SSDI Still Needs Fixing

What reforms are needed in the Social Security Disability Insurance program?


The recent Budget Act signed by President Obama was approved with bipartisan Congressional support. Leading into the negotiations, there were threats of another government shutdown if Congress refused to raise the debt ceiling while lawmakers argued over the numbers. During this process, many Social Security Disability benefits recipients were concerned over a proposal that would slash their benefits by the fourth quarter of 2016.


However, lawmakers created an 11th hour remedy by shifting payroll tax revenue from one Social Security Trust fund to finance the SSDI fund. While this maneuver will prevent some of the nation’s most vulnerable citizens from falling into poverty, it is only a stop-gap measure. At the end of the day, the SSDI program still has problems.


Problems Plaguing the SSDI Fund


It was recently reported that the SSDI program has numerous problems and long-term funding has not been resolved. This is especially dire as more baby boomers are becoming disabled, putting a strain on the system. Not only is there a problem with funding. Long delays in claim approval are causing financial hardship for many people.


Currently, more than 10 million Americans are now on SSDI, and that number is expected to rise. The annual cost is staggering — about $141.7 billion in 2014. Even worse, the program has been losing money for at least the last decade.


Reforming the SSDI Program


Some proposed reforms include revamping the administrative law judge system. Because of high caseloads, hundreds of judges have been rubber-stamping approvals and “wrongful decisions” in the last 10 years have cost taxpayers at least $72 billion. The SSDI eligibility standards also need to be updated as they currently rely on data that is 30 years old. In any event, the recent budget deal was only a short-term fix, leaving the financial security of millions of disabled American hanging in the balance.


If you have become disabled and are unable to work, a qualified attorney can help you secure disability benefits.


The Long Wait for SSDI Benefits

What is causing delays is SSDI benefit approvals?

The Social Security Disability Insurance program is designed to provide financial support to people who are unable to work, providing them with a safety net from poverty. Generally, to qualify for disability, a person must have a physical or mental illness that will prevent the individual from working for at least 1 year or culminate in death. Not only is this is a high bar to cross — many people are denied benefits — but the approval process can be quite long. In these cases some may suffer undue physical, emotional and financial hardship.

What is the reason for SSD delays?

There are many reasons for the delays in SSD approval, which in some cases may be as long as 22 months. Even worse, some people have died while they were waiting. However, in this situation, a surviving spouse is entitled to the benefit.

Some attribute the delays to the huge caseloads of “overburdened judges.” These caseloads, in turn, are due to the large number of aging baby boomers who are becoming disabled while needed staff additions for the Social Security Administration’s were underfunded. Currently the SSD program stands at $126 billion which provides benefits to about 9 million people who are permanently unable to work as well as 8 million low-income people.

The SSA claims that the national average for a decision is about 16 months even though the agency has tried to limit caseloads and may even have pushed administrative judges to approve cases. In fact, an investigation conducted by the House Oversight and Government Reform committee found that hundreds of judges were rubber-stamping approvals, costing taxpayers billions. The Obama administration, however, stated that there was no evidence of rubber-stamping and the approval rates have actually declined by about 10 percent in recent years.

In an effort to address the problem, the SSA has set a goal to reduce the wait to 270 days or less by 2020. In addition, they have put a “pre-hearing triage program” in place, plan on hiring 400 more judges by 2018, and are conducting video hearing to reduce backlogs. In the meantime, countless people are falling into despair as they wait for SSD approval.

If you are disabled and unable to work, an attorney experience with the SSD program can help you qualify for benefits.

Social Security and Medicare Changes — Pluses and Minuses

How will the new laws affect those who are receiving, or will receive, Social Security benefits?

In the budget bill President Obama recently signed into law with bipartisan support, some specific changes affecting Medicare and Social Security were included. For those who presently receive benefits from these agencies, or who foresee doing so in the near future, here is a clarification of what these alterations mean.

File and Suspend Option Being Discontinued May 1, 2016

One option being taken off the table is one known as “file and suspend.” Currently, the higher wage earner in a couple who has reached full retirement age can file for his or her own Social Security benefits and immediately suspend them.

This means that the higher wage earner can continue to let the Social Security benefits grow 8 percent annually. During this time period, however, the lower wage earner can file for spousal benefits, receiving the lower amount. This results in the couple receiving a Social Security check while their benefits continue to grow. If the higher earning spouse passes away, the surviving spouse eventually receives the higher benefit.

Since file and suspend will be discontinued as of May 1, 2016, anyone interested in taking advantage of this strategy should apply now. Those already receiving benefits under this method will be grandfathered in until age 70.

Restricted Application also Being Phased Out

Restricted application is similar to, but not the same as, file and suspend. Now, individuals eligible for retirement benefits based on their own work record, as well as spousal benefits based on their spouses’ work record, can elect to claim only a spousal benefit at full retirement age, leaving them free to collect a higher benefit in the future.

When the new law goes into effect, however, only individuals born on or before January 1, 1954 will continue to be able to use this option. Those younger than this will automatically receive the larger of the two benefits.

New Funds for Social Security Disability Benefits

Those receiving Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits have had a stressful many months due the fact that it was anticipated that millions of disabled Americans were going to have their benefits reduced by 19 percent by the fourth quarter of 2016. Fortunately, that dire circumstance will not come to pass. The new law remedies the problem by shifting payroll tax revenue from one Social Security trust fund to another. Funds will be shifted from the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust fund to the Disability Insurance Trust fund. This change will save some of the country’s most vulnerable citizens from falling below the poverty line.

No Increase in Medicare Part B Premiums and Deductibles

Thirty percent of Medicare beneficiaries were expecting a 52 percent increase in their Medicare Part B insurance premiums, as well as in their deductibles. The new law will protect this targeted population, approximately 17 million people, who will soon pay about $119 per month instead of the predicted $159.30 for Part B.

