The budget deal approved by the U.S. Senate on October 30th saves Social Security Disability beneficiaries from a 20 percent cut in benefits. The bipartisan agreement transfers funds from the retirement fund to the disability program. This averts cuts that could have been disastrous for the 11 million recipients of SSDI benefits.
Earlier this year, Republicans had opposed the transfer of any monies from the retirement fund to the disability fund. Republicans argued that they would only agree to the transfer, if cuts were made to the disability program. The passage of this legislation is seen as the first significant piece of legislation that has been passed under the leadership of incoming House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WY).
The budget bill includes 144 pages of legislation solely devoted to the Social Security Disability program. The new legislation contains several provisions to prevent and fight social security fraud. It provides additional funds to create new task forces of agents who will go after individuals who abuse the system.
The legislation also makes significant changes to the program's work rules. Currently, if a Social Security Disability beneficiary makes more than $1,090, he or she is automatically disqualified from receiving benefits. Under the new rule, applicants can work above the SGA level (which is currently $1,090) and continue to be eligible. From now on, benefits will be progressively offset on a 2 to 1 ratio for every dollar made in excess of $1,090. However, I suggest that all Social Security Disability applicants must still consult with their lawyer prior to going back to work. It is not yet clear how this new rule could affect an applicant's chances of winning SSDI.
There is also a provision in the bill that requires all states to develop a medical screening process at the initial stage of a disability claim. In the past, approximately 20 states were allowed to grant disability benefits simply through a review by state medico vocational analysts. Advocates of the disabled have argued that this part of the legislation might result in even longer delays during the initial application process. In many circumstances, medical records provided by a claimant are clear cut evidence that a person is disabled. Unfortunately, this new requirement will prolong the wait suffered by many who suffer from very severe physical and mental limitations.
Finally, the bill provides additional funding to hire new Administrative Law Judges. Acting Social Security Commissioner Carolyn Colvin was extremely pleased with this part of the bill. She has announced that she will increase the number of ALJ's from 1,450 to 1,925 by 2017. Hopefully, this measure will help alleviate the backlog at the hearing level which currently exceeds one million cases.