Plain Talk (About Social Security)

June 6, 2015 • By

Reading Time: 1 Minute

Last Updated: August 19, 2021

A happy family looks at a computer.The report cards are in. For the second year in a row, some of the best writing in federal government came from Social Security!

…we have made it a priority to speak to you plainly.

The Center for Plain Language issued its annual Federal Plain Language Report Card. The annual report grades federal agencies on how well they communicate with the nation’s taxpayers, and gives grades from A to F on:

  • Compliance with the requirements of the Plain Writing Act of 2010:
  • Plain writing; and
  • Information design.

This year, the Social Security Administration tied for top grades with the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Homeland Security. We’re the only agency that has received top marks for two consecutive years.

Let’s face it:  There’s only so much time in the day. There are limitless distractions between your social media feeds and work emails. Do you have time to sift through confusing government jargon and paperwork that you have to read multiple times to understand?

We could explain our programs with complex legalese and confusing run-on sentences. We could add some infographics and long web links. We could even reference SPORT without actually clarifying that, in our world, it’s an acronym for Special Procedures for Overpayment Reduction.

Instead, we have made it a priority to speak to you plainly.

Our mission is to deliver world-class services and make our communications about those services as clear, concise, and easy to understand as possible. You can see our high grades, and those of other federal agencies here.

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About the Author

Doug Walker, Deputy Commissioner, Communications

Deputy Commissioner, Office of Communications


  1. brian

    there is only one agency of federal govt which isnt thoroly detestable in fact admirable and thats NASA
    All the rest are garbage ending with the very very worst which is the VA
    Soc sec is in the high middle

    • Tee

      I am new to this blog. I have been reading nothing but complaints. I have found from personal experience (lately) that being grateful for what you have is much more productive than griping about what you don’t have.
      Plain talk, those who say they cannot live off $900 a month should cut back and give more to others. For to give is to receive. Try being grateful. What have you got to lose.

      Nobody is perfect, nor organization. Just try to image what USA would be like without a Government. Or what it would be like to live on zero 0, that $900 will feel like $9000 after being broke long enough. The ones who complain the most about its never enough or give us more, obviously have never been without or truly broke.

      Just a bit of unsolicited advise. It works for me and if you work it.

      God bless and keep us all! Thank you.

      • Dawn A.

        Hay Tee could you live on 520.00 that what they want me to do I have been disabled all my life and will be till I die

  2. Gloria G.

    Thank you for your help!

  3. Chris

    Total BS

  4. David L.

    The IRS is probably at the bottom of the ratings.

  5. Merilann J.

    I am so grateful for the work you have done, and the progress you have made.

  6. LJR

    plain writing is fine , but do something about the windfall bill which has been going on for 15 plus years.

  7. Judith W.

    Thank you for making the effort to improve. Transition to retirement is hard enough.

  8. Virginia H.

    Doesn’t matter how plain the talk is. I understood every word, but am still waiting over 3 months to get death benefits and upgraded monthly allowance due to my husband’s death.

    • Martha

      Hi Virginia,
      My husband recently passed away about a month ago. I don’t know how to obtain his death certificate. Thought this process of getting his Military and retirement benefits would be easy. Can you provide any insight or assistance? It would be much appreciated.

      • David L.

        I think the death certificate is issued when the funeral parlor reports the death to the state and to Social Security. It is supposed to be an automatic process. If a will has to be probabted, then the Register of Wills issues Short Certificates to appoint the executor, who can then set up Estate checking accounts, and move assets/investments, etc.

        • Karen F.

          Martha, sorry for your loss and trouble you are having. Had to handle this for my grandparents and my mom when they passed. Most commonly the funeral home handles this…but try the office of the city clerk in the city where your husband passed away, as they do keep track of births and deaths there and can provide copies, usually for a small fee. Try calling the city hall of the hospital or other place your husband passed away. Hope things get easier.

      • Jim S.

        Martha, If your husband was retired military, then you can contact the Personal Affairs office on the nearest military base. They can help you, or refer you to someone who can help you with any questions you have.

      • GramaCat2U

        When I buried my Dad a few years ago, we got 10 copies of his Death Certif from the Funeral Director. You might try there. Your local Court House Records Dept would have the original, they will make you copies for a small fee. Do bring proof of who you are, even some of his personal records, some can be sticklers with no sense of your grief.

