Tuesday, November 27, 2018

SSA Announces Benefit Increase

Mirabile dictu, the Social Security Administration announces a 2.8 percent benefit increase for 2019! Last month SSA revealed some welcome news for Americans receiving Social Security or Supplemental Security Income benefits. So, let’s unpack what this means for the more than 67 million such people in the coming year.

On December 31, 2018, more than 8 million Americans collecting SSI will see an increase in their monthly payments, according to an SSA press release. On January 1st, over 62 million Social Security beneficiaries will see their increase go into effect. Along with the 2.8 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA), the maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax (taxable maximum) will rise to $132,900 from $128,400. The COLA adjustment is based on the increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI-W) from the third quarter of 2017 through the third quarter of 2018 

While a 2.8 percent increase may not seem like much, the rise in the maximum taxable earnings will significantly affect individuals whose earnings in previous years were on the cusp of the threshold. It is worth keeping in mind that one dollar in benefits is withheld from a beneficiary for every $2 in earnings above the limit.

2019 Social Security Changes

The COLA adjustment will impact people receiving benefits in different ways, especially those who are on Medicare. The SSA points out that is impossible to calculate the new benefit for those who receive Social Security or SSI and Medicare until premium amounts for 2019 are announced sometime next year.

Please take a moment to watch a short video about the increase:

If you are having trouble watching, please click here.

Please click here to gain a better understanding of how COLA is calculated or click here for a breakdown on the Social Security changes coming in 2019. Information about Medicare changes for 2019 can be found here, when available.

SSI and SSDI Attorney

If your application for Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability Insurance was denied, please contact The Driscoll Law Corporation. Serving Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Orange, Riverside, and San Diego County, attorney Driscoll can provide you with strong representation to help achieve a successful claim. We can also help people, who are applying for the first time, navigate the process.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

CDI Units Combat Disability Fraud

disability benefits
The job of Cooperative Disability Investigations (CDI) Units is to identify, investigate, and prevent Social Security disability fraud. CDIs play an essential role in maintaining the integrity of Federal disability programs. The Social Security Administration (SSA) and its Office of the Inspector General (OIG) efforts to combat fraud were strengthened recently following the opening of three new CDI units in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Honolulu, Hawaii; and Indianapolis, Indiana.

There are now 43 units covering 37 states; the three new openings put the SSA on track to provide CDI coverage for all 50 states by 2022, per the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 mandate. Analyzing and investigating questionable Social Security disability claims and nipping fraud in the bud before benefits are ever paid out is an enormous task. The job of CDI Units is to oversee personnel from Social Security, OIG, State Disability Determination Services (DDS), and local law enforcement agencies, as they work toward the goals listed above.
Source: OIG

When a DDS or SSA identifies a suspicious application for benefits, it is forwarded to the appropriate CDI Unit for investigation. Once completed, the CDI unit sends a report detailing the investigation to the DDS, where eligibility decided. Common types of disability fraud, according to the SSA’s OIG, include:
  • Malingering
  • Filing multiple applications.
  • Concealing work or other activities.
  • Exaggerating or lying about disabilities.

Combating Fraud

“Social Security is committed to combating fraud and preserving the public’s trust in our programs,” said Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security. “As we open the three new CDI units, let us remember the important work they do. The CDI program plays a critical role in detecting and preventing fraud, helping to ensure benefits are paid only to the people who are eligible. This collaboration between Social Security, the OIG, and local law enforcement helps save taxpayer money and ensures the integrity of our programs.”

The SSA and its OIG implemented the DCI program in 1997, according to the administration. Since that time, the units brought about $3.9 billion in projected savings to Social Security’s programs. 

Reporting fraud is easy, safe, and secure by internet, phone, mail, or facsimile.

SSI and SSDI Attorney

If the SSA denies your application for disability benefits, please contact the Driscoll Law Corporation. Attorney Driscoll can help you take the next step toward acquiring the benefits you require. Call us directly at 949-359-1370 to receive your free consultation.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Administrative Offset Affects SSDI

At the Driscoll Law Corporation, we specialize in Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). We work hard to keep our clients, and potential clients, informed of anything that could impact their benefits or factors that could jeopardize access to vital resources. Most American adults have a cursory understanding of what it means to have funds garnished. The legal definition:

To garnish is to obtain a court order directing a party holding funds (such as a bank) or about to pay wages (such as an employer) to an alleged debtor to set that money aside until the court determines (decides) how much the debtor owes to the creditor. 

While many people have an understanding of garnished wages as it pertains to collecting late child support and alimony payments, there are in fact several other instances when funds are garnished. Some cases, involve what is known as an "administrative offset;" it is when the Department of Treasury through the Treasury Offset Program (TOP) or the Federal Tax Refund Offset Program, withhold a person’s funds or benefits to pay off debt.

Receiving An Administrative Offset Notice

administrative offset noticeAmericans with defaulted federal student loans, delinquent taxes, and back child support payments can be subject to Administrative Offset, KSDK reports. There is a relatively long list of income streams that are exempt from the Treasury Offset Program or Federal Tax Refund Offset Program, including Supplemental Security Income. However, those collecting Social Security Disability Insurance are not protected from Administrative Offset. Why the disparity? Because SSI is based on a person’s financial need, whereas SSDI is based on peoples’ work record.

Individuals who receive an offset notice have sixty days from the date of the notice (not when it's received) to object to the action, according to the article. If one’s defensive measures do not prove fruitful, be advised that offsets are limited to an amount that is no greater than 15% of your total benefits.

