- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 22, 1999

The Social Security Administration said yesterday it has started processing payments for 44.5 million people due Social Security checks Jan. 3 and expects no problem getting the work done on schedule.

"So many Americans rely on Social Security because they live on a month-to-month basis, we just had to be ready," Social Security Commissioner Kenneth Apfel said at the White House year-2000 information center.

The agency pays Social Security recipients an average of $780 per month.

Another 5.5 million elderly and disabled Americans receive Supplemental Security Income benefits of $369 per month, on average.

The Social Security Administration has spent $48.3 million since 1989 to fix year-2000 computer problems.

"In many ways the Social Security Administration has been a leader in fixing systems [because it began to address the computing problem so long ago]," said John Koskinen, chairman of the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion.

The year-2000 computer problem stems from a cost-saving shortcut in which software programmers used only two spaces in a date field to designate the year. That older software assumes the year always will begin with the digits "19." If affected systems aren't fixed, they could shut down or malfunction when they "read" the digits "00" as meaning 1900 and not 2000.

The Social Security Administration pays $400 billion worth of entitlements annually, and 145 million working Americans pay in to the program.

Benefit information for the 50 million Americans who receive Social Security and Supplemental Security Income benefits already has been sent to the U.S. Department of Treasury, Mr. Apfel said, putting the payment process in motion.

Supplemental Security Income enrollees should receive entitlements Dec. 30, and Social Security enrollees should receive payments Jan. 3.

But 77 percent of Social Security recipients get benefits through direct deposit. January direct deposits will be mailed to banks Dec. 30 so they are available for banks to credit customer accounts Jan. 3.

Systems supporting electronic transactions have been tested, Mr. Apfel said.

If the Social Security Administration or banks crediting accounts have unexpected problems, people may be eligible to receive immediate reimbursement of up to $999.

Mr. Apfel said benefits have been issued using year-2000-compliant computer systems at the Social Security Administration and the Treasury Department since October 1998.

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