Social Security recipients who still get their checks by mail have been put on notice: Starting on March 1, benefits will be issued only electronically.
The U.S. Treasury Department says 5 million paper checks still are mailed to beneficiaries, including to more than 186,000 Social Security and Supplemental Security Income recipients in Ohio. Of that number, about 35,000 are in central Ohio.
Beginning on March 1, beneficiaries of Social Security and other federal programs will receive payments through direct deposit or through the government's Direct Express debit card.
Most people have made the switch.
The paper checks for central Ohio beneficiaries represent 8 percent of all payments in the region. For both Ohio and the U.S., the number is 7 percent.
"We're dealing with people who might be procrastinating a bit," said Walt Henderson, director of the Treasury's Go Direct program, which is designed to educate beneficiaries about making the switch to direct deposit or the debit card.
Some beneficiaries also might not feel comfortable with using direct deposit, he said.
The government began offering direct deposit in the 1990s. It wasn't until 2010, though, that the government decided to phase out paper checks for all federal benefits, not just Social Security payments.
Since May 1, 2011, people signing up for federal benefits have been required to receive them through direct deposit or the debit card.
The conversion to electronic payments will save the government $1 billion over the next 10 years, Henderson said. It costs about a dollar to produce and mail each check.
The conversion also is about convenience for recipients, advocates say.
Recipients no longer have to be at home to get access to their money, or worry about theft of a check. Direct deposit also is easier for people with disabilities who might have trouble getting to a bank, or those who have gone through a disaster such as superstorm Sandy.
"We really think it is the way to go," said Kathy Keller, spokeswoman for AARP Ohio.
Recipients who miss the March 1 deadline won't lose their payments. Henderson said government officials will communicate directly with them about the need for direct deposit or getting the debit card.
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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