Anyone who receives an Administrative Offset Notice must act quickly to plead their case, especially if the notice is in error. Those who do in fact owe money, have the option to pay it off within the sixty-days, request a hardship reduction, or negotiate a payment plan.

California SSI and SSDI Attorney

Stephanie M. Driscoll is a Social Security disability attorney practicing in Southern California. Attorney Driscoll can help you work through the often-complicated process of applying for disability benefits. Please contact us today to learn more about how the Driscoll Law Corporation can help advocate for you or a loved one.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

ABLE to Save Month

ABLE account
The Achieving a Better Life Experience Act, known as ABLE, was passed in 2014 in an effort to help people living with disabilities save money. Those who open ABLE Accounts can save up to a $100,000 without the risk of losing benefits like Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

While states that adopt ABLE account options for people with disabilities is a huge step toward helping people gain economic independence, the law only applies to individuals under the age of 26. Hopefully, the age restriction will change in the near future to include a more extensive age range. With that in mind, it's worth pointing out that this year is the 28th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

Senators Richard Burr and Bob Casey, the co-authors of the ABLE Act, writing for CNN point out that one of the four goals of the ADA is to establish economic self-sufficiency for people living with disabilities. ABLE account expansion is one way to achieve such a purpose.

August is ABLE to Save Month

The ABLE National Resource Center (ANRC) is using the month of August to promote their #ABLEtoSave campaign. During this time the center hopes to both raise awareness about ABLE accounts and encourage people across the country to sign up for them as a way toward greater independence.

“ABLE accounts are a down payment on freedom for millions of individuals with disabilities and their families,” said Christopher J. Rodriguez, Director of the ABLE National Resource Center. “Yet, public knowledge of ABLE accounts is somewhat lacking and enrollment in ABLE programs still has significant room for growth.” He adds, “The goal of the #ABLEtoSave campaign is to significantly boost public knowledge about ABLE accounts and ultimately increase the amount of ABLE accounts opened across all ABLE programs.”

If you would like more information on opening an ABLE Account or would like to participate in helping to promote the #ABLEtoSave campaign, please click here. As of August 6, 2018, more than 20,000 individuals with disabilities from across the country have opened ABLE accounts, according to the ANRC.

At the end of the month, individuals who have an ABLE account will receive guidance on taking steps to even greater financial security. The ANRC will unveil a plan designed to help people with disabilities:
  • Set Financial Goals
  • Create a Circle of Support
  • Make Smart Financial Decisions
  • Monitor Their Account
Please take a moment to watch a short video:

If you are having trouble watching, please click here.

SSI and SSDI Benefits Assistance

If the Social Security Administration (SSA) denied your application for SSI and SSDI, The Driscoll Law Corporation could be of assistance. We can help anyone who is applying for the first time as well; please contact us to learn more about how the Driscoll Law Corporation can help you or a loved one.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Reinstating Social Security Benefits After Incarceration

People who are required to serve a month or more in jail or prison may find it upsetting to learn that they will no longer receive Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability Insurance benefits. The Social Security Administration states:

We cannot pay benefits to someone who, by court order, is confined in an institution at public expense in connection with a criminal case.

When individuals are wards of the state, it is difficult to make the argument that they are still eligible for SSA support. Those subject to incarceration have everything—medical, food, and shelter—taken care of already. While a loss of benefits isn’t a welcome reality for those serving time, the good news is that in most cases payments will begin again upon release provided however that the length of stay is less than 12-months.

It stands to reason that people receiving disability checks before jail will often require the same assistance after serving time. With that in mind, the administration provides several resources online to help steer such individuals in the right direction after release.

Reinstating Social Security Benefits

The SSA points out people who serve more than a year in a public institution must file a new application and be reapproved for SSI or SSDI. There are mechanisms in place to prepare people for release regarding reinstating benefits. Many prisons have a prerelease agreement with the Social Security Administration, allowing inmates to get the ball rolling 90 days before the scheduled release date. If everything goes ideally, upon release benefits will recommence. If you would like more information on statewide prerelease agreements, please click here.

People who are not serving a sentence in non-prerelease agreement facility should call 1-800-772-1213 Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. to schedule an appointment to apply for benefits.

It is worth noting that some inmates are required to enter sober living homes or halfway houses upon release, which are often under the control of the Department of Corrections. As a result, residents of such programs are not eligible for benefits; because, they are still under the supervision and custody of the state.

The amount of time it takes to restore benefits varies from case to case, here are three things people should know:
  • If Social Security benefits were only suspended, benefits could begin anew with minimal delay.
  • If benefits were terminated, benefits could take a few months to resume; hence the need for preapproval agreements that mitigate the risk of coverage lapses.
  • If SSI benefits were terminated, a new application and disability determination are required, and a decision could take from three to five months.

SSI and SSDI Benefits Assistance

Applying for benefits under any circumstances can lead to complications, reinstating SSI and SSDI isn’t any different. If you are struggling to reacquire support from Social Security, The Driscoll Law Corporation could be of assistance. Please contact us at your earliest convenience to learn more.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Social Security Scams Persist

In Alabama, hundreds of people collecting Social Security benefits are dealing with scammers, WHNT reports. Fraudsters are working hard to mine personal information from beneficiaries in an attempt to cash in on victim's benefits. The trend isn’t unique to individuals living in Alabama, in fact; in early June the Social Security Administration released a warning about impersonators using phone calls, emails, and other methods to obtain people’s personal information.

