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  • As regular readers of SS&Y are aware, the Social Security Administration administers 2 trust funds. The Old Age Survivors Insurance (OAS’) fund pays retirement benefits. The Disability Insurance fund (DI) pays disability benefits. When Congress passed and President Obama signed the Bipartisan Budget Act in November of 2015 to reallocate current contributions between the OASI…

    7+ months ago
  • The Social Security Administration has announced there will be no Cost of Living Adjustment in 2016 for the nearly 65 million Americans drawing Social Security disability, retirement or SSI benefits.  This is because there was no inflation between the third quarter of 2014 and 2015 as measured by the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage…

    2+ years ago

News

  • Spring-Summer 2015 Newsletter SSDI Insolvency Looms We’ve known it’s been coming for some time and now it’s on our doorstep. Unless Congress acts the Social Security Disability Insurance Trust Fund (DI Trust Fund) will become insolvent late next year and unable to pay full benefits any longer. Millions of Americans who rely on their disability checks for most, if not all,…

    2+ years ago
  • Fall 2014 Newsletter OBAMACARE UPDATE On October 1st it will have been a year since enrollment began in the Affordable Care Act national health insurance program known as Obamacare. The difficulties in the early weeks and months have been well documented. But where are we a year later… Read the Newsletter in PDF format.   Read the Newsletter in PDF…

    2+ years ago

Social Security & You: Spring 2013

From the Office of Attorney William Crawforth

ATTORNEY CRAWFORTH RELOCATES HIS OFFICE

In 1999 I moved from Detroit to Ann Arbor. A year later I had to move my office when the landlord didn’t renew my lease in the City-Center Bldg. on Huron. That led to a 5 year sub-lease arrangement on Liberty with legendary feminist attorney, Jean Ledwith King.

In 2005 the new landlord did not renew Jean’s lease. I was fortunate to land a spot sharing space with 3 other attorneys, back in the City Center Bldg.

Their lease was up in February of this year and in view of the rising rents in downtown Ann Arbor we explored alternatives. We landed in a small professional complex out by I-94, near Briarwood Mall. The new space is larger, cheaper and affords us the benefit of free parking just a few yards from our suite; a benefit for us and for our clients.

So instead of fighting traffic into downtown Ann Arbor, hunting for a parking space, paying to park and hiking a few blocks to my office, my clients can exit I-94 at the Ann Arbor-Saline Road exit 175 drive north a couple hundred yards to Eisenhower Parkway, turn right &then turn right into the driveway leading to Applebee’s parking lot. Our suite is 110 in the back.

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SEQUESTER IS HERE

Displaying a stunning lack of leadership, the President of the United States & United States Congress have jumped off the proverbial financial/political cliff. The finger pointing began immediately. As of April 1, 2013 mandated spending cuts will be applied to all branches of the federal government.

What will this mean for the Social Security Administration? It is true that Social Security benefit amounts will not be affected. But for the staff at Social Security Field Offices & branches of the Office of Disability Adjudication & Review, the sequestration applies. This may mean a 20% reduction in hours & pay as personnel are “furloughed” one day a week for 22 weeks. Or employees could be terminated and facilities closed.

The sequester will mean delays in processing time at Field Offices, longer waits for service on the toll free 800 number, longer waits for a hearing at the ODAR and a longer wait for decisions after the hearing. An SSA Fact Sheet prepared prior to the sequester predicted a loss of 5,000 employees. It was estimated the wait for a hearing would increase by a month. Ironic, after SSA succeeded in reducing the backlog at the ODAR level in the past couple years through an aggressive judge-hiring and ODAR-building program.

Maybe the sequester won’t prove to be the disaster many have predicted. Maybe we will adjust and digest the “new normal”. But it won’t be without some suffering.

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SECRET JUDGE PROGRAM TO END?

I announced on my website (www.misocialsecuritylawyer.com) several weeks ago that a reliable source had told me that the “secret judge” policy, instituted by the Social Security Administration in December 2011 would end shortly: perhaps as soon as a few weeks.

The program was created after perceived abuses by a couple of national law firms which appeared to be dropping cases assigned to conservative judges.

Under attack from advocacy groups, including the National Organization of Social Security Claimant’s Representatives (NOSSCR), SSA may be throwing in the towel. Lawsuits filed in United States District Court under the Freedom of Information Act have proven successful. Earlier this year SSA started supplying the identity of the ALJ in response to these actions.

Well the secret judge program hasn’t been ended yet.

