Living apart and Social Security spousal benefits

Q: My husband and I are not divorced but have lived apart for many years. Can I still receive Social Security through his record?  

A: Living together is not required for Social Security spousal benefits as a wife or husband. Your individual SSA retirement amounts might prevent spousal benefits but living apart while married will not.   

In addition, having lived apart will not prevent either of you from potentially receiving future survivor benefits as widow or widower.  

Should you divorce, SSA benefits might be payable as a divorced spouse or surviving divorced spouse if the marriage lasted at least ten years and other requirements are met.  

More about Social Security benefits for a current or former spouse is in the SSA website Retirement Planner section. See “how members of your family may qualify for benefits.”  

You can file an online application for benefits as a spouse. Details are here 

Go here to learn more about Social Security survivors benefits.

 

Agency Resumes Mailing Social Security Statements

Tuesday, September 16, 2014 

News Release

SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION

Agency Resumes Mailing Social Security Statements

Encourages People to Create a Secure my Social Security Account to Obtain Their Statement Online, Anytime

Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, today announced the agency will resume the periodic mailing of Social Security Statements–once every five years for most workers–while encouraging everyone to create a secure my Social Security account to immediately access their Statement online, anytime. The Statement is a valuable financial planning tool providing workers age 18 and older with important individualized information regarding their earnings, tax contributions, and estimates for future retirement, disability, and survivors benefits.

“We have listened to our customers, advocates, and Congress; and renewing the mailing of the Statement reinforces our commitment to provide the public with an easy, efficient way to obtain an estimate of their future Social Security benefits,” Acting Commissioner Colvin said. “I encourage everyone to create their own secure my Social Security  account to obtain immediate access to their Statement online, anytime.” 

Beginning this month, workers attaining ages 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, 55, and 60 who are not receiving Social Security benefits and who are not registered for a my Social Security account will receive the Statement in the mail about 3 months before their birthday.  After age 60, people will receive a Statement every year.  The agency expects to send nearly 48 million Statements each year.

The Social Security Statement helps people plan for their financial future.  In addition to providing future benefit estimates, the Statement highlights a person’s complete earnings history, allowing workers to verify the accuracy of their earnings. This is important because an individual’s future benefit amount is determined by the amount of their earnings over their lifetime.  To date, more than 14 million people have established a personalized my Social Security account at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount.

With a my Social Securityaccount, people may access the Statement from the comfort of their home, office or library whenever they choose. Individuals who currently receive benefits should sign up for a my Social Security account to manage their benefit payments and, when the need arises, get an instant benefit verification letter, change their address and phone number, and start or change direct deposit of their benefit payment.

Acting Commissioner Colvin reinforced that “whether conducting business with Social Security via the Internet, mail, telephone or face-to-face, we will continue to provide convenient, cost-effective, secure and quality customer service to meet the needs of the public we serve.” 

*****

You can see a sample Social Security Statement here.

 

 

Social Security local office hours

Social Security offices are busy places at any time of year. There are several ways for you to contact Social Security. 

To reach Social Security by telephone, call the national toll-free number 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778). SSA employees are available at these numbers from 7:00am – 7:00pm local time, standard business days, with some automated services available 24 hours a day. These are national numbers with calls routed to different locations based on volume and time of day. SSA employees at these locations use the same computer system to answer your questions as local offices.   

To make the best use of your time, consider calling the national number when people from either coast are less likely to be calling too. Writing down your questions in advance can help you cover all your topics without making multiple calls.  

When calling, expect to be asked questions to verify your identity. If calling about someone else, for example to help a parent, it will be much easier if that person is with you when you call. 

Before visiting your local Social Security office, please be aware that local office hours changed almost two years ago.

Since January 2013, most local Social Security offices are open 9am to 3pm on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday and 9am to Noon on Wednesday. A few small offices have different hours. View local office hours and related information online in the Contact Us / Find an Office section at www.socialsecurity.gov 

Most Social Security services do not require a visit to a local office. Services, such as applying for retirement, disability or Medicare benefits and replacing a Medicare card are conveniently available at www.socialsecurity.gov or through the toll-free numbers mentioned earlier. 

If you created a personal my Social Security account, you can download and print a letter verifying the amount of your Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and, for Social Security benefits, even change your mailing address or direct deposit information. 

