Social Security Administration Offers New Service For The Deaf And Hard Of Hearing
The Social Security Administration (SSA) announced today that individuals who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing may apply for Social Security benefits immediately when they call the Social Security Administration's national toll-free TTY/TDD number, 1-800-325-0778.
"The Social Security Administration wants all Americans to have access to the services we provide," said Social Security Commissioner Jo Anne Barnhart. "The agency will continue to develop and implement innovative technology that improves the services we deliver to the public."
People who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing may immediately file for Retirement, Survivors, Medicare, and Lump Sum Death Benefits without an appointment. Callers may now dial 1-800-325-0778, Monday through Friday, 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. and file a claim for benefits using a TTY/TDD machine, which enables the person to communicate directly with a representative without the need for a local relay system. To file an immediate claim, individuals should have certain documents in-hand when calling such as their birth certificate, most recent W-2, military service DD214 and bank account information.
The paperwork completed by TTY/TDD during the initial contact application will be mailed to the applicant for review and a signature. The applicant may return the printed claim by mail or in-person to his or her local Social Security office. Along with the signed form, SSA also needs certain documents, such as a person's birth certificate and proof of citizenship or residency to establish eligibility for Social Security benefits. An applicant can either mail or take these items to Social Security.
For more information about Social Security and its programs, visit SSA's website Social Security Online -- www.ssa.gov -- or call 1-800-772-1213. People who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing may call our toll-free TTY number, 1-800-325-0778.
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>NOTE TO CORRESPONDENTS: Additional information is available on our factsheet about Immediate Claims Taking.
Jo Anne B. Barnhart Takes Charge At Social Security
Jo Anne B. Barnhart was sworn in today as the Commissioner of Social Security in a ceremony at the agency's national headquarters in Baltimore.
The Commissioner expressed her pride at being chosen to serve as Commissioner of Social Security. "I truly believe that public service is a worthy and noble endeavor, and I thank every federal employee for deciding to make a career in government," said Commissioner Barnhart. "I am proud to head an agency blessed with so many dedicated and caring employees."
Barnhart was sworn in by Larry G. Massanari, Regional Commissioner, Philadelphia. Massanari served as Acting Commissioner of Social Security since March. "She is a new leader, for a new century, where new challenges face the nation's Social Security program," said Massanari. "The SSA is very fortunate that President Bush has chosen such a talented and accomplished leader to serve as Commissioner of Social Security."
Barnhart is the 14th Commissioner of Social Security. Her term will expire on January 19, 2007.
Barnhart is a former SSA employee. She worked in the Office of Family Assistance from 1981 - 1986, first as Deputy Associate Commissioner and then as Associate Commissioner. She left to become minority staff director for the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs.
Most recently, she has served as a member of the Social Security Advisory Board, an independent body created to advise the Congress on Social Security issues and policies. Barnhart served as a member of the Board for more than four years.
She will be responsible for administering the Social Security retirement, disability and survivors insurance programs that pay $408 billion annually in benefits to more than 45 million beneficiaries, as well as the Supplemental Security Income program that provides cash assistance to almost 7 million people with limited income and assets. The agency has a national workforce of about 65,000 employees and 1,500 field installations.
Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Barnhart is graduate of the University of Delaware. She lives in Virgina with her husband and son.
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NOTE TO CORRESPONDENTS: On Friday, November 9, Jo Anne B. Barnhart was sworn in as Commissioner of Social Security. A formal swearing in ceremony was held on November 14th at the Social Security Administration's national headquarters in Baltimore.
Additional information is available about
Statement of Larry Massanari, Acting Commissioner of Social Security on Direct Deposit
As a result of the recent incidents involving our nation's mailing system, the one question we are repeatedly hearing at the Social Security Administration is, "Will I get my benefit payment?" I want to assure the American public that these incidents have not adversely affected the payment of Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.
In addition, some understandable concerns have been expressed by our beneficiaries about the safety of mailed Social Security and SSI checks. For those who have these concerns, I want to encourage them to use the most convenient and safest way for beneficiaries to receive their payments-Direct Deposit.
