Did you know that there are more than 8 million Americans over the age of 65 who are disabled and rely on Social Security for survival? With baby boomers retiring every year, worries are that the system is antiquated and does little – if anything – to meet the needs of those enrolled. It wasn’t until the early 1970s when President Nixon signed into law the SSI Restoration Act. This would ultimately become known as SSI. It’s now more than 40 years old and, according to many, near collapse.
One of the biggest disgraces is how many of those who rely on SSI are also living in deep poverty. So worrisome is it that more than 65 national organizations have come together to demand an overhaul. known as the SSI Restoration Act of 2013 (H.R. 1601) with the goal of eliminating these antiquated rules both for those receiving benefits and who have been denied coverage. Unfortunately, it’s made little leeway through Congressional channels. The heart of the law:
Increases from: (1) $780 to $4,284 (similarly increased) the first amount of earned income similarly excluded (including for a blind or disabled individual [or spouse] under age 65), (2) $3,000 to $15,000 in calendar year 2015 (increased for inflation) the resource limit for couples, and (3) $2,000 to $10,000 in calendar year 2015 (similarly increased) for individuals without a spouse. The bill also prescribes an inflation adjustment in benefits in any calendar year after 2015.
As you can see, the current federal benefit monthly rate is $710 per month, per individual. Many who receive these benefits also receive Medicaid. The rules are hard lined and overstepping even one can cause significant problems for those who need these benefits. For instance, an SSI recipient may not have more than $2,000 in available resources and in most states, applicants may not have more than $718 in monthly income. Worse, for those whose family members help provide food and other maintenance necessities, they may actually prevent their loved one from qualifying.
The reality is that the program was designed, in President Nixon’s words, to be a “big step out of poverty and toward a life of dignity and independence”. It’s often anything but for many recipients.
The Human Condition
As you might expect, the red tape is overwhelming. There are rules and guidelines employees must follow when handling their case loads. If a case is denied, there are procedures in place designed to speed up the appeals process. Those who are denied coverage are entitled to a timely notice detailing the reasons for suspension or a reduction in benefits. It also means they are afforded the opportunity to “confront and examine the witnesses relied on”. They have the right to retain legal representation who can argue their case in front of an “impartial decision maker who did not participate in making the determination”. Unfortunately, many can’t get past those initial steps in order to gain that kind of protection.
One reason these protective mechanisms fall short is because employees at the Social Security Administration fail to keep adequate timelines of when appeals are filed. When that happens, the odds increase that paperwork is lost – even when it’s sent certified mail. This means that another rule is in jeopardy: as mentioned, when SSI recipients receive notice that their benefits will cease, they have the right to file an appeal. Their benefits are to continue during that appeals process – but only if that individual appeals within 10 days of receiving the notice. If the employees are losing and misfiling paperwork, it jeopardizes the recipients ability to continue to receive benefits.
Clearly, this is a crisis; ideally, it’s one that can finally be remedied after all these years. In the meantime, if you need assistance in applying for Social Security benefits, contact our offices today.