GAO Releases Report on Deaths, Bankruptcies, and Wait Times Among Social Security Benefit Appellees

On August 13, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a study on death, bankruptcies, and wait times among people appealing Social Security disability determinations. The report found that between the median wait time for people appealing their initial determination was 839 days between fiscal years (FY) 2008 and 2019. The annual death rate increased from 0.52% in 2011 to 0.72% in 2018. In that same period, 109,725 people died while awaiting a final determination. Between FY 2014 and 2019, approximately 48,000 people awaiting appeals filed bankruptcy.

Bill Protecting Social Security and SSI Recipients From Overpayment Penalties Introduced

On July 29, Representatives Danny Davis (D-IL), John Larson (D-CT), and Richard Neal (D-MA) introduced the Fairness for Seniors and People with Disabilities During COVID-19 Act (H.R. 7830). This bill protects Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients from having to repay overpayments accrued during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Arc strongly supports this legislation.

Social Security – SSA Announces Cost of Living Increases for 2019

The Social Security Administration (SSA) has announced a 2.8 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits in 2019. The Social Security Act provides for annual COLA increases based on inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). Because the CPI-W rose modestly over the last year, the 2019 COLA will increase benefits modestly. According to SSA, the average monthly Social Security benefit for a retired worker will increase by $39, from $1,422 in 2018 to $1,461 in 2019. The average monthly benefit for a Social Security disabled worker beneficiary will increase by $34, from $1,222 in 2018 to $1,234 in 2019. In addition, the SSI Federal Payment Standard will increase from $750 per month in 2018 to $771 per month in 2019. Important work incentive thresholds for Social Security and SSI beneficiaries with disabilities will also increase, including the Substantial Gainful Activity level and the Trial Work Period earnings level. View SSA’s fact sheet for more details on the 2019 Social Security COLA.

Social Security – Social Security Fairness Act Introduced

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. John Larson (D-CT) introduced the Social Security Fairness Act (S. 3147; H.R. 6251), joined by 6 cosponsors in the Senate and 31 in the House. The bill would set Social Security Administration’s (SSA) administrative funding at 1.5 percent of overall benefit payments, a significantly more adequate level compared to current funding. The bill would also eliminate the five-month waiting period for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and the 24-month waiting period for SSDI beneficiaries to qualify for Medicare. Finally, the bill would implement a moratorium on all closures of SSA field offices and contact stations. H.R. 6251 has been referred to the Committees on Ways and Means, Budget, Rules, and Energy and Commerce; S. 3147 has been referred to the Committee on Finance. The Arc supports this legislation to strengthen administration and customer service across Social Security’s programs and to end unnecessary and harmful waiting periods that SSDI beneficiaries currently endure.

Social Security – House Committee Advances Online Tools Bill

Last week, the House Committee on Ways and Means marked up the Social Security Online Tools Innovation Act (H.R. 3309), sponsored by Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX). As amended by the Committee, the bill would require the Social Security Administration to create within 2 years an online tool or tools to allow Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) beneficiaries to estimate the potential impact of earnings on their benefits. The bill would also prohibit recovery of any overpayments that arise from a beneficiary relying on inaccurate information from the tool (in the event of inaccuracy by the tool). The Committee reported the amended bill favorably by a voice vote. The Arc supports the bill, as amended and approved by the Committee, to provide SSDI beneficiaries with important information about opportunities to work and the impact of earnings on their SSDI benefits.

White House Issues Report on Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

Last week, the White House released a report, Social Security Disability Insurance: A Lifeline for Millions of American Workers and Their Families. The report describes how SSDI insures nearly all American workers and their families, the important role that benefits play in the lives of nearly 11 million current beneficiaries, changes in SSDI over time, and action needed to protect workers and ensure SSDI solvency. As noted in the report: “In 2016, SSDI beneficiaries could face a deep and abrupt 19 percent reduction in their disability insurance benefits if lawmakers fail to act to remedy a long-projected shortfall in the program’s finances.” President Obama has recommended rebalancing existing Social Security payroll taxes to ensure SSDI’s solvency through 2033 (on an even path with the rest of the Social Security system). The Arc strongly supports this common-sense solution, which Congress has taken numerous times in the past. Visit the White House web site to view the full report.

U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness Releases New Guidance on SSI/SSDI Benefits for People Experiencing Homelessness

Last week, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), in collaboration with the Social Security Administration (SSA), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and the Veterans Administration, published Key Strategies for Connecting People Experiencing Homelessness to Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) Benefits. The report outlines several approaches including: assisting people experiencing homelessness with the SSI/SSDI application process; coordinating with SSA field offices, community organizations, and other federal agencies; coordinating with other benefits and entitlements; working with veterans and other special populations; and assisting SSI/SSDI beneficiaries post-entitlement. Visit the USICH web site to read the full report.

House Holds Hearing on Safety Net

Last week, the House Committee on Ways and Means, Subcommittee on Human Resources, held a hearing on “Protecting the Safety Net from Waste, Fraud, and Abuse”.  Witnesses testified in two panels, focusing on proposals related to Supplemental Security Income, Social Security Disability Insurance, and Unemployment Insurance. The first panel consisted of Representative Sam Johnson (R-TX), Representative Kevin Brady (R-TX), Representative Dave Reichert (R-WA), Representative Xavier Becerra (D-CA), Representative Tom Reed (R-NY), Representative Jim Renacci (R-OH), and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT). The second panel consisted of Patrick P. O’Carroll, Jr.,  Inspector General, Social Security Administration; Dan Bertoni, Director, Education, Workforce, and Income Security Issues, Government Accountability Office; Curt Eysink, Executive Director, Louisiana Workforce Commission; Debra Rohlman, Vice President of Government Sales, Equifax Workforce Solutions; and Rebecca Vallas, Director of Policy for Poverty to Prosperity Program, Center for American Progress. Visit the Committee website to review testimony and for more information.

House to Hold Hearing on SSI / SSDI, Unemployment Insurance

This week, the House Committee on Ways and Means, Subcommittee on Human Resources, will hold a hearing on “Protecting the Safety Net from Waste, Fraud, and Abuse.” The hearing will review multiple bills related to Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Unemployment Insurance (UI), and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). The Arc strongly opposes many of the bills that will be discussed at the hearing, including H.R. 918, a bill to cut SSDI for applicants and beneficiaries who also receive UI. The Ways and Means Committee web site is currently undergoing a redesign; our next edition of Capitol Insider will share links to hearing testimony and archived video, if available.

The Arc Calls on Advocates to Support Lifeline Programs

Medicaid, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), and other lifeline programs for people with I/DD are under attack. The House and Senate passed a concurrent budget resolution that calls for significant cuts, setting in motion a process to restructure the Medicaid program. It’s time to act! We are calling on our advocates to engage their members of Congress in support of these critical programs.  Please register your concerns by responding to the action alert posted above.  To assist you with engaging in other activities, The Arc has created a toolkit with tips and key messages to convey.   The Memorial Day recess and the July 4th recess are excellent times to step up our activities by writing, calling or visiting your Member of Congress.