Given the importance of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits in people’s lives, it is crucial that beneficiaries do everything in their power to protect the personal information. Phishers typically use the phone as a means of harvesting Social Security Numbers, addresses, and dates of birth from unsuspecting persons.

 If you are receiving suspicious phone calls from people claiming to work for the administration, you should take action immediately to protect your account.

SSA Impersonation Schemes

Andrew Cannarsa, OIG Communications Director, writes that citizens should report suspicious activity to the OIG at 1-800-269-0271 or online via https://oig.ssa.gov/report. While the SSA may contact beneficiaries in certain situations, there are questions that such representatives would never ask; never provide SSN or bank account numbers to unknown persons over the phone or internet unless you are confident of to whom you are speaking. It is always better to err on the side of caution than risk losing access to your benefits.

“Be aware of suspicious calls from unknown sources, and when in doubt, contact the official entity to verify the legitimacy of the call,” said Acting Inspector General of Social Security, Gale Stallworth Stone. 

In some circumstances, beneficiaries will answer the phone to hear an automated recording stating that their Social Security number (SSN) “has been suspended for suspicion of illegal activity.” The recording tells the listener to call a number to resolve the issue, or their assets will be frozen. This is a scam!

Contact your local Social Security office or call Social Security’s toll-free customer service number at 1-800-772-1213, to verify the legitimacy of any email, letter, text or phone call—claiming to be from SSA or the OIG.

SSDI and SSI Attorney

Navigating the process of applying for Social Security benefits can be complicated and confusing; it is always sound to have a legal expert in your corner. If your application for SSI or SSDI was denied, please contact Attorney Driscoll for guidance.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

SSI Electronic Wage Reporting

Last month, the Social Security Administration (SSA) gave beneficiaries the capability to exercise greater control over their time. Applying for and maintaining access to vital SSA benefit programs is a time-consuming process that can place enormous burdens on a person's life. Getting all of your ducks in order to ensure that you continue to receive financial support can be onerous, and it may involve several trips to SSA field offices; travel expenses can add up quickly and the administration has sought to address the problem.

People who work and rely on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits are required to report their gross wages to Social Security. The agency asks that SSI beneficiaries consistently report wages during the first six days of the month to avoid overpayments and underpayments. Naturally, you can report wages by visiting, calling, or writing your local Social Security Office. All three of the above options can be time-consuming.

The SSA now offers a fourth option, using the my Social Security online portal, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients and deemors, concurrent beneficiaries, and representative payees can report wages electronically.

SSI Electronic Wage Reporting

Electronic wage reporting is a feature that Social Security Disability Insurance recipients already had, it makes sense that SSI beneficiaries have the option too, considering that people are often eligible and rely on both SSDI and SSI. The SSA writes:

“This new application makes it possible to avoid visits to a field office to report wages in person. However, users must still contact an office to report when they first start working for each new employer. It’s also important to note that representative payees are able to report wages, but won’t have access to beneficiaries’ or recipient’s other information. When you sign up for or log in to your my Social Security account, you’ll have access to this convenient application on your desktop, laptop, and mobile device. After you report your wages online, you can save or print a copy of your receipt.”

SSDI and SSI Attorney

The Driscoll Law Corporation can help anyone who has had their SSI or SSDI application denied or who are applying for benefits for the first time. The process can be challenging to understand, and it helps to have an advocate in your corner. Please contact our office today!

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Laws Address Disability Discrimination

The Washington State Legislature passed seven new laws to address homelessness and affordable housing, Crosscut. reports. While all seven pieces of legislation are worth taking stock, two of the bills can significantly help people with disabilities; they could prevent permanently disabled citizens from finding themselves homeless.

Washington passed a new ban on source-of-income discrimination, according to the article. It is now illegal to deny a current, or a prospective, tenant housing due to said renter's reliance on Social Security and veterans benefits rental assistance, and Section 8 housing vouchers.

“That kind of discrimination has a disparate impact on people we know are already at a higher risk of housing discrimination — people of color, people with disabilities, single parent-headed households,” says Michele Thomas, Washington Low Income Housing Alliance’s director of policy and advocacy. “If someone goes out with a voucher and a landlord says, ‘I don’t want to rent to you’ because of stereotypes they have in their head, not only is it extremely unfair, it just makes our ability to use the for-profit rental market really inefficient.”

Two Bills for People Living With Disabilities

Previously, the state’s Housing and Essential Needs (HEN) program gave rental assistance only to people with temporary disabilities, according to the article. If a person’s temporarily disabled status were upgraded to permanent, the recipient would lose their rental assistance. Now, a new bill, House Bill 2667 - 2017-18, expands HEN to include people with permanent disabilities, protecting such people from homelessness.

Thanks to another new bill, people with disabilities will have an easier time getting their hands on medical records when applying for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). If an SSI or SSDI applicant wants to apply for benefits or appeal a denial, they must obtain a copy of medical records that prove their disability. Washington House Bill 1239 - 2017-18, waves a $26 fee for obtaining medical records; a cost that some low-income individuals could not cover.

“If we continue to make this level of progress in next session and the one after that, that’s how Washington is going to back out of our crisis and make sure everyone has a chance to live in safe and affordable homes,” says Thomas, who hopes that the passing of new laws is just the beginning of the effort to end the crisis.

