CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Twelve percent of West Virginia's 537,473 Social Security and Supplementary Security Income recipients still receive paper benefit checks, the highest percentage in the nation, federal figures show. That will charge March 1, when the federal government switches all benefit and non-tax government payments to electronic payments in a move to reduce costs. Recipients can choose either direct deposit or Direct Express Debit MasterCard, which works like a bank ATM debit card. The switch will affect more than 63,000 Social Security and SSI recipients in West Virginia, the 24th highest total number of people among the 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico who still receive paper checks, according to the U.S. Treasury Department's Financial Management Service. Many older residents have resisted the switch to electronic payments, West Virginia AARP Tom Hunter director told the Charleston Daily Mail.
Hunter said AARP officials plan to work with federal officials to help inform members of the pending change. "We're going to do a very hard push,'' Hunter said. "We're going to be using all of our publications -- our bulletin, our magazine, our newsletters and e-blast -- to notify people of the changes that are going to take place in March.''Electronic payments are favored by the AARP because they give seniors the ability to get same-day benefit deposits and protect people from having their checks stolen, Hunter said. All new benefit applicants have been required to use electronic payments since 2011. The federal government is expected to save $1 billion over the 10 years by switching to electronic payments. "The Treasury Department has taken great strides to support and guide check recipients through the change to electronic payments, and we're increasing our efforts significantly in the final two months before the deadline,'' Financial Management Service commissioner David Lebryk said in a statement. Recipients can switch to direct deposit or the Direct Express debit card by visiting the website, www.GoDirect.org, or by calling 800-333-1795, Lebryk said. Those who do not make the switch by March 1 will automatically be issued a Direct Express card.