TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Throughout the year, Mary Painter heard her claim to recover a portion of her late husband’s Social Security benefit was “in process.”
In September, after being asked to come into the Tampa office to reiterate her claim, she was fed up with the process. Painter, 79, said the 8-month delay had forced her to use savings and even credit cards on basic necessities.
“This has been an extreme stress for me,” Painter said. “Extreme because I’m all alone.”
When her husband Freno died in January she lost not only her partner of 40 years but also half her household income.
The Social Security Administration process was finally completed after an 8 on Your Side report last Wednesday revealed Painter’s struggle. The next day, most of the money she was owed was in her account.
“Oh my goodness,” Painter said. “I’ve been trying for eight months to get this money.”
Painter said she called Social Security every two weeks and reached out to the office of Rep. Kathy Castor about three weeks ago. Nothing worked.
8 on Your Side went to the Tampa Social Security office to make sure officials there knew about Painter’s plight and contacted the regional office on her behalf.
Painter answered bluntly when asked if her claim would have been paid without the news report.
“No,” she said. “I don’t. So, I was very impressed with the results.”
But the initial total and the pending monthly benefit stated in a letter she received was not what she was promised.
“I had it figured from the beginning what was owed me and I was told what was owed,” Painter said. “They shorted me the first time.”
That problem has since been rectified, finally solving an issue that Painter said would have frustrated her late husband who paid into social security for about seven decades.
“He worked at least part-time up until he died at 88,” Painter said. “He would be shocked and very upset to know this was going on.”
She added that he would also be proud of how she kept fighting for what she is owed.
“He would say if anyone could do it, Mary could do it,” Painter said with a smile.
But she also said it should not take a news report to prompt a federal agency to pay up.
“No, it shouldn’t,” Painter said. “No, it shouldn’t.”
Painter said she is still waiting on the standard Social Security death benefit that is paid to spouses. She said her IRS refund has also been delayed due to her husband’s passing.
Her struggle is not unique in Florida or across the country.
A 2021 Office of Inspector General report stated the Social Security Administration needed to improve efficiency in the way mail is handled, including effectively tracking and returning original documents.
The length of phone calls to the agency has also been critiqued. The average length in 2021 was 13.5 minutes but the average wait was three times that in in January of that year.