NOSSCR Conference Review (2012)
The Importance of Social Security Disability Program
Welcome to the first installment of my blog, Social Security Disability News, for the Law Office of Richard A. Gutstadt, P.C. As you know, our firm is dedicated to representing Social Security Disability Claimants in their fight to obtain disability benefits. It has now been 16 months since I began working for Mr. Gutstadt in July of 2011, and I have become deeply entrenched in the practice of disability law.
Recently, Mr. Gutstadt and I attended the 2012 (fall) National Organization of Social Security Claimant’s Representatives (NOSSCR) conference. NOSSCR, established in 1979, is a professional organization of over 4,000 attorneys and other advocates committed to representing individuals trying to obtain their disability benefits. You can read more about this amazing organization here.
This year’s gathering took place in Seattle (WA), and Mr. Gutstadt and I were fortunate enough to attend together, being able to take full advantage of the extensive number of presentations on a wide array of topics. For those attorneys and advocates who specialize in practicing Social Security disability law, these conferences provide information and insight not only into the “nuts and bolts” of practice, but also on emerging political and legal issues at the forefront of disability law.
One of this year’s most interesting presentations was called “Defending Disability Insurance” by Ms. Kathy Ruffing, Senior Fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Ms. Ruffing’s presentation addressed and dispelled many of the myths and misconceptions put forth by critics of the Social Security Disability program. A summary of some of the more important points of Ms. Ruffing’s presentation are as follows:
Myth: Americans are increasingly dependent on Social Security Disability benefits.
Fact: Although there has been some increase in the percentage ofAmericans receiving disability benefits, there are main 3 reasons for this: (1) Baby boomers (born 1946-1964) have aged in to their high-disability years; (2) during this same time more women entered the workforce and have begun to qualify for disability benefits; and (3) the Social Security retirement age rose from 65 to 66. When these reasons are taken into account, the rise in disability benefits appears far less dramatic.
Myth: The Social Security Disability (DI) program is going bankrupt and will not be able to pay benefits to those in need.
Fact: Bankruptcy is a loaded term. The DI program is financed chiefly through FICA taxes. Under current policies, the DI program faces sustained deficits and faces insolvency as early as 2016 when its portion of the Social Security trust fund will be depleted. At this point, if policy makers refuse to take action, benefits would be cut to whatever level could be recovered by incoming tax receipts. Current cuts in benefits would likely be around 21% and could increase to 25% in later years. Policy makers have options at their disposal, as they have utilized in the past, to ensure that recipients’ full benefits will be paid.
Myth: Disability benefits are easy to obtain.
Fact: To qualify for DI benefits, an individual must meet several criteria. First, the individual must be both fully insured and disability insured. Being fully insured means having worked one-quarter of one’s adult life, and being disability insured means having worked 5 out of the last 10 years. An individual must also have a “severe, medical determinable physical or mental impairment that is expected to last 12 months or result in death.” The individual must also have the inability to perform “substantial gainful activity” – i.e. be unable to work a full-time job. There are also additional criteria based on an individual’s age, educational level, and ability to perform physically and/or mentally that the Social Security Administration must take into account before an individual may receive DI benefits.
The DI portion of the Social Security program provides modest benefits to individuals who have become unable to work due to a debilitating physical and/or psychological condition(s). It is not intended to replace a salary earned from full or part-time employment. Rather, it is an important safety net for individuals in our society who have ceased to be able to support themselves through working.
All in all, this year’s NOSSCR conference provided a wealth of information on many areas of Social Security Disability practice – a large, complex, and continuously evolving area of administrative law. Please check back in the near future for new posts which will provide resources and insight into the many facets of the Social Security Disability program.
Discussion of myths/facts no.’s 1-3 are based on the following: Defending Disability Insurance, Kathy Ruffing, Senior Fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Electronic NOSSCR Materials, Seattle, WA, October 2010, p. 279 – 314.