Social Security column/Karyl Richson
By Karyl Richson
Social Security Public Affairs Specialist in Milwaukee, WI
BEAT THE HEAT; GO ONLINE
If the dog days of summer have you turning up the air conditioning or fan, here’s a hot tip to keep cool. When the time comes to
apply for your Medicare benefits, don’t worry about trudging into the heat and making your way in the blazing sun to a Social
Security office. Just pour yourself a tall glass of iced tea, sit back in the comfort of your home or office, and go to www.
Winter, spring, summer, or fall, all you have to do is go online. You can use our online application to sign up for Medicare, even if
you are not ready to retire. It takes less than 10 minutes.
Keep in mind that if you’re applying to start receiving Social Security benefits at age 65 or are already receiving benefits, your
enrollment in Medicare is automatic and no additional application is needed. However, if you’re within four months of your 65th
birthday and you plan to delay your retirement benefits, you should consider applying for Medicare.
Applying for Medicare on the Internet is convenient, quick, and easy. There’s no need to drive to a local Social Security office or
wait for an appointment with a Social Security representative. In most cases, once your application is submitted electronically, you’
re done. There are no forms to sign and usually no documentation is required. Social Security will process your application and
contact you if we need more information. Once we process your application, you’ll receive your Medicare card in the mail.
For more information about applying for Medicare only and delaying retirement benefits, read our Retirement Planner page:
Applying for Medicare Online at www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2/justmedicare.htm.
Once you’ve read over the information and reviewed your situation, you can make a clear decision on whether the time is right for
you to apply for Medicare. When you’re ready to apply, here’s exactly what you need to do:
• Go online to www.socialsecurity.gov and select “Apply for Medicare;”
• Go through a series of questions that will help you consider either filing for retirement and Medicare benefits or only filing for
• Use the “More Info” links if you need more information;
• Answer questions about current benefits you may be receiving, such as Medicaid or other health insurance; and
• Select “Sign Now” to send your application electronically to Social Security.
Social Security makes it easy to apply for Medicare and do a number of other things from the comfort of your home or office. Stay
cool and visit www.socialsecurity.gov.
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BACK-TO-SCHOOL CHECKLIST: SUPPLIES, CLOTHES, SOCIAL SECURITY FORM
If your son or daughter is a high school student turning 18, you’ve probably spent some time shopping for school supplies and
the latest fashions, working out the schedule for the academic year, maybe even looking into colleges.
If your young senior is collecting monthly Social Security benefits, here’s one more thing to add to your “Back-to-School” checklist.
To make sure that Social Security benefits continue beyond age 18, eligible students must obtain certification from school
officials that they are still in high school and provide it to Social Security. Otherwise, monthly Social Security benefits automatically
stop when a student turns 18.
For more information about Social Security student benefits, visit www.socialsecurity.gov/schoolofficials. The website outlines
how the process works with instructions on what the student and school official must do to ensure that benefits continue past the
student’s 18th birthday. With the appropriate certification, Social Security generally does not stop benefits until the month before
the month the student turns 19, or the first month in which he or she is not a full-time high school student, whichever is earlier.
Some students receive Social Security survivors benefits because a parent is deceased. Others may get dependent benefits
because their parent receives Social Security retirement or disability benefits. Benefits for minor children generally continue until
age 18 — or 19 if they’re still in high school. The only exception to this rule is if a student is disabled and eligible for childhood
disability benefits. In that case, a separate application for benefits is required.
Social Security’s website also includes:
• a downloadable version of the required Student’s Statement Regarding School Attendance (Form SSA-1372) that must be
completed by the student, certified by the school, and returned to Social Security;
• answers to frequently asked questions for school officials and students; and
• a field office locator to find the address of your local Social Security office.
So as you’re buying school supplies, trying out back-to-school fashions, and figuring out when the holiday break begins, don’t
forget the important step of visiting www.socialsecurity.gov/schoolofficials.
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THE SAFETY NET FOR AGED, BLIND, DISABLED PEOPLE WITH LIMITED INCOME AND RESOURCES
There’s a safety net out there for those who might otherwise slip through the cracks. It’s called Supplemental Security Income
(SSI). Administered by Social Security, SSI makes payments to people with limited income and few resources who are age 65 or
older, blind, or have a disability.
