SSR 84-17: SECTION 203(h)(1)(B) (42 U.S.C. 403(h)(1)(B) REPORT OF EARNINGS INFORMATION -- MEANING OF "INFORMATION"

20 CFR 404.456(c)

SSR 84-17

Section 203(h)(1)(B) of the Social Security Act (the Act) provides that, where benefits were suspended for all entitlement months in a taxable year, no benefits may be paid for a month of that taxable year unless within 3 years, 3 months, and 15 days after the close of the taxable year the worker, or someone entitled to benefits on his or her earnings record, filed information showing that a benefit is due for that month. Held, the word "information," as used in section 203(h)(1)(B), refers only to earnings information. Earnings information is the only "information" which can be cause for removal of work deductions under section 203(h)(1)(B) of the Act.

When the claimant applied for Old-Age Insurance Benefits on May 8, 1975, he was unable to furnish primary evidence of his age. Based on secondary evidence, however, it was initially determined on July 12, 1975, that the claimant's date of birth was June 29, 1910, with June 1975 as his first month of entitlement. Because of his excess earnings, the claimant was placed in total work deduction status for each month beginning with his first month of entitlement. On April 30, 1980, the claimant submitted a baptismal certificate recorded shortly after birth which showed his date of birth as June 29, 1905. The rules of administrative finality as set out in Regulations No. 4, ยง 404.988 precluded reopening the original date of birth determination. However, the Social Security Administration applied a policy contained in SSR 66-30 (C.B. 1966) and Claims Manual section 7050.5, which allowed establishment of a new date of birth prospectively beginning with the month the original determination was first questioned in writing. Thus, effective April 1980, the claimant's benefit amount was recomputed using the new date of birth, and work deductions were removed since he was at least age 72 as of that month.

The claimant contended, however, that work deductions should have been removed effective June 1977, the month he was age 72, using the revised date of birth. He based this on section 203(h)(1)(B) of the Act which provides -- "If the benefit payments of an individual have been suspended for all months in any taxable year under the provisions of the first sentence of paragraph (3) of this subsection, no benefit payment shall be made to such individual for any such month in such taxable year after the expiration of the period of three years, three months, and fifteen days following the close of such taxable year unless within such period the individual, or some other person entitled to benefits under this title on the basis of the same wages and self-employment income, files with the Secretary information showing that a benefit for such month s payable to such individual." In order for work deductions to be removed effective June 1977, as contended by the claimant, the baptismal certificate would have to constitute "information" showing that benefits were payable effective with that month.

Thus, the issue raised is whether the word "information" in section 203(h)1)(B) of the Act refers only to earnings information or whether it refers to any information (such as evidence of age) which affects rights to benefit payments that were suspended because of excess earnings.

In construing statutory provisions, great deference is given to a reasonable interpretation of the statute by the agency charged with its administration even though that interpretation may not be the only reasonable one. Udall v. Tallman, 380 U.S. 1, 16 (1965); Cf. Unemployment Comm'n of Territory of Alaska v. Aragon, 329, U.S. 143, 153, (1946), Gray v. Powell, 314 U.S. 402 (1941), and Universal Battery Co. v. United States, 281 U.S. 580, 583 (1930).

There are a number of factors which would support interpreting the work "information" in section 203(h)(1)(B) of the Act as referring only to earnings information. The provision was enacted under section 308(d) of Pub.L. 85-840 as part of an amendment of the requirement for reporting excess earnings in a taxable year. S. Rep. No. 2388, 85th Cong., 2d Sess., p. 61 (1958). Moreover, the caption for section 203(h) of the Act is "Report of Earnings to Secretary." Although the language of the caption is not necessarily controlling, "such language certainly does provide at least some evidence of the intended Congressional scheme." Lan Jen Chu v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, 486 F.2d 696, (1 Cir., 1973). In addition, since section 203(h)(1)(B) of the Act is applicable only to benefits which have been suspended under the first sentence of section 203(h)(3) of the Act, paragraph (1)(B) and paragraph (3) are in pari materia and, under settled principles of statutory construction, should be construed "as if they were one law." Erlenbaugh v. United States, 409 U.S. 239, 243 (1972); citing United States v. Freeman 3 How. 556, 564 (1845), United States v. Stewart, 311 U.S. 60, 64 (1940), and Estate of Sanford v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, 308 U.S. 39, 44 (1939). Paragraph (3) refers only to earnings information as a cause for a suspension. It would therefore be reasonable to conclude that earnings information is the only "information" which can be cause for removal of work deductions under section 203(h)(1)(B) of the Act.

Although the new evidence of age established that the claimant was born on June 29, 1905, and was submitted within the time limit provided in section 203(h)(1)(B) of the Act, such evidence was not earnings "information" which would permit the removal of work deductions under that section of the Act.


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