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Social Security: more paper statements ahead

Social Security Administration had stopped paper statements to cut costs. Now, it plans to resume Social Security statements for those 60 and over.

By Matt SedenskyAssociated Press / January 24, 2012

Michael Astrue, commissioner of Social Security, speaks alongside Labor Secretary Hilda Solis (center) and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, at a briefing last May in Washington. The Social Security Administration plans to resume mailing annual benefits statements, but only to those 60 and over.

Jason Reed/Reuters/File

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TAMPA, Fla.

Social Security benefits statements — which officials stopped mailing to cut costs — will again be sent out to selected age groups.

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Annual statements will begin being sent again next month to people 60 and older who are not yet receiving benefits, Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue said in a letter obtained by The Associated Press. One-time mailings to 25-year-old workers introducing them to the entitlement program and their potential benefits will begin being sent by the end of the year, the letter says.

Despite that, the bulk of the 150 million people who had received the statements will not, instead being directed to a website the Social Security Administration plans to open in the coming months to allow access to benefit estimates. In Astrue's letter, dated Friday, he also says people who are unable to access the Internet or who have other reasons for needing a paper statement will be able to request one.

The details of the revised mailing guidelines were expected to be announced Tuesday by Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, and Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., a member of the committee. The senators had written Astrue last month expressing concern over the halted statements.

Reducing the number of statements sent out is expected to trim the estimated $70 million annual bill to about $3.7 million. The SSA says the Web-based system is expected to cost just a fraction of what mailed statements had.

"It's always important to look for ways to cut costs, but there's a good reason for the law requiring that these statements be mailed to workers," Kohl said in a statement.

Nelson said if businesses must send quarterly statements to employees with 401(k) accounts, the government should do the same. "While the decision is a step in the right direction," he said, "it still doesn't make sense to send to some folks but not to others."

In his letter, Astrue said the statement scale-back was just one of many areas the agency was cutting costs, from consolidating offices to leaving jobs unfilled.

"Budget shortfalls force us to make some very difficult decisions," he said.

Since the 1980s, Social Security statements have been mailed each year to workers older than 25. They include a history of taxable earnings for each year — so people can check for mistakes — as well as the total amount of Social Security and Medicare taxes paid over the lifetime of the worker.

The statements provide estimates of monthly benefits, based on current earnings and when a worker plans to retire.

Scaling back the statements is part of a trend in government to conduct more of its business electronically. A majority of Social Security beneficiaries already have their benefits direct deposited into their bank account.

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