Social Security Cost of Living Adjustment for 2019

Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for more than 67 million Americans has increased 2.8 percent in 2019. The 2.8 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) began with benefits payable to more than 62 million Social Security beneficiaries in January 2019. Increased payments to more than 8 million SSI beneficiaries began on December 31, 2018. (Note: some people receive both Social Security and SSI benefits.)

The maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax (taxable maximum) has increased to $132,900. The earnings limit for workers who are younger than “full” retirement age (age 66 for people born in 1943 through 1954) increased to $17,640. (We deduct $1 from benefits for each $2 earned over $17,640.)

The earnings limit for people turning 66 in 2019 has increased to $46,920. (We deduct $1 from benefits for each $3 earned over $46,920 until the month the worker turns age 66.) There is no limit on earnings for workers who are “full” retirement age or older for the entire year.

If you have questions about Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), please review our site or give us a call. We can help you understand the income you can and should receive.

Uncle Sam Might Soon Be Watching

According to a recent article in the New York Times (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/10/us/politics/social-security-disability-trump-facebook.html), the Social Security Administration has been quietly working on a proposal to use social media like Facebook and Twitter to help identify people who claim Social Security disability benefits without actually being disabled. If, for example, a person claimed benefits because of a back injury, but was shown playing golf in a photograph posted on Facebook, that could be used as evidence that the person was not disabled and was fraudulently claiming disability benefits.

In its budget request to Congress last year, Social Security said it would study whether to expand the use of social media networks in disability determinations as a way to “increase program integrity and expedite the identification of fraud.” Since then, administration officials said, the White House has been actively working with Social Security to flesh out the proposal, in the belief that social media could be a treasure trove of information about people who are applying for or receiving disability benefits.

Obviously, it may be difficult to tell when a photo was taken. So, posting a picture of yourself playing golf years ago, before you became disabled, could be misleading to some fraud investigator. The bottom line is that if you use social media, be careful about how you post.

Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, an expansion of Compassionate Allowance program

Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, announced in August 2018 an expansion of Compassionate Allowance program to include the following additional conditions: Fibrolamellar Cancer, Megacystis Microcolon Intestinal Hypoperistalsis Syndrome (MMIHS), Megalencephaly Capillary Malformation Syndrome (MCAP), Superficial Siderosis of the Central Nervous System, and Tetrasomy 18p. Compassionate Allowances is a program to quickly identify medical conditions and serious diseases that meet Social Security’s standards for disability benefits.
“For nearly a decade, the Compassionate Allowance list has helped us identify and fast-track cases where individuals have diseases that are most likely to be approved for disability benefits,” said Acting Commissioner Berryhill. “Social Security is committed to ensuring Americans with qualifying disabilities quickly receive the benefits they need.”
The Compassionate Allowances program identifies claims where the applicant’s disease or condition clearly meets Social Security’s statutory standard for disability. Due to the severe nature of many of these conditions, these claims are often allowed based on medical confirmation of the diagnosis alone. To date, over 500,000 people with serious disabilities have been approved through this fast-track policy-compliant disability process. The list has grown to a total of 233 conditions, including diseases such as pancreatic cancer, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and acute leukemia.

Cooperative Disability Investigations (CDI) Units recently opened across the country

The Social Security Administration and its Office of the Inspector General (OIG) announced late last month that three new Cooperative Disability Investigations (CDI) Units recently opened across the country. As part of the nationwide CDI Program, the new units will identify, investigate, and prevent Social Security disability fraud throughout their respective states. The new CDI units opened in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Honolulu, Hawaii; and Indianapolis, Indiana.
The CDI Program is one of Social Security’s most successful anti-fraud initiatives, contributing to the integrity of Federal disability programs. CDI brings together personnel from Social Security, its OIG, State Disability Determination Services (DDS), and local law enforcement agencies to analyze and investigate suspicious or questionable Social Security disability claims, to help resolve questions of potential fraud before benefits are ever paid. CDI Unit efforts help disability examiners make informed decisions, ensure payment accuracy, and generate significant taxpayer savings, for both Federal and State programs.
The CDI Program consists of 43 units covering 37 states, the District of Columbia, and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Social Security and OIG have opened several offices in the last few years as they work together to provide CDI coverage for all 50 states by 2022, as mandated by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015.
Since 1997, when Social Security and OIG established CDI, its efforts have contributed to $3.9 billion in projected savings to Social Security’s programs, and $2.9 billion in projected savings to other Federal and State programs. For more information, please visit the OIG website and Social Security’s anti-fraud website at www.socialsecurity.gov/antifraudfacts/.

