Social Security Announces 4.1 Percent Benefit Increase for 2006
Monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income benefits for more than 52 million Americans will increase 4.1 percent in 2006, the Social Security Administration announced today.
Social Security and Supplemental Security Income benefits increase automatically each year based on the rise in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W), from the third quarter of the prior year to the corresponding period of the current year. This year's increase in the CPI-W was 4.1 percent.
The 4.1 percent Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) will begin with benefits that more than 48 million Social Security beneficiaries receive in January 2006. Increased payments to 7 million Supplemental Security Income beneficiaries will begin on December 30.
Some other changes that take effect in January of each year are based on the increase in average wages. Based on that increase, the maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax (taxable maximum) will increase to $94,200 from $90,000. Of the estimated 161 million workers who will pay Social Security taxes in 2006, about 11.3 million will pay higher taxes as a result of the increase in the taxable maximum in 2006.
It is important to note that no one’s Social Security benefit will decrease as a result of the 2006 Medicare Part B premium increase, announced last month. By law, the Part B premium increase cannot be larger than a beneficiary’s COLA increase. More information about Medicare can be found at www.cms.hhs.gov.
# # #
NOTE TO CORRESPONDENTS: A fact sheet showing the effect of the various automatic adjustments is attached.
More Than Three Million People Apply for Medicare Prescription Drug Help
Jo Anne Barnhart, Commissioner of Social Security, announced today that more than three million people have applied for the extra help available with Medicare prescription drug costs. The extra help will pay most of the costs of monthly premiums, annual deductibles and prescription co-payments - an average of $2,100 in extra help per year.
“I am extremely pleased with the results so far,” Commissioner Barnhart said. “But our work is far from over. We are continuing our outreach activities in cities all across the U.S. and we continue to work closely with federal, state and local agencies and groups to let all those who may be eligible know about the help that is available.”
In May of this year, Social Security began mailing nearly 19 million applications to potentially eligible Medicare beneficiaries. Applications were mailed over a 12 week period that began in late May and continued through mid August 2005. In July, a new Internet application located at www.socialsecurity.gov was unveiled allowing people to apply online for help with Medicare prescription drug plan costs. More than 1,000 people a day are now applying over the Internet.
“Our online application for Medicare prescription drug help just received one of the highest scores ever given to a public or private sector organization by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI),” noted Commissioner Barnhart. The ACSI tracks trends in customer satisfaction and provides valuable benchmarking insights for companies and government agencies. “The positive responses to both our online application and to the mail-out applications are the result of our commitment to making the application simple and easy to understand.”
Social Security is now in the process of making follow-up contacts with those who have not yet responded to the initial mailing. Social Security’s on-the-ground outreach efforts with community based organizations, advocacy groups and State entities are also continuing. To date, more than 40,000 Medicare outreach events have been held.
“Our goal is to ensure that all those who are eligible for help with Medicare prescription drug costs have the opportunity to apply,” Commissioner Barnhart said. “I encourage all those on Medicare, their families and interested community groups to educate themselves about the Medicare prescription drug program and the help that is available. Together, we can make sure no one has to make the difficult choice of spending their limited income on prescription drugs or other basic needs.”
NOTE TO CORRESPONDENTS: A fact sheet about the help available to pay the costs of Medicare’s new prescription drug plan is attached. More detailed information about the new Medicare prescription drug coverage is available at www.Medicare.gov.
# # #
Social Security Responds to Hurricane Katrina Agency Issues More Than 30,000 Emergency Checks to Date
“Social Security has moved quickly to ensure that monthly payments get to beneficiaries affected by Hurricane Katrina and that other vital Social Security services are provided,” Jo Anne Barnhart, Commissioner of Social Security said today. “As we have all witnessed, the Gulf Coast is coping with destruction and loss of life that is utterly unfathomable. To ensure that beneficiaries will continue to receive their monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income payments, I have invoked immediate payment procedures that permit on-the-spot payments to be made to anyone who can no longer access their benefit check. I am pleased to report that, so far, Social Security has issued more than 30,000 immediate payments and that number continues to grow.”
Information for the public is available at www.socialsecurity.gov/emergency or by calling
Since September 1st, Social Security has provided immediate payments to evacuees who are not able to receive their monthly benefits, whether by mail or direct deposit. Beneficiaries can go to any open Social Security office and receive an immediate payment by check that replaces the full amount of their Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payment.
In addition, Social Security is providing immediate payments and other vital services to the affected areas and to evacuees in other locations through a variety of means:
A temporary office has been opened in the Houston Astrodome and is providing service seven days a week.
Social Security representatives are serving the public at evacuation centers throughout the U.S., such as the Baton Rouge River Center.
