The bureaucrat's wisdom lies somewhere beyond his words


March 03, 1995|By DAN RODRICKS

Love of language -- actually, awe of how bureaucrats turn it into Orwellian gobbledygook -- is what brings me today to SSA-L8172, a "notice of overpayment" form received by a Social Security beneficiary in Charles Village. In January and February, the man pocketed a total of $6.80 more than he should have, and some Woodlawn computer with a hot chip for fiscal folly caught him in the act. Gives you a nice, warm feeling, doesn't it? Proponents of cuts in the capital gains tax must be pleased to know that administrators of the Supplemental Security Income program are diligent in their pursuit of such needless generosity. Six-eighty here. Six-eighty there. And pretty soon you're talkin' somebody's second home in Aspen.

But the money is beside the point today. It's the language of the letter that impresses me.

The Charles Village man failed to report $38 in veterans benefits, thus causing a miscalculation in his SSI benefits. Here, with little editing, is the letter he received:

"We are writing to let you know that we have paid you $6.80 too much SSI money. . . . You must pay us back unless we decide you shouldn't have to pay us back or we're wrong about the overpayment. If you think you shouldn't have to pay us back or you disagree with the decision about the overpayment, you can ask for a waiver, ask for an appeal or do both.

"You may not have to pay us back. Sometimes we can waive an overpayment, which means you won't have to pay us back. We can do this if both of the following are true: It wasn't your fault that you got too much SSI money and paying us back would mean you can't pay your bills for food, clothing, housing or medical care, or it would be unfair for some other reason. If you think these are true, contact any Social Security office. You can ask for a waiver any time by asking your Social Security office to fill out waiver form SSA-632. We won't collect the overpayment while we decide if we can waive it."

I could go on, so I will.

"If you disagree with the decision, you have the right to appeal. We will review your case and consider any new facts you have. You have 60 days to ask for an appeal. The 60 days start the day after you get this letter. We assume you got this letter five days after the date on it unless you show us that you did not get it within the five-day period. To appeal, you must fill out a form called 'Request for Reconsideration.' The form number is SSA-561.

"There are three ways to appeal. You can pick the one you want. . . . You have a right to review the facts in your file. You can give us more facts to add to your file. Then we'll decide your case again. You won't meet with the person who decides your case. . . ."

And it goes on for four more pages!

Smash that crab

Can you believe that big crab sculpture is still on the table as a possible use for Rash Field in the Inner Harbor? What gives? I thought we smashed this proposition. It's the worst idea I've heard for an open space since Hunt Valley Mall. But Baltimore's Architectural Review Board is considering a 300-space parking garage under Rash Field, and that idea (not a bad one) was proposed by the same design team that came up with the giant earthen crab proposal last year. An architect thinks the grass-covered bas relief crab could sit atop the garage. ("Honey, what level did we park on? Mustard or Backfin?")

Hey, it's not that I worry about the Schmoke administration fast-tracking this development -- unless, of course, Dan Henson gets into the act -- but the people who get the call on Rash Field ought to keep the open space because it's the last usable bit of it left down there. The place is often busy with kite-fliers, rugby players, touch-football players, ice-skaters in winter. It's a great urban scene. Build the garage, but leave the field. And smash that crab.

Today's bargain

A message on the signpost at Pastore's Italian Food Store, Mountain Road, Pasadena: "In the year 3000 subs will cost $72. Buy now and save."

The Shoe drops one

Monday night, at City Hall, as Lois Garey, the council's new member from the 1st District, took her seat, Councilwoman Sheila "The Shoe" Dixon stood to point out the obvious: There was now another woman on the City Council. Turning to the 3rd District delegation, she said, "So you guys had better watch out because you know what happens when there are more women." She did not elaborate. But one of the guys from the 3rd, Wilbur "Bill" Cunningham, is dying to find out what The Shoe meant by that. Wilbur, I wouldn't press your luck.

Brotherly love it wasn't

Understatement of the Year (so far): "Obviously he angered somebody."

-- Capt. John Apeldorn of the Philadelphia Police Department's organized crime unit, commenting on the death of Ralph Mazzuca, who was stripped, hogtied, shot four times, doused with a flammable liquid and set ablaze last Friday. (Philadelphia Inquirer)

Mystery is born

Frank Locke, a Baltimore real estate man, spotted this bumper sticker on a car on Northern Parkway: "Old Shouting John Said Hold My Mule." Frank was puzzled; I'd never heard the

phrase before, either. But a local minister said he was familiar with the line, knew it to be from a much-quoted sermon. He promised to trace its exact origin and get back to us. Watch this space.

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