Social Security

Faster Processing of Disability Claims for People With Alzheimer’s Disease

by Vonda Van Til, Social Security Public Affairs Specialist

Currently, more than five million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. Since the onset of Alzheimer’s can occur in people before they retire, it may strike during an individual’s working years, preventing gainful employment as the disease progresses.

As a result, people with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers must figure out how they’ll pay for care. Our benefits and services are vital to people with early-onset Alzheimer’s who are unable to work and have no other source of income.

For more than a decade, Social Security has included early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in our list of Compassionate Allowances program. The program identifies debilitating diseases and medical conditions so severe they meet our disability standards. Compassionate Allowances allow for faster processing of disability claims for individuals with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease and several other neurodegenerative disorders.

You can read more about our Compassionate Allowances program at www.ssa.gov/compassionateallowances. To learn more about how Social Security disability insurance works and to apply for benefits, visit our disability page at www.ssa.gov/disability. Please share these resources with friends and family.

Vonda Van Til is the Public Affairs Specialist for West Michigan. You can write her c/o Social Security Administration, 3045 Knapp NE, Grand Rapids MI 49525 or via email at vonda.vantil@ssa.gov.

Social Security’s Most Popular Baby names in Michigan for 2021

See the list at www.socialsecurity.gov

The Social Security Administration announced the most popular baby names in Michigan for 2021. Charlotte and Noah topped the list. 

The top five boys and girls names for 2021 in Michigan were:

Boys:
1)   Noah
2)   Oliver
3)   Liam
4)   Henry
5)   Elijah

Girls:
1)  Charlotte
2)   Olivia
3)   Amelia
4)   Ava
5)   Evelyn

The agency announced previously that Olivia and Liam were the most popular baby names in the U.S.  How does Michigan compare to the rest of the country?  Check out Social Security’s website — www.socialsecurity.gov— to see the top national baby names for 2021.

Acting Commissioner Kilolo Kijakazi encourages everyone to enjoy the baby names list and, while online, create a my Social Security account at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccountmy Social Security, born ten years ago this month, is a personalized online account that people can use beginning in their working years and continuing while receiving Social Security benefits.

Over the decade, more than 69 million people have signed up and benefited from the many secure and convenient self-service options.  People who set up their my Social Security account have access to additional personalized services.  They can request a replacement Social Security card online if they meet certain requirements.  If they already receive Social Security benefits, they can start or change direct deposit online, request a replacement SSA-1099, and if they need proof of their benefits, they can print or download a current Benefit Verification Letter from their account.

People not yet receiving benefits can use their online account to get a personalized Social Security Statement, which provides their earnings information as well as estimates of their future benefits.  The portal also includes a retirement estimator and links to information about other online services, such as applications for retirement, disability, and Medicare benefits.

Additional Baby Names Information:

The agency began compiling the baby name list in 1997, with names dating back to 1880.  At the time of a child’s birth, parents supply the name to the agency when applying for a child’s Social Security card, thus making Social Security America’s source for the most popular baby names.

In addition to each state’s top baby names (and names for U.S. territories), Social Security’s website has a list of the 1,000 most popular boys and girls names for 2021.

To see the fastest rising girls and boys names in 2021, go to www.socialsecurity.gov/news/press/releases/2022/#5-2022-1.

Olivia and Liam Top Social Security’s Charts For 2021

Duo Remain America’s Most Popular Baby Names for 2021

Olivia and Liam are America’s most popular baby names in 2021.  Liam has been the top choice for new parents for five years in a row, and Olivia has topped the list for three years. Once again, during this unprecedented time, parents chose to stick with familiar names.  Out of both Top 10 lists combined, only one name changed, with Theodore replacing Alexander in popularity.  The name Theodore joins the Top 10 list for the first time–welcome to the club “Teddy!”

Here are the top 10 boys and girls names for 2021:

Boys:
1) Liam
2) Noah
3) Oliver
4) Elijah
5) James
6) William
7) Benjamin
8) Lucas
9) Henry
10) Theodore

Girls:
1) Olivia
2) Emma
3) Charlotte
4) Amelia
5) Ava
6) Sophia
7) Isabella
8) Mia
9) Evelyn
10) Harper

For all of the top baby names of 2021, and to see where your name ranks, go to Social Security’s website, www.socialsecurity.gov.

Acting Commissioner Kilolo Kijakazi encourages everyone to enjoy the baby names list and, while online, create a my Social Security account at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccountmy Social Security, born ten years ago this month, is a personalized online account that people can use beginning in their working years and continuing while receiving Social Security benefits.

Over the decade, more than 69 million people have signed up and benefited from the many secure and convenient self-service options.  People who set up their my Social Security account have access to additional personalized services.  They can request a replacement Social Security card online if they meet certain requirements.  If they already receive Social Security benefits, they can start or change direct deposit online, request a replacement SSA-1099, and if they need proof of their benefits, they can print or download a current Benefit Verification Letter from their account.

People not yet receiving benefits can use their online account to get a personalized Social Security Statement, which provides their earnings information as well as estimates of their future benefits.  The portal also includes a retirement estimator and links to information about other online services, such as applications for retirement, disability, and Medicare benefits.

Additional Baby Names Information:

Social Security began compiling the baby name list in 1997, with names dating back to 1880.  At the time of a child’s birth, parents supply the name to the agency when applying for a child’s Social Security card, thus making Social Security America’s source for the most popular baby names.

Each year, the list reveals the effect of pop-culture on naming trends.  Here are the top five fastest rising boys and girls names in 2021:

Boys:
1) Amiri
2) Eliam
3) Colter
4) Ozzy
5) Loyal

Girls:
1) Raya
2) Wrenley
3) Angelique
4) Vida
5) Emberlynn

Please visit www.socialsecurity.gov/babynames to view the entire list.

Social Security Honors our Military Heroes

by Vonda Van Til, Social Security Public Affairs Specialist

On Memorial Day, our nation honors military service members who have given their lives to preserve our freedoms. Families, friends, and communities come together to remember the great sacrifices of military members and ensure their legacies live on.

The benefits we provide can help the families of deceased military service members. For example, widows, widowers, and dependent children may be eligible for Social Security survivors benefits. You can learn more about those benefits at www.ssa.gov/survivors.

We also offer support to wounded warriors. Social Security benefits protect veterans when injuries prevent them from returning to active duty or performing other work. Both the Department of Veteran Affairs and Social Security have disability programs. You may qualify for disability benefits through one or both programs. Read our new fact sheet, “Social Security Disability and Veterans Affairs Disability — How Do They Compare?” at www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-64-125.pdf. Depending on your situation, some members of your family, including your dependent children or spouse, may be eligible to receive Social Security benefits.

Wounded military service members can receive quicker processing of their Social Security disability claims. If you are a veteran with a 100% Permanent & Total compensation rating from the Department of Veterans Affairs, we’ll expedite your disability claim.

Want more information about how we can help? Visit www.ssa.gov/woundedwarriors for answers to frequently asked questions or to find information about the application process.

Thinking about retirement or know a veteran who is? Military service members can receive Social Security benefits in addition to their military retirement benefits. For details, visit our webpage for veterans, available at www.ssa.gov/people/veterans.

Please share this information with the military families you know. We honor and thank the veterans who bravely served and died for our country and the military service members who serve today.

Vonda Van Til is the Public Affairs Specialist for West Michigan. You can write her c/o Social Security Administration, 3045 Knapp NE, Grand Rapids MI 49525 or via email at vonda.vantil@ssa.gov

Social Security Administration to Resume In-Person Services at Local Social Security Offices

Online Services and Telephone Remain Most Convenient Ways to Contact Agency
statement from Kilolo Kijakazi, Acting Social Security Commissioner

“I am pleased to announce that local Social Security offices have restored in-person services, including for people without an appointment, as of April 7, 2022.

To avoid waiting in line, I strongly encourage people, who can, to use our online services at www.socialsecurity.gov, call us, and schedule appointments in advance rather than walking in without an appointment.  Phone appointments can save you a trip to a busy office.  I thank the public for your patience as we work to increase service.

