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SSA suspends social security statements; expects shortage by 2036

SSA’s current notice about social security statements for workers. [Screen snip from www.ssa.gov/mystatement]
If you’ve ever held a job and paid into the social security fund, you’ve received statements from time to time telling you what benefits to expect once you retire. Most assume the government provides an accurate account. Do any of us actually keep up with what we’ve deposited?

Fact is you’d be wise to hang onto the last social security statement the government sent you.

The Government Accountability Office provided a report on July 8 about the social security statements the government has used to inform the more than 150 million workers who have paid into the social security system. Traditionally the government sent out statements once a year, presumably to help workers plan for retirement.

With little fanfare, the Social Security Administration chose to suspend mailings of the statement in March, 2011. The GAO said SSA made this decision because of “budget constraints.”

GAO said SSA has plans to provide online statements, but so far there’s no timeline and the plans have not been finalized. The online model is currently in initial development phases said GAO. Nor does SSA have a cost estimate for the new model.

SSA currently has an estimator available for those who are not already receiving social security or fall into other classifications involving pensions. The estimator, SSA warns, only provides estimates, not actual benefits.

The GAO report also included confirmation of signs of trouble ahead: “At present, the cost of Social Security benefits is projected to exceed sources of funding, and the program is projected to be unable to pay a portion of scheduled benefits by 2036.”

GAO made recommendations that included ensuring access to benefits information for all workers.

Testimony from Barbara D. Bovbjerg, managing director Education, Workforce and Income Security was included. Her testimony suggested that despite political rhetoric, the current administration has considered changes to social security.

Bovbjerg noted the need to keep the system from becoming insolvent:
“Accomplishing these goals for the long-term requires that either Social Security receive additional income (revenue increases), reduce costs (benefit reductions), or undertake some combination of the two. A wide variety of options for reform have been proposed. Some of the reform options focus on restoring long-term stability; however, a few aim to enhance benefits for specific groups, such as widows and low-earners who are especially at risk for poverty.”

The GAO report suggests plans are a bit in disarray although SSA said statements may resume in 2012.

Bottom line: hang onto your last statement. You may need it for documentation one of these days.

(Filed by Kay B. Day/July 12, 2011)

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