Braille Monitor               December 2023

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Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income Updates for 2024

by Jesse Shirek

Jesse ShirekOn October 12, 2023, the Social Security Administration announced a 3.2 percent cost of living increase for 2024. Before we dig into the details of how these changes will affect beneficiaries, let me take you down a side road, back to the glorious summer of 1996. If you are young enough that you were not yet alive in 1996, I am sorry, you missed out! We all rushed out to watch Independence Day to see if Will Smith had the courage to save us all from being destroyed by an alien invasion. We could not control our urges to dance the Macarena at every wedding reception and graduation party. And most importantly, we could not stop the Spice Girls from telling us what they really, really want. Simultaneously, I became old enough to vote. This important moment in my life was sandwiched between graduating from high school and a less than successful effort at attending the University of North Dakota. Being eighteen also meant that I was no longer legally dependent on my parents and would qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Doing some quick Googling helped me remember that the SSI payment amount in 1996 was $470 per month. In my eighteen-year-old brain, this meant that I was now rich beyond measure, because I could live out my rock star dreams and afford my new dream electric guitar. A sparkling new lime green Ibanez with a maple neck and a 15-watt Marshall practice amplifier, with all of the knobs turned to eleven. My ears are still ringing from the glorious sounds produced by that superb instrument.

Let us get out of the proverbial wheat field and back on the path towards discussing SSI. Most of the regulations that I had to follow were logical; you can read the highlights further down in this article. There is one aspect to receiving SSI that I did not yet understand. The Social Security Administration (SSA) required me to pay 30 percent of my SSI check to my parents to cover rent, because the government stated that my parents’ house would be my permanent address and my university address would be temporary. This error was discovered after I had been receiving payments for one year, resulting in an $1,800 overpayment. The Social Security Administration took the position that, because I did not pay my parents $150 a month in rent for twelve months, I must return the $1,800 to the SSA, even if I did not know this was a requirement.
It is easy to grasp the importance of following the requirements, but far less easy to be aware of and stay current on the law and rules you really need to know. That's where the National Federation of the Blind benefits advocacy strategy can help.

Meet Our Group

Our advocacy work in this area is coordinated through our national office and includes a number of key experts.

Jesse Shirek, author of this article, is a governmental affairs specialist in our advocacy and policy department. Jesse has served as the North Dakota affiliate president, on the National Scholarship Committee, and in a variety of roles in the New Mexico, North Dakota, and Maryland affiliates. He has spent the majority of his career working in rehabilitation, before coming to work for the National Federation of the Blind in 2021. Jesse transitioned to Government Affairs in May 2023, where he is the primary point of contact for key advocacy priorities including SSI, SSDI, ABLE Accounts, Veterans Administration issues, and Autonomous Vehicles.

James Gashel led the Federation’s government relations efforts for thirty-three years, then served thirteen more years on the board of directors. In retirement, he is our Hawaii state affiliate's secretary, state legislative chair, and NFB Honolulu Chapter president. We are fortunate that he continues to keep up with important Social Security matters and volunteers his expertise in Federation benefits appeals when needed.

Andrew Sindler is an attorney in private practice and the newest contributor to our advocacy group. From his law office near Annapolis, Maryland, he handles claims at all levels from initial application filing all the way through federal court appeals when necessary. For nearly twenty years, Andrew has successfully and passionately represented local and national claimants in a wide variety of Social Security Disability and SSI claims. These include childhood claims, disabled adult child claims, continuing disability reviews, and cessation of benefits cases, overpayments, and re-computation of benefits using the blindness disability freeze.

If you have questions related to your SSI and SSDI benefits or if you are seeking help, contact Jesse Shirek by phone at 410-659-9314, extension 2348, or by email at [email protected]. Our group will do its best to help with emphasis on prioritizing assistance to active members of the National Federation of the Blind.

Annual Adjustments to the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Programs

In 2024, approximately seventy million Americans will see a 3.2 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) increase in their benefit amounts. Thus, come January, monthly checks will be higher. The 2024 amounts are below, along with some general concepts pertaining to the Social Security and Medicare programs, in case you want to better understand or refresh yourself about your rights. The COLA is based on the consumer price index (CPI-W), which measures the rate of inflation against the wages earned by the approximately 173 million workers across the nation over the previous four quarters starting with the third quarter of the previous year.

Tax Rates

FICA and Self-Employment Tax Rates: If you are employed, you know that you do not bring home everything you earn. For example, 7.65 percent of your pay is deducted to cover your contribution to the Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) Trust Funds and the Medicare Hospital Insurance (HI) Trust Funds, 6.2 percent covers OASDI, and 1.45 percent is contributed to the HI Trust Funds. Additionally, your employer is required to match this 7.65 percent for a grand total of 15.3 percent.