Customers who walk in without appointments may encounter delays and longer waits at our offices.  Be aware that our offices tend to be the busiest first thing in the morning, early in the week, and during the early part of the month, so people may want to plan to visit at other times.

Given that many of the people we serve have health vulnerabilities, and consistent with our union agreements, we are continuing to require certain safety measures including masking, physical distancing, and self-health checks for COVID-19 symptoms.  We will provide masks to the public and employees if they need them. 

Thoughtful planning and preparation have shaped our process to restore in-person services.  Social Security employees are dedicated to serving the public, and we are ready to welcome the public back to our offices.  Our local managers understand and can address the needs of their communities.  We have also implemented office-to-office support as well as brought recently retired employees back to assist the public.  We thank the many interested stakeholders including the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Community Living and national advocate organizations for your help.

Throughout the pandemic, millions of people have used our secure and convenient online services and received help by phone.  People who have access to the internet should first try our online services before calling us or visiting an office.

As we transition to a new modern phone system, some people may experience a busy signal or be unintentionally disconnected from their call.  We sincerely regret this disruption and recommend people call when our National 800 Number may be less busy, such as before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m. local time or later in the week.  Like our offices, our waits are generally shorter later in the month.

To learn more, please visit www.socialsecurity.gov/coronavirus/gethelp/ and www.socialsecurity.gov/onlineservices/.”

Plan for Your Future During Financial Literacy Month

By Vonda Van Til, Social Security Public Affairs Specialist

Financial Literacy Month is focused on educating people about the importance of planning for a secure financial future. Every April, we like to remind you that Social Security is a vital part of any financial plan. We have online tools to help you understand your potential Social Security benefits and how they fit into your financial future.

You should periodically review your Social Security Statement using your personal my Social Security account at www.ssa.gov/myaccount. Your Statement is an easy-to-read summary of the estimated benefits you and your family could receive, including potential retirement, disability, and survivors benefits.

Our Plan for Retirement tool in your personal my Social Security account allows you to check various benefit estimate scenarios. You can compare the effect different future earnings and retirement benefit start dates have on your future benefit amount.

Please let friends and family know they can take steps to improve their financial knowledge by signing in to their secure my Social Security account. If they don’t have an account, they can easily create one at www.ssa.gov/myaccount.

Vonda Van Til is the Public Affairs Specialist for West Michigan. You can write her c/o Social Security Administration, 3045 Knapp NE, Grand Rapids MI 49525 or via email at vonda.vantil@ssa.gov.

Women’s History Month and Social Security

By Vonda Van Til, Social Security Public Affairs Specialist

Each March, we celebrate Women’s History Month. It is a time to reflect on the achievements of women. Social Security has served a vital role in the lives of women for more than 85 years.

Women have longer average life expectancies than men, which means they live more years in retirement and have a greater chance of exhausting other sources of income. It’s important for women to plan early and wisely for retirement.

Our retirement pages at www.ssa.gov/retirement provide detailed information about how life events can affect a woman’s Social Security retirement benefits. These events may include marriage, widowhood, divorce, self-employment, government service, and other life or career changes.

Your earnings history will determine your future benefits, so we encourage you to verify that the information we have is correct. You can create your personal my Social Security account at www.ssa.gov/myaccount and review your earnings history. If you find an error in your earnings record, it is important to get it corrected so you receive the benefits you earned when you retire. Our publication, How to Correct Your Social Security Earnings Record at www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10081.pdf, provides you with details on how to make a correction. You also can view your Social Security Statement on your my Social Security account, for estimates of future benefits and other important planning information.

If you would like to learn more about how we can help women plan for retirement, check out our online booklet, Social Security: What Every Woman Should Know.You can find it at www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10127.pdf. Please share this information with family and friends.

Vonda Van Til is the Public Affairs Specialist for West Michigan. You can write her c/o Social Security Administration, 3045 Knapp NE, Grand Rapids MI 49525 or via email at vonda.vantil@ssa.gov.

Making the Most of America Saves Week

by Vonda Van Til, Social Security Public Affairs Specialist

This year, America Saves Week runs from February 21 through 25 with the theme Building Financial Resilience. The week is an opportunity for organizations to promote good financial habits, and for people to assess their own saving status.

Planning and saving are key to a successful retirement. The earlier you start saving for retirement, the better off you will be. People with a plan are twice as likely to save successfully. Set a goal, make a plan, and save automatically. We encourage you to pledge to save for America Saves Week at www.americasavesweek.org.

Please visit our website for more useful information on ways to help you plan for your retirement at www.ssa.gov/retirement.

You are never too young to begin saving. If you know a younger worker, please help share our information with them. Younger workers may think they have time to put off saving for their future, but the sooner they begin, the more their money can grow. Visit and share our website for young workers at www.ssa.gov/people/earlycareer where you will find resources that can help you secure today and tomorrow. We also have an infographic that provides helpful information about saving at www.ssa.gov/benefits/assets/materials/retirement/EN-05-10549.pdf.

Vonda Van Til is the Public Affairs Specialist for West Michigan. You can write her c/o Social Security Administration, 3045 Knapp NE, Grand Rapids MI 49525 or via email at vonda.vantil@ssa.gov.

How to Get Your New Baby’s Social Security Number

By Vonda Van Til, Social Security Public Affairs Specialist

Welcoming a baby to your family is an exciting time. Doing paperwork, even for something as important as a Social Security number for your newborn, is probably one of the last things you want to do. We’ve made it easy. If your child is born in a hospital, the most convenient way to apply for a Social Security number is at that hospital before you leave.

When you give information for your child’s birth certificate at the hospital, you’ll be asked whether you want to apply for a Social Security number for your child. If you answer “yes,” you will be asked to provide both parents’ Social Security numbers. Even if you don’t know both parents’ Social Security numbers, you can still apply for a number for your child.

There are many reasons why your child should have a Social Security number. You need a Social Security number to claim your child as a dependent on your income tax return. You may also need a number for your child if you plan to do the following for your child:

Open a bank account.
Buy savings bonds.
Get medical coverage.
Apply for government services.

You can find more information by reading Social Security Numbers for Children at www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10023.pdf.

Please share this information with people who are having a baby. Applying for a Social Security number at the hospital will save them time and let them focus on their new bundle of joy.

Vonda Van Til is the Public Affairs Specialist for West Michigan. You can write her c/o Social Security Administration, 3045 Knapp NE, Grand Rapids MI 49525 or via email at vonda.vantil@ssa.gov.

Social Security Benefits Increase in 2022

by Vonda Van Til, Social Security Public Affairs Specialist

Approximately 70 million Americans will see a 5.9% increase in their Social Security benefits and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments in 2022. Federal benefit rates increase when the cost-of-living rises, as measured by the Department of Labor’s Consumer Price Index (CPI-W).

The CPI-W rises when inflation increases, leading to a higher cost-of-living. This change means prices for goods and services, on average, are a little more expensive, so the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) helps to offset these costs.

We will mail COLA notices throughout the month of December to retirement, survivors, and disability beneficiaries, SSI recipients, and representative payees. But, if you want to know your new benefit amount sooner, you can securely obtain your Social Security COLA notice online using the Message Center in your my Social Security account at www.ssa.gov/myaccount. You can access this information in early December prior to the mailed notice.

If you prefer to access your COLA notice online and not receive the mailed notice, you can log in to your personal my Social Security account at www.ssa.gov/myaccount to opt out of a mailed COLA notice and any other notices that are available online by updating your Preferences in the Message Center. Did you know you can receive a text or email alert when there is a new message waiting for you? That way, you always know when we have something important for you – like your COLA notice. If you don’t have an account yet, you must create one by November 17, 2021, to receive the 2022 COLA notice online.

January 2022 marks other changes that will happen based on the increase in the national average wage index. For example, the maximum amount of earnings subject to Social Security payroll tax in 2022 will be higher. The retirement earnings test exempt amount will also change in 2022 and you can view that at www.ssa.gov/news/press/factsheets/colafacts2022.pdf.

