SSA Administrative Funding For Fiscal Year 2018 Remains In Question
October 1st marked the beginning of Fiscal Year 2018, but Congress did not pass a budget resolution for it until October 26th. Budget resolutions deal with total spending limits for the fiscal year in question.
Both the House and Senate passed budget resolutions in October, but the two were drastically different, and for a time, it seemed as though conference was going to be the only way to resolve the differences. However, the House eventually passed the Senate’s version by a very slim margin: 20 Republicans sided with the Democrats to vote against it.
The Concurrent Budget Resolution (a resolution passed by both House and Senate) includes specific instructions directed to the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee. These instructions provide for tax cuts to pass with only 50 Senate votes. They also allow for a $1.5 trillion increase in the budget deficit over the next ten years. Additionally, the budget resolution leaves FY 2017 spending levels intact but increases non-defense discretionary cuts in the remaining nine years in the budget window (the ten-year period used to estimate the costs and benefits of various legislative proposals) and also increases discretionary defense spending during that same period. The resolution proposes $1 trillion in Medicaid cuts over the next decade but does not outline an approach for making those cuts; additional legislation will have to be passed in order to enact the cuts.
SSA’s 2018 Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA)
In mid-October, the SSA announced it would increase benefits by 2% in 2018. This 2% COLA will go into effect in January of 2018 for Social Security beneficiaries and on December 29, 2017 for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients.
So, what does this COLA mean in terms of actual numbers?
-The average Title II disability benefit will increase by $24/month to $1,197/month
-For SSI recipients: the individual maximum will increase to $750/month and the
couples maximum will increase to $1,125/month
-For non-blind individuals, the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) threshold will
increase to $10/month to $1,180/month
-For blind individuals, the SGA threshold will increase $20/month to $1,970/month
-The Trial Work Period (TWP) threshold will increase $10/month to $850/month
The 2018 COLA adjustment comes with another important change: the maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax. In 2018, this amount will increase from $127,200 to $128,700. According to the SSA, this change will affect about 12 million out of an estimated 175 million workers who pay Social Security taxes.
Information About SSA Office Closures Available Online
In recent months, everything from natural disasters to bedbug infestations have resulted in SSA hearing and field office closures.
In order to reduce confusion and stress for claimants and their representatives, the SSA has a special website with information about office closures. Updated every 10 minutes, the website has current information on field and hearing office closures.
Anyone can go to the website and sign up to receive updates via text or email regarding office closures in their states or territories. In order to sign up, navigate to the website. There, you will be asked to select either text or email notifications, and then you will be taken to a page where you can choose what states and territories you would like to receive notices about.
Unfortunately, the website does not differentiate between field and hearing offices. For instance, if you click on the Maine tab, it simply lists the Portland “Social Security Office” as temporarily closed and does not note which Portland office (field or hearing) is closed. The National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives (NOSSCR) has asked the SSA to remedy this ambiguity by providing more specific information on the website. However, it will still be useful to sign up for notifications, even if it requires a quick phone call to find out which office is closed.
You can find the “Office Closings and Emergencies” page at: https://www.ssa.gov/agency/emergency/
SSA Enables Online Wage Reporting for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) Beneficiaries
Thanks to the “myWageReport” function, SSDI beneficiaries can now report their wages online via their mySSA accounts.
The SSA announced the new feature’s availability as of October 18th. Electronic wage reporting for SSDI beneficiaries was required of the SSA by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015. The law also requires telephone wage reporting, but the SSA has yet to institute the function.
Unfortunately, the myWageReport feature is not available to Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients, but they can report their wages through Mobile Wage Reporting or via Telephone Wage Reporting. Concurrent SSI/SSDI beneficiaries are also unable to use the myWageReport system, but the SSA hopes to make it available to them in the future. Concurrent beneficiaries and SSI recipients can still report their wages in person at their local Social Security offices.
The Promoting Opportunity Demonstration (POD)
One of the requirements of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 was that the SSA test-drive a number of work incentives for SSDI beneficiaries. One such incentive is the Promoting Opportunity Demonstration (POD).
The POD began in November and will continue through June of 2021. Some 15,000 SSDI and concurrent beneficiaries from Alabama, Connecticut, Vermont, and a handful of counties in California, Maryland, Michigan, Nebraska, and Texas will be invited to participate. Participation is entirely voluntary, and even those who chose to participate can withdraw at any time.
Of those who chose to participate, two-thirds will be assigned to test groups. The remaining third will act as the control group and continue to abide by the SSA’s current policies.
The participants in the POD test groups will not have a Trial Work Period. Instead, any wages they earn above a certain amount will result in a $1 reduction in SSDI benefits for every $2 in earnings.
Some people might benefit from the POD, while others might fare better under the current SSA policies. The success of the incentive remains to be seen.