SSDI and SSI Attorney

Finding affordable housing can be difficult in every state and it will be interesting to follow this story line to see if other states consider such legislation. If the SSA denied your application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or you are applying for benefits for the first time, The Driscoll Law Corporation can help. Attorney Stephanie Merritt Driscoll can help you or a loved one appeal the SSA’s decision and get the benefits you require. Please contact our office today.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Phishing Warning from SSA Inspector General

SSA Benefits
If you are one of the more than 60 million Americans receiving benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA), there is a good chance that every penny matters. Those collecting Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or any one of the programs offered by the SSA, often struggle to cover their expenses each month even with assistance. Many of the people collecting benefits are some of America’s most vulnerable; unfortunately, this fact has not been lost on fraudsters and individuals who would usurp the identity of another.

Interestingly, the SSA says that signing up for a ‘my Social Security’ account on the organization's website could actually protect people from identity theft. The Inspector General for the Social Security Administration warns that criminals use phone calls, emails, and other methods to obtain people’s personal information; identity thieves use the information to attempt to open a ‘my Social Security’ account and then redirect a beneficiaries direct deposit benefits to a bank account they can access.

“If you receive information from SSA indicating that you have opened a ‘my Social Security’ account, and you did not open an account, you should contact Social Security so that appropriate action may be taken, and the matter may be referred to the Office of the Inspector General. You can do so by visiting or calling a local SSA office or calling SSA’s toll-free customer service at 1-800-772-1213. Deaf or hearing-impaired individuals can call Social Security’s TTY number at 1-800-325-0778.”

Internet Phishing Alert

One of the primary methods of obtaining people’s info is through a practice known as “phishing.” Fraudsters send emails meant to coax recipients into revealing sensitive information by clicking on a malicious link or opening a malicious attachment. The SSA offers valuable tips for protecting yourself against identity theft phishing, including:
  • Most emails from Social Security will come from a “.gov" email address. If an email address does not end in “.gov,” use caution before opening attachments or clicking on pictures or links in the email.
  • Good: https://www.ssa.gov/ Bad: https://www.socialsecurity.gov.gmx.de/ and https://www.socialsecurity.gov.bx.co.rx/setup
  • Do not respond to emails requesting personal information. Reputable businesses and public agencies will not ask you for personal information in an email.
  • For more information about "phishing," go to OnGuard Online.

The Inspector General recommends that you never provide your personal information when receiving unsolicited calls or contacts; never agree to accept pre-paid debit cards or credit cards in another person’s name; Never agree to send or wire money to an unknown person; and, always contact your local SSA office if you receive a call from a person claiming to be from SSA, and that person asks you to provide your Social Security number or other information.

If you find that someone has stolen or is using your personal information to open credit accounts or for other non-SSA-related purposes, you should report that to the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov/idtheft or 1-877-ID-THEFT.

SSDI and SSI Attorney

If the SSA denied your application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or you are applying for benefits for the first time, The Driscoll Law Corporation can help. Attorney Stephanie Merritt Driscoll can help you or a loved one appeal the SSA’s decision and get the benefits you require. Please contact our office today.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

VA Compensation and Social Security Benefits

Social Security disability benefits
In the wake of September 11, 2001, the United States launched an offensive in Afghanistan on October 7, 2001; as most of you are likely aware, there are still over 10,000 American servicemen and women in that country. Then on March 20, 2003, another campaign began in Iraq and continued officially until Sunday, December 18, 2011.

Both conflicts can are (were) protracted and unorthodox, especially when you consider that majority of injuries sustained by troops (both mental and physical) occurred after the initial assaults in the region. Improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, are a part of the American lexicon after more than seventeen years of combat; roadside bombs are responsible for a significant number of veterans’ disabilities.

In 2016, 675,000 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had been granted disability, according to PBS. A disability status can arise from both physical and mental injury, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The condition occurs in about 11-20% of Veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Upon discharge from the military, many veterans are unable to hold down steady employment due to the scars, visible or not, of service. Such individuals are in most cases eligible for benefits programs through Veterans Affairs and the Social Security Administration. However, qualifying for support from one agency does not guarantee the same treatment from the other.

VA and Social Security Programs

Service men and women who sustain injuries will want to have as much support as possible. Many  such people have families to think about, spouses and children who rely on them in life. Those in need of assistance should be made aware that the SSA’s programs, processes, and criteria for receiving benefits differ from that of the VA. The administration points out on its website that just because a veteran has a VA compensation rating of 100% permanent and total (P&T), does not guarantee they will receive Social Security disability benefits.

Although, while there are not guarantees of benefits, the SSA does allow for expedited processing for applications from veterans. Veterans who require assistance from Social Security must meet certain criteria, including:
  • You must be unable to do substantial work because of your medical condition(s).
  • Your medical condition(s) must have lasted, or be expected to last, at least one year or to result in death.
In most cases, the administration will identify veterans with VA compensation rating of 100% P&T to expedite the application process; but, it is important that applicants double-check to ensure there isn’t an oversight. It is also worth noting that VA compensation will not affect your Social Security benefits.

SSDI and SSI Attorney

If you are a veteran and the SSA denied your application for SSI or SSDI, or you are applying for benefits for the first time, The Driscoll Law Corporation can help. Attorney Stephanie Merritt Driscoll can help you or a loved one appeal the SSA’s decision and get the benefits you require. Please contact our office today.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Elder Poverty Relief Act Helps SSI Beneficiaries

Elder Poverty Relief Act
Approximately 10,000 Americans attain age 65 each day, according to Justice in Aging, a national non-profit legal advocacy organization that fights senior poverty through law. Last month, the “Elder Poverty Relief Act” was introduced in the Senate by Ron Wyden, D-Ore., along with Finance Committee members Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Bob Casey, D-Penn. The legislation would increase earned benefits for people on Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), according to KTVZ. If the measure garners approval, it could help many vulnerable Americans out of poverty and improve overall life quality.

