Sunday, April 6, 2008

Bureaucratic goose-chase

Update at end of article - this would be hilarious if it hadn't been such a hassle....

Last week, we got another reminder of how efficient government services are.

I have not been able to drive for app. 8 years or so, due to failing vision. So, when we first moved here from FL, we didn't get around to getting a state ID for me here - no urgent need for one, actually. I'm a wee bit old to be carded for beer or cigarettes, and we go everyplace together - so it was one of those things that got put off without much thought.

Recently, I started my embroidery design business & we decided to open a separate bank account in my name only for the business. But my prior Florida ID has expired in the meantime, and of course, the bank wants ID to open an account. So, no big deal, we think - go get an AL state ID. We had stopped there once before & were told we needed to bring our marriage certificate, birth certificate, and old ID. So, we show up with those documents. The clerk doesn't even want to see any of those items, she only asks me for my social security card.

This is where another one of OUR mistakes came into play. Somehow, in the years we've been married, we never updated my name on my social security card. I had my *original* card with my maiden name, and my card with my prior married name on it - but I don't have a card with my current married name. Number is the same, of course - just the different last name.

So... of course, that caused a problem. Regardless of birth certificates, ID, and other documents we had with us - the only thing they were concerned about was the fact that my last name on my social security card wasn't current. I cannot get a state ID until my social security card reflects my current last name. OK, so far, this is understandable, I suppose. Although it would have saved us a trip if they had told us that the *first* time. And of course, it would have saved us sitting around waiting for almost 2 hours each time, before they told us we didn't have what they wanted.

So.... off we go to the Social Security office, to see about getting my card changed. We think we must be prepared well -- we have both of my birth certificates (German-issued & American), we have my consulate papers proving I was an "American Citizen Born Abroad", we have our marriage certificate, we have my old FL ID card, both of my previous social security cards, and misc. other odds & ends that we usually carry with us.

Luckily, the wait at the SS office wasn't as long. We give the clerk all the different documents we have, and tell her what we need to do. She looks over everything we have & tells us she needs proof of identity before she can change the last name on my card. Say what?? Here's my birth certificates, here's the consulate papers, here's our marriage certificate, here's my previous social security card -- for the heck of it, here's my bank card, library card & anything else in my wallet with my name on it.

"I'm sorry - we cannot accept a birth certificate as ID, nor any of these other items. I need your drivers' license or state ID"

"But that's what I'm TRYING to get - they said I have to change my social security card in order to get my ID!"

"I'm sorry - I don't make the rules - I have to have a drivers' license or state ID before I can do anything to your social security card."

"Let me get this straight --- you need my license/ID before you can update my SS card --- but they will not give me an ID unless I have the updated SS card -- and you will not give me an updated SS card unless I have the license/ID -- is this what you're saying?"

"Yes, we have to have a drivers' license or state ID as proof of identity."

"Can you tell me how I'm supposed to get an ID, since they will not give it to me unless you update my SS card??"

"I'm sorry - I don't know how you can get it then, but we have to have either a drivers' license or a state ID We must have proof of identity in order to change your social security card"

"And my birth certificate, consulate papers, marriage certificate etc -- NONE of this is proof of identity?"

"No ma'am. We need a drivers license or state ID for proof of identity. We also need proof of age, something showing your birthday"

"Uh, my birthday is right there on my birth certificates?"

"We can't accept a birth certificate as proof of identity or proof of age, sorry"

After some more moments wasted in a hopeless circle of nonsense, it was finally decided that if we brought in our marriage *license*, that would suffice as proof of both age & identity. (Say what????) Of course, the marriage certificate that we had with us was useless, it had to be our marriage *license*.

So, back home we go, call the courthouse where we got married & go through the procedure to get a copy of our marriage license. (We were never given anything but the certificate when we got married) Luckily, those folks were on the ball & we got the copy of the license back within just a few days after mailing a check to them.

Answer me this though ---- whenever I got a drivers' license in the past, it was always required to show one's birth certificate as identification. The information on your drivers' license (or state ID) was essentially copied directly from the birth certificate. So, how can the drivers license be proof of identity, if the birth certificate is not? It's the SAME BLOODY INFORMATION!!!!

