AARP Answers: Social Security and Coronavirus
The latest on monthly benefits, stimulus checks, office closures and more
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.
If you receive a letter or other communication purporting to be from Social Security that claims your benefits are being suspended, discontinued or increased due to COVID-19, it’s a scam. Report it to Social Security’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG).
Can I visit my local Social Security office?
Only in limited circumstances, and by appointment.
Social Security Administration (SSA) field offices were closed to walk-in traffic in March 2020 and remain so. In October, the SSA began allowing scheduled in-person meetings for people facing “limited, critical situations” with their benefits.
The agency says such a situation exists if:
- You are without food, shelter, utilities, or medical care or coverage and need to apply for or reinstate benefits.
- You receive benefits and have an urgent need for payment to meet expenses for food, shelter or medical treatment, and you cannot receive the payment electronically.
You may also be able to schedule a face-to-face meeting to resolve issues related to your Social Security number — for example, if you need to correct or update information associated with your number (such as name, birth date or citizenship status) to obtain income or medical care, file a tax return, receive stimulus payments or access other benefits and services.
You can call your Social Security office to see if you qualify for an in-person visit. The SSA cautions that “appointments may not be immediately available, depending on local health and safety conditions and staffing.”
Can I apply for Social Security benefits online?
You can apply for retirement benefits, spouse benefits, Medicare or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) online.
To facilitate the process, go to ssa.gov and sign up for My Social Security, a free online service. With a My Social Security account, you can also get estimates of future benefits, check the status of an application or appeal, request a replacement Social Security card (in most states), print a benefit verification letter, and more.
How about by phone?
You can apply for any type of benefit, including survivor benefits and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and access many other Social Security services by calling your local field office or the SSA’s national help line, 800-772-1213.
However, wait times to speak to a live representative may be longer than usual. The SSA recommends that you try using its online services first whenever possible. You can also resolve many issues using the agency’s automated phone services, available via the national 800 number.
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Will my application take longer to process because of the pandemic?
Possibly. It normally takes about six weeks for the SSA to process your application and start your benefits. Social Security disability claims typically take five to six months to process. With field offices largely closed and phone services prioritizing the most critical requests, delays can’t be ruled out.
What if I have lost my Social Security card?
Replacing a lost card is not something for which you can schedule a visit to a Social Security office, but you can order a new card online if you meet all these criteria:
- You have a My Social Security account.
- You are 18 or older.
- You are not changing the name on the card. (If you are changing the name, you might qualify for an in-person appointment.)
- You have a U.S. mailing address (military and diplomatic addresses count).
- You live in a state that shares identification data with Social Security. As of August 2021, 44 states and the District of Columbia do so. Alaska, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and West Virginia do not, nor do Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories. The list is updated regularly, so check the Social Security website to see if your state’s status has changed.
If you don’t meet any one of these requirements, you’ll have to fill out an application form and mail it to your local Social Security office. You may need to provide documents to verify your identity, age and citizenship status, such as a passport, driver’s license or birth certificate. These must be originals or certified copies.
It may take the SSA two to four weeks to process a mail-in application and return your documents.
Are disability appeal hearings taking place?
Yes, but only by phone or online video. Social Security’s physical hearing facilities have been closed to the public since March 2020.
Phone or video hearings are not mandatory. If you prefer an in-person hearing, you can request a postponement until normal office operations resume. However, the SSA says hearing offices will remain closed “for the foreseeable future” and it cannot estimate when a requested in-person proceeding will take place.
The SSA website’s page on hearing options during the pandemic has information on arranging and preparing for a video or phone hearing. To schedule a hearing or learn more, contact your local hearing office.
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. Scammers, however, will call you in the guise of SSA representatives and claim there’s an issue with your benefits, or that your Social Security number has been linked to illegal activity.
The impostors may threaten to sue you, suspend your payments or have you arrested unless you provide personal information or make a payment by retail gift card, wire transfer, prepaid debit card, cryptocurrency or cash.
Genuine 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 OIG.
Social Security scammers might also approach you via email, text message or letter. Do not respond to take any action demanded in the message, such as clicking a link or calling a phone number.
I received a letter from Social Security about SSI. Is it legitimate?
It might be. As part of its efforts to reach vulnerable populations while field offices are closed, the SSA is sending letters and emails to notify some Social Security beneficiaries that they might also qualify for Supplemental Security Income, a benefit for older, disabled and blind people with low incomes.
These notifications include a dedicated 800 number staffed by SSI specialists to help people understand and apply for this benefit. If you receive such a letter or email and have questions about it, call 800-772-1213.
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 payments authorized by Congress. As long as your adjusted gross income (AGI) is $75,000 or less ($150,000 or less for married couples filing jointly), you were eligible for all three stimulus checks. The amount of the check gradually decreased once your AGI exceeded those thresholds.
You should have received the stimulus payment the same way you receive your Social Security benefits. If you feel you should have gotten a stimulus check, check the IRS website. You may have to file a 2020 income tax return to get your stimulus check.
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?
Probably. The IRS was tasked with determining eligibility and sending out stimulus payments. The agency based the payment amount on your federal income tax return or information provided through its Get My Payment tool.
Those who receive Social Security retirement or disability benefits, SSI, Railroad Retirement Board Benefits or Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits and didn’t file income taxes may have gotten stimulus checks based on information provided by the relevant federal agencies. You can use the Get My Payment tool to claim your third-round stimulus checks, or fill out a 2020 federal income tax return and claim the Recovery Rebate Credit. To get prior stimulus payments, you’ll have to fill out a 2020 tax return.
If you are a representative payee for a Social Security beneficiary, remember that the stimulus payment does not belong to nursing homes or other facilities, and you are not responsible for managing the payment. You should discuss the payment with the beneficiary, and you can give advice outside the role of representative payee, the SSA says.
Does getting stimulus payments affect the amount of my Social Security benefits?
No. COVID-19 economic impact payments do not count against the earnings limits that can affect eligibility for Social Security Disability Insurance or reduce retirement, spouse and survivor benefits for people who claim them before full retirement age. These regulations only take income from work into account.
Other types of income, including some forms of government financial aid, are factored into eligibility and payment amounts for Supplemental Security Income. However, the SSA announced Aug. 4 that stimulus payments and other forms of federal pandemic relief will be excluded from SSI calculations. The agency says it will restore SSI benefits that were reduced due to stimulus checks before this exemption took effect.
Is Social Security running out of money due to the pandemic?
The spike in unemployment in the initial months of the pandemic temporarily reduced the payroll taxes that employers and workers pay into the Social Security system. That has had an effect on the two trust funds that serve as reserves for the program, Kilolo Kijakazi, acting commissioner of Social Security, said in releasing the SSA's 2021 annual report Aug. 31.
The report issued by Social Security's board of trustees estimates that the trust funds will be depleted by 2034, barring any legislative changes in how the program is financed. That’s one year earlier than the trustees projected in their 2020 annual report, which was largely compiled before the pandemic and did not address its economic impact.
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. The trustees project the OASI fund’s reserves will run out in 2033, one year earlier than they estimated in 2020. Disabled workers and their families are covered under the Disability Insurance (DI) trust fund. Its reserves are projected to last until 2057, eight years earlier than predicted in the 2020 report.
Depletion of the trust funds does not mean Social Security will run out of money. Benefits are primarily paid out of the revenue coming into the system each year from payroll taxes and other sources. However, retirement and survivor benefits will be reduced by 24 percent in 2033 if the OASI fund is exhausted by that date, and disability benefits will be 9 percent lower if the DI fund is depleted as projected in 2057, according to the latest SSA estimates.