      • cbranch

        Hi Martha,
        You can contact the Disabled American Veterans who has qualified people, and your county should have a VA representative who will be qualified to process all of your paper work. If you don’t know where to find these you can ask at the VFW or American Legion. You are not alone, you just need to find these people that will help you.

      • Ellen A.

        I don’t think getting the death certificate is a big deal. How was he buried? The people who did the burial , the doctor, or even the police if it was a mysterious death, should be able to help you.

      • Bobbi

        My husband passed away last march. The funeral home sent me the death certificate. Just do a search on the computer for death certificate in your county, city & state.

        • bettyg

          my husband died last nov. i got the death certificate within 1 wk. from funeral home.

          HOWEVER, it had an error on it; be sure to read what they died of carefully; they showed COLON cancer and it was LUNG and liver cancer.

          took me 5 months of constant naggng to get this corrected.

          also make sure they give you AMENDED copies FOR EACH YOU PAID $20 each for!! otherwise, they’ll try to get more money out of you.

          i got my $255 promptly death benefit.

          best wishes from 1 widow to another,

          bettyg, iowa

      • Joanne G.

        Yes, check w/the funeral home. They are supposed to report deaths….and can also get you extra certificates if you need them. Unfortunately, they don’t all do it in a timely manner. Get on THEM!

      • Louanna C.

        Hi Martha,
        I’m so sorry about your loss. My husband was retired military and passed away last year.
        You should be able to get your husband’s death certificate through the funeral home where you had his memorial service as the funeral home would have ordered the death certificates, and if they did not, you can always ask them to order the death certificates for a fee. If you are not able to get the death certificates from the funeral home, you should be able to contact the county recording office to get a death certificate and depending how quickly the country records information it would be available in 2-3 weeks. You should order multiple copies of the death certificate, probably at least 6 and pay the fees the county charges. From there you would need a copy of your husband’s discharge papers a DD form 214 (if your husband re-enlisted multiple times as my husband did, you should use the latest copy of his DD form 214, but any one will do) and you would need to complete all the paperwork and send it in along with a copy of the DD form 214 and original copy of the death certificate. If your husband was already receiving retirement benefits from DFAS you should also include a copy of his latest benefit statement. As long as your husband paid into the survivorship insurance and named you as a beneficiary, you would be eligible to receive survivorship benefits. A copy of his annuitant benefits page lists the information of his social security number, his monthly benefit and should show the information regarding the amount that is deducted for survivorship benefits and would have your name and social security number listed on that page. You can call Defense Finance & Accounting Service (DFAS) M-F from 8-5 pm (ET) at 888-332-7411 Option #1 for Military Retired & Annuitant Pay. Or you can go to the DFAS website to complete forms online. I don’t know if you are anywhere near a base (my husband was AF at Travis AFB) but many bases have a retirement center etc. that you can use as a resource to guide you through the steps but the key is to have all the necessary documents in hand so that you can complete the paperwork. You will also need to have a death certificate to apply for your husband’s social security benefits as typically a husband’s social security benefit is larger than his wife’s benefit because he is usually the higher wage earner. You would need to present his death certificate, your photo ID, original copy of your marriage certificate and complete the necessary forms at your local social security office. If you are already collecting your own social security benefit, you can still apply for your husband’s social security benefit if his benefit is larger than yours. You would have the option of taking the widow’s social security benefit or social security will just add a portion of his benefit to your own benefit so that the total combined amount does not exceed your husband’s social security benefit. You would also receive a one time death benefit payment from Social Security. If you own a home, you would need to change the title of your home from his name to your name assuming the title is in both your names under joint tenancy with rights of survivorship. Again you would need to present a death certificate to the county recorders office and complete the necessary paperwork. Keep in mind after you have submitted all the documents to DFAS it will still take a few months for the paperwork to be reviewed and processed. My husband died at the end of March 2014 and I received my first DFAS check in late May or early June 2014. Once you have been approved for benefits, DFAS will send you a letter informing you about your benefits, the amount of your benefits and when you may expect your first check. Again, I am sorry for your loss and wish you the best.

      • Stephen

        Your resident county department of vital statistics should be able to issue you one. There is usually a small fee and you have to have ID to show you are a relative. I got the ones for my brother from the funeral home and they got them from the county where my brother lived. In my mothers case I had to go to the county to get a copy of her death certificate. Sorry about your lost. I hope this helps you.

