Social Security benefits for workers who are unable to work because of their medical conditions were threatened over the last four years because of the pandemic and political decisions. Improvements are needed to the Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Insurance programs to help Americans with disabilities obtain the minimal income and medical care that they urgently need.
SSD and SSI are intended to provide a basic income for recipients who are unable to work because of certain medical conditions. SSI also gives beneficiaries their only access to medical care through Medicaid.
However, SSD benefits average only $1,277 per month and SSI averages $560 each month. Because the national poverty level is $1,063 per month, these benefits are clearly insufficient.
A benefit increase would help current SSI beneficiaries. But it is also essential to provide important benefits to an estimated 200,000 low-income and elderly people in this country who were unable to obtain benefits last year because 1,200 Social Security field offices closed during the pandemic.
Because field offices were closed, claimants needing assistance for filing SSD or SSI claims were forced to rely on a tremendously overburdened phone system. Consequently, 100,000 fewer applicants were awarded benefits from July through Nov. 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.
There were only 38,318 new successful claims in July 2020. This was the lowest number of successful claims for any month in the last 20 years.
The SSA also implemented policies and disability reviews that imperiled benefits for 500,000 recipients unless they re-established their disability under a different standard. However, estimates show that the rate of fraud in SSD and SSI is lower than .1 percent.
In addition to reopening offices with appropriate safeguards and minimizing disability reviews, the SSA could also make other improvements. These include removing impediments to applicants who cannot communicate in English, simplifying SSD and SSI’s initial application process and not imposing penalties on people with minimum earned income and savings.
Claimants and beneficiaries may need legal representation to pursue claims and protect benefits within the current Social Security system. Attorneys can help applicants pursue their rights to benefits, build a strong case for eligibility and contest benefit reduction.