Student Loans

October 27, 2021

Great news! Student Debt is being canceled for thousands of people. Key points:

  • The U.S. Department of Education announced Thursday that it will cancel $5.8 billion in student debt for more than 320,000 borrowers.
  • The debt forgiveness, which will go to borrowers with a total and permanent disability, will be automatically granted using data already available to the Social Security Administration.
  • Borrowers will begin to see the relief in September.

CNN article below.

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society has MS Navigators available. Navigators can help you find program near you by calling 1-800-344-4867 or online at nationalMSsociety.org/Navigator.

There are MS Navigators who specialize in benefits, employment and health insurance-related needs. The Society has information related to employment needs on its website, including a brochure “The Win-Win Approach to Reasonable Accommodations”.

The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is another free online service for anyone with a disability. You can find it online at askjan.org.

JAN is a federal program that allows disabled individuals to speak with Vocational Rehabilitation counselors by online chat, email or phone.

A recent study showed that legal representation in the initial stage of a Social Security Disability Claim leads to earlier disability awards to individuals who would otherwise be awarded benefits only on appeal. Representation reduces total case processing time by nearly one year. 

The study also concluded that representation translates into savings for SSA in processing cases because representation improves case outcomes by increasing the initial award rate, and reduces the rate of appeal of an initial denial. Representation at the initial level has no effect on the ultimate outcome of a case, but provided favorable decisions for represented claimants much earlier than for those who ultimately won at the ALJ level or later.

In a press release issued on August 16, Acting Commissioner Kilolo Kijakazi announced the addition of 12 new Compassionate Allowances (CAL) conditions: Charlevoix-Saguenay Spastic Ataxia, Choroid Plexus Carcinoma, CIC- rearranged Sarcoma, Congenital Zika Syndrome, Desmoplastic Mesothelioma, Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy – Adult, Pericardial Mesothelioma, Refractory Hodgkin Lymphoma, Renpenning Syndrome, SCN8A-related Epilepsy with Encephalopathy, SYNGAP1-related NSID, and Taybi-Linder Syndrome.

“The Compassionate Allowances program quickly identifies claims where the applicant’s condition or disease clearly meets Social Security’s statutory standard for disability. Due to the severe nature of many of these conditions, these claims are often allowed based on medical confirmation of the diagnosis alone; for example, certain cancers, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and a number of rare disorders that affect children. To date, more than 700,000 people with severe disabilities have been approved through this accelerated, policy-compliant disability process, which has grown to a total of 254 conditions.”

The complete list of CAL conditions can be viewed at http://www.ssa.gov/ compassionateallowances/conditions.htm.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) recently changed their rules about how pandemic-related financial assistance can affect an individual’s eligibility for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or monthly SSI benefit amount. Previously, SSA had been counting many types of assistance as income and resources for SSI purposes, resulting in individuals having their SSI benefits reduced or suspended, or having their applications for SSI benefits denied. However, due to the severity of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, SSA has decided they will not count most types of pandemic-related financial assistance against SSI eligibility or benefit amount.

More information about this from the National Center on Elder Law and Rights

The Florida Times Union reports that the SSA COLA should be big next year:

After years of puny increases in their Social Security checks, older Americans will likely get the equivalent of a big raise next year.

The 68 million people — including retirees, disabled people and others – who rely on the benefits are likely to receive a 6% to 6.1% cost-of-living adjustment next year because of a COVID-19-related spike in inflation, according to the Senior Citizen League.

Such a rise would far outpace 1.4% average bumps in Social Security payments since 2010 and amount to the largest increase since 1982, according to the Senior Citizen League.

For the average retiree who got a monthly check of $1,559 this year, a 6% rise would increase that payment by $93.54 to $1,652.54 in 2022.

Next month, the Social Security Administration will announce its cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for 2022 based on average annual increases in the consumer price index for urban wage earners and clerical workers, or CPI-W, from July through September.

Discharge of Student Loans

September 15, 2021

Discharges of federal student loans are available for certain borrowers found to have a total and permanent disability (TPD). More information is available at www.disabilitydischarge.com/. One way that the Department of Education can find people eligible forTPD discharge is if they receive SSI or SSDI and are scheduled for Continuing Disability Reviews every 5-7 yearsThe National Student Legal Defense Network (Student Defense) is a non-profit organization that is helping people obtain TPD discharges of their federal student loans.

This is a great article from the website thehill.com that explains how the SSI rules, having been unchanged for years, leave recipients in utter poverty in order to receive benefits. For instance, in New York’s 16th Congressional district, tens of thousands of recipients are expected to live on an average benefit of $575 per month. The current maximum benefit a recipient can receive is $794/month, which is three-quarters of the federal poverty level, but must cover all expenses, including rent, food, and other needs. 

I am reminded of a favorite quote by a favorite president of mind, Franklin Delano Roosevelt:

The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much;

it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”

Following this rubric, we are failing as a society.

https://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/politics/566450-outdated-ssi-rules-leave-millions-in-poverty-the-reconciliation

2021 COLA Speculation

September 1, 2021

Projections of what the Cost Of Living Adjustment (COLA) will be for Social Security this year are being made. It’s clear it will be far higher than what we’re used to. The Kiplinger Letter is predicting it will be 6.3%, which is significantly higher than the last few years:

2020: 1.3%

2019: 1.6%

2018: 2.8%

The COLA hasn’t been over 6.0 percent since 1982, when it was 7.4%.

According to Charles Hall, there has been some interest in Congress in adding SSI provisions to the Budget Reconciliation bill being considered in the Senate. I have no idea how serious this interest is. The Office of Chief Actuary at Social Security has prepared estimates of the costs of various provisions that might be considered. These provisions are actually part of a standalone SSI bill but no standalone SSI bill can pass in the Senate because of the filibuster. The only way any of this happens is by getting folded into the Budget Reconciliation bill. The combined effect of all the provisions being considered would be $510 billion over the next ten years. I’m pretty sure that’s not going to happen, at least not this year. However, the main part of this — $350 billion — is for increasing benefit amounts generally. Increasing income exclusions would cost another $60 billion and eliminating the in kind support and maintenance rule would cost $31 billion. We’ll see whether any of those end up in the bill. Some other provisions under consideration have much lower costs and are more likely to be added:

  • Exclusion of retirement accounts from resources
  • Repeal of the disposal of resources for less than fair market value rule
  • Clarifying the treatment of certain state tax credits
  • Elimination of dedicated accounts for some past-due benefits
  • Elimination of installment payment rules
  • Extension of period of exclusion for certain payments
  • Elimination of holding out rule

These rules would certainly make it easier for individuals to qualify for SSI benefits and I whole-heartedly support new legislation along these lines.

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