Wednesday, December 27, 2017

SSDI and SSI in California

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are two programs offered by the Social Security Administration that are of the utmost importance. You may not yet rely on such a program, or you may never need to (hopefully), but it's important for Americans to have an understanding of SSA benefits. There may come a time when you need to assist a loved one in navigating the process of applying for SSDI, SSI, or both.

If you have read up on the vitality of SSA benefit programs, then you may know that the process of applying for benefits can be complicated. What’s more, the time between applying and enrollment is often lengthy. There are hundreds of thousands of cases and a limited number of administrative judges to hear each case. The number of cases waiting for consideration from an administrative judge increased by more than 300,000 to 1.14 million, between 2010 to 2017, The Orange County Register reports. Simply put, there are not enough resources available to handle the heavy workload.

SSDI and SSI Cases Piling Up

A new report from The OC Register revealed that services and funding for SSA benefit programs are changing throughout the country. The focus of this piece will be California, naturally, but such changes are occurring across America. In the Golden State, 4.4 percent of adults ages 18-64 received Social Security Disability, SSI or both last year. Lake County, CA has the highest percentage of disabled workers, with 10 percent (3,725 people) of the population receiving benefits.

In certain California cities, individuals wait for nearly two years to receive a decision on their application. In Orange, CA, the average wait time is 646 days, which is only slightly better than Los Angeles West 644, and San Diego 592. A lack of administrative judges and SSA staff has contributed to the long wait times, delays in coverage are expected to only increase. Since 2010, California has seen a 13.89 percent drop in Social Security administration staff. If you’d like to get an idea of how we compare to other states, please refer to the map below:

Source: OC register

SSDI Attorney

Seeking assistance will help you or a loved one chart a course toward SSA benefits, and greater financial security. The longer one goes without the support they need, the more complicated life can become. The Driscoll Law Corporation has helped a number of people whose claims were denied, access the benefits they desperately required. We can help your family, too; please contact us today.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

SSDI Benefits Calculator

If you are considering or are in the process of applying for social security disability insurance (SSDI), it’s likely you’ve have some questions about how much support you can expect. Being injured or becoming ill and no longer being able to work is a severe blow; fortunately, we all have access to benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA). The agency's various programs are designed to alleviate the burden of no longer being able to work.

After a cursory examination, you have probably gathered that you will not receive benefits comparable to what you made while working. You may have discovered that you might not get anything close to what you were making as part of the workforce. As you can probably imagine, there's a formula in place used by the SSA to determine an individual’s monthly benefit payments. There are several factors considered in calculating how much money beneficiaries will receive, including work income from previous employment and age.

If you are in the process of applying for SSDI benefits, you should know that your monthly payments could be much less than you made while being employed. In some cases, less than half or as much as 90 percent less than before, The Washington Post reports. We are not sharing this information to worry you, but everyone should be informed about what their SSDI payments will look like if approved. You should consider taking a moment to use a calculator that mimics what the SSA uses to do their calculations.

SSDI Calculator

The SSA looks at several factors, including elapsed years, computation years and average indexed monthly income (AIME). Those numbers are plugged into the SSA’s primary insurance amount (PIA) formula, which then delivers the benefit amount. Using the calculator will not give you the exact amount you can count on, just a rough estimate that can help you prepare for the future.

Those who already have an account with the Social Security Administration (SSA) can get a more accurate figure. For those who don’t, you can sign up for an online account profile or use the calculator, here. Please keep in mind that the calculator will make assumptions about certain things based off how people’s careers typically progress and evolve over the years, such specific considerations may not be entirely accurate or representative of one’s personal history.

SSDI Attorney

If your application for SSDI has been denied or you are applying for the first time, please contact the Driscoll Law Corporation. We will help you get through the process to ensure that you get the help you need.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

SSA Needs Immediate Funding

Taxpaying Americans expect certain protections when they are injured and cannot work, or reach a certain age. No person should be caught out in the cold when their life takes a turn for the worst which is why we have agencies like the Social Security Administration (SSA). Aside from Social Security retirement benefits, the administration has many programs for people who are disabled, such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

Right now, over a million Americans are desperately awaiting aid from the SSA. Without assistance, individuals are at risk of severe consequences. Vulnerable people must be taken care of; they should not have to perish waiting for support. Unfortunately, that seems to be happening more often than you might think. Just over a week ago, The Washington Post published alarming findings regarding the Social Security disability backlog. Some people are waiting 596 days to receive a judge's disposition on obtaining benefits, Medicare, or Medicaid. In fact, the report showed that 10,000 people died waiting for a judge's decision.

SSA Needs Funding

In the United States, there are 1,600 Social Security administrative law judges charged with deciding the fate of over a million-people hoping to receive disability benefits. Given that the backlog continues to grow, the wait time for applicants only becomes lengthier. In 2012, the average wait time was 353 days, which seems long but paled in comparison to 2016.

To reduce the backlog and get people with disabilities the help they require, Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Senator Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, called for Congress to fund the SSA adequately, according to a press release. In a recent WAPO opinion piece, Sen. Wyden wrote: 

“Congress has a chance to turn the tide and restore some functionality to the SSDI hearings process. Instead of harmful cuts, Congress should provide sufficient administrative funding in its upcoming appropriations bill so those who are eligible can receive disability insurance in a timely way. That’s why I’ve asked Senate leaders to make the necessary investments so the Social Security Administration can make case-management systems updates, ensure that the agency has enough evaluators and administrative law judges to process claims, and fulfill its obligations to those caught in the disability backlog.”

Americans shouldn't have to wait nearly two years to receive a judge's decision on benefits. So many things can go wrong during such a period, both physically and financially. The press release points out that SSA’s administrative budget has been cut by almost $460 million.

SSDI Attorney

If your application for SSDI was denied or you are applying for the first time, please contact the Driscoll Law Corporation. We can assist you in working through the process to ensure that you get the help you need in a timely fashion.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

SSA Lingo Worth Knowing

AIME, COLA, and OASDI are three acronyms that might not mean a thing to you, especially for those who’ve never dealt with the SSA (Social Security Administration). Even if you have sought assistance from the SSA, there is a good chance that you have found yourself scratching your head over the language used. The three acronyms above are some examples of what one may hear when discussing benefits with administration representatives.

The scale and scope of SSA terminology can be dizzying. A multitude of factors plays a part in determining one’s monthly benefits. If you are like most Americans, it’s unlikely you thought it prudent to become fluent in the language of the Social Security Administration.

