The Social Security Administration (SSA) recently announced plans to stop mailing annual benefits statements and phase out paper checks for payment of all federal benefits. These abrupt departures from long-established practice will have implications for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients.
Most Americans are familiar with the annual benefits statement they receive from the SSA a few months before their birthday. This document provides a chronology of an individual's earnings history and helps people estimate the amount of monthly retirement, survivor and disability benefits available if eligibility is triggered. Receipt of the yearly statement provides an opportunity to verify earnings figures against tax records so that errors can be corrected.
But mailings of paper earnings statements were suspended in April for budgetary reasons. While the SSA claims that mailings will resume in 2012, paper statements will only be sent out to Americans who are 60 and older. Everyone else will have to visit the SSA's Online Retirement Estimator to access this information as well as a range of other helpful financial planning tools. Some privacy advocates have expressed concerns about requiring citizens to provide Social Security numbers via the Internet. Also, a large share of Americans - particularly older and lower income Americans - do not have Internet access and will simply no longer be able to readily access this information.
The more challenging development is the federal government's decision to phase out paper checks by early 2013. For some, this change will come immediately: anyone applying for benefits from the SSA, Department of Veterans Affairs, Railroad Retirement Board, Office of Personnel Management or Department of Labor as of May 1, 2011, must sign up to receive payments electronically to a bank or credit union account. Recipients can also choose a MasterCard debit card option.
How Will Budget-Driven Changes Affect Those Who Receive Social Security Disability Benefits?
The reason behind the new system of benefits payments isn't hard to understand. Electronic payments and benefits statements will save an estimated $180 million a year. But put in perspective, that is well under one dollar per American per year. On the other hand, this change to established practices will create obstacles and frustrations for many individuals.
For those who receive Social Security disability benefits and have mobility problems, the challenges could be significant. While the debit card option may work for those whose credit history makes getting a checking account difficult, they may have to pay transaction fees every time they need cash and visit an ATM. An established routine of cashing a Social Security check at a neighborhood store may be severely disrupted if the merchant doesn't accept MasterCard.
As with any issue involving SSDI and SSI benefits, an experienced disability lawyer can answer your questions and provide solutions. From discussing the difficulties presented by an injury or prolonged chronic condition to answering questions about delays or apparent errors in benefits, an attorney can provide advocacy and knowledgeable solutions.