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


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

With Columbus Day in October, now is the season to explore and discover. Hop aboard, and discover a new world of service at

There is so much you can learn and so many things you can do on Social Security's website. Information on retirement, survivors,
disability, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and Medicare are easily accessible on Social Security's homepage. But the
website offers much more.

You can apply online for Social Security retirement benefits. Not sure whether you’re ready to retire? We can help you plan ahead
and chart your course with our online benefit planners. Perhaps the most impressive of these planners is the online Retirement
Estimator, which you can use to get quick and personalized estimates of your retirement benefits based on different scenarios.

Set your sights on our website and discover the online Social Security Statement. Your Statement provides a list of your recorded
earnings and a written estimate of your future Social Security benefits. You can get your own Statement at

Our publications explain all of Social Security's programs. You'll find the "Get a publication" link at the left side of the home page at There, you'll find information on all of our services. Dozens of our publications are available in 15
languages. We have a Spanish language website that people can explore too, at

If you have a question that you can't find answered in the publications, click on our "FAQs," or frequently asked questions. You'll
find the big question mark at the right of the page.

So set sail for a new world of discovery at You’ll be pleasantly surprised at all you can accomplish there.
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The Social Security Amendments of 1972 created a new federal benefit program. This month, that program — the Supplemental
Security Income (SSI) program — celebrates its 40th anniversary.

Administered by Social Security, SSI is a needs-based program for people 65 or older, blind, or disabled who have limited income
and resources.

For income, we count things such as wages, Social Security benefits, and pensions. However, Social Security does not count all of
your income when it decides whether you qualify for SSI. For example, we don’t count food stamps or most home energy

For resources, we count the things you own, such as real estate (other than the home you live in), bank accounts, cash, stocks,
and bonds. A person with resources worth no more than $2,000 may be able to get SSI. The resource limit is $3,000 for couples.

To qualify for SSI, you also must live in the United States or the Northern Mariana Islands and be a U.S. citizen or national. In rare
cases, noncitizen residents can qualify for SSI. If you live in certain types of institutions or live in a shelter for the homeless, you
may qualify for SSI.

People with blindness or a disability who apply for SSI may be able to get free special services to help them work. These services
may include counseling and job training.

The monthly maximum federal SSI payment is the same nationwide and amounts to $698 for an individual and $1,048 for a
couple. However, the amount you receive depends on factors such as where you live, your living arrangements, and your income.
Some states add money to the federal payment.

Funding for the SSI program comes from the general revenues of the U.S. Treasury, not from Social Security payroll taxes.

To learn more about SSI, read the online publication, You May Be Able To Get Supplemental Security Income (SSI) at
www. or visit the SSI page at

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Chances are, if you receive Social Security benefits, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or any federal payment, you receive it
electronically.  More than 90 percent of people getting monthly Social Security benefits already receive electronic payments. If you
don’t yet, that’s about to change.

There is a U.S. Department of Treasury rule that does away with paper checks for most federal benefit and non-tax payments by
March 1, 2013. With a few exceptions, this mandate includes Social Security, SSI, Veterans Affairs, Railroad Retirement Board,
Office of Personnel Management benefits, and other non-tax payments.

People required to switch have the option of direct deposit to a bank or credit union account or they can have their monthly payment
directed into a Direct ExpressÒ debit card account (Treasury’s debit card program).  Please visit to learn more.

So, why the push for electronic payments instead of paper checks received in the mail? There’s a list of reasons an electronic
payment is better than an old-fashioned paper check.
•        It’s safer: no risk of checks being lost or stolen;
•        It’s easy and reliable: no need to wait for the mail or go to the bank to cash a check;
•        It saves taxpayers money: no cost for postage and paper and printing; Treasury estimates this will save taxpayers $1 billion
over 10 years; and
•        It’s good for the environment: it saves paper and eliminates the need for physical transportation.