SSA Glossary

In case you were curious, AIME stands for Average Indexed Monthly Earnings (i.e., the dollar amount used to calculate your Social Security benefit if you attained age 62 or became disabled). COLA is an acronym for Cost Of Living Adjustment which occurs when benefits are increased to match a rise in the cost-of-living (inflation). OASDI is short for Old Age Survivors and Disability Insurance, or programs that provide monthly cash benefits to workers and their dependents when they retire, die or become disabled.

Those acronyms are just three examples, there are many more, and we chose those above randomly to give you an idea of what you may hear when applying for benefits. Understanding the lingo of Social Security puts one at an advantage when having conversations about benefits. Instead of feeling like a bystander in the effort to have more significant financial security, you can be an active participant if you know the vernacular.

If you are approaching retirement age or are of retirement age, the SSA suggests knowing particular terms. For instance, PIA (primary insurance amount), FRA (full retirement age), and DRCs (delayed retirement credits) are acronyms which should be in your vocabulary. Fortunately, the Social Security Administration has provided a glossary of Social Security terms to help you take part in the conversation about your benefits.

SSA Disability Attorney

While apprising yourself of Social Security language is beneficial for understanding the process, we would be remiss for failing to point out that the benefits process can get complicated. Not everyone who applies is approved, you may find yourself having to fight for financial security. If you are applying for the first time or were denied, please contact attorney Stephanie Merritt Driscoll for a free consultation.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Social Security and SSI Increases 2018

The Social Security Administration (SSA) is gearing up to begin paying more to beneficiaries in the coming months. Starting in January 2018, a 2.0 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) will impact more than 61 million Social Security beneficiaries. Americans who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) will see an increase in their payments as well. The SSI benefits increase takes effect on Dec. 29. 2017, affecting more than 8 million people. Some Americans will benefit from both Social Security and SSI increases.

People who rely on Social Security and SSI will see a 2 percent increase as we make the transition into 2018, Disability Scoop reports. This is the most significant benefit increase since 2012 when recipients saw a 3.6 percent jump and the third-biggest increase since 2009.

Why The Sudden Increase in Benefits?

Every time inflation rises in the United States an automatic cost-of-living adjustment is calculated, by law. The Administration ties the annual COLA to the increase in the Consumer Price Index set by the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. If you’d like to learn more on how the COLA is calculated, please click here. While the increase may not appear to be all that significant, the extra money will add up over time, giving millions of Americans greater financial security. The average retired worker will receive an extra $27 per month, for instance:
  • In 2017, the maximum federal SSI payment for individuals was $735; in 2018 that number will rise to $750 per month.
  • This year couples received a maximum $1,103 per month, in 2018 that number will go up to $1,125.
  • The ceiling on earnings subject to the Social Security tax (taxable maximum) will increase to $128,700 from $127,200.
It’s worth pointing out that Medicare recipients who have their Plan B premiums deducted from their monthly Social Security may not benefit from the increase, Fortune reports. The “hold harmless clause” is a rule that ensures that Part B monthly premiums don’t rise at a faster pace than Social Security’s COLA. Information on changes to Medicare in 2018 resides here.

If you are having trouble watching, please click here.

SSI Lawyer

If you are applying for or were denied Supplemental Security Income, please contact Attorney Stephanie Merritt Driscoll. At the Driscoll Law Corporation, we can help you navigate the ins-and-outs of Social Security and give you the best chance at receiving the benefits you require.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Social Security Representative Payee Program

representative payees
Social Security is the saving grace of most Americans of retirement age. Without such benefits, getting through one’s golden years would be even more trying than it already is in America. Those who reach the age of collecting Social Security are eligible to receive monthly checks of varying amounts. Naturally, it’s generally not a lot of money, but it is usually enough to make all the difference.

If budgeted in a sound manner, Social Security Administration benefits can go a long way. But, what if a recipient is not of sound mind? As you can probably imagine, there are a number of things that can go wrong. Before we proceed with this article, please keep in mind: A half million retirees have what are known as “representative payees.” Which is only 1.5% of SSA retirees. But, researchers Geoffrey Sanzenbacher and Anek Belbase of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, contend that an estimated 10% or so of retirees have dementia, Forbes reports. Recently, the two published a study on the Representative Payee Program.

If the research is accurate, that is a lot of Americans who probably should not have control over their benefits. You are probably wondering how this can be the case? The answer is that most people don’t know about the existence of the SSA Representative Payee program.

“People don’t know about the Representative Payee program,” said Sanzenbacher. “It’s one reason they don’t use it more.”

Managing SSA Benefits

Perhaps the most troubling facet of this story is that in 1939 Congress granted the SSA authority to appoint “representative payees,” according to the article. Said payees, who are not government employees, manage the benefits of beneficiaries unable to manage their finances on their own. Representative Payees decide how to spend a beneficiary’s Social Security income and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and are required to keep records of how the money is spent. Naturally, to deter against elder abuse.

“Representative Payee can be a wonderful tool particularly for a person whose assets are only Social Security benefits,” says Marit Anne Peterson, program director at the Minnesota Elder Justice Center in St. Paul, Minn. 

The study had some promising findings, indicating that when a Payee is not utilized, one’s family usually steps up to manage finances. However, family is not always a reliable resource to depend on, or are no longer living with the beneficiary. In other cases, getting control of another person’s finances can be extremely tricky, even if they are your family. What’s more, family members may not be in a position to oversee the finances of their mother or father. If you have a loved one with dementia, you should take a look at the Social Security Representative Payee program.

“The people with dementia may be better off with a family member, but clearly the family member is worse off,” says Joseph Gaugler, long-term care professor of nursing at the University of Minnesota. “We clearly rely very heavily on families to provide extreme support. How long can we rely on this system?”

Help With Social Security Benefits

Making sense of the minute details of Social Security can be extremely difficult. At the Driscoll Law Corporation, we can help you or a loved one. Please contact us today.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Compassionate Allowances Expanded

compassionate allowancesToward the beginning of summer, we covered the important topic of Compassionate Allowances. This is the Social Security Administration's (SSA) method for fast tracking benefits for people with certain debilitating conditions. It should go without saying that Compassionate Allowances can prove to be real “life savers” for a significant number of individuals who would otherwise be subjected to the often-lengthy benefits approval process.