“Too many seniors are walking on an economic tightrope, balancing their food bill against their rent against their utility bill,” said Sen. Wyden. “It’s time to update Social Security’s guarantee of a secure retirement by boosting earned benefits for at-risk seniors, particularly older women who live longer and have less access to savings.”

The legislation, according to the report, has the support of the Gray Panthers, Justice in Aging, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, Social Security Works, and the Strengthen Social Security Coalition.

Elder Poverty Relief Act

If enacted in 2019, the Elder Poverty Relief Act could help almost 14 million people who would receive the Poverty Relief Benefit. The PRB (starting at an extra $85 a month) targets:
  • Social Security beneficiaries age 82 or older and SSI recipients at the full retirement age (currently age 66, increasing to age 67).
  • Social Security and SSI recipients who have received benefits for 20 years.
  • Social Security beneficiaries at the full retirement age with low monthly benefits (roughly $944 a month, adjusted annually)
Over time the benefit will increase; the Social Security Administration estimates that the Elder Poverty Relief Act would help 420,000 seniors out of poverty by 2030, the article reports. Around one out of every 10 seniors lives in poverty; 20 percent of seniors have zero retirement savings.

“With stagnating wages, the cost of living continuing to rise, and many budgets being stretched to the breaking point, expanding Social Security benefits is more important now than ever,” said Sen. Brown. “No one should ever have to decide between heating their home, putting food on the table, or filling their prescriptions.”

SSDI and SSI Attorney

If the SSA denied your application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or you are applying for benefits for the first time, The Driscoll Law Corporation can help. Attorney Stephanie Merritt Driscoll can help you or a loved one appeal the SSA’s decision and get the benefits you require. Please contact our office today.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Strengthening Protections for Social Security Beneficiaries Act

SSA benefits
The Strengthening Protections for Social Security Beneficiaries Act of 2018 (H.R. 4547), introduced by Reps. Sam Johnson (R-TX) and John Larson (D-CT), was signed into law this month, Financial Regulation News reports. The authors of the bill say the goal is to modernize the representative payee program. If you are not familiar with the program, below you will find a quick breakdown.

The representative payee program was authorized by Congress in 1939 allowing the Social Security Administration(SSA) to make benefit payments to another person or organization if the beneficiary is incapable handling their finances. Payees are usually family members, such as parents or spouses. Around 6.2 million people or organizations serve as representative payees on behalf of some 8 million beneficiaries, according to the Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General.

“This new law is great news for the millions of Social Security beneficiaries who rely on a representative payee to help them manage their benefits,” said Johnson. “Not only will it provide much-needed accountability for the representative payee program, but it also puts measures into place that ensure newly selected representative payees are qualified and trustworthy. I thank Congressman Larson for working with me on this important legislation that will ensure Americans – from children, seniors, to individuals with disabilities – will have more peace of mind when it comes to having a representative payee they can trust.”

Protections for Social Security and SSI Recipients

The Strengthening Protections for Social Security Beneficiaries Act includes other provisions that SSA program beneficiaries will find of interest. H.R. 4547 disqualifies individuals from serving as representative payees if they have specific types of criminal convictions, the Disability Scoop reports. It should come as little surprise that the bill bars individuals who have representative payees themselves from fulfilling the same role for another beneficiary; if a person can’t manage their benefits then it makes sense that they can’t handle others. SSA beneficiaries will make a list of people who they would prefer handling their payments, the top of the list would be their first choice.

The law also requires protection and advocacy groups in each state to conduct performance reviews on payees and report to the administration. H.R. 4547 does away with a previous mandate requiring parents or spouses (living with a beneficiary) complete an annual accounting form.

 “For too long dishonest representative payees have exploited and abused people with disabilities without fear of being discovered,” said Curt Decker, executive director of the National Disability Rights Network, an umbrella group for the nation’s protection and advocacy organizations. “That stops today. We are thrilled to see that Congress has acted to protect the more than 8 million Americans who currently have representative payees.”

Celebrating National Social Security Month

It is fitting that this new bill was signed during National Social Security Month.

Celebrate National Social Security Month. Take 5 steps toward your financial security. Start Now. Produced at U.S. Taxpayer Expense.


SSDI and SSI Attorney

If the SSA denied your application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), or you are applying for benefits for the first time, The Driscoll Law Corporation can help. Attorney Stephanie Merritt Driscoll can help you or a loved one appeal the SSA’s decision and get the benefits you require. Please contact our office today.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Social Security’s National Disability Forum

Exciting news! The Social Security’s National Disability Forum on Financial Independence: Directing the Management of One’s Social Security Benefits is taking place on April 18, 2018; and, you are invited! The Social Security Administration is looking for input on, “how we can best assess a beneficiary’s ability to direct the management of his or her benefits?”

Moderating the forum is Howard Goldman, MD, MPH, Professor, Department of Psychiatry, University of Maryland School of Medicine. There are several ways you can take part, ask questions, and engage in the discussion via social media.

