Ben Cardin - Senator for Maryland

AMERICANS HAVE A RIGHT TO THEIR SOCIAL SECURITY EARNINGS STATEMENTS

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By Senator Ben Cardin

Since 1999, millions of Americans have received annual, detailed earnings statements from the Social Security Administration about their Social Security benefits.   These annual earnings statements are an invaluable tool that helps millions of Americans plan for their retirement.

In March, the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA) announced that he would suspend the production and mailing of these statements in an effort to save money.   The decision to stop providing Americans with complete earning statements is a policy that I strongly disagree with and one that I believe violates the intent of Congress when it passed legislation requiring the yearly mailing of these statements. 

Since October 1999, the SSA has mailed approximately 152 million earnings statements to workers over the age of 25 every year.   These four-page statements provide a detailed record of each individual’s earnings record, providing an estimate of their expected retirement benefit, the approximate amount they will receive each month if the worker becomes disabled, and how much a worker’s family will receive if the worker dies in the coming year. The statements also allow workers to check for any errors in their recorded earnings and taxes paid.

In announcing his decision to suspend the mailing of these statements, the Commissioner said that workers would be able to receive an estimate of their retirement using the SSA’s online estimator. Unfortunately, the information provided by the “estimator” is limited and does not include all the information that appears in the written statement, such as estimates of disability and survivor’s benefits and a worker’s complete earnings record. 

During a recent congressional hearing, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) strongly recommended that the “Commissioner of SSA … take steps to ensure access to the statement for all eligible workers, including those without Internet access … Doing so will assure that the statement remains an important tool for communicating with all workers about the Social Security program.”

I couldn’t agree more.  Too many Americans are ill-prepared for retirement. The Social Security Earnings Statement provides important information for anyone approaching retirement age.   As a member of the Social Security Subcommittee, I want to ensure that complete,  up-to-date and verifiably accurate information about their benefits is universally available to all Americans over age 25 so they can better prepare for their retirement.  

I have urged the Commissioner of the SSA to reverse his decision to suspend providing Americans with complete access to their Social Security earnings statements.  Congress has long recognized the importance of Social Security as one of the pillars of retirement savings and Americans have a right to a complete record of their earnings and other benefits so then can plan for the future.  A financially secure retirement takes time and planning and all Americans deserve access to accurate, complete information so they can make sound judgments about retirement.

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