Direct deposit presents many advantages. It eliminates concerns about delayed mail. Direct deposit eliminates the need for frequent trips to banks; payments are deposited automatically into accounts and are readily available for immediate use. There is no need to wait in long lines to cash a check or to worry when a visit to a bank is impossible due to inclement weather or a lack of transportation. And with direct deposit, the possibility of a stolen check is removed.
The only difference with direct deposit is that checks are not printed or mailed. Currently, more than 50 million Americans receive Social Security and SSI benefits. Of those, over 75 percent have taken advantage of direct deposit.
Direct deposit presents an advantage for the government as well. It costs the government 45 cents to process and mail a check while it costs only 4 cents to send a payment by direct deposit. Last year, direct deposit saved the Social Security Trust Funds approximately $133 million.
Signing up for direct deposit is relatively simple and easy, just call SSA's toll free number, 1-800-772-1213, or visit the nearest local Social Security office. Banks, savings and loan or credit unions can also help people sign up for direct deposit.
If for some reason, an individual does not have an account and cannot open one at a bank, savings and loan or credit union, the Department of Treasury has created special low-cost accounts available to persons who receive a federal benefit. To find out where to open one of these low-cost Electronic Transfer Accounts (ETA) individuals should call 1-888-382-3311, toll-free or look for the ETA logo in the financial institution's window or lobby.
At the Social Security Administration, we understand that recent incidents have raised concerns about changes in the way we have traditionally lived our lives. We are doing everything that we can to make sure our service is as dependable now as it has been for over 66 years.
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NOTE TO CORRESPONDENTS: A fact sheet about direct deposit is available here.
Social Security Offers Spanish Language Immediate Claims Service
The Social Security Administration (SSA) announced today, that Spanish language customers may apply for Social Security retirement or survivors benefits immediately when they call the Social Security Administration's national toll-free 800 number (800-772-1213).
Certain callers will be able to file directly over the phone on their first contact with SSA without having to make an appointment or visit an office. To file an immediate claim, individuals should have certain documents in-hand when calling such as their birth certificate, their most recent W-2 form or tax return and bank account information.
"At the Social Security Administration, we are committed to providing the public with choices in the way they want to conduct business," stated Acting Commissioner Larry G. Massanari. "We recognize that the public wants choices and we will always be there for people who wish to be served on the telephone or face-to-face in our offices."
Individuals will still have the option to set up an appointment. They can call SSA's national toll-free 800 number to schedule a phone interview or a face-to-face interview. Of the more than 3 million people who applied for Social Security retirement or survivors benefits last year, almost 2 percent (62,000 people) preferred to deal with the Agency in Spanish.
Earlier this year SSA launched two new Spanish language Internet pages.
The Agency's Spanish language website, Seguro Social, Información en Español - www.ssa.gov/espanol/ - averages about 10,000 visitors a month.
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NOTE TO CORRESPONDENTS: A fact sheet is available here.
Acting Social Security Commissioner Larry G. Massanari Announces 2.6 Percent Social Security Increase
Monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits to more than 50 million Americans will increase 2.6 percent in 2002, Larry G. Massanari, Acting Commissioner of Social Security announced today.
"Today's news tells us that inflation continues to be low which is certainly good news for the elderly and disabled," said Acting Commissioner Massanari. "Inflation is one of the biggest challenges for people living on a fixed income."
The 2.6 percent increase will begin with benefits that 45 million Social Security beneficiaries receive in January 2002. Increased payments to more than 6 million SSI beneficiaries will begin on December 31.
For Social Security beneficiaries, the average monthly benefit amount for all retired workers will rise from $852 to $874. The maximum federal SSI monthly payment to an individual will rise from $531 to $545. For a couple, the maximum federal SSI payment will rise from $796 to $817.
"The annual Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) is one of the most critically important features of the Social Security program," stated Acting Commissioner Massanari. "For the elderly, it guarantees that their foundation of retirement income will remain strong for as long as they live."