With any serious, chronic health ailment there is little time to juggle priorities: healthcare versus livelihood. If favorable outcomes are to be achieved, treatment must begin with haste. When it comes to cancer, that usually takes the form of chemotherapy and/or radiation. The side effects of which make it next to impossible to work, and unless an individual is financially secure, this can present a real problem.

If you or a loved one has limited resources, the SAA will likely be who one turns to. The benefits programs like, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), can make all the difference. After a medical diagnosis is made, there should be no reason for making someone jump through the many hoops of the approval process. The same obstacles that people with less serious conditions are required to jump through.

From Diagnosis to Benefits

Compassionate Allowances have helped nearly a half-million Americans with life threatening disabilities, according to the SSA. As of right now, the number of conditions that fall under the umbrella of Compassionate Allowances is 228. The agency recently added to the list: CACH--Vanishing White Matter Disease-Infantile and Childhood Onset Forms, Congenital Myotonic Dystrophy, and Kleefstra Syndrome.

“Social Security is committed – now and in the future – to continue to identify and fast-track diseases that are certain or near-certain to be approved for disability benefits,” said Acting SSA Commissioner, Nancy A. Berryhill. “The Compassionate Allowances and Health IT programs are making a real difference by ensuring that Americans with disabilities quickly receive the benefits they need.” 

If you have been diagnosed with a serious illness recently, you can find a list of list of all Compassionate Allowances conditions, here.

SSA Help

Attorney Stephanie M. Driscoll is committed to helping people with disabilities get the assistance that they require. The process is often difficult to understand and navigate. At the Driscoll Law Corporation, we can help you, if you are applying for the first time, or have been denied benefits. Please contact us today.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

SSA Benefits Access During Disasters

SSAIn the wake of serious flooding of catastrophic proportions there are likely to be thousands of people in Texas and Louisiana who are unable to access their mail. When it comes to receiving monthly bills, there are a number of people who might welcome such an occurrence. On the other hand, if you are awaiting monthly benefit checks, being unable to access your mail is likely to cause some serious stress.

Thousands of Americans have been displaced due to the torrential flooding of Hurricane Harvey. A traumatic experience, to say the least. For those who rely on monthly benefits like Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) from the Social Security Administration (SSA), being unable to get your check is big deal. Fortunately, the SSA is prepared for these kinds of events and those who can’t get their mail have options.

Accessing Social Security Benefits

In most cases, SSA payments are made on the first of every month. For those living on Gulf Coast, September 1st has come and gone. Which means many benefit recipients may not have been able to get their check. The SSA has resources available for those impacted.

Hurricane Harvey resulted in mail delivery services being suspended in the Houston area, according to the agency. As a result, many postal centers were shuttered, as well. If you were unable to get your check(s), there is a list of Post Office locations where recipients can pick up checks with proper ID.

People who would like to pick up their checks in person can go to any one of three emergency payment locations in Texas and two in Louisiana. Beneficiaries can request an immediate payment in person at such locations, to find the locations please click here.

SSA In Times of Disaster

If you are a regular reader of this blog you are probably aware that our practice is in Southern California. Quite a distance from the Houston area and the neighboring areas affected by Hurricane Harvey. However, natural disasters can occur anywhere, including California. As we speak, wildfires are burning all over the state of California. This means that many people have been forced to abandon their homes to head for safety. If you are one of the many affected Californians, you can get information on how to get benefits by calling 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) or go to the SSA Office Locator.

At the Driscoll Law Corporation, our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone affected by America’s current natural disasters. For those who are trying to access SSA benefits for the first time, or have been denied benefits, there are always options, but the process can be long and involved. If that is your story, please let Attorney Stephanie Merritt Driscoll advocate for you or a loved one.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

SSA Inspector General Fraud Warning

SSN Fraud
If you are a recipient of Social Security benefits, such as Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), news that you might be eligible to get more money would likely be welcomed. After all, the amount of money that the average recipient receives each month (while helpful) is not a whole lot of money. So, if you were to receive a phone call from somebody working for the SSA, you may not hesitate to answer any questions, if it were a means to a greater financial end.

Please be advised that if you receive a call from someone claiming to be a Social Security employee, it may be a fraudulent scam. Someone attempting to phish information out of you, such as your social security number (SSN). Social Security’s Office of the Inspector General, Gale Stallworth Stone, has issued two scam alerts for SSA benefits recipients.

SSA Is Not On the Other End

The Inspector General would like all recipients to be vigilantly cautious about anyone who calls claiming to be employed by the administration. With one scammer luring people to divulge personal information by enticing them with a 1.7 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) increase of their Social Security benefits. Calling from a "323" area code, according to Forbes, the imposter attempts to get victims to verify their personal information, including:
  • Name
  • Date of Birth
  • Parents’ Name
  • Social Security Number
  • Any Other Personal Information
If the SSA imposter succeeds, they will use the information to alter victim’s direct deposit, address, and telephone information. Thus, scamming them out of their benefits. The second fraudulent act occurring right now involves former clients of Kentucky disability attorney Eric C. Conn. The Inspector General warns that the calls come from 202-681-5115, and the scammer will offer victims $9,000 from a “Conn Client Compensation Fund” (nonexistent) if they send $200 to the “Federal Reserve Bank of New York.”

Protecting Yourself from Fraud

You can learn how to protect yourself and your clients, here. But below you will find three tips from the Inspector General:
  • Understand the threats. Be wary of scammers who may impersonate government officials or seek advance payment for services.
  • Exercise caution. In general, no government agency or reputable company will solicit your personal information over the phone or by email, or request an advance fee.
  • Secure your information. Store your Social Security number in a safe location — don’t carry it with you. Shred documents that include your personal information.

Moving forward...

If you live in the Orange County area of California and you believe you might have responded to a scam call regarding your Social Security information, please take the time to contact Attorney Stephanie Merritt Driscoll of Driscoll Law Corporation. We may be able to assist you in reaching out to the appropriate Social Security Administration department to alert the SSA of a possible scam.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Orange County Homeless Czar Shows Promise

Homelessness is a major concern across the United States, and California is not exempt. In major cities across the state, thousands of people are without home or employment to pay for the core necessities. Orange County’s homeless population, in many cases, is living in conditions of squalor. Living in tents and storm drains, due to a serious lack of homeless shelters. Many people living in such conditions have serious mental and physical health problems, making their ability to find employment untenable.

