Hundreds of U.S. government checks, normally mailed to Iran the first of each month, are quietly piling up in Treasury Department disbursing offices. They will remain there until normal relations are resumed between Tehran and Washington.

Each year the government mails payments -- for Social Security benefits, military service or Civil Service retirement -- worth about $80 million to people in more than 80 countries. Only a handful go to Iran -- and none is going there now.

In normal times, somewhere between 90 and 120 monthy Social Security, VA and military dependent checks are sent to Iran. All go via the American Embassy, which was seized by terrorists last November. Shortly thereafter Treasury, which writes the checks, cut them off.

"The checks are supposed to go to the embassy," an official explained, "and they are rather busy there now with other things."

Although Social Security and Civil Service payments seem as American as apple pie, hundreds of thousands of checks are mailed overseas each month. Social Security payments to more than 300,000 people overseas amount to more than $65 million annually. Thousands of retired military and federal personnal (or their survivors) live abroad and get checks in the country where they reside.

More than 50,000 Social Security checks go to Mexico each month. Another 46,000 are mailed to Canada, and 42,000 go to people living in Italy. Just over 35,000 are mailed to the Philippines.

Thousands of retired federal and military personnel have settled in Mexico, Canada, Latin America and Europe.

The U.S. government checks embargo on Iran also includes 56 Civil Service annuity (pension) checks. Most of the recipients were survivors of ex-U.S. government employes. Most were mailed to the American Embassy in Tehran for pickup and distribution. None is going there now, for obvious reasons.