Social Security and SSI benefits increase automatically each year based on the rise in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W) from the third quarter of one year through the corresponding period of the next. This year's increase in the CPI-W was 2.6 percent. Based on the increase in the CPI-W from the third quarter of 2000 through the third quarter of 2001, Social Security and SSI beneficiaries will receive a 2.6 percent COLA for 2002.
Some other changes that take affect in January of each year are based on the increase in average wages. Based on that increase, the maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax (taxable maximum) will increase to $84,900 from $80,400 in 2002.
As a result of the increase in the taxable maximum in 2002, the maximum yearly Social Security tax paid by employees and employers will increase by $279 each. For self-employed workers, it will rise by $558. Of the approximately 154 million workers who pay Social Security taxes, only about 10.5 million are affected by the higher wage base in 2002.
Also based on the increase in average wages, the amount of earnings required to earn a quarter of coverage will increase to $870 in 2002, up from $830 this year.
Information about Medicare changes for 2002 can be found at www.hhs.gov - The Internet site for the Department of Health and Human Services.
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NOTE TO CORRESPONDENTS: A fact sheet showing the
Social Security Unveils New 'Representing Clients' Website
The Social Security Administration (SSA), recognizing the importance of timely and accurate information for those who represent claimants, today launched a new website on Social Security Online. "Representing Clients" provides comprehensive information for representatives and provides links to key SSA regulatory and program resources.
"This website was created as a service to the thousands of attorneys and other representatives who provide assistance to people who apply for Social Security benefits," said Larry G. Massanari, Acting Commissioner of Social Security. "The right to representation is extremely important and this is part of Social Security's continuing effort to enhance the claimant representation process."
The Social Security Act gives SSA the authority to approve fees for individuals representing Social Security claimants. In Social Security cases, when the representative is an attorney, SSA pays the fee directly to the attorney from the claimant's past-due benefits. In all other cases, SSA must approve the fee before a representative can charge a claimant for their services. Fees are most often authorized for representatives of claimants for disability benefits.
The website, located at www.ssa.gov/representation, contains information on SSA regulations and operating procedures, as well as links to the Social Security Handbook, Program Operations Manual System (POMS), and relevant sections of the Code of Federal Regulations. Specific information about the claimant representation process is provided by topic:
--Exceptions to the Fee Agreement Procedure
--Model Fee Agreement
--Standards of Conduct for Representatives
--Code of Federal Regulations
--Form SSA-1696 Appointment of Representative
--Form SSA-1560 Petition to Obtain Approval of Fees
A "frequently asked questions" section provides answers to commonly asked questions about representing clients. The website also provides statistics on payment of fees. From February 2000 through July 2001, for example, SSA paid more than 300,000 fees to attorneys totaling more than $700 million.
In addition to the new website, SSA provides a wide variety of publications that explain the disability application and appeals process. Publications providing information for representatives and claimants are available online at www.ssa.gov/pubs, through SSA's toll-free telephone service at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY number 1-800-325-0778), or at any local Social Security office.
Social Security Administration Responds To Terrorist Attacks On America
Social Security is Open for Business
In response to the horrific acts of terrorism against the United States of America on September 11, 2001, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has initiated a series of actions designed to ensure continuity of its operations and a quick response to those who need Social Security services. All but one Social Security office in New York City (26 Federal Plaza) is open. That office is expected to open next week. The Social Security toll-free 800 number (1-800-772-1213) (TTY Number 1-866-545-7316) is fully staffed and operational. Social Security's web site, www.ssa.gov, is up and running 24/7. Social Security benefits will not be interrupted and payments should be received on time.
Social Security Benefits for People Affected by the Terrorist Attacks
Social Security may provide survivors benefits for the families of those who tragically lost their lives in the terrorist attacks.
Those who suffered critical injuries as a result of the attacks may be eligible for Social Security disability benefits.
Social Security is working with local and regional officials as well as with employers in the affected areas to assist families who may be eligible for Social Security benefits. We are working to ensure that emergency procedures are followed that will provide the most prompt and efficient processes for taking claims and paying benefits to the victims and survivors of these attacks.
