Changes to Social Security Disability in 2020
Nearly 69 million Social Security recipients are benefitting from a 1.6 percent cost of living adjustment (COLA) approved for 2020. Other changes for 2020 include a small boost to Social Security Disability Insurance benefits and an increase in how much money working Social Security recipients can earn before their benefits are reduced.
Here’s a review of changes to Social Security disability programs and retirement benefits implemented this year that seniors and disability recipients in North Carolina should be aware of:
1.6% COLA (Cost-of-Living Adjustment)
Recipients of Social Security benefits and Supplemental Security Income have received a 1.6 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to their monthly checks. The increase is good news for recipients, although notably less than the 2.8% increase in 2019 — the largest increase since 2012, when benefits went up 3.6 percent.
With the 2020 COLA, the average monthly payment increased from $1,479 in 2019 to $1,503 in 2020 – a $24 increase, or $288 annually.
2020 Social Security Disability Benefits Rise
This year also saw a slight increase in benefits for about 10 million Americans who receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).
Estimated Average Monthly Social Security Benefits in 2019
|SSD recipients (all disabled workers):||$1,258 — up from $1,238|
|Disabled workers, spouses and one or more children:||$2,176 — up from $2,141|
|Individual SSI recipients:||$783 — up from $771|
|Couple receiving SSI:||$1,175 — up from $1,157|
|Retired workers (all):||$1,503 — up from $1,479|
|Couple both receiving benefits:||$2,531 — up from $2,491|
|Widows or widowers (of age) alone:||$1,422 — up from $1,400|
|Widows with two children:||$2,934 — up from $2,888|
More SSDI Earnings Allowed in 2020
Because Social Security wants the disabled to work if they are able, a certain amount of income earned through “substantial gainful activity,” or SGA, (i.e., employment, including self-employment) is allowed before the SSA decides your earnings indicate you are not disabled.
Social Security sets caps for SGA earnings at which eligibility for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits may cease. For 2020, the SGA maximums are $1,260 per month for non-blind workers ($15,120 annually), up from $1,220 per month; and $2,110 per month if you are legally blind ($25,320 annually), up from $2,040 per month.
Applicants for SSDI may test their ability to maintain some gainful activity in a Trial Work Period (TWP) for at least 9 months, which don’t have to be consecutive, and for as long as 5 years on a rolling basis (i.e., trying repeatedly). The SSA determines whether a month counts as a TWP month according to gross earnings (before taxes) for the month.
For 2020, you can earn more in a Trial Work Period before it counts against the time you can spend in the TWP program. This year, any month you earn $910 or more will count toward your TWP eligibility. The monthly maximum was $880 in 2019. For the self-employed, net earnings of $910 or more in a month or working in your business for 80 or more hours in a month counts toward your TWP.
SSDI income limits for 2019 are:
|Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA)||2020||2019||2018|
|Non-blind workers:||$1,260 ($15,120 annually)||$1,220 monthly ($14,640 annually)||$1,180 monthly|
|Blind workers:||$2,110 ($25,320 annually)||$2,040 monthly ($24,480 annually)||$1,970 monthly|
|Trial work period:||$910 ($10,920 annually)||$880 monthly ($10,560 annually)||$850 monthly|
The Social Security tax on earnings remains at 6.2 percent for 2020 (plus 1.45 percent for Medicare, a total of 7.65 percent), but the maximum taxable amount of earnings has been increased to $137,700. The max was $132,900 in 2019. There’s no limit on earnings subject to the Medicare tax.
However, this also means the maximum amount of earnings used by the SSA to calculate retirement benefits increases. For 2019 the maximum monthly retirement benefit for a worker retiring at full retirement age was $2,861. In 2020, it increased $150 per month to $3,011.
Earning Limits for Social Security Recipients Raised
The SSA has also let workers earn more while drawing Social Security retirement benefits in 2019. (There is no limit on earnings for workers who are 66 years and 8 months old, “full” retirement age, or older.)
In 2019, you could earn up to $17,640 before triggering a reduction to your benefits, but in 2020, you’ll be able to earn $18,240, a 3.4 percent increase.
Workers who will not be 66 years old and 8 months in 2020 but receive Social Security retirement benefits will see $1 deducted from their benefits for each $2 earned over $18,240.
