Mark was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease when he was in his mid-40s. It didn’t come as a complete surprise, because Mark’s father had Parkinson’s, however, Mark was younger than most people who develop this disease. He worked as a purchasing agent, and he was able to continue working for the next ten years. When he could no longer work, he applied for Social Security Disability (SSD).
“The Social Security Administration (SSA) has a system that allows younger workers to qualify for SSD. However, since the person has not worked as long as they would have if they had reached retirement age, they receive a smaller monthly paycheck,” said Kevin Bambury, attorney, Jeffrey Freedman Attorneys, PLLC.
Social Security was not designed to replace more than 40 percent of the average retiree’s income, and those on SSDI receive an amount based on how long they have worked. The average disabled person receives $1,034.93 a month, while the average retired worker gets $1,368.67 per month. SSD is just above the federal poverty level, and barely covers the basics such as food and shelter. One more reason to start saving for retirement at a young age is to have a cushion available in case you have to stop working early.
“If something should happen to you — like it did to Mark — and you can’t work, you and your family will be better off if you have more than just SSD to live on,” Bambury said. “In addition, currently there is a backlog of 1.1 million cases in the system. In the Buffalo and Rochester areas it can take up to two years to get your benefits after you submit the initial application. The majority of our clients really suffer financially while they wait for a decision on their claim.”
The Social Security Administration is working to decrease the backlog and just announced new measures it will be taking such as hiring more staff and Administrative Law Judges (ALJs); instituting fast-tracking days for claims where the applicants’ medical conditions are such that they obviously qualify for benefits; authorizing and training staff besides ALJs to make decisions; and developing new software to help speed processing.
“The SSA is really trying to make positive changes that will help clients,” Bambury said. “In the wake of the past hurricanes, for example, many claimants were unable to make it to their scheduled hearings. The SSA moved other cases into the time periods left open by those who had to postpone.
“It’s going to be a slow process for awhile, which hurts people like Mark, but at least they are moving in the right direction.”