Social Security's inability to translate Japanese marriage certificate delays widow's benefits nearly a year

ByMichael Finney and Randall Yip via KGO logo
Wednesday, February 17, 2021
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"'Oh, the translator still has it. It hasn't been translated yet.'" A daughter describes the nearly year-long delay in getting her mother's Social Security benefits with her father passed away -- all because Social Security needed to translate their marriage certificate from the original Japanese.

FOSTER CITY, Calif. (KGO) -- The sudden death of her husband left a wife of 65 years struggling for closure. The Bay Area widow applied for death benefits from Social Security, but her case dragged on for almost a year.

The Foster City woman appeared to do everything right. So why did her case take so long?

Tadashi Tanabe and his wife Mosuko got married in Japan 65 years ago. Tadashi loved to tend to his garden at his home in Foster City. One day, he suffered a stroke and died shortly after surgery.

His daughter Aileen Nelson fondly remembers him. "My father, he was an amazing man. Quiet. He's quiet, but funny, had a good sense of humor. A wonderful husband, wonderful father," she said.

After the funeral, her mother gathered all the paperwork requested by Social Security, including her marriage certificate from Japan where they got married.

Nelson says their case worker told her it wouldn't be a problem to submit the marriage document for translation into English.

The benefits would likely begin in a month. But months passed, and still no benefits.

"My mom calls them and their answer is always, 'Oh, the translator still has it. It hasn't been translated yet,'" said Nelson.

Nelson said her mom called every month and got the same answer.

The family started to lose patience.

"I feel like I'm being pushed aside. What's going on? Am I ever going to hear from you? Is this ever gonna get settled? And basically the guy said, 'Oh, it probably won't get settled,'" Nelson said.

Watching the news one day, she decided she would call 7 On Your Side. We contacted Social Security.

"It was because of 7 On Your Side, that got the ball rolling and all of a sudden, you know, we got connected to the right people and everything went smoothly. So we are just so grateful. so grateful," said Nelson.

Nelson's mom Mosuko is now receiving an additional $900 in benefits each month.

"Honestly, we are so grateful about everything ABC7 has done for us," said Nelson.

Social Security did not respond to our request for comment, but in the past has said concern for privacy prevents them from commenting on specific cases.

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