Good News Regarding Social Security Trust Fund
The Social Security Board of Trustees released their 2020 annual report earlier this week, which included some positive news: the financial health of the Federal Disability Insurance (DI) Trust Fund has improved significantly and can now pay full benefits until 2065. This estimate is 13 years more than what was indicated in last year’s report and 33 years longer than the 2018 report. After 2065, the trust fund is predicted to pay 92 percent of benefits.
Cost of Living Adjustment for 2020: Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits Increase in 2020
Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for nearly 69 million Americans will increase 1.6 percent in 2020, according to a recent announcement by the Social Security Administration.
There are 2 new bills pending in the U.S. House of Representatives. The first is the Stop the Wait Act (H.R. 4386 and S. 2496). This bill would immediately eliminate the five month waiting period for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, and gradually phase out the 24-month waiting period for Medicare coverage for SSDI beneficiaries.
The second bill is the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Restoration Act (H.R. 4280). This bill would update SSI eligibility criteria. More particularly, the Act would increase the SSI resource limit to $10,000 for individuals, and to $20,000 for a married couple. It also would change the index that is used to calculate the annual Cost-of-Living-Adjustment (COLA) to the CPI-E. Additionally, the Act would repeal the in-kind support and maintenance provision, eliminate the marriage penalty, increase the general income exclusion from $20/month to $123/month, and increase the earned income exclusion from $65/month to $399/month. The dollar figures that were increased would also be annually adjusted for inflation.
Of course, each of these bills has to be approved by both the House of Representatives and the Senate, and then signed by the President. Keep your fingers crossed.
Scammers claiming to be with the Social Security Administration
If you have watched the late night news over the past few years, you likely are aware that government imposter scams are skyrocketing. Since 2014 consumers have reported losses of more than $450 million as a result of these scams. In the first half of 2019, the Federal Trade Commission has received more than 200,000 complaints from people who were contacted by someone falsely claiming to be from the Social Security Administration, Internal Revenue Service or another governmental entity.
Scammers claiming to be with the Social Security Administration are the latest of these government imposters. One of the latest scams involves a call from someone purporting to be from Social Security, and falsely contending that your Social Security account has been frozen or compromised. The aim of these calls is to steal your money or your personal information. If you receive a call like this, you should hang up immediately.
Andrew M. Saul was sworn in Monday June 17, 2019, as the Commissioner of Social Security at the agency’s office in Washington, D.C. He will serve a six-year term that expires on January 19, 2025. Commissioner Saul will be responsible for administering the Social Security retirement, disability and survivors insurance programs that pay over one trillion dollars annually in benefits to approximately 64 million beneficiaries, as well as the Supplemental Security Income program that provides cash assistance to more than 8 million people with limited income and resources. The agency has a national workforce of about 63,000 employees and 1,500 facilities across the country and around the world.
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.
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, 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.
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/.
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.