The fate of the program will, no doubt, lie with the new Social Security Commissioner, once one is appointed. The term of former Commissioner, Kenneth Astrue ended in January.

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ACTING SSA COMMISSIONER APPOINTED

Outgoing Social Security Commissioner, Kenneth Astrue, has been replaced, for the time being, by Deputy Commissioner, Carolyn W. Colvin. Ms. Colvin was appointed on 2-14-13 and will remain Acting Commissioner until a permanent replacement is named.

Ms. Colvin was appointed Deputy Commissioner on 12-22-10. She is also a member of the Social Security Board of Trustees.

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PROCESSING TIMES FOR MICHIGAN ODARS

Just a few years ago the processing times for hearing a Social Security Disability or SSI appeal in the Michigan ODARs were among the longest in the nation. The addition of the Mt. Pleasant, Livonia & Toledo, Ohio ODARs, in addition to hiring more ALJs, have shortened the processing times greatly.

While Grand Rapids remains an exception (163rd out of 165), the other ODARs covering Michigan have improved dramatically, relative to the rest of the nation. Flint is now 17th (292 days), Oak Park is 28th (304 days), Lansing is 43rd (321 days), Livonia is 50th (325 days), Detroit is 54th (328 days) and Mt. Pleasant is 59th (332 days).

The gains could be mitigated due to changes caused by the sequester.

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BENEFITS OF REPRESENTATION AT INITIAL LEVEL

A study conducted by the Social Security Advisory Board (SSAB) last year found that for Social Security Disability claims the increase in benefit allowance rates was minimal when an attorney assisted in the initial application. However, the rate was significantly greater for SSI claims. The SSAB also found that the waiting time for an initial decision was actually longer for represented Claimant’s.

Attorney Crawforth does not represent Claimants at the initial level. His feeling is that any minimal benefit to a Claimant is offset by the windfall attorney fee he would receive for answering questions the Claimant can answer for him or herself.

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COMPASSIONATE ALLOWANCE CONDITIONS INCREASE

The number of medical conditions qualifying for automatic payment of disability or SSI benefits has now been increased to 200. The conditions, generally certain cancers, neurological and immune system disorders are considered to be so severe (generally fatal) that complete development is not warranted.

According to SSA “By definition, these conditions are so severe that Social Security does not need to fully develop the applicant’s work history to make a decision. As a result, Social Security eliminated this part of the application process for people who have a condition on the list.”

A complete list of qualifying decisions is available at www.ssa.gov/compassionateallowances/conditions.

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CBO REPORTS ON SSI PROGRAM

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) conducted an overview of the SSI program late last year. The CBO study found that while SSI approval rates had increased in recent years, that trend was likely to be reversed in the coming years as more women in the work force has translated to more women with sufficient earnings to qualify for either SS disability or retirement benefits.

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STUDY REVEALS DISTRIBUTION OF DISABILITY & SSI BENEFITS BY STATE

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities issued a study last year of the receipt of SS disability & SSI benefits by state. While 6% of the population receive one of the 2, nationwide, there is a wide variance by state.

Over 11% receive benefits in Kentucky & West Virginia and over 9% in Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama and Maine. The study pointed to lower education levels in those states, as well as an aging work force. Both impact on allowance rates through the Medical-Vocational Guidelines or “grids”.

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COLA FOR 2013 is 1.7%

Social Security disability, SSI & retirement benefit rates are up 1.7% this year. The average benefit is up to $1,132 from $1,113. The maximum benefit has increased to $2,533 from $2,513. SSI benefits are up to $710 per month from $698.

The Cost of Living Adjustment is figured by comparing the Consumer Price Index from the 3rd quarter of the year just concluded to that for the prior year.

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ALJ HIRING CONTINUES

Although the sequester could have an effect, Social Security recently opened the register for applicants to be an Administrative Law Judge on the USA Jobs website. There were 147 new ALJs hired in 2012 which brought the total, nationwide, to nearly 1,500.

Of the new hires, 58% came from the ODARs either as Senior Attorney Advisors, Attorney Advisors or Hearing Office Directors. Only 32% came from outside the federal government.

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STUDIES, STUDIES, STUDIES

One of Attorney Crawforth’s favorite kind of studies involves comparing the 50 states in some category or another. Here are a few.

According to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Michigan is the fifth fattest state in the union w/ an obesity rate of 31.3%. Only Mississippi, Louisiana, West Virginia and Alabama had higher rates.

Yet data from the Gallup & Healthways Well-Being Index shows the top 5 to be West Virginia, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana & Alabama with Michigan not even in the top 10, so far as obesity is concerned.