You Should Now Be Able To Apply For SSI On-line

We have been able to apply for SSDI (disability insurance benefits) on-line for several years. However, until recently, you could not apply for SSI (supplemental security Income) on-line – it had to be done in person or over the telephone.
Effective September 29, 2018, claimants should now be able to apply for both SSDI and SSI on-line. In a recently published update, Social Security says “your clients who wish to file a claim online will be asked to create or log in to their personal my Social Security account. If we cannot process that request, we will provide specific information on how to contact us by phone or schedule an office appointment to complete the claims process.
Once they log in, they can begin their application. The online benefits application gives your clients the freedom and convenience to file for various types of benefits, including Retirement, Disability, Supplemental Security Income, and Medicare.

When To Sign Up/Enroll For Medicare To Avoid Penalties

Most people who are about to retire have very little working knowledge about Medicare, and when they should enroll. A recent article in the New York Times highlights when you must enroll in order to prevent penalties.
In a nutshell, you normally have seven months — the month in which you turn 65 and the three months both before and after it — to apply for Part B without penalty. This is true even if your normal retirement age is 66 or 67. However, if you are still employed at age 65, and working at a company or organization with 20 or more employees (or your spouse is), and covered by an employee health plan, you may not need Part B yet. Instead of paying premiums, it could make financial sense to hold off. But it’s important to know that after losing employee coverage — due to retirement, layoffs or any other reason — you have an eight-month “special enrollment period” to sign up for Part B.

Having an attorney that knows medical terms is crucial to your SSD claim

Knowing what medical terms in medical records mean can be critical to your client’s Social Security disability claim. We recently had a case involving primarily back problems. The treating physician completed a medical source statement indicating that the claimant was experiencing pain at a level that would seriously interfere with the timely completion of job tasks. To support this, the doctor wrote, among other things, that his patient had an “abnormal gait.”

The Administrative Law Judge dismissed the doctor’s opinions, and found that the claimant was not disabled. In particular, the Judge found that the doctor could not be believed because the doctor’s own records repeatedly indicated that the patient did not have an “ataxic” gait.

We ended up appealing the case to Federal District Court, pointing out in our brief to the Court that the hearing Judge apparently did not understand the terms “ataxia” or “ataxic” gait. Ataxia is a neurological condition which describes a lack of muscle control or coordination, and usually is the result of damage to the part of the brain which controls coordination. An “antalgic gait,” on the other hand, is a limping gait adopted so as to avoid pain on weight-bearing structures. Therefore, a person can have an antalgic (abnormal) gait, and yet not have an ataxic gait.

The Court agreed, and reversed the decision of the hearing Judge on that basis.

What is the Best age to Start Social Security?

Have you ever wondered what the best time is to start collecting Social Security –
should you do it as soon as you turn 62? Or, does it make more sense to wait until your
“full retirement age” (either 65, 66 or 67, depending on when you were born)? Or, are
you better off waiting until age 70?
 
There’s a big financial advantage for those who wait. For each year past your full
retirement age that you can put off applying for Social Security, your monthly check will
increase by 8 percent.
 
For example, let’s say you aim to retire next month at 62, having worked 40 years and
ending up with a final salary of $80,000. Your benefit would come to around $1,455 a
month, according to Social Security’s website. But if you could wait and keep working
until 66, your full retirement age, you’d get $2,074 a month. And, if you can wait till age
70, your benefit would be $2,833 — almost double the check you would get at 62.