If you still get your check in the mail, don’t wait for the new rule to go into effect next year— sign up for electronic payments now.
Please visit today and begin getting your Social Security and SSI payments the safe, easy, reliable way —

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If your disabling condition makes it hard for you to drive or arrange transportation to your local Social Security office, we have some
good news.  You can complete and submit your application for Social Security disability benefits from your own home computer.
Get started at

The application process involves determining 1) whether you have sufficient work to be eligible for Social Security; 2) the severity of
your medical condition; and 3) your ability to work. Because we carefully review so many cases — more than three million each
year — it can take us three to five months to determine whether you are eligible to receive benefits.

The amount of time it takes to make a decision on your application can vary depending on a number of factors, such as:
•        the nature of your disability;
•        how quickly we obtain medical evidence from your doctors, hospitals, or other medical sources; and
•        whether we need to send you for a medical examination in order to obtain evidence to support your claim.

We do a number of things to speed up the process when we can. For example, our Compassionate Allowances initiative allows
us to fast-track certain cases of individuals with very severe disabilities such as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).  There are
165 different types of disabilities that qualify for this expedited decision, and that list continues to expand. Learn more about
Compassionate Allowances at

Another way we speed up decisions is with our Quick Disability Determinations initiative, which uses technology to identify
applicants who have the most severe disabilities and allows us to expedite our decisions on those cases. Read more about
Quick Disability Determinations at
There are things you can do to help speed up the decision process too. The more information you provide up front, the less time it
will take us to obtain the evidence we need — and the faster we can process your application. The types of information we need
•        medical records or documentation you have; we can make copies of your records and return your originals;
•        the names, addresses, and phone numbers for any doctors, hospitals, medical facilities, treatment centers, or providers
related to your disabling condition; and
•        the names, addresses, and phone numbers for recent employers and the dates worked for each employer.
We also ask you to sign release forms that give us permission to obtain the information needed from third parties to make a
decision on your claim.
The best place to start is online at Select “Disability Starter Kits” in the left column. There, you’ll
find important information to help you with your application.
If you’re not able to work due to a disability, apply online for Social Security disability benefits at

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Halloween is a time when many people like a good scare. Whether it’s a frightening costume party or a horrifying haunted house,
kids and grown-ups alike line up for a good fright. What makes it enjoyable is that it’s all in good fun. People know that there is no
real danger as long as precautions are taken.

During the days before Halloween, it also happens to be National Protect Your Identity Week — from October 20 to 27.

Identity theft is a real threat. Identity thieves victimize millions of people each year. Don’t be tricked by identity thieves; take the
proper precautions.
Be sure to safeguard your personal information, such as your Social Security number and mother’s maiden name.  Identity thieves
hunger for such information like trick-or-treaters hunger for candy.
You can help protect yourself by not carrying your Social Security card with you and not providing your personal information to
unknown sources over the Internet or by email.  Be sure to shred any documents, bills, or paperwork before you throw it away.  
Most important, never reply to an email claiming to be from Social Security that asks you for your Social Security number or other
personal information.
If you think you’ve been the victim of an identity thief, you should contact the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-IDTHEFT (1-877-
438-4338); TTY 1-866-653-4261.  Or you go to and click on the link for “Report Identity Theft.”
Learn more about identity theft at
If you want to get involved with Protect Your Identity Week, visit
Don’t fall victim to an identity thief. Safeguard your identity and take precautions to keep the “bad guys” at bay—during Protect Your
Identity Week, Halloween, and throughout the year.

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I’m doing more things online, including shopping and paying bills.  What are some things I can do at
Perhaps the most important thing you can do is to take a look at your Social Security Statement, which allows you to check your
earnings record and get an estimate of your future benefits.  Revisit your Statement annually, around your birthday for example.  If
you’re ready to apply for benefits, you can do that online as well. Applying for Social Security retirement benefits online can take as
little as 15 minutes. Once you’ve submitted your electronic applications, in most cases, you’re done! Also online, you can find
more than 100 publications with information about Social Security and its programs. Most of these publications are in Spanish,
and some of the most popular are available in 14 other languages. You also can estimate your future retirement benefit using our
Retirement Estimator, which allows you to get personalized estimates based on different retirement ages and scenarios. The
possibilities are endless at

