Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Social Security hides Disability Report Form 3368 but you can find it

Social Security Disability Forms: Social Security has removed the downloadable standard Form SSA 3368 BK Disability Report from the "forms" and "starter kit" pages on the Social Security website. But you can still get an electronic copy of the Form SSA 3368 BK at: www.ssa.gov/online/ssa-3368.pdf

To follow developments in Social Security disability, visit: www.disabilityfacts.com


Thursday, December 16, 2004

People with disabilities may face "conversion handicap"

Many people underestimate the economic challenges of disability, a Nobel prize-winning economist told a group at the World Bank in early December.

Economist Amartya Sen told the group that "conceptual confusion" has contributed to insufficient attention being paid to disability and its correlation with poverty, according to Financial Times reporter Andrew Balls. So although disabled people might find it harder to find well-paying jobs, in what Mr Sen called an "earning handicap", they may also require higher levels of income.

This is because of a "conversion handicap" - or the assistance that disabled people may need to achieve everyday tasks, such as mobility or allowing children to attend school.

"Poverty statistics tend to look at poverty as if able-bodied and disabled people can do the same things with the same amount of money," said Mr Sen. "The earnings handicap is far exceeded by the conversion handicap, not just for the individual involved but for families where there is a disabled person."

The full story appeared in the Financial Times of December 2, 2004, under the headline: Donors urged to focus more on disability in allocating aid budgets.

Comment: People in Congress who set the Social Security disability benefit, and delay the effective date of Medicare coverage for Disability Insurance beneficiaries until twenty four months after start of cash benefits, should give more consideration to this reality.


Friday, October 29, 2004

Social Security Disability Insurance replaces part of earnings

What percent of earnings are replaced by SSDI?

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits replace part of a disabled worker's prior income. The fraction varies according to the earnings history; the lower the earnings the higher the replacement rate. It also varies according to whether you have family members who who qualify as auxiliary beneficiaries.

To get an idea of the wide variations in earnings replacement rates, consider a hypothetical example. Assume that three disabled workers, all age 45, were earning at three different salary levels when they became disabled in 2003. According to the Social Security Administration (SSA) the following earnings would be replaced in the following percentages by SSDI benefits.

Earnings $14,600 annually, replacement rate 60.4% (with qualifying family member, 83.7%)
Earnings $32,444 annually, replacement rate 44.6% (with qualifying family member, 66.9%)
Earnings $80,978 annually, replacement rate 29.2% (with qualifying family member, 43.8%)

The above is a simplified illustration; actual replacement rates will vary because of differences in workers and work histories. Also, as noted above, auxiliary benefits paid to dependent family members can significantly increase the replacement rate. (Source: SSA’s FY 2003 Performance and Accountability Report, Overview, page 10.)

Your situation probably does not match any of these hypothetical ones. For an estimate of what your personal SSDI benefit would be if you were disabled now, call SSA at 1-800-772-1213 and ask them to send you Form SSA-7004, Request for Social Security Statement. Or, on the Internet, go to: https://s044a90.ssa.gov/apps6a/isss/main.html

What are auxiliary benefits?

When you receive SSDI benefits, other members of your family may qualify for what SSA calls “auxiliary benefits” Here is what the agency says about auxiliary beneficiaries in its booklet, Disability Benefits, SSA Publication No. 05-10029:

Certain members of your family may qualify for benefits based on your work. They include:

● Your spouse, if he or she is 62 or older;
● Your spouse, at any age if he or she is caring for a child of yours who is younger than age 16 or disabled;
● Your unmarried child, including an adopted child, or, in some cases, a stepchild or grandchild. The child must be under age 18 or under age 19 if in elementary or secondary school full-time; and
● Your unmarried child, age 18 or older, if he or she has a disability that started before age 22. (The child’s disability also must meet the definition of disability for adults.)

NOTE: In some situations, a divorced spouse may qualify for benefits based on your earnings if he or she was married to you for at least 10 years, is not currently married and is at least age 62. The money paid to a divorced spouse does not reduce your benefit or any benefits due to your current spouse or children.

To follow developments in Social Security disability, visit: www.disabilityfacts.com


Saturday, October 23, 2004

New electronic folders for Social Security disability claims excite SSA, concern others

Social Security leaders are excited that they soon will have electronic folders for all disability claims, as part of a new system the agency calls the electronic disability system or “eDIB.” This means there will be no troublesome paper folders to clutter employee desks or get lost in the mail. It means that many different people in Social Security can work with a folder at the same time, speeding up decisions.

However, eDIB also means that individuals claiming disability benefits may be blindfolded when in a few months there is no longer a conventional paper folder for them to look through. Already, offices in fourteen states are using the electronic folders, the SSA Commissioner said in testimony to Congress on September 30, 2004.

The states using electronic disability folders are: Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia, according to the Social Security press office.

Lawyers and other advocates have voiced concern about folder access and have gotten some response from SSA. A representative of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives (NOSSCR) testified in the same hearing that SSA had assured some NOSSCR members that:

“SSA will ‘burn’ a CD and send that to the appointed representative and to unrepresented claimants as well. Representatives can then print out the file or view it on their own computers. In addition, at some point in the future, SSA plans to set up a special, secure website for appointed representatives. With their assigned identification numbers, they can go online to see the contents of their clients’ folders.” 1

Not content with only an SSA commitment to provide computer disks, a witness for the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities testified in favor of offering people the ability to review their folders “online”:

“To know what is in the record at any given point during the process, we believe that optimum meaningful access requires secure online access with a ‘read-only’ capacity.” 2

Though meaningful, these electronic access measures will not people who lack computers. Between 44 and 76 percent of people with disabilities lack computers, according to recent surveys. 3 We have discovered no SSA plan to give folder access to computer-less people. We have not even found mention of a simple solution like printing folder contents for people who lack computers and ask for access to their Social Security records.

The changeover from paper to electronic folders is going fast. The SSA Commissioner said:

“In the DDSs, we rolled out eDIB in January 2004 starting in Jackson, Mississippi, and implementation has begun in 14 states. We expect this process to be complete by June 2005.”

If Social Security is to extend equal treatment to all claimants, it cannot accommodate computer-owning claimants by furnishing them disks containing copies of their folders, while providing computer-less claimants no opportunity to have the same information.

Can computer-less people do something to assure that they can examine and copy their Social Security disability claim folders after the agency goes electronic? Yes. Fortunately, roll-out of the new disability process still is at an early stage. This is a good time to ask SSA and Members of Congress to remove the blindfold and give computer-less and computer-owning claimants equal access to disability information.■


1 Statement to House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee, September 30, 2004.
2 Same.
3 About 44 percent of Americans who describe themselves as having a disability lack computers, according to a report of The Pew Internet and American Life Project released April 16, 2003. Three quarters (76.1 percent) of people with work disabilities lack computers, according to a March 2000 study by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research.

To follow developments in Social Security disability, visit: www.disabilityfacts.com