Spending cuts require seniors to join digital age
The Daily News, Jacksonville, N.C.
JACKSONVILLE, N.C. — For many senior citizens, waiting for the mailman to bring their Social Security checks and other federal benefits will soon be a thing of the past.
The U.S. Treasury has required recipients to switch to electronic payments.
In an effort to cut spending, federal officials are working to eliminate paper checks, favoring instead direct deposits and prepaid "Direct Express" debit cards.
Getting the word out to seniors about the change and helping them make the switch to one of the electronic transfer options has been the challenge.
In Onslow County, the Department of Veteran’s Services has worked hand-in-hand with the Department of Veteran’s Affairs to ensure as many veterans know about the change as possible.
“Basically the VA has mailed out letters to vets and surviving spouses and those affected by the change,” said Amelia Grissett, the director of Onslow County Veterans Services. “We’re letting everyone know about the change when they come in. So far I think our combined efforts have been successful.”
According to Grissett the department has received a lot of calls from veterans who are ready for the switch.
“People call with their banking information so it tells us they are getting the word and are able to do it,” Grissett said. “When they call, we try to assist them as much as possible.”
Onslow County Senior Services is taking a similar approach, as are some national banks that have proactively spread the word through fliers and displays.
According to Sara King, the senior center administrator, they have notified seniors within the county through various ways.
“We have sent it out in our newsletter both in email and paper form to about 1,000 senior citizens,” King said. “We also give them a heads up at the senior centers in Jacksonville and Richlands.”
King said that the change shouldn’t come as a surprise to any seniors.
“They’ve gotten a lot of things in the mail from various agencies so it shouldn’t be a shock,” King said. “But then again we aren’t getting a lot of feedback so we don’t know what to expect.”
As of March 1, checks won’t stop for those who have not selected an electronic payment option, said Brad Benson, with the Department of Treasury’s Financial Management Services. But those individuals will start hearing from the Treasury Department regarding compliance.
Though they haven’t heard complaints, those who work with seniors think some aspects of the change may cause problems for some seniors.
As for some older seniors unfamiliar with computers and those who don’t have bank accounts, knowing what to do with a debit card and having to use ATM machines can create other concerns.
Benson says senior centers can play a significant role in the education process that extends beyond spreading the word about the change.
He says educating seniors, particularly the "unbanked," about how to use their debit cards will be important.
The Treasury department, Benson says, is depending on help from their regional partners, community groups and senior centers to help with that education effort.
People older than 91 and a few others are exempt from the requirement. For more information visit the Go Direct website or call 800-333-1795.
The Wilmington Star News also contributed to this report.