Hearing Wait Times

September 30, 2015

The news is in and it’s not good.

The wait time for a hearing decision in the Jacksonville area is now 602 days, up from 558 days six months ago.  Somehow, Jacksonville is only #147 on the list of 163 offices in the US, which is an improvement from six months ago, when the office was #157.  Fort Lauderdale and Fort Meyers are also posting long wait times with (643 days and 633 days respectively), but the worst office in the nation is Miami with a wait time of 694 days.

Let’s give a cheer for Alexandria, Viriginia, the office that is processing cases the fastest at just 320 days!  In second place is Metairie, Louisiana with just 348 days (half of Miami’s wait time), but curiously, Metairie was processing cases the fastest six months ago in only 279.  Metairie, what happened???

Remember, these are just average times – some cases are processed much faster and others even slower.

I have been hearing this comment since I started working in this field, over twenty years ago.  Just last week, I published that the sky is falling.  Articles about and mushroom about the shortfalls the Social Security funds face.  Yet, the program continues to work and chug along as millions of people who are retired or disabled or have children who are disabled are able to draw on the benefits the system provides.

A recent article in the NYT discusses this (link is below) but I wanted to highlight my favorite comment:

“I believed that when I was your age also and yet, here it is 40 years later going strong”

I also believe that I will see retirement benefits when I reach my retirement age, which is 20 years from now.  I believe that if I become disabled, I will received disability benefits and that if I die, my kids will receive survivor benefits.

Read more:  http://takingnote.blogs.nytimes.com/?module=BlogMain&action=Click&region=Header&pgtype=Blogs&version=Blog%20Post

 

 

The Sky is Falling

September 16, 2015

Earlier this summer, there was an announcement stating that eleven million people face a deep, abrupt cut in disability insurance benefits in late 2016 if Congress fails to replenish Social Security’s disability trust fund, which is running out of money, the Obama administration said Wednesday.  Officials expressed concern about the program as they issued their annual report on the financial condition of Medicare and Social Security, which together account for about 40 percent of all federal spending.  The trustees of Social Security, including three cabinet secretaries, said the disability trust fund would be depleted in the last quarter of 2016. After that, they said, benefits would automatically be cut by 19 percent because revenues, largely from payroll taxes, would be sufficient to cover only 81 percent of scheduled benefit payments.

The report sets up a fight between President Obama and Republicans in Congress. Mr. Obama wants to replenish the disability trust fund by shifting some payroll tax revenues from Social Security’s retirement trust fund.  Republicans, however, want more significant changes to improve the program’s finances. These changes could include reductions in disability benefits, restrictions on eligibility, new measures to combat fraud or new strategies to help people return to work. In January, Republicans adopted a new rule in the House that could block a direct reallocation of money at the expense of the trust fund that provides benefits for retirees.

The White House acknowledged the financial problems of the disability program in a separate report issued last week by Jeffrey D. Zients, director of the National Economic Council, and Shaun Donovan, the president’s budget director.

For more information, read the whole article here:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/23/us/disability-benefits-face-cuts-in-2016-trustees-say.html?_r=0

The recent volatility of the stock market should make people rethink some suggestions that Social Security funds should be invested in the stock market on an individual basis.  While the stock market tends to increase wealth, the periodic market drops could be a cause for concern.

The rede t market drop, and ones before, expose the dangers of diverting some or all of the money workers contribute to Social Security through their paychecks into private investment accounts. That would put individuals in charge of making smart enough investment choices in the market to make big enough returns to support themselves in retirement.

Currently, no benefits will be reduced or lost due to the market changes.  So everyone receiving benefits can rest easy.

ABLE Accounts: Part 2

September 2, 2015

In December 2014, Congress passed Achieving a Better Life through Experience Act of 2014, also known as the ABLE Act.

The ABLE Act will allow people with disabilities (with an age of onset up to 26 years old) and their families the opportunity to create a tax-exempt savings account that can be used for maintaining health, independence and quality of life. In a two part blog post, I am providing the answer to common questions about the ABLE Act.

Last week, I discussed the ABLE Act and answered some of the most common questions about a this law.  Below are a few more answers.

  1. Where do I go to open an ABLE account?

Each state is responsible for establishing and operating an ABLE program. If a state should choose not to establish its own program, the state may choose to contract with another state to still offer its eligible individuals with significant disabilities the opportunity to open an ABLE account.

After President Obama signs the ABLE Act, the Secretary of the Department of Treasury will begin to develop regulations that will guide the states in terms of a) the information required to be presented to open an ABLE account; b) the documentation needed to meet the requirements of ABLE account eligibility for a person with a disability; and c) the definition details of “qualified disability expenses” and the documentation that will be needed for tax reporting.

No accounts can be established until the regulations are finalized following a public comment period on proposed rules for program implementation. States will begin to accept applications to establish ABLE accounts before the end of 2015.

  1. Can I have more than one ABLE account?

No. The ABLE Act limits the opportunity to one ABLE account per eligible individual.

  1. Will states offer options to invest the savings contributed to an ABLE account?

Like state 529 college savings plans, states are likely to offer qualified individuals and families multiple options to establish ABLE accounts with varied investment strategies. Each individual and family will need to project possible future needs and costs over time, and to assess their risk tolerance for possible future investment strategies to grow their savings. Account contributors or designated beneficiaries are limited, by the ABLE Act, to change the way their money is invested in the account up to two times per year.

  1. How many eligible individuals and families might benefit from establishing an ABLE account?

There are 58 million individuals with disabilities in the United States. To meet the definition of significant disability required by the legislation to be eligible to establish an ABLE account, the conservative number would be approximately 10 percent of the larger group, or 5.8 million individuals and families. Further analysis is needed to understand more fully the size of this market and more about their needs for new savings and investment products.

  1.  How is an ABLE account different than a special needs or pooled trust?

An ABLE Account will provide more choice and control for the beneficiary and family. Cost of establishing an account will be considerably less than either a Special Needs Trust (SNT) or Pooled Income Trust. With an ABLE account, account owners will have the ability to control their funds and, if circumstances change, still have other options available to them.  Determining which option is the most appropriate will depend upon individual circumstances. For many families, the ABLE account will be a significant and viable option in addition to, rather than instead of, a Trust program.

 

 

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