By Paul Gottlieb Peninsula Daily News
PORT ANGELES — Betty Longshore, 92, was very much alive Feb. 29 when her bank telephoned her to find out if she was dead.
“They said, ‘Betty, is this you? We have a report you are deceased,’” the west Port Angeles resident recalled.
“They said, ‘Can you come down to the bank?’ I thought I’d go in and say, ‘Here I am, and I’m alive,’ and everyone would laugh, and that would be the end of it.”
It was anything but that.
An employee of First Federal in Port Angeles told Longshore the bank had been required by law to withdraw $16,953 in federal retirement benefits from her account and return it to the federal government, which mistakenly had believed she was dead while she was receiving the benefits.
As of Friday morning, the bulk of the funds — $13,990 in civil service retirement benefits — had been returned to her First Federal account by the federal Office of Personnel Management, she said.
“It got there overnight,” Longshore said.
The federal government already had returned $2,963 to her account Thursday, she said.
Friday’s happy ending brought Longshore, who receives about $25,000 in benefits annually, back to where she was before Feb. 29.
She admitted to being “shocked and stunned” by the events of the past several days.
Her trials and tribulations began after the U.S. Department of the Treasury sent First Federal a notice at the end of February that said Longshore’s “date of death” was July 20, 2011, according to the notice.
Within 24 hours, all her checking account funds and some of her money market funds were gone, with money returned to the government.
Longshore said the amount equaled the retirement benefits she had received from Aug. 1, 2011, through February, which the bank sent back to the federal agencies responsible for monitoring the funds.
Longshore said First Federal called her after seeing that her account had remained active despite her supposed demise.
Longshore was very happy with First Federal: “I want to emphasize that the bank did the best they could.”
Natalie Diana, senior counsel for Treasury’s financial manager service, said that if a bank is aware a benefit recipient has died, the bank must return all benefit payments after it becomes aware of the death.
“They have one day to act on that,” Diana said.
“It’s a really anomalous situation that you’d have a bank being told by the government that someone is dead, then finding out for themselves that she is alive.”
The amount returned totaled $13,990 from her late husband’s civil service survivor’s benefits and $2,963 in Social Security payments.
The day after First Federal called her, Longshore visited the bank’s Sixth Street branch in Port Angeles.
A customer service representative called the Social Security Administration and put Longshore on the line.
“I talked to them and told them I was sitting there and I was alive,” Longshore said.
“They talked to me and asked me a lot of questions and satisfied themselves” that she was still breathing, she said.
“They said that in 33 years, they had never seen anything like this happen,” Longshore said.
Next, Longshore called Social Security’s Birmingham, Ala., office, which told her she would not get her money back until the middle or end of March.
Longshore, a World War II code clerk who had top-secret clearance, tried to make sense of what was going on.
She called the Office of Personnel Management, in Boyers, Pa., which monitors civil service retirement disbursements, and asked: “Who reported my death?”
Longshore was told the mistake occurred because “someone clicked the wrong button,” she said.
“Nobody reported my death,” Longshore said, adding that she was telling her story so no one else would have to go through the same thing.
“Someone just pushed the wrong button, and whoosh, I was dead, and that shouldn’t happen.”
Ken Zawodny, associate director of retirement services for the Office of Personnel Management, said in an email that one in 83,000 benefit checks gets canceled incorrectly, as was the case with Longshore.
“Even with this low error rate, we know how much our customers rely on us to get it right 100 percent of the time,” he said, adding that Longshore’s $13,990 in civil service benefits will be restored this week.
“We regret the error.”
Longshore’s civil service annuity payments also have resumed, she said.
Longshore actually received a Social Security check — after the $2,963 in benefits that she had received over seven months had been returned because she supposedly was dead, she said.
“Social Security didn’t know anything about this,” Longshore said.
“They didn’t put two and two together.”