Applications and Appeals Numbers Trending Downward
Applications for SSI disability benefits and SSDI disabled worker benefits peaked in 2010. Since then, they have decreased each year, and that downward trend continued for SSDI applications in 2017 (2017’s SSI numbers will not be available until late next year).
Also of note is the decrease in requests for hearings. In Fiscal Year (FY) 2016, there were 698,579 requests for ALJ hearings. In FY 2017, there were 620,977 requests. This represents an 11% drop. It is predicted that this downward trend will continue into FY 2018.
It is likely that these decreases are, at least in part, due to baby boomers aging past disability years and into eligibility for retirement benefits. Low unemployment may also account for some of these decreases, as some employers are more willing to accommodate disabled workers.
While applications and hearing requests have decreased, federal case filings have increased. In FY 2016, there were 18,239 new federal court cases filed and 18,445 in FY 2017.
The decrease in SSDI claimants and recipients has prolonged the solvency of the SSDI trust fund. According to the 2017 Trustees’ Report, the trust fund will be fully solvent until 2028, which is five years longer than the 2016 report predicted. After that point, it will pay 93% of benefits. Historically, when one of the Social Security trust funds has faced insolvency, Congress has taken action to prevent it from occurring. As a result, the SSA has maintained the ability to pay all benefits due.
New Mileage Rate in 2018
The IRS has announced that in 2018, the standard mileage rate for business purposes will be 54.5 cents per mile, an increase from 2017’s 53.5 cents per mile.
This change affects claimants and representatives who receive reimbursement for travel expenses from the SSA. You can learn more at www.gsa.gov/mileage.
People who deduct mileage as a business expense will also find the change relevant. However, the IRS notes that standard mileage rate is one of several allowable ways to calculate such expenses. In addition, it is important to note that the IRS indicates a different mileage rate for using a vehicle to provide free services to a charitable organization. This affects representatives who provide pro bono services via nonprofit organizations. The charitable rate is 14 cents per mile.
Children, and in some cases, grandchildren or stepchildren of an individual who receives SSDI benefits may qualify for auxiliary benefits via the disabled worker. According to the SSDI Annual Statistical Report, in 2016, 1,493,476 children under the age of 18 received auxiliary benefits, as well as 50,976 students aged 18-19, and 122,202 disabled adult children of disabled workers.
The Retirement and Disability Research Consortium (RDRC)
The SSA has will combine its Retirement Research Consortium (RRC) and Disability Research Consortium (DRC) into one: the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium (RDRC).
The two consortia serve a variety of important functions, including hosting annual research conferences, training researchers, and funding and publishing studies about Social Security benefits and their interactions with other federal programs. Policymakers often look to DRC and RRC research when they are seeking to make changes to SSI and Title II programs.
Currently, the RRC is under the leadership of the National Bureau of Economic Research, the Michigan Retirement Research Center at the University of Michigan, and the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. At the helm of the DRC are Mathematica Policy Research and the National Bureau of Economic Research. This fiscal year will see an end to those partnerships, and the SSA will put forth a request for applications for an entity fit to run the newly formed RDRC in February of 2018. The chosen entity will be announced in September of 2018.