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  • Last modified 163 days ago (Feb. 7, 2019)

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FINANCE:   Young widows get help raising children

Staff writer

Tragedy can strike without warning. The loss of the family wage earner can be devastating both emotionally and financially. Social Security helps by providing income for the families of workers who die.

When Barbara Alleven’s husband, Gary, was killed in a vehicle accident in April 2014, she was left with three boys aged 15 to 10 to raise by herself.

“I was dealing with a lot of stuff,” she said, “and somebody told me right away about survivor benefits available for my children.”

She worked as a cosmetologist in Wichita. Working with the Emporia Social Security office, which serviced the Marion area, she arranged for each of her sons to get benefits based on Gary’s income.

“It was extremely beneficial because I lost our second income and the health insurance Gary’s job provided.”

When son Garrett graduated from Marion High School three years later, his benefit stopped.

“I wish it could have continued a while to help with college,” Alleven said. “I had to buy our own health insurance.”

Some of the benefit Garrett had received was split between the younger sons. Cade is a junior, and Will is a sophomore.

“I find it interesting that I have to keep track of where I spend their money, although I understand why,” Alleven said. “I used to be required to send a report every year on how much I spent on them. I don’t have to do that anymore.”

She was advised to put any extra money in a special fund for the boys.

“Extra?” she said. “Are you kidding? There is no extra.”

When she reaches full retirement age, which is 67, Alleven will get full benefits. She can get reduced benefits at age 60. She also will get some of her husband’s benefit.

She was unequivocal about the help that survivor benefits provide.

“I couldn’t have raised my boys without it,” she said. “It would be nice to be able to get some for college.”

Kim Shields of rural Lincolnville was left with five minor children to raise when her husband, Carroll, died from a farm accident in August 2003. They ranged in age from 15 to 5.

She was overwhelmed with grief and could hardly function for a month. She bought convenience food for her two older sons to feed their three younger sisters.

Because Shields had younger children, she got a Social Security check along with each of the children.

“It was a huge benefit for buying groceries and clothes,” she said.

She continues to do substitute teaching and umpiring summer softball and baseball. She also gets a share of the profits from the family farm.

She echoed Alleven’s thoughts about saving extra money for college.

“Really?” she thought. “After buying food, clothes, and shoes, there’s nothing left.”

Her own payments stopped in 2016 when her youngest child turned 15. She said it seemed odd. She had to cut back her spending and sometimes used credit cards.

For more than two years, she received no assistance, but when she turned 60 in November, she qualified to apply for reduced retirement benefits, which she now gets.

“The money helps,” she said, “especially considering the situation agriculture is in right now.”

Sandy Carlson and her husband, Glenn, of rural Burdick were both 70 years old when he died in August 2017, so both were receiving Social Security.

“I got a little more after he died,” Carlson said. “It was somewhat of a benefit but not enough to live on, with health insurance and other costs.”

She farms and raises cattle with her son, Andy.

“Working with cattle is my favorite thing,” she said. “I try to help when I can. I like to work ground.”

She has two daughters and another son.

“The kids have helped me a lot,” she said.

Last modified Feb. 7, 2019

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