TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Yard work is one of several new chores Mary Painter has to do since her husband Freno passed away unexpectedly in January.
“I lost 20 pounds,” Painter said.
Losing her partner of 40 years hurt her emotionally, and the reality of losing his Social Security check that slashed her household income in half added to the stress.
Painter started the process of applying for a portion of her husband’s benefits in February and has been waiting ever since. She has heard her application for back payments and an increase in her monthly benefits was “sent to the process center” several times during the past six months.
“Probably about 10 different calls,” Painter said. “It’s been about every couple of weeks I’ve been calling.”
When phone calls had no impact, a Social Security agent suggested she should drive to her local office to take care of it.
Painter normally drives about a mile every other day, but trying to square away her claim sent her across town to the Tampa Social Security office near the airport.
“My doctor said I shouldn’t be driving because I have vertigo sometimes,” Painter said. “But I had to go. I found the closest way to go without going on the interstate.”
Painter said it has been a financial struggle to make ends meet while she waits.
“Very difficult. My savings is dwindling,” Painter said. “I need it resolved as quickly as possible. I’m already charging things like groceries.”
8 on Your Side also went to the Tampa office to ask about Painter’s claim and we emailed the agency’s regional office, highlighting Painter’s struggle.
Within hours, Painter got a call from Social Security. On Wednesday morning, she heard some good news from a Social Security office employee.
“She said they are depositing [money] into my account in three to five days,” Painter said.
But it was not all good news.
“I told that is only a little more than half of what they owe retroactively,” Painter said. “She said she would look into it right away.”
Painter’s ordeal may not be 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 the agency handles mail, including effectively tracking and returning original documents.
The length of phone calls to the Social Security office has also been critiqued. The average length in 2021 was 13.5 minutes but the average wait was three times that in other months.
Painter, who has dealt with mail and phone call issues, said she is concerned the agency does not intend to pay her what she is due.
“I hope not,” Painter said. “I hope that’s not what they have in mind because that’s scary.”
Social Security Administration Regional Communications Director Patti Patterson said she could not comment on Painter’s case but added the agency will “provide any necessary assistance.”