Social Security:

Providing Useful Information to the Public

T-HEHS-00-101: Published: Apr 11, 2000. Publicly Released: Apr 11, 2000.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed information the public should have about the Social Security program and the role that the individualized Social Security Statement plays in providing that information, focusing on: (1) basic information about program benefits; (2) the current and projected financial status of the Social Security program; and (3) proposed changes to the program.

GAO noted that: (1) the individualized Social Security Statement plays a specific and important role in providing some, but not all, of the information the public needs; (2) individuals should have clear and easy to understand information about what benefits they can reasonably expect to receive; (3) this is the specific and primary purpose of the Social Security Statement, which is now sent annually to nearly all working participants; (4) in addition, the statement helps individuals and the Social Security Administration (SSA) ensure that individual earnings records are accurate, which in turn is crucial to providing accurate benefit payments; (5) SSA has recently revised this statement so that it more effectively conveys this important information; (6) the public should understand the current and projected financial status of the Social Security program; (7) the Social Security Statement now contains a brief disclosure about this, but technical and detailed information about it is more appropriately conveyed through other vehicles, such as the annual Trustees' Report and the federal government's consolidated financial statements; (8) the public should have information to help it evaluate different proposals to restore solvency and make other program changes; (9) however, such information is complex and must be presented in a fair, consistent, and comprehensive way that helps the public weigh and balance the various difficult choices that must be made; (10) this type of information goes beyond estimating benefits and verifying earnings, which is the Social Security Statement's central purpose; (11) given the difficulties SSA has had in making just this information clear in the statement, adding information on reform proposals would likely make the statement lengthy, more complex, and even more difficult to understand; and (12) doing so could undermine the basic purpose of the statement.

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