The Social Security Disability system in the United States is very complicated. Whether you are a recently disabled father trying to provide for your family, a single mother who can no longer work because of an illness, or the parent of a child who needs extra help because of a challenging condition, obtaining benefits is not easy. The “system” involves a complex set of rules and requirements that make it very hard for the average person to successfully receive payments.

There is hope, however, and we appreciate you looking for help here. Our law firm provides unique benefits to clients just like you, which include:

  • A singular focus on representing the injured and disabled.
  • Having all important work performed by an experienced disability attorney.
  • A guarantee that you pay no fees unless you obtain social security disability benefits.
  • A proven track record of success in both routine and difficult cases.

Regardless of whether you are considering filing for benefits for the first time, or have been denied numerous times in the past, please call our office at (404) 255-9838. We will discuss your options free of charge, and help you make an informed decision about what to do next. We look forward to talking with you.

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The Social Security Board of Trustees recently released their report for 2018. The report has few surprises for disability benefits attorneys–it predicts a 75-year deficit of 2.84% of payroll and that the trust fund will be depleted by 2034. However, the report released in June 2018 also estimates that disability rolls are dropping and will continue to decline in the future.

Some Americans argue that disability application numbers have increased in recent decades mainly because of fraud. However, there are several factors why the number of Social Security disability beneficiaries has increased over the last 35 years, unrelated to fraud. In 1984, new laws expanded the definition of disability, making more applicants eligible for disability payments. An aging population also resulted in higher disability rolls and an increase in disability payouts. Also, the increase in the number of females in the workforce raised the number of women who by virtue of their work history became eligible for benefits.

These factors converged to result in an explosion of disability beneficiary numbers. However, none of those factors seem to be active anymore. It’s very unlikely that the scope of the disability benefits program will be expanded any further. Therefore, it is safe to assume that disability rolls in the future will be lower, reducing the pressure on the program.

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The Social Security Administration (SSA) provides disability beneficiaries a number of tools to help them take charge of their benefits, including the Social Security Disability Calculator. This detailed calculator can be used not just to determine past benefits you received but also to estimate the benefits that you may be eligible for in the future.  This calculator is available in two versions. One works on IBM PCs and is compatible running on Windows 7, 8 or 10. The other version runs on older versions of the Mac operating system.

You can use the calculator to determine benefits for any claim dating back to 1940 when the first Social Security benefit was paid out. It can also be used to estimate future benefits until the year 2095. Also, the 2018.2 version takes into consideration all legal amendments made by Social Security law, as well as automatic adjustments right through 2017.

There is no doubt that gaining a fairly accurate idea of your estimated benefits in the future is a critical tool for disability beneficiaries who want to understand what their financial situation may look like in the future. However, the SSA warns that although this calculator is designed to be as accurate as possible, this calculator can only provide you an estimate of how much you will receive in benefits. Therefore, the calculator results may differ from one’s actual disability benefits earned.

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Older Americans, ages 65 and older, are increasingly filing for bankruptcy, with the rate more than tripling since 1991, according to a study from the Consumer Bankruptcy Project titled “Graying of U.S. Bankruptcy: Fallout from Life in a Risk Society.” Between 2013 and 2016, 12.2% of individuals ages 65-74 filed for bankruptcy annually versus 2.1% in 1991. This trend cannot be explained adequately by the aging US population—which rose only 2.3% from 1991-2015. Instead, the study’s authors attributed this phenomenon to several problems.

First, reductions in Social Security and Medicare occurred with Congress raising the age for full retirement benefits.  Second, retirement savings shifted from typical pension plans to 401(k) plans.  These plans give workers greater discretion on how much money to save and invest. Third, other contributing factors include rising medical expenses which can quickly wither away at an individual’s savings. Finally, there are other uncontrollable factors that lead to this situation. For example, divorces, a death of a dependent spouse, and loans to one’s children or grandchildren are all situations which can lead to growing debt.

For seniors filing for bankruptcy, their chances of recovering from this ordeal are unlikely, as “they simply do not have enough years to get back on their feet.” For these individuals, their median debt is $101,600, which is three times the filer’s average income. The authors of the study predict that as America’s population grows, this upward trend among older Americans will only continue to climb.

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Many Americans are currently satisfied with the growing economy.  Unemployment is down.  Currently only 3.9% of Americans list themselves as looking for work today; down from 4.9% in October 2016.  Typically, in periods of low unemployment, wages are expected to increase.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, today’s real average hourly wage is $10.76 per hour.  In October of 2016, the average real hourly wage was $10.72 per hour.  Average hourly wages have increased by only four cents an hour since 2016.

Still, one must consider the inflation rate.  The current US core rate of inflation is 2.4%.  From January to July of 2018, inflation has risen .8 percent.  Inflation has grown over the last few years, making the slightly increasing nominal wages less impactful.  Over the past year, nominal wages— the amount of money people receive in their paychecks without taking inflation into account–have increased 2.7%. As the price of goods and services have risen, average wages have not kept pace.  These factors together lead to a stagnation in real wages. The Economic Policy Institute argues that data shows that workers and the US economy as a whole would benefit significantly from nominal growth rates (the rate not adjusted for inflation) above 3.5% over a long period of time.  Adjusted for inflation, average weekly earnings have fallen 0.1% in the last 12 months.