Funding for the SSI program comes from the general revenues of the U.S. Treasury, not from Social Security payroll taxes.
When we consider people’s income, we count things such as wages, Social Security benefits and pensions. However, Social
Security does not count all of your income when it decides whether you qualify for SSI. For example, we don’t count food stamps
or most home energy assistance.
Resources we count in deciding whether you qualify for SSI include real estate (other than the home you live in), bank accounts,
cash, stocks, and bonds. A person with resources worth no more than $2,000 may be able to get SSI. That resource limit is
$3,000 for couples.
To qualify for SSI, you must live in the United States or the Northern Mariana Islands and be a U.S. citizen or national. In rare
cases, noncitizen residents can qualify for SSI. If you live in certain types of institutions or live in a shelter for the homeless, you
may qualify for SSI.
People with blindness or disability who apply for SSI may be able to get free special services to help them work. These services
may include counseling, job training, and help finding work.
The monthly maximum Federal SSI payment is the same nationwide and amounts to $674 for a person and $1,011 for a married
couple. However, the amount you receive depends on factors such as where you live, your living arrangements, and income.
Some states also supplement or add money to the Federal payment.
To learn more about SSI, read the online publication, You May Be Able To Get Supplemental Security Income (SSI) at www.
socialsecurity.gov/pubs/11069.html or visit the SSI page at www.socialsecurity.gov/ssi. Or call us toll-free at 1-800-772-1213
If you’re too disabled to work but haven’t paid enough into Social Security to qualify for benefits on your record, SSI may be the
program to help you.
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PEOPLE WITH A DISABILITY CAN GET A TICKET TO WORK
Millions of Americans receive disability benefits from Social Security and there could be good news for many of those who want to
work. A free and voluntary program called Ticket to Work gives individuals who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or
Social Security disability benefits access to meaningful employment while maintaining control over benefit choices.
Ed Bairos, a farmer and mechanic, went back to the work he loved with the help of the Ticket program. He began receiving Social
Security disability benefits after suffering from severe arthritis, complicated by a knee injury that would require 20 surgeries. He
was concerned about losing the cash payments and health care he needed to survive and worried that employers might not want
to hire him.
Then Bairos learned about the Ticket to Work program when he received a notice in the mail from Social Security. The notice was
a “ticket” that Bairos could use with an employment network of his choosing. Employment networks are organizations that offer
specialized services such as career counseling, job search assistance, vocational rehabilitation and training. Bairos decided to
use his ticket with an employment network and returned to work. He continued to receive health care and cash benefits because
of work incentives, which are special considerations that make it easier for beneficiaries to explore whether going back to work is
right for them.
Pleased with Bairos’ industry knowledge and skills as a farm manager, his employer gave him a promotion and a raise. Now he
is self-sufficient, working for another division within the company.
Bairos earns more money than he would have by relying solely on disability benefits. By using his Ticket, Bairos’ medical reviews
were put on hold and he is eligible to receive Medicare coverage for up to eight and a half years after discontinuing his disability
“Returning to work has made me whole again, especially being able to work in the area that I love. My self-esteem was at its
lowest when I wasn’t working and on disability. Returning to work not only improved my self-worth but also my financial wealth.
The Ticket to Work program and the ability to keep my Medicare was the reason I was able to return to work,” he said.
If you receive Social Security or SSI benefits due to disability, are between 18 and 64 years old and want to work, getting started is
Visit www.socialsecurity.gov/work for more information on the Ticket to Work program and work incentives. You also may call
(866) 968- 7842 (TDD (866) 833-2967) to learn how going back to work may affect your benefits.
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QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
What should I do if an employee gives me a Social Security number but cannot produce the card?
Seeing the card is not as important as putting the correct information on the worker's Form W-2. You can verify employee Social
Security numbers by using the Social Security Number Verification Service. Just go to www.socialsecurity.gov/bso. This online
service allows registered employers to verify employee Social Security numbers against Social Security records for wage
reporting purposes. If the employee recently applied for a Social Security number but does not yet have a card when you must file
the paper Form W-2, enter the words “Applied for” on the Form W-2. If you are filing electronically, enter all zeros (e.g., 000-00-
0000) in the Social Security number field. When the employee receives the card, file Copy A of Form W-2C, Corrected Wage and
Tax Statement with Social Security to show the employee's number.
