From a recent article in the Washington Post:

 

He hadn’t had a full-time job in a year. He was skipping meals to save money. He wore jeans torn open in the front and back. His body didn’t work like it once had. He limped in the days, and in the nights, his hands would swell and go numb, a reminder of years spent hammering nails. His right shoulder felt like it was starting to go, too.

 

An hour passed, and his cellphone rang. He picked it up, said hello and hung up — another debt collector. He rubbed his right knee. Maybe it would get better. Maybe he would still find a job.
His mother had written a number the night before and told him to call it, and he had told her he’d think about it. She wanted him to apply for disability, like she had, like his girlfriend had, and like his stepfather, whom he now saw shuffling out of the pain clinic, hunched over his walker, reaching for a hand-rolled cigarette.

 

For the full article go to:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/local/2017/03/30/disabled-or-just-desperate/?utm_term=.bca6b1651814

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.

 

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.

Ah, the question everyone loves to debate. It’s true that Social Security will soon start paying out more benefits than it receives in contributions, as the bulk of the baby-boom generation phases into retirement.The government’s official position is that there is enough money saved to pay benefits at the currently scheduled amounts until 2035. The Social Security Administration admits on its Web site that benefits will likely be reduced after that, barring changes that improve the financial strength of the system.
Social Security’s cash flow has been negative since 2010, meaning that the program has paid out more than it takes in via taxes.  Right now it is covering that shortfall with interest on its Treasuries, but that can’t continue indefinitely. While it’s unlikely Congress will do away with Social Security, to close the gap it’s going to have to scale back benefits for future recipients, increase taxes, or both.

My thought is that the benefits will eventually become means-tested, meaning that your benefits may be reduced based upon your household income or assets.  I also see the age that individuals qualify for retirement continuing to be pushed up gradually.

A new study shows that there is often a decline in earnings prior to claims for Disability Insurance Benefits.  The study demonstrates something that’s obvious at ground level — for most disabled people, disability isn’t something that happens all at once. It comes on over the course of years.  Of course, disability can be prompted by a traumatic event such as a heart attack or a car accident, but more often disability is more insidious and occurs over a period of years as individuals slowly become less functional due to multitude of factors.
This is important because those in Congress and the higher reaches of Social Security tend to visualize disability as mostly associated with trauma but that’s wrong. Trauma is actually a relatively minor source of disability. It’s illnesses that accumulate and worsen over time. Often it’s more than one thing that disables a person. People try hard to fight off disability. Often they wait a considerable period of time after stopping work altogether before filing a claim. People don’t like to have to concede that they’re disabled.  This study shows the general decline in function and earnings that often occur prior to an individual ceasing work completely

 

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