While many of such people would qualify for state assistance, the process for applying for Supplemental Security Income and Social Security Disability Insurance benefits is too much to take on without help. These benefits could, in fact, make all the difference in changing one’s situation.

In an effort to gain control of the ever-growing homeless problem in Orange County, a call went out to the Board of Supervisors and other county officials to step up their efforts, The Orange County Register reports. The call was answered by the appointment of “Homeless Czar” Susan Price, at the end of May 2016. By October, Price had helped with efforts to open The Courtyard homeless shelter, providing emergency housing for as many as 400 people. Next year, renovations will be completed on Bridges at Kraemer in Anaheim, which will be able to assist 200 people, offering health services, employment counseling and other resources like SOAR.

“When I arrived, the board had already laid the groundwork,” Price said. “Look what’s happened in the last year.”

SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access and Recovery

As was mentioned above, with the aid of certain benefits a number of people could get back on their feet and acquire permanent housing. But, they need help. SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access and Recovery (SOAR) involves county workers trained to help the homeless successfully fill out applications for SSI and SSDI, according to the article. The little bit of extra help is what many need, but have been unable to get.

“It’s a critical component,” Price said. “Trying to negotiate that system on your own is not realistic. It doesn’t happen successfully. We have to do it with and for them, in some cases.”

SOAR is funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an agency that believes mental illness recovery rests on having a safe place to live. Given that a significant number of homeless men and women have mental health concerns, SOAR can have a dramatic impact on reducing the homeless population.

“This is about benefits,” she explained. “The primary thing is connecting people to income and benefits that they’re eligible for.”

SSDI and SSI Help

At Driscoll Law Corporation, we can help you or a loved one navigate the process of Social Security benefits, like SSI and SSDI. If a denial was received, we can help you with the appeals process. Please contact Attorney Stephanie Merritt Driscoll, today.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Electronic Medical Records Speed Up Benefits Process

In the 21st Century there is a hardly a thing in our lives that has not been digitized. Meaning, pretty much anything you previously did by hand and paper can now be accomplished over the internet. Rather than send a letter, we email it. We balance our checkbooks, pay our bills online. Many households, today, are paper-free. There are fewer instances when a hard copy is needed to accomplish something.

As the world becomes more streamlined, seemingly more efficient with each year that passes, life appears easier for all concerned parties. Unfortunately, one field that has been slow to go electronic is the health care system. The exchange of health medical records between offices and doctors, is in many cases done electronically. However, communicating between doctor’s offices and federal agencies is in most cases still accomplished manually using mail and fax.

This archaic method of communique can significantly impact people’s lives, especially those who are awaiting decisions about Social Security Administration (SSA) benefits programs, such as Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Individuals are often required to wait months for a decision, because of the slow exchange of patient information. The longer one waits, the longer they go without the benefits they need to get by while being unable to work.

Social Security Administration Health IT

In an effort to speed up the decision process for people with disability, the SSA has begun partnering-up with hospitals across the country to securely exchange medical records for patients applying for benefits. In California, Cedars-Sinai and Kaiser Permanente are eFiling with the SSA. Recently, the agency announced that Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, MD, is now on the list of partners sharing medical records electronically, according to a press release. This will not only save money, it will save an exponential amount of time for the agency to reach decisions about people applying for benefits. Monica Miles from the Health IT Program office at the Social Security Administration, says:

“Now, here is how the process works: The DDS [Disability Determination Services] sends requests for medical information to the healthcare providers identified by the claimant in the application process. When the DDS receives the medical information, they evaluate it and make the disability determination. In the majority of cases, this is still a manual process that is slow and cumbersome. It takes on average about 90 days to process a claim with most of that time spent waiting for the medical information to be received."

“By using Health IT to automate this process, we send an electronic request to the healthcare provider system, and information is returned in a standardized Health IT format within seconds or minutes rather than weeks or months."

You can watch a video on how the process works, here.

SSDI and SSI Help

If you or a loved one has been injured recently, or been diagnosed with a debilitating illness, there is a good chance that assistance will be required. The process to apply for benefits can be both time consuming and confusing. And, in the end, you may not get the decision you were looking for. If you have been denied, or are applying for the first time please contact The Driscoll Law Corporation, we can help.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR)?

If you have been injured, or have been diagnosed with a serious illness—your ability to work is impacted. If you can’t work, then paying your monthly bills can be a serious challenge. In many cases, one has more than just themselves to think about. Not working affects the whole family. Fortunately, in America we have social assistance programs to aid people who are not able to be gainfully employed because of illness or injury.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) has several programs that can make one’s life easier. The process for receiving such benefits can, at times, be a lengthy and involved process. It often requires enlisting the help of an attorney who is skilled in Social Security disability law.

Being Denied By Social Security

If you have applied for benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA), it is possible that you were denied. If that is the case, you can appeal the SSA decision. Anyone who requires benefits, such as Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), is going to want to appeal such a decision. If you are in legitimate need of assistance, then you cannot afford to do otherwise.

In the United States, the appeals process involves the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, or ODAR for short. ODAR is one of the largest administrative adjudication systems in the world, according to the SSA. Headquartered in Falls Church, Virginia, across the country ODAR has:
  • 10 Regional Offices
  • 166 Hearing Offices (including 2 Satellite Offices)
  • 5 National Hearing Centers
  • 4 National Case Assistance Centers
With more than 1,500 administrative law judges (ALJ) across the country, and over 636,285 decisions at the hearing level are made each year. For more information about your local ODAR office, please click here and click on the area of the map at the bottom where you reside.

Help With SSA Benefits

The process for applying for benefits can be challenging, and you will not always get approved on the first try. Stephanie Merritt Driscoll can help you with appealing your decision, serving ODAR offices in Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties. Please contact us to today for a free consultation.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Social Security Education Toolkit

No one has any way of knowing what the future holds. With the blink of an eye one’s life can get flipped upside down. And as a result, the need for assistance can be great. Which is why the Social Security Administration (SSA) and all its many programs are of the utmost importance. When life throws you a curve ball, such as an injury or other misfortune, Americans can turn to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Without access to SSDI and SSI it would be nearly impossible for millions of Americans and their families to get by in life.

We all hear lot of talk about Social Security. It is a hot button topic among politicians on both sides of the aisle. There are a number of things said about SSA programs, and the organization as whole, that are not based in reality. So, it is important that Americans apprise themselves about Social Security, so they can make informed decisions about their future.

