SSA Actuary

The SSA Office of the Chief Actuary commented in an “Actuarial Note” on the benefits during our current economic conditions. On average there is a 2 year lag between unemployment rate and the year SSDI claims are filed.

“Because disability claims have historically increased in response to periods of high unemployment, it is reasonable to expect that the percentage of claims that are allowed would drop under conditions of high unemployment. Evidence presented in this note supports that expectation.”


Response to NPR series

Recently, the National Public Radio aired a series on the topic of Social Security programs in America. This has prompted a response from agencies most familiar with Social Security. Below you will find a letter from the former Commissioners of the Social Security Administration and a letter from the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities.

An Open Letter From Former Commissioners of the Social Security Administration

April 4, 2013

As former Commissioners of the Social Security Administration (SSA), we write to express our significant concerns regarding a series recently aired on This American Life, All Things Considered, and National Public Radio stations across the U.S. (“Unfit for Work: The Startling Rise of Disability in America”). Our nation’s Social Security system serves as a vital lifeline for millions of individuals with severe disabilities. We feel compelled to share our unique insight into the Social Security system because we know firsthand the dangers of mischaracterizing the disability programs via sensational, anecdote-based media accounts, leaving vulnerable beneficiaries to pick up the pieces.

Approximately 1 in 5 of our fellow Americans live with disabilities, but only those with the most significant disabilities qualify for disability benefits under Title II and Title XVI of the Social Security Act. Title II Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (DI) benefits and Title XVI Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits provide critical support to millions of Americans with the most severe disabilities, as well as their dependents and survivors. Disabled beneficiaries often report multiple impairments, and many have such poor health that they are terminally ill: about 1 in 5 male DI beneficiaries and 1 in 7 female DI beneficiaries die within 5 years of receiving benefits. Despite their impairments, many beneficiaries attempt work using the work incentives under the Social Security Act, and some do work part-time. For example, research by Mathematica and SSA finds that about 17 percent of beneficiaries worked in 2007. However, their earnings are generally very low (two-thirds of those who worked in 2007 earned less than $5,000 for the whole year), and only a small share are able to earn enough to be self-sufficient and leave the DI and SSI programs each year. Without Social Security or SSI, the alternatives for many beneficiaries are simply unthinkable.

The statutory standard for approval is very strict, and was made even more so in 1996. To implement this strict standard, Social Security Administration (SSA) regulations, policies, and procedures require extensive documentation and medical evidence at all levels of the application process. Less than one- third of initial DI and SSI applications are approved, and only about 40 percent of adult DI and SSI applicants receive benefits even after all levels of appeal. As with adults, most children who apply are denied SSI, and only the most severely impaired qualify for benefits.

Managing the eligibility process for the disability system is a challenging task, and errors will always occur in any system of this size. But the SSA makes every effort to pay benefits to the right person in the right amount at the right time. When an individual applies for one of SSA’s disability programs, the agency has extensive systems in place to ensure accurate decisions, and the agency is home to many dedicated public servants who take their ongoing responsibility of the proper stewardship of the programs very seriously. Program integrity is critically important and adequate funds must be available to make continued progress in quality assurance and monitoring. In the face of annual appropriations that were far below what the President requested in Fiscal Year 2011 and Fiscal Year 2012, the agency has still continued to implement many new system improvements that protect taxpayers and live up to Americans’ commitment to protect the most vulnerable in our society.

It is true that DI has grown significantly in the past 30 years. The growth that we’ve seen was predicted by actuaries as early as 1994 and is mostly the result of two factors: baby boomers entering their high- disability years, and women entering the workforce in large numbers in the 1970s and 1980s so that more are now “insured” for DI based on their own prior contributions. The increase in the number of children receiving SSI benefits in the past decade is similarly explained by larger economic factors, namely the increase in the number of poor and low-income children. More than 1 in 5 U.S. children live in poverty today and some 44 percent live in low-income households. Since SSI is a means-tested program, more poor and low-income children mean more children with disabilities are financially eligible for benefits. Importantly, the share of low-income children who receive SSI benefits has remained constant at less than four percent.

Yet, the series aired on NPR sensationalizes this growth, as well as the DI trust fund’s projected shortfall. History tells a less dramatic story. Since Social Security was enacted, Congress has “reallocated” payroll tax revenues across the OASI and DI trust funds – about equally in both directions – some 11 times to account for demographic shifts. In 1994, the last time such reallocation occurred, SSA actuaries projected that similar action would next be required in 2016. They were right on target.

We are deeply concerned that the series “Unfit for Work” failed to tell the whole story and perpetuated dangerous myths about the Social Security disability programs and the people helped by this vital system. We fear that listeners may come away with an incorrect impression of the program— as opposed to an understanding of the program actually based on facts.

