Social Security column
By Karyl Richson
Social Security Public Affairs Specialist in
Milwaukee, WI
JULY 2010

The sun is out and there are a thousand and one things you could be doing outside.
The last thing you want to do is sit in traffic on your way to the Social Security office, or to wait in line once you get there. From your doorstep to the
local office and back again, you could spend a lot of extra time taking care of your Social Security business. Or, you could choose to visit our online
office at and complete your Social Security business in a matter of minutes with no commute whatsoever.
There are so many things you can do at our online office. For example, you can apply online for retirement benefits.  Our website makes it simple,
allowing you to apply for retirement benefits in as little as 15 minutes. In most cases, once you fill out the application, you’re done. There are no forms
to sign and no documents to submit. The direct link to applying for benefits online is
Not ready to retire yet, or not sure? We have online resources that can help you plan ahead or make your decision. Our Retirement Estimator will allow
you to enter different scenarios to come up with the retirement plan best for you. You can find it at
Perhaps you need to file an application for disability benefits.  A Disability Starter Kit explains the documentation and information you’ll be required to
provide on the application, and includes checklists and worksheets to help take the mystery out of applying. You can find the Disability Starter Kit at on the left-hand side of the page.
You can apply online for Medicare, if you’re within four months of your 65th birthday. Most people, even those who don’t plan to start getting retirement
benefits right away, need to apply for Medicare coverage at age 65. The application takes as little as 10 minutes, from start to finish. Learn more at
There are other things you can do online, such as apply for a replacement Medicare card, and request an SSA-1099 for tax purposes. You can learn
about these and other online services at
So if you’d like to soak up some sun this summer, we suggest you take your Social Security business online. You may even be able to take your laptop
outside and conduct your business in the great outdoors.  See for yourself at

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Social Security reaches almost every family in the United States, and at some point touches the lives of nearly all Americans. It not only helps older
Americans, but also workers who become disabled and families in which a spouse or parent dies. Today, about 159 million people work and pay
Social Security taxes. More than 53 million people receive monthly Social Security benefits. In 2009 alone, those benefits came to about $675 billion.
In addition to the national impact Social Security has on the U.S. economy, there’s no denying the difference it makes in communities all across
America. In neighborhoods around the nation, the benefits paid help more than just individual beneficiaries. These people spend their benefit payments
at the local grocery store, the local clothing store, department stores, and mom-and-pop shops. Benefits are used to pay for goods and services that
sustain the local economy, keep local farmers farming, local retailers retailing, and local contractors contracting. In some counties, as much as 30
percent of the population receives benefits and those benefits make up as much as 20 percent of the local economy.
Both at the national and local level, Social Security makes a difference.  The average payment for a retired individual is $1,169 a month, which
represents 40 percent of income for an average retired person. The monthly payment for a disabled person averages $1,065. For the widow or
widower of a working family member, the average payment is $1,104. These are real numbers that help many individuals make ends meet.
The payments made to beneficiaries help individuals and families to stay afloat. But the byproduct is that these individuals are using their benefits to
help keep the economy going.
It’s clear that Social Security makes a difference on a national, local, and individual level.
To learn more about Social Security, visit
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If you’re a farm worker, it’s likely that you’re busy right now. The spring planting season has ended, but the farm work has only begun. As you cultivate
a bountiful harvest, we at Social Security want to remind all farmers to help cultivate future retirement and disability protection for any farm workers
Most farm workers are covered by Social Security, but only if the employer reports the wages — which is a legal obligation. By reporting farm workers’
wages and paying Social Security taxes, you can help ensure they earn valuable Social Security retirement, disability, and survivors protection.
Farm owners also need to be aware that if they don’t report wages and pay the taxes due, they are breaking the law and could be subject to an IRS
Some farmers try to rationalize that farm workers can be considered independent contractors, in which case the worker must pay self-employment tax
and the employer has no tax obligation. But if people are working under a farm owner’s direction and control, they cannot be considered independent
contractors. They are employees and their wages must be reported to Social Security.
Some farmers hire “crew leaders” to manage their farm workers and to handle their wage–reporting responsibilities. In these cases, the crew leader
is often considered the “employer” of the farm worker and has the responsibility for submitting wage reports.
If you need more information about who is considered a farm worker’s employer, or if you have other questions regarding farm workers and Social
Security, take a look at our helpful publication, A Guide to Social Security for Farmers, Growers, and Crew Leaders. It’s available online at www. The booklet is available in English and Spanish. You can also request a printed copy by calling 1-800-772-1213
(TTY 1-800-325-0778).
If you run a farm and hire agricultural workers, this booklet is a must-read. But the most important thing to remember is what you probably know better
than anyone else: folks reap only what they sow. Farm workers won’t be able to reap the Social Security benefits they are due unless their work and
wages are reported to us.
Learn more about Social Security at

