2006-04-28 / Columnists

Social Security And You

By James Glasser, Manager, Far Rockaway Social Security Center

James Glasser
James Glasser Question: Do I have to report a lost Social Security card?

Answer: No. If you have lost your Social Security card you may apply for a replacement, but even that may not be necessary if you know your number. You can find out how to replace a lost Social Security card by visiting www. socialsecurity.gov, or call Social Security's toll-free number at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) and ask for the fact sheet, New Rules For Getting A Social Security Number And Card. You should keep your Social Security card in a safe place with your other important papers. Do not carry it with you unless you need to show it to an employer or service provider. This will minimize the chances of losing your Social Security card or having it stolen.

Question: Why doesn't my Social Security Statement show any earnings from my job as an elementary school teacher for the past five years?

Answer: If you work for a state or local agency - including a school system, college or university - your earnings may not be covered by Social Security. If you are covered only by your state or local pension plan and you don't pay Social Security taxes, your earnings won't be on your Social Security record. (Your record will show your Medicare wages if you pay into that program.)

If your school system is covered by both your state/local pension plan and Social Security, you pay Social Security and Medicare taxes just as you would for any other Social Security- covered job. In this instance, you should see your earnings on your Social Security Statement . If you believe that your Social Security-covered earnings are not reflected correctly on your Statement , you should contact your local Social Security office. It is important that your earnings record be accurate because your future Social Security benefits are based on those earnings.

For information on how your pension from noncovered state or local employment may affect the amount of your Social Security benefit, you can visit the Social Security website at www. socialsecurity.gov and click on the link for Federal, State & Local Government Employees . Or you can call Social Security's toll-free number at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) and ask for the publication How the Windfall Elimination Provision Can Affect Your Social Security Benefit.

Question: How much can a divorced spouse receive in Social Security retirement benefits?

Answer: A man or woman who is divorced after at least 10 years of marriage keeps certain benefit rights on their former spouse's Social Security record. In order for him or her to get benefits, a divorced husband or wife must be at least age 62 and the former spouse must be eligible for benefits, but not necessarily receiving them. The maximum benefit is 50 percent of the benefit the worker would receive at full retirement age. However, benefits paid prior to full retirement age of the spouse are reduced based upon the age of the spouse at the time benefits are received. For more information, visit Social Security's website at www.soci alsecurity.gov, or call 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) and ask for the publication Retirement Benefits.

Question: My sister has just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and her prognosis is not good. She will need to quit work immediately and begin treatment. Does Social Security have any special procedures to process disability claims for a person with a terminal illness?

Answer: Yes. While the requirements for receiving disability benefits are the same for everyone, Social Security makes every effort to identify a case involving a person with a potentially terminal illness as early in the claims process as possible. The agency then follows special procedures to process the claim as quickly as possible. If your sister hasn't already done so, she should contact her local Social Security office as soon as possible to apply for benefits. Or she can begin the disability application process by going online at www.socialsecurity.gov.

Question: I received Social Security disability benefits for several years, until my condition improved enough to let me try to go back to work last summer. Unfortunately, I have had a relapse and, once again, I'm unable to work. After I was initially approved for Social Security disability benefits, there was a waiting period before benefit payments began. Will I have to wait again?

Answer: No. Once you are determined to be eligible for benefits, there is no waiting period for benefits to resume if your previous disability benefit payments stopped fewer than five years ago. For more information about the Social Security disability program, visit Social Security online at www. socialsecurity.gov/applyfordisability. Or you can call for more information at 1-800-772-1213. (TTY 1-800-325-0778) and ask for the publication Disability Benefits.

Question: I have just taken over the financial responsibilities for my disabled father, who is in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease. I have never had to deal with government benefit programs before, and one of the questions I have not been able to answer is whether Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefit payments are taxable?

Answer: No, SSI benefit payments are not taxable. You can learn more about the SSI program and an individual's rights and responsibilities under the program by visiting Social Security's website at www.socialsecuirty.gov. Just click on the link Already receiving benefits under Disability and SSI. Or you can call Social Security's toll-free number at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) and ask for the publication Supplemental Security Income.

Question: I recently moved in with my sister and she said I should tell Social Security about it because it may affect my Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefit payments. Is that true?

Answer: Yes, you should let Social Security know any time there is a change in your living arrangement. Where you live, who else is in the household and how you share household expenses can all affect the amount of the monthly SSI benefit payment that you receive. For more information visit the Social Security website at www.socialsecurity.gov, or call 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) and ask for the publication Supplemental Security Income.

Question: I am a 73-year-old retiree who, unfortunately, always seems to put everything off until the last minute. With the deadline for the Medicare Prescription Drug program coming up soon, I need to know where I can go to quickly find information about the program and sign up for it?

Answer: For more information or to enroll in a Medicare prescription drug plan, you can visit the Medicare website at www.medicare.gov, or call them at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227). You may also want to find out if you might be eligible for extra help in paying monthly premiums, annual deductibles and prescription co-payments that is available to some beneficiaries with limited income and resources. That extra help could be worth an average of $2,100 per year for those who qualify. You could qualify for the extra help if you have limited income (below $14,700 for an individual or $19,800 for a married couple) and resources (below $11,500 for an individual or $23,000 for a married couple).

To learn more about the extra help, or to apply now, visit Social Security online at www.socialsecurity. gov/prescriptionhelp or call Social Security toll-free at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778).

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