At the end of 2015, we learned quite a bit about the future of Social Security benefits. Despite projections that recipients of disability benefits would have their benefits cut by about 20 percent, Congress was able to reach an agreement to stave off cuts for a few more years.
Although additional money was funneled to Social Security, some of which was used to hire new judges and attorneys, the back log of cases still remains. In October 2015, the Social Security Administration had a backlog of about one million cases and it took about 450 days to process a case. This is the longest backlog in the history of Social Security. This backlog is not expected to significantly decrease in the near future. In fact, the Social Security Administration only hopes to decrease the average processing time for a case to 270 days by 2020.
The backlog of cases dramatically affects Social Security applicants. On average, recipients of Social Security disability benefits receive $1,145 a month in benefits. However, recipients who are awarded benefits often receive more than $10,000 in back-pay owed to them because their case took so long to process – money that they could have been receiving much earlier. This delay, compounded with the fact that the approval rate for disability benefits has declined dramatically over the years (only 32 percent of applicants were approved for disability benefits in the 3rd quarter of 2015), makes it extremely important to submit an application that appropriately accounts for all of a claimant’s symptoms. A lawyer can help you with this.
Also in 2015, the Social Security Administration changed their policy to allow same-sex married couples to collect benefits earned by their partner’s work record. This new policy will benefit widows, widowers and retirees. Prior to the change in policy, same-sex married couples were only eligible for benefits stemming from their partner’s work record if they lived in a state that recognized same-sex marriage.
Lastly, we learned that the amount individuals will receive in 2016 will remain the same as it was in 2015. This is only the third time in 40 years that there was not an increase in individuals’ disability benefits. Disability benefit payments are pegged to the inflation index. Since inflation was so low in 2015, the amount individuals receive will not increase.