The same Well-Being Index has the top 5 states, overall, as Hawaii, Colorado, Minnesota, Utah & Vermont while bottom 5 are West Virginia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee & Arkansas.

The Well-Being Index summarizes 50 different items.

As always, there are a number of studies regarding the regulated mind altering substances, tobacco, coffee, alcohol & marijuana.

A University of Michigan study has tied onset of pancreatic cancer to tobacco & alcohol. The average age pancreatic cancer appears in the general population is 72 years of age. Heavy smokers develop pancreatic cancer about age 62 while heavy drinkers at 61.

As for tobacco, an analysis published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute estimates that declining smoking rates in the U.S. have reduced the number of deaths by lung cancer by nearly 800,000. And that doesn’t take into account prevented from cardiovascular and respiratory disease, which kill even more people than lung cancer.

For Michigan medical marijuana smokers there is mixed data. Scientists at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco have found that a cannabis compound could stop metastasis in many cancers, such as brain and prostate.

And United Kingdom researchers have determined marijuana causes disruption in concentration and memory similar to schizophrenia.

A study published last fall in the Journal of the American Medical Association confirmed the link between alcohol and breast cancer in women. Women who averaged 3-6 drinks per week had a 15% higher risk of breast cancer than non-drinkers while women who had 30 or more drinks a week had a 50% higher risk.

A study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concluded caffeine retards the development of the most prevalent type of skin cancer.

While we are on the subject of substance-related ills, how can soft drinks be ignored? The same sugary soft drinks that New York City Mayor Bloomberg has tried to outlaw may raise the chances for developing asthma & chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, according to a study reported in the journal, Respirology.

The debate over mammograms continues to rage. A study published last fall in The New England Journal of Medicine finds that 1 in 3 breast cancer patients have been treated for tumors that never would have harmed them. That amounts to 70,000 women per year.

Food & nutrients are always prime fodder for studies. Much to the dismay of former President George H. W. Bush, broccoli has been found to significantly improve blood pressure and kidney function, according to a recent study reported in the American Journal of Hypertension.

According to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, the long-standing recommendation that post-menopausal women take daily calcium and vitamin D to protect against osteoporosis-related fractures is wrong. The study concluded that any health benefits aren’t enough to offset potential harms, such as an increase in developing kidney stones.

And speaking of bone health, once people reach 40 years of age they experience a gradual loss of bone mass. For women, that bone loss increases significantly in the first 10 years after menopause. Many physicians have treated this occurrence with mega-doses of calcium supplements. Now research published in the International Journal of Molecular Medicine fennel has a more beneficial effect on bone density.

The evidence in favor of a Mediterranean diet, fruits, vegetables, legumes, cereals & fish continues to grow. Prior studies have linked this diet with lower risks of heart disease, stroke & metabolic syndrome. A Mediterranean diet is now associated with decreased damage to small blood vessels in the brain, according to research published in Archives of Neurology.

We’ve known diets high in salt can raise blood pressure, but now comes a study in the journal, Nature, tying high salt diets to the onset & progression of autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis.

Some good news from the Centers for Disease Prevention & Control. The percentage of calories from fast food for U.S. adults is down to 11% from 13% since 2006.

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ATTORNEY CRAWFORTH INDUCTED INTO COLLEGE OF WORKERS’

COMPENSATION LAWYERS

Attorney Crawforth & his wife traveled to Coral Gables, FL the weekend of March 15-17, 2013 where he was inducted as a Fellow into the national College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers. This honor is bestowed on only those attorneys who have met the highest standards in ethics and efficacy. 20 years of practice in the field is required. Only a handful of Michigan plaintiff’s attorneys have been inducted.

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ENTER TO WIN TIGER TICKETS

The Detroit Tigers are defending American League champions & the presumptive favorite to win the Central Division for the third consecutive year. With returning MVP & triple crown winner, Miguel Cabrera, and 2012 MVP, Justin Verlander, leading the way, Attorney Crawforth will be in his front row upper deck reserved seats regularly.

But not always. And if you fill out & return the enclosed entry form you could win 2 seats to a game he can’t attend.

 

 

Call today if you have questions about the Michigan Social Security Disability Attorney and Lawyer Services provided by William Crawforth.

To schedule an appointment call 800-864-1244 or fill out the contact form at the top of this page.

  • State Bar of Michigan
  • Washtenaw County Bar Association
  • National Organization of Social Security Claimants' Representatives

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