If Congress doesn’t act soon, tens of millions of Americans will only receive about three-quarters of their Social Security benefits when they retire.

Social Security’s trust funds will be tapped out by 2035, according to an annual report released Monday by trustees of the government’s two largest entitlement programs, the other being Medicare. That’s one year later than last year’s report projected.

The new projection doesn’t mean retirees will no longer get checks in 16 years. But the program will at that point only have enough revenue coming in to pay three-quarters of promised benefits through the end of 2093.

The trustees urged lawmakers to act quickly to assure Americans they’ll be able to get their full retirement benefits.

During the 2016 campaign, President Donald Trump said he wouldn’t touch Social Security. He didn’t believe he’d need to since his plan to boost economic growth to at least 4% would take care of Social Security’s long-term solvency.

For the first time since 1982, Social Security’s total cost is expected to exceed its total income in 2020 and continue that way through 2093. This is two years later than projected in last year’s report.

The program would be financed with a combination of interest income and drawing down on the trust funds’ assets until 2035 when the reserves are depleted. Social Security’s costs are expected to rise for the next 20 years as the large Baby Boom generation retires and then remain fairly constant.

At the end of 2018, the Social Security program provided benefits to about 63 million people, mainly retired workers, but also their dependents and their survivors, as well as disabled workers and their dependents.

The share of Americans 65 or older is projected to grow by more than a third between now and 2040, according to the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. This alone will boost Social Security spending from nearly 5% of the economy to about 6% in 20 years, where it is expected to remain.

This demographic shift, along with rising health care costs, will cause Medicare spending to jump from 3.7% to 6.5% of the economy over the same period.

One bright spot in the report: The trustees dramatically revised their estimates for the lifespan of the Disability Insurance Trust Fund. It now won’t be depleted until 2052, two decades later than projected last year. The number of people on federal disability and new applications have been on the decline in recent years.

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On February 4, 2019, U.S. District Judge Gustavo A. Gelpi issued an opinion in USA v. Jose Luis Vaello Madero, Case No. 17-2133 (GAG) (D.P.R. 2019), granting Vaello Madero’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed against him by the federal government to recover over $28,000 in SSI disability benefits he was paid afterhe moved from New York to Puerto Rico.

The Social Security Act excludes Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, from the SSIbenefits program under 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(e). However, according to JudgeGelpi, “in accordance with [United States v. Windsor, 570 U.S. 744, 774 (2013)], the denial of SSI disability benefits to United States citizens in Puerto Rico isunconstitutional as ‘a deprivation of the liberty of the person protected by theFifth Amendment of the Constitution.’” Despite the government’s argument thatthe cost of including Puerto Rico in the SSI program would be too expensive, especially since residents of Puerto Rico do not pay federal income tax, whichfunds the SSI program, Judge Gelpi explained that “this is not a valid justification for creating classifications of United States citizens and justifying the same under the lax scrutiny of social and economic legislation. While line drawing is necessary for Congress to pass social and economic legislation, it is never a valid reason for disparate treatment of United States citizen’s fundamental rights… [which] are the same in the States as in the Territories, without distinction. Equal Protection and Due Process are fundamental rights afforded to every United States citizen, including those who under the United States flag make Puerto Rico their home. All United States citizens must trust that their fundamental constitutional rights will be safeguarded everywhere within the Nation, be in a State or Territory.”

In response to the District Court’s decision, Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón (R) introduced H.R. 947, the “SupplementalSecurity Income Equality Act,” which would extend the SSI benefits program to Puerto Rico as wellas Guam, American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. More details are available in a press release(“The Resident Commissioner files a bipartisan billto make SSI extensive to Puerto Rico”) issued by the Congresswoman’s office.

The government is likely to appeal Judge Gelpi’sdecision. SSA has not yet published POMS or an Emergency Message on processing SSI claims made in Puerto Rico.

