All Social Security, SSI recipients must get checks electronically; many recipients still have not switched


With a deadline a month away for those who get federal benefits to make arrangements to receive them electronically, nearly 186,000 Ohioans receiving either Social Security or Supplemental Security Income checks still have not made the switch.

Under a new electronic payment law, recipients of any type of federal benefit must switch to either direct deposit or a DirectExpress Debit MasterCard card by March 1 — the date the law goes into effect.

Currently, about 95 percent of Social Security recipients and 70 percent of SSI recipients have made the switch. But the U.S. Treasury Department is anxious to have nearly all recipients of federal benefits make the move to electronic payments so it can eliminate the cost of mailing checks.

As of Jan. 8, the Treasury Department still was mailing 5 million checks a month to beneficiaries.

For those who haven’t made the switch, do not worry. The government is not going to cut off benefits after March 1.

But after that date it will go into a “compliance mode” and begin gently reminding, nudging, and eventually nagging benefit recipients to make the switch, said Brad Benson, a Treasury spokesman.

“We don’t think it will take more than year to get everything really nailed down,” Mr. Benson said. “But I think Treasury is concerned about doing it in a way that would force hundreds of thousands of people to call our customer service lines at the same time and flood our customer service center,” Mr. Benson said.

So after March 1, if you haven’t switched, expect a letter in the mail or a notice in your monthly check. Months later, you might get a phone call asking why you haven’t switched, he said.

Treasury surveys thus far show the people most resistant to switching are older, white males, Mr. Benson said.

To help cut through that resistance, the Treasury Department granted three types of waivers to allow certain people to continue receiving their benefits by mail.

Waivers will be granted to those who are 90 years old or more and who still handle their own financial affairs. Waivers also are available to people who are geographically isolated, that is, a place where a debit card would be largely useless. Lastly, waivers are available for people declared mentally incompetent.

“I’m not sure how that last one works,” Mr. Benson said. “If you’re mentally incompetent you usually have a payee who obtains your checks. So why you would seek a waiver, I don’t know.”

Contact Jon Chavez at: or 419-724-6128.