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Scam calls by impersonators claiming to be from the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) are on the rise. Fraudsters, utilizing both prerecorded voices, as well as live callers, are making the rounds harassing innocent people over the phone in hopes of securing private information like Social Security numbers and bank account information. Below are four tips that may help to protect you from such scam artists.

1.      If you received a suspicious call from an individual claiming to be from Social Security, feel free to end the call and call SSA directly at (800) 772-1213 to confirm the legitimacy of the call. SSA does keep contact logs for individuals they are trying to get in touch with. Thus, if SSA made a call to you, there likely are notations in their computer system explaining what information they had hoped to obtain. Call SSA directly before divulging private information if you are at all unsure of the authenticity of the caller.

2.      If you are not applying for or receiving any type of Social Security benefit, it is unlikely that SSA has called you. SSA does occasionally call people to discuss their pending claims or applications for benefits. However, SSA will never randomly solicit a person who has no prior or current dealings with them. Additionally, the government prefers to correspond with claimants via mail, so nine out of ten times, you will receive a letter, rather than a call from SSA, even if you have a matter pending with them.

3.      SSA will never threaten you. If you receive a call from SSA threatening legal action against you, hang up.  SSA does not make threatening phone calls to individuals demanding private information to avoid criminal or civil proceedings.

4.      SSA does not use automated calls very often. SSA will not utilize robotic voices to make a threatening call to you. The only time I have ever seen SSA use a computerized voice to contact a claimant is when their hearing office reminds claimants of hearing dates. They do not ask you to call back with private information when they issue these automatic reminders. 

Got a question about SSDI or SSI that you need us to answer? Please check out our website at www.westcoastdisability.com . We try to provide you with helpful information on our website that will allow you to successfully navigate the Social Security Disability process. Also, feel free to email me your questions at megan@westcoastdisability.com or call me at (800) 459-3017 x 103.
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I won’t beat around the bush. I have never understood the social media phenomenon. I understand how social media is a valuable tool to promote businesses, but I have never understood why people feel the need to post simple daily occurrences to friends and family, or even worse, to complete strangers. I doubt my friends or family want to see a post of me getting a coffee or going to the gym. At least, I hope they have more fulfilling lives than that!

Social media has been around long enough, that the pitfalls of its overuse are finally coming to light. Besides the fact that it is creating a generation of zombie-like children who cannot separate themselves from their screens, social media overuse raises more serious concerns than the potential for an apocalypse instigated by these zombie-like children we are raising. Cyberbullying and privacy protections are two of the common issues that have arisen with the advent of the social media overuse.  After all, people do not always think about the consequences of what they post.

 The government has gotten hip to the fact that we live in a world that loves to overshare personal information and they plan to take advantage of people’s voyeuristic tendencies. The Trump administration, along with Social Security, are looking to expand its social media networks to identify fraud being committed by Social Security disability claimants and recipients. Thus, the photos of your family vacation to Disney, photos of you hiking with your pup, or whatever else you deem worthy of a Facebook post, may soon be perused by the Social Security Administration and used to evaluate whether or not you have a legitimate disability claim.  You post it – it is fair game for the government to consider. Will the government potentially misconstrue some of the photos? Absolutely! It is the Federal government after all. We all know it hardly operates like a well-oiled machine when it comes to fairness or accuracy.

To be honest, I have already been checking out social media accounts from potential leads prior to retaining a claimant. I understand why the Administration wants to utilize this tool, as I have been shocked with some of the information that I have found. A gentleman with a neuromuscular condition wanted to retain my services. I declined after I discovered a Strava account showing he was still riding his bike upwards of 300 to 400 miles a week in spite of the fact that he had told me that he spent most of the day lying down. I confronted him on my Nancy Drew find and he was shocked that I was able to access this information, but he was not ashamed that he was hoping to dupe the system.

I will not represent a claimant who I do not feel is disabled and I have no problem with the government taking advantage of technology that may help to ferret out fraud. You want to post aspects of your private life in a public setting, have at it, but understand it can be used to hurt you (unless your last name is Kardashian – then social media may just turn you into a billionaire, but there are exceptions to every rule J).  

There is a simple moral to the story, folks. Edit yourself and stop oversharing personal information on the web or deal with the consequences of opening yourself up to strangers with ill intent and government agencies looking to authenticate credibility.  

 Got a question about SSDI or SSI that you need us to answer? Please check out our website at www.westcoastdisability.com . We try to provide you with helpful information on our website that will allow you to successfully navigate the Social Security Disability process. Also, feel free to email me your questions at megan@westcoastdisability.com or call me at (800) 459-3017 x 103.

 
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I have been receiving a ton of calls and emails since the partial government shutdown began on December 22, 2018, inquiring as to whether Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income recipients would continue to receive their scheduled benefits. Thankfully, the answer is yes.

