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She faced $82,000 question

A Social Security error brings panic, not joy, to a retiree.

By ELENA LESLEY, Times Staff Writer
Published August 21, 2007


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TARPON SPRINGS - When the government tried to give Jessie Burke $82,000, she panicked.

"I read the letter and burst into tears," she said of the correspondence she received Thursday from the Social Security Administration. "It could have been an awful mess."

Burke immediately dialed Washington, D.C.

She told officials she couldn't understand why her disability payments would jump from $775 a month to a whopping $82,000. She feared the government would soon realize its error - but not before bungling her Medicare coverage and monthly payments.

"It's Looney Tunes," she said. "The government is ruthless when there's overpayment."

Burke, 65, is studied in the ways of government bureaucracy. Tarpon Springs' most vocal watchdog, Burke is a presence at all City Commission meetings and has been a lead crusader in trying to relocate hazardous waste left in a Superfund site just north of the city by the Stauffer Chemical Co. Burke thinks the contamination caused the death of her husband, a former company employee.

She's not planning to give up the fight anytime soon. Burke plans to have "Murdered by Stauffer" engraved on her and her husband's tombstone.

So Burke didn't run to cash in on federal dollars when she received Thursday's letter. She's too wary of government for that.

While she said she wrestled with temptation "for around 10 minutes," Burke decided she had to alert authorities. "No matter how you slice it, that's theft."

Representatives from the Office of Inspector General couldn't explain how the error occurred, but told Burke such glitches were extremely rare.

Patti Patterson, a spokeswoman for the Social Security Administration, said Burke's letter was most likely the result of a computer-generated typographical error.

The administration adjusted her monthly payments down to a more reasonable $807 a month.

Representatives explained that since Burke recently reached retirement age, she is now eligible for a full widow's benefit - an additional $52 a month.

It may not be a five figure check, but Burke has already made some lifestyle changes.

Said Burke: "I canceled Meals on Wheels today!"

Elena Lesley can be reached at elesley@sptimes.com or 727 445-4167.

[Last modified August 21, 2007, 00:18:42]


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