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Social Security Online
Social Security Update
October 2008

In This Issue:

Social Security Budget and Continuing Resolution

Social Security Continues to Make Progress Expediting Backlogged Disability Cases; Limited Resources Under a Continuing Resolution Already Slowing Momentum

Social Security Announces Nationwide Launch of Compassionate Allowances

Social Security Benefits will Increase 5.8 Percent for 2009

Social Security Has a New Strategic Plan

Getting People to Think About Retirement

Social Security’s 800 Number Celebrates 20th Anniversary, Receives Billionth Call

Social Security Budget and Continuing Resolution

Social Security's BudgetOn September 30, 2008, President Bush signed H.R. 2638: the Consolidated Security, Disaster Assistance, and Continuing Appropriations Act, 2009. This bill contains a continuing resolution (CR) which funds most federal agencies, including Social Security, at their fiscal year 2008 levels through March 6, 2009. Operating under this CR, Social Security will have $300 million less than what was in the President’s budget request for the first six months of the year. This severely restricted funding will have real effects within the agency and on our ability to serve the public.

Social Security cannot address the many challenges the agency faces without adequate and timely funding. In fiscal year 2008, Social Security made great strides towards putting the foundation in place to begin to truly address the hearings backlogs (more on that in the article below). To the extent possible, Social Security will do everything it can to try to minimize the deterioration of service to the public under the CR. However, given the tight fiscal constraints, service to constituents could be adversely affected and the forward progress we have made over the past year will likely be slowed.

To read more about Social Security’s budget, visit www.socialsecurity.gov/budget.

 

 

 

 

 

Social Security Continues to Make Progress Expediting Backlogged Disability Cases; Limited Resources Under a Continuing Resolution Already Slowing Momentum

In fiscal year (FY) 2008, Social Security made impressive progress in the agency’s efforts to resolve its backlog of disability cases.

Social Security hired and trained 190 new Administrative Law Judges, opened a National Hearing Center, virtually eliminated its entire aged case backlog of more than 135,000 cases, and implemented a quick disability determination process in all 50 states. As a result of these and many other activities, the disability backlog at the hearings level, which had been growing at the rate of about 70,000 cases each year for most of the decade, grew by less than 14,000 cases in FY 2008. In fact, had new receipts not substantially exceeded our expectations, the hearing operation would have seen a decrease in its pending cases.

“The plan we presented to Congress in May 2007 is working,” said Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue.  “We have moved quickly to utilize new technologies, improve our business processes, and add new staff. Combined with the hard work of our employees and the support of Congress, we are clearly on the right track to providing Americans with disabilities the prompt service they deserve.”

Looking ahead to FY 2009, Commissioner Astrue warns that the effects of an extended continuing resolution are slowing progress. “We simply cannot address the challenges we face without adequate and timely funding. Many things we need to do, such as increase support staff and add new hearing offices, will not happen if Congress is unable to pass an adequate appropriations bill soon.”

To read more about Social Security’s progress with the backlogged disability cases, visit www.socialsecurity.gov/pressoffice/pr/backlog-progress-pr.html.

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Social Security Announces Nationwide Launch of Compassionate Allowances

On October 27, Commissioner Astrue announced the national rollout of the Compassionate Allowances initiative, a way to expedite the processing of disability claims for applicants whose medical conditions are so severe that their conditions obviously meet Social Security’s standards.

“Getting benefits quickly to people with the most severe medical conditions is both the right and the compassionate thing to do," Commissioner Astrue said.  “This initiative will allow us to make decisions on these cases in a matter of days, rather than months or years.”

Social Security is launching this expedited decision process with a total of 50 conditions.  Over time, more diseases and conditions will be added. A list of impairments, as well as more information about Compassionate Allowances, can be found at www.socialsecurity.gov/compassionateallowances/. 

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Social Security Benefits will Increase 5.8 Percent for 2009

Social Security Benefits will Increase 5.8 Percent for 2009More than 55 million Americans will see a 5.8 percent increase in their monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits in 2009. This Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA), the largest since 1982, is based on the rise in the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers from the third quarter of the prior year to the corresponding period of the current year. 

