The Social Security Administration (SSA) has made our social security statements available online. People over the age of 18 can go to the SSA website and complete a verification process. Once the verification is complete, the user will be able to access their statement for planning purposes and verifying past wage earnings over their lifetime. The average of your lifetime wages determines your available benefits so obviously it is critical to make sure your account is accurate. Here’s an excerpt from an SSA press release:
To get a personalized online Statement, people age 18 and older must be able to provide information about themselves that matches information already on file with Social Security. In addition, Social Security uses Experian, an external authentication service provider, for additional verification. People must provide their identifying information and answer security questions in order to pass this verification. Social Security will not share a person’s Social Security number with Experian, but the identity check is an important part of this new, robust verification process.
For the full press release, follow this link http://www.socialsecurity.gov/mystatement/
If we can assist you with your Social Security Disability Benefits, feel free to contact us.
Thanks to our lead Social Security attorney, Mark Papa, for expanding on a few recent questions submitted to our blog. His detailed explanation is below. If you have any questions regarding your benefits, please give us a call or submit your comment.
A disabled individual receiving Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits who is imprisoned more than 30 continuous days to a jail or prison because of a conviction of a criminal offense, will have his or her SSD benefits suspended. Benefits can be reinstated starting with the month following the month of release. “Auxiliary benefits” (those benefits that flow to a spouse or children by virtue of the disabled individual) will continue so long as the spouse of children remain eligible.
A disabled individual receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits will have his or her SSI benefits suspended while in prison. Benefits can be reinstated in the month of release. However, if confinement lasts for 12 consecutive months or longer, eligibility for SSI benefits will terminate and a new application for SSI benefits will have to be filed.
We also received an inquiry about whether or not a spouse or children of an incarcerated claimant can “stand in the shoes” of a claimant whose claim for disability benefits are pending, but became incarcerated before a decision is made. First, in order for “auxiliary benefits” to flow, there must be a finding of disability and a finding that the incarcerated claimant was entitled to benefits. I am not aware of any provision within the Social Security Disability law that prevents an ongoing claim from moving forward based upon incarceration. In fact, I recently conducted an SSD hearing for a client/claimant who became incarcerated during the pendency of his Social Security claim. Therefore, I believe in these instances, the claim should move forward and if a finding of disability is made and even though the incarcerated claimant may not be entitled to benefits, the spouse and children may. .
How do these two topics relate to each other? Here’s a summary by our attorney Mark Papa of a memo sent to all the Social Security Administartive Law Judges from their boss:
An August 9, 2010 memorandum from the Chief Administrative Law Judge to all Administrative Law Judges (ALJ) titled Receipt of Unemployment Insurance Benefits by Claimant Applying for Disability Benefits-REMINDER reiterates the following:
- Receipt of unemployment benefits does not preclude receipt of Social Security disability benefits.
- Receipt of unemployment benefits is only one of many factors that must be considered in determining whether the claimant is disabled.
- A claim for Social Security disability benefits can be consistent with a claim and/or receipt of unemployment benefits.
- Because of the uncertainty regarding whether a claimant will be found disabled under the Social Security Act and because the decision can be lengthy, “it is SSA’s position that individuals need not choose between applying for unemployment insurance and Social Security disability benefits.”
Again, an application for or the receipt of unemployment benefits is evidence that an ALJ will consider in deciding an SSD claim. This memorandum instructs ALJs to “look at the totality of the circumstances in determining the significance of the application for unemployment benefits and related efforts to obtain employment.”
Please contact Harrell and Harrell, PA to discuss this and any other issues you may have with your Social Security Disability and/or Supplemental Security Income claim.
Social Security to Phase Out Paper Checks.
The Treasury Department announced that Social Security will stop issuing paper checks on March 1, 2013, at which point all payments will be made electronically. New enrollees to Social Security programs, including Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income, will no longer be able to receive benefits via paper checks beginning March 1 2011. Existing beneficiaries will have until March 1, 2013 to switch. After March 1, 2013, all Social Security payments will be deposited electronically to a person’s bank account or to a beneficiary’s government issued debit card.
It is estimated that this switch will save the Federal Government $300 million over the first five years and $125 million each following year. It now costs $1 overall to cut and mail a check and only 10 cents for a direct deposit. The Treasury Department issues more than 135 million benefit checks annually.
If you have any questions please contact Attorney Mark Papa in our Jacksonville, FL office.
The Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) designates certain cases for “special expedited processing.” These are deemed “critical cases.” Currently, ODAR recognizes five situations warranting the use of expedited claims handling:
(1) Where the claimant’s illness is terminal. These are known as TERI cases.
(2) Where the disability claim involves a military service personnel injured October 1, 2001 or later, regardless of how or where the disability occurred, whether in the United States or on foreign soil, provided the claimant was on active duty when the injury occurred. This is known as an MSCC (Military Service Casualty Case).
(3) Where the claim is flagged as a Compassionate Allowance case. The Social Security Administration maintains a list of impairments that qualify as a “compassionate allowance.”
(4) Where the claimant is without and is unable to obtain food, medicine, or shelter. These are known as DIRE NEED cases. A dire need exists when a person has insufficient income or resources to meet an immediate threat to health or safety, such as the lack of food, clothing, shelter or medical care. The circumstances defining the ”dire need” situation must be specifically alleged.
(5) Where there is an indication that the claimant is suicidal or homicidal.
