For the second straight year, millions of Social Security recipients, disabled veterans and federal retirees can expect historically small increases in their benefits come January.

Preliminary figures suggest a benefit increase of roughly 1.5 percent.

Next year’s raise will be small because consumer prices, as measured by the government, haven’t gone up much in the past year.

The exact size of the cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, won’t be known until the Labor Department releases the inflation report for September. That was supposed to happen Wednesday, but the report was delayed indefinitely because of the government shutdown.

The COLA is usually announced in October to give Social Security and other benefit programs time to adjust January payments. The Social Security Administration has given no indication that raises will be delayed because of the shutdown, but advocates for seniors said the uncertainty was unwelcome.

Social Security benefits have continued during the shutdown.

More than one-fifth of the country is waiting for the news.

Nearly 58 million retirees, disabled workers, spouses and children get Social Security benefits. The average monthly payment is $1,162. A 1.5 percent raise would increase the typical monthly payment by about $17.

The COLA also affects benefits for more than 3 million disabled veterans, about 2.5 million federal retirees and their survivors, and more than 8 million people who get Supplemental Security Income, the disability program for the poor.

Automatic COLAs were adopted so that benefits for people on fixed incomes would keep up with rising prices. Many seniors, however, complain that the COLA sometimes falls short, leaving them little wiggle room.

Social Security Cards

October 23, 2013

Here is an item of interest I ran across recently.

Individuals with names that are too long are being denied the ability to put their entire name on their Social Security cards.   Read on:

Genevieve Catlyn Williamson Heidenreich, wants her entire married name to go on her Social Security card.

But Social Security is saying no. …

“He said to me, ‘it doesn’t fit.’ And I said, ‘what do you mean?’ And he said, ‘it doesn’t fit, the computer won’t let me move on,'” Heidenreich explained about her visit to the Sacramento Social Security office. …

A Social Security representative explained for the agency’s purposes, a legal name consists of a first and last name only.

“The first and middle name fields allow 16 characters each and the last name allows 21 characters,” the statement added. …

As for technical limitations, Heidenreich said she can’t imagine any reason the process couldn’t be changed.

“We’re, you know, printing livers on 3D printers and I can’t have my name? It’s kinda wild.”

A second incident:

After nearly four years of trying, Ashley Barton became pregnant with her first child, who was born in 2012.

“Her name is Hi’ileikawainohiamaikalohena Barton,” Barton said.
That’s 27 letters, plus the okina, in her baby’s first name as shown on her birth certificate.

But when Barton received her daughter’s Social Security card, she noticed nearly half of her first name was dropped.

“And I asked them, ‘Why is that?’ and they said that there is a limit to how many characters they can put on the Social Security card,” Barton said.

I’ve never seen this kind of story before and now there are two of them on the same day?  Odd.

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has posted updated figures for the number of employees at the Social Security Administration.
  • June 2013 62,877
  • March 2013 63,777
  • December 2012 64,538
  • September 2012 65,113
  • September 2011 67,136
  • December 2010 70,270
  • December 2009 67,486
  • September 2009 67,632
  • December 2008 63,733
  • September 2008 63,990
  • September 2007 62,407
  • September 2006 63,647
  • September 2005 66,147
  • September 2004 65,258
  • September 2003 64,903
  • September 2002 64,648
  • September 2001 65,377
  • September 2000 64,521
Since the Republicans took over the House of Representatives in January 2011, the number of employees at Social Security has gone down by  7,393, an 11% reduction, in the face of a rapidly increasing workload. This may understate the staffing reduction since Social Security was employing a good deal of employee overtime prior to the 2010 election. There is now little employee overtime available at Social Security.

A new report from the Urban Institute presents facts reflecting how important SSDI benefits are to disabled workers.  The authors called the SSDI program a “crucial lifeline for some of the most vulnerable citizens” stating that the benefits play a vital role in the nation’s social safety net, providing essential support to millions of workers and their families.  Nearly half of the beneficiaries rely on the benefits for at least half of their household income with one-fifth of the beneficiaries report that the benefits account for virtually all of their household income.  The benefits fall well short of the earnings individuals received before they became disabled and beneficiaries are about twice as likely to be poor or near-poor than nondisabled individuals.

Social Security Disability benefits help your friends, your colleagues and your neighbors.  Consider the following people who are receiving benefits:

  • Kim worked as paralegal for over 20 years.  For over six years, she maintained her job while undergoing kidney dialysis twice weekly.  To help her cope with how fatigued she was by this invasive treatment, her employer made adjustments to her work schedule to allow her to keep working.  In 2010, she was finally too worn out from the treatment to continue working and she applied for Social Security Disability benefits.  She is currently waiting for a kidney transplant, which she hopes will extend her life and improve her health to a point that she can return to work.  In the meantime, the cash and medical benefits she receives as a result of the taxes she paid for over 20 years provide greatly needed assistance and will allow her to undergo a transplant when a kidney becomes available.

  • Tara, a 47-year-old woman, held down a demanding job as medical receptionist. After her son was killed in Iraq, she began to have problems with depression and anxiety. Her mental problems led to cyclical vomiting syndrome, a problem which caused her to have over 50 emergency treatments and hospital admissions over a one-year period due to her inability to stop vomiting without medical intervention. While disability benefits were pending, her husband took on extra hours at work to help pay their mortgage and medical bills; other family members pitched in to take care of Tara. When Social Security benefits were finally approved, Tara’s husband was able to go back to a 40-hour work week and return to taking care of his critically ill wife.

  • Mark is a 53-year-old who suffered a shotgun injury at age 15. Despite undergoing surgery that left him with a three inch reduction in the length of the right arm and limited use of the right hand, Mark worked a battery plant for over 25 years and then took on lighter work as an emergency medical technician, recalling how much he admired the first responders to his own injury years before. Because of his reduced ability to use his right extremity, Mark increasingly relied on his left arm and hand, resulting in overuse injuries to his left hand and back. Social Security approved benefits for Mark, which has helped him support his family as he has done for over 30 years.

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