As former Commissioners of the agency, we could not sit on the sidelines and witness this one perspective on the disability programs threaten to pull the rug out from under millions of people with severe disabilities. Drastic changes to these programs would lead to drastic consequences for some of America’s most vulnerable people. With the lives of so many vulnerable people at stake, it is vital that future reporting on the DI and SSI programs look at all parts of this important issue and take a balanced, careful look at how to preserve and strengthen these vital parts of our nation’s Social Security system.

Sincerely,

Kenneth S. Apfel
Michael J. Astrue
Jo Anne B. Barnhart
Shirley S. Chater
Herbert R. Doggette
Louis D. Enoff
Larry G. Massanari
Lawrence H. Thompson

 

Letter from the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities:

http://c-c-d.org/task_forces/social_sec/Unfit_for_NPR_CCD_Statement_with_sign-ons3-27-13.pdf


Free Cell Phone Service

A new program, Lifeline Assistance offers free cell phone service to those who qualify. An article in the Stockton Record on March 7, 2013 states that California residents who are a part of public assistance programs or earn less that $15,000 a year may qualify. An individual receiving help in the form of food stamps, Medicaid or Supplemental Security Income may qualify. For more information contact Assurance Wireless at (800) 395-2171 or Reach Out Wireless (877) 777-1914. You may also visit the websites assurancewireless.com or reachoutmobile.com. You can view the article in the Stockton Record for more information: http://www.recordnet.com/


Social Security and Sequestration

As you may have heard in the news, sequester is scheduled to take effect as of March 1, 2013. At this time, it seems mandatory government spending cuts will be implemented to reduce federal spending. Though it has been reported that the Social Security Administration (SSA) will not be affected by cuts, it does not mean it will not be affected at all. The National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR) sent out a memo regarding how sequestration will affect SSA. While monthly payments of benefits will not be affected, the budget cuts will affect other aspects of the agency. You may be aware that the SSA has already taken measures to reduce its budget by adjusting its field office hours of operation. With sequestration in affect, the hours of operation will be further impacted. This will result in longer wait times at field offices. This also means that you may have to wait longer for a response to any decisions on your claims.


Social Security Announces New Features to “my Social Security”

On January 7, 2013, Social Security announced new features to my Social Security accounts online. An online service, my Social Security conveniently allows users to access their account information. Now the system has been expanded to include access to payment history, earnings record and a benefit verification letter. If you are a Social Security beneficiary, you may use the customized benefit verification letter as proof of income for loans, housing, state or local benefits (such as Medicare insurance coverage). If you are not yet a Social Security beneficiary, but would like to get estimates of your retirement, disability, and survivor benefits or check your earning record you can now access this information any time. Access to this service is safe and secure. For more information and to start using my Social Security, create an account at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount.


Social Security Field Office Hours

Effective January 2, 2013, Social Security offices will be closed to the public at noon every Wednesday. Offices will continue to close early at 3:00 pm daily on all other days.


Social Security Announces New Additions to Compassionate Allowance List

On December 6, 2012, the Social Security Administration announced that it would include an additional 35 conditions to its Compassionate Allowance list. These recent additions now bring the total number of Compassionate Allowance listings to 200.

  • Adult Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma
  • Adult Onset Huntington Disease
  • Allan-Herndon-Dudley Syndrome
  • Alveolar Soft Part Sarcoma
  • Aplastic Anemia
  • Beta Thalassemia Major
  • Bilateral Optic Atrophy- Infantile
  • Caudal Regression Syndrome – Types III and IV
  • Child T-Cell Lymphoblastic Lymphoma
  • Congenital Lymphedema
  • DeSanctis Cacchione Syndrome
  • Dravet Syndrome
  • Endometrial Stromal Sarcoma
  • Erdheim Chester Disease
  • Fatal Familial Insomnia
  • Fryns Syndrome
  • Fulminant Giant Cell Myocrditis
  • Hepatopulmonary Syndrome
  • Hepatorenal Syndrome
  • Jervell and Lange-Nielsen Syndrome
  • Leiomyosarcoma
  • Malignant Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor
  • Malignant Germ Cell Tumor
  • MECP 2 Duplication Syndrome
  • Menkes Disease – Classic or Infantile Onset Form
  • NFU-1 Mitochondrial Disease
  • Non-Ketotic Hyperglycinemia
  • Peritoneal Mucinous Carcinomatosis
  • Phelan- McDermid Syndrome
  • Retinopathy of Prematurity – Stage V
  • Roberts Syndrome
  • Severe Combined Immunodeficiency – Childhood
  • Sinonasal Cancer
  • Transplant Coronary Artery Vasculopathy
  • Usher Syndrome – Type I

More information on Compassionate Allowances can be found on the Social Security Administration website: www.socialsecurity.gov/compassionateallowances.


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