WASHINGTON -- Those yearly statements that Social Security mails out -- here's what you'd get if you retired at 62, at 66, at 70 -- soon will stop arriving in workers' mailboxes. It's an effort to save money and steer more people to the agency's website.
The government is working to provide the statements online by the end of the year, if it can resolve security issues, Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue said. If that fails, the agency will resume the paper statements, which cost $70 million a year to mail, he said.
"We'll provide it, we expect, one way or another, before the end of the calendar year," Astrue said "We're just right now trying to figure out the most cost-effective and convenient way to provide that to the American public."
The statements, mailed to 150 million people each year, project future benefit payments, helping workers plan for retirement.
The decision to suspend the mailings was unrelated to the talk of a possible partial government shutdown.
It was, however, related to the agency's operating budget, which essentially has been frozen at 2010 levels -- minus about $350 million in economic stimulus money the agency had been using to handle claims.
Advocates for older Americans say they are sympathetic about the agency's budget problems, but several said an online option is insufficient, especially for people who may not have computer skills or access to computers.
"As far as the information being available online, that's not going to help a lot of people we work with," said Max Richtman, executive vice president of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.
"This was a concrete piece of paper, a document that workers would receive that would give them confidence in the program," Richtman said. "Otherwise, they hear a lot of the debate in Washington. It's going to be there; it's not going to be there."
The statements are mailed throughout the year, so many people already have received them this year. Tens of millions have not.
The agency does offer a benefits estimator on its website that Astrue said can be even more helpful than the annual Social Security statements.
The website, however, does not provide the detailed earnings and payroll tax history that workers had been receiving in the mail each year.
Mary Johnson, a policy analyst at The Senior Citizens League, said the detailed paper statements help workers ensure they are getting credit for their proper earnings each year.