Paperless switch rubs seniors the wrong way
By Claudia Buck The Sacramento Bee
Published: Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Ready or not, millions of America's seniors are being pushed into the age of digital banking. Starting March 1, in a cost-cutting move by the Treasury, most Social Security checks will no longer arrive by mail.
Like IRS forms and U.S. savings bonds before them, it's bye-bye paper. That means about 5 million Americans who still get a Social Security, disability or other federal benefit check in their mailbox must switch to electronic payments: either direct deposit into their bank account or onto a Treasury-issued debit card.
For those unaccustomed to ATMs or online banking, the prospect is a bit unnerving.
“Older seniors like having that check in their hand,” said Patricia Beal, executive director of the Senior Center of Elk Grove, Calif. “As we age, we lose control over a lot of things and this is just one more.”
And it's got some folks riled up.
Mike Clement, a Michigan resident who after reading online that I wanted to talk with those who prefer paper checks, emailed and called to say that he and his elderly mother are “hopping mad” that she is being forced to switch to electronic payment.
“It really should be a matter of personal choice,” Clement said. “Unfortunately, the feds seem not to care a whit about personal preference.”
There's even organized opposition to the switch. A group called Consumers for Paper Options, based in Washington, has been fighting the paper-free mandate for more than a year.
Many Social Security recipients “are unbanked, while others are simply uncomfortable in the digital world,” said John Runyan, president of the group.
In testimony to a House committee last year, he said it's unfair to force seniors to navigate “a new and potentially confusing world full of PINs, ATMs and online statements.” He also pointed to instances of direct-deposit-related fraud with Social Security payments.
The Treasury Department, however, says that, unlike paper checks that can be lost or stolen, electronic payments are easily traced and quickly restored in the rare instance of fraud.
The Treasury's paperless campaign is primarily billed as a federal cost-cutter, saving an estimated $1 billion in check-processing and mailing costs over 10 years. It also is touted to be safer, easier and more convenient.
About 65 million federal benefit recipients — 93 percent — receive their payments electronically. That includes Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, veterans' and railroad retirement, all of which are subject to the switch.
California has the largest number of residents — 399,000 — receiving a benefit check by mail, followed by New York (308,000), Texas (300,000), Florida (196,000) and Pennsylvania (186,000).
There are some exemptions to the paperless requirement, such as those who are 91 or older. Those who ignore or miss the mandatory deadline won't get cut off or face penalties.
Certainly, not every senior is upset by the change.
At 82, Sacramento, Calif., resident Frances Comstock said she has had her monthly Social Security check automatically deposited into her bank account for nearly 20 years.
“I was so afraid someone would steal it from my mailbox. (With direct deposit,) I didn't have to go the bank to cash my check. You always know your money is there. It's peace of mind,” said Comstock, a former Aerojet telephone operator.
She predicts that once paperless payments go into effect for all Americans on March 1, “They're going to kick themselves: ‘Why didn't I do this before?' ”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- PNC’s CEO elected board chairman
- Corbett: Coal is working
- ‘Old GM’ defense expected in court fight over faulty ignition switch
- BNY Mellon notches $661M profit in 1st quarter
- ATI takes 1st-quarter loss, but says outlook is good
- Winning streak for stocks continues
- Tesla delivers 1st cars in China
- Drugmakers ready to carve out deals any way they can
- Young visionaries at PieceMaker Technologies Inc. see future in 3-D
- Google challenges nonprofits on ideas to use Glass
- McDonald’s profit slips amid weak sales