Frank Jones, 77, Bobby Anderson, 81, and Sumter Mitchell, 73, relaxed at a table at the Highland Park senior center in Rock Hill last week.
The men know hard work. They recall their first jobs when wages were 75 cents an hour – $1 if you were lucky – and later when weekly take-home pay was about $32. Their work was hard, digging ditches, pushing wheelbarrows, butchering hogs, loading freight and repairing cars.
All are long retired, they count on Social Security to pay the bills. The monthly checks are usually enough to barely cover their bills.
They don’t rely on getting the government check the mail, however. They have been getting their checks directly deposited into their bank accounts for years. They say it gives them confidence, knowing the money is always there and they don’t have to worry about someone stealing the check from a mailbox.
In 2010, according to the U.S. Treasury, 540,000 Social Security checks worth $93 million were stolen and fraudently endorsed.
While a $93 million dollars might not seem like much when politicians use billions and trillions when discussing government spending, the U.S. Treasury not only wants to reduce the fraud, loss or theft figure, but the cost of issuing checks as well.
Starting March 1 all federal benefits – Social Security, veterans benefits, railroad retirement payments and checks from the Office of Personnel Management – will be done electronically. The U.S. Treasury estimates going paperless will save $1 billion over the next 10 years.
In South Carolina, the savings will be about $894,000. Overall, 93 percent of South Carolina seniors receive their Social Security benefits electronically.
In York County 4.7 percent of the people get their Social Security by mail. In Lancaster County it’s 5.5 percent and 9.8 percent in Chester County, according to U.S. Treasury data.
Barbara Robinson, director of the Catawba Area Agency on Aging, admits going paperless could be a hardship for some, “but it could be worked around.”
The agency assists seniors in Chester, Lancaster, Union and York counties. Robinson said that seniors are sometimes slow to change.
“We do almost anything not to upset them,” Robinson said.
But this change is a much needed step in giving seniors more financial security, she said.
And many seniors – as the percentages show – have adapted, she said. Getting food stamps or Medicare Part D, requires Internet signups, she said.
But those pushing going paperless don’t always see the full picture. Colleen Kaphengst, director of the York County Library, said that as many as 40 percent of households in South Carolina don’t have Internet access.
That means libaries are doing more and more to assist those needed e-government services such as helping people sign up for the free credit monitoring service the state is offering as a result of state tax returns being hacked. (Call the library for places and times for these classes.)
Kaphengst said, time permitting, library workers will assist those needed computer help to register for paperless Social Security payments or other e-government services. She said workers will help people get to the right computer page to register, but won’t enter a person’s needed financial information out of privacy and liability concerns.
She noted, however, that the library’s computers are likely more secure that home computers, particulary the computers are on a wireless network that can be easily hacked.
While workers at the Catawba Area on Agency and the library are willing to help, going to a bank, credit union, or calling the U.S. Treasury directly, may be the simplest way to go paperless.
For seniors without a bank account, the U.S. Treasury offers a Direct Express MasterCard. The U.S. Treasury has been offering the card for four years and reports high consumer satisfaction for safety and ease in paying bills.
Regardless of what option is used to go paperless, Robinson said those assisting in the process should have the same goal, to help seniors, in all aspets, grow old gracefully.
Don Worthington 803-329-4066 firstname.lastname@example.org