Q: Given recent major national fire and storm disasters, how does Social Security deliver benefits when people are displaced and towns destroyed?
A: Receiving your benefits electronically removes potential problems since funds are automatically deposited and available on time even if the person, or local bank, had to relocate.
During a disaster, paper check delivery varies with the local situation but the Social Security Administration arranges delivery with the Post Office and publicizes this in the local area. Social Security has internal methods to get emergency benefit replacement to displaced beneficiaries once they call the SSA national toll-free number, 800-772-1213 (TTY 800-325-0778), or a local office wherever they are.
Social Security has long established methods to expedite workloads directly related to a disaster, including survivor claims to family members of those who died. Given that local SSA offices and employees might be displaced too, many workloads are electronically sent to other offices. More information is on the agency website emergency information page, www.ssa.gov/emergency/.
Social Security has stressed the convenience and safety of electronic payments for years. Soon electronic fund transfer (EFT), either by direct deposit or the related Direct Express debit card for people without a bank account, will be the only way any Federal benefit is received.
The U.S. Department of the Treasury has been phasing out paper checks over the last several years. By March 1, 2013, nearly everyone receiving Federal benefits will use either direct deposit to a bank or credit union account of their choice or will receive benefits into a Direct Express Debit MasterCard card account, a Treasury-recommended prepaid card option. All types of Federal benefit and non-tax payments are included here, not just Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
In addition to being more convenient and safer, electronic payments save the country money. According to the Treasury Department, it costs the U.S. government $1.03 to issue each paper check payment compared to only 10.5 cents to issue an electronic fund transfer payment. Since May 2011, anyone newly applying for Social Security, Veterans Affairs or other federal benefits has needed to choose an electronic payment method.
Most people already use direct deposit for Social Security. Information as of July 2012 shows that 93.9 percent of all national Social Security payments are received electronically. At 96.4 percent, Arizona has the highest direct deposit use and West Virginia, at 88.2 percent, the lowest. Direct deposit use is at 93.8 percent in North Dakota and 95.1 percent in Minnesota. Direct deposit use by Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients is lower.
Direct deposit for Social Security and SSI checks is easily started by contacting Social Security or through the U.S Department of Treasury Department sponsored “Go Direct” website, www.godirect.org. While the Go Direct site does not end in .gov, it is legitimate and safe. When enrolling in direct deposit from Go Direct, you see a pop up message stating, “you are now entering a secure government website” which will be https://www.godirect.gov/gpw/index.gd .