The Washington Post recently ran an article on rural disability. There’s a far higher incidence of Social Security disability claims in rural areas. The drift of the article is that this is related to the lack of job opportunities in rural areas, i.e., people can’t find jobs so they file disability claims.

There is a likely a link between lack of job opportunities in rural areas and Social Security disability claims but I think it’s more complicated than this article presents. What happens when there are poor job opportunities in an area but better job opportunities elsewhere? Some people leave to pursue job opportunities elsewhere. Those who leave are on average younger, better educated, smarter and healthier than those who stay. Those left behind are people who are more likely to file disability claims regardless of the job opportunities in their community. Those left behind also have much worse access to health care than those who leave. Health care in most rural areas sucks. Even if you have insurance, it’s hard to get good medical care and many in rural areas lack health care insurance. You’re more likely to get sick and stay sick if you have poor access to health care.

Those of us who represent Social Security disability claimants like to talk about demographics and access to health care as factors in determining who files disability clams. Newspaper reporters don’t like to write articles about demographics and access to health care. It’s boring. They like nice simplistic explanations since those are easier for them to understand and convey to readers.

 

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From the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP):
Years of Social Security Administration (SSA) funding cuts have hampered the agency’s ability to serve the American people. The current 2017 spending measure, set to expire at the end of April, froze funding for basic SSA functions like staffing field offices and call centers at last year’s level.

SSA’s core operating budget shrank by 10 percent from 2010 to 2016 in inflation-adjusted terms even as the demands on SSA reached record highs. The freeze on SSA’s operating funds in the 2017 continuing resolution (CR) only stressed the agency further. Anticipating the CR, SSA imposed a hiring freeze in the spring of 2016 and then eliminated nearly all overtime when the CR began. Beneficiaries and taxpayers are paying the price:

SSA has lost 1,400 field staff since the hiring freeze began. As a result, 18,000 field office visitors every day must wait more than an hour for service. Nearly half of visitors must wait at least three weeks for an appointment.

SSA’s teleservice centers have 450 fewer agents than they need to handle the 37 million calls they receive each year. As a result, most callers to SSA’s national 800 number don’t get their questions resolved. The average wait for an agent is 18 minutes, and nearly half of callers hang up before connecting. Another 13 percent of callers get busy signals.

SSA has been able to hire more staff to address appeals for disability benefits, in part due to the $150 million in dedicated funding that policymakers provided for this purpose in 2017. As a result, SSA has made initial progress in reducing its record backlogs. But that progress will disappear unless the President and Congress continue to provide adequate funding in the final 2017 appropriation bill and in future years.

The hiring freeze and cutbacks in overtime have hampered SSA’s ability to complete behind-the-scenes work, leading to growing delays in processing applications or changing benefits when a beneficiary’s circumstances change. This creates unnecessary hardship for beneficiaries. It also costs taxpayers, since it allows overpayments to build up and delays their collection — increasing the risk that they will never be recovered. By the end of 2016, the number of pending behind-the-scenes tasks had more than doubled.

The Social Security Administration is urging all American workers to take Five Steps Towards Financial Security.  From their website:

  1.  Get to know your Social Security
    We’re more than retirement
    Social Security is with you throughout your life — supporting friends and family alike. We’re there from day one, when your parent applied for your Social Security number at the hospital. We provide financial security to many children and adults before they reach retirement, including the chronically ill, children of deceased parents, and wounded warriors.
  2. Verify your earnings
    Your work history directly impacts your future benefits
    Your benefits are calculated using your employment records. Your employer reports your earnings to Social Security. It’s important that you use your personal my Social Security account to check these records yearly to ensure that your earnings are recorded accurately.
  3. Estimate your benefits
    Retirement planning starts with us
    Social Security is part of a strong retirement plan. We’ll be here when you need us, but you need to take steps to ensure you have enough other retirement income for a comfortable quality of life. Want to know your retirement age, life expectancy, or future benefits? We have several different calculators that can give you an estimate to fit your situation.
  4. Apply for benefits
    No need to visit an office
    Our secure website allows you to apply for benefits from the comfort of your home or preferred location. From retirement to disability to Medicare benefits, we have you and your loved ones covered.
  5. Manage your benefits
    Control your benefits when you need to
    My Social Security puts the control of your benefits at your fingertips. On the go or at home, you can access your personal my Social Security account according to your schedule. There’s no need to visit a field office to take care of most of your business with Social Security.

Florida Legal Elite

April 5, 2017

I am excited to announce that I have been voted my my peers as a Florida Legal Elite.  The Legal Elite selection process allowed all members of the Florida Bar to provide the names of the lawyers they hold in the highest regard.  I am honored that my peers have chosen me again, as there are many many outstanding lawyers in the community.

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