Be among the first to know! Sign up for or log in to your personal my Social Security account today. Choose email or text under “Message Center Preferences” to receive courtesy notifications.

You can find more information about the 2022 COLA at www.ssa.gov/cola.

Vonda Van Til is the Public Affairs Specialist for West Michigan. You can write her c/o Social Security Administration, 3045 Knapp NE, Grand Rapids MI 49525 or via email at vonda.vantil@ssa.gov.

Social Security Can Help You Start or Return to Work

by Vonda Van Til, Social Security Public Affairs Specialist

If you rely on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits and want to start or return to work, we can help.

Ticket to Work (Ticket) is a program that supports career development for SSDI beneficiaries and SSI recipients who want to work and progress toward financial independence. The Ticket program is free and voluntary. Learn more about the Ticket to Work program at www.ssa.gov/work or call the Ticket to Work Help Line at 1-866-968-7842 or 1-866-833-2967 (TTY) Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET.

In addition to the Ticket to Work program, the Plan for Achieving Self-Support (PASS) program also helps people with disabilities return to work. A PASS allows you to set aside resources and other income besides your SSI for a specified period. With a PASS you can pursue a work goal that will reduce or eliminate your need for SSI or SSDI benefits.

How does a PASS help someone return to work?

  • We base SSI eligibility and payment amounts on income and resources (items of value that the person owns).
  • PASS lets a person with a disability set aside money and items they own to pay for items or services needed to achieve a specific work goal.
  • The objective of the PASS is to help people with disabilities find employment that reduces or eliminates the need for SSI or SSDI benefits.

You can read all about the PASS program at www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-11017.pdf.

The PASS must be in writing and we must approve the plan. To start, contact your local PASS Cadre or local Social Security office for an application (Form SSA-545-BK). You can also access the form at www.ssa.gov/forms/ssa-545.html. Ticket to Work service providers, vocational counselors, or a representative or relative can help you write a PASS.

For more information about PASS, read The Red Book – A Guide to Work Incentives at www.ssa.gov/redbook.

Your job isn’t just a source of income — it can be a vehicle to independence or the beginning step to fulfilling your dreams. Let our Ticket to Work program or PASS program help you achieve your goals.

Vonda Van Til is the Public Affairs Specialist for West Michigan. You can write her c/o Social Security Administration, 3045 Knapp NE, Grand Rapids MI 49525 or via email at vonda.vantil@ssa.gov.

Social Security Announces 5.9 Percent Benefit Increase for 2022

submitted by Vonda Van Til, Social Security Public Affairs Specialist

Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for approximately 70 million Americans will increase 5.9 percent in 2022, the Social Security Administration announced on October 13th.

The 5.9 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) will begin with benefits payable to more than 64 million Social Security beneficiaries in January 2022.  Increased payments to approximately 8 million SSI beneficiaries will begin on December 30, 2021.  (Note: some people receive both Social Security and SSI benefits).  The Social Security Act ties the annual COLA to the increase in the Consumer Price Index as determined by the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Some other adjustments that take effect in January of each year are based on the increase in average wages.  Based on that increase, the maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax (taxable maximum) will increase to $147,000 from $142,800. 

Social Security and SSI beneficiaries are normally notified by mail starting in early December about their new benefit amount.  Most people who receive Social Security payments will be able to view their COLA notice online through their personal my Social Security account.  People may create or access their my Social Security account online at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount.    

Information about Medicare changes for 2022, when announced, will be available at www.medicare.gov.  For Social Security beneficiaries receiving Medicare, Social Security will not be able to compute their new benefit amount until after the Medicare premium amounts for 2022 are announced.  Final 2022 benefit amounts will be communicated to beneficiaries in December through the mailed COLA notice and my Social Security’s Message Center.

The Social Security Act provides for how the COLA is calculated.  To read more, please visit www.socialsecurity.gov/cola, or view this fact sheet.

Social Security Supports Small Businesses

by Vonda Van Til, Social Security Public Affairs Specialist

The COVID-19 pandemic has been testing small businesses. Running a small business can be a 24-7 endeavor. Managing employees, inventory, scheduling, services, and marketing can be challenging even in normal times.

If you’re a small business owner, or you work for one, our online suite of services can help make your life easier. Our business services allow you to file W-2/W-2Cs online and verify your employees’ names and Social Security numbers against our records.

Our online services at www.ssa.gov/employer will save you valuable time when you need information on filing electronic W-2s and verifying Social Security numbers.

Small business owners can also take advantage of our Business Services Online at www.ssa.gov/bso/bsowelcome.htm. You must register to use this free service, which also offers fast and secure online W-2 filing options to Certified Public Accountants, enrolled agents, and individuals who process W-2s and W-2Cs.

For more information about electronic wage reporting, please read our publication at www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10034.pdf.

Vonda Van Til is the Public Affairs Specialist for West Michigan. You can write her c/o Social Security Administration, 3045 Knapp NE, Grand Rapids MI 49525 or via email at vonda.vantil@ssa.gov.

Do You Know These Social Security Terms?

by Vonda Van Til, Social Security Public Affairs Specialist

Some of the terms and acronyms people use when they talk about Social Security can be a little confusing. We’re here to help you understand.

We strive to explain your benefits using easy-to-understand, plain language. The Plain Writing Act of 2010 requires federal agencies to communicate information clearly in a way “the public can understand and use.” This can be particularly challenging when talking about complicated programs like Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, and Medicare. If there’s a technical term or acronym that you don’t know, you can find the meaning in our online glossary at www.ssa.gov/agency/glossary.

Here are a few examples. If you’re considering retirement, you may want to know your FRA (full retirement age) and your PIA (primary insurance amount). These terms determine your benefit amount based on when you when you start getting requirement benefits. The PIA is the amount payable for a retired worker who starts his or her benefits at full retirement age. If you start your retirement benefits at your FRA, you’ll receive the full PIA.

Most years, your benefit amount will get a COLA (Cost-of-Living Adjustment), which usually means extra money in your monthly benefit.

What about DRCs (delayed retirement credits)? DRCs are the gradual increases to your PIA that occur the longer you delay taking retirement benefits after your full retirement age. Every month you delay taking benefits, up to age 70, your monthly benefit will increase.

If one of these terms or acronyms comes up in conversation, you can be the one to help clarify the meaning, using our online glossary. Learning the terminology can deepen your understanding of how Social Security programs work for you.

~

Vonda Van Til is the Public Affairs Specialist for West Michigan. You can write her c/o Social Security Administration, 3045 Knapp NE, Grand Rapids MI 49525 or via email at vonda.vantil@ssa.gov.

Are You Ready for Retirement? Social Security Can Help

by Vonda Van Til, Social Security Public Affairs Specialist

Do you think you may be ready to retire and want to apply for Social Security benefits? We’re here to help you make an informed decision about when to apply for benefits based on your individual and family circumstances.

Would it be better for you to start getting benefits early with a smaller monthly amount over a longer period? Or perhaps wait for a larger monthly payment over less time? The answer is personal and depends on several factors, such as your current and anticipated cash needs, your health, and your family history on longevity. You should consider other sources of retirement income including any plans you may have to work in retirement. Most importantly, you should study your future financial needs and obligations, and estimate your future Social Security benefit.

The easiest way to estimate your future Social Security benefits is with a personal my Social Security account. You can create your free account at www.ssa.gov/myaccount. With your account you can see how much you might receive each month based on the age you want to start receiving benefits.

We encourage you to weigh all the factors carefully before making the crucial decision about when to begin receiving Social Security benefits. This decision affects the monthly benefit amount you will receive for the rest of your life, and may affect benefits for your survivors.

Social Security’s Retirement Portal
Whether you’re ready to learn about, apply for, or manage your retirement benefits, our retirement portal makes it easy for you to find the information you need. How easy? You can do it from your computer, tablet, and even smartphone!

In our retirement portal, you can:

  • Get our Retirement publications.
  • Estimate your benefits with one of our many calculators.
  • Find your Full Retirement Age.
  • Learn about retirement benefits for a spouse and family members.

