Social Security Changes for 2017 Affecting our Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire clients

With the coming of 2017, and what we hope will be a Happy New Year to all, come changes to both those who are receiving Social Security disability (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits and those who plan on applying for such benefits this year.  Whether you reside in Maine, Massachusetts or New Hampshire, as this is a federal program, the changes I am outlining below will apply to each of you.

First and foremost is a change to one’s benefit rate given the increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI-W) from the third quarter of 2014 through the third quarter of 2016.  Based on these figures, an Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) in the amount of .3 will be applied to your benefit check in 2017.   Thus, if you were receiving $1000.00 per month previously in SSDI benefits, you should see an increase in your monthly check to $1003.00.  Likewise, the Federal standard payment for SSI recipients has been increased from $733.00 per month for individuals to $735.00.   A corresponding increase has been made for the SSI limit for couples (to $1103.00).    The resource limitations for 2017 for SSI entitlement has remained the same for 2017: the resource (asset) limitation has remained the same for 2017 as it was in 2016: $2000.00 for individuals and $3000.00 for couples.

For those who are attempting to determine whether you remain disabled from performing gainful wages, it is important to note that the standard for substantial gainful activity (SGA) has been raised from $1130.00 per month to $1170.00 per month (while the standard for those who are applying based on blindness, the monthly amount has been increased from $1820.00 per month to $1950.00 per month).  Thus, if applying for Social Security disability or SSI benefits, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will be looking to see if you remain capable of earning simply $1170.00 per month on a regular and continuing basis.    It is important to remember, as we’ve discussed previously, SSA will not be looking to see necessarily whether you are actually undertaking SGA level earnings, but whether you remain capable of performing such work on a regular and continuing basis.  Assuming one is making SGA level earnings at the time of their application, however, this would be a basis for a denial of one’s claim at step 1 of the sequential evaluation process.

Likewise, for those who are found approved for Social Security disability benefits and are looking to attempt a return to work, it is important to know that the amount which constitutes a trial work period month (TWP) has been raised from $810.00 per month in 2016 to $840.00 per month in 2017.  Thus, in keeping track as to whether one is using up their trial work period months for purposes of the 9 months one is provided in what is a 60 month period (which need not be consecutive), it is important to keep this new figure in mind.   It is important to remember that one can continue to receive their disability check while attempting a return to work, however, once the trial work period has come to an end, SSA will seek to discontinue regular payment of checks at that time.

While applications can be undertaken for disability benefits on line through SSA’s website, we always advise you to seek the advice and assistance of a Social Security disability lawyer who specializes in this area of the law.  Doing so can avoid needless mistakes that can result in lengthy appeals processes, and what can be additional payments to a lawyer for the additional months or even years you spend going through appeals.  Better to undertake the process correctly the first time, avoid if possible the need to appeal and potentially pay less to an attorney (who will work for you on a contingent basis: only receiving a fee if and when benefits are payable, with such fee limited to 25% of the retroactive benefits obtained for you and your family, and capped at $6000.00).   Contact the Law Offices of Russell J. Goldsmith at 1-800-773-8622 to see how we can assist you with your Social Security disability claim.

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