And we kept getting the same excuse at both places - "Well, ever since 9-11, they are stricter on needing proof of identity"

Yeah.... I feel so much safer now -- a terrorist would probably throw up his hands in anguish & leave the country out of sheer frustration if he had to go through this! Right.... criminals are going to have the access & means for false identification of any sort they want - it's only the honest citizens that are put through all this trouble, just to get a simple ID card. I can't even remember the last time I ever used my old ID card for any purpose - I'm prone to say 'to heck with it' and not bother going through any more rigamarole. But we've already wasted lots of time so we'll probably give it one more try. If we get to either place & they come up with yet another excuse as to why none of my identification proves who I am or how old I am, I'll likely start screaming at someone..... the whole thing is such a big joke......

UPDATE: Well, we got our marriage license, so back to the social security office to try again to simply change my last name on my SS card. Spent the obligatory time sitting around waiting forever, then finally got to see a clerk. She wasn't very interested in our marriage license after all, but since she was willing to change my card, that was the most important thing. After looking over our *other* documents (that had been meaningless on our prior visit), she asked me which way I wanted my name on my card.

All my life, my social security card, bank info, credit info, etc etc etc has always been under "Nickie". My drivers license was under my 'real' name since it went by my birth certificate, but since I first had a social security card, it was always under 'Nickie". So, when the clerk asked me how I wanted my name on the card, I told her, "I would prefer 'Nickie', if it is OK to have it that way & won't cause any problems". She told me that was fine, she could put it under Nickie if that's what I wanted.

So, finally we leave the SS office, armed with an official letter showing that I had changed my name on my card. We thought we could *finally* get my state ID. Another 20 mile drive back to the other end of the county to the only driver license office in this area. Another lengthy wait. Finally, we get to see someone, and as before, we have a mountain of documents with us, to hopefully cover any questions or issues. First, the lady gets hung-up on my consulate papers, the Certificate of US Citizen Born Abroad. She initially doesn't want to accept it, because it's a different type of form than the one she's used to seeing. Duh, maybe the forms have chanaged over the years, I don't know. Once we convinced her to actually *read* the document, instead of just glancing at it & saying she didn't recognize it - she finally grudgingly agreed that it was indeed an official document proving my citizenship.

She isn't interested in seeing anything else other than my social security card at this point. We give her both my prior cards, and the document from the SS office that shows I have changed my last name on my record. She could care less about the last name, but goes into a fit that my *first* name doesn't match -- it says my (real name) on my birth certificate and says "Nickie" on my social security card. This cannot be accepted. (Why no one said anything about it before??)

So...... out we go, getting pretty irked by this time, another 20 mile drive to the other side of the county again, *another* wait in line to see someone at the social security office. We got the same clerk as before, and told her what the folks at the driver license office told us. She just semi-laughed, and said, "Oh, I knew they wouldn't like that, I knew it would be a problem"

BITE MY TONGUE seriously at this point..... If you knew it was a problem, why did you even ask me what name to use, why did you do it in such a way that you KNEW would create a problem, even when I specifically mentioned that I didn't want the name to cause any problems??????? I would assume that the person handling the change to the card would know what was acceptable or not - and when SHE basically told me it was OK to have 'Nickie' on the card, I figured she knew what she was doing!

We kept our cool & didn't say much of anything though. Finally got everything changed over AGAIN, to the name that's on my birth certificate. Then a mad dash back to the other side of the county AGAIN, to the driver license office, to try to get there before they closed for the day Luckily, they did allow us to go straight in to see the clerk, no waiting this time. I think we were both getting peeved enough, that we might have caused a scene if they had told us we had to wait several hours again. FINALLY, got my state ID this time, though I was hot, frustrated & generally out-of-sorts, so my photo looks worse than a criminal mug-shot.

And to finish things off, shortly thereafter, we received the actual social security card in the mail. Guess what, they sent me a card with "Nickie" on it, instead of my (real name)!!! Who knows, maybe we'll still get yet another card with my other name! LOL, at this point, I really don't care anymore. We got my state ID after putting almost 150 miles of driving back & forth, about 11 hours total waiting in lines, and being told a different set of requirements by every different person we talked to at both offices. Such efficiency....