March has been a month of intense scrutiny and analysis of the Social Security Disability program. Continuing that theme, another Congressional hearing was held last week to “examine policies that have expanded the role of subjective evaluations in determining whether applicants qualify for benefits and how these policies may result in unexplained variations in decision-making, weakening public confidence in the consistency and fairness of this national program. (more…)
Posts Tagged ‘Social Security’
As you are likely aware if you have found your way to our blog, The Advocator Group is a Social Security and Medicare advocacy organization. Our core mission is to help preserve or improve the financial well being of our clients by helping them obtain Social Security Disability Insurance benefits as quickly as possible. Ultimately, this allows our clients to refocus their time and energy on getting better, rather than on the complex and frustrating SSDI application and appeals process.
While we typically demonstrate our advocacy by providing professional representation in the rigorous process associated with obtaining SSDI benefits, we wanted to take a moment to advocate for our clients, and all severely disabled workers, in a different, but equally important way.
This week, NPR’s Planet Money published a story entitled “Unfit for Work – The startling rise of disability in America.” Since it was released, the story has created quite a buzz on the web and within the disability industry. While the story sheds light on important issues related to the growth of the SSDI program and the individuals who rely on its benefits, it also ignores important details about how the program works and relies on over-generalizations about its beneficiaries to reach its ultimate conclusion. As a result, a typical reader with little knowledge of the Social Security Disability program could easily walk away with an inaccurate view of the program and an undeservingly negative perception of the hard working Americans who rely on it for monthly income and financial security.
The SSDI program is an “insurance” program, not a “welfare” program. It is an insurance program that we each pay taxes into throughout our working lives in order to ensure that if we become disabled and unable to work, we will have access to a vital safety net that will provide us with a minimal amount of financial security. And the financial benefits really are minimal for the majority of beneficiaries – on average, an individual’s monthly SSDI benefit is only equal to about half of what they were earning while gainfully employed. (more…)
In a March 14th Congressional hearing, Acting Social Security Commissioner Carolyn Colvin issued a statement on the service delivery challenges currently facing the Social Security Administration. One of several hearings postponed by a large East Coast snow storm, the hearing eventually took place about a week after its originally scheduled date.
At the hearing, Colvin painted a picture of a “can-do” agency strapped for resources and treading water, bolstering her argument in favor of additional funding by positioning the Social Security Administration as “a good investment for the American taxpayer.” Stating that the goal of the agency is to provide balanced service with the resources it receives, Colvin recognized that the current fiscal environment will inevitably lead to tough trade-offs and will likely result in “further reductions in office hours, deferred workloads, and other cost-saving activities that will sadly delay services to our applicants and beneficiaries.” (more…)
From increasing backlogs to new hearing scheduling processes to anticipating the impact of the presidential election, 2012 brought its fair share of challenges and uncertainties for those who deal regularly with the Social Security Administration. Additionally, heightened scrutiny on the viability of the Social Security Disability Insurance program and one-sided criticism of those who adjudicate disability claims created a tumultuous environment for everyone involved in the process, including claimants, representatives, Social Security employees, and even organizations such as employers and long-term disability carriers who refer individuals for SSDI application and assistance.
While the end of the year is often a time for reflection on the successes and challenges of the last twelve months, it is also a time to look ahead to the new year and consider the challenges that are likely to come our way. With that in mind, we hope you enjoy today’s post: 13 For ’13.
1. Reduced hours at SSA will likely result in poorer customer service and longer waiting times: After announcing plans to reduce its workforce by 9,000 back in August, the Social Security Administration announced in November that it would reduce field office hours beginning immediately. Starting in November, all 1,233 offices began closing to the public 30 minutes earlier than normal and as of January 2, 2013, the offices will close to the public at noon on Wednesdays. While the majority of Advocator clients never have to visit a Social Security field office in order to apply for and be approved for benefits, this change will impact our ability to conduct status checks and other critical business with Social Security.
It’s official. Today, Commissioner Astrue announced 35 new CAL conditions, bringing the total number of conditions included in the fast tracking initiative to 200.
“We have achieved another milestone for the Compassionate Allowances program, reaching 200 conditions,” Commissioner Astrue said. “Nearly 200,000 people with severe disabilities nationwide have been quickly approved, usually in less than two weeks, through the program since it began in October 2008.”
