodbye and good riddance!

m said...

I had the exact same thing happen to me too (at the post office by treasure island). And there really was no convincing them that "flat" in "flat rate" did not mean flat like paper... LOL. What is so frustrating is that they won't even try to understand what you are saying! I could write on and on about this, but I better not!

Betsy said...

Can I also comment on how LONG the SSA office supervisor took staring at our marriage certificate, as if it were some foreign document from outer space?? I swear it was like 10 minutes. Awkward. What was she looking for? My guess was that she was utterly confused, but wanting to give her the benefit of the doubt, I'll just say she was admiring my beautiful name and how official it looked on the paper.

Melanie said...

ah, good 'ol Chicago customer service! What an ordeal. I guess this is another reason why I should give my girls a middle name at birth, so they won't have to go through such things!

Betsy said...

Sometimes I buy very old magazines on eBay. One of the dealers I have bought from was told she would be fined $1000 dollars (and the postal worker she was dealing with had the power to impose the fine) if she attempted to send 100-year-old magazines by Media Mail--because they contain advertising! 100-year-old ads do not violate the P.O. rules, but the local P.O. workers would not believe this, so the shipping costs are more than double. Every other seller I've bought from sends mag's perfectly legally by Media Mail. And btw these particular dim-bulb P.O. workers are not in Chicago.
Also, working at my local public library, I hear fellow staff members tell patrons blithely about library policies that don't exist--or that they completely misunderstand. It's not hard to find out the right policies, and because we're not a huge organization, it's generally easy to correct mistakes (eventually!--altho' my son-in-law wound up paying for a very old, very worn-out children's book as if it were brand new, strictly against lib policy)--but it just amazes me (drives me crazy, really) how some (not all) staff will just spout off fictional policies.

Betsy said...

p.s. I am sorry about your wretched (and totally unnecessary) experience.