You can submit your questions topical to NationalDisabilityForum@ssa.gov, before and during the forum. You can also utilize Twitter to ask questions during the event, using @SSAOutreach and the hashtag #SSANDForum.

Enhancing The Representative Payee Program

“Social Security's Representative Payment Program provides financial management for the Social Security and SSI payments of our beneficiaries who are incapable of managing their Social Security or SSI payments,” the SSA website reads.

The upcoming forum aims to bring about a better understanding of the role supporters should play for beneficiaries. The discussion has two sessions, Session 1 (10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. EDT): “How to Strengthen & Clarify Instructions on Directing the Management of Benefits.” Session 2 (1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. EDT): “How to Define the Role of a Supporter for Individuals Who Direct the Management of Their Benefits?”

Discussion panelists will include:
  • Marty Ford, Senior Executive Officer, Public Policy, The Arc
  • Nina Kohn, Associate Dean for Research and Online Education, Syracuse University College of Law
  • Pamela Teaster PhD., Director, Center for Gerontology, Virginia Tech
  • Ruth Luckasson, Chair, Department of Special Education, University of New Mexico College of Education
  • Andrew Sperling, Director, Legislative Affairs, Advocacy & Public Policy, National Alliance on Mental Illness
  • Kate Lang, Senior Staff Attorney, Justice in Aging
  • Kelly A. Thompson, Esq., Thompson Wildhack, PLC Attorneys at Law
  • Dari Pogach, Staff Attorney, American Bar Association Commission on Law and Aging
  • Susanne Horn, MSW, Representative Payee Program Manager, Bread for the City
If you receive benefits for the SSA or manage payments for another person, you can play an instrumental part in shaping the future of the Representative Payment Program. If you would like to participate, please register here, hit the "CONTINUE" button to register. The forum is being held at 1100 New York Avenue NW, Suite 200 East, Washington, DC 20005; you can also take part via teleconference.

SSDI and SSI Attorney

If the SSA denied your application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), The Driscoll Law Corporation could help. Attorney Stephanie Merritt Driscoll can help you or a loved one appeal the SSA’s decision and get the benefits you require. Please contact our office today.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Remarrying Can Affect Your SSI

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits are vital to many Americans' survival. Both older and younger adults who are unable to work can utilize the program if they meet specific requirements. Naturally, there is a lot that people who may qualify for Social Security Administration (SSA) benefits need to understand; particular a life choice can impact your eligibility for assistance. You can do yourself a great service apprising yourself with all the information that the agency provides. 

Whether you are applying for SSI for the first time, or are receiving payments currently, you are required to report any changes in your life regarding financial or employment status. For instance, if you start receiving financial assistance from friends or family members, if you become a parent, or if someone moves into or out of your house. You can see a full list of all the changes in your life that the SSA wants to know, here.

While younger Americans are eligible for SSI, the program is commonly utilized by older demographics. It is a fact that people, by and large, are living longer today than ever before, thanks to advancements in modern medicine. The extension in life expectancy means that people who have lost their spouse may consider remarrying. The details of late in life marriages can impact your benefits, and it is a change that you must report.

Remarrying Affects SSA Benefits

A desire to not spend your golden years alone leads many people to re-tie the knot later in life. In fact, the Pew Research Center published a report in 2014 showing that sixty-seven percent of previously married people ages 55 to 64 had remarried and half of all adults 65 and older had remarried; up from 55 percent and 34 percent in 1960, respectively. Setting aside how older people’s children feel about one of their parents remarrying as it pertains to their inheritance, let's talk about how it can affect people’s benefits.

Hyman G. Darling, president of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, and attorney Lina Guillen, co-authored the book “Living Together: A Legal Guide for Unmarried Couples.” Darling tells The New York Times that the risks attached to later-in-life marriages include:
  • Potential loss of government benefits like Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income.
  • Loss of pensions or alimony.
  • Income and estate tax increases.
  • Taking on a new spouse’s debt.
If you are considering marrying late in life, you have every right. Please keep in mind that the change could affect benefits that you rely on every month. Discussing your intentions with an attorney is strongly advised.

SSDI Attorney

If the SSA denied your application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), The Driscoll Law Corporation can help. Attorney Stephanie Merritt Driscoll can help you or a loved one appeal the SSA’s decision and get the benefits you require. Please contact our office today.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

American Retirees Living in Poverty

Americans work the better part of their lives with the hope that they can retire one day. Not just stop working, they wish to live comfortably for the rest of their days without having to fret over bills. Just because a person reaches retirement age, doesn’t mean they can expect to be entirely taken care of by Social Security benefit programs. Most people understand that any financial support that they receive from the Social Security Administration (SSA) isn’t much; such people realize that anything they can do to supplement SSA benefits could prove vital to ensuring a comfortable retirement.

Reaching one’s sixties is a different experience for each person. While many people manage to get all their ducks in order, so they are confident they can survive without a steady paycheck, a significant number of other people can expect to live below the poverty line in their “golden years.” We live in a different time than just a few decades ago. Most employees no longer have the same options as before when it comes to pensions, while some can utilize other instruments like 401(k) accounts. According to CNN Money:

“The percentage of workers in the private sector whose only retirement account is a defined benefit pension plan is now 4%, down from 60% in the early 1980s. About 14% of companies offer a combination of both types.” 

Between Social Security, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and 401(k)s, hopefully, it will be enough for people; unfortunately, the data says otherwise with millions of retirees.