You and your loved ones can discover all of these resources at www.ssa.gov/benefits/retirement.

Vonda Van Til is the Public Affairs Specialist for West Michigan. You can write her c/o Social Security Administration, 3045 Knapp NE, Grand Rapids MI 49525 or via email at vonda.vantil@ssa.gov.

Happy Birthday, Medicare! What happens When You Turn 65

by Vonda Van Til, Social Security Public Affairs Specialist

This July marks the 56th anniversary of Medicare. Did you know you can apply for Medicare online even if you are not ready to start your retirement benefits? Applying online can take less than 10 minutes. There are no forms to sign and we usually require no additional documentation. We’ll process your application and contact you if we need more information.

Knowing when to apply for Medicare is very important. You have a limited initial enrollment period to apply. If you miss the initial enrollment period, you may have to pay a higher monthly premium. If you’re eligible for Medicare at age 65, your initial enrollment period begins three months before your 65th birthday and ends three months after that birthday. Visit www.ssa.gov/benefits/medicare to apply for Medicare and find other important information.

Some Medicare beneficiaries may qualify for Extra Help with their Medicare prescription drug plan costs. To qualify for Extra Help, a person must be receiving Medicare, have limited resources and income, and reside in one of the 50 states or the District of Columbia. Read our publication Understanding the Extra Help With Your Medicare Prescription Drug Plan for more information at www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10508.pdf.

The official Medicare website at Medicare.gov offers many online services where you can find answers to these questions:

Feel free to share these helpful resources with friends and family today.

Vonda Van Til is the Public Affairs Specialist for West Michigan. You can write her c/o Social Security Administration, 3045 Knapp NE, Grand Rapids MI 49525 or via email at vonda.vantil@ssa.gov.

Social Security Delivers the Most Popular Baby Names in Michigan for 2020

See the list at www.socialsecurity.gov

On May 17, the Social Security Administration announced the most popular baby names in Michigan for 2020. Charlotte and Oliver topped the list.

The top five boys and girls names for 2020 in Michigan were:

Boys:
1) Oliver
2) Noah
3) Liam
4) Henry
5) Elijah

Girls:
1) Charlotte
2) Amelia
3) Olivia
4) Ava
5) Emma

The agency announced last week that Olivia and Liam were the most popular baby names in the U.S. How does Michigan compare to the rest of the country? Check out Social Security’s website — www.socialsecurity.gov— to see the top national baby names for 2020.

Social Security encourages everyone to enjoy the baby names list and, while online, create a my Social Security account at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount. my Social Security is a personalized online account that people can use beginning in their working years and continuing while receiving Social Security benefits.

Social Security beneficiaries have instant access to their benefit verification letter, payment history, and complete earnings record by establishing a my Social Security account. Beneficiaries also can change their address, start or change direct deposit information, and request a replacement SSA-1099 online. People receiving benefits can request a replacement Medicare card online.

People age 18 and older who are not receiving benefits can also sign up for a my Social Security account to get their personalized online Social Security Statement. The online Statement provides workers with secure and convenient access to their Social Security earnings and benefit information, and estimates of future benefits they can use to plan for their retirement. Residents of most states may request a replacement Social Security card online if they meet certain requirements.

The agency began compiling the baby name list in 1997, with names dating back to 1880. At the time of a child’s birth, parents supply the name to the agency when applying for a child’s Social Security card, thus making Social Security America’s source for the most popular baby names.

In addition to each state’s top baby names (and names for U.S. territories), Social Security’s website has a list of the 1,000 most popular boys and girls names for 2020.

To see the fastest rising girls and boys names in 2020, go to www.socialsecurity.gov/news/press/releases/2021/#5-2021-2.

Social Security and Protecting Elders from Scams

by Vonda Van Til, Social Security Public Affairs Specialist

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is on June 15. On this day, and throughout the month, communities, seniors, caregivers, governments, organizations, and the private sector unite to prevent the mistreatment of and violence against older people.

Social Security imposter scams are widespread across the United States. Scammers use sophisticated tactics to deceive you into providing sensitive information or money. They target everyone – even the elderly – and their tactics continue to evolve.

Most recently, Social Security’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has received reports of phone scammers creating fake versions of the identification badges most Federal employees use to gain access to Federal buildings. The scammers may text or email photos of the fake badges to convince potential victims of their legitimacy. These badges use government symbols, words, and even names and photos of real people, which are available on government websites or through internet searches.

If you receive a suspicious letter, text, email, or call, hang up or do not respond. You should know how to identify when it’s really Social Security. We will NEVER:
• Text or email images of an employee’s official government identification.
• Suspend your Social Security number.
• Threaten you with arrest or other legal action unless you immediately pay a fine or fee.
• Require payment by retail gift card, wire transfer, internet currency, or cash by mail.
• Promise a benefit increase or other assistance in exchange for payment.
• Send official letters or reports containing your personal information via email.

We only send text messages if you have opted in to receive texts from us and only in limited situations, including the following:
• When you have subscribed to receive updates and notifications by text.
• As part of our enhanced security when accessing your personal my Social Security account.

If you owe money to us, we will mail you a letter with payment options and appeal rights.

We encourage you to report suspected Social Security imposter scams — and other Social Security fraud — to the OIG website at oig.ssa.gov. You may read our previous Social Security fraud advisories at oig.ssa.gov/newsroom/news-release. Please share this information with your friends and family to help spread awareness about Social Security imposter scams.

Social Security Honors Our Military Heroes

by Vonda Van Til, Social Security Public Affairs Specialist

On Memorial Day, our nation honors military service members who have given their lives for our country. As Former President Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “Those who have long enjoyed such privileges as we enjoy forget in time that men [and women] have died to win them.” This is why families, friends, and communities come together to remember the great sacrifices of our military members and ensure their legacies live on.

The benefits we provide can help the surviving families of deceased military service members. For example, widows, widowers, and their dependent children may be eligible for Social Security survivors benefits. You can learn more about those benefits at www.ssa.gov/survivors.

We also offer support to our wounded warriors. Social Security benefits protect veterans when injuries prevent them from returning to active duty or performing other work. Both the Department of Veteran Affairs and Social Security have disability programs. You may qualify for disability benefits through one program but not the other, or you may qualify for both. Depending on your situation, some members of your family, including your dependent children or spouse, may be eligible to receive Social Security benefits.

Wounded military service members can receive expedited processing of their Social Security disability claims. If you are a veteran with a 100% Permanent & Total compensation rating from the Department of Veterans Affairs, we’ll expedite your disability claim.

Want more information about how we can help? Visit www.ssa.gov/woundedwarriors for answers to commonly asked questions or to find information about the application process.

Thinking about retirement or know a veteran who is? Military service members can receive Social Security benefits in addition to their military retirement benefits. For details, visit our webpage for veterans, available at www.ssa.gov/people/veterans.

Please share this information with the military families you know. We honor and thank the veterans who bravely served and died for our country and the military service members who serve today.

Vonda Van Til is the Public Affairs Specialist for West Michigan. You can write her c/o Social Security Administration, 3045 Knapp NE, Grand Rapids MI 49525 or via email at vonda.vantil@ssa.gov.

Statement about Service from Andrew Saul, Commissioner of Social Security

“I want to update you about how things are going at the Social Security Administration.

About a year ago, I took the unprecedented step to close our offices to the public. I did this to keep our employees and you—the public we serve—safe. As we enter year two of the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccines and other precautionary measures give us cause for hope. For now, we will continue our current safety measures as described in our COVID-19 Workplace Safety Plan. This plan is iterative, and we will update it as we receive additional government-wide guidance and information from public health experts in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Like many businesses and organizations, the pandemic has forced us to adapt. I want to thank our employees for their willingness to embrace innovative ways of working while we continue to deliver our mission. As we examine our work in a new light, we are asking which lessons learned could improve service beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

We understand that the public wants to engage with us on some matters in person, and our local offices are integral to our communities. We also know that not everyone can conveniently come to us in person and that when you do visit, you want the process to be efficient. For example, we may need evidence from you, but we do not need to interview you in person. We are currently testing drop box and express appointment options for the public to bring in documentation.

