Recently the.Social Security Advisory Board (board) is releasing the culmination of two years’ work pertaining to the Social Security Administration’s (SSA’s) representative payee (rep payee) program. The report, Improving Social Security’s Representative Payee Programoutlines concrete steps to protect vulnerable Social Security beneficiaries and recipients.

The report includes recommendations for Congress, the Office of Management and Budget and SSA to strengthen the current administrative process, create better monitoring and explore comprehensive, government-wide coordination and cross-agency reform of rep-payee processes. A link to these recommendations may be found here.

To accompany the report, an interactive chart collection has been published on the board’s website. The chart collection highlights data related to the administration of the program and emphasizes the growing need for rep payees in the future.

The board is proud of its efforts to advance the discussion around these vital programs. If you or your organization would like to discuss the report, please contact the board.

 

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Benefits for Children

February 14, 2018

Children whose parent (and in some cases, grandparent or stepparent) receives SSDI can be eligible for auxiliary benefits through the disabled worker. In 2016, there were 1,493,476 children under 18 receiving such benefits, along with 50,976 students aged 18-19 and 122,202 disabled adult children of disabled workers.

If a child is disabled and never worked, he or she may receive SSI benefits independently of the parent beginning at age 18.  However, if a parent (or in some cases, grandparent or stepparent) becomes disabled, retires under the the Social Security system or dies, the child may be eligible to receive SSDI benefits on that individual’s earnings record.

Last week, I provided information on disability applications dropping since 2010.  Additional information suggests that the number of disability recipients has also decreased.  There has been a steady decrease in people receiving SSDI disabled worker benefits since third quarter of 2015; the number of SSI recipients under age 65 reached its highest point in 2013 and has decreased each year since. Reasons for this include disabled workers reaching full retirement age and being switched to Social Security old-age benefits, an increased number of Continuing Disability Reviews (CDRs) and SSI redeterminations, fewer applications, and of course the increased time it takes to receive a disability determination.

The decrease in SSDI claimants and bene ciaries has extended the predicted solvency of the SSDI trust fund. The 2017 Trustees’ Report estimates that the trust fund will pay all benefits until 2028, five years longer than predicted in the 2016 report. After 2028, the trust fund could pay 93% of bene ts. However, in all situations in the past where a Social Security trust fund faced insolvency, Congress took action to maintain SSA’s ability to pay all bene ts that were due.

 

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:

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/homeless-in-america-a-case-study-in-the-importance_us_5a0a62e4e4b060fb7e59d36b

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