Social Security column
By Karyl Richson
Social Security Public Affairs Specialist in
Milwaukee, WI

The cool winds and changing leaves are tell-tale signs: another autumn has arrived. Sometimes it’s hard to believe how quickly the seasons change and
the years pass by. Whatever season of life you happen to be in, it may be a good time to reflect on the protection you have through Social Security.
Each stage of life — from the spring of youth to the summer of middle age to the autumn of retirement — comes with its own set of financial concerns. And
in each situation, Social Security is there to help.
Of the more than 53 million Americans receiving Social Security benefits, nearly one-third are not retired workers or their dependents. They’re disabled
workers and their families, or the survivors of a deceased worker. These non-retirement Social Security benefits can be especially important to young
workers because about one-in-eight young people will die before retirement, and about one-in-four will become disabled.
While the death of a husband, wife, or parent is emotionally devastating, it often can be financially devastating as well. Social Security provides a monthly
survivors benefit payment to help the qualified family members of a deceased worker.
Social Security disability protection is equally valuable. Few workers have an employer-provided, long-term disability policy. With Social Security,
however, the average worker has the equivalent of a disability insurance policy that pays monthly benefits to workers and their families, based on the
workers’ lifetime earnings. So you can rest a little easier knowing that Social Security provides some measure of security, if life does not turn out as
On the other hand, if you do work and retire as planned, Social Security serves as the foundation for a secure retirement. Social Security is the largest
source of income for most elderly Americans today, but Social Security was never intended to be your only source of income when you retire. You also
will need other savings, investments, pensions or retirement accounts to make sure you have enough money to live comfortably when you retire.
The Social Security Statement that you receive in the mail each year provides an estimate of your retirement, survivors, and disability insurance benefits.
If you’d like to try out some different scenarios and see how various retirement ages and future earnings may change your retirement picture, visit our
online Retirement Estimator at It provides an instant, personalized estimate of your future benefits.
And perhaps the best news of all is that it’s easier than ever to apply for retirement benefits. You can do it right from the comfort and convenience of your
home or office by visiting It can take as little as 15 minutes.
Whether you’re young or old, Social Security is there through every season. You can find out more at

It’s been said before, but it’s worth saying again: Social Security is the nation’s most successful domestic program. It has helped America by helping
Americans, one at a time.
This year marks the 75th anniversary of Social Security. As you can imagine, we have quite a story to share.
We could tell you about how we help keep older Americans out of poverty. We could mention those who are helped by disability benefits and the work
incentives that help those with disabilities go back to work. We could spotlight the dependent families of those left behind when a worker dies and how
survivors benefits help them survive. These are all stories worth telling.
But the best stories belong to you. We recently asked Americans to share their Social Security stories with us and the response was overwhelming.
“Social Security is my lifeline,” wrote one person. “It is difficult at best to live within the limit of my income, but it would be impossible without it.”
“As a WWII combat veteran and a hard working man since the age of 10 being raised on a farm, without my Social Security retirement, I would spend my
senior years as a homeless derelict,” wrote another. “Thank God for Social Security.”
Another man wrote, “When I began contributing to the Social Security fund, I was a young man and never thought that one day I would look forward to
receiving my monthly check. Now it is an important day in the lives of my wife and me when our checks arrive.”
Not all comments were about retirement benefits. Disability benefits also make a big difference in the lives of Americans.
“I am so grateful for Social Security Disability. I truly believe I would be dead by now if not for the help I have received,” wrote one recipient.
“Disability benefits saved my life,” said a veteran. “After combat service as a Corpsman with the Marines in Desert Storm, I spent 16 years in emotional
turmoil. Because Social Security provided a financial safety net, I was able to obtain treatment for PTSD and will soon return to the world of the working
(and the tax-paying). God bless America and God bless the Social Security Administration.”
A similar sentiment came from this person: “I feel like one of the luckiest people in the world. After being placed on disability for an on-the-job injury,
Social Security helped me maintain a lifestyle adequate for my family. For years, I paid into the program and complained every time I looked at my
paycheck. I now see the reason for the payments. Thank God for the USA and Social Security.”
These are just a few of the comments we received. Read more Social Security stories from Americans like you at

