PLANNING AHEAD: Would you want to become a Social Security expert?

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Social Security benefits questions often leave the average American confused. It is true that, when you venture into the thornier issues like what is the total benefit when claiming on your record and your spouse’s or how is a government pension offset provision handled, then even some of the more studious types need to sit back and think things through. However, there is help that you should know about and it comes in a surprisingly simple format.

Each month, 18 Pennsylvania Social Security Administration Offices join to publish an on-line newsletter titled “Solutions, Strategies, Answers.” You can subscribe by contacting Richard.Gaudiosi@ssa.gov or Jessica.M.Silvent@ssa.gov. The June, 2024 issue covers such subjects as the 2024 Social Security Trustees Report and what trends positively or negatively affect the fund. Also, it directs attention to a number of useful Social Security Administration (SSA) publications. There are more, only a few of which are mentioned in the newsletter. These titles would give you an idea of what the online publication refers to as “Your Summer Reading List.”

• Disability Benefits

Did you ever wonder how you can apply for Social Security disability benefits? As those who have already run through the system know, it is not easy. Also due to some odd quirks in the Social Security law individuals often wind up representing themselves at least at the first level. SSA has a booklet of that title which the newsletter indicates will state who would qualify, how to apply, who makes the decision, family benefits and so on. The newsletter also states that the booklet covers Ticket to Work, a program intended to give current Social Security Disability recipients an opportunity to attempt to return to work. Also ABLE accounts for the disabled.

• Overpayments

A major concern for some Social Security recipients is the possibility SSA might claim a higher benefit was paid or for a longer time than the claimant was entitled to receive. According to the newsletter, there is a fact sheet covering appeal and waiver rights as well as how to make repayments.

• Who Do I Contact — Social Security or Medicare?

The newsletter stated this booklet defines which government agency has jurisdiction.

• Understand Supplemental Security Income

SSI differs from Social Security Disability in a few ways. One is that it pays less — in Pennsylvania generally with a maximum of about $940 per month. Another is that Supplemental Security Income recipients generally receive their healthcare benefits through Medicaid while Social Security Disability recipients receive healthcare benefits through Medicare. Supplemental Security Income recipients typically are severely restricted in income. Social Security Disability recipients cannot engage in “substantial gainful employment.” However, they can inherit wealth directly without it affecting their benefit. There are many other considerations. The newsletter points to a publication of the Social Security Administration with “116 pages on all things SSI.”

• Other Social Security Administration publications can be accessed through a link in the newsletter. There are many!

Here are some other matters of interest — two primarily.

First, reasons for the more favorable report on the Social Trust Fund. These include “as a result of recent economic developments, the assumed sustainable trend level of potential GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is assessed to be about three percent higher than that in last year’s report…” In other words, the economy is doing better this year than last. Also, applications for disability benefits have decreased. Finally, on a slightly negative note the projected population growth rate was lowered. In other words the report states we need more people in the system i.e. workers and to do this they suggested there need to be more babies.

The newsletter finally salutes our Armed Forces who stormed the beaches at Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944. The publication notes “It Was No Day At the Beach.” While we celebrate the summer on beaches in New Jersey or Delaware we need to remember those who landed on beaches named Gold, Juno, Omaha, Sword and Utah as part of the Allied invasion against Nazi forces.

The newsletter noted that Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower had a letter distributed to the troops stating “The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you…I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle…” Since my own father as a very young man served in the Battle of the Bulge shortly after, this memory did have a special significance for me.

Janet Colliton is a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation and a member of the Pennsylvania Association of Elder Law Attorneys. She limits her practice to elder law, life care, special needs and retirement financial planning, Medicaid, estate planning and estate administration, real estate and guardianships and is located at 790 East Market St., Suite 250, West Chester, 610-436-6674, colliton@collitonlaw.com. She is also, with Jeffrey Jones, CSA, co-founder of Life Transition Services LLC, a service for families with long term care needs.