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Much More Than Checks: How Social Security Depends on the Mail

  August 27, 2020 | By Mark Miller, The New York Times

Top Democrats are warning that the problems afflicting the United States Postal Service pose a threat to more than voting rights — a slowdown in services, they say, will also hurt seniors who rely on letter carriers for Social Security checks, medications and other critical mail. Already, concerns about prescription drug deliveries are surfacing — but how about Social Security payments? Should beneficiaries be concerned? Accounts of mail slowdowns and curtailed service emerged after Louis DeJoy, a Republican megadonor and ally of President Trump, became postmaster general in May. Mr. DeJoy has pushed changes he says will help the Postal Service grow and “embark on a path of sustainability.” Over the past two decades, the Social Security Administration has shifted to electronic payment for most beneficiaries, but that doesn’t mean the agency’s operations are not vulnerable to delays in mail service. The agency currently pays 99 percent of Social Security beneficiaries via direct deposit to a checking or savings account, or a government-issued debit card. But nearly 850,000 paper checks still are mailed each month to recipients of retirement, disability and Supplemental Security Income benefits. Social Security also sends and receives millions of pieces of mail every year, including notifications, requests for information, Medicare enrollment forms and replacement Social Security cards. More isolated, rural parts of the country are particularly vulnerable to problems within the postal system. Moreover, the shutdown since March of Social Security’s national network of field offices because of the pandemic means that more business is being transacted through the Postal Service that normally would be handled through in-person visits. Here are some key points to know about Social Security and the mail.

The pandemic makes the U.S.P.S. more important than ever to Social Security’s operations, says Stacy Braverman Cloyd, director of policy and administrative advocacy for the National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives, a specialized bar association for lawyers and advocates who represent people claiming Social Security disability and Supplemental Security Income.

“To the extent the Postal Service becomes less reliable, or people have less confidence in it, those are real problems, and they couldn’t happen at a worse time.”

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