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Public Statements

Keep Payment Options Available for America's Seniors

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

* Mr. KISSELL. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to bring before the House some serious concerns I have regarding the impact of certain paperwork reduction measures that are being considered by various agencies of the federal government and the seeming lack of concern on how this changes will affect senior citizens in North Carolina's 8th District.

* We are all aware of the need to make government more efficient and reduce the costs of services. The revolution in digital communications offers opportunities to do exactly that. However, I have noticed a troubling trend. In the rush to achieve these efficiencies, we may be unintentionally harming some of the most vulnerable people in our society by imposing new costs on folks with limited options.

* For example, in May, the Social Security Administration implemented the first phase of a plan to eliminate the mailing of Social Security checks to recipients who have not registered for direct deposit of their monthly benefit checks. There are a number of reasons why all citizens don't sign up for direct deposit. Some like to physically take their check to the bank to be sure of the date it was actually deposited. There are others who are honestly skeptical of financial institutions and simply don't trust the direct deposit process. Another category is the so-called ``un-banked'' and they simply do not own a banking account.

* A growing number of citizens, Mr. Speaker, are increasingly concerned about cyber-security and identity theft. They are limiting their use of computer technology for their most sensitive and important financial transactions. And with each week bringing news of data thefts, cyber security breaches and phishing scams, who can blame them?

* So in place of their Social Security check, the Social Security Administration has begun to send out a debit card that will allow recipients to access their Social Security benefits electronically. Here's the problem: If you don't have a bank account and you are already skeptical of electronic transactions, how does a debit card work for you? It is very possible that many of the places folks in my district shop simply don't accept electronic payments. And for you to get cash from an ATM to use in those places means you are now paying a fee--after the first free transaction--for the privilege of spending your hard-earned Social Security Benefits.

* What are older Americans to do when more of their limited income goes to pay bank fees for use of their debit cards? It would seem to me that instead of creating a more efficient and fiscally responsible government we may instead be shifting costs from the government to people least able to pay for the increased cost of these services. These unfair fees amount to a new tax on consumers.

* Another example of the push to go completely electronic is the recent announcement by the Social Security Administration regarding the annual earnings statements. Not only is it an important tool for retirement planning, but it is also a critical way for hard working wage earners to confirm that the government has accurately recorded their earnings. The mailing of these statements is being discontinued. A more limited version of the form will eventually be available online, however, the all-important listing of a citizen's earnings by year will not appear in the online version.

* Now why would citizens who are already concerned about cyber-security want to log in with sensitive Social Security information in order to check their records? And for those citizens without a computer or the skills to use one, this new policy simply denies them the benefits of seeing the annual earnings statement altogether.

* Mr. Speaker, I believe the digital revolution holds great promise for our nation. But we need to make sure in our ``rush to digitize'' that we are not leaving the middle class and vulnerable citizens behind and that the cost efficiencies we are creating are not simply a matter of shifting costs from the government to the people who cannot afford to pay another tax.

* How do we make sure of that? One effective method would be through a comprehensive federal policy that will guide federal agencies in making sure that their digital transitions do not disenfranchise key blocks of our citizens. We should seriously consider a tough set of oversight hearings in the U.S. Congress to make sure that digital policies are being implemented fairly and deliberately.

* Mr. Speaker, we cannot and we do not want to turn back the clock on the digital revolution. In an era when private sector financial institutions are implementing significant fees on customers who wish to continue to receive paper statements, however, we cannot allow our federal government to follow a similar path. Such discriminatory fees are wrong and we must insure that our government continues to serve all our citizens and does not adopt policies regarding access to information that penalize key segments of our population.

* All Americans should be able to benefit from the digital revolution. However, the federal government must assure that its policies treat all Americans equally, with services provided in a manner and method that can be effectively utilized, whether on paper or otherwise. We owe it to all our citizens to insure these basic protections.

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