While the SSA offers several social welfare programs for life’s unexpected events, the meat of the organization deals with retirement. At the age of 66 Americans (born between 1943-1954) can collect full retirement from the SSA. However, individuals can start collecting at the age of 62, but only at 75 percent. The money that Americans receive from the administration is not a gift for being old, we all pay into Social Security over the course of our working career.

Understanding Social Security

Naturally, there are many facets to the organization and understanding the minutiae of the various programs can be difficult. But a failure to grasp Social Security could mean missteps regarding planning for your future and your retirement. Which is why the Social Security Administration launched a new website and created a toolkit to assist educators and advocates in teaching students about Social Security.

As with anything in life, understanding something better comes by grasping why something was created in the first place. The SSA would like students to learn the history of Social Security and why it is so vital, so that they can make informed decisions when planning for the future. The toolkit includes:
  • 2 Lesson Plans with Objectives
  • Infographics and handouts for each lesson plan.
  • Links to web pages and other resources with additional information and resources.
  • Talking Points
  • Quiz Questions and Answers

Help With SSA Benefits

If you have been injured or have a medical condition that prevents you from working, you are eligible to apply for SSDI and/or SSI. The process, however, can be difficult and complicated. Stephanie Merritt Driscoll can help you with the application process or if you have been denied benefits. Please contact us to today.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Cutting Funding for SSDI and SSI

What is Right should transcend any and all political affiliations, where you come from should not preclude your access to opportunities afforded to others. Americans who were born with a disability or developed one due to a medical syndrome or by way of injury, should be able to rely on assistance from both Federal and state governments. Without the aid of social welfare programs, people would not be able to get by in life, with any semblance of financial security.

Following this line of thinking, as practicing attorneys, our loyalties can only reside with equality before law. Personal or political beliefs listing one direction or another, should not influence our ability to give people the best defense possible. And speaking out when people are clearly being left behind, disenfranchised or forgotten should be considered a duty.

In the field of Social Security law, undercutting funding (or attempts to) for disability benefits is something we see far too often. Keeping in mind that nearly 10 million Americans rely on such subsidies, even a slight decrease in funding allotted for SSA programs come as huge personal costs to all those concerned. So when, last week, White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney presented the administration's 2018 budget and it was revealed what programs like Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) could expect in funding in the coming years—cause for concern would be an understatement.

Serious Cuts to SSDI and SSI Funding

Director Mulvaney announced a proposed cut in funding for SSDI and SSI by $72 billion over the next ten years, CBS News reports. It gets worse, the promised slice in funding is part of a $1.74 trillion cut in social welfare funding by the current administration. If proposals come to fruition it could mean a significant number of beneficiaries being expelled from SSA programs they rely on to get by monthly.

"Where are the morals of the people going after people dealing with Stage 4 cancer?" said Heather Block, a 54-year-old former international aid worker from Lewes, Delaware who has been on disability for five years after her cancer spread to her liver and lungs. "The people I know, like me, with advanced cancer — we've wanted to be in the workplace, but we don't have that ability now, so this is our income." 

The Arc, a non-profit advocacy group for people living with disabilities estimates that about 946,000 SSDI people could be booted from SSDI, or barred from eligibility, according to the article. The organization estimates that 2.1 million people could lose out on SSI.

"All evidence is that the agency [SSA] is making every effort to make accurate decisions and to make sure people get the right benefits at the right time," said TJ Sutcliffe, the Arc’s director of income and housing policy. He added, "Cutting people's basic living standards and ability to get by after experiencing the onset of a disability is not a way to help to get people to work."

Concerns Over SSDI Fraud

Even though Carolyn Colvin, the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration in 2014, testified that that disability fraud was below 1 percent, there is an unfounded belief in the current administration that fraud is a serious problem, the article reports. And that pushing individuals back into the labor force could save the government billions of dollars. Additionally, to disability insurance lawyers and experts, the presentation given by Director Mulvaney revealed a fundamental misunderstanding of SSDI.

Please take a moment to watch a short video on the subject:
If you are having trouble viewing the video, you can see it here.

At Driscoll Law Corporation, we are hopeful that the administration will rethink the proposed cuts in funding to programs that help people who are, arguably, the most in need of assistance. We will continue to follow any updates about this subject. If you are need help with the process of applying and qualifying for disability benefits, please contact us today.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Garnishing Social Security for Student Loans

social security
Social Security is dear to us at the Driscoll Law Corporation. Our main focus is on Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), two programs which fall under the umbrella of the Social Security Administration (SSA). Such programs help both individuals and families stay above water despite being unable to work. But it is important to remember that the SSA is charged with ensuring that Americans have extra income to fall back on when they retire. Something that many Americans are not fully benefiting from due to student loan defaults.

Loans for education are normally associated with young adults in their early twenties, but believe it or not, more and more older Americans are racked with student loan debt. If such people were unable to pay off such debt, a 1996 change in the law allowed earned benefits from Social Security to be garnished. Given that Americans are notoriously bad at saving for retirement, the loss of SSA benefits could mean people might have to live in abject poverty upon retirement.

The Protection of Social Security Benefits Restoration Act

There is a good chance that when reading the above words, you rolled your eyes, or found yourself with an unsettling feeling. Rightly so, people in their 60’s and 70’s who have earned the right to retire are put in a position that could mean having to continue to work. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report which found that the number of seniors whose Social Security checks have been garnished because of student loan defaults has grown by 380% between 2002 (36,000 beneficiaries) and 2015 (173,000 beneficiaries).

Approximately 870,000 seniors, aged 65 and older, holding student debt currently have watched their total debt grow by a factor of 10 over a ten-year period, The Motley Fool reports. From $2 billion to $22 billion. The report showed that seniors who've fallen below the poverty line due to defaulting on their student loans and subsequent garnishments rose from 8,300 in 2004 to 67,300 in 2015.

Senators Ron Wyden (D-Or.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) introduced the Protection of Social Security Benefits Restoration Act which would prohibit the federal government from garnishing Social Security retirement and disability benefits to cover a beneficiary's defaulted student loans, according to the article. The bill has many co-sponsors, including Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Sen. Ron Wyden said:

"Americans shouldn't see their Social Security checks ripped away because of the increasing burden of student loan debt. People who have worked hard and paid into the program count on these benefits just to survive -- there ought to be basic protections to defend struggling Americans from having their earned Social Security benefits cut by the federal government."

