SSA Benefit Statements:

Statements Are Well Received by the Public but Difficult to Comprehend

T-HEHS-96-210: Published: Sep 12, 1996. Publicly Released: Sep 12, 1996.

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GAO discussed the Social Security Administration's (SSA) Personal Earnings and Benefit Estimate Statement (PEBES). GAO noted that: (1) the public has reacted favorably to unsolicited PEBES, and SSA has improved the statement in response to public feedback; (2) the public generally feels that the statement is a valuable tool for retirement planning, but the statement does not clearly convey its purpose and related information on SSA programs and benefits; (3) PEBES weaknesses have resulted from its piecemeal development and the lack of testing for comprehension; (4) there is no consensus on the best model for PEBES; (5) SSA plans to redesign PEBES only if the redesign results in lower printing costs; (6) this approach fails to recognize the hidden costs arising from the need to answer public inquiries about statement information and the undermining of public confidence in SSA programs by the statement's poor design; (7) SSA needs to improve PEBES layout and design and simplify certain explanations, obtain more detailed feedback from its frontline workers, conduct comprehension tests, and consider alternative statement formats; and (8) SSA senior management attention is needed to ensure the success of the statement initiative by redesigning PEBES to present benefits information more effectively.

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