  9. Al G.

    I think you are doing just GREAT. Keep it up

    • Wolfman

      who the hell can live on $900 dollars a month

      • Linda

        Maybe if you live rent free. Rent and utilities

      • GIGator

        Social Security was meant to cover the gap between one’s savings and the cost of living. Those who are fortunate to work a full lifetime, should have savings and/or a retirement plan, to fund their cost of living, in retirement years and Social Security should be the bridge that ensures they are able to live a comfortable life, with the essentials that they need to live. Why do so many expect Social Security to me the only retirement funds that supports them during their retirement years? Many people blow their money, failing to save for retirement and expect to be bailed out when they hit retirement, with no savings. The only ones who should be bailed out are those who experience catastophic injuries or illnesses and are forced to spend their savings on care and living expenses, prior to reaching retirement age. People need to start being responsible for themselves and properly prepare.

        Look at all the people who are on government assistance their entire lives and them expect Social Security to support them during their elder years. Many of them are capable of working; yet, they become dependent on government support. With 56% of Americans receiving some type of government support, only an ignorant person would fail to see that bankruptcy lies ahead. Even with all of our wealth – which is dwindling each day and turning up in China, the Middle East and other countries – one can’t not expect to remain viable, when so many are drawing from the well. Not only are those people taking from the well, they are not producing, which is the force that draws the wealth in to the well. This “idea” of a “Utopian” world is one that leads to collapse and after seeing it happen, time after time, one would think that we would have learned from other’s mistakes. Instead, we are repeating history and doing so at an unprecedented pace and volume.

        I hope, for my kids, your kids, our grandchildren and this country, that we can find a solution, that brings people together, instead of the politics that have splintered this country; especially, over the past 6 years. We are pressing the gas pedal, further and further, as we race towards an inpenetrable wall. They only thing that will reverse our course is “RESPONSIBILITY” and for those who appreciate and love this country, to return to the values that made this country the greatest to ever occupy this planet. Hard work and pulling one’s weight, while giving some to those who TRULY can’t, is the only hope we have and the forecast isn’t very bright. We need a leader or leaders, who recognize this and they don’t exist among the politcal crowd in Washington DC.

        I wish the best for all of you and the country that I took a bullet for and most of all, many have sacrificed their lives and health for. Let’s apply JFK’s words. Even though they were well before my time, they will never cease to define what made this country great. “Ask not what your country can do for you; but, ask what you can do for your country.”! What have you done for your country, today and what do you plan to do tomorrow.

        • Kenneth W.

          First thank you for your service to our great country. I agree with you completely. I do like off my disability benefits that I receive from 14 surgeries 3 of them have been major back surgeries. But the younger generation has to start standing up for America they are our future leaders and they think they don’t need to work and become independent adults since the government keeps supporting them.

      • Joanne G.

        Social Security was NEVER meant to “live on”. It was meant to be a supplement to your savings. The government isn’t/wasn’t responsible for everything. Only the “entitled” in this country expect it all free. (and unfortunately GET IT!)

        • Frankie

          I HAVE to live off my $888.00 a month.
          My stepfather pays my rent but all else is up to me.
          I have: 18 back surgeries, 3 hip replacements, staph infection after EVERY one of them, MRSA after one with a month in ICU another in hospis, now breast cancer. It IS impossible to live on this. Even if I could go back to work know one would hire me & insure me.

      • Daria

        If you were a low wage earner, worked off the books or didn’t have 35 or more years of work, you will get a small amount of social security at retirement. Your retirement benefit is based solely on the amount of your earning; so only blame yourself.

  10. George P.

    It’s about time…

    • Steven T.

      for social security benefactors@ their survivors the Cola every January 1st should be increased from 1.5% -2% to modern day cost of living yearly inflation rate of 5%-7% the federal government has been cheating us yearly on Cola since it was implemented in 1975 their estimate yearly quotes for Cola are 50% to low and they should reimburse us from 1975-2015 @ the true cost of living margin percentage rate of 5%-7% yearly these are the true figures Washington,D.C Federal Government needs to use as guideline figures to calculate Social Security Cola each year on January 1st.!!!!!!!!!!!!

      • t T.

        Once social security monies are deducted from income where are they placed for protection and appreciation to pay future obligations due to members?

        • Paul W.

          The money you pay into Social Security is immediately paid out to recipients. Any excess is placed into Treasury Notes. For many years there was an excess so SS built up a large surplus. Today SS is paying out more than they take in so the surplus is being tapped to pay current recipients. It is hard to get an exact figure but the surplus will run out in about 10 years. At that time SS will pay 2/3 to 3/4 of full benefits.

