By Sarah Robinson/NEMS Daily Journal
In a move to save costs, the U.S. Department of Treasury is phasing out paper checks for federal benefit recipients as of Friday.
That will affect thousands of Mississippians who have been receiving checks for Social Security benefits, Supplemental Security Income, Veterans Affairs and some government pension plans.
As of January, the Treasury Department was mailing about 79,000 checks to Mississippians. Of those, about 2,300 are mailed to Lee County residents.
So if they haven’t already, they’ll need to enroll to receive their benefits electronically instead.
Brad Benson, public affairs specialist with the Treasury Department, said that even though Mississippians receive a higher percentage of paper checks than most states, the rate of those already enrolled in electronic payments is about 90 percent.
Federal officials claim the change will not only save taxpayers $1 billion during the next decade, but it is also safer than issuing a live check.
Recipients have the option of enrolling in direct deposit or getting a Direct Express card onto which benefits will be loaded. The Direct Express card is registered as a MasterCard and can be used as a debit card for either purchases or cash withdrawals at ATMs.
“We’ve had a steady pick up in the past month or so in seniors signing up for direct deposit,” said John Oxford, director of external affairs at Renasant Bank.
Oxford said Renasant bank has worked to simplify the enrollment process, shortening the application. He said enrolling for an account could take as little as 10 minutes.
Benson said the Direct Express card is intended for people who don’t have a bank. But the card also includes fees, depending on how and where the card is used. To avoid fees, Benson advised using direct deposit because “it is the easiest and best choice if you have a bank.”
David Lebryk, commissioner of the Treasury Department’s Financial Management Service, also said the switch to electronic benefit payments is not an option – it’s the law.
For those who choose to use the Direct Express card, a card will be mailed to them once and subsequent payments will automatically be applied to the card.
While the enrollment deadline is Friday, an exemption is allowed for anyone born in 1921 or earlier.
Also, those who have not enrolled by Friday still will receive benefits via paper checks but will continue to be contacted by the Treasury Department.
Those wishing to receive benefits by direct deposit will need an account number and a routing number which can be obtained by contacting your financial institution.
And banks are working to help the public through the transition.
“We have information in our branches, have run ads in the paper and in the media,” said Randy Burchfield, senior vice president of corporate relations and communications at BancorpSouth. He added the bank has posted information on its website and “wherever we can to make information available.”
How to Enroll
To enroll, call (800) 333-1795. Online registration is also available at www.socialsecurity.gov/my account. You also can visit the Social Security office. The Tupelo office hours are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday except for Wednesday, when the office closes at noon.