NYAPRS Note: The following is a reaction to our earlier posting about SSA’s plans to go to electronic payments and comes thankfully from noted Vermont advocate Morgan Brown.
Advocates For Disabled Cry Foul Over SSI Changes
By Dave Gram, Associated Press April 6, 2012
MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) – Advocates for disabled Vermonters are decrying what they say are problems with a newly instituted system of electronic payments for Social Security beneficiaries.
The Vermont Center for Independent Living held a news conference Friday in which it described regular monthly Social Security benefit payments due at the beginning of this month not being made to beneficiaries.
“Imagine my surprise on the third when I went to pay my monthly bills and found there was no money in the account,” said Harold Nadeau. The 57-year-old former designer of submarine components at Electric Boat in Connecticut has polio, uses a wheelchair and now works as direct services manager for the independent living center.
Mark Kaufman, the group’s advocacy manager, said the organization had received about five calls this past week from others in circumstances similar to Nadeau’s. He said the center also had heard from banks worried about expected payments into their customers’ accounts.
Kaufman said he had heard similar accounts from elsewhere in New England.
But Dick Gregg, fiscal assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Treasury, questioned the claims. He maintained that no one should be switched from paper checks to either form of electronic payment, or between methods of electronic payments, without their knowledge.
For that to happen, the beneficiary has to call a toll-free number or go online to a Social Security website to make the request, Gregg said.
“We certainly haven’t done it without the agreement from the individual,” Gregg said. He said his office would contact the center on Monday to investigate its claims.
Recipients will have to make the choice by next March, the deadline for Social Security to go paperless, Gregg said. Those still getting paper checks have been getting notifications, and will get more reminders, between now and next March, he added.
It was not clear if the payment problems affected only those due to get Social Security disability benefits, or if they extended to the much larger population of older Americans who rely on Social Security for retirement income.
Gregg said historically about 600,000 paper checks sent out by Social Security have been lost or stolen each year. The rate of such incidents with electronic payments is much lower, he said. He added that the new methods save taxpayer money. A paper check costs about $1 to print and send; an electronic money transfer costs about 10 cents, he said.
He urged anyone with problems getting their payments to call toll free, 800-333-1795 for help.
Virginia Milkey, executive director of the Community of Vermont Elders, which advocates for senior citizens, said Friday she was not aware of her group having received similar complaints.
Changes to Social Security Stir Controversy
By Gina Bullard WCAX April 6, 2012
There are almost 144,000 people in Vermont who receive Social Security benefits. And that system is going paperless by March 1, 2012. The administration says it will save the country’s taxpayers about $44 million. But the change is coming with some headaches.
Harold Nadeau contracted polio when he was 4.
“From then on I’ve been paraplegic,” he said.
Once Nadeau couldn’t work anymore he applied for disability Social Security benefits. He’s been getting that money directly deposited in his account for over 10 years now. But recently he noticed something was off.
“I went online to make my monthly payments and when I opened my account it was empty,” Nadeau said.
His monthly payment never arrived. So he called the Social Security office in Montpelier.
“They were baffled,” he said. “They had no idea what happened or why.”
But Nadeau finally got his answer from the Vermont Social Security office. Turns out his money was sent to him in the mail on a Direct Express Card. It’s part of Social Security’s effort to go paperless. The card works and looks like a debit card and your monthly payment gets refilled. But Nadeau never was told he’d be receiving the card. And it wasn’t clear when he did that it was from Social Security.
“I get so much junk mail, like anyone else. I may have gotten it – I’m sure I did, but it was a credit card offer or looked like it – it went in the trash,” Nadeau said.
“If you don’t respond to this letter then you’ll be enrolled automatically into this debit card system,” Sarah Launderville said.
Launderville works for the Vermont Center for Independent Living or VCIL. The nonprofit got several calls recently from people who also did not receive their monthly payments, like Nadeau.
So we tried to track the problem down. The Vermont Social Security office said they couldn’t talk to us and told us to call the Social Security Administration in Boston. They didn’t have the answers and referred us to the U.S. Treasury Department in Washington – and that’s when we got voicemail and more voicemail.
We tried two other federal bureaucrats and got nowhere.
Here’s what we do know:
By next year, you will have three paperless options: direct deposit, the direct express card or a special checking account that costs $3 a month.
According to the Social Security Administration, if you are already receiving direct deposit you should never receive the debit card. But that wasn’t the case for Nadeau.
“What our concern is if there are folks out there that might have not even looked,” Launderville said.
“I was amazed and somewhat disturbed that a third party was given my personal information without my knowledge and Social Security changed my direct deposit without my authorization,” Nadeau said.
We should tell you there are fees associated with the Direct Express Card:
- ATM withdrawal – 90 cents
- To receive a monthly paper statement – 75 cents each time
- Transferring funds – $1.50
- Replacement card – $4 and to get that card delivered overnight it will cost you another $13.50
We tried to find from Social Security and the Treasury Department what people should be looking for in the mail, but still had not heard back from them by the time this story was published.
One thing we do know is that a company called CO-America administers the cards, so that could be something to possibly look out for.