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Starting in 2010, the Social Security Administration has closed the local “field offices” in multiple rural and urban districts.  For applicants without transportation, lack of access to local offices can be devastating.  The consequence has been a huge escalation of waiting times in the existing offices.  Closures have also resulted in greatly lengthened delays for hearings before Administrative Law Judges on appeals of disability applications.  Applicants attempting to reach Social Security through the “hotline” telephone, now must wait much longer, sometimes hours, to get assistance over the telephone.  It is common to get a “busy signal” or a very long hold time.

Social Security serves one million more beneficiaries each year. If its budget had kept pace with the Consumer Price Index since fiscal 2010, it would be $1.3 billion higher in fiscal 2019 than the $11.1 billion that has just been allocated, Ms. Romig said. And that is a conservative figure, because costs for big items, like office rent and health care, tend to rise more quickly than the C.P.I.

As the number of Social Security beneficiaries increases, the U.S. Congress has unfortunately cut the operating budges of the Social Security Administration.  It has been estimated that there is a budget shortfall of approximately $1.3 billion dollars, merely to keep pace with inflation!  These draconian budget cuts are a direct attack on the operation and administration of the Social Security system, by conservative lawmakers who wish to see beneficiaries without benefits they have paid for over their working lives.

On February 20, 2013, The Social Security Administrated published a new ruling, SSR 13-2p, entitled “Evaluating Cases Involving Drug Addiction and Alcoholism.” It appears in Federal Register, Vol. 78, No. 34 (Docket No. SSA-2012-0006).

The policy clarifies and replaces prior policies, which essentially prohibited a granting of Social Security Disability, for claimants who had an active drug and/or alcohol policy. The key factor in the the new policy is whether a given claimant would still be found disabled, if he or she stopped using drugs or alcohol. In other words, if the drug or alcohol addiction was not a material aspect of the disability, it might still be possible for a Social Security Judge to determine that a given claimant was disabled.

An example of such a situation, according to Social Security Disability Attorney Randy Zeldin, Esq., might be an individual with a psychotic disorder, who started using alcohol to relieve symptoms. This scenario is not uncommon, particularly when the psychiatric care is inadequate or non-existent. Another example would be a chronic pain patient, who utilized illicit drugs such as marijuana, in order to relieve symptoms.
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The Social Security Administration has announced that there will be a 1.7% cost of living adjustment (COLA) for Social Security and SSI beneficiaries in calendar year 2013. The calculation is determined by comparing the change in the Consumer Price index (CPI) from the third quarter of 2011, (the last year of an increase) to the 3rd quarter of 2012.

As a result of the cost of living increase, the average monthly benefit in 2013 for all disabled workers will be $1,132 (v. $1,113 in 2012). For a disabled worker, spouse and one more children, the average monthly benefits in 2013 will be $1,919, while the maximum benefit will be $2,533.00.

The formal announcement of the changes appears in the Federal Register at 77 Fed. Reg. 65743.

Florida Insurance Commissioner, Kevin McCarty, has approved a 6.1% increase in Florida, for workers’ compensation premiums. The decision was a result of recommendations made by the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI). This is the third consecutive year of increases in premiums. In 2010 there was a premium increase of 7.8% and in 2011 an increase of 8.9%. This trend of premium increases, contradicts the notion of so-called workers’ compensation “reform,” which was designed to keep employment in the State of Florida.

Unfortunately, the cost of workers’ compensation premiums is supposed to be commensurate with the benefits provided to injured workers. Notwithstanding three straight years of premium increases, benefits for injured Florida workers are stagnant or declining. The carriers continually pay a smaller share of medical and indemnity benefits, while the value of lump sum cash settlement has declined dramatically since the 2003 reforms.

Randy Zeldin, Esq., is a Florida workers’ compensation attorney with offices in Boca Raton, Ft. Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, Florida.

Due to the great increase in Social Security Disability claims, there is a wait of at least one year to obtain a hearing before a Social Security Judge, in the Ft. Lauderdale to West Palm Beach region. Social Security Disability Attorney and Lawyer Randy Zeldin, Esq. of Boca Raton represents many individual claimants, waiting for a “day in court” to have their application for Social Security Disability benefits heard.

The Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General recently studied the problem of scheduling hearings in its report “When Cases are in ‘Ready to Schedule’ Status”, No. A-08-12-21293.

The reported cited various reasons for delays in scheduling hearings, when cases are in “ready to schedule” mode, including:

1. Increasing development of cases to have a larger inventory from which to select for scheduling.
2. Expanded service areas.
3. Increase in disability applications.

The availability of Claimants’ attorneys for hearing dates was also cited as an obstacle. Social Security Attorney Randy Zeldin, Esq. believes that attorneys have an ethical obligation to make reasonable efforts to expedite cases consistent with the client’s interests.
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Social Security Administration Commissioner Astrue has made reduction of the Social Security Disability backlog one of his top priorities, as his six-year term end on January 2012. His plan is that the average hearing level processing time will be 270 days by September 30, 2012. As part of his initiative, ODAR has announced new “Electronic Federal Informal Remand Special Project 2012.”

While similar to previous informal remand projects, this one is bigger in scope, involving hundreds of federal disability examiners around the country. Deputy Commissioner Sklar noted that there has been more work coming into ODAR office “than we’d like.” The goal is to complete the Remand Project review within 45 days of the case transfer.
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For the second consecutive year, Boca Raton based attorney Randy Zeldin, is honored to be designated as the Chair of the Workers’ Compensation Section of the
South Palm Beach County Bar Association.

The South Palm Beach County Bar Association is a group of attorneys which has been in existence since 1960. As Chair of the Workers’ Compensation Section, Palm Beach and Broward attorney Randy Zeldin will organize educational and other opportunities for attorneys.

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