You may have more options than you know when it comes to Social Security benefits. Like many, you probably have given some thought to your own
retirement plans. You know you can retire as early as age 62 and get reduced benefits. You know you can wait until your full retirement age and get full
benefits.  You also may know you can defer collecting benefits and accrue delayed retirement credits up to age 70, which will boost your payment.
But did you know that being a spouse or a widower gives you even more choices?
For example, if you have reached your full retirement age when you elect to receive benefits and are eligible for a spouse’s or ex-spouse’s benefit and
your own retirement benefit, you may choose to receive only spouse’s benefits. In this way, you can continue to earn delayed retirement credits on your
own Social Security record. You then may file for benefits on your own record later and receive a higher monthly benefit based on the effect of delayed
retirement credits.
Widows and widowers have similar options. Widows and widowers can begin receiving Social Security benefits at age 60, at age 50 if they are disabled,
or at any age if they are caring for the deceased worker’s child who is younger than 16 or disabled and also entitled to Social Security benefits on the
deceased worker’s record.
Widows and widowers can take a reduced benefit on one record and later switch to a full benefit on the other record. For example, a woman could take a
reduced widow’s benefit at age 60 or 62 and then switch to her full (100 percent) retirement benefit when she reaches full retirement age.
If you already are receiving reduced benefits and you then are widowed, you may want to wait until full retirement age to claim survivor’s benefits. Then
your benefits as a survivor will not be reduced for your age. They may be reduced, however, if your deceased spouse took benefits early and was
receiving reduced benefits.
The rules vary depending on the situation, so you should talk to a Social Security representative about the options available to you. To learn more, visit or call 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778

Moving can be hectic. Some studies show that relocating is one of the greatest stresses we face in our lives. Whether you are moving nearby or across
the country, don’t forget Social Security if you are a beneficiary. Keep us in the loop with your updated information so we can make sure your benefits
continue to arrive on time at your new address.
Even if you get your benefits by direct deposit or Direct Express, or you are only receiving Medicare benefits, reporting your change of address to us still
is important. Without your current mailing address, Social Security is unable to send you notices and other important correspondence about changes that
could affect your benefits. Agreeing to report certain events, including your change of address, is part of the Social Security benefit application process.  
Your benefits could stop if we are unable to contact you.
The fastest and easiest way to change your address with Social Security is to do it online at By answering a
series of questions, we can process your change of address electronically, and you can tell us when the change takes effect. You will receive a
confirmation letter in the mail.
You also can call our toll-free number at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778). Our automated service will walk you through the process of changing your
address in our records. Representatives can help you weekdays from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. local time.
To learn more about changing your address online, read our online fact sheet, Moving? Save Time-Change Your Address Online at

