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Social Security Disability Insurance problems continue

In 2015, Congress made changes to the disability insurance program administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA) to stave off depletion of its financial reserve. However, this did not address underlying problems with the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program. Seven years ago, forecasts predicted that SSDI reserves would be depleted in 2016 for Michiganders and residents of other states. This would cut benefits for 11 million SSDI beneficiaries by almost 20 percent.

The number of applications more than doubled between 1999 and 2010 because of unemployment caused by two recessions, revenues were reduced from these recessions, more women were eligible for benefits because of accumulating earning credits and the population was aging into their 50s and 60s with growing disabling impairments. There was also allegations of fraud and many applicants had to wait many years before final determinations were issued on their eligibility.

To address this, Congress temporarily increased the share of Social Security tax revenues paid to the SDI trust fund. Official projections showing adequate funding until 2032 which was over ten years longer than earlier estimates. An improved economy led to a drop in applications.

But, many underlying problems persist. Congress did not address criticisms that SSDI was available only to claimants who had disabling conditions that were anticipated to last a year or result in death. The program did nothing to avert the progress of impairments before they became a disability, assist those with temporary diminished earnings capacity or help claimants suffering impairments that were not total disability.

Budgets for SSA administrative have also remained stagnant despite increased workload from the recession and retiring baby boomers. The agency had problems hiring ALJs and support staff, inadequate staff support and ineffective and time-consuming procedures that hampered its ability to resolve increased applications. Claimant who are awaiting hearings on their denials, which average 600 days, are discouraged from working because applications are denied if they earn $1,180 a month.

Claimants should seek legal assistance to help navigate this complicate process. Lawyers can help assure that their rights to SSDI are pursued and denied claims are timely appealed.

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