Social Security employees are onsite at FEMA’s Family Assistance Centers, such as the FEMA site in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. We anticipate having representatives onsite at similar centers in Pascagoula, Moss Point and Waveland, Mississippi and in Shreveport and Monroe, Louisiana.
Many Social Security offices are offering extended hours of service and remained open throughout the Labor Day weekend to help evacuees.
Social Security and the United States Postal Service also established temporary mail delivery stations in areas where mail service was suspended due to damage from Hurricane Katrina. Beneficiaries still remaining in those areas could pick up their checks at those locations.
Social Security is working with federal, state and local officials in affected areas to assist families who may now be eligible for Social Security benefits. Emergency procedures have been implemented that will allow expedited processing of applications for survivors benefits or other Social Security benefits.
For evacuees who have lost their identification documents, Social Security has put in place a simplified protocol for verifying identity to provide them with the Social Security information they need to apply for jobs or assistance from other agencies.
“I am proud of the hard working and dedicated Social Security employees who are doing everything possible to ensure beneficiaries continue to receive their monthly payments,” Commissioner Barnhart said. “Over the past several days I have heard heartbreaking stories from our employees, some of whom have lost their own homes. Yet, through all of this, their spirit and compassion remains strong. I can assure those affected that we will continue to be there to serve them as our nation copes with the devastation left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.”
There are ten Social Security facilities that remain closed in Louisiana. These include field offices in Covington, New Orleans Westbank, New Orleans East, New Orleans Bywater, New Orleans Downtown and Kenner. Also closed are the New Orleans Teleservice Center, hearings offices in New Orleans and Metairie and the New Orleans Disability Determination Service.
There are two Social Security facilities that remain closed in Mississippi. These are the Gulfport and Moss Point field offices.
In Louisiana, more than 400,000 Social Security beneficiaries reside in the counties affected by Hurricane Katrina. These beneficiaries receive more than $325 million in monthly benefits. In addition, there are almost 91,000 SSI recipients residing in these counties receiving over $39 million in monthly benefits.
In Mississippi, almost 127,000 Social Security beneficiaries reside in the counties affected by Hurricane Katrina. These beneficiaries receive almost $102 million in monthly benefits. In addition, there are over 22,000 SSI recipients residing in these counties receiving almost $9 million in monthly benefits.
In Alabama, almost 125,000 Social Security beneficiaries reside in the counties affected by Hurricane Katrina. These beneficiaries receive over $104 million in monthly benefits. In addition, there are over 21,000 SSI recipients residing in these counties receiving almost $9 million in monthly benefits.
# # #
Commissioner Barnhart Announces Proposed Regulation to Improve Social Security's Disability Process
Jo Anne Barnhart, Commissioner of Social Security, today announced that Social Security will publish a proposed regulation to improve the disability determination process. The improvements, which build upon Social Security’s new electronic disability claims process, would shorten decision times and pay benefits to people who are obviously disabled much earlier in the process.
“In developing a new disability determination process, I have been guided by three questions President Bush asked me during a meeting to discuss disability programs,” Commissioner Barnhart said. “‘Why does it take so long to make a disability decision? Why can’t people who are obviously disabled get a decision immediately? and Why would anyone risk going back to work after going through such a long process to receive benefits?’ My goal was to address the President’s questions and ensure that we make the correct decision as early in the process as possible. The regulation we are proposing would allow us to do that.”
The proposed regulation:
Establishes a quick disability determination process for those who are obviously disabled. Appropriate claims would be identified and referred directly to special units in the State agencies for expedited action.
Establishes a Federal Expert Unit comprised of State and Federal experts to provide medical and vocational expertise for adjudicators at each level of the disability determination process.
Eliminates the reconsideration step of the appeals process and establishes a Federal Reviewing Official level of review. The Reviewing Official would review initial State agency denials if the claimant requested such review. The Reviewing Official would not conduct a hearing but would issue a decision based on a review of the record.
Retains the de novo hearing before the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). The ALJs would be required to explain in their decisions why they agree or disagree with the rationale of the written decision of the Reviewing Officials.
Closes the record after the ALJ issues a decision. However, new and material evidence would be considered after a decision is issued under certain limited circumstances.
Establishes a Decision Review Board (DRB) to select and review both favorable and unfavorable ALJ decisions and to handle dismissals. Other review functions currently performed by the Appeals Council would eventually shift to the DRB when the new process is phased in.
Strengthens in-line and end-of-line quality review mechanisms at the state agency, Federal Reviewing Official, hearings and DRB levels of the disability determination process. Pre-effectuation review at the initial claims level would continue while quick disability decisions would be subject to expedited pre-effectuation review as well. The current Disability Quality Branch review of State agency claims would be replaced with a new centrally-managed quality assurance system that would perform independent end-of-line reviews of targeted cases, perform a random sample of all cases, and provide for an in-line quality process performed by State agencies.
