Over the past 10 years or so, it has felt like every legislative action involving Social Security was aimed at cutting benefits and making the system difficult to work with. Representing our disability clients has gotten harder, not easier. But the Social Security 2100 Act could be the first step towards finally making the system better for recipients.
The Social Security 2100 Act was reintroduced in late October by Chairman John Larson (D-CT) of the Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee. The Act suggests several changes to the existing Social Security system that would expand benefits and hopefully make the system easier to navigate for both disability applicants and my fellow disability attorneys.
One change that could make the most difference for our clients is the removal of the 5-month waiting period. Disability applicants must wait an additional five months from their onset date to start receiving benefits – which doesn’t make much sense, as this is money they rightfully deserve because of their condition. While applying for SSDI, applicants have to stop working or drastically cut back on work hours to meet the low SSDI earning limit, but living expenses like rent and groceries keep piling up while they wait. SSI may provide some help but not every SSDI applicant qualifies for SSI. Our clients need their benefits to start as soon as possible after they’ve been approved. Eliminating the 5-month waiting period would grant them immediate access to their disability benefits.
Another positive change will be the improved cost of living adjustment (COLA). The COLA usually increases SSDI payments a little bit every year to keep up with inflation. However, Social Security recipients are usually older and have different expenses that aren’t reflected in the COLA formula. The new formula would use CPI-E, or the costs of goods and services used by the elderly, so their benefits should more accurately reflect their cost of living.
Other proposed changes to the system include:
- 2% benefit bump to current and new beneficiaries, effective 2022.
- Raising the Social Security tax cap to incomes up to $400,000 (it is currently capped at $142,800).
- Improving benefits for widows and widowers in a two-income household.
- Increasing the minimum benefit level to 25 percent over the poverty line, and making it wage-indexed rather than price-indexed, so low-income workers will not have to worry about retiring into poverty.
- Providing caregiver credits for recipients who left the workforce to care for children or a dependent relative. Social Security benefits are based on years spent in the workforce, but it unfairly punishes women and others who had to stop working to take care of their families. The caregiver credit will cover up to 5 years.
- Increasing the cap on allowable fees charged by attorneys and other professional representatives should a disability case go before a judge to a wage-indexed amount, though it would remain capped at 25 percent. It has been 12 years since the fee limit was raised to $6,000, but the work hasn’t gotten any easier. The work and the pay should go hand in hand.
Now that the bill has been reintroduced, my fellow disability attorneys and I have sent letters to our representatives urging them to pass this bill. The Social Security 2100 Act will make a difference to our clients and all beneficiaries. For the first time in a long time, things are looking up for the program.