From the Federal Register:

We propose to eliminate the education category “inability to communicate in English” when we evaluate disability claims for adults under titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (Act). Changes in the national workforce since we added this category to our rules in 1978 demonstrate that this education category is no longer a reliable indicator of an individual’s educational attainment or the vocational impact of an individual’s education. The proposed revisions reflect research and data related to English language proficiency, work, and education; expansion of the international reach of our disability programs; and audit findings by our Office of the Inspector General (OIG). The proposed revisions would help us better assess the vocational impact of education in the disability determination process.

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I strongly disagree with this proposal.  Difficulty communicating in English makes it extremely difficult to find any type of employment, especially in the face of any other medical problems that might separately impact your ability to work (such as back pain, Parkinson’s disease, MS or cancer).  This proposal is very disheartening.

Faith in Humanity

April 24, 2019

I had a case recently where a gentleman was struggling after a serious cancer diagnosis that had impacted his health long term.  Chemotherapy had caused numbness of his hands and feet; he had loss of short term memory and difficulty with balance.  He worked in an office where his job performance declined over a period of years.

He was fortunate to have paid into Social Security, so retirement benefits and disability benefits would eventually be available.  In the meantime, his employer allowed him to continue to work and he continued to pay him despite the face that he was providing very little value to the company as a whole.  Others in the office had to help him with his duties, correct his errors and show him how to do simple things over and over again.  And yet, he continued to receive his full paycheck for years.

His employer provided not only employment, but a wealth of support for him.  His employer became his family when he had little contact with his own.  He has hired people to clean his apartment, he has purchased groceries when his refrigerator was empty, he had driven him home from the hospital, he meets him for breakfast weekly and this week, he came to his (now former) employee’s hearing to spend his morning telling the judge how hard things have been.  He was humble, playing down his contributions both financial and emotional.  But after the hearing, he became my hero and restored my faith in humanity.

Andrew Saul Nomination

April 17, 2019

Andrew Saul’s nomination for Commissioner of Social Security was approved unanimously by the Senate Finance Committee on March 26. The next step is a vote by the full Senate, but a date has not yet been set. In the previous Congress, Saul’s nomination was approved by the Finance Committee but the full Senate never voted on it.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) and its Office of the Inspector General (OIG) launched a joint Public Service Announcement (PSA) campaign addressing a nationwide telephone impersonation scheme. Social Security and the OIG continue to receive reports from across the country about fraudulent phone calls from people falsely claiming to be Social Security employees. Calls can even “spoof” Social Security’s national customer service number as the incoming number on the caller ID. The new PSAs will air on TV and radio stations across the country to alert the public to remain vigilant against potential fraud.

“We urge you to always be cautious and to avoid providing sensitive information such as your Social Security number or bank account information to unknown people over the phone or Internet,” said Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security. “If you receive a call and are not expecting one, you must be extra careful – you can always get the caller’s information, hang up, and contact the official phone number of the business or agency the caller claims to represent. Do not reveal personal data to a stranger who calls you.”

Social Security employees do occasionally contact people–generally those who have ongoing business with the agency–by telephone for business purposes. However, Social Security employees will never threaten a person or promise a Social Security benefit approval, or increase, in exchange for information. In those cases, the call is fraudulent and people should not engage with the caller. If a person receives these calls, he or she should report the information to the OIG Fraud Hotline at 1-800-269-0271 or online at https://oig.ssa.gov/report.

“These calls appear to be happening across the country, so we appreciate SSA’s partnership in this national public outreach effort,” said Gail S. Ennis, the Inspector General for the Social Security Administration. “Our message to the public is simply this: If you or someone you know receives a questionable call claiming to be from SSA or the OIG, just hang up.”

The new PSA addressing the telephone impersonation scheme is available online at www.youtube.com/socialsecurity 

Social Media and SSA

April 3, 2019

The government is interested in reading people’s posts on social media to use as evidence they are not disabled.  I’ve long counseled people to keep privacy settings high and to be careful about pictures showing activity, especially Throwback Thursdays where people may post photos that are very old and certainly not relevant to any current claim for disability benefits.

There have been many news outlets reporting, but here is the New York Times article:

 

 

 

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