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Finding the facts in all of the fiction about Social Security

Social Security is an insurance program enacted in 1935. Workers who are insured for benefits have insurance for retirement, disability and Medicare benefits. In addition, benefits can be paid to some family members and survivors on the insured workers record. These are the FICA (Federal Insurance Contributions Act) taxes withheld from a paycheck or paid by the self-employed.

In today’s political climate, many claims about Social Security are circulating in various media. Before making decisions about these issues, it is very important to separate fact from fiction. For example:

1. “Social Security is paid for the hundreds of thousands of people who never paid a dime into it.” This is fiction. According to Social Security law and regulations, in order to receive benefits on a Social Security number, the worker must be insured based on their work. Family benefits can be paid only on the record of an insured worker.

2. “Immigrants, who come into this country and through Social Security, are given more money to live on than those of us who worked for it.” This also is fiction. According to Social Security law and regulations, benefits can be paid only to those who are U.S. citizens or lawfully present aliens. In addition, they must be insured for benefits or eligible for benefits on an insured persons record.

3. “Medicare may be totally free for some, but it is not for many of us.” This is fiction. In order to be eligible for Medicare, a person must be insured for retirement based on their work or be the spouse of an insured person eligible for retirement benefits. In addition, a person receiving disability benefits can be eligible for Medicare. These beneficiaries must pay the monthly premium. Medicare often is confused with Medicaid, which is a different program that is not paid for out of Medicare funds, has different requirements for eligibility, and is not administered by Social Security/Medicare.

How to determine if a statement is fact or fiction? Answers can be found on Social Security’s website, In the search block, type Program Operations Manual System. Then select the option entitled Program Policy Documents – The United Stated Social Security ... SSA’s Program Operations Manual System. These are the operating policies and procedures Social Security uses to administer its programs. It is how the law and regulations are applied to all applications for benefits.

Other benefits: Often, Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are confused. These are separate programs, both administered by the Social Security Administration. Social Security benefits are paid for out of the Social Security trust fund, while SSI benefits are paid for out of the general revenue fund. SSI is a program begun in 1974 for those who are aged, disabled or blind and have limited income and resources. To receive these benefits, the person must also be a U.S. citizen or lawfully present alien.

Social Security numbers: Those in the country illegally cannot be issued a valid Social Security number. However, many of these people work and pay FICA taxes into the Social Security trust fund. What happens to this money? When no valid Social Security number exists, the monies go into a suspense account, which enriches the trust fund.

• Alene Shaull of Crystal Lake worked for the Social Security Administration from 1974 until she retired in 2003. Her positions included claims representative, operations supervisor and for the last 12 years, program analyst in the department of quality assessment. She lives in Crystal Lake.

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