Often, you only need to know your Social Security number and do not need a physical Social Security card. However, if you do need to replace your card, we are testing video appointments if you need a new Social Security card but do not need to change any of the information in our records. Although ideas like these began as solutions during COVID-19, we are considering how they could improve service in the future.

Some of these concepts also allow us to consider how we might continue to use telework, something that most organizations and companies have depended on during the COVID-19 pandemic, to drive longer-term operational efficiencies like reducing space. We could use those savings to provide you more online service options and hire more people to serve you more quickly as well as to retain outstanding employees. We will continue to engage our managers, employees, and unions on ways we could use telework to improve customer service and other issues.

We often note that Social Security touches the lives of nearly every American. Be assured that as we continue to evolve, we are committed to serving everyone including our most vulnerable populations who often require in person assistance. We are working with the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, claimant advocates, and other organizations to ensure our services are accessible to people with low income, limited English proficiency, mental illness, or facing homelessness. We recently added online tools and information pages to our website including:

As we contemplate the future, we are delivering now. To help improve deteriorating service, we have added over 6,000 frontline employees to help you. We decreased the average wait to talk to our 800 Number agents by one-third and reduced the agent busy rate by over 50 percent in the last two years, and our 800 Number agents handled 1.6 million more calls than they did a year ago.

During the pandemic, we shifted service to the telephone where local office employees answered 13 million more calls last year than they did in fiscal (FY) 2019. They answered your calls in under 3 minutes on average compared to an average wait of nearly 24 minutes in FY 2019.

For individuals who were denied benefits and requested an appeal, we quickly shifted to holding hearings by telephone at the start of the pandemic and then added online video hearings. During the pandemic, we have continued to reduce the number of people waiting for a hearing to 376,000 at the end of February 2021, the lowest level in nearly 20 years. We reduced the average wait for a hearing by over 9 months in the last two years. If you are still waiting for a hearing, please consider scheduling by telephone or video. You can find out more information about telephone hearings here and video hearings here.

The pandemic has significantly disrupted parts of our disability process, particularly at the state Disability Determination Services (DDS) that make disability determinations for us. We have provided the DDSs with additional hiring and overtime to help address a significant increase in pending initial disability cases. The DDSs have been able to reduce the number of people waiting for a decision on initial disability claims by about 100,000 cases since the height of the pending cases in August 2020. In order to make initial disability decisions as quickly as possible, and to reduce the burden on the medical community still stressed from the pandemic, we have focused our limited resources on completing initial requests for disability benefits and have reduced the number of continuing disability reviews we are conducting.

We have made some notable improvements to our online services:

  • Our redesigned Retirement Benefits Portal helps you prepare and apply for retirement benefits, with clearer, simplified information.
  • We improved our registration process for our online my Social Security account – more than one million people will register for an account this month.
  • Our Message Center allows people with a my Social Security account to access notices online instead of by mail.
  • We implemented an online payment option for people to repay debts to Social Security.
  • We expanded our online Social Security card replacement service to almost all states. If you need to replace your card, you can request a replacement through your my Social Security account if you:
    • Are a U.S. citizen age 18 years or older with a U.S. mailing address;
    • Are not requesting a name change or any other change to your card; and
    • Have a driver’s license or a state-issued identification card from one of 45 participating states or the District of Columbia. If your state does not yet participate in this service, check back soon. More states are added regularly.

The entire team at Social Security is working hard to serve you. We thank you for your patience during the COVID-19 pandemic and we look forward to welcoming you back in our offices when it is safe to do so. We also look forward to continuing to improve all of our service channels to provide you with convenient options to do business with us.”

Outreach to Vulnerable Populations During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Advocates and Community Organizations Can Help Connect People with the Social Security Administration

The Social Security Administration has a long history of outreach and coordination with advocates and community-based organizations across the nation. During the COVID-19 pandemic, continuing to work with advocates and community-based organizations is essential to reaching the country’s most vulnerable populations, including individuals with low income, limited English proficiency, mental illness, or those facing homelessness. The agency is fully committed to assisting people in gaining access to the information and services they need with a specific emphasis on applying for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits.

“I made this issue a strategic agency priority and focused resources to reach vulnerable communities and help them access our services and receive their benefits. I ask leaders in every community to share information about our programs with people and help them connect with us to apply for benefits,” said Andrew Saul, Commissioner of Social Security. “Social Security is working on many initiatives to reach vulnerable populations and I am pleased to share information about our national outreach campaign, developed in collaboration with leaders in the community, to raise awareness of the SSI and SSDI programs.”

To ensure effective outreach to these vulnerable populations who need access to agency programs, and to the advocates and organizations who can help to connect people with Social Security, the agency launched a national campaign to raise awareness of the SSI and SSDI programs and encourage people to apply. Campaign efforts include:

· A new webpage, People Helping Others, at www.socialsecurity.gov/thirdparty, for anyone who could assist another person with accessing Social Security’s programs and services;

· A new outreach website, at www.socialsecurity.gov/thirdparty/groups/vulnerable-populations.html where all partner groups can access informational materials to share through their networks, including resources tailored to specific vulnerable populations;

· An updated Faith-Based and Community Groups website at www.socialsecurity.gov/thirdparty/groups/faithandcommunity.html with a new outreach toolkit and SSI and SSDI fact sheets. The agency coordinated this effort with the White House, and the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships is helping to promote these resources; and

· An upcoming national advertising campaign to support all outreach efforts on TV, radio, and social media, with special emphasis on children with disabilities (see the recently redesigned website focused on SSI for children at www.socialsecurity.gov/benefits/disability/apply-child.html). TV and radio PSAs highlighting SSI for children currently are being tested in the Dallas, TX area to determine their impact.

The agency is now completing training videos for community-based caseworkers to help their clients with the SSI application process.

People can apply for SSI benefits, and for other benefit programs, through a telephone appointment with the agency, even while local offices are not able to accept walk-in visitors. More people need to be made aware of the SSI program and reminded that they can call toll-free 1-800-772-1213, or their local Social Security office, to make a phone appointment to apply for SSI. People who are deaf or hard of hearing may call Social Security’s TTY number, 1-800-325-0778.

Faster Processing of Disability Claims for People with Alzheimer’s Disease

by Vonda Van Til, Social Security Public Affairs Specialist

Today, more than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease. Since the onset of Alzheimer’s can occur in people before they retire, it may strike during an individual’s working years; preventing gainful employment as the disease progresses.

As a result, people must come to grips with a devastating diagnosis while losing their salary and benefits. People with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers must figure out how they’ll pay for care. Our benefits and services are vital to people with early-onset Alzheimer’s who are unable to work and have no other source of income.

For over a decade, Social Security has included Alzheimer’s disease in our Compassionate Allowances program. The Compassionate Allowances program identifies debilitating diseases and medical conditions so severe they obviously meet our disability standards. Compassionate Allowances allow for faster processing of disability claims for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease, mixed-dementia, and Primary Progressive Aphasia.

You can read more about our Compassionate Allowances program at www.ssa.gov/compassionateallowances. To learn more about how Social Security disability insurance works, visit our disability page at www.ssa.gov/disability. Please share these resources with friends and family.

Vonda Van Til is the Public Affairs Specialist for West Michigan. You can write her c/o Social Security Administration, 3045 Knapp NE, Grand Rapids MI 49525 or via email at vonda.vantil@ssa.gov.

Social Security Honors our Military Heroes

by Vonda Van Til, Social Security Public Affairs Specialist
May 2020

On Memorial Day, our nation honors military service members who have given their lives for our country. Families, friends, and communities pause to remember the many great sacrifices of our military and ensure their legacy lives on in the freedoms we all enjoy. We recognize these heroes who, in President Lincoln’s words, “gave the last full measure of devotion.”