Provides that Social Security plans to implement the new disability determination process on a phased-in basis, allowing the Agency to make adjustments as necessary.
“None of the changes we are proposing would require legislative action,” noted Commissioner Barnhart. “Nor would they adversely affect the employment status of current Social Security or state agency employees.”
In conjunction with the changes in the disability determination process, Social Security also plans to conduct several demonstration projects aimed at helping people with disabilities return to work. These projects support the President’s New Freedom Initiative and provide for work incentives and opportunities earlier in the process. In these demonstrations, the Agency will test providing cash supports, various forms of medical benefits, and employment supports such as transportation assistance. Social Security will look at how making these available will help people with disabilities successfully work.
The proposed regulation provides for a 90 day comment period and is the result of collaborative discussions that have been underway since Commissioner Barnhart first presented her approach for improving the disability determination process at a hearing before the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security in September 2003. Commissioner Barnhart personally held meetings with over 60 professional organizations, advocates, Members of Congress and congressional staff, and Social Security and State employee groups.
“I sincerely believe that the new disability determination process is a system that responds to the challenge inherent in the President’s questions,” Commissioner Barnhart said. “We have looked beyond the status quo to the possibility of what can be. I believe the proposed regulation will help Social Security provide more accurate and timely service for the American people. And that’s what we are all about.”
NOTE TO CORRESPONDENTS: For more information on the proposed regulation to improve the disability process, go to www.socialsecurity.gov/disability-new-approach.
The proposed regulation is on display at the Federal Register today and, starting tomorrow, can be read online at www.regulations.gov.
# # #
Social Security Website – www.socialsecurity.gov – the Newest Location for People to Apply For Extra Help with their Medicare Prescription Drug Costs
Florida Seniors First in Nation to Apply Online
Jo Anne Barnhart, Commissioner of Social Security, today unveiled Social Security’s new Internet application -- located at www.socialsecurity.gov -- which people now can use to apply for financial help with Medicare prescription drug costs. Two Florida seniors at the Senior Friendship Center in Sarasota were the first people in the nation to use this new online service.
“Social Security is committed to providing a variety of ways for seniors and people with disabilities to get the extra help they need with Medicare prescription drug costs,” said Commissioner Barnhart. “The online application is simple and easy to understand and can be completed by the Medicare beneficiary or by family members, caregivers -- anyone in a position to assist the person applying.”
Social Security is working with federal and state agencies and local community groups to let potentially eligible people know about the help available with prescription drug costs. Social Security is mailing nearly 19 million applications to potentially eligible Medicare beneficiaries. These applications are being mailed over a 12 week period that began in late May and will continue through mid August 2005. Applications also can be filed via Social Security’s toll-free number at
Medicare beneficiaries with limited income and limited resources are eligible for extra help paying for the costs of the new Medicare prescription drug coverage available January 1, 2006. The extra help will pay most of the costs of monthly premiums, annual deductibles and prescription co-payments. After applying for extra help with Social Security, beneficiaries also will need to enroll in a Medicare-approved prescription drug plan between November 15, 2005, and May 15, 2006.
“President Bush recently asked people on Medicare, as well as those who care about them, to become better informed about the new prescription drug benefit,” said Barnhart. “The benefit and the extra help that is available will make their lives better and the prescription drugs they need more affordable.”
NOTE TO CORRESPONDENTS: A fact sheet about the help available to pay the costs of Medicare’s new prescription drug plan is attached. More detailed information about the new Medicare prescription drug coverage is available at
# # #
Social Security's Most Popular Baby Names for 2004 Have Arrived
Jacob and Emily Top List Again
For Mother’s Day, Jo Anne Barnhart, Commissioner of Social Security, announced the top baby names in the United States for 2004.
“Each year, Social Security produces the most popular baby names list based on all Social Security card applications for children born the previous year. Emily and Jacob are again the top baby names for 2004,” said Commissioner Barnhart. “I invite everybody to visit our website to look at the new list and take advantage of the valuable information and services offered by Social Security.”
Please click on the Most Popular Baby
Names link at Social Security’s website -- www.socialsecurity.gov -- to see the top baby names for 2004. The top ten boys and girls names for 2004 are:
Emily has been the most popular female name each year since 1996. Jacob has been the top male name since 1999. New to the top ten this year are Isabella and William.
The baby names website has a new look this year. In addition to a list of the 1,000 most popular baby names for 2004 and the most popular baby names for each state, there is now a list of the top 100 names for twins born in 2004. In addition, links to other helpful websites have been added. It is now easier to find information for babies, children and parents on the Social Security website. And there are links to other government websites that offer valuable information about pregnancy, caring for newborns and programs and services for families.