          • Robert A.

            SS would have PLENTY of money IF the Government would have left their hands OFF it and left it in the PRIVATE FUND it was originally in .\! I believe it was Johnson who ecided to put it in the GENERAL fund so they could STEAL “OUR” money ? Ever since then they have used “OUR” money for everything else & also started to GIVE SS to any DRUG HEAD and ALCOHOLIC that couldn’t work anymore because of being BURNT OUT !! A lot of them have NEER WORKED A DAY IN THIER LIE and still get SS !! WHY?

          • Mwolfe

            Is this an official estimate of the payout reductions? Do we know this to be the case? I hope the Social Security Administration can answer this comment.

          • Lorenzo D.

            Thank you for your comment. According to the Social Security Board of Trustees, the combined assets of the Social Security trust funds are projected to be depleted in 2033. If Congress does not act before then, there will only be sufficient income coming in to pay 77 percent of scheduled benefits. Please visit here for more information.

        • James L.

          The Social Security trust funds hold money not needed in the current year to pay benefits and administrative costs and, by law, invest it in special Treasury bonds that are guaranteed by the U.S. Government. A market rate of interest is paid to the trust funds on the bonds they hold, and when those bonds reach maturity or are needed to pay benefits, the Treasury redeems them. Please read our Trust Fund Frequently Asked Questions for a full explanation.

      • Linda

        I do agree. My cost of living has increased and I think COLA should increase. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

      • Joanne G.

        If they would clean up their act, get all the DEAD people off the rolls, get all the deadbeats out of the offices, they could afford it! I’ve had to talk to really stupid people on the phone…….people who couldn’t answer simple questions! They need oversight of the employees.

      • Kenneth W.

        I agree with you completely. The people in the government DON’T KNOW what it’s like trying to live with what we get monthly. I myself would love to see ANY of them live off what I receive monthly. Up our cola to match the economy.

    • Hospitals &.

      Free Disability Insurance Reallocation Tax (DIRT) Act

      To immediately amend the DI tax rate from 1.80% to 2.30%, from 0.90% to 1.15% for employees and from 0.90% to 1.15% for employers under Sec. 201(b)(1)(S) of the Social Security Act 42USC(7)II§401 and amend the OASI tax rate from 10.60% to 10.10%, from 5.30% to 5.05% for employees under 26USC(C)(21)(A)§3101 (a) and from 5.30% to 5.05% for employers under 26USC(C)(21)(A)§3111 (a) to avoid depletion of the Disability Insurance (DI) Trust Fund in 2016 without increasing the overall 12.4% OASDI or 15.3% OASDI and Hospital Insurance (HI) tax-rate under 26USC(A)(2)§1401.

      To amend the DI tax rate again in 2018 to 2.20% from 2.30%, from 1.15% to 1.10% for employees and from 1.15% to 1.10% for employers under Sec. 201(b)(1)(S) of the Social Security Act 42USC(7)II§401 and amend the OASI tax rate from 10.10% to 10.20%, from 5.05% to 5.10% for employees under 26USC(C)(21)(A)§3101 (a) and from 5.05% to 5.10% for employers under 26USC(C)(21)(A)§3111 (a) without increasing the overall 12.4% OASDI or 15.3% OASDI and Hospital Insurance (HI) tax-rate under 26USC(A)(2)§1401 to maximize efficiency until a deficit appears in the OASI Trust Fund in 2020.

      Without Income Limit Law (WILL) Act

      To abolish the maximum taxable limit on DI contributions in 2016 and OASI contributions in 2017 and repeal Adjustment of the contribution and benefit base Section 230 of the Social Security Act 42USC(7)§430.

      To require the Social Security Administration to pay for SSI Costs beginning in 2017.

      To share profits in excess of social security program costs to the general fund of the U.S Treasury on a sliding scale beginning in 2017 DI 50/50 prioritizing the $22 billion + 2% annual growth cost of USPS, and OASI 10/90 to eliminate the federal budget deficit. In 2020 OASI would share at negotiated rates an estimated 25/75, in 2025 OASDI would share 50/50 and by 2030 75/25 and at 2035 OASDI would take all to pay for peak in costs of Baby Boomer generation and might need to raise the overall OASDI tax rate.

      • Hospitals &.

        by taxing the rich.

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