While federal tax reform legislation gets all the headlines, Congress also made significant changes last year that impact Social Security programs, including Social Security Disability programs.
If you are a senior citizen in Oklahoma or are living with a disability, here are some 2018 Social Security changes you should be aware of:
Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) Raise
Recipients of Social Security retirement benefits, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) got a 2 percent cost of living adjustment for 2018. It’s the largest increase since a 3.6 percent COLA in 2012.
If you are among the more than 61 million Americans receiving Social Security retirement and disability benefits, you’ve seen more in your monthly check since January 2018.
Increased payments to more than 8 million SSI beneficiaries began at the end of December 2017.
As of January, the Social Security Administration (SSA) estimated average monthly payments as:
|All retired workers:||$1,404|
|Couple both receiving benefits:||$2,340|
|Widow with two children:||$2,771|
|Widow or widower (of age) alone:||$1,336|
|All disabled workers:||$1,197|
|Disabled worker, spouse and one or more children:||$2,051|
|Individual SSI recipient:||$750|
|Couple receiving SSI:||$1,125|
|Essential person living with SSI recipient:||$376|
Taxable Amount and Earning Allowances Raised
Congress raised the amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax to $128,400 (slightly less than originally promised). This applies to the FICA (Federal Insurance Contributions Act) portion of payroll taxes, and puts more money into Social Security and Medicare funds.
A person who is employed pays a 7.65 percent payroll tax rate. The Social Security portion is 6.2 percent on earnings up to the applicable taxable maximum amount ($128,400 as of 2018). The Medicare portion is 1.45 percent on all earnings. A person who is self-employed pays a 15.3 percent FICA tax, making up for what employers pay for most workers.
You can earn more now while drawing Social Security than was allowed last year.
The earnings limit for workers who are younger than full retirement age (age 66 for people born in 1943 through 1954) but receive Social Security retirement benefits will increase to $17,040 from $16,920 – a $10-per-month increase ($1,410 to $1,420). For each $2 earned over $17,040, Uncle Sam deducts $1 from benefits.
For people turning 66 in 2018 (born in 1952, the earnings limit increased to $45,360 from $44,880 ($3,740 to $3,780 per month, or $40 per month). The federal government deducts $1 from benefits for each $3 earned over $45,360 until the month the worker turns age 66.
There is no limit on earnings for workers who are “full” retirement age or older for the entire year.
SSDI Earnings Thresholds Raised
Individuals receiving Social Security Disability Insurance benefits may earn more this year and still receive benefits.
A part of the qualifications for SSDI payments is the inability to perform “substantial gainful activity,” which is government-speak for holding a job that pays a living wage. However, the government wants people of all abilities to work if they can, so SSDI recipients are allowed to earn a “threshold amount” without losing eligibility for benefits.
The SSD earnings thresholds for 2018 are:
- Non-blind workers: $1,180 per month ($14,160 per year), up from $1,170 per month.
- Blind workers: $1,970 per month ($23,640), up from $1,950 per month.
- Trial work period: $850 per month ($10,200), up from $840 per month.
Less Burden on SSI Families
Supplemental Security Income is typically paid to individuals who were born with disabilities or contracted disabling diseases in childhood and were never able to work. In many cases, a parent applies for SSI on behalf of their grown child and continues to care for the disabled adult with government assistance.
“Representative payees,” or SSI recipients’ family members who are paid on their behalf, must keep records of how they spend or save the benefit payments, and provide these records to Social Security for review if requested. But the SSA has exempted the following representative payees from what was previously an annual accounting for the use of benefit payments:
- Natural or adoptive parents of a minor child beneficiary or recipient who primarily reside in the same household as the child.
- Legal guardians of a minor child beneficiary or recipient who primarily reside in the same household as the child.
- Natural or adoptive parents of a disabled adult beneficiary who primarily reside in the same household as the beneficiary.
- Spouse of a beneficiary or recipient.
More Online Appeals
Individuals who are denied Social Security Disability benefits or Supplemental Security Income payments have several levels of appeal available to them to seek a reversal of the denial.
Earlier this year, the SSA began allowing claimants requesting a review at the Appeals Council level to submit their request online.
The Appeals Council is the third level of appeal, which is available after a reconsideration of your application and a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), each of which you may also request online.
The Appeals Council looks at all requests for review, but it may deny a request if it believes the hearing decision was supported and in accordance with Social Security law and regulations. If denied by the Appeals Council, the applicant may file a civil lawsuit in a federal district court. In Oklahoma City, the appeal would be filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma.
Get Help with Social Security Disability Benefits
Social Security Disability benefits programs are large and complex. Changes to the program may not be communicated well, but they may affect the value of benefits received or whether an applicant eligibility to receive benefits. If you have become disabled and unable to work for a living, the Oklahoma City disability lawyers at Ryan Bisher Ryan & Simons can help you seek the full benefits promised to you by law.
Our attorneys have the knowledge, experience and resources necessary to successfully navigate the Social Security Administration bureaucracy and secure maximum SSDI and SSI benefits for you.
Contact us today to schedule a free consultation about the disability benefits federal Social Security law says you are to receive.