Social Security started compiling baby name lists in 1997. Today, the Social Security website offers lists of baby names for each year since 1880.
Social Security’s website -- www.socialsecurity.gov -- has a variety of online services that allow people to access information and conduct business with Social Security from the convenience of their computers at any time.
Visitors to the website can find information about the future financing challenges facing the program at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/qa.htm.
People also can apply online for Social Security retirement, spouse’s and disability benefits at www.socialsecurity.gov/applytoretire. Other online services allow people to find out if they may be eligible for benefits or locate their local Social Security office. Individuals who are receiving benefits may use the website to change their address or request a replacement Medicare card. As more and more people conduct business via the Internet, these online services save significant time and effort.
In addition, Social Security offers online benefits planners at www.socialsecurity.gov/benefits/retirement/planner/. Each planner--retirement, disability and survivors--contains valuable information about the benefits available and factors that can affect people. The planner’s three online calculators also allow individuals to compute estimates of their future retirement benefits and current disability and survivors benefits.
The website also offers a wealth of information about all Social Security programs through online publications and a “Frequently Asked Questions” section.
# # #
Little Change in Social Security Solvency
Trustees Recommend Timely Action
The 2005 Social Security Trustees Report shows little change in the projected financial status of the Social Security program over last year. The Trustees Report projects that the Social Security Trust Fund will be exhausted in 2041 - one year sooner than last year’s projection. The Trustees recommend that projected trust fund deficits be addressed in a timely way to allow for gradual changes and advance notice to workers.
In the 2005 Annual Report to Congress, the Trustees announced:
The projected point at which tax revenues will fall below program costs comes in 2017 – one year earlier than the projection in last year’s report.
The projected point at which the Trust Funds will be exhausted comes in 2041 – also one year earlier than the projection in last year’s report.
The projected actuarial deficit over the 75-year long-range period is 1.92 percent of taxable payroll, slightly higher than the estimate in last year’s report and the same as in the 2003 Trustees Report.
- Over the 75-year period, the Trust Funds require additional revenue equivalent to $4.0 trillion in today’s dollars to pay all scheduled benefits. This unfunded obligation is $300 billion higher than the amount estimated last year.
“For nearly 70 years, Social Security has provided financial security to American workers and their families,” said Jo Anne Barnhart, Commissioner of Social Security. “Our grandparents and parents were confident that Social Security would be there for them. Current retirees and near retirees can be just as confident. But for our children and grandchildren, unless changes are made, this report shows that their promised benefits are not secure. I am confident that by coming together in a bipartisan way we can ensure that Social Security continues to provide financial security for future generations.”
Other highlights of the Trustees Report include:
Income to the combined Old-Age and Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) Trust Funds amounted to $658 billion in 2004.
During the year, an estimated 157 million people had earnings covered by Social Security and paid payroll taxes.
The Trust Funds paid benefits of more than $493 billion in calendar year 2004. There were 48 million beneficiaries at the end of the calendar year.
The cost of $4.5 billion to administer the program in 2004 was a very low 0.9 percent of total expenditures.
Total expenditures from the combined OASDI Trust Funds amounted to $502 billion in 2004.
The assets of the combined OASDI Trust Funds increased by $156 billion in 2004 to a total of $1.7 trillion.
Interest earned on the invested assets of the combined Trust Funds was $89 billion in 2004. The combined Trust Fund assets earned interest at an effective annual rate of 5.7 percent.
- The changes in key dates for the combined Trust Funds are due to updated economic data from last year's report.
The Board of Trustees is comprised of six members. Four serve by virtue of their positions with the federal government: John W. Snow, Secretary of the Treasury and Managing Trustee; Jo Anne Barnhart, Commissioner of Social Security; Michael O. Leavitt, Secretary of Health and Human Services; and Elaine L. Chao, Secretary of Labor. The other two members, appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate, are John L. Palmer and Thomas R. Saving.
The 2005 Trustees Report is posted at www.socialsecurity.gov/OACT/TR/TR05/index.html.
# # #
Statement of Jo Anne Barnhart, Commissioner of Social Security
Jo Anne Barnhart, Commissioner of Social Security, issued the following statement:
“There has been a lot of misinformation lately and I am glad to have this opportunity to set the record straight.
“I have never, nor will I ever, ask or direct Social Security employees to promote or advance any specific proposal for Social Security reform. Our job at Social Security is to provide services and benefits and to educate the American public about the programs and finances of Social Security.
“The role the Social Security Administration plays in educating the public, as well as the messages we are using, have not changed in the past decade.”
# # #