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The number of Americans who have had their benefits garnished by the federal government has dramatically increased in recent years – from 36,000 in 2002 to a staggering 168,000 in 2018 – nearly a fivefold increase. That includes certain people under 65 who receive Social Security Disability Insurance. In 2018 alone, $197 million in Social Security benefits were garnished from workers, according to new data from the U.S. Bureau of Fiscal Service.

Social Security provides vital benefits to millions of Americans who worked and paid into the system. To support the purpose of the program as a fundamental lifeline, the original law protected these earned benefits from attempts to recover all debts. These changes, made in 1996, were never fully debated in Congress, yet they continue to have a profound effect on beneficiaries living on fixed incomes today. Although the 1996 legislation included some provisions to protect the most vulnerable, those protections have not been updated in 20 years. The legislation reestablishes protections in Social Security and other benefit programs, such as Railroad Retirement and Black Lung Benefits, which were in place for more than 40 years before the change was made.

A summary of the bill can be found here. The legislative text can be found here.

Other original co-sponsors include Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, and Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii.

The bill is supported by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), National Association of Disability Representatives, AFL-CIO, National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives (NOSSCR), Social Security Works, The National Organization for Women (NOW), Justice in Aging, American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Paralyzed Veterans of America, Alliance for Retired Americans, Economic Policy Institute and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM).

The post Legislation introduced to help stop garnishment of disability benefits appeared first on Disability News Blog.

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We take the use of our hands for granted – nearly every task requires full use of the hands. Anyone who has “manipulative limitations” caused by injury or pain should know that this can be an important component of a disability claim. This limitation can be particularly important when it is not THE  major disabling condition.

Social Security law says that in order to perform any work, even unskilled and sedentary work, a person must have good use of both hands and the fingers.  This is called “bilateral manual dexterity” in the regulations. Any significant limitation in a person’s ability to handle, pick up and finger small objects is important in the disability decision.   If someone cannot write or type because of pain, their job opportunities are quite curtailed.

Many claimants have conditions that restrict the amount of lifting they can do. A person who can lift and carry even 10 pounds for most of the day may still be found capable of sedentary work, under Social Security regulations. The addition of the factor of a manipulative limitation, particularly of the dominant hand, can be enough to tip the scale in favor of the claimant. Often when Social Security is collecting from a claimant, the focus is on lifting, standing and sitting limits. It is essential to do careful medical record development around limits on use of the hands. These limitations may sometimes be viewed as a minor problem in the context of some larger disease process. It’s essential to get this recorded in the medical record.

When the right questions are asked of the medical provider, however, a clearer picture may emerge. Does the person have pain in the dominant hand? Is the pain increased by repetitive use? Someone may be able to lift five pounds, or use the painful hand for a task once or even five times, but can this be done on a continuous, repetitive basis for an eight hour work day, five days a week? What is the effect of such an activity level on the person’s overall condition?

The post Full use of hands required for work appeared first on Disability News Blog.

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Great news on the stability of the Social Security Trust Fund for Disability payments.  Unsurprisingly, it is tied to the low unemployment rate.  More people can find work, fewer are desperate enough to apply for disability benefits.

In 2015, the trustees warned the DI fund’s reserves might not be able to cover 100 percent of expected benefits in 2016; now they see them as sufficient to cover all obligations until 2052. This comeback is cause for celebration — and reflection.

The first lesson has to do with the reasons for improvement. In theory, DI does not grow or shrink according to the business cycle’s ups and downs. In practice, though, the long-term jobless tend to use it when their unemployment benefits run out in recessions, such as the one that hit in 2008-2009. The pessimistic 2015 forecasts reflected the then-recent upsurge in disability applications and awards because of that unusually severe downturn. They failed to anticipate subsequent events: an extended period of tight labor markets and low unemployment rates, which has brought many formerly disabled people back into the labor force. As the report says: “Disability applications have been declining since 2010, and the number of disabled-worker beneficiaries . . . has been falling since 2014.” Spending has been flat at roughly $140 billion per year for the past half-decade, while employed workers’ payroll contributions continue to rise, enabling reserves to accumulate. Meanwhile, modest and, for workers, generally painless administrative reforms — retraining of judges to make more accurate benefit-award decisions; accelerated work on a backlog of disability reviews — also helped contain program growth. And the existence of expanded health care for the working poor under Obamacare reduced an incentive to go on disability, which includes health insurance.

