During the discussions on reform of Social Security, when we broached the subject of a raise in the pension age, people became alarmed.  They calmed down when they realized that we were not talking about raising the age to 70.  Then they offered that if, and only if, we had to raise the age, they would tolerate it going up to 65 but only in stages.  The preference of course was for everybody to get their pension earlier than 62 because “me nar go live to see 62.  You no see who much young people a dead?”  People aged 62 and over, according to this logic, seem to be an endangered species!

Not so, says our Records and Benefits department of Social Security.  Not so says the data from the Ministry of Health!  In 2006, of the 511 contributors who attained pension age, less than 6% died early.  In 2007, 602 persons attained pension age, and less than 6% died early.   Already to May 2008, of the 265 persons who would attain age 62, again less than 6% have already died.    Furthermore, figures from the Ministry of health suggest that those who survive to 62 can expect to go well into their 80Õs as the over 80’s are the single largest group who go home to their Maker (44% of all deaths in 2005 were 80 years or older, up from 39% in 2001).  Thank God for his mercies, He has been good to us.

So what happens as one approaches age 62?  When our computer system tells us that you are approaching your 62nd birthday, we kick into high gear.   First, you receive a letter, reminding you of the approaching milestone.  That letter invites you to come into our offices, to complete the application and to bring along a valid picture i.d. (passport or Social security card) and your certified birth certificate.  The i.d. is important, especially if you have had a name change, adjustment or if you registered in those days when you were not required to prove that you were who you said you were.

Then the Records Department checks every detail of your working life.  They check C2, C5 and C3 (these are wage records) to make sure that all of your contributions credit are up to date, they check your claims records to make sure that the bigger payment between wage and benefit payment is credited to your name before they calculate your best 3 year annual average of your last 15 working years. They check other records to make sure they have the correct address to which to send your letter of offer.   Despite all this, some people never bother to come in and some people come in years later.  Often times this is because the contributor changed address and did not inform the Social Security Board!

This checked, rechecked and verified wage information then goes to the Benefits Department for calculation of your pension. For every 50 contributions (one week or part thereof  = one contribution), pension points are earned, provided that the threshold of 500 contributions is achieved.  Below 500 contributions, the 50 unit point still applies, but only towards a one time payment of an age grant rather than a lifetime monthly payment of a pension.  Pension points vary – some are worth 3 percentage points, some 2 and others one point to a maximum of 60 percentage points.  Sometimes, but rarely, contributions credit do not yield any points.  Because of the age of Social Security – among other things Ð the highest points achieved by a contributor to date is 57 percentage points.   That is, the pension of that person who turned 62 in May 2008 is 57% of his/her average annual salary of the best 3 years of the last 15 years.  If that best annual average is $12,000.00, the pension is $6840.00 per year or $570.00 per month.  And that person can continue to work if he so desires!  Any qualifying contributor whose pension works out to less than $300.00 per month is automatically topped up to $300.00 which is our minimum pension payment.

The great flood of November 1998 damaged our records. But thanks to the staff, the goodwill of the general public and the work of the prisoners, we were able to salvage all of the records.  The benefits records are water stained, some are still muddy, they are old but they are still here. Thankfully, our contribution records are safe, they were not damaged in the flood.  We are working desperately to modernize and computerize these records, but the process, of necessity, is slow, dirty and tedious.  On behalf of the pensioners of this country, we say thanks to the staff at the Records Department for the work that they do.  So when you come in to our lobby, smile with them and thank them. And forgive us if we spend 17 cents of your contribution dollar to manage and upgrade a system that is so beneficial to the people of our land.  It is money well spent.

Here’s how you can help us with this process.  Obtain your contribution statement and study it.  Point out any errors on it to us.   Update your records, especially your name, your address and your dependents.  If you have turned in your spouse, let us know.  If you made young bones, let us know.  We are very confidential, so none of this personal information will be shared with anyone else.  Lastly, but most importantly, pay your contributions and pay them on time.  You owe it to yourself to do so.

Smile when you meet us on the streets.  Write to us like Gwendolyn Maynard and Valerie Liburd did.  Write about us in the newspapers like Ms Jean Thomas did. Or send us poems like Mrs. Clemence Jeffers did:-

Where Would I Be Without Social Security

You’re a really special scheme just in case you didn’t know

And this just seems the perfect chance for me to tell you so

You’re generous and caring and you’re kind and thoughtful too

That is why I wish the very best for you, your whole life through

Where would I be without you?  You are always there for me

You never judge, you just advise and listen constantly.

I know I’m very lucky to count you as my friend

And I hope this 30th Anniversary proves to be the happiest you could spend.

You’re welcome, Mrs.  Jeffers and all others!