The pandemic had many questioning the Social Security Administration’s policies and customer service, and seniors want to know what’s happening with inflation and a fourth stimulus check.
These things could all have impacts on someone’s benefits.
Not only are seniors worried about their retirement benefits, but many other Americans collect disability and supplemental income.
These Americans rely heavily on these benefits to pay for their daily needs, and snags in the process puts them at risk.
The inability to afford food, medications, or shelter could create an immediate health risk to a person.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office found that the Social Security Administration expedited critical disability cases, but there is not consistency in policies
Hearings are often done for those who have applied for benefits but are denied and want to appeal the decision.
This means that for these people, if it is found that they do in fact qualify for benefits, they waited a period of time to get them when they desperately needed them.
When filing an appeal, potential recipients are looking for a decision to be made with an administrative law judge according to the Social Security Administration policy.
Some appeals will be prioritized as critical if the person is in need of medicine or facing financial strain.
This is for those with terminal illnesses or who have no money at all.
The policy within the agency requires hearing offices to speed up the cases that are marked as critical.
Despite this policy, there are still processing delays that aren’t necessary.
Some offices will require that applicants provide them documents to prove they’re in dire financial need, like eviction notices.
The Social Security Administration policy doesn’t require those documents to expedite a case.
Data from the GAO shows the median waiting times in days for those applying for an appeal.
Those with non-critical cases wait up to 469 days, and those that are flagged at the hearing office wait up to 351 days.
Cases that are flagged before they reach the hearing office can still wait up to 201 days.
In the study, the GAO has made two recommendations to help the SSA with the issue of expedited cases still being forced to wait.
First was that the Social Security Administration reviews the use of documentation of a dire needs situation for consistency.
Next, is to examine the handling of cases that have homelessness, evictions, or other critical needs to actually get the cases expedited the way the policy outlines.
Overall, there are policies in place but they aren’t clear or aren’t being followed the same at every office.
The SSA agreed with the recommendations, but didn’t indicate they would address it.
What does the high rate of inflation mean for Social Security recipients?
Inflation has created stress and chaos for millions of Americans as the cost of basic items rise in cost.
Those especially impacted are seniors living on a fixed income.
While their income stays the same, prices of items have doubled and tripled since the start of the year.
Each year the cost of living is looked at and seniors will see a COLA adjustment to help benefits keep up with inflation.
This means seniors will see more money each month.
Unfortunately, what hasn’t changed is the threshold for taxing a Social Security recipient.
If a recipient makes more than a certain amount, which hasn’t changed since 1984, then they need to pay income taxes.
The limits are $25,000 for single recipients and $32,000 for married couples.
These amounts were worth far more in 1984, and the amount hasn’t been adjusted to reflect inflation.
This means compared to 1984, seniors are being taxed at a much lower threshold.
If single claimants get over $34,000 and couples reach over $44,000, they can see up to 85% of their benefits taxed.
According to Fox News, this will simply push seniors into an even higher tax bracket if they get a major COLA increase for 2023.
In June, the rate of inflation reached 9.1%, the fastest it’s ever risen since 1981.
If the COLA increase is as high as the 10.5% projected by the Senior Citizens League, seniors would see an average of $175.10 more each month.
The largest adjustment in history was in 1981 at 11.2%.
While more money each month sounds good, the chances of being pushed into a higher tax bracket on a fixed income is not.
Those who never owed taxes before could find themselves paying the government next year.
Not only would a higher income be potentially taxable, but it could go too high for seniors to qualify for very necessary programs.
This includes SNAP, or food stamps.
The COLA increase for 2022 was 5.9%, one of the highest in recent years.
Related: Social Security recipients could see a 10.5% COLA increase, but Trust Fund may not last as long as people think
When it comes to collecting retirement from Social Security, some seniors make over $50,000, but the chances of that for most are unlikely
The more money you get, the more you’re likely to be taxed on your income.
While major payments are what people would hope for, very few qualify for them.
Many different factors go into what you see when you finally retire, including how much you made in your life and the age you retire.
Most people are going to end up with less than that, because the requirements are hard to meet for the maximum benefit.
In order to see the most each month, you need to have worked for at least 35 years.
During those 35 years, you need to have earned as much as or more than the annual wage cap.
In 2022 that amount is $147,000, but it’s adjusted each year for inflation and usually rises.
Finally, you cannot retire before age 70 if you want to see the max benefit.
Working for 35 years and waiting to retire may not be hard. Earning six figures for 35 of those years might be.
Not all positions will pay that high, especially for positions like teaching.
Some people end up knowing in the long run they’ll see lower benefits. They can always work to create a nest egg.
You may also work part time during your retirement if you’re able and willing.
There are always ways around these things.
Why benefit recipients will not see a fourth stimulus check
As inflation continues, many Americans are asking why those on a fixed income can’t get a stimulus check.
When it became clear that the chances of a fourth check for anyone were less likely, the Senior Citizens League called on Congress to take care of elderly Americans.
The fourth stimulus check proposal was brought up by the SCL chairman, Rick Delaney, in Oct. 2021.
According to GoBankingRates, he told Congress, “We believe that a special stimulus for Social Security recipients could help defray the higher costs some would face if next year’s COLA bumps them into a higher tax bracket, causing higher tax rates on their income and surcharges to their Medicare Part B premiums.”
The IRS has already responded to questions regarding another stimulus check.
A spokesperson for the IRS stated, “There are no further stimulus payments authorized by law.”
There is an online petition available online to sign calling on Congress to send another $1,400 stimulus check to Social Security recipients.
Managing your current benefits and how to check your online statement
Many Americans are able to manage their Social Security account online even before they retire.
This can be done by setting up a My Social Security account.
In addition to managing your benefits, you can file for other programs run by the SSA. People can also request a new Social Security card.
You may use the documents you need for filing your taxes through this account. You may also request a benefit verification letter.
To start, you must create the account at ssa.gov.
You’ll select my Social Security and choose to create an account.
If you do not have an ID.me account, you’ll have to create one. If you do have one, you’ll be prompted to login with it.
The SSA will then need you to verify your identity. They will send a verification code to your email that expires within 10 minutes.
After this, you’ll have access to all your information online.