Many Seniors Living In Poverty

The Kaiser Family Foundation conducted an analysis of available research on senior poverty rates. There are some 49.3 million seniors in the United States. The study indicates that half of all people on Medicare had incomes less than $26,200 in 2016. When looking at poverty data, it’s important to understand that there are two measures of poverty in America, the official poverty measure and the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM). The latter takes into consideration many variables, such as liabilities, including taxes, social welfare benefits, out-of-pocket medical spending, and housing costs.

Relying on the official poverty measure to determine the poverty rates among seniors paints one picture, using the SPM paints an entirely different picture. The foundation found that 4.6 million (9.3%) seniors fell under the official poverty measure in 2016. Using the SPM as a guide reveals that during the same years 7.1 million adults ages 65 and older lived in poverty, and almost 21 million seniors had incomes below 200% of poverty under the SPM. At least 15% of people ages 65 and older lived in poverty in CA in 2016, under the SPM.

SSDI and SSDI Attorney

If the SSA didn’t approve your application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), The Driscoll Law Corporation can help. Attorney Stephanie Merritt Driscoll can help you or a loved one appeal the SSA’s decision and get the benefits you require. Please contact our office today.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

How Work Affects Social Security Benefits?

A large number of people who collect Social Security Administration (SSA) benefits due to an injury would like to get back to work. While many of them are unable to do so because of the severity of their condition, some people can start taking steps toward financial independence. Getting back to work can significantly improve one's life quality, and it is essential that you go about in a way that doesn’t lead to harm. Premature efforts to re├źnter the workforce could result in worsening one’s disability; it’s vital that the steps are taken carefully to ensure you do not bite off more than you can chew.


What’s more, a large number of people who’d like to get back to at least part-time employment fear they will lose all their benefits. It should go without saying that just because a person is ready to work doesn't mean they are prepared for total financial independence. Losing Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) too soon could be disastrous. With that in mind, it’s prudent to share with you an article we wrote a little over a year ago on this subject. At the time, we brought to our reader's attention an SSA program by the name of Ticket to Work. We encourage you to read the original post, but primarily, the program aims to help people rejoin the workforce by providing many tools.

How Will Work Affect My Social Security Benefits?

The SSA understands the concerns of beneficiaries who’d like to take back their financial independence. This February, the organization focused on providing people with SSI and SSDI greater insight about Ticket to Work. There is a plethora of information online that can help you or a loved one decide if working again is right for you and navigate the process with greater care. You also have the option to call the Ticket to Work Helpline at 866-968-7842 or 866-833-2967(TTY), to learn more about the program. Representatives will field your calls Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. ET.

On the phone you can get answers to questions like:
  • How will working affect my benefits?
  • How Social Security's Work Incentives help you toward financial independence?
  • Where can I find an authorized service provider to support my path toward employment?
Tomorrow, Feb. 28, 2018, you can learn more about Ticket to Work by registering for a Work Incentive Seminar Event (WISE). The online webinar is for anyone 18 through 64 who receives Social Security Disability benefits. Clicking here will direct you to more information about attending tomorrow's event.

SSDI and SSDI Attorney

If the SSA didn’t approve your application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), The Driscoll Law Corporation could help. Attorney Stephanie Merritt Driscoll can help you or a loved one appeal the SSA’s decision and get the benefits you require. Please contact our office today.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Social Security Changes Worth Knowing About

In 2017, some 45,497,828 retired workers and dependents collected Social Security benefits. During the same time, 10,411,252 disabled workers and dependents received benefits. So, you can see that the vast majority of beneficiaries receiving benefits are retired Americans.

Each year, millions of older adults in the U.S. heavily rely on the Social Security Administration (SSA) to help cover the costs of living. Without SSA programs it’s probably fair to say that many of those same people would find it extremely difficult to manage. It is essential that such people keep themselves apprised of the changes that occur at the agency, as they may affect one’s benefits, and thus, individuals' way of life.

Most changes to Social Security are small, but now and then a drastic change is made that can impact your life. This year, there are seven changes that beneficiaries might have an interest in, The Week reports. Some of the alterations may affect your benefits, useful information to have when you are trying to plan your retirement strategy.

SSA Changes 2018

One change of note is that most workers will no longer receive paper statements in the mail showing past annual earnings and estimate Social Security benefits. You must sign up for a my Social Security account to retrieve info; only people, over 60, currently collecting benefits will continue getting paper statements. 

Full Retirement Age (FRA) is age (66), that is the age at which you can claim full benefits without a monthly reduction. Americans can begin collecting retirement at age 62. However, the administration is transitioning FRA to 67, according to the article. The cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) is raised to 2 percent in 2018 (although, premium increases for Medicare Part B may cancel out the rise). 

There is a higher taxable earnings cap, which means people who make more money have a new taxable earnings threshold of $128,700. A higher earnings limits affects people who collect benefits before reaching the FRA, they can receive income up to a certain threshold without reducing their benefits.

There are also higher beneficiary payments in 2018, with average paychecks increasing by $27 per month, the article reports. While people collecting Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) understand their payments are scaled to work records, the threshold for monthly income that can be earned without impacting benefits will rise to $1,970 for the blind and disabled, and $1,180 for the non-blind disabled. Those receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are getting a bump too: $750 for individuals and $1,125 for couples.

The final change this year involves a Social Security credit increase. As of 2018, individuals must accrue 40 credits for Social Security eligibility, each credit requires $1,320 in earnings.

