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Federal benefit system going high-tech with e-payments

Millions of Americans, including those residing in Georgia, will soon see a major change in how they receive their government benefits. Paper checks are being phased out, which means Social Security disability and Supplemental Security Income payments will only be distributed through electronic payments, according to a new federal mandate.

The change, which will take effect on March 1, 2013, will affect more than 73 million payments made each month, which added up to approximately $75 billion in January. Officials believe that moving to electronic payments will save millions of dollars each year, which will benefit other government programs.

The program also makes transferring benefits easier because it is automatic. The initiative was scheduled to begin in 2004, but it was delayed until 2010. Many beneficiaries changed their receipt system as early as 2011, when electronic transfers became widely available. Beneficiaries can receive their payments through a checking account or debit card, according to Treasury officials. About 7 million people still receive their benefits via paper check.

The federal government is partnering with community agencies to promote information about the pending switch. More than 1,800 local community organizations are involved in getting the word out about electronic payments, many of them targeting elderly and disabled beneficiaries. Program leaders say they are dedicated to maintaining open lines of communication about the issue, and they want to ensure that every recipient understands the new rule.

Treasury officials say that even if beneficiaries fail to sign up for electronic transfer, they will still receive a debit card to guarantee continuous payments. They urge all recipients to switch to electronic delivery online as soon as possible and not wait until the last minute.

Source: Washington Post, "Countdown begins on feds ending paper benefit," Eric Yoder, March 1, 2012

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