WASHINGTON – The Social Security Administration, bracing for the coming eligibility of 80 million baby boomers, is introducing an online application that will allow people to apply for retirement benefits in as little as 15 minutes.
Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue said in an interview the agency was completely overhauling its electronic services in recognition of the greater computer skills of future Social Security recipients and the need to more efficiently process the coming flood of applications.
"We just don't have the infrastructure to handle that workload in the traditional fashion," he said.
Astrue said a person who now goes to a Social Security office to apply spends about 45 minutes consulting with a field officer.
The agency says that over the next 20 years some 10,000 people a day will become eligible for retirement.
Academy Award-winning actress Patty Duke is leading a Retire Online publicity campaign for the new program, shooting four public service ads that will run on radio and television. The ads are takeoffs of her 1960s TV sitcom "The Patty Duke Show."
"My husband demonstrated to me how to do it, and I was able to do it with my limited (computer) skills," she said. "It was very user-friendly."
The agency also plans to run full-page ads in USA Today and several news magazines, Astrue said.
The program has no paper forms to sign and usually requires no additional documents. In the past, people trying to sign up through the Internet still had to mail in or deliver paper documents with signatures or copies of birth certificates. Those with more complicated questions can still call the agency or visit an office.
Those wanting to use the new program can go to http://www.socialsecurity.gov and click on "Filing Online for Retirement Benefits."