Improvements Seen in SSDI System Though Work is Not Finished

When the Social Security Administration (SSA) was first created, it was done to provide retirement benefits to workers who had earned money and paid into the system for their whole working lives, and then needed income on which they could retire.

SSDI Benefits This was a valuable program, which has helped millions of Americans. The problem was there was no money in the system when it was first established, and the president and congress did not want to make people pay into the system while those at retirement age were not receiving any benefits, so the program required a loan from the general fund to fund current retirees.

This led to the program running at a deficit, and while this is only a drop in the bucket in terms of the overall economy, there has been much push-back from politicians over the past several decades. Decades later, a second program was created, and this was the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program.

As our  Boston Social Security disability attorneys can explain, this program also operated under an initial loan, and it was designed to provide those who had worked long enough to pay into the system to have a source of income if they became disabled prior to reaching the age of retirement. Once a person, who is on Social Security Disability Insurance benefits reaches the age of retirement (an age that is constantly increasing), their benefits will be terminated, and they will begin to receive benefits from the Old Age and Retirement benefits system, which is the first program administered by SSA as discussed above.

To this day, both programs are funded by contributions from the withholding of Social Security taxes from workers’ paychecks each month.  This is distinct from income tax as that money goes to the general fund.  Money paid in Social Security by employers and employees goes into the disability fund or the retirement fund and is used to pay for benefits and run the SSA.  Money withheld as federal income tax cannot be used to fund Social Security Programs unless there is a special allocation made by congress.

Every few years we hear in the news how the disability fund is running out of money.  This is the smaller of the two programs SSA administers  and it also the one that receives the most pushback from conservative politicians. There is a common misconception that most of the people receiving SSDI benefits are not really disabled and are simply “gaming the system.” This could not be farther from the truth.  There are obviously some who are not being honest, but with the difficulty in obtaining SSDI or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, it is minute fraction of the population of people who are actually collecting benefits.  This has not stopped politicians from making these claims, and unfortunately, is the roughly 11 million disabled Americans who bare the brunt of these baseless attacks.

If the money were to run out, there would be a drastic cut of benefits, and those who are in the lengthy process of applying for new benefits would see their benefits applications further delayed and denied.  As it stands now, SSA takes over a year, and often two years, to eventually approve applications, if the agency approves them at all. For those who are in desperate need of benefits to make ends meet, any more delay can be too much to handle and should never be allowed to happen.

With respect to this last fiscal cliff being foreshadowed a few years ago, there would have been a reduction in benefits for 11 million people who are only receiving around $1,127 each month in the first place. This fiscal cliff was averted by transferring a small amount of money from the Old Age and Retirement fund to the SSDI fund.  One year of funding for the retirement fund can fund the SSDI program for years to come since it is one of the smaller programs.

There has also been much focus on reducing the wait time for applicants. This wait, which is up to two years in many areas is caused by various factors. One factor that has contributed to this long delay is there are simply not enough disability judges to hear all of the cases in a timely manner.  These judges are called administrative law judges (ALJs) and they are hired by SSA to review cases where SSA denied an application for SSDI or SSI benefits.  This brings us to the second problem, which is that the majority of applications are often summarily denied as a way for the agency to save money.  The applicant must then begin a long process of appealing in writing and waiting many months for this new decisions, which is almost always an affirmation of the initial denial. Then, more than a year later, they will be given a hearing before an ALJ.

According to a recent news article in the Washington Post, there have been some improvements made at SSA in the past few years, but there is still a lot of work that must be done to get things working efficiently and make sure all of those who are truly disabled are able to obtain benefits in a timely manner.

As noted in this article, we have gone from the so-called fiscal cliff to a place where the program will be funded until 2032.  This was accomplished by an allocation of additional funding for the program.  Another reasons for this is because of the older age of our population.  Many of those disabled workers have now reached the age of retirement and are no longer in need of SSDI benefits. There are many younger workers who are hopefully years away from needing government benefits.

There are also suggestions that an improved economy has led to more jobs. This means there are more people working and less people on disability. While it might seem this is an argument people are defrauding the system, this is not really the case.  Many people would like to see if they can return to work, but because they will be penalized for attempting to do, they are unable to go back to work.  For example, if you are on SSDI benefits and want to work part time, if you are able, you could lose all of your benefits immediately.  If you find out after a month of working, you body can’t handle the stress, you would have to apply for benefits all over again and this isn’t a situation in which anyone wants to find themselves.

If you or a loved one is seeking Social Security Disability Insurance in Boston, call for a free and confidential appointment at 1-888-367-2900.

Additional Resources:

It ain’t broke yet, but federal disability insurance still needs some big fixes, July 2, 2018, Washington Post, Editorial Board

More Blog Entries:

Establishing Medical Disability in Boston SSDI Cases, March 21, 2018, Boston SSDI Lawyer Blog