George Takei reprises his role as Hikaru Sulu, helmsman of the USS Enterprise, in a new series of Star Trek-themed public service announcements from the Social Security Administration. Patty Duke explains to a skeptical Takei the convenience of signing up for Social Security benefits online. “You’ve navigated through asteroid belts, right?” Duke asks Takei. “Well, compared to that, navigating Social Security.gov is a snap…It’s so easy even Kirk could do it.”
This is the latest in a series of celebrity-studded Social Security commercials that have been aired over the past two years. Duke previously reprised her role as look-alike cousins Cathy and Patty Lane from the 1960s sitcom The Patty Duke Show in other commercials encouraging retirees to sign up online for Social Security. Chubby Checker also danced the twist to promote a "new twist" in the government program that will help disabled and low-income seniors pay for prescription drugs.
Online applications have increased significantly since these advertisements began airing in January 2009. Within three weeks of the first commercial featuring Duke, the proportion of new Social Security applications submitted online climbed from 21 percent to 32 percent. Now, 41 percent of retirees claim their due online. “Patty has been wildly successful. People stop her in airports now and ask her if she is the Social Security lady,” says Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue. “We need these ads to be interesting and humorous so that they go viral.”
Duke and Takei were not paid for their endorsements. “I have some notoriety from Star Trek and this is a way to get people to note the fact that we can now go online to apply for Social Security,” says Takei. Both actors say they are lending their star power to a worthy cause. “I see it as an opportunity to celebrate my boomerism,” says Duke. “It is very satisfying to know that a difference is being made, money is being saved, and people are getting the information they need.”
When retirees claim their due online, it allows the Social Security Administration to use its limited budget on other expenses. “We’re under a lot of stress with budget cuts and increased applications and other work from the recession,” says Astrue. He estimates that the increase in online applications has saved SSA between $25 and $30 million. The scripts for the public service announcements were written by existing SSA employees and no television time was purchased to run the advertisements. SSA says the free air time it has received thus far is worth over $27 million.
Although the helmsman of the USS Enterprise appears to be contemplating signing up for Social Security in the Star Trek advertisements, Takei, 73, already signed up for Social Security and Medicare online at age 65. “That was the legal age when I could get the full amount of Social Security,” Takei says. However, the full retirement age has since increased to 66 for most baby boomers and will further rise to 67 for those born in 1960 or later.
Duke, 64, is planning to wait until her full retirement age, 66, to collect her checks. Workers who sign up before their full retirement age receive smaller payouts, while those who delay claiming up until age 70 can boost the amount they will receive each month. “It’s really important for people to understand that if you have the ability to delay your retirement check, then that may be in your best interest,” says Astrue. He plans to delay claiming until age 70 to get the maximum possible payout.
Check out Takei and Duke’s voyage below.