More about Social Security online services is at www.socialsecurity.gov/onlineservices/ 

Before visiting your local Social Security office, know the public office hours. View local office hours online in the Contact Us / Find an Office section at www.socialsecurity.gov 

OASDI by zip code for 2013

During July, I posted information detailing Social Security benefits paid by State and County in 2013 (annual publication OASDI Beneficiaries by State and County (2013)). OASDI is Social Security Old-Age (Retirement), Survivors, and Disability Insurance benefits.

Social Security payment information for 2013 is now available by zip code in the publication OASDI Beneficiaries by State and ZIP Code, 2013.

For individual zip codes, information provided includes the number of beneficiaries by type of Social Security benefit, amount of benefits paid, and the number of beneficiaries age 65 or older.

Why SSI ?

Earlier this week, I wrote about the annual SSI Annual Statistical Report, 2013. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a national, needs based, federal assistance program administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA) that provides benefits to low income people at age 65 and over, and for blind or disabled children and adults.

Is SSI part of Social Security? 

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is very different and separate from the Social Security retirement, disability and survivors programs. It is not Social Security even though administered by the Social Security Administration. Depending on office size, SSA employees often work primarily with either SSI or Social Security.

Since the two programs are separate, there are many differences between them with two major ones related to how each is funded and basics of eligibility. U.S. Treasury general revenues fund SSI while Social Security is funded mainly through designated payroll taxes paid by employees and employers. SSI is an assistance program for the aged or disabled with eligibility based on financial need. Social Security provides retirement, survivors and disability benefits based on individual work.

If a person meets the separate program requirements, he or she could receive both Social Security and Supplemental Security. If not, a person might be eligible for just one or neither.

Why is there a SSI program?

The original Social Security Act of 1935 contained more than just the start of Social Security, which is in Title II of the Act. For example, funding for unemployment compensation is in Title III of the Act.   

Other sections of the Act provided federal funding for state run need-based programs of old-age assistance, aid to dependent children and aid to the blind providing the roots for the future SSI program. Despite substantial federal financing, those were essentially state programs. With only broad federal guidelines, each state was responsible for setting its own standards for determining who would receive assistance and how much they would receive. As a result, eligibility requirements and payment levels differed from state to state. Over the years, the State programs became more complex and inconsistent, with as many as 1,350 administrative agencies involved and payments varying more than 300% from State to State. 

Beginning in the early 1960s, this state-operated, federally assisted welfare system drew criticism from within and outside of government for lack of consistency. To reform this, Congress passed and President Richard Nixon approved the Social Security Amendments of 1972, (Public Law 92-603, enacted October 30, 1972), which federalized the programs and created Supplemental Security Income.  

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) provided for a uniform federal income floor of assistance, and optional state programs could supplement that floor. The new program was historic in that it shifted from the states to the federal government the responsibility for determining who would receive assistance and how much assistance they would receive. 

The Social Security Administration was chosen to administer the new SSI program because of its reputation for successful administration of the existing social insurance programs, its existing network of field offices and large-scale data processing and record-keeping operation. At the time, over 3 million people were converted from State welfare programs to SSI. 

The first Supplemental Security Income payments were issued in January 1974. I was there. 

Information for today’s post is primarily from the Social Security website history section and the Background section of the SSI Annual Statistical Report, 2013 

Learn more about SSI and Social Security retirement, survivors and disability benefits at www.socialsecurity.gov. Click on the homepage “Benefits” tab to select a topic.

SSI Annual Statistical Report, 2013

The SSI Annual Statistical Report, 2013, is now available.

Since 1974, the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program has guaranteed a minimum level of income for needy aged, blind, or disabled individuals. This annual report presents national data on the SSI program and the people who receive benefits from it. The report covers:

  • ·         federal benefit rates, total annual payments, and total recipients;
  • ·         federally administered payments;
  • ·         recipients of Social Security, SSI, or both;
  • ·         children under age 18;
  • ·         noncitizens;
  • ·         diagnoses of recipients under age 65;
  • ·         recipients who work;
  • ·         applications;
  • ·         awards;
  • ·         outcomes of applications for disability benefits; and
  • ·         suspensions, terminations, and duration of eligibility.