The complete press release, along with the list of 35 new CAL conditions (which can be viewed by clicking on the image above), can be found on Social Security’s website.
“On Thursday, December 6, 2012, Commissioner Astrue will hold an event at the Hart Senate Building, room 902, at 10:00 a.m. in Washington D.C. to commemorate the milestone of reaching 200 Compassionate Allowances conditions. These conditions involve cancers, neurological, and other rare diseases affecting adults and children. The event is open to the public, advocacy organizations, and Congressional members and staff.” -http://www.socialsecurity.gov/compassionateallowances/
Compassionate Allowances (CAL) allow Social Security to expedite claims for individuals diagnosed with diseases and other medical conditions that are so severe that they invariably qualify for benefits based on minimal objective medical information. CAL conditions are developed as a result of information received at public outreach hearings, comments received from the Social Security and Disability Determination Service communities, counsel of medical and scientific experts and research with the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
There are currently 165 diseases and medical conditions on the list of Compassionate Allowance conditions, meaning that to reach 200, Social Security will apparently be adding an additional 35 conditions to the list in the near future. Look for Social Security to continue adding conditions to the list, as the agency sees the initiative as an important tool in its efforts to reduce backlogs at both the initial level and the hearing level.
The current list of CAL conditions can be found here.
A Congressional Budget Office report and related blog post indicated yesterday that the national debt is once again approaching the debt ceiling. According to the report, the U.S. Treasury “anticipates that borrowing will reach the current limit near the end of December 2012. However, because the Treasury can take certain ‘extraordinary measures’ that it has used previously when borrowing reached or approached the debt limit, CBO expects that the department will be able to continue funding government activities without an increase in the debt limit until mid-February or early March.
In the unlikely event that the debt limit is not increased before “extraordinary measures” are exhausted, the Treasury would not be authorized to issue additional debt that increases the amount outstanding, which would severely strain its ability to manage its cash and potentially lead to delayed payments for certain government activities. While the administration would determine which of the government’s financial obligations would be paid and which would not be paid, this could potentially impact Social Security beneficiaries who rely on timely monthly checks as their source of monthly income.
The Treasury faced a similar challenge in August 2011 and narrowly avoided a government shut down by raising the debt ceiling to where it currently stands at a whopping $16.394 trillion.
As we posted about back on September 20th, the U.S. Treasury Department is phasing out paper checks, meaning that most Social Security beneficiaries will be required to receive their monthly payments electronically. This change is being made for several reasons, but mainly because direct deposit is cheaper, costing the government almost a dollar less per payment. According to the Treasury, the move to electronic payments will save the Social Security Administration about $1 billion over the next 10 years, almost all of which will be saved directly from the Social Security Trust Fund.
To help ease the transition for those who are hesitant to make the change, the Treasury Department has launched a website, godirect.org, that provides several helpful tips and resources. On the new site, Social Security beneficiaries can find answers to Frequently Asked Questions, sign up for direct desposit, and learn more about the Direct Express card which can be used by Social Security beneficiaries without a bank account.
With limited exemptions available, everyone who receives a federal benefit payment will be required to switch to electronic payments by March 1, 2013. As you can see, the clock is ticking!
While getting approved for Social Security Disability benefits requires proving that you cannot engage in Substantial Gainful Activity, Social Security’s Ticket to Work program is available to offer support to those who have been approved for SSDI benefits in their efforts to enter, re-enter, and/or maintain employment. Under this program, beneficiaries can get the help they need to safely explore work options without immediately losing benefits.
Unfortunately, most SSDI recipients are relatively uninformed about the Ticket to Work program and how it works, leading to potential missed opportunities for disabled individuals who return to the workforce. To increase awareness, the agency holds online Work Incentive Seminar Events (WISE), where interested SSDI recipients can learn about the Ticket to Work program and other available work incentives. As indicated on the website, WISE webinars are hosted on the fourth Wednesday of each month. You can also register on the website.
Past webinars are archived so you can listen to them at your convenience.
Every October, the Social Security Administration releases its program rates and limits for the following year. This year’s fact sheet indicates slight increases in maximum taxable earnings and the threshold for Substantial Gainful Activity, among several other adjustments. These increases go hand in hand with the recently announced 1.7% COLA increase for 2013.