Information regarding some of the proposed Social Security Administration changes that may affect retirees and persons with disabilities.
According to the 2012 Social Security Trustees Report, the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program is expected to run out of money by 2016. That same report estimates that Social Security retirement benefits will be exhausted by 2033.
Clearly, change is needed to keep these vital programs solvent so benefits will be available for generations to come. There is also the pressing problem of inflation affecting those currently receiving benefits. Coming changes - as well as proposals that might be enacted in the future - could both address the difficulties of those whose fixed income benefits no longer meet their financial needs and ensure that future applicants have funds available when they need them.
To the relief of thousands, a cost-of-living-allowance (COLA) increase will be going into effect both for those of retirement age and disabled workers receiving payments through the SSDI or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs. While the increase is modest - an average of less than $20 per recipient per month - the extra money will still help defray rising housing, energy and food costs. In addition, an increase in the annual earnings cap (up to $15,480) means that people currently receiving retirement benefits will still be able to work part-time to help support themselves and cover expenses.
Still in development
The SSA is currently undertaking an effort to rewrite the job descriptions and titles used to determine disability to account for changing employment markets and positions, and updating the "grid" used by administrative law judges who make determinations in disability cases.
For example, if someone with a college degree who previously worked in construction becomes disabled, he might not - due to restrictions on the types of machinery he can operate and limitations on the amount of weight he can lift - be able to find work in the construction field that accommodates his disability. He might, however, be able to work in an office setting. It is vital, however, that judges are aware if such job opportunities exist in the area and whether the applicant is actually qualified for them; that is where up-to-date job information is critical.
Another possible change for the SSDI/SSI system is the number of disability cases judges can handle in a given year. The annual "cap" for individual judges is currently set at 800, but many judges have found that number unattainable, arguing that they don't have time to properly evaluate each case because of pressure to keep applications moving. Setting a lower cap could give judges much-needed time to determine if an applicant needs and deserves benefits and to thoroughly consider the validity of any appeals of denied benefit applications.
The SSDI and SSI systems must evolve to keep pace with the nation's job market and healthcare system. Something that would have permanently disabled someone just 20 years ago might only limit them to a new field today; on the other hand, conditions are only now being identified that can result in significant disabilities. The disability benefits process is a confusing one, and chances are good that an application will be denied the first time around. To find answers to your questions about the process, and for help correctly submitting your application for benefits, seek the advice of an experienced Social Security disability attorney in your area.