Those who are already receiving monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income benefits should be assured that their September and October benefits will arrive on time.
Claims Taking and Processing
Social Security has activated special emergency handling procedures for survivor claims resulting from the terrorist plane crashes at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001.
--People applying for survivor benefits using SSA's toll-free 800-number (1-800-772-1213) (TTY Number 1-866-545-7316) will have their claims processed at the time of their call.
--Survivor claimants who choose to file at their local field office will have their claims processed at the time of their visit.
--All survivor claims related to Tuesday's plane crashes will be handled under the Agency's disaster/emergency policies and procedures. These procedures allow for acceptance of airplane manifests, lists of employees furnished by employers and other statements that would place the worker at the scene of the tragedy as proof of death.
--Survivors benefits will be payable for the month of September. These payments will be made in October.
800 Number (1-800-772-1213) (TTY Number 1-866-545-7316)
Social Security's national 800 number representatives will transfer all disaster-related survivor or claims calls to the Immediate Claims Taking (ICT) Units where an application for benefits will be taken immediately.
--The ICT units are a nationwide network of 14 claims processing sites, staffed with 390 claims takers.
Calls to SSA's 800 number originating in the New York City area, the area with the largest number of victims affected by Tuesday's events, are being directed to a designated facility in New York where specially trained operators will handle their calls.
SSA Online - www.ssa.gov
The Social Security Administration website (www.ssa.gov) has current information:
--Informing the public that all but one Social Security office (26 Federal Plaza) in New York City is open for business,
--Giving SSA's toll-free 800 number and a link to SSA's local office locator to assist persons who need to file a claim for Social Security benefits,
--Assuring people that Social Security benefits in September and October will arrive on time, and;
--Providing a link to the FirstGov.gov website, which contains a list of government agencies and other resources.
These actions should reassure the public that the Social Security Administration will continue to provide compassionate and caring service that has been the Agency's trademark for more than 66 years.
See attached Fact Sheet
Social Security Administration to Issue One-Time Payments to Approximately 50 Million Beneficiaries
The Social Security Administration (SSA) announced that it will issue one-time payments to approximately 50 million Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) beneficiaries. These special payments will compensate individuals for shortfalls in their benefits caused by an error the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) made in the calculation of the consumer price index (CPI). SSA uses the CPI to calculate annual increases, or cost-of-living adjustments (COLA), in benefit levels for Social Security and SSI payments.
Lump-sum retroactive payments are scheduled for delivery on July 16 to Social Security and SSI beneficiaries. For the majority, these payments will total up to $19, or $1 per month for January 2000 through July 2001. Beneficiaries do not need to contact SSA.
Beginning with the monthly benefit payment received in August 2001, fully adjusted benefits will be issued. These payments will include the increased amount due, based on the recalculated CPI. Since the error was so small (1/10 of 1 percent) not all beneficiaries will be due an increase in their monthly benefit payment.
"Social Security is taking this action to ensure that beneficiaries receive every single dollar that they deserve. Even though it is a relatively small amount, every dollar counts for people who live on fixed incomes," said Larry G. Massanari, Acting Commissioner of Social Security. "These payments will compensate people receiving Social Security and SSI benefits for payments they would have received had there been no error in the consumer price index."
As a result of the CPI error, the December 1999 cost-of-living adjustment -- paid in January 2000 -- was one-tenth (1/10) of one percent below what it would have been had the error not occurred. As a result, the COLA applied to Social Security and SSI payments was 2.4 percent, rather 2.5 percent.
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NOTE TO CORRESPONDENTS: A fact sheet showing the Consumer Price Index Fix is attached.
Social Security Launches New Spanish Language Page Specially Designed For Women
Recognizing the special importance of Social Security to women and the need for Hispanic women to have access to timely, accurate information about their rights to benefits under the program, the Social Security Administration (SSA) today unveiled a new website, "Para la Mujer" ("For Women"). The site - www.ssa.gov/espanol/mujeres - on SSA's Spanish language website provides basic Social Security program information on retirement, survivors, disability and Supplemental Security Income benefits pertinent to Hispanic women. The site also provides guidance on how to find an interpreter, a link to SSA's English-Spanish glossary of terms and information on how to obtain a Social Security card.