If you are receiving Social Security disability benefit payments, it is important to notify us promptly — either in person, by phone, or by mail — whenever a
change occurs that could affect your benefits. This is especially true when reporting other income. Errors occur when you fail to report certain types of
income timely. If you do not report these amounts, you may have to repay a large part of your benefits.
If you work while receiving disability payments
You should tell us if you take a job or become self-employed, no matter how little you earn. There are some work incentives that may allow you to keep
your disability payments for a while. If your benefits stop because of your work, we can quickly start them again if your income drops or if you stop
Special rules make it possible for people receiving Social Security disability benefits or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) to work and still receive
monthly payments.
If you cannot continue working because of your medical condition, your benefits can start again — you may not have to file a new application.
Work incentives include:
•        Continued monthly benefits for a time while you work;
•        Continued Medicare or Medicaid while you work; and
•        Help with education, training, and rehabilitation to start a new line of work.
The rules are different under Social Security and SSI. But, whether you are receiving Social Security or SSI, it is important to let us know promptly when
you start or stop working, or if any other change occurs that could affect your benefits.
Also, tell us if you have any special work expenses because of your disability (such as specialized equipment, a wheelchair or even some prescription
drugs) or if there is any change in expenses.
If you receive other types of disability benefits
Social Security benefits for you and your family may be reduced if you also are eligible for workers’ compensation (including payments through the black
lung program) or for disability benefits from certain federal, state, or local government programs. You must tell us if:
•        You apply for another type of disability benefit;
•        You receive another disability benefit or a lump-sum settlement; or
•        Your benefits change or stop.
If you get a pension from work not covered by Social Security
If you start receiving a pension from a job for which you did not pay Social Security taxes — for example, from the federal civil service system, some
state or local pension systems, nonprofit organizations, or a foreign government — your Social Security benefit may be reduced. Also, tell us if the amount
of your pension changes.
So keep in mind that you must always keep Social Security informed of your changing situation. Many factors can affect your benefits.
To learn more about Social Security, visit

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I applied for a Social Security card for my baby at the hospital, but the card came back with the wrong name. What do I do?

Go to your local Social Security office or card center. We need to see original documents proving your child’s:
•        U.S. citizenship;
•        Age; and
•        Identity.
If you corrected the child’s birth certificate, we will want to see that. We also will need to see a document proving your identity. All documents must be
either originals or copies certified by the issuing agency. We cannot accept photocopies or notarized copies of documents.
To learn what documents we will accept, go to There, you also can find Social Security Numbers For Children (Publication No. 05-
10023) at
In addition to using our website, you can request a copy of that publication by calling 1-800-772-1213. We can answer specific questions from 7 a.m. to 7 p.
m., Monday through Friday. We can provide information by automated phone service 24 hours a day. If you are deaf or hard of hearing, you may call our
TTY number, 1-800-325-0778.

What are some of the documents Social Security will accept as proof of identity for a child?

We can accept only certain documents as proof of your child’s identity. An acceptable document must be current (not expired) and show your child’s name,
identifying information, and preferably a recent photograph. We generally can accept a non-photo identity document if it has enough information to identify
the child (such as the child’s name and age, date of birth, or parents’ names). We prefer to see the child’s U.S. passport. If that document is not available,
we may accept the child’s:
•        Adoption decree;
•        Doctor, clinic, or hospital record;
•        Religious record (e.g., baptismal record);
•        Daycare center or school record; or
•        School identification card. (Your child may need to be present if a picture ID, such as a student ID, is presented as proof of identity.)
All documents must be either originals or copies certified by the issuing agency. We cannot accept photocopies or notarized copies of documents.


What is the earliest age that I can apply for my Social Security retirement benefits?

If you want benefits to begin at age 62 — the earliest age you can receive reduced retirement benefits, you must be at least 61 years and 9 months of age
to apply.  Keep in mind your benefits will be reduced so evaluate your options carefully before you decide when to retire,  Even if you are not ready to
retire, you should still sign up for Medicare three months before your 65th birthday.  You can do both online at

Can I delay my retirement benefits and receive benefits as a spouse only?  How does that affect me?
It depends on your age.  If you are full retirement age or older when you first apply, and your spouse is receiving Social Security benefits, you can choose
to file and receive benefits on just your spouse’s Social Security record.  This way, you could delay filing for benefits on your own record in order to
receive delayed retirement credits.
By filing only for benefits as a spouse, you may receive a higher retirement benefit on your own record later based on the effect of delayed retirement
credits.  You can earn delayed retirement credits up to age 70 as long as you do not collect your own benefits.
Since the rules vary depending on the situation, you should talk to a Social Security representative about the options available to you.  To learn more, visit or call us at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778).


What is Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?

