Posts in:November, 2021

Half a Million Poor and Disabled Americans Left Behind by Social Security

Posted November 19, 2021 by Premier Disability Services, LLC®

The Social Security Administration’s (SSA’s) 1,200 field offices have been closed for the last 20 months, with devastating effects for disabled Americans. Pre-pandemic, more than 43 million Americans were served at SSA field offices; the people most in need of walk-in, on-demand services included people with low- or zero-incomes, housing instability, limited English proficiency, or significant physical or mental disabilities that were themselves barriers to access. With office closures, their inability to file applications and appeals and to correct bureaucratic errors has led to historically unprecedented declines in people receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits.

In fiscal year (FY) 2021, SSA’s awards of SSDI benefits to disabled persons and their family members were down 25 percent relative to FY 2019. SSI disability awards, granted to people without much work history, were down even more, with a 30 percent decline.

Had SSI awards continued at the pre-pandemic level, there would have been 280,000 more SSI awards over the last two fiscal years. In the pre-pandemic years of FY 2017-2019, SSDI awards were declining only modestly; had that trend continued, there would have been 270,000 more SSDI awards in the last two fiscal years.

Even accounting for the fact that some SSI recipients also receive SSDI, these numbers suggest that the operational difficulties facing SSA since the pandemic began have resulted in about 500,000 fewer Americans being awarded disability benefits.

SSA admits that this awards decline is a major problem, and its own internal analysis shows the startling effects of field office closures. Only one month after field offices were closed in March 2020, applications for SSI from retirement-age adults, disabled adults, and parents of disabled children were down, respectively, by 55 percent, 32 percent, and 51 percent relative to prior year numbers.

The decline in awards has continued to the present period. SSDI and SSI awards for September 2021 were down 34 and 42 percent, respectively, from the figures for September 2019.

SSI and SSDI recipients are an economically vulnerable and racially diverse group. That 500,000 disabled Americans have been left behind is shocking and should prompt a serious discussion about affirmative, remedial actions by the agency that would also comport with President Biden’s Executive Order on “Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government.”

SSA, with input from the White House, is finalizing plans for a partial re-opening of its field offices in January. The reopening plan will mix teleworking and in-office staffing. This is a critical step, but simply opening office doors will be woefully inadequate without a panoply of other measures.

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Contact our office today if you or anyone you know would like to learn more about qualifying for Social Security Disability benefits.

By: Devon Brady of Premier Disability Services, LLC®

Supreme Court to Consider Puerto Rico’s Exclusion from SSI Program

Posted November 12, 2021 by Premier Disability Services, LLC®

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday, November 9, 2021, tackled the question of whether a decision by Congress five decades ago to exclude Puerto Rico from a federal program that provides benefits to low-income elderly, blind and disabled people was unlawful.

Some of the nine justices posed tough questions during arguments in the case to the lawyer for the U.S. government, which has appealed a lower court ruling that Puerto Rico’s Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program exclusion violated a U.S. Constitution mandate that laws apply equally to everyone.

But it remained unclear whether the Supreme Court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority, ultimately will rule in favor of Puerto Rican resident Jose Luis Vaello-Madero, who received SSI benefits when he lived in New York but lost eligibility when he moved to Puerto Rico in 2013.

Many Puerto Ricans have long complained that the Caribbean island’s residents are treated worse than other Americans despite being U.S. citizens. Puerto Rico, which is not a state, is the most-populous of the U.S. territories, with about 3 million people.

SSI benefits are available to American citizens living in any of the 50 states, Washington, D.C., and the Northern Mariana Islands, but not the territories of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam.

If Vaello-Madero wins, more than 300,000 Puerto Rico residents could become eligible for the benefit at a cost that the U.S. government has estimated at $2 billion annually.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, whose parents were from Puerto Rico, mentioned the history of Puerto Ricans being treated as second-class U.S. citizens.

“Puerto Ricans are citizens and the Constitution applies to them. Their needy people are being treated different than the needy people in the 50 states,” Sotomayor said.

The federal government’s central argument is that the congressional decision to exclude Puerto Rico was rational based on the fact that Puerto Ricans do not pay many federal taxes, including income tax.

Congress decided not to include Puerto Rico when it enacted the program in 1972. Puerto Ricans are eligible for a different government program, called Aid to the Aged, Blind and Disabled, that allows for more local control but not as much federal funding.

The appeal was originally filed by the former president’s administration. The Biden Administration has continued the appeal while at the same time urging Congress to extend SSI to Puerto Rico.

A provision extending SSI benefits to Puerto Rico is being considered as part of Democratic-backed social spending legislation being crafted in Congress. Enactment of the provision would limit the importance of the Supreme Court’s eventual ruling, due by the end of June.

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Contact our office today if you or anyone you know would like to learn more about qualifying for Social Security Disability benefits.

By: Tom Klint of Premier Disability Services, LLC®

November is National Diabetes Awareness Month

Posted November 5, 2021 by Premier Disability Services, LLC®

November is Diabetes Awareness Month, and World Diabetes Day (WDD) is celebrated globally on November 14 to raise awareness about both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. One in 10 Americans have diabetes, and one in 3 people have prediabetes. New figures from the 10th Edition of the IDF Diabetes Atlas reveal that 537 million adults around the world are living with diabetes.

Diabetes is one of the leading causes of disability and death in the United States. It happens when the body doesn’t produce enough insulin to process glucose. When the pancreas fails to produce sufficient amounts of the hormone insulin, which sends signals to other body cells to absorb excess glucose, blood sugar levels rise. Elevated blood sugar levels often can be controlled through medication and diet, but persistently high blood sugar levels may give rise to neuropathy (nerve damage) causing numbness, burning, and tingling in the extremities. Other complications of diabetes include cardiovascular disease, kidney problems, skin infections, and visual changes.

Symptoms of both diabetes type 1 and diabetes type 2 include frequent urination, unusual thirst and hunger, and extreme fatigue. People with type 2 diabetes also can suffer from tingling or numbness in the hands and feet, frequent infections, and cuts that are slow to heal.

Complications from diabetes can include:

  • nephropathy (kidney disease);
  • neuropathy (nerve damage) in feet or hands that disrupts your ability to stand, walk, or use your hands;
  • retinopathy (eye and vision problems);
  • cellulitis and other skin infections;
  • hypertension (high blood pressure);
  • heart disease;
  • stroke;
  • gastroparesis (a type of nerve damage that interferes with digestion);
  • peripheral arterial disease (reduced blood flow to your limbs); and
  • depression.

If you have uncontrolled diabetes and you have been prevented from working for at least 12 months, or you expect that you won’t be able to work for at least 12 months, then you may be eligible for Social Security disability (SSDI/SSD) benefits or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. The Social Security Administration (SSA) will look for information that shows how well you can use your arms and hands, or how well you are able to stand and walk. The SSA is also interested in whether you can focus on tasks, get along with others, and come to work on a regular basis. For instance, if you have poor control over your glucose levels during the day, the SSA might find that you are unable to concentrate for long periods of time. Similarly, if you have neuropathy in your legs from your diabetes, you might be unable to stand and walk for long periods of time.

If you or someone you know is unable to work due to a medical condition(s), please contact us for a free evaluation of your case!

By: Joyce Trudeau of Premier Diability Services, LLC®