Social Security column
August 2014
Editor's Note: Below are the latest news and helpful information from the Social Security Administration press office:

Social Security Leads Efforts to Improve Customer Service across Federal Government

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has published the plan for the Customer Service Cross-Agency Priority (CAP)
Goal on the website.  This CAP Goal is one of 15 CAP Goals developed to support President Obama’s
management agenda.  Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, serves as a Goal Leader with Lisa Danzig,
the Associate Director for Personnel and Performance at OMB.

“Customer service is part of our DNA here at Social Security, and we are happy to provide leadership in this important area,”
said Acting Commissioner Colvin.  “For all the federal agencies that interact with citizens or businesses, our customers expect
and deserve world-class customer service.  Through this CAP Goal, we renew our commitment to improve service to the
American people.”

Staff from Social Security and OMB identified the high-level CAP Goal strategies after consulting with dozens of other federal
agencies and external organizations.

Highlights of the plan include:
•        An online and in-person network that federal employees anywhere can join and share ideas and tools for improving
customer satisfaction
•        A nationwide award program for teams and individuals who excel at customer service
•        A better way to improve transparency and measure customer satisfaction across the federal government
For more information on the CAP goal, please click

Social Security Defines Policy for Same-Sex Married Couples
Agency Extends Benefits Broadly, Subject to Legal Constraints

Social Security has published new instructions that allow the agency to process more claims in which entitlement or eligibility
is affected by a same-sex relationship. These instructions come in response to last year’s Supreme Court decision in U.S. vs.
Windsor, which found Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.  

This latest policy development lets the agency recognize some non-marital legal relationships as marriages for determining
entitlement to benefits. These instructions also allow Social Security to begin processing many claims in states that do not
recognize same-sex marriages or non-marital legal relationships.  We have consulted with the Department of Justice and
determined that the Social Security Act requires the agency to follow state law in Social Security cases. The new policy also
addresses Supplemental Security Income claims based on same-sex relationships.

“As with previous same-sex marriage policies, we worked closely with the Department of Justice,” said Carolyn W. Colvin,
Acting Commissioner of Social Security. “We are bound by the law within the Social Security Act, and we have to respect state
laws.  We remain committed to treating all Americans fairly, with dignity, and respect.”

If a person believes he or she may be entitled to or eligible for benefits, they are encouraged to apply now.

To learn more, please visit

Social Security Extends Access to Benefit Verification
Multiple Options Available

The Social Security Administration just announced that local Social Security offices would continue to provide benefit verification
letters until further notice. Providing services when and where the public needs them remains central to Social Security’s
efforts, while continuing to encourage federal, state, and local agencies to take advantage of Social Security’s data exchange
programs that can serve customers more efficiently and effectively.

“We appreciate the feedback from members of Congress, our community stakeholders and agency partners. We want to
ensure that we meet the needs of our customers in a way that is convenient for them and also cost-effective and secure for all,”
Acting Commissioner Carolyn W. Colvin stated. “I believe that government agencies can work closer together to assist our
mutual customers.”

Over the last few years, Social Security has invested in technology that allows most government agencies and many other
organizations to verify their clients’ Social Security benefits electronically without requiring them to visit a local Social Security

“We recognize that some members of the public may require in-person assistance and we will have a presence in local
communities,” said Acting Commissioner Colvin. “We also want to ensure that the public is aware that they can access many
of our services without making a trip to a local field office.”
Members of the public with Internet access can obtain benefit verification information by creating a my Social Security account

Supplemental Security Income Helps People for 40 Years

The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program may seem like Social Security’s kid brother, but—believe it or not—it’s been
providing benefits for those who need it for 40 years.

SSI provides income support to eligible people who are aged 65 or older, blind or disabled adults, and blind or disabled
children who have low income and few resources. Eligibility requirements and federal payment standards are nationally
uniform, although some states add a supplement to the federal payment. SSI replaced the former federal/state adult
assistance programs in the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

When SSI began in January 1974, about 3.2 million people received much-needed help from the new program. By December
1974, we were assisting nearly 4 million people who otherwise had nowhere to turn. As of December 2012, more than 8
million people are receiving much needed benefits thanks to SSI—often meaning the difference between survival and

SSI is a lifeline for people who need it. If you know someone who might benefit from SSI, have them visit

ddressing the Senate on Service to the Public

On June 18, Nancy Berryhill, Social Security’s Deputy Commissioner for Operations, testified before the Senate Special
Committee on Aging about Social Security’s service delivery. While promoting the convenience of self-service options, she
reinforced our commitment to continuing to provide face-to-face service in field offices and stressed that Social Security’s ability
to deliver its services to the public is dependent on Congress providing adequate, sustained funding.

Ms. Berryhill said, when making decisions about changes to offices, we analyze many factors. These include impact on the
public and employees, demographics of the service area, proximity of other Social Security offices, staffing, geography, and
lease expiration.

Our three other service delivery options—phone, online, and video services—are convenient alternatives to visiting a field office.
In 2013, our Teleservice Centers answered 54 million calls. Nearly half of all retirement and disability applications were
completed online. We conducted more than 180 thousand video interviews. Providing self-service options like these frees up
time for front line staff to handle those individuals who have complex issues and need more personal assistance.

To read a transcript of Nancy Berryhill’s testimony before the Senate, visit

Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) Information for 2014
Monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for nearly 63 million Americans will increase 1.5
percent in 2014

The 1.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) will begin with benefits that more than 57 million Social Security beneficiaries
receive in January 2014. Increased payments to more than 8 million SSI beneficiaries will begin on December 31, 2013.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA)?
The purpose of the COLA is to ensure that the purchasing power of Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
benefits is not eroded by inflation. It is based on the percentage increase in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners
and Clerical Workers (CPI-W) from the third quarter of the last year a COLA was determined to the third quarter of the current
year. If there is no increase, there can be no COLA.

How is a COLA calculated?
The Social Security Act specifies a formula for determining each COLA. According to the formula, COLAs are based on
increases in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). CPI-Ws are calculated on a
monthly basis by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

A COLA effective for December of the current year is equal to the percentage increase (if any) in the average CPI-W for the third
quarter of the current year over the average for the third quarter of the last year in which a COLA became effective. If there is an
increase, it must be rounded to the nearest tenth of one percent. If there is no increase, or if the rounded increase is zero, there
is no COLA.

Who determines the CPI-W?
The CPI-W is determined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Department of Labor. By law, it is the official measure used by
the Social Security Administration to calculate COLAs.

Will the maximum taxable earnings amount change in 2014?
Yes. Based on the increase in average wages, the maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax (taxable
maximum) will increase to $117,000 from $113,700.

Will the retirement test exempt amount change in 2014?
Yes. The earnings limit for workers who are younger than "full" retirement age (age 66 for people born in 1943 through 1954)
will be $15,480. (We deduct $1 from benefits for each $2 earned over $15,480.)
The earnings limit for people turning 66 in 2014 will be $41,400. (We deduct $1 from benefits for each $3 earned over $41,400
until the month the worker turns age 66.) There is no limit on earnings for workers who are "full" retirement age or older for the
entire year.

Will my MEDICARE premiums increase in 2014?
Information about Medicare changes for 2014 is available at

How long has Social Security had COLAS?
Congress enacted the COLA provision as part of the 1972 Social Security Amendments, and automatic annual COLAs began
in 1975. Before that, benefits were increased only when Congress enacted special legislation.