For those who are self-employed, there is no “employer” to match the 7.65 percent, which means a self-employed individual pays the entire 15.3 percent of their income. These numbers will not change in 2024 regardless of whether an individual is employed or self-employed. As of January 2024, individuals with earned income of more than $200,000 ($250,000 for married couples filing jointly) pay an additional 0.9 percent in Medicare taxes; this does not include the above amounts.

Maximum Taxable Earnings

There is a ceiling on taxable earnings for the OASDI Trust Fund, which was $160,200 in 2023 and will increase to $168,600 in 2024. Thus, for earnings above $168,600, there is no 6.2 percent deducted for OASDI. As for Medicare, there is no limit on taxable earnings for the HI Trust Fund.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) Quarters of Coverage

The OASDI Trust Fund is kind of like an insurance policy. You have to pay a premium to participate. Therefore, to qualify for Retirement, Survivors, or Disability Insurance benefits, an individual must pay a minimum amount of FICA taxes into the OASDI Trust Fund by earning a sufficient number of calendar quarters to become fully insured for Social Security benefits.
In 2023, credit for one quarter of coverage was awarded for any individual who earned at least $1,640 during the year, which means that an individual would need to earn at least $6,560 to be credited with four quarters of coverage. In 2024, the amount increases to $1,730 for one calendar quarter or $6,920 to earn four quarters of coverage for the year.

A maximum of four quarters can be awarded for any calendar year, and it makes no difference when the income is earned during that year. Basically, the taxes you pay into the OASDI and HI Trust Funds are your premiums to take part in the Social Security and Medicare programs. The total number of quarters required to be eligible for benefits depends on the individual’s age. The older the individual, the more quarters are required. Furthermore, a higher average income during an individual’s lifetime means a higher Social Security or SSDI check when benefits start. Remember the above quoted numbers for quarters of coverage to become fully insured are only minimum amounts.

Trial Work Period (TWP)

This concept is often misunderstood. The amount of earnings required to use a trial work month is not based on the earnings limit for blind beneficiaries but instead on the national average wage index. In 2023, the amount required to use a TWP month was only $1,050, and this amount will increase to $1,110 in 2024. 

If you are self-employed, you can also use a trial work month if you work more than eighty hours in your business, and this limitation will not change unless expressly adjusted.

Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA)

The earnings limit for a blind beneficiary in 2023 was $2,460 per month and will increase to $2,590 in 2024. Again, it’s important to remember this is not the amount of money an individual makes to use a trial month. This is to say that the TWP can be exhausted even if your income is well below $2,590 per month. See the above information about the TWP.
In 2024 a blind SSDI beneficiary who earns $2,590 or more in a month (before taxes but after subtracting un-incurred business expenses for the self-employed, subsidized income for the employed, and impairment-related work expenses) will be deemed to have exceeded SGA and will likely no longer be eligible for SSDI benefits.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

The standard federal monthly payment amount for individuals receiving SSI was $914 in 2023 and will increase to $943 in 2024. For married couples, the standard federal monthly payment amount of SSI will increase from $1,371 to $1,415.

Student Earned Income Exclusion

In 2023, the monthly amount was $2,220 and will increase to $2,290 in 2024. The annual amount was $8,950 in 2023 and will be $9,230 in 2024. The asset limits under the SSI program will remain unchanged at $2,000 per individual and $3,000 per married couple. If you find yourself approaching the SSI asset limit, I urge you to continue reading the next section regarding ABLE Accounts.

ABLE Act

We are coming up on the nine-year anniversary of the signing of the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, which was enacted on December 19, 2014. The ABLE Act has a significant impact on resource limits associated with the SSI and Medicaid programs for people who became blind or disabled by the age of twenty-six. Traditionally, SSI beneficiaries have been required to adhere to strict resource limits: such as a maximum of $2,000 in the bank for an individual receiving SSI benefits. Under the ABLE Act, however, the amount held in an ABLE Account can be much higher than the $2,000 resource limit. ABLE Account contributions must be designated specifically for purposes such as education, housing, employment training and support, assistive technology, health, prevention and wellness, financial management, legal fees, and funeral and burial expenses. Check with your financial institution of choice for a status of ABLE Act regulations in a specific state and to see if an ABLE Account is right for you.

It is important to note that SSI beneficiaries should consider the many other purposes not subject to the traditional resource limits when making ABLE Account contributions, since there are also tax advantages associated with ABLE Accounts. If you are seeking more information about the topic of ABLE Accounts, you can reach out to Government Affairs Specialist Jesse Shirek, at 410-659-9314, extension 2348; Alternatively, visit: https://www.ablenrc.org/.

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