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SSA switch to electronic benefits may cause service issues

New Jersey residents receiving Social Security Disability benefits should monitor their payments closely as the Social Security Administration moves away from sending checks.

Advocates for the disabled in New England report an increase in missed payments and payments being converted to electronic forms without notice to beneficiaries.

The SSA automatically issues electronic payments to people who applied for benefits on May 1, 2011, or after. The agency encourages beneficiaries who applied before May 1, 2011, to sign up for electronic payments. March 1, 2013, is the SSA's deadline for all beneficiaries to switch to electronic payments.

The SSA estimates that converting its system to electronic payments will save taxpayers around $44 million.

Even beneficiaries already enrolled in direct deposit express concern. One story involved an individual who previously received direct deposits of SSDI benefits into his checking account. Recently, he failed to receive a payment and called the SSA. At first, the SSA was unable to locate his payment. Later, the agency found that they sent the payment to the man on a Direct Express Card -- a card preloaded with the payment similar to a debit card.

The SSA did not notify the man that he would receive a card instead of a direct deposit and the man may have disposed of the letter with the card, mistaking it for junk mail.

SSA officials insist that beneficiaries enrolled in direct deposit should not be switched to the card. Unlike direct deposit, the Direct Express Card is not free. Users of the debit card incur fees to withdraw money from an ATM, obtain a paper statement, transfer funds or replace a lost card.

A contractor, CO-America, issues and administers the Direct Express Cards for the SSA.

All beneficiaries of SSDI should be vigilant in making note of any changes to their benefits and advise the SSA immediately of any issues.

Source: wcax.com, "Changes to Social Security stir controversy," Gina Bullard, April 6, 2012

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