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AARP Answers: Social Security and Coronavirus

The latest on monthly benefits, stimulus checks, office closures and more

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I receive Social Security benefits. Am I also eligible to receive a stimulus check?

Yes. AARP worked hard to ensure that Social Security recipients are included in the relief payment, which is part of the CARES Act. As long as your adjusted gross income (AGI) is $75,000 or less ($150,000 or less for married couples), you should be eligible for a $1,200 stimulus check. The amount of the check gradually decreases once your AGI exceeds those thresholds. You won't be eligible for a stimulus payment once your income hits $99,000 for singles ($198,000 for couples). You should receive the stimulus payment the same way you receive your Social Security benefits.

I'm already collecting Social Security benefits and haven't filed taxes in years. Do I need to file a return to get a stimulus payment?

The IRS is tasked with determining eligibility and sending out stimulus payments. The agency will base the payment amount on your 2019 federal tax return, if you already filed it, or on your 2018 return. If you weren’t required to file tax returns for those years, and you receive Social Security benefits, the IRS says it will send a $1,200 stimulus payment automatically to recipients based on information contained in SSA-1099 benefit statements that go out every January. The IRS says no extra paperwork is required from Social Security recipients to receive a $1,200 stimulus payment.

Will SSDI and SSI recipients who haven’t been required to file tax returns get stimulus payments automatically too?

AARP Advocacy Gets Results for Social Security Recipients

Since the very first cases of coronavirus were detected in the United States, AARP has been actively engaged in the national response to this pandemic. Each and every day, we are helping our members navigate these frightening and challenging times. Often that includes fighting in the corridors of power, at the local, state and federal level, to make sure older Americans are getting the help they need.

Last week, Congress came together in a bipartisan way to pass the groundbreaking Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act. One of the key provisions in this new law is a $1,200 Economic Impact Payment that is available to every American who makes less than $75,000. AARP fought hard to make sure seniors, especially those who are living on Social Security, got the same benefit that everyone else will receive.

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According to the IRS, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) beneficiaries who haven’t needed to file taxes in the last two years will receive $1,200 stimulus payments automatically because they also receive SSA-1099 tax forms annually. The same is true for railroad retirees, who receive similar RRB-1099 benefit statements.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients typically are not required to file tax returns and typically do not receive SSA-1099 tax forms. SSI recipients who did not file a 2019 and 2018 return and who do not have a representative payee should have received their $1,200 electronic payment from the IRS by May 13 by direct deposit or to their Direct Express card if they did not use the IRS’ Non-Filer Tool. The IRS began mailing paper checks on May 15 to SSI recipients who receive their monthly SSI payment by paper check, and to SSI recipients who used the IRS’ Non-Filer Tool but left the bank account information empty.

For those who receive Social Security retirement or disability benefits (SSDI), Railroad Retirement benefits or SSI and have a qualifying child, will have to wait until they file their 2020 taxes to get the additional $500 payment per eligible child.

Recipients will generally receive the automatic payments by direct deposit, Direct Express debit card, or by paper check, just as they would normally receive their SSI benefits. 


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Lower-income Americans who haven’t filed a 2018 or a 2019 return because they are under the normal income limits for filing a tax return must use the IRS’s new web tool. (This group includes single filers who made under $12,200 and married couples making less than $24,400 in 2019.) Using the tool won’t result in owing more taxes, the IRS says. When you enter basic information, including your Social Security number, name, address, and dependents, the IRS will use this information to confirm eligibility and calculate and send a stimulus payment. an Economic Impact Payment. You can enter bank or financial information to get your check deposited directly into your account — a much faster option than getting a paper check in the mail.

Do I need to have a Social Security number to get a stimulus payment?

Yes.

Will my regular monthly Social Security benefits be delayed because of the coronavirus?

No. You should get your direct deposit (or, for a small number of beneficiaries, a paper check or a Direct Express debit card) at the same time of the month as usual.

Can I visit my local Social Security office?

No. On March 17, the Social Security Administration (SSA) suspended face-to-face meetings in field offices and in-person hearings because of the outbreak. In-person hearings are being scheduled for future dates, and phone hearings are being offered as an alternative.

Administrative Law Judges are currently conducting hearings by phone only, but phone hearings are not mandatory. If you prefer an in-person or video hearing, you can request a postponement until normal office operations resume. A notice will be sent by mail at least 20 days ahead of the new hearing date with details. Here’s how to contact your local Hearing Office.

Will my Social Security application take longer to process because of the coronavirus?

Possibly. It normally takes about six weeks for the SSA to process your application and start your benefits. Social Security Disability payments typically take five to six months to process. With field offices closed temporarily and phone services prioritizing the most critical requests, delays can't be ruled out.