The benefits we provide can help the families of military service members. For example, widows, widowers, and their dependent children may be eligible for Social Security survivors benefits. You can learn more about those benefits at www.ssa.gov/survivors.

Thinking about retirement? Military service members can receive Social Security benefits in addition to their military retirement benefits. For details, read the Military Service page of our Retirement Planner, available at www.ssa.gov/planners/retire/veterans.html.

Social Security – Suspicious Callers

by Vonda Van Til, Social Security Public Affairs Specialist
May 2020

“I want every American to know that if a suspicious caller states there is a problem with their Social Security number or account, they should hang up and never give the caller money or personal information. People should then go online to report the scam call to Social Security,” said Commissioner Saul. You can report these scams at oig.ssa.gov.

Learn how to protect yourself and report any suspicious calls or emails right away. If you have already been a victim of one of these scams, please do not be embarrassed. Instead, report the scam at oig.ssa.gov so we can stop these scammers and protect others. Please share our new Public Service Announcement video with your friends and family at www.youtube.com/socialsecurity.

Baby Names and Social Security Numbers

by Vonda Van Til, Social Security Public Affairs Specialist
May 2020

Are you thinking about having children or already expecting a newborn? If so, at the top of your new parent or guardian to-do list should be “get my child a Social Security number.” It’s one of the first steps that you can take to protect their bright future. To learn more about this topic, read our Social Security Numbers for Children publication at www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10023.pdf and explore our Parents and Guardians page at www.ssa.gov/people/parents.

Are you curious where your own name appears in the baby names list? See how your name ranks, as far back as 1879 at www.ssa.gov/oact/babynames. Be sure to view the latest top 10 baby names when we release them in time for Mother’s Day.

Social Security – Supplemental Security Income Recipients Will Receive Automatic COVID-19 Economic Impact Payments

SSI Recipients with Dependent Children Should Still Go To IRS.gov to Provide Their Information
submitted by Vonda VanTil, Public Affairs Specialist

The Social Security Administration announced today that Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients will receive automatic Economic Impact Payments directly from the Treasury Department. Treasury anticipates these automatic payments no later than early May.

SSI recipients with no qualifying children do not need to take any action in order to receive their $1,200 economic impact payment. The payments will be automatic.

SSI recipients who have qualifying children under age 17, however, should not wait for their automatic $1,200 individual payment. They should now go to the IRS’s webpage at www.irs.gov/coronavirus/non-filers-enter-payment-info-here and visit the Non-Filers: Enter Your Payment Info section to provide their information. By taking proactive steps to enter information on the IRS website about them and their qualifying children, they will also receive the $500 per dependent child payment in addition to their $1,200 individual payment. If SSI beneficiaries in this group do not provide their information to the IRS soon, they will have to wait until later to receive their $500 per qualifying child.

Effective March 17, 2020, Social Security Offices Will Only Offer Phone Service

** Online Services Remain Available **

All local Social Security offices will be closed to the public for in-person service starting Tuesday, March 17, 2020.  This decision protects the population we serve—older Americans and people with underlying medical conditions—and our employees during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.  However, we are still able to provide critical services.

Our secure and convenient online services remain available at www.socialsecurity.gov.  Local offices will also continue to provide critical services over the phone.  We are working closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), state and local governments, and other experts to monitor COVID-19 and will let you know as soon as we can resume in-person service.

Social Security Launches New Campaign to Fight Scammers

The Social Security Administration launched a new Public Service Announcement (PSA) campaign to continue warning people about the ongoing nationwide telephone impersonation scheme.  The PSAs feature a message from Social Security Commissioner Andrew Saul.  Social Security and its Office of the Inspector General (OIG) continue to receive reports about fraudulent phone calls from people falsely claiming to be Social Security employees.  The scammers mislead victims into making cash or gift card payments for help with purported identity theft, or to avoid arrest for bogus Social Security number problems.

“I want every American to know that if a suspicious caller states there is a problem with their Social Security number or account, they should hang up and never give the caller money or personal information.  People should then go online to oig.ssa.gov to report the scam call to Social Security,” said Commissioner Saul.

People should also be on the lookout for a new version of this scam.  Fraudsters are now emailing fake documents in attempts to get people to comply with their demands.  Victims have received emails with attached letters and reports that appear to be from Social Security or the OIG.  The letters may use official letterhead and government jargon to convince victims they are legitimate; they may also contain misspellings and grammar mistakes.

The new PSA addressing the telephone impersonation scheme is available online at www.youtube.com/socialsecurity.

youtubeSocial Security employees do occasionally contact people–generally those who have ongoing business with the agency–by telephone for business purposes.  However, Social Security employees will never threaten a person, or promise a Social Security benefit approval, or increase, in exchange for information or money.  In those cases, the call is fraudulent and people should just hang up.

Generally, the agency mainly calls people who have recently applied for a Social Security benefit, someone who is already receiving payments and requires an update to their record, or a person who has requested a phone call from the agency.  If a person is not in one of these situations, they normally would not receive a call from the agency.

Social Security will not:
· Tell you that your Social Security number has been suspended.
· Contact you to demand an immediate payment.
· Ask you for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
· Require a specific means of debt repayment, like a prepaid debit card, a retail gift card, or cash.
· Demand that you pay a Social Security debt without the ability to appeal the amount you owe.
· Promise a Social Security benefit approval, or increase, in exchange for information or money.

If there is a problem with a person’s Social Security number or record, in most cases Social Security will mail a letter.  If a person needs to submit payments to Social Security, the agency will send a letter with instructions and payment options.  People should never provide information or payment over the phone or Internet unless they are certain of who is receiving it.

Making Wise Choices When a Representative Payee Manages Your Money

by Vonda Van Til, Social Security Public Affairs Specialist

socialsecuritySome of the millions of people who get monthly Social Security or Supplemental Security Income benefits need help managing this money. A person assigned to help you manage your monthly benefits is called a representative payee. We may decide you need a representative payee if we receive information that indicates you need help to manage your money. We try to select someone who knows you and wants to help you. Your representative payee should be someone who you trust, who sees you often, and who clearly understands your needs.

A representative payee receives your monthly benefits on your behalf and must use the money to pay for your current needs. Eligible costs include:
housing and utilities;
food;
medical and dental expenses;
personal care items;
clothing; and
rehabilitation expenses (if you’re disabled).

If there is someone you want to be your representative payee, tell a Social Security representative, and they will consider your request. Social service agencies, nursing homes, or other organizations are also qualified to be your representative payee. Ask them to contact us.

If you receive a decision that you are appointed a representative payee and don’t agree that you need one, or if you want a different representative payee, write to us within 60 days to appeal that decision.

If you can’t manage your finances, someone else can help. If you have a trusted friend or family member who can be your representative payee, this publication at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/EN-05-10076.pdf  will provide more information on our representative payee rules.

Small Businesses and Social Security

by Vonda Van Til, Social Security Public Affairs Specialist

socialsecurity1According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, the 28.8 million small businesses in the United States represent 99.7% of all U.S. businesses, and employ 56.8 million people.

Running a small business can be a 24-7 endeavor. Managing employees, inventory, scheduling, services, and marketing can be challenging. If you are a small business owner or you work for one, we can help make your life easier with our suite of services. Our services allow you to file W-2/W-2Cs online and verify your employees’ names and Social Security numbers against our records.

If you run a business, make us your first stop at www.socialsecurity.gov/employer. It will save you valuable time when you need information on W-2s, electronic filing, and verifying Social Security numbers. Small business owners can also take advantage of our Business Services Online at www.socialsecurity.gov/bso/bsowelcome.htm. You must register to use this free service, which also offers fast, free, and secure online W-2 filing options to CPAs, enrolled agents, and individuals who process W-2s and W-2Cs.

This publication provides more information about electronic wage reporting www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/EN-05-10034.pdf.

~

We also offer many other online resources at www.socialsecurity.gov/onlineservices. Let friends and family know they can access them from the comfort of their home or office and on the go from their mobile phone.

