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Pacific Daily News, Hagatna

We're Paying And Should Receive Full Benefits. Aren't We American?

Guam Should Take Action To Tap Into Supplemental Social Security

By Joe Murphy

February 16, 2004
Copyright ©2004 Pacific Daily News, Hagatna. All rights reserved.

I'm not one of those guys who rushes down to the post office at the first of every month to get my Social Security check. It's not that I'm rich or anything, it's just that I have it electronically transferred into my bank account to save me the trouble of getting the check and cashing it.

I was thinking about Social Security the other day and stopped off to visit the Harmon office. I wanted to get a new card. I think the dog ate the old one that I had faithfully carried for more than 50 years.

While there, I managed to have a nice conversation with Dennis Clarkson, district manager for Guam. I managed to pick up some good information about the program, which started on Guam in 1936.

To be honest, I had listened to my dad, who didn't believe in Social Security and all the rest of the government efforts to lift the country out of the Great Depression. He was all for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but was a true believer in work and self-reliance, not in relying on the government for assistance.

I am very happy to report that I have changed my mind. People should be go-getters and self-reliant, but most of them are not. And most never will be. So that means the government, bless their collective hearts, are forced to set up programs for the masses who refuse to think about the future.

These masses just won't save for their old age. Many rely on their children to take care of them in their old age, which is nice - if not too practical - in this day and age. The kids can barely make it on their own.

I realized that Social Security contributes millions of dollars to Guam every month, but with a little planning and some congressional action, Guam could be getting more from the system.

I was trying to think back to when I got my first paycheck, and my first Social Security card, right after I got out of the Navy in 1946. I paid in the maximum for pretty close to 50 years. With the amount I paid in over those years I don't consider Social Security a charity, but an investment.

Nor did I ever expect to live on my Social Security check alone. It wasn't designed for that, despite "security" being in the name. Still, it helps a great deal each month.

In our retiring years we're not rich, but are comfortable. Don't forget, though, I took my first paying job as a journalist the day I graduated from the University of Wisconsin. In other words, unlike some GovGuam employees or some military career people, I put in 50 years, pounding away on my typewriter/computer.

I learned that 64 years ago, last month, the first Social Security check was issued to a lady named Ida May Fuller, a retired schoolteacher. The amount on the check - $22.54 each month. That was under Roosevelt's "Old Age and Survivors" plan, enacted into law in 1935. Now the average monthly check is $922, or $11,064 a year.

Social Security may not be such a big deal on Guam because more of the people of Guam rely on either GovGuam retirement or military retirement.

Still, there are 5,751 workers on Social Security here, along with 1,081 spouses and 574 children. There are also 1,043 widows, or widowers, and 1,100 children survivors. There are 874 workers on disability, along with 67 spouses and 467 children. In other words, there are some 10,966 beneficiaries in current-payment status. Of these, there are 3,360 men 65 years or older, and 3,204 women.

Money sent to Guam every month? I figured it amounts to about $2.2 million, a long ways from the $251,000 for the Northern Marianas.

Guam, for some reason that escapes me, doesn't draw on Supplemental Social Security, or SSI, or monthly stipends for the disabled. The Northern Marianas is on this program because they negotiated it in their treaty with the United States, but Guam never had the opportunity - or we missed the chance. It would mean monthly checks to all the disabled. Some people say that Guam was not on the program because otherwise they would have had to include Puerto Rico.

Delegate Madeleine Bordallo has been contacted about the issue, but I think it is time that some heavyweights started fighting this battle. We're paying and should receive full benefits. Aren't we American?

Joe Murphy is a former editor of the Pacific Daily News.

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