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Social security questions and answers

Question: What can I do at http://www.socialsecurity.gov?

Answer: There are a myriad of things you can do at Social Security’s Web site. You can get an estimate of future benefits, find out if you qualify for benefits now, and even apply for benefits. Or, you can read one of our 150 or so publications. Many are in Spanish and some are in 14 other languages as well as in audio and alternative formats. Online, you also can find your local Social Security office or find out what documents you need to make a change to your Social Security card. And for the curious, check out the fun facts on our Web site, like this one: did you know the first Social Security payment of 17 cents went to a fellow named Ernest Ackerman in January 1937? It was a one-time, lump-sum pay-out – the only form of benefits paid during the start-up period January 1937 through December 1939.

Question: Congratulations on your 75th anniversary. Who received the first Social Security check?



Answer: First, let’s explain how things worked back then. From 1937 until 1940, Social Security paid benefits in the form of a single, lump-sum payment. The purpose of these one-time payments was to provide some “payback” to those people who contributed to the program but would not participate long enough to be vested for monthly benefits.

Under the 1935 law, monthly benefits were to begin in 1942, with the period 1937 through 1942 used both to build up the trust funds and to provide a minimum period for participation to qualify for monthly benefits.



The earliest reported applicant for a lump-sum benefit was a Cleveland motorman named Ernest Ackerman, who retired one day after the Social Security program began. During his one day of participation in the program, 5 cents was withheld from Mr. Ackerman’s pay for Social Security, and, upon retiring, he received a lump-sum payment of 17 cents. The average lump-sum payment during this period was $58.06. Although Ernest Ackerman was the first person to receive a lump-sum benefit, a woman named Ida May Fuller, from Ludlow, VT, was the first recipient of monthly Social Security benefits. Learn more about Social Security’s early days at our History Page. You’ll find it at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/history.

Question: I’m trying to decide when to retire. Can Social Security help?

Answer: Deciding when to retire is a personal choice and you should consider a number of factors, but we can certainly help. Visit http://www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10147.html and read our factsheet about the things you should think about when making this important decision.

Question: What is the definition of disability for children filing for Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?

Answer: Social Security has a strict definition of disability for children under the SSI program. A child who is under age 18 is considered disabled if he or she:

• Is not working at a job that we consider to be substantial work; and

• Has a physical or mental condition (or a combination of conditions) that results in “marked and severe functional limitations.” This means that the condition(s) very seriously limits his or her activities; and

• The condition(s) has lasted, or is expected to last, at least one year or is expected to result in death.

To decide whether a child is disabled for SSI purposes, we look at medical and other information (such as information from schools, parents and caregivers) about the child’s condition(s), and we consider how the condition(s) affects his or her daily activities. We consider questions such as:

• What activities is the child not able to do, or is limited in doing?

• What kind of and how much extra help does the child need to perform age-appropriate activities – for example, special classes at school, medical equipment?

• Do the effects of treatment interfere with the child’s day-to-day activities?

Read Benefits For Children With Disabilities at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10026.html for additional information on how we decide if a child under age 18 is disabled.

Question: Does where I live affect the amount of my Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits?

Answer: It might. First, where you live might affect your benefit amount because some states add a supplement to the federal payment. If you live in your own place and pay your own food and shelter costs, regardless of whether you own or rent, you may get up to the maximum SSI amount payable in your state. You also can get up to the maximum if you live in someone else’s household, as long as you pay your food and shelter costs. If you live in someone else’s household and don’t pay your food and shelter costs or pay only part of them, your SSI benefit may be reduced by up to one-third of the SSI federal benefit rate. To learn more, read Supplemental Security Income (SSI) at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/11000.html.

Question: I need to apply for disability benefits. Where do I start?

Answer: Start online at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/applyfordisability. Applying online for disability benefits offers several advantages. You can start your disability claim immediately. There is no need to wait for an appointment. You can apply from the convenience of your home or on any computer. You can use the online application to apply for benefits if you are age 18 or older, have worked and paid Social Security taxes long enough to qualify, you have a medical condition that has prevented you from working or is expected to prevent you from working for at least 12 months or to end in death, and you reside in the United States or one of its territories or commonwealths. Get started now at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/applyfordisability.

Question: My application for disability benefits was denied. What do I do if I disagree with the decision?

Answer: You can appeal the decision at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/onlineservices. This Web site is the starting point to request a review of our medical decision about your eligibility for disability benefits. There are two parts to this Internet Appeal process:

(1) An Appeal Request Internet form; and

(2) An Appeal Disability Report that gives us more information about your condition.

You can complete both forms online. To appeal online, the only form you must submit is an appeal request (Part 1). However, we encourage you to submit an Appeal Disability Report (Part 2) because it will give us more information about you and help us in processing your appeal. We estimate it will take an average of 19 minutes to complete Part 1, and an average of 30 minutes to complete Part 2. To get started, visit http://www.socialsecurity.gov/onlineservices.

Question: I understand you must have limited resources to be eligible for Extra Help with Medicare prescription drug costs. What does this mean?

Answer: To qualify for Extra Help in 2010, your resources are limited to $12,510 for an individual or $25,010 for a married couple living together. Resources include the value of the things you own. Some examples are real estate (other than your primary residence); bank accounts, including checking, savings and certificates of deposit; stocks; bonds, including U.S. Savings Bonds; mutual funds; Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs); and cash at home or anywhere else. To learn more about Extra Help, and to apply online, visit http://www.socialsecurity.gov/prescriptionhelp.

kathy petersen is the public affairs specialist for south dakota and eastern wyoming. you can write her c/o social security administration, 605 main, suite 201, rapid city, sd, 57701 or via e-mail at kathy. petersen@ssa.gov. check back next week as she discusses what to consider for an early retirement in 2011.


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