While the longest government shutdown in our country’s history is at a point that it is leaving a rotten taste in everyone’s month, benefits are still being issued by the Social Security Administration.

This is because Social Security is considered a mandatory spending program which has already been funded. Programs affected by the shutdown fall within the discretionary spending category and the funding for said programs is issued annually through the Appropriations Act.

The Social Security Administration remains opened for business, though the backlog to receive a hearing through the Office of Hearings Operations is still lengthy. You can still file for benefits online or make an appointment to file for benefits with your local Social Security office.

Keep in mind that morale isn’t exactly stellar at many of the Federal agencies at this moment. Social Security employees inform me that they are being bombarded with calls from beneficiaries who are fearful that they may not receive their monthly benefits.  Many employees feel like their sister agencies are pawns in the middle of a political sandbox fight. While business is taking place as usual at the Social Security Administration, they, too, are affected by the shutdown, even if their jobs are preserved and they are receiving their paychecks.

Got a question about SSDI or SSI that you need us to answer? Please check out our website at www.westcoastdisability.com . We try to provide you with helpful information on our website that will allow you to successfully navigate the Social Security Disability process. Also, feel free to email me your questions at megan@westcoastdisability.com or call me at (800) 459-3017 x 103.
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Every year the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) makes significant changes to the monetary thresholds associated with Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) benefits. It is important to know about these changes, so you are in compliance with SSA’s requirements.

1.      SSA has increased the threshold value for full-time work.

In order to be found disabled under SSA’s definition of disability, you must be able to prove that you are unable to earn a certain monetary value due to the limitations from your disability.  This value is referred to as “Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”). If you are able to work at SGA levels, SSA will not consider you to be disabled. For 2018, that monthly rate is $1,220.00 for a non-blind individual and $2,040.00 for a blind individual. Thus, if you are able to earn such monthly earnings, in spite of any impairment that you have, then you are not disabled under SSA’s definition of disability.

2.      SSA has increased the amount that a person can earn during a Trial Work Period.

SSA allows SSDI recipients to test their ability to work in a program called a Trial Work Period (“TWP”). During a TWP, a SSDI recipient is able to work for 9 month period without being at risk for losing his/her benefits. These months do not have to be consecutive. Specifically, SSA looks to see whether an individual can earn at certain levels over a rolling 60 month period. If a person exceeds certain monetary levels for 9 months (even if not consecutive) over a 5 year period, then the TWP has been exhausted. SSA will then look to see if a person has exceeded SGA values (see above) to determine whether or not, the person is still under a disability. For 2019, SSA will consider any month in which a SSDI recipient earns more than $880.00 to be a month in which goods and services have been performed at a TWP level.

3.      SSA has increased the value of a quarter of coverage.

In order to receive SSDI benefits, you must be insured for benefits. This means you must have paid into the Social Security system through the Federal Insurance Contributions Act(“FICA”). An individual must have worked a sufficient amount of quarters to be entitled to these benefits. Every year a person can earn up to 4 quarters. For 2019, one quarter of coverage is $1,360.00. This means you must earn at least $5,440.00 for 2019 in order to obtain all 4 quarters for the year. 

For more information, please see: https://www.ssa.gov/news/press/factsheets/colafacts2019.pdf

Got a question about SSDI or SSI that you need us to answer? Please check out our website at www.westcoastdisability.com . We try to provide you with helpful information on our website that will allow you to successfully navigate the Social Security Disability process. Also, feel free to email me your questions at megan@westcoastdisability.com or call me at (800) 459-3017 x 103.

 
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The Social Security Administration has announced a 2.8 percent benefit increase for 2019. This cost-of-living adjustment (“COLA”) will begin on December 31, 2018 for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) beneficiaries. Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) and Social Security Retirement recipients will see the effects of the COLA in their January 2019 benefit payments. This COLA will affect the more than 67 million Americans who receive monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income benefits.

Additionally, the maximum amount of earnings subject to Social Security tax will be increased from $128,400 to $132,900.

For more information on the 2019 COLA adjustment, please see https://www.ssa.gov/news/press/releases/2018/#10-2018-1

Got a question that you need answered? Please check out our website at www.westcoastdisability.com. We try to provide you with valuable information on our website that may help you navigate the Social Security Disability process. Also, feel free to shoot me an email at megan@westcoastdisability.com or call us at (800) 459-3017 x 103.
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My clients frequently ask me how the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) selects the Judges to hear their disability claim. Up until July 10, 2018, Administrative Law Judges (“ALJ”) were hired through a competitive process that was conducted by the Office of Personnel Management. It involved an application, a series of online and in-person tests that took place in the D.C. area, followed by a structured interview. The process was lengthy and could take a full year. Once all the results were in, the ALJ candidates would receive a score. If the score was high enough, the candidate would be placed on an ALJ register and potentially receive an interview at one of the Federal agencies looking to hire an ALJ, if the location of position matched a location that the ALJ candidate selected as an area he or she would serve.