~

Vonda Van Til is the Public Affairs Specialist for West Michigan.  You can write her c/o Social Security Administration, 3045 Knapp NE, Grand Rapids MI 49525 or via email at vonda.vantil@ssa.gov.

Beware of Social Security Scams

by Vonda Vantil, Social Security Public Affairs Specialist

ssiThere’s a widespread telephone scam involving callers claiming they’re from Social Security. The caller ID may even show a government number. These callers may tell you there’s a problem with your Social Security number. They may also threaten to arrest you unless you pay a fine or fee using gift cards, pre-paid debit cards, a wire transfer, or cash. That call is not from us.

If you receive a suspicious call from someone alleging to be from Social Security, please:

• Hang up right away.
• Never give your personal information, money, or retail gift cards.
• Report the scam at oig.ssa.gov/ to Social Security’s law enforcement team at the Office of the Inspector General.

Social Security will not:

• Threaten you.
• Tell you that your Social Security Number has been suspended.
• Call you to demand an immediate payment.
• Ask you for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
• Require a specific means of debt repayment, like a prepaid debit card, a retail gift card, or cash.
• Demand that you pay a Social Security debt without the ability to appeal the amount you owe.
• Promise a Social Security benefit approval, or increase, in exchange for information or money.
• Request personal or financial information through email, text messages, or social media.

Social Security will:

• Sometimes call you to confirm you filed for a claim or to discuss other ongoing business you have with them.
• Mail you a letter if there is a problem.
• Mail you a letter if you need to submit payments that will have detailed information about options to make payments and the ability to appeal the decision.
• Use emails, text messages, and social media to provide general information (not personal or financial information) on its programs and services if you have signed up to receive these messages.

Social Security Q & A – December 2019

Question: Someone stole my Social Security number, and it’s being used repeatedly. Does Social Security issue new Social Security numbers to victims of repeated identity theft?

Answer: Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in America, so you aren’t alone. If you’ve done all you can to identify and fix the problem, including contacting the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), but someone is still using your number, Social Security may assign you a new number. If you decide to apply for a new number, you’ll need to prove your identity, age, and U.S. citizenship or immigration status. You’ll also need to provide evidence you’re having ongoing problems because of the misuse of your current Social Security number. You can read more about identity theft at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs.

Question: I was speaking with my sister and she told me that she receives half of her spouse’s benefit. Why am I not eligible for benefits from my spouse?

Answer: If your spouse is eligible for Social Security benefits, you could be eligible for one-half of their benefit at your full retirement age. However, if you worked and are eligible for Social Security benefits on your own record, your own benefit may be higher than what you could be eligible for on your spouse’s record. If you have questions regarding your eligibility for benefits, please call 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Question: Do disabled children qualify for benefits?

Answer: Yes. Under the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, a child from birth to age 18 may receive monthly payments based on disability or blindness if: the child has an impairment or combination of impairments that meet the definition of disability for children; and the income and resources of the parents and the child are within the allowed limits. You will find helpful information about steps to apply for childhood disability benefits in our publication, Benefits for Children with Disabilities, at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs.

Question: What is a disability “trial work period?”

Answer: A trial work period is a work incentive that allows Social Security disability beneficiaries to test their ability to work without losing benefits. People who receive Social Security disability benefits can work for at least nine months without losing benefits. During this trial work period, you can get full benefits no matter how much you earn, as long as you continue to have a severe disabling impairment and you report your work activity. The trial work period continues until you complete nine trial work months within a 60-month period. Find more information about this and other work incentives in our publication Working While Disabled: How We Can Help at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10095.html.

Question: I just got a notice from Social Security that said my Supplemental Security Income (SSI) case is being reviewed. What does this mean?

Answer: Social Security reviews every SSI case from time to time to make sure the individuals who are receiving payments should continue to get them. The review also determines whether individuals are receiving the correct amounts. Learn more about SSI at www.socialsecurity.gov/ssi.

Question: I am applying for Extra Help with Medicare prescription drug costs. Can state agencies help with my Medicare costs?

Answer: When you file your application for Extra Help with Medicare prescription drug costs, you can start your application process for the Medicare Savings Programs—state programs that provide help with other Medicare costs. When you apply for Extra Help, Social Security will send information to your state unless you tell us not to on the application. Your state will contact you to help you apply for a Medicare Savings Program. Learn more by visiting www.socialsecurity.gov/prescriptionhelp.

Question: I have medical coverage through my employer. Do I have to take Medicare Part B?

Answer: You are not required to take Medicare Part B if you are covered by a group healthcare plan based on either your employment or the employment of a spouse. When your coverage ends, you may contact Social Security to request a special enrollment for Medicare Part B. We will need to verify your coverage through your employer in order for you to be eligible for a special enrollment. For more information, visit www.medicare.gov.

Question: My child is disabled, but when I applied for SSI, I was told that my child was ineligible because my spouse and I earned too much money? Why does our income make my child ineligible?

Answer: If a child is living with either their natural or adopted parents, then some of the income that the parents earn deems to the child. We use these amounts to determine whether or not your child meets the non-medical requirements for SSI. For more information, visit www.socialsecurity.gov/ssi/spotlights/spot-deeming.htm.

Question: Although I stopped working a few years ago, I had additional seasonal earnings after my retirement. Will my monthly Social Security retirement benefit increase?

Answer: Each year, we review the records for all working Social Security recipients to see if additional earnings may increase their monthly benefit amounts. If an increase is due, we calculate a new benefit amount and pay the increase retroactive to January following the year of earnings. You can learn more about how work affects your benefits by reading our publication, How Work Affects Your Benefits, at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs.

Question: Will my retirement benefits increase if I wait and retire after my full retirement age?

Answer: Yes. You can increase your Social Security retirement benefit in two ways:
• You can increase your retirement benefit by a certain percentage if you delay receiving retirement benefits. We will add these increases automatically from the time you reach full retirement age until you start receiving benefits or reach age 70; and
• If you work, each additional year you work adds another year of earnings to your Social Security record. Higher lifetime earnings may result in higher benefits when you do retire.

For more information, visit www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs to read, print, or listen to our publication, When to Start Receiving Retirement Benefits. You also can use our Retirement Estimator at www.socialsecurity.gov/estimator to determine your estimated future benefits.

Social Security Expands Public Hours at Offices Nationwide

Wednesdays to Return to Full Public Service Hours; Agency to Hire 1,100 Direct Service Employees

Starting on January 8, 2020, Social Security offices nationwide will be open to the public on Wednesday afternoons, Andrew Saul, Commissioner of Social Security, announced.   This change restores Wednesday public service hours that were last in place in late 2012.  “I don’t want someone to come to our office at 2:30 on a Wednesday only to find our doors closed,” Commissioner Saul said.

In another move to improve service to the public, Commissioner Saul announced in his Open Letter to the Public at www.ssa.gov/agency/coss-message.html that the agency is hiring 1,100 front line employees to provide service on the agency’s National 800 Number and in its processing centers.  The agency is currently bringing onboard 100 new processing center employees and approximately 500 new teleservice representatives for the 800 Number.  An additional 500 hires for the 800 Number will occur later in 2020.

“Improving service is my top priority.  Increasing full public service hours at our nationwide network of more than 1,200 field offices is the right thing to do and will  provide additional access,” Commissioner Saul said.  “The hiring of a thousand new employees to provide service through our National 800 Number and an additional 100 hires to process people’s Social Security benefits at our processing centers around the country are steps in the right direction in our mission to greatly improve the service we provide.”

Currently, a field office is generally open to the public from 9:00 a.m. to Noon on Wednesdays.  Beginning on January 8, 2020, offices will remain open until 4:00 p.m. on Wednesdays, with typical field office hours from 9:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Free Up Your Time by Using my Social Security

by Vonda Vantil, Social Security Public Affairs Specialist

Time is one of our most valuable commodities. That’s why at Social Security, we are constantly improving our online resources to make doing business with us easier and faster.

With a my Social Security account, those receiving benefits can change their address and direct deposit information; get proof of their benefits; and request replacement documents, like a Medicare card.