I worked for the last 10 years and I now have my 40 credits. Does this mean that I get the maximum Social Security retirement
The 40 credits are the minimum number you need to qualify for retirement benefits. However, we do not base the amount of the
benefit on those credits; it's based on your earnings over a lifetime of work. For details on how your benefit is figured go to www.
How can I estimate my retirement benefit at several different ages?
It’s easy! Use our Retirement Estimator at www.socialsecurity.gov/estimator to get a retirement benefit estimate based on current
law and real time access to your earnings record. The Retirement Estimator also lets you create additional "what if" retirement
scenarios to find out how changes in your situation might change your future benefit amount. It’s also available in Spanish at
If both my spouse and I are entitled to Social Security benefits, is there any reduction in our payments because we are married?
No. We calculate lifetime earnings independently to determine each spouse’s Social Security benefit amount. When each
member of a married couple meets all other eligibility requirements to receive Social Security retirement benefits, each spouse
receives a monthly benefit amount based on his or her own earnings. Couples are not penalized because they are married. If
one member of the couple earned low wages or failed to earn enough Social Security credits (40) to be insured for retirement
benefits, he or she may be eligible to receive benefits as a spouse based on the spouse’s work record. Learn more about
spouse benefits at www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2/yourspouse.htm.
I am receiving Social Security disability benefits. Will my benefits be affected if I work and earn money?
It depends. We have special rules called "work incentives" that help you keep your monthly payments and Medicare coverage
while you test your ability to work. For example, you can receive full benefits regardless of how much you earn, as long as you
report your work activity and continue to have a disabling impairment during a trial work period. For more information about work
incentives, we recommend that you read our publication, Working While Disabled-How We Can Help at www.socialsecurity.
Is there a time limit on how long I can receive Social Security disability benefits?
Your disability benefits will continue as long as your medical condition has not improved and you still cannot work. We will review
your case at regular intervals to make sure you are still disabled. If you are still disabled when you reach your full retirement age,
we will convert your disability benefit to a retirement benefit at the same amount. You can learn more about Social Security
disability benefits at our website: www.socialsecurity.gov/disability.
SUPPLEMENTAL SECURITY INCOME
Is it true that a person can own a home and still be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits?
Yes, even though SSI is a needs-based program, a person who owns the home they live in can be eligible for SSI benefits.
People who receive SSI must be age 65 or older, blind, or disabled and have limited income and resources. But a personal
residence is not counted as a resource for SSI purposes. For more information, read our booklet, Supplemental Security Income
I understand that you need to have limited resources to receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI). But what is considered a
Resources are things you own that you can use to support yourself. They include cash, real estate, personal belongings, bank
accounts, stocks, and bonds.
To be eligible for SSI a person must have $2,000 or less in countable resources. A married couple must have $3,000 or less in
countable resources. If you own resources over the SSI limit, you may be able to get SSI benefits while trying to sell the resources.
Not all of your resources count toward the SSI resource limit. For example:
• The home you live in and the land it's on do not count;
• Your personal effects and household goods do not count;
• Life insurance policies may not count, depending on their value;
• Your car usually does not count;
• Burial plots for you and members of your immediate family do not count;
• Up to $1,500 in burial funds for you and up to $1,500 in burial funds for your spouse may not count; and
• If you are blind or have a disability, some items may not count if you plan to use them to work or earn extra income.
You may also wish to read information on "resources" in the booklet, Understanding SSI at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/11011.
What’s the best way to apply for extra help with Medicare prescription drug costs?
The fastest and most convenient way to apply for extra help with Medicare prescription drug costs is online at www.socialsecurity.
gov/prescriptionhelp. Medicare beneficiaries with limited income and resources may qualify for extra help, which pays part of the
monthly premiums, annual deductibles, and prescription co-payments under the Medicare prescription drug program. The extra
help is estimated to be worth an average of $4,000 per year.
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