This all changed on July 10 2018, however. On said date, President Donald J. Trump signed an executive order excepting ALJs from competitive service and assigned the hiring process of ALJs to the individual agencies where they would serve. Unfortunately, as the Office of Personnel Management has historically competitively screened the ALJ candidates, the individual agencies do not have a process in place for hiring ALJs at this time. The fear is this can impact the already exceedingly long backlogs at the hearing offices.

This significant order was issued at least in part due to the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Lucia v. Securities and Exchange Commission, No. 17-130 (June 21, 2018) which questioned whether ALJs had been properly appointed in keeping in line with the Appointment Clause of the Constitution. The fear of course is that replacing the hiring of ALJs with a noncompetitive or meritless process will open the door to a political cronyism.

A bill has been introduced by Sens. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, to restore a competitive process that would be overseen by the Office of Personnel Management, but defer to the Luciadecision by requiring that an agency head make the final appointment of the ALJ.

All we know for now is that ALJ candidates who have already been on the hiring register received emails this week letting them know that the register was now closed. Other than that, there is a lot of speculation as to the next steps the agencies will take to hire new judges and to whether the proposed bill will get the traction it needs to restore the ALJ hiring process back to a competitive format. 

Got a question about SSDI or SSI that you need us to answer? Please check out our website at www.westcoastdisability.com. We try to provide you with helpful information on our website that will allow you to successfully navigate the Social Security Disability process. Also, feel free to email me your questions at megan@westcoastdisability.com or call me at (800) 459-3017 x 103.
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The Social Security Board of Trustees released its annual report on the financial health of Social Security’s combined trust fund reserves this month. The Old Age and Survivors Insurance and Disability Insurance (“OASDI”) trust funds are expected to be depleted in 2034. At that time, recipients would only be eligible for 79 percent of their estimated benefits unless Congress takes action to strengthen the programs that fall under the Social Security Administration’s (“SSA’s”) umbrella. This expected depletion date aligns with the predictions from last year.


Last year alone, SSA paid out $941 billion to 62 million beneficiaries. Total expenditure by SSA for 2017 amounted to over $952 billion. SSA brought in a total income of $997 billion for 2017.


No one knows what SSA’s future looks like. After all, the program is 83 years old and has undergone various adaptations over the years. SSA will undoubtedly continue to evolve over the next 16 years as we approach the expected depletion date.


While SSA has helped countless numbers of retirees and disabled individuals since 1935, there is no guarantee that it will continue to exist in the exact format that we are used to seeing. Keep in mind that the programs administered by SSA were never meant to be complete income replacement programs. Rather, SSA is set up to operate like any other insurance program and is meant to supplement people’s savings and other private investments. Thus, it is important to continue to try to save for your future independently to what you expect to receive from SSA down the line. After all, you have no idea what SSA will look like by the time you retire or if you are affected by disabilities.



For more information and statistics in regards to SSA’s annual report, please visit: https://www.ssa.gov/news/press/releases/2018/#6-2018-1



Got a question about SSDI or SSI that you need us to answer? Please check out our website at www.westcoastdisability.com . We try to provide you with helpful information on our website that will allow you to successfully navigate the Social Security Disability process. Also, feel free to email me your questions at megan@westcoastdisability.com or call me at (800) 459-3017 x 103.
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Contrary to popular belief, the age of 65 is no longer the full retirement age for all Americans. In fact, unless you were born in 1937 or earlier, you full retirement age is older than 65. For instance, if you were born in 1938, then your full retirement age is 65 years and 2 months. If you were born between 1943 and 1954, your full retirement age is 66. For those individuals born after 1960, your full retirement age is 67. Of course, the full retirement age will likely increase over time, as Americans continue to live longer than previous generations.

The earliest you can start receiving retirement is age 62. However, if you opt for an earlier retirement than your full retirement age, your benefit can be reduced by 20 to 30 percent depending on how early you opted for this premature retirement. Ideally, you should delay taking your retirement benefit until you are at full retirement age in order to maximize your benefits.

Additionally, you can delay taking your retirement even once you are at your full retirement age, in order to increase your monthly benefit. However, you must sign up for Medicare at age 65. For more information about how age affects retirement benefits, please check out this link: https://www.ssa.gov/planners/retire/retirechart.html

Got a question about SSDI or SSI that you need us to answer? Please check out our website at www.westcoastdisability.com . We try to provide you with helpful information on our website that will allow you to successfully navigate the Social Security Disability process. Also, feel free to email me your questions at megan@westcoastdisability.com or call me at (800) 459-3017 x 103.
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