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Thursday, February 5, 2009

Social Security Disability Representative Fee Cap Increases to $6,000 Effective June 22, 2009

The Social Security Administration has raised the cap on contingency attorney fees in Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") cases to $6,000, up from $5,300 effective June 22, 2009. The following was published in the Federal Register yesterday:

SUMMARY: We are increasing the maximum dollar amount limit for fee agreements approved under sections 206(a)(2)(A) and 1631(d)(2)(A) of the Social Security Act to $6,000. Effective June 22, 2009, decision-makers may approve fee agreements up to the new limit provided that the fee agreement otherwise meets the statutory conditions of the agreement process.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Marg Handel, Office of Income Security Programs, phone (410) 965-4639, e-mail:

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The Social Security Act (Act) p rovides a streamlined process for a representative to obtain approval of the fee he or she wishes to charge for representing a claimant before the agency. See, §§ 206(a)(2)(A) and 1631(d)(2)(A) of the Act, as amended by the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (OBRA) of 1990, Public Law No. 101–508, § 5106. To use that process, the representative and the claimant must agree, in writing, to a fee that does not exceed the lesser of 25% of past due benefits or a prescribed dollar amount. OBRA of 1990 set the initial fee amount at $4,000 and gave the Commissioner the authority to increase it periodically, provided that the cumulative rate of increase did not at any time exceed the rate of increase in primary insurance amounts since January 1, 1991. The law further provided that notice of any increased amount shall be published in the Federal Register. On January 17, 2002, we published a notice raising the maximum fee to $5,300. With this notice, we announce that the maximum dollar amount for fee agreements will increase to $6,000. This increase does not exceed the rate of increase provided in OBRA of 1990. We believe this increase will adequately compensate representatives for their services while ensuring that claimants are protected from excessive fees. A decisionmaker may approve fees up to the new amount effective June 22, 2009. This effective date will ensure adequate time to provide training and guidance to our employees and to make necessary changes in our information technology infrastructure.

Source: Federal Register, Vol. 74, No. 22, Page 6080.

Copyright (c) 2008 by John V. Tucker and Tucker & Ludin, P.A. All rights reserved. For assistance with your Long Term Disability claim, ERISA Disability benefit claim, Social Security Disability claim, or Veterans Disability compensation or pension claim, call Disability Lawyer John Tucker at (866) 282-5260.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

CDC Numbers Say 11 Million US Citizens Are Disabled

The following is from a recent article on disability insurance by my friend Doug Leavy, an insurance agent I trust at Strategic Insurance Services:

"The odds of a disabling health condition that prevents you from working are greater than you may realize. According to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 11 million adults are unable to work due to health issues. In addition, the risk of becoming disabled triples for people between the ages of 45 to 64."

These numbers are staggering, and few people realize it.

For the full article, visit

The key is to get good coverage and once you get the coverage, make sure the insurance company pays your claim. That is where an experienced disability benefits attorney can help you.

For assistance with your Long Term Disability claim, ERISA Disability benefit claim, Social Security Disability claim, or Veterans Disability compensation or pension claim, call Disability Lawyer John Tucker at (866) 282-5260.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Social Security Commissioner Comments on Disability Hearing Backlog

On January 30, 2009, Brittany R. Ballendstedt reported the following story at

SSA chief says financial crisis is increasing claims backlog

By Brittany R. Ballenstedt

The Social Security Administration is facing an influx of new disability claims due to the struggling economy, a factor impeding its ability to reduce a backlog of 765,000 hearing requests, the agency's commissioner said on Friday.

In an interview with Government Executive, Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue said the tough economy has increased the disability claims caseload by about 10 percent -- or 250,000 cases -- more than the agency had projected and budgeted for. He said SSA also has its hands tied when it comes to hiring new staff to address the increase in claims, largely because it is operating on a continuing resolution through March, which provides funding at fiscal 2008 levels.

"Help is already too late," he said. "The tidal wave is hitting us, and we don't have the money to staff up appropriately."