SSA Help

If you, or a loved one could use help with SSA benefits, please contact Stephanie Merritt Driscoll. If you can’t work, have been denied SSA benefits, or are applying for the first time—as a Social Security disability advocate, Attorney Driscoll can help.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

SSA Plain Writing Compliance Report

Plain Writing Act
“The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.” — Thomas Jefferson 

If you are in need of assistance from one of the various Social Security Administration (SSA) programs, such as Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the first place you might turn to for information is likely to be the Internet. The SSA website is meant to be guide to help access certain benefits that can make or break one’s ability to keep a roof over your head or food on the table. While that course of action is simple in theory, for years countless people have found the process of applying for social assistance programs utterly confusing, which can hinder some from accessing the help they desperately need.

Naturally, pleading one’s case for SSDI or SSI is a process that takes some time, there are number of requirements that one must fulfill in order to gain access to the benefits they need. How clearly the steps that need to be taken are explained by the SSA can make all the difference. Your average person is probably not familiar with the language employed by most government agencies, let alone one so vital as the Social Security Administration.

The Plain Writing Act of 2010

In an effort to help the average citizen navigate the waters for of any government agency, including social welfare, the Plain Writing Act of 2010 was signed into law. “An act to enhance citizen access to Government information and services by establishing that Government documents issued to the public must be written clearly, and for other purposes.”

Government agencies thus, under the law were required to essentially rewrite, shorten or remove esoteric jargon that might confuse your average American. And in it stead, provide clear and concise information. Information that “the public can understand and use."

SSA benefits are vital to millions of Americans, a number that continues to grow with each year that passes. The agency understands and is committed to improving the readability of its websites, notices, PDFs, and public-facing documents.

2016 Plain Writing Compliance Report

The process of trimming all writing, across multiple platforms is no easy task, requiring thousands of man-hours and the assistance of information technologies. Recently, the SSA released a report highlighting the progress the agency has made and what they will work on moving forward. Notably:
  • Training employees on Plain Writing, business writing and grammar, and effective writing techniques.
  • Completing a one-year pilot of the Acrolinx editing tool, and purchased licenses for FY 2017;
  • Earning a “B+” for the Writing and Information Design grade on the Federal Plain Language Report Card.
“Our 2016 Plain Writing Compliance Report documents this year’s agency-wide compliance activities and accomplishments. One significant action was to pilot the Acrolinx software. Nearly 500 employees took part in this pilot. Acrolinx has become a valuable tool in our efforts to promote Plain Writing and uniformity when complying with the Act throughout the agency.”

Need Help With the SSA

Qualifying for disability benefits can be trying, leading to unneeded stress. If you, or a loved one could use help, please contact Stephanie Merritt Driscoll. If you can’t work, have been denied SSA benefits, or are applying for the first time—as a Social Security disability advocate, Attorney Driscoll can help.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

National Social Security Month

“No greater tragedy exists in modern civilization than the aged, worn-out worker who after a life of ceaseless effort and useful productivity must look forward for his declining years to a poorhouse. A modern social consciousness demands a more humane and efficient arrangement."
—President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (February 28, 1929)

In 1935, President Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act. The aim was to help those in need of financial assistance, and over the decades the legislation has kept millions of Americans afloat—particularly older people and the disabled. Without the aid of programs, like Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), multitudes of people would needlessly suffer. Even those who are not struggling with a disability rely heavily on Social Security, benefits that people can begin to collect at 62-years of age.

Social Security is used in reference to the federal Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) program, according to the Social Security Administration (SSA). Whether you work for a company, or are self-employed, some of the taxes you pay every year go towards social security. Funds that can be drawn from later in life, when one’s ability to work or desire to work diminishes. While Social Security benefits can greatly help, it is important to keep in mind that such benefits only replace approximately 40 percent of pre-retirement earnings.

Now, 82-years since FDR made Social Security the law of the land, the Nation is being asked to observe the first National Social Security Month. Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security is asking Americans to takes steps to ensure their financial security, according to an agency press release. Throughout the month of April, the SSA will be providing advice for “developing a sound financial plan that includes Social Security as a foundation.”

On April 20, 2017—Social Security will participate in a Facebook Live Chat, hosted by, at 7:00 p.m. ET. At which time, you, the public, may ask questions about the “5 Steps Toward Financial Security.” Those steps include:
  • Get to know your Social Security
  • Verify your lifetime earnings with a my Social Security account
  • Estimate your future Social Security benefits at my Social Security
  • Apply online for retirement, disability, or Medicare benefits
  • Manage your Social Security benefits
If you would like to be involved, all you have to do is follow and Social Security on Facebook.

“With retirement, disability, and survivors benefits, Social Security helps secure today and tomorrow for millions of people throughout life’s journey,” Acting Commissioner Berryhill said. “By hosting National Social Security Month, we hope to help the public understand their Social Security protections and promote financial education.” 

At Driscoll Law, we are committed to helping you get the social security benefits you require. We would like to ask our readers to take some time this month to observe the first National Social Security Month, and have an active role in your financial security which we all rely heavily on in our golden years.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

SB-575: Patient Access to Health Records

People in California who would like to apply for social service benefits, such as Medi-Cal, to obtain financial assistance, must jump through several hoops and meet certain requirements. Unless you meet certain stipulations, individuals looking for coverage need to show that they do not make over a certain amount of money. For instance, the income limit is calculated as a percentage related to federal poverty guidelines. Right now, that limit is about $1,188 monthly for an individual and $1,603 for a couple. Such limits fluctuate regarding the number of dependents you have. Setting finances aside, you can also qualify for Medi-Cal if you are:
  • 65 or older
  • Blind
  • Disabled
With all that in mind, it is fairly safe to say that the majority of Californians applying for state benefit programs are at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale—impoverished or indigent. They are applying for such programs because they need help to get by in life, no easy task when you are unemployed or are living paycheck-to-paycheck.

When people apply for Medi-Cal they are required to provide medical records to support one’s claims of eligibility. If you have ever had to get copies of medical records, then you are probably aware that there are fees associated with acquiring them. Asking people to pay cash for the medical records to prove their eligibility, when they are already financially struggling to get by, is a burden that should be mitigated. Fortunately, lawmakers are working to do away with such fees.

