The disability benefits application process just got a little easier thanks to SSA adjustments

Applicants now only have to submit five years of previous work history instead of 15 years.  (iStock )

The Social Security Administration (SSA) is adjusting its evaluation process to help Americans with disabilities more easily access the benefits they need.

Typically, when an individual becomes disabled, the SSA offers benefits through the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program and the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. With both programs, there’s a five-step process that determines if they qualify. In April, a final rule went into place that improves the application process by reducing the administrative burden, helping speed up the decision-making process. Step four of the process will be simplified under the rule. This step specifically focuses on whether an individual can perform any parts of their past work.

“This new rule will lessen the burden and time our applicants face when filling out information about their work history and will make it easier for them to focus on the most current and relevant details about their past work,” Martin O’Malley, commissioner of social security said. “It also improves the quality of the information our frontline workers receive to make decisions, improving customer service, and reducing case processing time and overall wait times.”

The new rule officially went into effect at the end of June. Now, applicants will only need to list their last five years of past work. In the past, 15 years of work history was reviewed. Since the work applicants did 15 years ago can be difficult to remember and timely to review, limiting this requirement will help speed up the application process. The SSA also won’t consider past work that started and stopped in fewer than 30 days. This helps applicants focus on their most relevant work activity, and limits hassles on the part of the application reviewer.

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Social Security also updating several other regulations

The rule simplifying the disability application process for Social Security isn’t the only new rule going into effect this year. The SSA is trying to improve its disability program with additional regulation changes.

Another way the SSA plans to expand access to the SSI program is by updating the definition of a public assistance household. Starting September 30, the definition of a public assistance household will include those who are part of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) payments and households where not all members receive public assistance. This will help more households qualify for benefits and will increase some SSI payments.

The agency plans to exclude the value of food from SSI benefit calculations starting in September as well. It removes a major barrier many applicants have faced. Those who receive informal help from friends, family, and their communities to afford food have previously been denied SSI assistance.

“A vital part of our mission is helping people access crucial benefits, including SSI,” Commissioner of Social Security Martin O’Malley said. “Simplifying our policies is a common-sense solution that reduces the burden on the public and agency staff and helps promote equity by removing barriers to accessing payments.”

The SSA’s rental subsidy exception is also getting an expansion. Currently, just seven states have the rental subsidy policy in place. In these seven states, rental assistance (i.e. renting at a discounted rate) was less likely to affect a person’s SSI eligibility and payment amount. The expansion will give all applicants throughout the country the same advantage.

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Many retirees on Social Security are taking on extra work to make ends meet

Expanding access to Social Security can help many Americans get the income they need, whether they’re disabled or nearing retirement. But Social Security often doesn’t cover all the necessities the average American spends on.

There was a recent cost of living increase of 3.2% for SSI recipients. Despite this increase, many retirees have had or are considering taking on temporary work to make ends meet, an Indeed Flex report found. One third of retirees polled considered working one to three shifts each week to make extra money. An additional 20% of those polled returned to work part or full-time due to the rising cost of living.

“Temporary employment can serve as a sustainable and long-term source of extra income,” Novo Constare, CEO and Co-founder of Indeed Flex said in the report. “The face of the temporary worker continues to evolve as a more diverse mix of people is taking on temporary work.”

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