SSDI and SSI Attorney

Attorney Stephanie Driscoll can help you and your loved ones with applying and qualifying for disability benefits. If your claim was denied, we can assist you to appeal the decision. Please contact us today.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Special Needs Trusts Protect SSI

Family members often look after young and adult children living with disabilities, especially those born with special needs conditions. Parents who give birth to a child with Down’s syndrome or autism know that more will be required from them in practically every aspect of life, if their child is going to succeed. With that in mind, pointing out the obvious is helpful, nobody’s parents live forever; a reality not lost on the parents of special needs children.

The parents of special needs children have a burning question in their mind. Who will look after their offspring when they are gone? Naturally, there are several government programs in place that assist people with disabilities financially, such Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Social Security Administration (SSA) programs can make all the difference for people unable to work for a living. Medicaid covers the costs of health bills.

It’s vital that parents plan wisely for when they are no longer around, the choices you make today could drastically impact the quality of your adult children’s lives in the future. A large number of parents need to consider life after death, given that over 40 million Americans had a disability in 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Some experts have offer guidance on the subject for said parents.

“We don't expect anybody else to do what we do for our child, so while we're still here, we want to try and have some peace of mind that everything will be OK,” the president of the Special Needs Alliance, Brian N. Rubin, tells USA Today.

Parents of Adult Children with Special Needs

Hopefully, other members of the family can oversee the care of an adult child with special needs after you are gone. They can help with making decisions that your son or daughter can’t make on their own. You may need another member of the family to act as trustee for a special needs trust.

If you are planning on leaving an adult child with special needs a financial inheritance, it’s critical that you do so wisely. In fact, how you go about it is of the utmost importance; incorrectly going about it can severely impact SSA benefits, according to USA Today. Attorney Jay Roberts, a special needs planning expert, points out that a person must have under $2,000 in assets to qualify for SSI. Having access to more than that could disqualify a person from government benefits program that covers substantial medical costs each year.

With the above information in mind, parents need to consider special needs, or supplemental needs, trusts, according to the article. A trust will allow parents to leave an inheritance without jeopardizing government benefits. There are also ABLE Accounts; a tax-advantaged savings account permitting up to $100,000. An ABLE Account will not impact government benefits.

“Those trusts will essentially protect any assets held for the benefit of the children,” Robert says.

SSDI and SSI Attorney

Attorney Stephanie Driscoll can assist you with applying and qualifying for disability benefits. If you or a loved one’s claim received a denial, we could help you appeal the decision. Please contact us today.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Disability Recipients Shouldn't Be Stigmatized

Regular readers of our blog know that at the Driscoll Law Corporation our specialty is Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Each week, we work tirelessly to ensure our clients can access financial security provided by the Social Security Administration. Such people, more times than not, are individuals who have either experienced a debilitating injury or they have received a diagnosis for a disorder; in both cases, one's ability to maintain financial independence is a real challenge.

In the United States, there is a significant number of people who have negative opinions about Federal and state assistance programs. What’s more, there is a serious stigma toward people who receive benefits like SSDI and SSI; many people have the mindset that some benefit recipients are lazy and are bilking a flawed welfare system. Sadly, the previously mentioned outlook is flawed, to say the least; in fact, the average benefit recipient would like nothing more than to go back to work. 

In 2017, The Washington Post analyzed the increase of disability programs in rural America. The news organization published a series of stories shining a light on the subject matter. Naturally, people from around the country who are living with disabilities gave their feedback; they shared about the stigma surrounding disability benefit recipients. Through correspondence with such individuals, WAPO gleaned that many SSI and SSDI recipients muster the strength to work part-time or volunteer their services; in doing so, they can continue contributing to society and live productive lives.

Disabled Americans Stay Busy In Spite of Handicaps

The best way to erode stigma is to accurately represent the lives of people living with conditions that prevent full-time work. In doing so, we encourage people who aren’t living with a disability to exercise compassion. When that happen, people vote in favor legislation that helps people rather than harm the most vulnerable of Americans.

Below you will find a snapshot of the lives of a couple of individuals who receive SSA benefits; you will see that these people are not lazy, it’s the opposite in fact.

Richard Lamb, 57, a retired senior systems administrator for Boeing and Microsoft, receives financial assistance from SSDI and the Department of Veterans Affairs due to hearing loss, according to the article. In 2011, Lamb was forced to take early retirement because of myalgic encephalomyelitis, an autonomic and neurological disease which causes extreme fatigue. Lamb said:

“I’m very active at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and participate in two different research projects there. That’s been helpful for me, because I think one of the things I really struggle with is finding a method to give back that doesn’t kill me."

Sarah Schwegel, 24, has spinal muscular atrophy Type II, for which she receives SSDI benefits, the article reports. Sarah is currently attending Saint Louis University for a master’s degree in public administration. When she is not in class, she works [15 hours a week] in the Political Science Department at her school or is volunteering with organizations that assist disabled people in finding independence. Schwegel says:

“I decided to go to grad school for public administration so that eventually one day I can either work in a nonprofit to help people with disabilities, or I can run for office or work as a bureaucrat in Medicaid or something.” 

Disability can impact anyone for many reasons. Just because someone receives financial support, doesn’t mean that they lack the desire to work or give back to society. Some disabled people collecting SSI or SSDI work more than many non-injured Americans.

Disability Attorney

Attorney Stephanie Driscoll assists people with the lengthy and complicated process of applying and qualifying for disability benefits. If you or a loved one’s claim received a denial, we could help you appeal the decision. Please contact us today.