Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Social Security disability hearings are currently being conducted by telephone. Claimants are being asked to consent, either orally or in writing, to a telephone hearing. If you do not consent to a telephone hearing, your hearing will probably be postponed until another option, such as an in-person hearing or a video teleconference (VTC) hearing, becomes available.
The White House has released a government reorganization plan that includes several proposals about Social Security. None of the proposals are new. The plan, entitled “Delivering Government Solutions in the 21st Century” proposes that SSA continue reducing its paper-based processes and expand its electronic suite of services, along with other information technology modernization initiatives. Congress allocated $280 million for IT modernization in its Fiscal Year 2018 spending agreement, but SSA estimates that its full IT modernization plan requires $690 million over five years.
Congress had a busy week before Christmas, first passing major tax reform and then, right before leaving town for the holidays, approving another short-term Continuing Resolution, funding the government through January 19, 2018. The legislation does not have any direct impact on the Social Security disability programs or other programs for people with disabilities. Although the original draft of the bill passed by the House in November eliminated a number of tax deductions and credits used primarily or exclusively by or to benefit people with disabilities and chronic conditions, the final
Successful SSI claimants are often dismayed to learn that their back pay awards are payable in installments, rather than in a single lump sum, and that they may have to wait a full year to receive all the back pay owed to them. POMS 02101.020. SSI back pay awards are usually paid in three installments payments spread six months apart. This is different than SSDI back pay awards, which are always paid in single lump sum payments. Fortunately, there are some circumstances in which SSI installment payments can be avoided altogether, or at least somewhat accelerated.
In a press release issued 10/13/17, SSA announced a 2% cost-of-living adjustment (“COLA”) for 2018. The average Social Security disability benefit will increase $24 from $1,173 to $1,197 per month, while the federal SSI maximum will increase from $735 to $750 per month for individuals, and from $1,103 to $1,125 per month for couples.
Additionally, beginning January 2018, the threshold for what is considered “Substantial Gainful Activity“ (“SGA”) will be increased from $1,170 to $1,180 per month for the non-blind, and from $1,950 to $1,970 per month for the blind.
A Government Accountability Office (GAO) study of hearings-level allowance rates for disability claims showed that “claimants who had representatives, such as an attorney or family member, were allowed benefits at a rate nearly 3 times higher than those without representatives.” The report explains that in part this is due to representatives’ ability to select claims that are likely to be successful.