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Have you ever considered a visit abroad? Or maybe you’re planning to live overseas for an extended period of time. Whether you’re outside the
country for a week or a decade, you may be unaware of how to reach Social Security in the event that you need to conduct business with us while you’
re away. Fortunately, in most corners of the world you can get help from a federal benefit officer or other trained personnel.  
The Department of State embassies and American consulates abroad have personnel who are specially trained to provide a full range of Social
Security services, including taking applications for all types of benefits, processing applications for new or replacement Social Security cards, and an
array of other Social Security business.
Americans in American Samoa, British Virgin Islands, Canada, and Puerto Rico may obtain services directly from Social Security field offices located
there. In other territories or countries, contact your local embassy or consulate to find out which office to visit for your Social Security needs.
But before visiting or moving abroad, remember that the most convenient office may be in your own home. Social Security’s website is a valuable
resource for information. There are a number of services and forms offered to people living outside the United States on our international operations
site. You can find it at While you’re online, you can read more about our international services. Another helpful
reference on moving out of the country is the online publication Your Payments While You Are Outside the United States, which is available at
You also may want to visit our International Programs website, where you can learn about International Agreements between Social Security systems,
payments while you are outside the United States, and the Social Security systems of other nations.  Just visit
If you don’t have a computer or prefer to do business over the phone, you’re always welcome to call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-
0778). If you are in a foreign country, you will need to pay for the call because we do not offer toll-free service for calls from outside the U.S. If you call,
please do so during normal business hours for the U.S. Eastern Standard time.
Fortunately, in most corners of the world you can get help from a federal benefit officer or other specially trained personnel. If you’re leaving the United
States for any period of time, don’t think you’ll have to leave Social Security behind too. Social Security will travel with you.

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As the nation’s most successful domestic program, Social Security is something worth learning more about.  That’s why the representatives at Social
Security are available to share news and information about the programs and how they work.
Whether you are representing a club or an employer’s human resources department, an advocacy organization or a community association — if you
have a large meeting or event coming up and you’d like to have a representative speak, please submit your request to us online at
We can speak on an array of topics, such as
•        retirement, and how to prepare;
•        pre-retirement, and how to get an estimate of future retirement benefits;
•        disability, how it can help, who is eligible, and how to apply;
•        wage reporting for small businesses and employers;
•        work incentives for people with disabilities who want to work;
•        how Social Security can provide extra help with Medicare prescription drug costs; and
•        what Social Security means to every American.
At, you’ll find an easy-to-complete form that you can submit online. It will ask you about the type of talk you
would like, and more information about the event.
So whether you would like a speaker to talk to your employees about preparing for retirement or teach your students what Social Security has to do
with them, we can help.  There is no fee for this service.
To learn more about Social Security without the aid of a speaker, visit our vast wealth of information at

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When will I get my automatic Social Security Statement?

If you are at least 25 years old and not yet receiving benefits, you should receive your annual Social Security Statement about three months before your
birthday. If your automatic Statement has not arrived and you are within one month before the month of your birth or if you need a Statement sooner, you
can request one at any time by going to You can learn more about the Social Security Statement and how to use it

If Social Security is for the retired and disabled, why would my new baby need a Social Security number?