I usually get my benefit payment on the third of the month. But what if the third falls on a Saturday, Sunday, or holiday? Will my
payment be late?
Just the opposite. Your payment should arrive early. For example, if you usually get your payment on the third of a month, but it falls
on a Saturday like it does this November, we will make payments on Friday, November 2. Find more information about the
payment schedule for 2012 at If you do ever miss a payment, be sure to wait three
days before calling to report it missing. Of course, if you get your payments electronically, you’ll get your payment without having to
wait for the mail. Find out more about electronic payments at


I'm trying to decide when to retire. Can Social Security help?
The best place to start is with a visit to the online Social Security Statement. The Statement provides you with estimates of benefits
for you and your family as well as your earnings record and information you should consider about retirement and retirement
planning.  Find out more about the Statement — and get yours — at  
There “right” time to retire is different for everyone and depends on your individual situation. To help you make your own decision,
we offer an online fact sheet with some of the factors to consider at  

I've decided I want to retire. Now what do I do?
The fastest and easiest way to apply for retirement benefits is to go to Use our online
application to apply for Social Security retirement or spouses benefits. To do so, you must:
•        Be at least 61 years and 9 months old;
•        Want to start your benefits in the next four months; and
•        Live in the United States or one of its commonwealths or territories.


My only income is Supplemental Security Income (SSI). My sister recently died and left me a little money. Will this extra money
affect my SSI benefits?
It depends on the amount. You must report the inheritance to Social Security by calling 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778).  
SSI is a needs-based program for people 65 or older, blind, or disabled who have limited income and resources.  We consider
your inheritance as income for the month you received it. Accordingly, we may have to adjust your benefit for that month. If you keep
the money into the next month, the money then becomes a part of your resources. A person with more than $2,000 or a couple with
more than $3000 in total resources cannot receive SSI, although there are exceptions. For more information, visit our website at

My mom receives Supplemental Security Income (SSI). She soon will be coming to live with me. Do we have to report the move to
Social Security?
Yes. She must report a change in living arrangements within 10 days of moving. The change may affect her benefit amount, and
she could be penalized if she does not report the change on time. Also, we need her correct address so we can send
correspondence, even if she receives her payments electronically. Please have your mom call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213
(TTY 1-800-325-0778). Visit our website for more information at


I need to apply for disability benefits. Where do I start?
Begin by looking at our Disability Starter Kit. You can find it online at or
you can request a copy by calling 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778). The Disability Starter Kit will help you prepare for your
application and interview. When you are ready, you can apply online at or make an
appointment to apply in person at a local Social Security office. And remember: Our online disability application is convenient and
secure. Don’t stand in line, go online, at

My husband has been in poor health for some time, and doctors have recently diagnosed him with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
(ALS) – commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.  I’ve heard Social Security has a “fast track” for some people who are
disabled.  Can you tell me about it?
We have two processes to “fast track” applications for disability benefits.  Our Compassionate Allowances initiative allows us to
fast-track certain cases of individuals with very severe disabilities.  There are 165 different types of disabilities that qualify for this
expedited decision, including ALS, and that list continues to expand. Learn more about Compassionate Allowances and see the
full list of conditions at
Another way we speed up decisions is with our Quick Disability Determinations initiative, which uses technology to identify
applicants who have the most severe disabilities and allows us to expedite our decisions on those cases. Read more about
Quick Disability Determinations at


My aunt is considering applying for Extra Help with Medicare Part D prescription drug costs, but she has about $10,000 in the
bank. Would she still be eligible with this much money?
Based on the resources you mentioned, it sounds like she may qualify. However, there are other factors to consider. In most
cases, recipients of Extra Help are limited to $13,070 (or $26,120 if married and living with a spouse) in resources in 2012.
Resources include the value of the things you own, such as real estate (other than the place you live), cash, bank accounts,
stocks, bonds and retirement accounts. To learn more, visit the Medicare link at or call us at 1-800-772-
1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778).

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