Applications for SSI disability benefits and SSDI disabled worker benefits have decreased each year since a peak in 2010. Although statistics about 2017’s SSI applications will not be available until late next year, it appears that the decline continued for SSDI applications in 2017. If people apply for SSDI disabled worker benefits at the same rate in December 2017 as they did throughout the rest of the year, there will have been about 2.17 million initial applications in 2017. This is a 6.4% decrease from 2016, and a 26% decrease from the peak in 2010. Since December typically sees fewer applications than other months, the decline is likely even more pronounced.

The decrease in requests for hearings is even more pronounced than the decline in initial applications. There were 698,579 requests for ALJ hearing in Fiscal Year 2016 and 620,977 in Fiscal Year 2017. Despite this 11% drop, the number of cases pending decreased by less than 6% that year. The decline in hearing requests looks to be continuing into Fiscal Year 2018. Hearing requests were 7.5% lower in the first two months of the current fiscal year, which began on October 1, 2017, than over the same period the year before.

Some of the decrease in applications may be due to baby boomers aging from disability-prone years to eligibility for full retirement benefits. Low unemployment may also make some employers more willing to accommodate workers with disabilities. These factors may also play into why some claimants choose not to appeal denials, though there are undoubtedly other factors, including the long wait times for ALJ hearings.

From the Tampa Times:

Workers whose poor health forces them from the job market should not have to wait years to obtain the benefits they deserve. The system has forced 1 million people onto a backlog for federal disability insurance, with wait times for hearings reaching a national average of nearly 600 days — and even longer in Florida. There is no reason to increase the hardship for those already living on the edge. Congress needs to provide the money necessary to deliver these benefits in a timely manner.

The Tampa Bay Times’ Malena Carollo chronicled the human impact of the logjam earlier this month, following the ordeal of 48-year-old Teralyn Fleming, one of about 21,000 off-the-job workers in Tampa Bay seeking a hearing to get Social Security disability insurance. Pushed out of her job as a paralegal in 2015 because of a blood-clotting disorder, Fleming struggled with medical expenses, was threatened with eviction and considering filing bankruptcy. She had waited more than two years to plead her case for disability insurance, but a day before her November hearing, Fleming discovered that a side job, which paid $1,000 a month, pushed her over the qualifying limit for benefits. Rather than risk having her case denied, Fleming followed her lawyer’s advice to withdraw her case and start the application process all over.

Her story is hardly unusual. For many, the wait times can be especially harsh, as applicants cannot earn more than what they would receive in benefits. That means many don’t work for years even if they are capable of some type of work. Applicants are forced to sell their assets to meet normal, everyday expenses. Many move in with friends or family and spend their savings on necessities. And they do it for a benefit with a national average of $1,173 per month. Medicare coverage is also available after a two-year waiting period. This is not a generous benefit, yet for many it is hopelessly out of reach.

Social Security disability insurance is a government program that provides benefits to those whose health problems make it impossible to work. It is aimed at providing some modest level of income to those with chronic illnesses when they can no longer support themselves. But the application process is confusing and time-consuming; getting a case before a judge now takes an average of 593 days nationally; in Florida, the average wait time is 619 days, with the longest in Miami (725 days) and Tampa (705 days). In the past few months, the backlog in Tampa has become the nation’s second-highest, with 12,304 cases pending in October. Florida offices account for four of the five biggest backlogs in the country.

Congress and the Trump administration need to provide the program with more money and stronger leadership. The Social Security Administration’s fiscal 2016 budget of $12.4 billion was slightly less than its budget in 2011. The program needs more administrative judges to handle the backlog in cases, and more money for support staff to speed the decisionmaking process. A better trained workforce could reduce the number of applicants who seek relief through full-fledged judicial hearings. Judges should make better use of online and videoconferencing resources to address the backlog in cases in congested jurisdictions across the country.

Those seeking these benefits are by definition in poor health and with few options for getting by on their own. The system for helping them should be efficient and predictable, not add to their financial or emotional burde

2017 saw SSA make several changes to the regulations, Rulings and listings, as well as several organizational changes. Former Acting Commissioner Carolyn Colvin retired, and Nancy Berryhill became Acting Commissioner of SSA in January 2017. There has not been a confirmed Commissioner of Social Security since February 2013. President Trump has not nominated a Commissioner.

In August, SSA announced several changes that became effective October 1, 2017. ODAR was split into two different components: The Office of Hearing Operations (OHO) and the Office of Appellate Operations (OAO). OAO, which includes the Appeals Council was moved to a new Deputy Commissioner-level organization – the Of ce of Analytics, Review and Oversight (OARO). OARO includes ve other components. SSA has tried to implement backlog reductions plans by releasing an updated version of its CARES plan. SSA attributes its failure to meet its goals to a shortage of hearing-level support staff, especially decision writers. But facing an uncertain budget, many of the plans have not been implemented.

Homeless In America

January 10, 2018

The Huffington Post recently posted a great article on the importance of Social Security benefits to people who are homeless.  It’s a good read and I could not do it justice by attempting to summarize it.

So here is a link for you:

New Year’s Resolutions

January 3, 2018

Like many Americans, I have lots of resolutions this year!  And I think, for once, they are resolutions that are manageable.

  • Spend more time with colleagues; I always learn something valuable
  • Attend more conferences; the break is nice and I also learn valuable things
  • Leave work at the office
  • Stay calm in the face of chaos
  • Remember why I do what I do – to help people

I hope you all are making resolutions that you can keep.

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