As things stand right now throughout the state, medical providers are allowed to charge patients up to 25 cents a page for copies and 50 cents for medical records on microfilm, Southern California Public Radio reports. Additionally, clerical fees can also be added to those page costs. SB-575: Patient Access to Health Records, introduced by Senator Connie Leyva (D-Chino), would require medical providers to cover copy costs. The bill is not specific to just Medi-Cal, but all social services, including: Supplemental Security Income (SSI), State Supplemental Payment (SSP) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

"If you have several pages that you need it can be quite costly," said Leyva. "They [providers] can afford to absorb these costs. The poor people who are trying to receive their records cannot." 

Patient Access to Health Records, if passed, would also waive the medical record copy fees for people applying for:
  • In-Home Supportive Services
  • California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs)
  • CalFresh
As of April 3, 2017, SB-575 has passed the Senate Health committee and was referred back to the Senate Judiciary committee. 

If you have additional questions regarding the SSI and SSDI application processes, let our office help you through the lengthy and complicated process of applying and qualifying for these social security disability benefits. Call Driscoll Law Corporation at 949-359-1370 to receive your free consultation. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Return to Work Act Affects SSDI Benefits

New legislation is has been drafted and introduced in the Senate and House that could have a serious impact on beneficiaries of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). In what has been framed as an effort to help people with disabilities rejoin the workforce, the Return to Work Act requires that new beneficiaries be classified with regard to expectation of improvement, FRN reports. The bill, if passed, would make it more difficult for SSDI beneficiaries to maintain their monthly subsistence payments for several years or the remainder of one’s life.

 The legislation was introduced in the Senate by U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Mike Lee (R-UT), according to the article. In the House of Representatives, a similar bill was introduced by Rep. French Hill (R-AR). The Return to Work Act is still in its infancy, but from what has been stated thus far, new beneficiaries would be broken up into four groups, including:
  • Medical Improvement Expected
  • Medical Improvement Likely
  • Medical Improvement Possible
  • Medical Improvement Not Expected
“Social Security Disability Insurance is supposed to be a safety net for people with disabilities,” Sen. Marco Rubio. “However, rampant abuse, lax enforcement and insufficient accountability have enabled this program to grow unchecked and prevented many people from going back to work. The health of our national economy and strength of our communities depend on able-bodied Americans earning paychecks. This legislation represents a long overdue reform that takes care of working Americans and saves our social safety net for the truly disabled.”

In defense of their bill, the Senators cite research which showed that the number of SSDI beneficiaries rose from 1.4 million in 1970 to nearly 9 million today, according to the article. Furthermore, the cost of the program has risen from $20 billion to $137 billion during the same time period. Senator Cotton has stated that only one-half of one percent of SSDI recipients return to work and discontinue their coverage, but the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) data (current through 2016), indicate that last year 8.81 percent of SSDI recipients were removed from SSI rolls in 2016. That is 830,044 out of a total 8,808,736 beneficiaries.

If the bill is passed and new beneficiaries are broken up into subjective categories, it will work something like the following.
  • Improvement is Expected: SSDI benefits would automatically terminate after two years.
  • Improvement is Likely: SSDI benefits would terminate after five years.
  • Improvement Possible: no automatic cutoff.
  • Improvement Not Expected: no automatic cutoff.
All beneficiaries whose support is terminated will be allowed to reapply and show why they still need their benefits. In a completely unrelated effort, Rep. Joyce Beatty, an Ohio Democrat, introduced a bill with a similar moniker, the Return to Work Awareness Act of 2017, NPQ reports. If passed, the legislation would engage the U.S. Department of Labor in efforts to “assist survivors of stroke and such other debilitating health occurrences in returning to work.”

If you live in Southern California and are experiencing problems with an SSDI or SSI application, please contact Driscoll Law Corporation for a free consultation.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

ALS Disability Insurance Access Act of 2017

ALS Disability Insurance Access Act
Last summer we covered an important piece of legislation that would have had a life-saving implications for people diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). If passed, the ALS Disability Insurance Access Act would have put an end to the 5-month waiting period ALS patients had to endure before receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. The way it works, at the moment, ALS patients who meet the requirements for SSDI must wait five months before they can receive both SSDI and Medicare benefits. Unfortunately, the proposal was never completed, but please do not despair for all is not lost.

A group of lawmakers from both sides of the political landscape have voiced their support for a new bill that addresses the subject. The ALS Disability Insurance Access Act of 2017 was introduced in both houses of Congress, H.R.1171 and S.379 respectively, ALS News Today reports. The proposal has the full support of the ALS Association and if passed, would mean patients could immediately start receiving benefits.

“This legislation is especially important for people with ALS, for whom five months can mean the difference between life and death,” said Barbara Newhouse, president and CEO of the ALS Association, in a press release. “Nearly half of those living with ALS will die within 16 months of diagnosis, so it’s critical that they receive the benefits they deserve and have paid for as quickly as possible.”

The bill was introduced by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) introduced the bill in the Senate. In the House of Representatives, a companion bill was introduced by Representative Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) and Representative Peter King (R-N.Y.). What’s more, five California Democratic congressmen are co-sponsoring H.R. 1171 and Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) is co-sponsoring the Senate bill.

“Given the prognosis for those diagnosed with ALS, it defies common sense and decency to require these same individuals to wait for benefits they have paid for and most importantly deserve,” Rep. King said. “I am proud to stand with the ALS community in support of this bipartisan bill.”

At Driscoll Law Corporation we would like to express our full support for the ALS Disability Insurance Access Act of 2017. With any life threatening, incurable disorder, everything that can be done to ensure the best quality of life for ALS patients, should be done. We will continue to follow the progress of this vital legislation.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Taxing Social Security Benefits

With April around the corner, millions of Americans are gearing up for tax season. For some people this is a dreaded time, while others are elated as they eagerly await an expected tax refund. For those who receive government benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA), Social Security and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), this can be a time of confusion.

While SSA benefits are generally believed to be tax-free, there are some exceptions that many SSA-reliant Americans should be made aware. For instance, if you receive income for retirement, you might owe the Internal Revenue Service taxes on up to 85% of your SSA benefits, WKYC report. Your filing status (i.e. single or married) can also have an impact on how much of your social security benefits may be taxable. It can be a little tricky to figure out how much one owes in expected taxes in the year’s fiscal-quarters, but there is assistance.

If you make under $64,000 a year, you can simply e-file your return and the software will do the math for you regarding the taxable component of your benefits, according to the article. However, if you make over the aforementioned annual income, you will be expected to pay taxes on your Social Security benefits, so having an idea of how much to pay for your expected taxes is important. No one wants to pay more than they must, especially over the course of the year when that money might be greatly appreciated. Fortunately, there is a way to help determine how much you owe ahead of time.

