Sandy leaves some Social Security recipients high and dry

U.S. Post Office building damaged by Hurricane Sandy is seen in Sea BrightAfter superstorm Sandy, disrupted mail service is not at the top of the list of problems. Many senior citizens relying on monthly Social Security checks have been directly affected as a result of superstorm Sandy.

These senior citizens, who are counting on the post office to deliver their monthly check may be up for some wait. This is because, the U.S. postal service has been struggling to restore their service in the states of New Jersey, New York and Connecticut after superstorm Sandy. Nearly two-thirds of people aged between 65 and above receive more than half of their total income through Social Security benefits. These benefits are usually paid on the third of each month, but in November, the payments were made on Friday November 2. The situation varies around the region as the tri-state areas struggle to resume services after the storm and many still await.

Although a number of citizens receive their Social Security payments through electronic transfer, a large number of recipients still collect theirs from their mailboxes every month. Statistics provided by the Social Security Administration show that around 92,000 recipients in New Jersey, 43,000 in Connecticut and 229,000 in New York state receive monthly paper checks via the U.S. Postal Service. These figures include both retirement and disability recipients in these states.

Due to superstorm Sandy last month, a large number of recipients have still not received their Social Security checks. This is because mail carriers were advised to return all mail to the nearest local post office to avoid locations which could not be reached safely for delivery during the storm. Those Social Security beneficiaries who have not received their monthly checks can visit any local Social Security office to request an immediate payment. They can also pick up their checks from the local post office by bringing their identification along to confirm their address which is on the check. Be sure to check if the local offices are open by giving them a call first. In emergency situations, local offices can also issue a payment on the spot. Beneficiaries can get more information about getting their payment at www.socialsecurity.gov/emergency.

Advantages of Direct Deposit

To avoid delays like these in the future, it is advised that you shift to an all-electronic payment delivery system. This way, payments will be made directly to a bank account or debit card. To encourage electronic payment, the Social Security Administration is also in the midst of shifting to an all-electronic payment delivery system and according to the SSA, paper checks will disappear entirely by March 2013. Only retirees aged 90 years and above will have the option to be exempted from this change by filing a waiver request.

“While the New York region has emergency arrangements with the Post Office, this kind of situation does illustrate the advantages of direct deposit,” said Webb Phillips, senior legislative representative for the National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare, an advocacy group.

Current beneficiaries who rely on monthly checks also have other options available to them. They can have the funds added to a bank account through direct deposit, use a DirectExpress debit card to access benefits without using a bank account or have the funds added to an electronic transfer account (ETA) at a bank or credit union with a fee no more than $3 per month. Using an ETA also allows at least four free cash withdrawals per month. However, if you use a debit card, you have the option of one free cash withdrawal per month and a 90-cent fee for each additional withdrawal as long as you use an ATM participating in the program’s surcharge-free network. In case you use an ATM at a bank that does not participate, you may be charged higher fees.

Although these electronic systems have costs associated with them, they will serve their purpose in case of emergencies.

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