Larry Massanari, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, said that, "The Social Security program treats all workers, regardless of gender or ethnic origin, exactly the same. But because of different life experiences, the real world results are different. As a group, women, particularly Hispanic women, live longer than men, earn less and rely on Social Security for most of their retirement income. They need to know what the program means to them in their particular circumstances."
"Para la Mujer" provides links to basic information throughout SSA's official Spanish language website - Seguro Social, Información en Español - that can be relevant to Hispanic women at different stages in their life. The links are grouped in logical categories to coincide with the various life events affecting women:
- Trabajadora (Working women)
- Divorciada (Divorced spouse)
- Beneficiaria (Beneficiary)
- Cuidadora familiar (Caregiver)
- Racién casada (Bride)
- Viuda (Widow)
- Nueva madre (New mother)
"Para la Mujer" also provides links to other Federal agency websites containing information of interest to Hispanic women.
The number of Hispanic households online has almost doubled since 1998, with women representing 33 percent of Hispanic Internet users. Hispanics increasingly use the Internet to find information and conduct business.
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Social Security Administration Quality Review Identifies Eligibility for Social Security Disability Benefits
As a result of an internal Social Security Administration (SSA) quality review, approximately 130,000 low-income Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability beneficiaries nationwide may now be eligible to receive Social Security disability insurance payments because they have earned sufficient work credits to qualify for the disability insurance program. In addition to being eligible for higher ongoing monthly payments - $20 or less on average - they will also be eligible for retroactive payments averaging over $2000 per individual.
About 99.7 percent of the current 45.5 million Social Security and 6.6 million SSI beneficiaries receive a monthly payment that represents the precise amount they are due.
"We are proud that our internal quality review system worked and, as a result of our efforts, some of our low-income disabled beneficiaries will be eligible for additional dollars," said Larry G. Massanari, Acting Commissioner of Social Security. "This benefit increase will improve the lives of people with disabilities."
Social Security Administration employees in local offices across the country will contact those individuals affected by the review and provide assistance to them in applying for the higher benefits; no one need contact SSA. Most of those affected are individuals who have gained the necessary work credits to be eligible for Social Security disability insurance since they began receiving their SSI benefits.
SSA identified the cases through its ongoing quality review process and is distributing a list to the offices servicing these customers. Each case will be screened for eligibility. For those who are eligible for Social Security disability benefits an application will be secured and the necessary action taken to start payment of Social Security benefits. Because of the complexity of these cases and, in many instances the need to obtain medical evidence and make new disability determinations, it may take a year or more to process some of the cases.
It is anticipated that retroactive benefits amounting to an average payment of $20 or less per month will be due in the majority of cases. The period involved could range from a few months to several years. There will be instances where the Social Security disability benefits will cause the SSI benefits to terminate. Because SSI benefits require recipients to apply for any and all benefits for which they might be eligible, Social Security benefits must be elected if eligibility exists.
SSA pays SSI benefits to 5.3 million disabled individuals.
Social Security Launches New for Women Page And Online Application For Spouse's Benefits
Recognizing the special importance of Social Security to women and the need for women to have access to timely, accurate information about their rights to benefits under the program, the Social Security Administration (SSA) today unveiled a new website, Social Security Online "For Women." The site provides basic Social Security program information on retirement, survivors, disability and Supplemental Security Income benefits pertinent to women.
Larry Massanari, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, said, "The Social Security program treats all workers -- men and women -- exactly the same. But because of different life experiences, the real world results are different. As a group, women live longer than men, earn less and rely on Social Security for most of their retirement income. They need to know what the program means to them in their particular circumstances."
