In the this audio interview Michelle of English-Team talks to Ryan who works for the Social Security Administration in Tampa. US Social Security Administration Interview
Here is the transcript of the interview:
Hello English language learners!
This is Michelle from English-Team, and today I’d like to introduce you to Ryan.
- Ryan, how are you doing today?
- I’m doing great, how about yourself?
- I’m doing good, thank you! So, Ryan, I’d like to ask you a few questions, OK?
- OK, can you please tell me what you do for a living?
– I work… For five and a half years now I have worked at the Social Security Administration, a field office here in Tampa, where I’m a service representative.
- OK, what are your main duties?
- My main duties are to assign new social security numbers, to issue replacement social security cards for people who already have numbers. I also will… I deal with post entitlement benefit issues. In other words, people who are receiving checks — if they have a problem, for example, they didn't receive a benefit check for the month, or if they move without telling us, or any number of issues regarding people’s benefits that they receive from the government, I handle that.
- OK, can you tell me exactly what a social security number is?
- A social security number is a nine digit number, assigned to United States citizens, and many lawful resident aliens in the United States. It’s a number that is unique to each individual, it can never be assigned twice and never to more than one person. You need… Yeah? You need a social security number to get a job, to collect benefits, or to receive other government services. Many businesses for example, like banks or credit card companies will require a number.
- OK, so how does one actually obtain a social security number?
- New born children receive social security numbers usually about six weeks after birth. If you are an alien in need of a social security number, for example if you’re a student from a foreign country, if you have been relocated in the United States as an intercompany transferee, you have to come to our office, present certain documents such as a valid passport, an immigration document, your visa; and then we process your social security number. Usually it takes about five minutes.
– Oh, wow, that’s quick! Do you ever meet performers or athletes?
- I do, I do! Depending on the visa, we process social security numbers for circus performers, for foreign athletes — usually baseball players. There are many baseball players in my hometown for instance. We’re the spring training for the New York Yankees of the American League. My hometown is also home to MacDill Air Force Base, so foreign dignitaries or foreign military who come and train at MacDill Air Force Base for example, they come with an A1 visa, they are eligible to receive a social security number because they are going to work in the United States.
- OK, oh, wow, interesting! So tell me what else can I use the social security number for?
- Well, a social security number is often required if you want to open up a bank account, if you want to apply for a driver’s license or a state ID card in the United States, if you want to enroll in many schools, the institution will require you to give a social security number and applying for your credit card for instance, as well.
- OK. So what would you say –in your opinion– is the biggest misconception about the social security number?
- The biggest misconception about the social security number is that although very important and required in instances where institutions would want to have your number for security reasons, it’s not an identification number –there is no such thing as an American identification number– and there may be even instances when you can refuse to give your social security number to someone who asks for it.
- But that’s pretty rare, right?
- It’s pretty rare!
- OK, so tell me, how are the numbers actually assigned?
- Once upon a time, the first three numbers depended on where a person was born geographically in the United States. For example, for people in the Midwest the first three numbers might be very similar, or identical. People in Southeast might have a very similar number, etcetera. But, in the past year, the number really is entirely random. It can be any combination of numbers zero through nine. The only thing is that a social security number that’s all nines, will never be assigned to anyone. But any other combination will work.
- OK, so you’re saying that in the past it was based on where you were born but today, since –I think– 2011, that’s no longer the case?
- That’s correct!
- OK. Is it possible to change your social security number?
- It’s almost impossible. In very rare circumstances we do allow for numbers to be changed. I’ve worked for the Social Security Administration for five and a half years, I have only seen a number change about two or three times. And the reason being there is an act, a federal act, that allows people to change numbers if their life is in immediate danger, if they are victims of abuse — in which case they have to provide numbers… I’m sorry! They have to provide evidence for the damages that they’ve incurred, because many times if someone is in fear of their life, an abuser, someone who’s abused them can use their social security number to hurt them. For example, do damage to their credit, to file taxes that are based on false earnings, or to even find them. So we give them new social security numbers if their life is in danger.
- OK, so pretty much the majority of the time the answer is “no” but in certain situations, and they would have to provide documentation, correct?
- They do, they would have to provide police reports; witness reports; letters from acquaintances, physicians, law enforcement, investigators, social services and it has to be documented and it has to be verified and then sent to the central office for approval.
- How long would something like that take?
- Usually the turnaround is about five to six weeks.
- OK, so what happens when someone needs a name change, for example, in the case of a marriage?
- In the case of a marriage the person changing their name –they can be married, they can be divorced as well –they have to bring a certified copy of a marriage or divorce decree to our office, along with their state ID or driver’s license and we can change their numbers for them… I’m sorry, forgive me — change their names for them!
OK, so you mentioned an official document. So photocopies are not acceptable?
- Photocopies are not acceptable! It has to be a certified copy. Which means it can be a copy but then it has to have a stamp with a raised seal or a wet mark that is issued by the clerk’s office, the county clerk.
- Are you allowed to accept any documents in other languages?
-Yes, we are! At our office we do have a lot of bilingual, even trilingual employees and we do accept documents written in other languages.
- And if by chance none of us can read them, we still accept them and we send them away to be translated.
- Oh, so then there’s a further process after that!
- Right, if no one is qualified to translate.
-OK. So I have another question: what happens when somebody’s immigration status changes? Does that affect the social security number?
- Yes, it does. Often times, lawful aliens residing in the United States… If their immigration status changes with the Department of Homeland Security but they don’t change it with the Social Security Administration, they can run into problems when they file taxes because the Internal Revenue Service which is the tax office in the United States, their employers telling them that they are a certain status but they interface with our system and we have a different status altogether. So everything has to match.
- I see.
- So when your immigration status changes, the applicant has to come to our office with their new document. For example, it can be a permanent resident card or a certificate of naturalization, and then we will change their status for them. Their number remains the same.
- OK, so their number won’t change, but just their status in the Social Security Administration system, right?
- OK, what other services does the Social Security Office provide?
- Social Security is primarily… The services are retirement benefits and disability benefits. At age 65 number holders can also apply for Medicare, which is the federal medical program in the United States. So that covers hospitalization and doctor’s visits. A separate sub-program in Medicare covers prescription drug coverage. And those are our services.
- OK. Well, Ryan, that was really, really interesting, and I really appreciate your time. Thank you for speaking with me today!
- You’re welcome, it was a pleasure!
- Thank you!
You can listen to the interview here: How to obtain a Social Security Number in the US?