The second lesson, therefore, is that one of the many reasons to pursue sustained, and sustainable, economic growth is its positive effect on federal entitlement programs — even without major legislative changes. Yet the final lesson is that forecasts are inherently uncertain, apt to surprise on both the upside and the downside. Given the chance of an unhappy surprise, the wise response to DI’s reprieve is to make necessary structural changes just in case the wolf does come back to the door.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/theres-actually-some-good-news-about-social-

security/2019/04/26/f4adff8c-65ee-11e9-a1b6-b29b90efa879_story.html?utm_term=.d1ecd2caeb02

The post Disability Trust Fund good through 2052 appeared first on Disability News Blog.

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While there’s no one identifiable cause of Alzheimer’s, genetics may play a key role. One gene in particular is of interest to researchers. Apolipoprotein E (APOE) is a gene that’s been linked to the onset of Alzheimer’s symptoms in older adults.

Blood tests can determine if you have this gene, which increases your risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Keep in mind that even if someone has this gene, they may not get Alzheimer’s.

The opposite is also true: Someone may still get Alzheimer’s even if they don’t have the gene. There’s no way to tell for sure whether someone will develop Alzheimer’s.

Other genes could also increase risk of Alzheimer’s and early onset Alzheimer’s. Learn more about the link between genes and Alzheimer’s disease.

The post June is Alzheimers’ Awareness month appeared first on Disability News Blog.

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If you are 50 years old or older when applying for Social Security disability, it may be easier for you to get approved for disability benefits than it is for a younger person. This is because the Social Security Administration (SSA) knows it can be harder for an older person to learn a new job skill or to make the transition into a new work place. The SSA refers to this as making a “vocational adjustment.”

To account for the difficulty older claimants may have making vocational adjustments, the SSA has something called the “grid rules” it uses to decide some disability claims. The grid rules are one way you can get approved for disability benefits through a medical-vocational allowance. Social Security generally uses the grid rules (commonly referred to as the “grids”) only after it has determined that you can’t do the jobs you’ve done in the recent past.

These grid rules use the following factors to determine whether an applicant is disabled:

  • applicant’s age
  • applicant’s education level
  • the skill level of the applicant’s past work
  • whether the applicant learned any skills that can be used in a different job, and
  • the applicant’s residual functional capacity (RFC).

For the purposes of the grids, the SSA divides applicants into the following age groups:

  • younger individuals (18 through 49)
  • closely approaching advanced age (50 to 54)
  • advanced age (55 and over), and
  • closely approaching retirement age (60 and over).

Source: nolo.com

The post How age affects your disability application appeared first on Disability News Blog.

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On April 22, 2019, the Social Security Board of Trustees released its annual report on the current and projected financial status of the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) and Disability Insurance (DI) Trust Funds.

The combined funds are projected to become depleted in 2035, one year later than projected last year, with 80 percent of benefits payable at that time. The DI Trust Fund is estimated to become depleted in 2052, extended 20 years from last year’s estimate of 2032, with 91 percent of benefits still payable.

In the 2019 Report to Congress, the trustees also announced:

  • The asset reserves of the combined OASI and DI Trust Funds increased by $3 billion in 2018 to a total of $2.895 trillion.
  • The total annual cost of the program is projected to exceed total annual income, for the first time since 1982, in 2020 and remain higher throughout the 75-year projection period. As a result, asset reserves are expected to decline during 2020. Social Security’s cost has exceeded its non-interest income since 2010.
  • The projected actuarial deficit over the 75-year long-range period is 2.78 percent

The post Social Security Trust Fund good until at least 2035 appeared first on Disability News Blog.