Social Security is not just for the retired and disabled. Survivors of deceased workers and the families of retired or disabled workers also qualify for
benefits. In fact, about four million children currently receive benefits. Nine out of 10 children would be eligible to receive benefits if a parent retires,
becomes disabled, or dies. But children need a Social Security number before they can receive benefits. Children also need a number for reasons not
connected with Social Security benefits. For example, children need a Social Security number to be claimed as a dependent on a tax return, open a
bank account, or buy U.S. Savings Bonds. Also, your child needs a number to be eligible for some social services and benefits such as Temporary
Assistance to Families, food stamps, and Medicaid. Learn more about your Social Security card and number at


My neighbor, who is retired, told me that the income he receives from his part-time job at the local nursery gives him an increase in his Social Security
benefits. If I go back to work will my benefits increase?

If you return to work after you start receiving benefits, you may be able to receive a higher benefit based on those earnings. This is because Social
Security automatically re-computes the benefit after crediting the additional earnings to the individual's earnings record. If those earnings are higher
than one of the years of earnings we used to compute your current benefit, your benefit may be increased. Learn more about how we figure your
retirement benefit by reading the publication Your Retirement Benefit: How It Is Figured, available at If you
are not already receiving benefits, you also may want to test out how changes in wages and retirement ages will affect your future benefit by using the
Retirement Estimator at         


What is the difference between Social Security disability and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability?

The Social Security Administration runs two major programs that provide benefits based on disability: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and
SSI. SSDI is financed with Social Security taxes paid by workers, employers, and self-employed persons. To be eligible for a Social Security benefit,
the worker must earn sufficient credits based on taxable work to be "insured" for Social Security purposes. Disability benefits are payable to blind or
disabled workers, survivors, or adults disabled since childhood, who are otherwise eligible. The amount of the monthly disability benefit is based on
the Social Security earnings record of the insured worker.
SSI is a needs-based program financed through general revenues. SSI disability benefits are payable to adults or children who are disabled or blind,
have limited income and resources, meet the living arrangement requirements, and are otherwise eligible. The monthly payment varies up to the
maximum federal benefit rate, which may be supplemented by the State or decreased by countable income and resources.
To learn more about SSDI and SSI disability benefits, visit and visit the links along the top of the page for Disability and
Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Can I get both Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits and Social Security benefits at the same time?

Many people eligible for SSI may also be entitled to Social Security benefits. In fact, the application for SSI also is an application for Social Security
benefits. Eligibility for SSI depends on your income and resources, so if you receive a large Social Security check, you won’t be eligible for SSI.
However, if your Social Security payment is low and your overall income and resources are low, you might be eligible to receive an SSI payment to
supplement your Social Security benefits. To learn more about SSI, read the publication You May Be Able To Receive SSI at


Is there a time limit on how long you can receive Social Security disability benefits?

Your disability benefits will continue as long as your medical condition does not improve and you remain unable to work. We will review your case at
regular intervals to make sure you are still disabled. If you are still receiving disability benefits when you reach full retirement age, we will
automatically convert them to retirement benefits. Learn more about disability benefits by visiting and selecting the Disability
tab along the top of the page.

How often will my case be reviewed to determine whether I’m still disabled for Social Security purposes?

How often we review your medical condition depends on how severe it is and what the likelihood is that it will improve. Your award notice tells you
when you can expect your first review. It will either say “Medical improvement expected” (first review in six to 18 months); “Improvement possible”
(first review in about three years); or “Improvement not expected” (first review in five to seven years). For more information, read the publication What
You Need To Know: Reviewing Your Disability, available at


Will my eligibility for the Extra Help with Medicare prescription drug plan costs be reviewed and, if so, how often?

If you get the Extra Help, Social Security may contact you to review your status. This review will determine whether you remain eligible for Extra Help
and whether you are receiving all the benefits you deserve. We do reviews annually, usually at the end of August. We will send you a form to complete:
“Social Security Administration Review of Your Eligibility for Extra Help.” You will have 30 days to complete and return this form. Any necessary
adjustments to the Extra Help will be effective in January of the following year. For example, if we send you a review form in August 2010 and you
return the review form within 30 days, any necessary adjustment to your Extra Help will be effective in January 2011. To learn more about Extra Help
with your Medicare prescription drug plan costs, visit

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