Those receiving Social Security or SSDI income receive a Form SSA-1099 from the government. While the form lets you know the total amount of your benefits, it does not enlighten you about which of your benefits (if any) are taxable or at what percentage they are taxed. If you do not have an accountant, there are some ways for you to figure it all out.

Form SSA-1099 includes Notice 703, which can help guide you through the process. First, the helpful tool assists you summing up various income sources: SSA/SSDI benefit components, taxable income and Tax-Exempt Interest / Exclusions. From that total, deductions from your 1040 form are subtracted, according to the article. If the sum you derive is higher than the base value for your filing status, some of your benefits may be taxable.

If you still have questions about whether your social security benefits are taxable, see IRS Pub. 915 or your 2016 federal income tax return instructions, or visit and enter “social security income” in the search box. Reaching out to a qualified tax professional to help you determine your taxable benefits is advisable.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Hiring Freeze Impacts Disabled Americans

A couple months ago we wrote about the long waits that Americans are subjected to when applying for Social Security Administration (SSA) benefits. In San Diego, California, alone, people applying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits have to wait 18 months on average to have their case heard by an administrative law judge. This is a process that could be drastically shortened by having more judges hearing such cases. San Diego only has 11 judges currently hearing cases.

As time passes, people's physical and financial conditions worsen to untenable points. The SSA’s mission is to help keep people who are unable to work, above water. A mission that is hindered by a serious lack of funding in recent years.

As we pointed out in December, there are roughly 1,500 judges nationwide hearing SSA cases, and 1.1 million Americans awaiting disability hearings according to SSA data. You might think that the aforementioned data would lead lawmakers to take action to increase funding for the agency, in turn leading to the hiring of more judges. Yet, since the data was released the opposite has occurred.

One of President Trump's first executive actions imposed a federal civilian employee hiring freeze, Bloomberg reports. It was an action that could actually result in disabled people having to wait longer to have their cases heard.

“These are people who are desperate,” Judge Marilyn Zahm, president of the Association of Administrative Law Judges union, said. “There may be a hiring freeze on federal employment, but there’s no freeze on people getting older, people getting sicker, people having injuries and accidents, and people needing disability insurance.” 

Several judges have been working overtime every day without compensation in an attempt to close-in on the backlog, Zahm points out. She says that some cases require judges to look over 1,000 pages of medical records and experts’ assessments.

 “This is not a job where you should be doing slapdash work,” said Zahm. “People’s lives, livelihoods, are at stake.”

If you live in Southern California and are experiencing problems with an SSDI or SSI application, please contact Driscoll Law Corporation for a free consultation. 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

ABLE Act Programs Grow

Last summer, we wrote about the ABLE Act; a promising piece of legislation for Americans living with disabilities. The ABLE Act of 2014 allows people living with disability and their families to set up a tax-free savings plan, modeled after 529 plans which allow parents to set up tax-free savings accounts to use later to offset the heavy cost of college.

Two years after the ABLE Act’s passing, three states had either launched or were preparing to launch a version of the program, including Nebraska, Tennessee and Ohio. In a short period of time another seven states have adopted similar programs which could dramatically improve the lives of people with disabilities.

Before the ABLE Act, people living with a disability who saved as much a $2,000 a year could be rendered ineligible for Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, Money reports. Now, those same people can save up to $14,000 a year before it would affect their eligibility for the aforementioned benefits. A game changer, to say the least. States with ABLE Act programs now include:
  • Alaska ABLE Plan
  • Florida ABLE United
  • STABLE Kentucky
  • Michigan’s MiABLE
  • Nebraska Enable Savings Plan
  • Ohio STABLE Accounts
  • Oregon ABLE Savings Plan
  • Rhode Island’s RI’s ABLE
  • Tennessee’s ABLE TN
  • Virginia's ABLEnow
The funds that go into ABLE accounts will not count against the $2,000 asset limit for Medicaid, SSI or SSDI, according to the article. If you are living with disability in California, you may have looked at the above list with some concern, having not seen the state listed. California’s version of the program CalABLE began operations July 1, 2016 and is anticipated to open for business summer 2017, according to the Office of the State Treasury.

If you or a family member requires more information and/or assistance in filing for SSI and/or SSDI, please call Driscoll Law Corporation 949-359-1370 for a free consultation.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Garnishing Social Security Benefits

student loans
If you are one of the millions of Americans who has attended college in last couple decades, then there is a good chance you are in debt. The price of higher learning in the United States has gone, and is likely to continue to go, in one direction—up. College Board figures indicate that the average level of tuition and fees at a four-year public college rose by 87 percent (in 2014 dollars) between 2000 and 2013.

While the rising price of tuition should be in line with the amount of money graduates can expect to earn upon entering the workforce, the reality is far from the case. Meaning, there will continue to be a large percentage of people who will not be able to pay their student loans. As a result, parents often consign for their children’s student loans—at seemingly great risk.

In order to ensure that older Americans pay back what they owe, the Federal government has garnished the benefits of over a hundred-thousand people ages 50 and older in the past year, The Washington Post reports. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that more than half of them were receiving Social Security disability benefits, such as SSDI or SSI.

The government is garnishing money from people who are already living below, or on the edge of the poverty line, to pay what is owed for Federal student loans, according to the article. No more than 15 percent of one’s monthly Social Security benefits can be garnished, but it is a percentage that has never been adjusted in respect to the rising cost of living; this effectively makes impoverished people even poorer.

“We can’t be garnishing people’s Social Security in a way that puts them into poverty,” said Senator Claire McCaskill (Mo.). “We need to make sure that we have adjusted the ability of the government to recover those loan amounts in a way that is not spiraling people into poverty.” 

Data for the Social Security Administration (SSA) indicates that there are as many as 179,000 permanently disabled people in default on their student loans, according to the article. In response to what many consider to be predatory behavior, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren co-sponsored a bill last year that would prohibit the garnishing of SSA benefits for student loans (currently held-up in committee).

“Our government is shoving tens of thousands of seniors and people with disabilities into poverty through garnishment every year — and charging them $15 every month for the privilege — just so that the Department of Education can collect a little bit more interest and keep boosting the government’s student loan profits,” Warren said. “This is predatory and counterproductive.”

If you have questions about an SSA garnishment resulting from your or your child's student loan, please contact Driscoll Law Corporation.