Thanks to Attorney Mark Papa for this recent submission for our blog.
A common scenario in my practice goes like this: Client applies for Social Security Disability benefits and is turned down and knowing that there is a high likelihood of another turn down and a long wait (over a year) before a hearing and with no income, the client applies for and begins receiving unemployment benefits. How does the application and receipt of unemployment benefits affect the Social Security Disability claim?
The most significant impact goes to the credibility of the claimant. On the one hand, when applying for Social Security Disability, the statement being made is “I am disabled and unable to work.” On the other hand, when applying for unemployment benefits, the statement being made is “I am able to work and am available to work, I just have not been able to find a job.” Which statement will the social security judge believe?
The social security judge is not bound by the decisions of another governmental agency, however, that decision must be considered. On the one hand, if an application for unemployment benefits is denied because of inability to work, it can be used to show the inability to work. If the unemployment claim is approved, then that may be used as evidence of the ability to work. There is nothing, however, that prevents the receipt of Social Security Disability benefits due to receipt of unemployment benefits.
The bottom line is, having a claim for Social Security Disability benefits while receiving unemployment benefits (and vice versa) raises a red flag and, more likely than not, will have to be explained.
Please call Harrell and Harrell or visit us on the web to discuss your Social Security Disability denial.
Thanks to our attorney Mark Papa for finding some interesting statistics regarding the Jacksonville, Florida Office of Disability Adjudication and Review:
Through January 2010 in Fiscal Year 2010 (which began October 2009), the Jacksonville hearing office received a net of 1905 new cases and closed 2295 in the same time period. As of January 2010, 7826 cases were pending in the Jacksonville hearing office.
Also, on average, each Jacksonville Administrative Law Judge closed 2.31 cases per day. This ranked 77 out of 143 hearing offices nationwide. The highest average was Harrisburg, PA at 3.77 cases per judge per day. The lowest average was Miami at 1.30 cases per judge per day.
These and other statistics can be found at www.ssa.gov/appeals/publicusefiles.html
Please contact Mark or his staff for assistance with your recent Social Security denial. Mark also informs me that he has had some great success with a large number of Georgia Social Security claims. I’d let you know his success rate bit I don’t want to jinx his success.
Over the last year or so, the Social Security Administration began conducting disability hearings using Video Teleconferencing (VTC) with greater frequency in an effort to move cases through the system quicker. In these hearings, the claimant may be in one location, the Judge in another location, and any witnesses in another. The claimant sees and hears the Judge and other parties on “TV” and “talks” to the “TV” when testifying.
While VTC may be appropriate in some cases, they are not advisable in all cases. For example, some claimants may simply not feel comfortable with this type of setting or as a matter of strategy, a face to face/in person hearing is felt to be critical in presenting the case.
Claimants have an absolute right to refuse to appear by VTC and make their appearance before the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) in person. Pursuant to 20 CFR 404.936(e) and 416.1436(e) a claimant’s wish not to appear by VTC will be found to constitute good reason for changing the time or place of the scheduled hearing and the hearing will be rescheduled for a time and place at which the claimant may appear in person.
We strongly encourage Social Security Disability and/or Supplemental Security Income claimants to consult with an attorney with any questions regarding their denied claims.
Read the latest press release from Social Security regarding the reduction in the backlog of claims:
Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, today announced that the number of disability hearings pending stands at 697,437 cases — the lowest level since June 2005 and down more than 71,000 cases since December 2008, when the trend of month-by-month reductions began. In addition, the average processing time for hearing decisions has decreased to 442 days, down from a high of 514 days at the end of fiscal year (FY) 2008.
“We have decreased the number of hearings pending by almost 10 percent over the last 14 months and cut the time it takes to make a decision by nearly two and a half months. This remarkable progress shows our backlog reduction plan is working,” Commissioner Astrue said. “With ongoing support from the President and Congress as well as the efforts of our hardworking employees, I am confident the hearings backlog will continue to diminish.”
Social Security has actively addressed the hearings backlog and increased the capacity to hold more hearings. The agency hired 147 Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) and over 1,000 support staff in FY 2009, and has plans to hire an additional 226 ALJs this year. The agency now has four National Hearing Centers to help process hearings by video conference for the most hard-hit areas of the country. The agency also has aggressive plans to open 14 new hearing offices and three satellite offices by the end of the year. The first of these offices was opened in Anchorage, Alaska on February 19, 2010.
Hopefully the backlogs will continue to decrease for those applying for social security benefits. If we can assist you, give us a call or visit our website.
UPDATE – President Obama signed this into law on 2/27/10.
Attorney Mark Papa from our Jacksonville office shared this bit of breaking news with me. Sounds like good news for Social Security Applicants.
The Social Security Disability Applicants’ Access to Professional Representation Act of 2010 is expected to be signed into law by President Obama by the end of this week. This will allow those who are denied Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) benefits in the future to find an attorney to represent them in their claim.
Prior to the Social Security Protection Act of 2004 (“SSPA”), there was no attorney fee withholding provision for SSI claims, the consequence being that very few attorneys would agree to represent SSI claimants. SSPA included a provision whereby attorney fees would be withheld and paid directly in SSI cases. This provision in the SSPA is scheduled to “sunset” on March 1, 2010.
The signing into law of the Social Security Disability Applicant’s Access to Professional Representation Act of 2010 will ensure that SSI claimant’s who have been denied will continue to find attorney representation before the Social Security Administration.