Those who reach full retirement age in 2020 (born in the first half of 1954 and will turn 66 and 8 months) can earn up to $48,600 in the months leading up to full retirement age. But if you earn more, Social Security will reduce your benefit by $1 for every $3 earned above the limit.
More of Your Social Security Online
If you have set up a my Social Security account online (which is free), you can see and save COLA notices securely via the Message Center inside my Social Security. The SSA began posting COLA notices for retirement, survivors, and disability program beneficiaries at the end of 2018.
This year, you will still receive your COLA notice by mail. In the future, you will be able to choose whether to receive your notice online or in the mail. Online notices will not be available to SSI representative payees, individuals with foreign mailing addresses, or those who pay higher Medicare premiums due to their income.
The SSA plans to expand the availability of COLA notices to additional online customers in the future.
With a “my Social Security” account, you can receive personalized estimates of future benefits based on your real earnings, see your latest statement, and review your earnings history.
Get Help with a North Carolina SSD Claim
Changes to Social Security’s large and complex disability programs can have a significant impact on payments you receive or your ability to obtain benefits you or a loved one deserves. The experienced Social Security disability attorneys at Younce, Vtipil, Baznik & Banks are here to help. Based in Raleigh, our SSD attorneys can help you file a disability claim or appeal a claim that has been denied. Contact us today for honest advice and the effort to help you get the compensation you deserve.
Other Changes in 2020 to Note
Up until this year, spouses were able to “file and suspend” to delay retirement benefits, increasing their eventual takeaway by up to 8% per year. Beginning in 2020, this social security maximization strategy is not available.
Similarly, 2020 also marks the end of another maximization strategy in which people of full retirement age could have filed for a restricted claim of spousal benefits.
Changes in Recent Years
More Compassionate Allowance Eligibility
In 2018, The Social Security Administration grants disability benefits to applicants who have been diagnosed with certain terminal or debilitating medical conditions that, by definition, meet Social Security’s standards for disability benefits. Disability applicants who have a condition that qualifies for a “compassionate allowance,” may receive expedited processing of their disability claims.
In August, the Social Security Administration announced that five more conditions had been added to the list of medical diagnoses that qualify for compassionate allowances. They are:
- Fibrolamellar Cancer, a rare liver cancer.
- Megacystis Microcolon Intestinal Hypoperistalsis Syndrome (MMIHS), a rare congenital condition characterized by abdominaldistension caused by deformed or dysfunctional abdominal
- Megalencephaly Capillary Malformation Syndrome (MCAP), a disorder characterized by a large brain (megalencephaly) and overgrowth of small blood vessels in the skin.
- Superficial Siderosis of the Central Nervous System, a rare condition caused by hemosiderin deposits (caused by recurrent bleeding) in the subpial layers of the brain and spinal cord.
- Tetrasomy 18p, a genetic condition causing multiple medical and developmental problems due to the presence of an isochromosome, composed of two copies of the short arm of chromosome 18.
More Exemptions for SSI ‘Representative Payees’
Typically, SSI recipients are individuals who were never able to work because they were born with disabilities or contracted disabling diseases in childhood. Usually, a parent applies for SSI on behalf of their grown child and cares for them with help from SSI benefits.
SSI recipients’ family members who are paid on their behalf are known as “representative payees.” They must keep records of how they use benefit payments, and provide these records to Social Security for review. But the SSA has exempted several categories of representative payees from an annual accounting:
- Natural or adoptive parents of a minor child beneficiary or recipient who primarily reside in the same household as the child.
- Legal guardians of a minor child beneficiary or recipient who primarily reside in the same household as the child.
- Natural or adoptive parents of a disabled adult beneficiary who primarily reside in the same household as the beneficiary.
- Spouse of a beneficiary or recipient.
More Appeals Online
If you have been denied SSDI benefits or SSI payments, there are several levels of appeal available. This year, the SSA has begun allowing claimants to submit their request online at the third level of appeal, the Appeals Council.
An applicant may request an Appeals Council review after a reconsideration of their application (the first appeal) and a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Applicants have already been able to request these appeals online.
The Appeals Council considers all requests, but it may decline a formal review if it finds that the ALJ’s decision was supported and in accordance with Social Security law and regulations.
If the Appeals Council issues a denial, the applicant’s next option is to file a civil suit in a federal district court. In Raleigh, that would be the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, which serves 44 North Carolina counties from Raleigh to the Atlantic coast from locations in Raleigh, Greenville, Wilmington, New Bern, and Fayetteville.