For those that aren’t currently getting benefits, they can check their earnings record, get estimates of future benefits, and view their Social Security Statement. In Michigan, they can even request a replacement Social Security card online. To see everything that can be done with a my Social Security account and to open an account, go to www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount.

Social Security Benefits Increase in 2020

by Vonda Vantil, Social Security Public Affairs Specialist

coupleEach year, we announce the annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA). By law, federal benefits increase when the cost of living rises, as measured by the Department of Labor’s Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). Usually, there is an increase in the benefit amount people will receive each month, starting the following January.

Nearly 69 million Americans will see a 1.6 percent increase in their Social Security benefits and SSI payments in 2020.

Other changes that will happen in January 2020 reflect the increase in the national average wage index. For example, the maximum amount of earnings subject to Social Security payroll tax will increase to $137,700 from $132,900. The earnings limit for workers who are younger than “full” retirement age (age 66 for people born in 1943 through 1954) will increase to $18,240. (We deduct $1 from benefits for each $2 earned over $18,240.)

The earnings limit for people turning 66 in 2020 will increase to $48,600. (We deduct $1 from benefits for each $3 earned over $48,600 until the month the worker turns age 66.)

In December 2019, we will post Social Security COLA notices online for retirement, survivors, and disability beneficiaries who have a my Social Security account. You will be able to view and save future COLA notices via the Message Center inside my Social Security.

You can log in to or sign up for a my Social Security account today at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount to get more information about your new benefit amount. You can choose to receive an electronic notification by email, text, or both ways under “Message Center Preferences.” Our notification will let you know that a new message is waiting for you. We will not send any personal information in the notification. The Message Center also allows you to go paperless by opting out of receiving agency notices by mail that you can get online, including annual cost-of-living adjustments and the income-related monthly adjustment amount increases. The Message Center is a secure portal where you can conveniently receive sensitive communications that we don’t send through email or text.

More information about the 2020 COLA is available at www.socialsecurity.gov/cola.

Vonda VanTil is the Public Affairs Specialist for West Michigan.  You can write her c/o Social Security Administration, 3045 Knapp NE, Grand Rapids MI 49525 or via email at vonda.vantil@ssa.gov

Social Security Reinstates Reconsideration Appeal Level of Disability Process in Michigan

The Social Security Administration announced the reinstatement of the reconsideration, the first step in the disability appeal process, in Michigan beginning on October 1.  This year, seven additional states–Alabama, California, Colorado, Louisiana, New Hampshire, New York, and Pennsylvania–reinstated the reconsideration.

A level of Social Security’s national disability appeals process since 1959, the reconsideration step was eliminated in ten states as part of a prototype to explore ways to reengineer the disability process.  Reinstating reconsideration restores a national, unified disability process and consistent due process for disability claimants across the country.  It also leads to earlier allowance decisions for some at a lower administrative cost to taxpayers than if the first appeal of an initial claim goes directly to the hearing level to be heard by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).  People still have the right to appeal their reconsideration decisions at a hearing before an ALJ.

“Reinstating the reconsideration appeal in Michigan will help improve the disability process,” said Phyllis M. Smith, Regional Commissioner.  “Some people appealing an initial disability claim decision will receive an allowance decision earlier in the process than they would if their appeal went directly to a judge at the hearings level.”

Michigan is one of ten states that have not had the reconsideration appeal since 1999.  The remaining two states, Alaska and Missouri, will bring back reconsideration in 2020.

To learn more about Social Security’s disability process, see www.socialsecurity.gov/benefits/disability.

Social Security Can Help You Get Back to Work

By Vonda Vantil, Social Security Public Affairs Specialist

ssiHaving a job means different things to different people, but it can give you a sense of self, a community to rely on, and much-needed structure. Some people define themselves through their work. Others may enjoy the social aspect of their jobs. If you rely on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments or Social Security Disability (SSDI) benefits and want to start working or return to work, Social Security can help.

A plan for achieving self-support (PASS) is a plan for your future. This plan lets you use your income or the resources you own to help you reach your work goals. You could set aside money to go to school and get specialized training for a job or to start a business. PASS is for both SSI and SSDI. The job that you want should allow you to earn enough to reduce or eliminate the SSI or SSDI benefits you currently receive.

You should use the PASS if all of these apply to you:
• You want to work.
• You get SSI (or can qualify for SSI by having this plan) because you have a disability or are blind.
• You have income, other than SSI, or resources above the resource limit, to use to get a job or start a business.

In some cases, someone on SSDI can use a PASS and become eligible for SSI while pursuing the plan.  Your employment income may reduce or eliminate your SSDI benefits. Under SSI rules, any income that you have may reduce your SSI payment. However, if you have an approved plan, you can use most of that income to pay for the items you need to reach your work goal.

We don’t count money set aside under the PASS when we decide your SSI payment amount. This means you may get a higher SSI payment. However, you can’t get more than the maximum SSI payment for the state where you live. With an approved plan, you can set aside money to pay expenses needed to reach your work goal.

The plan must be in writing, and Social Security must approve it beforehand. To start, contact your local Social Security office for an application (Form SSA-545-BK). You can access this form at www.socialsecurity.gov/forms/ssa-545.html.

If you need help, there are many people who can help you write a PASS, including a Ticket to Work service provider, vocational counselor or a relative. The Ticket program is free and voluntary. The Ticket program helps people with disabilities progress toward financial independence. To learn more about the Ticket program, call the Ticket to Work Help Line at 1-866-968-7842 or 1-866-833-2967 (TTY) Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET.

Vonda VanTil is the Public Affairs Specialist for West Michigan.  You can write her c/o Social Security Administration, 3045 Knapp NE, Grand Rapids MI 49525 or via email at vonda.vantil@ssa.gov.

Emma and Liam Repeat as Social Security’s Top Baby Names for 2018

Jacob and Abigail Fall Out of Top 10

Liam and Emma are once again America’s most popular baby names in 2018.  This is the second time Liam is atop the boys list and the fifth year in a row for Emma.  Two long timers on the list, Jacob and Abigail, toppled out of the top 10 for the first time since 1992 and 2000.  There are two new names in this year’s top 10—Lucas for the first time ever, and Harper makes her way back on the list.

Here are the top 10 boys and girls names for 2018:

Boys:
1) Liam
2) Noah
3) William
4) James
5) Oliver
6) Benjamin
7) Elijah
8) Lucas
9) Mason
10) Logan

Girls:
1) Emma
2) Olivia
3) Ava
4) Isabella
5) Sophia
6) Charlotte
7) Mia
8) Amelia
9) Harper
10) Evelyn

For all of the top baby names of 2018, and to see where your name ranks, go to Social Security’s website, www.socialsecurity.gov.

Social Security Announces 1.6 Percent Benefit Increase for 2020

Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for nearly 69 million Americans will increase 1.6 percent in 2020, the Social Security Administration announced earlier this month.

The 1.6 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) will begin with benefits payable to more than 63 million Social Security beneficiaries in January 2020.  Increased payments to more than 8 million SSI beneficiaries will begin on December 31, 2019.  (Note: some people receive both Social Security and SSI benefits).  The Social Security Act ties the annual COLA to the increase in the Consumer Price Index as determined by the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Some other adjustments that take effect in January of each year are based on the increase in average wages.  Based on that increase, the maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax (taxable maximum) will increase to $137,700 from $132,900.

Social Security and SSI beneficiaries are normally notified by mail in early December about their new benefit amount.  Most people who receive Social Security payments will be able to view their COLA notice online through their my Social Security account.  People may create or access their my Social Security account online at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount.

Information about Medicare changes for 2020, when announced, will be available at www.medicare.gov.  For Social Security beneficiaries receiving Medicare, Social Security will not be able to compute their new benefit amount until after the Medicare premium amounts for 2020 are announced.  Final 2020 benefit amounts will be communicated to beneficiaries in December through the mailed COLA notice and my Social Security’s Message Center.

The Social Security Act provides for how the COLA is calculated.  To read more, please visit www.socialsecurity.gov/cola.