The SSI program provides monthly payments to people with limited income and financial resources who are age 65 or older, blind or disabled.  In 2010,
the maximum federal SSI payment is $674 a month for an individual and $1,011 a month for an eligible couple.  This amount may be reduced if you have
other income.
Many states supplement SSI payments.  Go to to view electronic leaflets about these state supplements.
To get SSI, your financial resources (savings and assets you own) cannot exceed $2,000 ($3,000 if married).  If you are married and only one person is
eligible, a portion of your spouse’s income may be counted.  You can be eligible for SSI even if you have never worked in employment covered under
Social Security.
Generally, to be eligible for SSI, an individual also must be a resident of the United States and must be a U.S. citizen or a noncitizen lawfully admitted for
permanent residence.  In addition, some noncitizens granted a special immigration status by the Department of Homeland Security also may be eligible.
For more information, you may want to read SSI (Publication No. 05-11000).  You also may want to read our introductory material in the booklet,
Understanding SSI.  Both are available at

Are Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits subject to federal income tax?

No.  SSI payments are not subject to federal taxes.  However, if you also receive Social Security benefits, those benefits may be subject to income taxes.


Do disabled children qualify for benefits?

Yes.  There are two Social Security disability programs that include disabled children.
Under the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, a child from birth to age 18 may receive monthly payments based on disability or blindness if:
* He or she 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.
Under the Social Security Disability Insurance program, an adult child (a person age 18 or older) may receive monthly benefits based on disability or
blindness if:
* He or she has an impairment or combination of impairments that meet the definition of disability for adults;
* The disability began before age 22; and
* The adult child’s parent worked long enough to be insured under Social Security and is receiving retirement or disability benefits or is deceased.
Under both of these programs, the child must not be doing any “substantial” work and must have a medical condition that has lasted or is expected either
to last for at least 12 months or to result in death.
You will find helpful links to the online forms and the steps you need to take to apply for childhood disability benefits at www.socialsecurity.
gov/applyfordisability.  At this time, you cannot complete an application for SSI childhood disability online, but you can complete the Child Disability Report
Form online.  You also can view the fact sheet and checklist in the Child Disability Starter Kit to see what information you will need and the kinds of
questions we will ask when you have your disability interview in your local Social Security office or over the phone.  The Disability Report asks for
information about the child’s conditions or impairments.

Call 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) or visit your local Social Security office right away so that you do not lose potential benefits, even if you
complete the Disability Report Form online.

Does Social Security provide special services or information for people who are blind or visually impaired?

Yes.  Social Security offers a number of services and products specifically designed for people who are blind or visually impaired.
Special Notice Option
If you are blind or visually impaired, you can choose to receive notices and other information from Social Security in ways that may be more convenient
for you.  To find out more about this service, go to our page, If You Are Blind Or Visually Impaired—Your Choices For Receiving Information from Social
Security, at
In addition, if you have a question about a Social Security notice you receive, you may call our toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.,
Monday through Friday, or call or visit your local Social Security office and ask us to read it to you.
Public Information Materials
Many of our publications, such as brochures and fact sheets, are available in Braille, audiocassette tapes, compact disks, or in enlarged print.  Our
publication, If You Are Blind Or Have Low Vision—How We Can Help, and other publications in alternative formats can be obtained by calling, toll-free, 1-
800-772-1213, Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.  If you are deaf or hard of hearing, you may call our TTY number, 1-800-325-0778.
For more information, see our page Public Information Materials in Alternative Media at


I understand my Medicare prescription plan is being discontinued and that I need to make changes to my Medicare Part D coverage.  When can I do that?

Open season for Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage runs from November 15 to December 31 each year.  The Medicare Part D prescription drug
program is available to all Medicare beneficiaries to help with the costs of medications.  Joining a Medicare prescription drug plan is voluntary, and
participants pay an additional monthly premium for the coverage.  Learn more at    In addition, if you have limited resources and
income, you also may be eligible for “Extra Help” to pay for monthly premiums, annual deductibles, and prescription co-payments.  The Extra Help is worth
an average of $3,900 per year.  To find out more, go to