What if I have lost my Social Security card?

You can replace a lost or stolen Social Security card up to three times in a year and up to 10 times during your lifetime. Getting a new card because of a change in your legal name or citizenship status does not count toward the limits. Because Social Security offices are closed, you’ll have to order a new card online. You can order a new card online if you:

  • Have a My Social Security account.
  • Are 18 or older.
  • Are not changing the name on the card.
  • Have a U.S. mailing address (military and diplomatic addresses count)
  • Live in a state that shares its computer data with Social Security. (As of June 2020, 43 states and the District of Columbia do so. Alabama, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Oregon and West Virginia do not. The list is updated regularly, so check the Social Security website to see if your state's status has changed.)

If you don’t have an online account or don’t meet any one of the other criteria, you’ll have to fill out an application form and either mail it or take it to your local Social Security office when it reopens. You’ll need to provide a government-issued photo ID — either a passport, a driver’s license or a state-issued ID card.

Can I apply for Social Security benefits online?

Yes. Go to ssa.gov and sign up for MySocialSecurity. It's free. You can apply for retirement, disability and Medicare benefits online, check the status of an application or appeal, request a replacement Social Security card (in most areas), print a benefit verification letter, and more.

How about by phone?

Due to the coronavirus outbreak and temporary closure of field offices, the SSA says it's trying to focus staff on helping those with the most critical needs. Wait times for callers could be 90 minutes or more. Try to access services online first.

If you opt to use the phone, you can call your local field office's general inquiry line. You can also call 800-772-1213. The SSA says local field offices are prioritizing taking disability and survivor applications for the most severe disabilities, and resolving payment-related issues such as missing payments and suspension of benefits. The 800 number can help with scheduling application appointments and resolving payment-related issues such as change of address, direct deposit change and death reports.


Will Social Security call me because there is a problem with my benefits?

Generally, no. If there is a problem, Social Security will usually contact you by mail. Fraudsters, however, will call you and claim there's a problem. They may threaten to sue you or have you arrested. They often demand payment via retail gift cards, wire transfers, pre-paid debit cards, internet currency or cash to resolve phantom issues. They often demand secrecy.

Social Security workers won't do any of these things. If you get one of these calls, hang up and report the call to the SSA's Office of the Inspector General (OIG). One note: Due to field office closures, if you had an in-person appointment scheduled you may get a call from a Social Security representative to reschedule the appointment.

But I just received a letter in the mail threatening to suspend my benefits unless I make a payment with a gift card. Is it a scam?

Yes. OIG is warning beneficiaries that after field offices closed, scammers started mailing out bogus letters to capitalize on the upheaval caused by the coronavirus outbreak. Again, if someone purporting to represent Social Security threatens suspension of benefits and demands any payment by gift card or other means, hang up.

Is Social Security running out of money due to the pandemic?

Social Security is in good financial shape overall, even though rising unemployment will temporarily reduce the payroll taxes that employers and employees pay into the Social Security system. According to the annual report released by trustees on April 22, the two Social Security trust funds that act as reserves for the program won’t be depleted until 2035, a projection that’s unchanged from last year’s report.

The bigger of the two trust funds, the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) fund, makes monthly income available to millions of retirees, dependents and survivors. Its reserves are expected to last until 2034, unchanged from last year. After that, continuing tax income would cover 76 percent of scheduled benefits. Disabled workers and their families are covered under the Disability Insurance (DI) trust fund. The DI fund’s reserves are projected to last until 2065, a remarkable gain of 13 years from last year’s estimate of 2052 for depletion. After that, 92 percent of scheduled benefits would be paid.

The trustees’ report did not take into account the effects of rising unemployment during the pandemic, which administration officials acknowledged could put pressure on Social Security’s reserves in the short term.

How will the IRS send an economic impact payment for someone with a representative payee?

If you’re taking care of someone on Social Security as their representative payee, the beneficiary will get a check or electronic payment for $1,200 sent to the bank account on their 2019 or 2018 tax return. If they didn’t use electronic delivery, the check will be sent to the address on the tax return.

If you didn’t didn’t file a 2019 or 2018 tax return, the IRS will use information provided by the SSA to help generate your stimulus check. In most cases, representative payees will get paid the same way they get monthly benefit checks — either by direct deposit, Direct Express debit card, or check. The IRS hasn’t determined when those checks will be issued.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to reflect the latest information from the IRS on tax filing requirements for stimulus payments. AARP is monitoring the IRS closely and will provide the latest information on stimulus payments as soon as it becomes available.

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