Politics & Social Security Solvency Threaten Disability Benefits

Like clockwork, the politicians are trotting out plans to address solvency of the Social Security retirement and disability trusts, just in time for a presidential election year. However, for millions of Americans, the solvency of these funds, and the availability of the benefits for which they paid throughout their working lives, are of critical importance to their lives.

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Media reports about various plans to address solvency of the Social Security retirement and disability trusts is ramping up as the Presidential election year approaches. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachsuetts, has been among those at the forefront of the issue. Warren says she vehemently opposes any reductions in benefits for the disabled, something proposed by the Trump Administration as part of a Republican plan to cut disability benefits and raise the retirement age.

Democrats favor increasing revenue, while Republicans favor a gradual reduction in benefits, with an increased retirement age of 70. However, our Boston disability attorneys know increasing the retirement age creates a false promise of savings at the expense of older workers.

Increasing Retirement Age Directly Threatens Disability Benefits

The reality is older workers are far more likely to need disability benefits to make it to retirement; reducing retirement benefits by increasing retirement age will likely only shift the burden to to Social Security disability trust fund. We wrote about this issue recently: Massachusetts SSDI Benefits a Life-Line for Older Workers.

In 2020, the Social Security Board of Trustees estimates more money will be distributed than is collected by the trust funds for the first time, which could eventually result in depletion of the program’s $2.9 trillion in asset reserves. Warren is also in favor of expanding existing benefits, including changing the measure by which Cost of Living Adjustments are calculated. She supports a plan to to switch the program’s inflationary measure to the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly (CPI-E), which would more accurately reflect cost of living for seniors. To help pay for the costs, she wants to increase the cap to 12.4 percent of payroll tax on wages over $250,000. Currently, those making over $132,900 don’t pay Social Security taxes on excess earnings.

Because retirement benefits account for 72 percent of paid Social Security benefits, shifting the burden of covering older workers to the Social Security disability trust would have drastic consequences for the disabled in America. In fact, disability insurance giant Unum reports an aging workforce and long-term effects of stress join obesity as the three biggest factors driving an increase in the number of disability claims. All three of these conditions disproportionately impact older workers.

Social Security Disability Benefits in Massachusetts

Unum, which is the largest provider of private disability insurance benefits in both the United States and the United Kingdom, issued its annual report last month detailing the top causes of long-term disability claims, which also disproportionately affect older workers:

  • Cancer (16 percent of claims)
  • Injury (13 percent of claims)
  • Back disorders (13 percent of claims)
  • Cardiovascular disease (10 percent of claims)
  • Joint disorders (10 percent of claims)

Joint disorders and musculoskeletal issues are both up more than 30 percent over the last 10 years, and America’s aging workforce is already responsible for a significant portion of the increase. Nor should solvency of the disability trust and availability of benefits only be a concern for older workers: 1 in 4 of today’s 20 year old workers will experience a disability before reaching the current retirement age of 67.

Our experienced Boston disability lawyers know the trust solvency issue has real consequences for those applying for or receiving disability benefits in Massachusetts, including routine denials of benefits and long wait times for disability benefits. In Massachusetts, a current backlog of 10,000 cases has created an average wait time of 450 days for a court hearing. The court hearings are necessary because the Social Security Administration has already rejected these applicants. Too often, clients try to apply without legal help, without understanding that the vast majority of applications are rejected, making it necessary to request a formal hearing before an administrative law judge. Securing experienced legal help at the outset of your claim can increase the chances of early acceptance, reduce wait time, and best prepare your case for court.

While many workers may have access to private disability benefits through a company like Unum, they may also be entitled to additional, long-term benefits through the Social Security Administration. Politicians favoring cuts often derisively refer to these as “entitlement programs,” but they are entitlement programs precisely because you have earned them by virtue of paying payroll taxes to the federal government throughout your working life.

Yet most applicants are routinely denied. The Social Security Administration offers what it claims are helpful tips on how to apply for benefits but in many cases, information submitted by the applicant will be used not only to deny benefits, but throughout the appeals process.

Many types of disability can be difficult to prove, including back, joint and musculoskeletal disorders, all of which are among the most common type of injuries cited in disability claims. Thorough medical documentation is critical to your claim and may require an independent medical exam by a physician chosen by the Social Security Administration. In many cases, these doctors perform such exams to augment their income and many applicants describe quick, cursory examination followed by benefit denials.

Hiring an experienced Massachusetts disability law firm to represent you throughout the process will put you in the best position to make your case from Day One.

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.