This is an archival or historical document and may not reflect current policies or procedures.
Social Security Online
Social Security Update
March 2012

In This Issue:

Congressional Testimony About Disability Benefits

Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social SecurityThis month, Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, testified before Congress. He spoke to the House Committee on Ways and Means, Subcommittee on Social Security, about how the definition of disability has changed over time, how the agency evaluates disability claims, the role state agencies play in the disability claims process, and a legislative proposal in the President’s current budget request that would restore Social Security Disability Insurance demonstration authority and initiate a pilot project to simplify return to work rules.

“These programs have grown in both complexity and the number of people who depend on them,” said Commissioner Astrue. “Over the last five years, we have improved the disability process despite the huge influx of new disability claims that has strained our limited resources. We have met new program and administrative requirements at minimal cost to the taxpayers. Our overhead is approximately 1.5 percent of all the benefit payments that we make.”

Learn more by reading Commissioner Astrue’s full testimony at

Sign Release Forms with a Click

Beginning in April, many people applying for Social Security disability benefits will be able to sign and submit the Authorization to Disclose Information to Social Security (Form SSA-827) form electronically, as the last part of the online process.

Social Security requests more than 15 million medical records each year on behalf of people applying for disability benefits. A signed SSA-827 accompanies each request. By accepting electronically signed forms, medical providers help their patients’ claims go through faster. On average, this should reduce disability application processing time by nine days per claim.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and other applicable laws permit the use of electronic signatures, and Social Security encourages medical providers to treat the new electronic signature the same as they would a “wet” signature on the SSA-827.

Learn more about applying online for disability benefits at

Social Security and Death Information

In early February, Commissioner Astrue testified before Congress about the collection and use of the agency’s Death Master File (DMF). Each year, Social Security receives about 2.5 million reports of death.

Since deceased individuals generally have no privacy rights, death information contained in the DMF is available to requestors under the Freedom of Information Act. A variety of entities, including federal and state agencies, banks, hospitals, insurance companies, and genealogical services use this information to prevent fraud.

“Identity theft is a spreading plague on our nation,” Commissioner Astrue said. “The federal government must do all it can to curtail this problem, and we certainly should not make it worse. Unfortunately, public access to the DMF has created opportunities for criminals.”

In an effort to strike the right balance between preventing fraud and protecting individuals from identity theft, Social Security is submitted a legislative proposal to Congress that would require entities to demonstrate a legitimate need to immediately access the public DMF. In addition, the proposal would expand the federal government’s ability to use the DMF for such purposes as law enforcement, tax administration, and curbing improper payments.

Learn more about the DMF by reading some of the related Frequently Asked Questions on the subject at

We’re Offering Disability Research Grants

Social Security is seeking grant applications through our Disability Determination Process Small Grant Program. The program aims to improve the disability process through innovative research by graduate students focusing on such topics as compassionate allowances, wounded warriors, homelessness, Supplemental Security Income, and disability enrollment issues.

We’re looking for applications in support of the Disability Research Consortium that will serve as a national resource fostering program. The consortium will foster collaborative research across federal agencies and among researchers in government, academia, and research centers. The research results are expected to improve service delivery, enhance coordination of services across programs, eliminate duplication and waste, and advance cooperation across agencies that serve people with disabilities.

Past awardees include graduate students in the fields of economics, social work, psychology, social welfare, sociology, and public health. Learn more about these disability research grant opportunities at;jsessionid=!-889918338?oppId=147953&mode=VIEW.

Commissioner Astrue on Federal News Radio

FederalNewsRadio.comGet to know Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, as he talks about the agency and its challenges in an interview on The Business of Government Hour, a radio program on Federal News Radio, 1500 AM.

Commissioner Astrue talks with talk show host Michael Keegan about the challenges he has faced as Commissioner of Social Security, including the wave of retiring baby boomers, the onslaught of disability claims that came with the economic downturn, and the popularity of electronic services.

You can listen to the March 12 interview at

Celebrate Financial Literacy Month with the Retirement Estimator

April is Financial Literacy Month—a time to focus on finances both now and for the future. One of the most important financial issues for any worker and his or her spouse is retirement planning. During Financial Literacy Month, we encourage everyone to give some thought to retirement planning.

One of the best places to start your retirement planning is with Social Security’s Retirement Estimator at Workers can use the Estimator to test different retirement ages, learn how to maximize retirement benefits by delaying retirement, and find out how working after retirement might affect benefits.

We also recommend a visit to This government site has a wealth of information from multiple agencies covering virtually every financial issue that Americans may face over the course of a lifetime—from buying a home to financing college to saving for retirement.

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