UNDERSTANDING SOCIAL SECURITY: Disability Pay Barely Beats Poverty

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 by Michael P. Boyle, Esq.social sec copy

 Glenn Sklar, Deputy Commissioner of SSA’s Office of Disability Adjudication & Review, testified recently before a House subcommittee that oversees the Social Security program.

Sklar reminded the subcommittee that the Social Security Act mandates “a strict standard of disability” and does not allow for short-term or partial disability benefits. Sklar emphasized SSA requires objective medical evidence that would “reasonably be expected to produce the pain or other symptoms alleged.”

Sklar told the subcommittee that, on average, a worker found to qualify for Social Security disability benefits in December 2012 received a little over $1,100 per month, “barely above the current poverty income level of $13,000 per year.”

He noted the Chief Actuary for SSA “explained that long-term DI program growth was predicted many years ago and is driven … by the aging of the baby-boom generation and the fact more women have joined the labor force and have become eligible for benefits.”

Sklar testified that new judges hired by SSA undergo extensive training and orientation before taking the bench, and receive ongoing continuing legal education.

Sklar warned that improvements in reducing common errors could erode due to a loss of ALJs and staff. He rebutted claims that SSA granted too many cases. Sklar noted over 96% of ALJs in fiscal year 2013 fell within the middle group in terms of allowance. He defined this as granting between 21% to 84% of the cases before them. (I don’t consider an ALJ who grants only 21% of claims as someone I’m eager to have hear my client’s case).

Sklar described extensive efforts being made by the Appeals Council to improve ALJ decision-making and to help ALJs avoid common legal errors. He told the subcommittee that SSA has given ALJs a range of 500-700 “legally sufficient” decisions a year as a “reasonable expectation.”


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