"For Women," www.ssa.gov/women, provides links to basic information throughout SSA's official website --Social Security Online -- that can be relevant to women at different stages in their life. The links are grouped in logical categories to coincide with the various life events affecting women:
- -- Working women
- -- Beneficiary
- -- Bride
- -- Widow
- -- New mother
- -- Divorced spouse
- -- Caregiver
"For Women" also provides links to other federal agency websites containing information of interest to women, such as the Department of Labor's "Women's Bureau," the Department of Health and Human Service's "Women's Health" and the White House's "Federal Programs and Resources for Women and Families."
Currently, over 106 million Americans are online -- 53 percent of the adult population. Women Internet users have tripled over the past two years. In fact, women represent 49 percent of all those who are online. Women who visit Social Security Online will find another recent and useful SSA innovation. In April, SSA expanded its online Benefit Application to include the ability to apply for Social Security Spouse's benefits.
Since November 2000, interested persons could apply for Social Security retirement benefits online at www.ssa.gov, the official website for the Social Security Administration. By completing one application, an individual can now apply for their own retirement benefit, or a spouse's benefit or, if eligible for both, their own retirement benefit and their benefit as the spouse of a retired worker.
While both men and women can apply for Social Security spouse's benefits online, the fact remains that more women than men qualify for a Social Security benefit as the spouse of a retired worker. Approximately 700,000 people apply for spouse's benefits annually, over 90 percent of them women.
SSA uses the strongest commercially available encryption to ensure that an applicant's confidential information is secure as it travels over the Internet.
Note to Correspondents: Fact sheets with additional information about this subject are available below
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Social Security Trust Funds Gain One Additional Year of Solvency
The Social Security Board of Trustees today released its annual report on the long-term financial health of the Social Security Trust Funds. The 2001 Trustees' Report projects that the Social Security program will remain solvent until 2038 - one year later than reported last year.
"The additional year of solvency is good news. However, we should both maintain fiscal discipline and move forward on a bipartisan basis to strengthen Social Security to face the challenges presented by the Baby Boom generation's retirement," said William A. Halter, Acting Commissioner of Social Security.
Social Security ran a surplus of $153 billion in 2000 and ended the year with $1.049 trillion in assets. Annual Trust Fund revenues are projected to exceed expenditures until 2016, a year later than estimated in last year's Trustees' report.
Acting Commissioner Halter stated, "Social Security is the major source of income for two-thirds of older Americans and virtually the only source of income for one-third of older Americans. In a real sense, Social Security is the most important income security program in American history. We should utilize this period of Social Security surpluses to fashion the legislative changes necessary to extend the solvency of the system for future generations."
Beginning in 2025, assets of the combined Old-Age and Survivors Insurance and Disability Insurance Trust Funds will be drawn down to pay benefits until the funds are exhausted in 2038. Over the 75-year long-range actuarial period, the projected actuarial balance is a deficit of 1.86 percent of taxable payroll, compared to 1.89 percent projected in 2000.
Based on the most recent experience, the Social Security Trustees made some small adjustments in the demographic and disability assumptions used in last year's report, resulting in the one-year change to the exhaustion date of the combined trust funds. Data accumulated since last year's report indicate that the death rate declined recently at a slower pace than estimated for the 2000 report. An update of disability data resulted in a lower overall rate of disability incidence than was projected in last year's report. These two factors together acted as the main force behind extending the combined Trust Fund exhaustion date from the 2037 projected in the 2000 report to 2038 in the 2001 Trustees' Report.
In their 2001 Annual Report to Congress, the Trustees also reported the following:
The Old-Age and Survivors, and Disability Insurance Trust Funds paid benefits amounting to $407.6 billion in calendar year 2000, and there were 45.4 million beneficiaries on the rolls at the end of 2000;
In 2000, an estimated 154 million people worked in jobs covered by Social Security;
Income to the combined Trust Funds amounted to $568.4 billion in 2000 and expenditures were $415.1 billion, increasing the assets of the combined funds by $153.3 billion to $1,049.4 billion at the end of 2000;
Interest earned on the invested assets of the combined Trust Funds was $64.5 billion in 2000, representing an effective annual interest rate of 6.9 percent. The average interest rate on the new securities purchased by the Trust Funds was 6.2 percent; and
Administrative expenses were $3.8 billion in 2000, or about .6 percent of total income for the year. For OASI, administrative expenses were about .4 percent of total income for the year.
