Is There Something Worse than Despicable?
I'm running out of words to describe the low-lifes in Washington who continue to outdo themselves when it comes to devising ways to separate us from our money. The latest comes from the Social Security Administration, in conjunction with the Treasury Department.
My neighbor just got her social security check in the mail and asked me to help her figure out the flyer that came with it. The flyer reads, "Be prepared to stop receiving a paper check. All federal benefits will be paid electronically.... Sign up for electronic payments NOW!"
My neighbor is quite old, in her 80s probably. She has a computer and gets email, but that's it -- no online banking, shopping, etc. She has memory problems, and it's hard for her to cope with anything more complicated than logging onto AOL. Plus, she doesn't really trust the internet with her money.
So we went to the website on the flyer, to see if there was a way to opt out. There is not. Everyone receiving federal benefits (including Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments, Veterans Affairs (VA), Railroad Retirement Board, Office of Personnel Management and Department of Labor (Black Lung), is going to go direct deposit. [And if you don't choose direct deposit, you're automatically "nudged" into being signed up for a debit card. --lambert] This new payment method will affect millions of people, including the 18 million Baby Boomers retiring in the next five years.
As far as I can tell from the website, if you don't like or want electronic payments, too bad! But that's not the most odious aspect of this new plan. If you click on the "About the Direct Express Card" link, the second paragraph says:
There are no sign-up fees, monthly fees or overdraft charges. No bank account or credit check is required to enroll. Cardholders can make purchases, pay bills and get cash at thousands of ATMs and retail locations.
So far, so good. But here's the last sentence in that paragraph:
Some fees for optional services may apply.
Oh, some fees -- okay! Now scroll down a bit and check out the fine print (which is probably too fine for a lot of older people to read). You're allowed one (as in ONE!) free ATM cash withdrawal for every payment you receive each month. After that, you will pay 90 cents per withdrawal.
But wait ... there's more. Even the first "free" withdrawal is only free if you use "one of the more than 50,000 surcharge-free network ATMs." And that's just the tip of the iceberg. There are other fees for everything from requesting a paper statement (75 cents) to transferring your own money to your own bank account ($1.50).
Maybe direct deposit is a good thing. Less paper used, fewer stolen checks, etc. And the Treasury Department says direct deposit will save $1 billion during the next 10 years. A lot of money, but as we all know, our government is fine with pissing away billions as long as none of it makes anyone's life better. And clearly saving this billion will not be very helpful for millions of people.
My poor neighbor is very upset right now. Like most people on Social Security, she doesn't get that much money each month to begin with. And soon, she's going to have even less, thanks to all the various fees they're imposing. Plus, she has to figure out internet banking to some extent. She was beside herself when I left, so multiply her situation times tens of millions and it's not pretty -- millions of elderly and disabled people getting ripped off (again) by their own government and the banks that own it.
Maybe I'm overreacting or maybe there's some bright spot I'm not seeing that someone can point out. But I'm so disgusted with what's happening in this country right now that I'm having trouble finding words to express it. I just keep wondering what kind of scum is okay with taking nickels and dimes from people who really need them and giving the money to people who are already obscenely wealthy. That's just despicable.