Paper checks remain an option for social security recipients
To the Editor,
Sometimes good things come to those who wait. And to those who resist. For two years, U.S. Treasury Department officials have tried to coerce those who received payment of federal benefits by paper check into switching to direct deposit or debit card forms of payment. Payments will only be made electronically as of March 1, 2013, they said. You have to switch.
To a large degree, the threats worked. Millions of scared seniors converted for fear of losing their benefits. But now the truth comes out. “We don’t have authority to stop people’s payment if they don’t switch by March 1,” Treasury’s Walt Henderson told Michelle Singletary of the Washington Post. “You will still get a paper check.”
The reason, according to Singletary, is that the recipient has to sign up for direct deposit or the debit card before the paper checks will stop. So if you don’t sign up, the checks will continue to be sent. Much has been made of the so-called safety that electronic payments provide. But in addition to the errors that can occur with direct deposit, scammers are now bilking elderly people out of their electronic payments.
After determining a person’s bank account number, these crooks are contacting Social Security and having the direct deposit diverted to another account, often leaving those people with nothing to pay the rent, buy food, or cover the costs of other necessities.
Of course, no payment method is immune to errors, fraud, or drawbacks. Checks are sometimes delivered late. So is direct deposit. Both can be stolen. Debit cards carry lots of fees, and avoiding them can be difficult.
People have long been empowered to decide for themselves which payment option — paper check, direct deposit, or debit card — worked best for them. They weighed the advantages and risks of each and made a decision. That’s the way it should be.
In April 2011, 2,157 Lenawee County Social Security beneficiaries received paper check payments. As of this month, the number is down to 877. The U.S. Treasury Department owes a huge apology to everyone who felt forced to change because of the agency’s strong-arm rhetoric that implied they would lose their benefits if they did not.
They also deserve an opportunity to switch back to paper check payments if they so desire. Anything less is unacceptable.