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After you are found eligible and start receiving Social Security disability benefits, you may be possibly be able to continue working in some way.  You will need to keep a SUPER careful eye on your earnings. To be eligible for Social Security disability benefits, you’ll need to make $1,220 or less per month in 2019. If you’re blind, the limit is $2,040. This amount is known as “substantial gainful activity,” and is adjusted each year.  You have to be ON disability benefits before you can claim this exception, although an argument can be made during the application process it is rarely successful.

If you spend money on work-related activities because of your disability, you might be able to subtract the amount from your monthly income.  For example, if you need to take a taxi instead of public transportation to get to your job, you might be able to deduct those expenses from your income. Other expenses could include special medical equipment you have to purchase on your own or counseling services.

You’ll need to be very, very careful report all work-related information regularly to the Social Security Administration, including start and stop dates for a job, changes in duties and hours worked. You’ll also have to report your monthly wages and work-related expenses due to your disability. Send it to your local office certified mail so they can never say you failed to

it and have it impact your eligibility.  Best to consult your lawyer or advocate if you plan to try this.  See:  https://money.usnews.com/money/retirement/social-security/articles/working-while-receiving-social-security-disability

The post Working while receiving Social Security Disability benefits? appeared first on Disability News Blog.

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Government projections about the future of Social Security are revised every year, depending on demographic changes they didn’t foresee. In 2018, economists had anticipated a higher influx of immigrants and refugees. The lower-than-expected rate of immigration, according to the report, will likely increase the deficit.

Both undocumented immigrants and immigrants with legal status pay billions of dollars each year into the Social Security system through payroll taxes. Based on estimates in the trustees report, the more immigrants that come in, the longer the Social Security system will stay solvent.

That’s because immigrants, on average, are a lot younger than the overall US population, so their retirement is far off. And undocumented immigrants pay for Social Security, but they’re not allowed to get benefits. Read more: Vox article

The post Social Security Trust Fund needs immigrants to stay solvent appeared first on Disability News Blog.

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It is one of the most important retirement documents you will ever receive – but fewer Americans are reviewing their Social Security benefit statement nowadays due to cost-cutting and a government push to online services that is falling short.  This document also lets you know how much you would draw in disability benefits.

Until about a decade ago, all workers eligible for Social Security received a paper statement in the mail that provided useful projections of their benefits at various ages, along with reminders on the availability of disability benefits and Medicare enrollment information.

But the Social Security Administration (SSA) decided in 2010 to save money by eliminating most mailings of benefit statements. Instead, we would all be encouraged to obtain this information onlineIt is now abundantly clear that this is not working out.

The number of workers accessing their statements online has been just a fraction of those who once were reached by paper statements. And the cost-benefit tradeoff is poor.

Forty-two million Americans have created online accounts with the SSA since they were first offered seven years ago, the agency says, compared with the 155 million paper statements that were mailed in 2010, before the cost-cutting began. Meanwhile, the number of online account-holders who accessed their statements fell dramatically in fiscal 2018, from 96 percent to 43 percent, according to a report issued in February by the SSA’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG).

From Mark Morris at Reuters

The post Your annual Social Security statement appeared first on Disability News Blog.

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If you don’t currently receive benefits for being disabled, but want to apply for them, start by reviewing your last paychecks. To be eligible for Social Security disability benefits, you’ll need to make $1,220 or less per month in 2019. If you’re blind, the limit is $2,040. This amount is known as “substantial gainful activity,” and is adjusted each year. If someone is engaging in SGA, then they are not disabledYou’ll need to go through several income-related tests to determine if you are eligible to receive the benefits.

To qualify for disability benefits, your condition must limit your ability to do basic activities such as lifting, walking or remembering for at least 12 months. The Social Security Administration has a list of medical conditions it considers significantly disabling, but also considers claims for other conditions. “Have a long talk with your primary care physician or specialist, You can discuss how your disability impacts your ability to work. Your doctor might then write a letter on your behalf to explain your situation and the need for benefits.  Source: US News and World Report

The post “SGA” and eligibility appeared first on Disability News Blog.

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