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. Jimmie W.

    How much will congress pay be raise ? I bet it will be much more than the 1.5 % cost living allowance we are receiving.
    They should cut congress pay by 15 % and that would balance the budget.

  2. Tee

    Will someone tell me this….what if I did not sign up for direct deposit when I applied, will I get a paper check? I called ssa and was told that it was too soon to sign up for direct deposit. However, they also told me my claim is a the payment center for processing.

    I sure hope this will not delay my benefits, if it does, why would ssa not let me sign up for the direct deposit to avoid and delays?

    Thanks in advance for replies.

    • Ben S.

      We apologize for the confusion, Tee. We prefer to send payments to your bank or financial institution through direct deposit, however we first wait for the payment center to finishing establishing your payment record. Typically, we do not send paper checks anymore, but in situations like yours, we may send your first payment by mail, so it is very important that your mailing address is correct, and that there is no information about an old closed bank account in our records. To verify the information on your records, you can call us toll free at 1-800-772-1213 Monday through Friday between 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. Or you can continue working with your local Social Security office. Once your payment record is established and after you receive your initial payment by mail, you can go ahead and establish your direct deposit and manage your benefits online using a my Social Security account. Thank you for your patience and understanding; we hope this helps!

  3. Joan C.

    Please give me any information on progress of GPO. It is an unfair program. Thank you.

    • Ben S.

      Hi Joan. Government Pension Offset reduces spouse’s or surviving spouse’s benefits if you receive a pension from a government job in which you did not pay Social Security taxes. No changes have been made to these provisions since they were enacted in 1977. You may find the most recent Congressional Research Service (CRS) report useful for additional information.

  4. ROBERT R.

    What I received is not plain talk. I have two letters from SSA which are confusing, and apparently misleading. The first, dated May 14th, says that the next check that I receive for my son will be $86 and that after that it will be $234. The second, dated June 4th, says that they used $148 from my son’s benefits to recover an overpayment. But what is actually happening? They paid nothing on June 3rd in this concept and the $86 will be paid July 2nd and in August I should receive $234.

    The second letter says that they used $148 to recover an overpayment but so far they have taken $234 and in July they will take $148 which totals $382.

    The second letter clearly states that they used $148 to recover all of an overpayment, but if they follow through on the payments July 2nd and August 3rd, I will end up losing $382. Neither of the letters says that. So much for plain talk.

    • Lorenzo D.

      Robert, sorry for the confusion the letters caused. Unfortunately your problem is a bit more than we can handle in this forum. For your security, we do not have access to information about overpayments on accounts in this venue. If you’ve been informed of an overpayment, we ask that you work with your local field office. For more information and to learn about appeal and waiver rights, please read our Overpayments publication.

  5. Kathy

    My mother just passed away on June 1. I called SS the day after her funeral to report her death. I asked at that time if her benefits she received on June 3 had to be returned and they told me no because what she received in June was for the prior month. Well, of course when I checked her account the money was gone, taken back by SS. She obviously was entitled to May benefits since she lived the full month. I read the publication on and it basically said the same thing. Example: If the person dies in July, you must return the benefits paid in August. My mother died in June so if we were to receive JULY benefit we would have to return, not June. Why did they take it back and how do I get it back to her account?

    • Lorenzo D.

      We are sorry to hear of your loss, Kathy. In some instances, the financial institution will automatically return payments upon notification of the beneficiary’s death, but you are right, Social Security benefits are paid the month after they are due. Based on the date of death, your mother was due the June 3 payment. We may pay amounts due a deceased beneficiary to a family member or legal representative of the estate. See Claim For Amounts Due In The Case Of Deceased Beneficiary – Form SSA-1724 for more information. Please take or send the completed form to your local Social Security office. If you have any questions, call us toll-free at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778), Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Generally, you will have a shorter wait time if you call later in the week.

  6. samuel r.

    I applied for disability in Dec after my eye doctor declared me to be legally blind due to advanced retinitis pigmentosa,I have less than 20% of my peripheral vision left and there is no known treatment or cure. I had continued to work after 2 heart attacks and 3 stints and also had 4 feet of my bowels removed and was fitted with an ostomy bag due to diverticulitis and a ruptured bladder which caused sepsis . But when I could no longer see to drive I could no longer find work . After waiting 6 months I was told they had made a decision on my case but it sent to quality review and would take them 60 more days to review their decision . I called my case worker 3 times and left messages to please call me I had questions about onset dates and to give new contact information. I have never received a call back. I am 51 years old an have worked every year since I was 18 years old. I made sure they had all my medical records when I filed my claim. I also know my eye condition is on social securities list of sensory disabilities and they are very specific about visual impairments you have to meet one of two, means deviation of -22 or greater in your better eye mine is -25 in my best eye or 20% or less of your peripheral vision which I have less than 20% left. I just think the system is very inefficient and very difficult to get answers . Thank you for allowing my comment.

  7. Elizabeth

    I truly appreciate the time and effort you have taken to make SSDI AND SSA easily understood. I have enjoyed surfing the site for information, applying online for my benefits and being approved within four months. Easy process for me. Thank you again and congratulations on the award.

    • James L.

      Thanks for your feedback Elizabeth! We value your opinion of us and look forward to many more years of serving you in the future.

  8. John S.

    Rah, SSA; keep it up! We appreciate it. I am pleased if surprised that someone is reading and judging the quality of the material that federal agencies issue. I agree entirely with this award to the SSA; when I received my first piece of paper from the Administration a decade ago, I found it remarkable in idirectness and clarity. Everything from SSA since has met the same standard. As I once wrote for a living, I know just how hard it is to craft those kind of messages. And as I once worked in a bureaucracy, I know how hard it is to set internal standards and procedures to ensure that ALL of an agency’s output meets so lofty a standard. But SSA’s success in this pursuit gives me confidence that it can be done by any agency that decides to be serious about the 2010 law — except for IRS, whose raw material is Congressional language consciously crafted to conceal the true intent and effect of much tax legislation. As for complaints in other posts about SSA’s field offices, it’s very clear to all their customers that they are too few in number and that each of them is seriously understaffed, but my experience has been that the folks behind the counters are knowledgeable and dedicated. Thanks to them for their service to us.

    • James L.

      Thank you for your feedback, John! Your thoughts are important to us and we’re pleased when feedback is positive. We try hard to provide the best possible service to our customers and your satisfaction is our reward.

  9. Thomas M.

    Social Security has been the easist Agency to deal with, as well as the most trustworthy.
    I retired at 62 but kept working part time. SS took the correct amounts I owed each year.
    My wife started SS at her retirement age but kept working. They adjusted her payment each year and increased her payment based on monies paid into SS.
    Keep up the good work SSA .

  10. Gail J.

    To continue: has of today I am collecting money from SSD. I started collecting SSD since I believe November of 2011, which I started the paper and May when I got my first check of 2011.

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