In the past, most of the articles written about the Social Security Administration (SSA) have been about what is wrong with the agency and its programs. In the spirit of positive thinking the following are important programs and tools that the practitioner should be aware of and utilize when tackling a Social Security dilemma.
The SSA has a well planned out and user friendly website in English and Spanish at www.SSA.gov . The website is packed full of important information and answers to the most frequently asked questions. This site contains a multitude of pamphlets and publications on every aspect of Social Security benefits which are easily searchable by keywords and subject matter. A great benefit to the practitioner is the online library of Social Security Rulings and most recent updates. Also a downloadable PIA calculator is available for the estimated benefit calculations. Most recently, the SSA allows an online request for an individual’s earnings report and benefit estimate statement.
In SSA’s push to be more user friendly the agency has launched the largest customized mailing by a Federal agency. The SSA is currently sending an annual Social Security Statement to125 million workers. The 4-page statement is designed to make workers aware of their retirement, disability and survivors’ benefits. The statement will also provide workers an easy way to determine whether their earnings are accurately posted on their Social Security records.
A recent Gallup poll showed that individuals who have received a Social Security Statement from the SSA have a greater understanding of their benefits than those who did not receive a statement. Those who have received a statement are more likely to know that (1) the amount of benefits depends on how much they earned; (2) Social Security pays benefits to workers who become disabled; (3) Social Security provides benefits to dependents of workers who die; and (4) Social Security was designed only to provide part of total retirement income. This increased awareness and documentation will also help the Social Security practitioner more accurately assess the client’s potential benefit recovery.
The need for more accurate and timely information is being addressed via SSA Commissioner Apfel’s Short-Term Initiative Program to improve the 800 number telephone service. This initiative, which is dependent upon enactment of the President’s budget, will improve customer service by increasing the SSA national 800 number call answering capacity. The program will also provide employees in the Program Service Centers (PSC) more time to spend on pending workloads which include requests for recomputations of benefits and activities related to the distribution and collection of benefits that have been paid incorrectly. Currently, these areas have delays in excess of 90 to 180 days.
In the spirit of positive thinking and an eye towards user friendly programs the SSA has made a step in the right direction. Just think what could be done if we could get the Social Security Administration to———leap?