US Postal Service order on Social Security checks

On September 9, 1977 – during the height of the mass emigration of Peoples Temple members to Jonestown –  the U.S. Postal Service in San Francisco issued a routing slip which read: “This is to advise you that the Department of H.E.W. [Health, Education and Welfare] (Social Security Administration) has instructed us to return all SSI (Gold checks), and Social Security checks (Green) to them where we have a forwarding order for Guyana. Georgetown, Guyana, South America”

The order represented a serious financial threat to the Jonestown community. As shown here, about 200 people in Jonestown received – or were eligible to receive – SSA checks, and they did not lose that eligibility by moving to another country. Social Security checks accounted for about $35,000 paid each month to Jonestown residents, money which the community expected and budgeted for.

The Temple asked one of its congressional representatives to intervene on its behalf,  and during the fall of 1977, Rep. Phillip Burton wrote to the Social Security Administration several times, always including a copy of the Postal Service routing slip. The problem was finally resolved in December, and – with the exception of a second short-lived problem in spring 1978 – the checks resumed without further incident.

US Postal Service order on Social Security checks, RYMUR 89-4286-MM-3-9

Last modified on October 22nd, 2013.
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