The Board of Trustees is composed of six members, four of whom serve automatically by virtue of their positions with the federal government: the Secretary of the Treasury, who is the managing Trustee; the Secretary of Labor; the Secretary of Health and Human Services; and the Commissioner of Social Security. The other two members are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate to serve as public representatives: John L. Palmer and Thomas R. Saving.
Social Security Administration Increase in SGA Level
The Social Security Administration today announced several new rules that took effect January 1, 2001, that will allow more persons with disabilities to test their ability to work without fear of losing their cash benefits and important health care coverage. These new rules are part of a package of proposed regulations announced by President Clinton as part of the 10th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act in July. Final regulations were published in the Federal Register on December 29, 2000.
"These new regulations will encourage individuals with disabilities to test their ability to work," said Kenneth S. Apfel, Commissioner of Social Security.
The first new rule increases the amount of earnings that are considered to be gainful employment. Beginning January 1, a Social Security Disability beneficiary can earn $740 a month and remain eligible for benefits. The Social Security Administration uses the term "substantial gainful activity" (SGA) to determine if work is substantial enough to make a person ineligible for benefits. Under the new rule, the current monthly SGA earnings limit of $700, which became effective July 1999, will be automatically adjusted annually based on increases in the national average wage index. This amount applies to people with disabilities other than blindness.
"This new rule is good news for Social Security Disability beneficiaries," commented Commissioner Apfel. "Disability beneficiaries will now be able to count on having an SGA level that accurately reflects annual increases in the national average wage."
The second new rule affects the trial work period (TWP). Currently, the TWP allows disability beneficiaries to test their ability to work for at least nine months. During the TWP, Social Security beneficiaries may earn any amount and receive full Social Security Disability benefits. Currently, earnings of $200 in a month count as a trial work month. The rule increases that amount to $530 per month and links annual changes to increases in the national average wage index. After completion of nine trial work months, the SGA level is used to determine whether earnings are substantial or not. If earnings fall below the SGA level, full benefits generally continue. If earnings are higher than the SGA level, cash benefits are normally suspended while medical benefits continue.
The third and final rule in the package allows for more income to be excluded when a student who receives Supplemental Security Income (SSI) returns to work. Under current SSI law, when a student under the age of 22 works, up to $400 of earned income (wages or self-employment) per month is not counted when determining eligibility. The maximum yearly exclusion is $1,620. The new rule increases the monthly excluded amount to $1,290 and the maximum yearly amount to $5,200. This yearly exclusion roughly corresponds to what a student may realistically earn in part-time or summer employment. In addition, both amounts will be automatically annually adjusted based on increases in the cost-of-living index.
SSA pays cash benefits to people whom, due to the onset of a disability that is expected to last more than a year or result in death, are unable to earn a substantial wage. SSA administers two disability programs: Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income.
Social Security Disability Insurance pays monthly benefits to people who have earned enough Social Security credits. Credits are earned by working and paying Social Security taxes. Benefit payments are financed by the Social Security Disability Insurance Trust Fund. This program pays an average monthly benefit of $786 to 5 million workers with disabilities. In addition, some 1.6 million members of their families receive monthly benefits.
SSI, a cash assistance program where eligibility is based on financial need, provides monthly payments to people who have low income and few assets. Although this program is run by the Social Security Administration, the payments are financed by the general revenue funds, not from Social Security taxes. Nationwide, there are 6.6 million people receiving SSI benefits, including 900,000 disabled children.
The increase in the SGA level affects both Social Security Disability Insurance benefits and SSI benefits. The term SGA is part of the statutory definition of disability that requires an individual to be unable to engage in substantial work for initial and ongoing eligibility under the Social Security Disability Insurance program and initial eligibility under the SSI program.
The trial work period is relevant only to the Social Security Disability Insurance program, while the student earned income exclusion is relevant only to the SSI program.