From the report Highlights:

Size and Scope of the Supplemental Security Income Program

  • ·         About 8.4 million people received federally administered payments in December 2013.
  • ·         The average monthly payment in December 2013 was $529.
  • ·         Total payments for the year were almost $54 billion, including more than $3 billion in federally administered state supplementation.

Profile of Recipients

  • ·         The majority were female (53 percent).
  • ·         Sixteen percent were under age 18, 59 percent were aged 18 to 64, and 25 percent were aged 65 or older.
  • ·         Most (86 percent) were eligible on the basis of a disability.
  • ·         Six out of 10 recipients under age 65 were diagnosed with a mental disorder.
  • ·         More than half (58 percent) had no income other than their SSI payment.
  • ·         Thirty-three percent of SSI recipients also received Social Security benefits.
  • ·         Of the people receiving SSI benefits, about 2 percent were residing in a Title XIX institution where Medicaid was paying more than half of the cost.
  • ·         Despite their disabilities, about 312,000 recipients (4.3 percent) were working in December 2013.

More about the SSI program is at www.socialsecurity.gov/disabilityssi/ssi.html. To apply, call the national Social Security toll-free number, 1-800-7723-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) from 7:00am – 7:00pm, standard business days, or contact your local office. 

 

 

 

Receiving Social Security? Keep your earnings estimate current.

Q: I work part-time while receiving Social Security retirement and will earn less this year than originally estimated. Should I change my estimate with Social Security?

A: Yes, if you expect to earn over annual earnings test amounts, update your 2014 earnings estimate with Social Security now if your original estimate has changed. You can update your estimated earnings anytime during the year.

Your annual gross wage or net self-employment earnings can reduce Social Security benefits for the year until you reach full retirement age (FRA). Earnings test amounts for 2014 are at www.ssa.gov/retire2/whileworking.htm and in How Work Affects Your Benefits (SSA publication 05-10069). Pensions, investment and other non-employment income are not included for earnings test purposes. Earnings test amounts for 2015 are not yet available.

If you have not yet reached full retirement age, keeping your estimated calendar year earnings current with Social Security is important, especially if your original estimate was below the earnings test amount and you will actually earn over it.

If you expect to earn more than originally planned, with earnings to be over the 2014 earnings test amount for your age, updating your estimate now can prevent or reduce the chance of your being incorrectly paid and needing to refund money to Social Security.

If your current estimate is lower than originally expected, updating it now can release any withheld benefits to you faster. Revise your earnings estimate up or down as needed during the year. Report your actual earnings at the end of the year if you earn over the annual limit for your age.

People receiving Social Security because they have a disability do not have an earnings test and should contact Social Security to learn about available incentives if returning to work. 

Immediately is the best time to report changes to Social Security, including changes to your address, earnings or marital status.  Read “What You Need To Know When You Get Retirement or Survivors Benefits” (SSA publication 05-10077).

Change your estimate or report other changes by calling Social Security nationally at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY-1-800-325-0778) from 7:00am – 7:00pm, or contact your local office.

 

 

 

Social Security in other countries

Q: How does the Social Security program of the United States compare with similar programs in other countries?

A: Many countries have Social Security type programs but there is not one basic international program. Program purposes and policies vary from country to country.

The Social Security website contains the principal features of social security programs in more than 170 countries.  

To learn program basics for a given country, go to the Research, Statistics, & Policy Analysis section of the SSA website and then to the publication Social Security Programs Throughout the World. Portions of this publication are updated every six months. 

For example, follow these links for information about the social security programs of Canada and Mexico 

Learn about our Social Security retirement, survivors and disability programs at www.socialsecurity.gov. Create your personal my Social Security account at the same time.

Social Security Trustees Report for 2014

The 2014 OASDI Trustees Report, officially called “The 2014 Annual Report of the Board of Trustees of the Federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance and Federal Disability Insurance Trust Funds,” presents the current and projected financial status of the Social Security trust funds. 

OASDI stands for Old Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance (Social Security). There are separate OASI and DI Trust Funds, with information about each in the Trustees Report. 

Dated July 28, 2014, the full report is available at http://www.ssa.gov/OACT/TR/2014/index.html 

It is well worth your time to read at least the report Highlights and Conclusion, both of which are short.  

