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Memorandum of Disapproval of Bill for the Relief of Jean Pfeifer.

August 01, 1956

I AM WITHHOLDING my approval of S. 277, for the relief of Jean Pfeifer.

The bill would permit the payment of a lump-sum death payment under section 202 (i) of the Social Security Act to Mrs. Jean Pfeifer in connection with the death of her son, John S. Inches, without regard to the statutory limitation on the period within which an application for such payment may be filed. The facts in the case are as follows:

Mr. Inches died on August 7, 1951. His mother, Mrs. Pfeifer, paid burial costs in connection with her son's death. She did not, however, file an application for the lump-sum death payment until September 21, 1953, more than 2 years after the death of her son. Mrs. Pfeifer states that she or another surviving son had telephoned to the local office of the Social Security Administration on different occasions before the period had elapsed asking for application forms, but there are no records of such calls in the Social Security Administration files. In view of her failure to file application for the lump-sum death payment within the time fixed by law, the Bureau of Old-Age and Survivors Insurance of the Social Security Administration held that Mrs. Pfeifer was ineligible for the payment. This action of the Bureau was affirmed, after a hearing, by a referee of the Appeals Council in the Social Security Administration.

I am reluctant to deny relief in a case of this kind, but there are at least two persuasive considerations which compel me to withhold my approval: (1) a much more desirable remedy is provided for in the revision of the Social Security Act that I approved today, and (2) enactment of S. 277 would establish for the Social Security Program an undesirable precedent which until now has been avoided.

Since 1939 the Social Security Act has required that an application for the lump-sum death payment be filed within 2 years of the death of the individual involved. The courts have held that failure to file application within this period may not be waived or excused, even though it arises from misunderstanding or unawareness.

This bill would provide special relief permitting one individual to receive a social insurance benefit under conditions identical with those under which, under the basic law, the same benefit must be denied to others similarly situated. Such special legislation, as I stated in vetoing H. R. 1334, 83rd Congress, is undesirable and contrary to sound principles of equity and justice.

This is not to say that there may not in some cases be equities which warrant extending the statutory time limit. But any modification in the provisions of the Social Security Act that might be desirable to allow for such cases should, I believe, be made in the basic law and stated in general terms so as to be applicable to all persons similarly circumstanced, rather than requiring claimants who believe that they have such equities to seek individual relief through the process of private legislation, which is both burdensome and hazardous to the claimant and costly to the public. The revision of the Social Security Act approved today contains an amendment to the basic law which would afford an opportunity, not only to Mrs. Pfeifer but to all claimants similarly circumstanced, to become entitled to a lump-sum death payment under the Social Security Act upon showing good cause for the belated filing of an application.


Dwight D. Eisenhower, Memorandum of Disapproval of Bill for the Relief of Jean Pfeifer. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/232999

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