The other 70 percent of Medicare beneficiaries will continue to pay the same premium in 2016 as they did in 2015 — $104.90. Beneficiaries will, however, have to pay an extra $3 per month to assist in paying down the money loaned to Medicare by the federal government. In addition, the annual deductible for all Part B beneficiaries will increase in 2016 to $166, an increase of about 15 percent.

If you have any questions regarding your present or future benefits, you should be sure to consult with a skilled and knowledgeable disability attorney.

SSA Announces There Will be No Cost-of-Living Increase in 2016

The cost of living is steadily increasing in virtually every zip code in America. From sprawling urban areas to more remote rural areas, consumers are experiencing a relentless increase in the costs of housing, utilities, food and other necessities — prompting many employers to offer wage raises (though minimal ones) each year to offset the costs associated with daily living.

However, for those relying on the financial support of Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the Social Security Administration (SSA) has recently announced that there will be no cost of living increase in 2016 — citing an inflation increase too slight to warrant additional benefits. Unfortunately for many, their monthly benefit amount will remain unchanged, while the costs of basic necessities continue to rise.

Since 1975, the SSA has implemented a regular Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) to help beneficiaries keep up with inflation rates and avoid further impoverishment. In years past, SSI recipients have seen increases ranging from a few dollars to a more significant sum, depending on the activity in the American economy. However, 2016 will be just the third year in history in which recipients will receive the same monthly benefit amount as the previous year – a rate currently set at $733.00 for individuals, and $1,100.00 for couples.

Across the United States, approximately 8 million people rely on SSI benefits to survive. Many of them are permanently disabled and unable to secure gainful employment under any circumstances. The percentage of Arizonans receiving benefits is higher than the national average. For these individuals, who currently rely on this income to survive, the lack of COLA in 2016 could result in a significant hardship, particularly in the event of a stark increase in inflation rates mid-year.

If you or a loved one with a disability are facing hardship because of the lack of COLA in the coming year, an experienced disability attorney can help you find the resources you need.

The Process of Applying for Social Security Disability Benefits

What are the steps that must be taken to apply for SSD benefits?

The process of applying for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits can be a daunting one, particularly since it comes at a time when you are at a low ebb due to chronic illness or traumatic injury. This is why it is important to engage the services of a reputable disability attorney to guide you through the process.

Who can apply for disability benefits?

If you have a physical or psychological impairment that affects your ability to work on a full-time basis you can apply for Social Security Disability benefits.  You must be able to show that your severe impairment(s) have lasted for, or can be expected to last for at least 12 months.

At retirement age, the benefits continue, but are reclassified as retirement benefits.

When should you apply for SSD benefits?

It’s always best to apply for benefits as soon as you become disabled.  Waiting to apply could cause you to lose out on potential benefits that could be rightfully paid to you. If your conditions prevent you from working, do not unnecessarily delay your application.

What documents are needed to apply for disability benefits?

Before applying for disability benefits, you should have all your ducks in a row, including all of the following documents that pertain in your case:

• Birth certificate or Permanent Resident Card Number
• Marriage and (if applicable) divorce papers
• Names and birth dates of children who became disabled before the age of 22, are under age 18 and unmarried, or are age 18 to19 and attending school full time
• Papers pertaining to military service
• Social Security number
• Name of place  and dates of employment for prior 2 years
• Statement of total earnings
• Bank account numbers for domestic and international accounts
• Bank information for direct deposit
• List of medical conditions
• Names and contact information for all of your doctors
• Complete information about medical tests taken 
• Complete list of prescribed medications
• Information about all completed education and vocational training

As if this weren’t enough, applicants for Social Security benefits may be asked to provide additional information after they submit their application.

Once you are approved for disability benefits, will they continue throughout your lifetime?

While some conditions are chronic or progressive, some types of disability may be temporary, although they are long-term. Regular reviews of your condition will be made to determine whether you are still entitled to Social Security benefits.

As is obvious from the above materials, getting SSD benefits is a complex and often overwhelming process, a process during which the assistance of a capable disability attorney is invaluable.

Potential cuts to SSD Benefits Coming in 2016

What do Social Security cuts mean to disability recipients?

Social Security disability benefits could be cut by as much as 20 percent by the end of 2016.

A recently released report found the trust fund will be depleted by the fourth quarter of next year, leaving the Social Security Administration with only enough funds to pay 81 percent of benefits. Congress has presently failed to agree to a compromise funding bill.

However, some experts believe Congress may act at the 11th hour to reform the program by redirecting payroll taxes, but this would only be a short-term fix. Meanwhile, the cuts could impact 10.9 million disability benefit recipients. Moreover, the entire Social Security fund needs to be overhauled or the trust fund used for retirement benefits will be depleted by 2035.

That being said, lawmakers could also devise a short-term fix to increase funding for the disability program, but that would entail changing the benefits. For example, one proposal from the White House would preclude people who receive unemployment benefits from receiving Social Security disability benefits.

But this will only be a band aid as lawmakers still need to come up with a comprehensive plan to stabilize funding for the entire Social Security program. The federal government has not taken significant action to reform Social Security since the Reagan Administration. At that time a bipartisan commission called for hiking the payroll tax, and gradually raising the retirement age.

Today’s Congress, however, seems far less likely to compromise, and this adversely affects Social Security disability benefits. Compounding the problem is the inefficient management of the program by the administration which may have resulted in over payments to some recipients. This may contribute to the trust fund not being able to sufficiently cover present recipients and others who may become disabled.

If you believe you are entitled to disability benefits under the Social Security program, contact an attorney today to protect your rights.