The COLA will begin with benefits that Social Security beneficiaries receive in January 2009.  Increased payments to Supplemental Security Income beneficiaries will begin on December 31.

Also in 2009, the maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax will increase to $106,800 from $102,000.

For more information about Social Security’s COLA and other changes that take effect in January, read our press release at www.ssa.gov/pressoffice/pr/2009cola-pr.htm.

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Social Security Has a New Strategic Plan

Strategic Plan Fiscal Year 2008-2013With the motto, “Social Security Benefits America,” this five-year plan identifies the challenges Social Security faces and the steps needed in the years ahead to meet those challenges head on. The plan concentrates on four specific goals:

  • Eliminate our hearings backlog and prevent its recurrence;
  • Improve the speed and quality of our disability process;
  • Improve our retiree and other core services; and
  • Preserve the public’s trust in our programs.

“We face many challenges as we publish this plan,” said Commissioner Astrue. “Over three-quarters of a million individuals are waiting for hearings on their disability applications. Due to the aging of the baby boomers, we are also being inundated with retirement and disability claims. In addition, we have to commit substantial resources to non-traditional Social Security workloads, including new elements of the Medicare program and immigration enforcement. To preserve the public’s trust, we must move forward aggressively with process, policy, systems, regulatory, and legislative improvements.  We are confident that the President, Members of Congress, and all of our stakeholders will work with us to achieve our goals.”

Our Strategic Plan includes specific objectives and long-term outcomes the agency expects to achieve.  The plan also notes the two key components to meeting our goals:  Social Security’s dedicated employees and advances in information technology.  In addition, the plan includes a special initiative to encourage saving.

For the full text of Social Security’s Strategic Plan, visit www.socialsecurity.gov/strategicplan.html.

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Getting People to Think About Retirement

Insert for people 55 and olderSocial Security wants to provide helpful information to workers regarding one of the most important decisions they will make: choosing when to begin collecting retirement benefits. This one decision can have a significant effect on the future financial well-being of the worker and his or her family.

One new way we’re helping to provide more information is through the creation of our new Thinking of Retiring? supplement to the Social Security Statement. Starting this month, people who are age 55 and older will receive the Thinking of Retiring? inside their annual Statement.

Thinking of Retiring? covers different retirement age options, Medicare coverage, receiving benefits while working and more. It also promotes our new online Retirement Estimator at www.socialsecurity.gov/estimator and tells people how they can apply for benefits the quick and easy way—online.

Read Thinking of Retiring online at www.socialsecurity.gov/mystatement/insert1.html

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Social Security’s 800 Number Celebrates 20th Anniversary, Receives Billionth Call

20th AnniversaryOctober marks the 20th anniversary of Social Security’s toll-free 800-number service, which first allowed Americans to conduct business with Social Security on the telephone. Over the past 20 years, our telephone service has grown and changed.  Today, callers are able to conduct a wide array of Social Security transactions over the phone -- at 1-800-772-1213 -- either by speaking live to an agency representative or by using automated prompts.

Using our automated system, callers can request Social Security publications and informational material, ask for a Social Security card application (SS-5) to be mailed, request a Social Security Statement, or even have a replacement Medicare card sent to the address on record.  If someone is already receiving benefits, he or she also can request a benefit verification letter over the phone and change personal information such as a mailing address or direct deposit information.  And if a caller needs to visit Social Security, he or she can obtain the location of the closest office. All of these transactions can be performed without speaking to a representative. In fact, during FY 2008, more than one-third of all 800-number transactions were handled using automated prompts.

The automated telephone services are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Social Security representatives are available Monday through Friday from 7 am to 7 pm in each time zone.

The 800-number passed a second, significant milestone this month. On Monday, October 6th the service handled its one billionth transaction. 

For more information about Social Security, readers also can visit our website at www.socialsecurity.gov.

 

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