While many feel the economy is on the upswing, some may be confused as to why their paycheck is not providing a better standard of living.  The devil is in the details.  While unemployment is down, and wages have slightly increased in response, the inflation rate is rapidly rising.  Because inflation is rising faster than wages are growing, many wage-earning Americans are not getting the full benefit of a growing economy.  For people with disabilities, inflation strongly impacts those on a fixed income.  Some individuals with disabilities have a higher cost of working, such as special transportation needs.  This further reduces the value of their wage-earning dollar.

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Georgia does not require employers to provide for paid sick leave.  Paid sick leave is not only important for an individual’s health, but also for one’s financial security.  There are 34.2 million employees in the private sector in America without paid sick benefits. This not only affects the health of these individuals, but also their likelihood of living in poverty. Those without paid sick leave are three times more likely to be living below the poverty line, according to research from Florida Atlantic and Cleveland State University. Vicki Shabo, vice president at National Partnerships for Women & Families, argues that when employees choose to take unpaid sick leave, “they lose money that goes towards groceries, transportation and health care expenses.”

How should employees without paid sick leave protect themselves?   If you are at or below the poverty line, you should take advantage of any government benefit programs available to you, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) program.  If you are above the poverty line, working, and have some disposable income, you should consider purchasing disability insurance.  This  can protect you from financial struggles resulting from an unexpected illness or accident.  Financial advisors usually recommend setting aside three months of income for unexpected economic downturns.  While setting aside three months of income may seem difficult, a second job may allow you to accomplish this.

While employees can negotiate for better benefits from their employer, absent a collective bargaining agreement (usually negotiated by unions), employees do not have much leverage.  If this method is not an option, employees can look into new job opportunities. With a growing economy, there may be a job with similar wages and skills required that offers benefits that could make a huge difference in the long-run.

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New federal legislation will increase oversight of representative payees who manage Social Security disability payments made to beneficiaries. In most cases, Social Security disability payments are handled by the beneficiary himself or herself. However, in some cases, beneficiaries may be incapable of handling their own financial decisions. In such cases, a representative payee manages payments on behalf of the beneficiary.

Representative payee are expected to handle opening and maintaining bank accounts, receiving and maintaining the Social Security disability claim payouts, and coordinating with the beneficiary and loved ones in order to ensure that the funds are used exclusively for the beneficiary’s benefit.

However, there are instances where representative payees abuse these privileges and misuse funds. This may occur partially because of the minimal oversight over the representative payee’s allocation of the funds.

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To qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), applicants must be unable to perform any “substantial gainful activity” that pays $1,180 a month or $14,160 annually. This is roughly the income a minimum-wage American worker makes per year. Also, their condition must be expected to last at least a year or until death.

The analysis of the data from the Census Bureau by economist Ernie Tedeschi shows that the number of Americans ages 25-54 out of the workforce because of a disability has declined 7% since 2014. With 10.3 million people out of the workforce as of May 2018, this reverses an upward trend that had been in place for decades. This can possibly be explained by the growing economy over the last few years, which has allowed companies to hire more workers. University of Maryland economists Katharine G. Abraham and Melissa S. Kearney studied situations where individuals applying for disability benefits were assigned to judges who varied in their leniency. This allowed researchers to compare the outcome of similar applicants when they given or denied benefits. They found that for individuals whose cases for SSDI were questionable due to the acuteness of their condition, 28% of those people decided not to work who otherwise would have. This means that 28 out of 100 individuals decided not to work for fear of this interfering with their ability to successfully win disability benefits.

Robert VerBruggen, deputy managing editor of National Review, emphasized that the current SSDI program fails to accommodate disabled individuals who are still able to work in some capacity. He argued that reform to the program is “imperative.”  A long-term plan, he added, should include awarding temporary or partial benefits to those able to work, but limited in their abilities to do so. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a bipartisan think tank devoted to reducing the deficit and debt, has published other potential options including subsidizing those with disabilities in their first few months back in the workforce.

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A major issue facing the Social Security program involves a lack of meaningful and current legislation to improve the programs changing and expanding needs.  In 1982, under the Reagan administration, Congress passed a bipartisan series of payroll tax increases in order to ensure funding . Since then, Congress has failed to pass significant changes to the Social Security program, with many lawmakers choosing to sidestep this controversial issue. As time has passed, this program has consistently faced a looming deficit.  The longer lawmakers wait to act, the more difficult it will be “to avoid cutting benefits on current and future retirees.”

Many people ask what is holding Congress back from taking this critical step of implementing reform to Social Security. The answer is relatively simple:  Democrats would like to raise or eliminate the maximum taxable earning cap for Social Security’s payroll tax, requiring wealthy Americans to pay more into the system. Republicans, on the other hand, would like to increase the full retirement age to between 68 to 70, which would save funds for this program in the long-run.

Bipartisanship in Congress is necessary in order for any action to be successful in making changes to the Social Security program. With a bill on this issue likely requiring 60 votes to pass the Senate—due to the filibuster—it is unlikely that any party will in the near future occupy enough seats to pass this legislation alone.

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Some people ask whether immigrants  can be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).  First, authorized non-citizens may be eligible for SSI if they fit into one of these categories granted by the Department of Homeland Security:

  • On August 22, 1996, they were lawful residents of the US and were disabled or blind.
  • They were receiving SSI on August 22, 1996, and lawfully residing in the US.