SSA has viewed the reduction of its disability claims backlog as imperative, as processing times for disability hearings have increased by 200 days during the last seven years and have adversely affected many applicants seeking disability benefits. While the backlog started leveling off in 2008, Astrue said, the financial crisis and an increase of baby boomers filing for retirement benefits have stymied the agency's ability to tackle the accumulation of hearing requests.

Astrue expressed some hope at the prospect of additional funding in the $819 billion stimulus package that Congress is debating. The House version of the bill, which that chamber passed on Wednesday, would provide $500 million to SSA for two years in fiscal 2009 and fiscal 2010 to help address the disability case backlog. The legislation also would provide $400 million to create a new computer facility to keep up with new responsibilities and heavier workloads, he said.

But Witold Skwierczynski, president of the American Federation of Government Employees' National Council of SSA Field Operations Locals, said on Wednesday that the union has some concerns with the construction of a new computer facility, largely because it thinks the building's high price tag could be put to better use, such as reducing the hearings backlog, hiring additional staff and improving telephone customer service operations.

"The whole point of the stimulus package is to create jobs and spending," Skwierczynski said. "We could hire more SSA employees to do the additional workloads we're getting because of the economic downturn. We'll never get rid of these backlogs unless we have more staff."

Astrue said the agency plans to hire up to 155 additional administrative law judges this fiscal year to help address the backlog and influx of cases. In March, the Office of Personnel Management -- the agency charged with reviewing applications and screening potential ALJs -- will reopen the examination process and submit qualified candidates to SSA for review, he said. But because the new judges need to be hired, relocated and trained, Astrue said, they likely won't start contributing to reducing the backlog until next year. The agency currently employs about 1,200 ALJs.

The commissioner said the $500 million proposed in the stimulus package also would be used to hire additional ALJ support staff. The support staff-to-judge ratio now stands at 4.4-to-1, but the agency hopes to use the stimulus funding to increase the ratio to about 4.6-to-1, he said.

SSA also will look to the stimulus money to improve telephone services and wait times at field offices across the country, since demand for these services is picking up because of the tough economy, Astrue said. "The thing that's saving us is we have a big uptick in people using online services," he said. "Retirement applications are being filed online at a much higher level than they've been historically. That's a saving grace for us."

Meanwhile, SSA also has invested heavily in technology to help accelerate the disability case process. For example, the agency's two-track system -- comprising the Quick Disability Determination program and the Compassionate Allowances initiative -- now is expediting about 4 percent of all disability cases, an increase from the 2.7 percent of cases fast-tracked in 2008. Astrue said the dual process allows 100,000 to 125,000 Americans with the most severe disabilities to be approved in about 10 days instead of waiting the typical three to four months for an initial decision.

The Quick Disability Determination program allows electronic exchange of claims and includes a screening tool to identify those claims in which a high probability exists that the claimant is disabled, while the Compassionate Allowances system expedites processing for claimants with medical conditions so severe that their conditions by definition meet SSA's standards.

Darryl Perkinson, president of the Federal Managers Association, said on Friday that the new two-track system will enable the agency to focus on citizens who need immediate help. "If successful, this initiative should slightly lighten the caseload at the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, as these cases will be approved at the first level of the disability claim process and therefore not reach the hearings stage," he said.

Astrue said SSA also is using a system called iAppeals, which enables attorneys to file disability appeals online, rather than submitting them to a district office where staff must input information manually. The iAppeals process can shave six weeks off the processing time, he said.

The agency also is piloting a program at a Boston hospital that uses electronic health records for faster transfer of medical information in disability cases. While SSA wants to expand the program, it does not have the funding to do so, nor do hospitals have the money needed upfront to convert health records to an electronic format, Astrue said. "This reduces the cost and labor for the hospital, and it results in enormously huge savings for us in terms of time and people."

The previous story was quoted in its entirety from Any copyright or other ownership information is from that site.

For assistance with your Long Term Disability claim, ERISA Disability benefit claim, Social Security Disability claim, or Veterans Disability compensation or pension claim, call Disability Lawyer John Tucker at (866) 282-5260.

Legal Guides From John Tucker on Selected Disability Topics