If you received this letter, could you tell how big your next Social Security check would be?
The woman who received it couldn't. Nor could a Social Security Administration spokesman when he was read the letter.
This computer-generated letter, and ones similar to it, have been sent to Social Security recipients whose benefits are being readjusted to reflect changes in their income in 1978. Besides churning out seemingly incomprehensible letters, the agency's computer is several years behind in its work.
Asked to comment on the letter, Social Security Commissioner John A. Svahn said, "This is one more example of our system's inability to talk to humans. We inherited the problem and we are working on it. It's a priority."
Among the letter's problems are an omitted paragraph explaining that Medicare premiums had been deducted.
As the agency spokesman said, "When someone reads us a letter over the phone, we ought to be able to understand it."
It turns out the woman will get $323.80, the same amount she has been getting. The letter could be translated like this: you'll get a special one-time check for $47.60 to clear up a back payment due you, but your regular monthly Social Security benefit will still be $334.80 a month. Although we have changed some of our calculations, the benefit will remain $334.80. From that we deduct $11 each month for the Medicare out-of-hospital insurance premium (this reference was missing) and send you the $323.80 balance.