Short and long-range Social Security program solvency forecasts are provided using different economic possibilities. Overall, the Trustees Report contains much the same forecast for Social Security solvency as last year.  

While not expected to continue for many more years, it may surprise you to read that overall combined Social Security income is exceeding overall expenses with asset reserves still growing. As since 2010, costs exceeded tax income in 2013. 

From the Highlights: 

At the end of 2013, the OASDI program was providing benefit payments to about 58 million people: 41 million retired workers and dependents of retired workers, 6 million survivors of deceased workers, and 11 million disabled workers and dependents of disabled workers. During the year, an estimated 163 million people had earnings covered by Social Security and paid payroll taxes. Total expenditures in 2013 were $823 billion. Total income was $855 billion, which consisted of $752 billion in non-interest income and $103 billion in interest earnings. Asset reserves held in special issue U.S. Treasury securities grew from $2,732 billion at the beginning of the year to $2,764 billion at the end of the year. 

From the Conclusion: 

Under current law, the projected cost of Social Security increases faster than projected income through about 2035 primarily because of the aging of the baby-boom generation and relatively low fertility since the baby-boom period. Cost will continue to grow faster than income, but to a lesser degree, after 2035 due to increasing life expectancy. Based on the Trustees’ best estimate, program cost exceeds non-interest income for 2014, as it has since 2010, and remains higher than non-interest income throughout the remainder of the 75‑year projection period. Social Security’s theoretical combined trust funds increase with the help of interest income through 2019 and allow full payment of scheduled benefits on a timely basis until the trust fund asset reserves become depleted in 2033. At that time, projected continuing income to the combined trust funds equals about 77 percent of program cost. By 2088, continuing income equals about 72 percent of program cost. 

The Trustees project that the OASI Trust Fund and the DI Trust Fund will have sufficient reserves to pay full benefits on time until 2034 and 2016, respectively. Legislative action is needed as soon as possible to prevent depletion of the DI Trust Fund reserves in 2016, at which time continuing income to the DI Trust Fund would be sufficient to pay 81 percent of DI benefits. Lawmakers may consider responding to the impending DI Trust Fund reserve depletion as they did in 1994, solely by reallocating the payroll tax rate between OASI and DI. Such a response might serve to delay DI reforms and much needed corrections for OASDI as a whole. However, enactment of a more permanent solution could include a tax reallocation in the short-run. …

The Trustees recommend that lawmakers address the projected trust fund shortfalls in a timely way in order to phase in necessary changes gradually and give workers and beneficiaries time to adjust to them. Implementing changes soon would allow more generations to share in the needed revenue increases or reductions in scheduled benefits. Social Security will play a critical role in the lives of 59 million beneficiaries and 165 million covered workers and their families in 2014. With informed discussion, creative thinking, and timely legislative action, Social Security can continue to protect future generations.

 

DDS makes disability decisions

Q: Do Social Security employees have medical training so they can evaluate medical information for disability application decisions? 

A: Local Social Security employees do not make medical decisions for disability applications and do not evaluate medical evidence for Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) applications. 

Whether a person files online or by personal interview, when a disability application is received, Social Security representatives review it to verify that the non-medical eligibility requirements are met. For example, the SSA employee will verify that an applicant for Social Security disability meets the work requirement or that a person filing for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) meets the income and resource requirements of that need-based program. If these non-medical requirements are not met, they will complete the application to a denial since a medical decision would not be required. 

When non-medical requirements are met, the local office reviews application materials for completeness, including applicant details to describe the disabling impairments, medical treatment, medical releases and related employment and vocational information. 

For the actual medical decision, the disability claim goes to a State agency, usually called a Disability Determination Service (DDS). These state agencies, fully funded by the Federal Government, are responsible for developing medical evidence and making the initial determination on whether or not a claimant is disabled or blind under the law. Samples of DDS decisions from all the States are reviewed within Social Security to maintain national requirements. 

Following a national, step-by-step disability evaluation process, DDS employees make the disability decision and return the application to the local Social Security office for additional work as needed. Depending on the decision, this could be to complete any remaining development before payment begins or, if a denial, holding a file for the appeal period.