Gay Married Couples Gain Social Security Benefits

Posted on: December 6th, 2014 | Comments Off

Until recently, persons in same-sex marriages were not eligible to receive Social Security benefits on their partner’s earning record even in those states that recognized same-sex marriage.  The Supreme Court case of United States v. Windsor  decided in June of 2013 changed that.  Several months later, New Jersey legalized same-sex marriage.

 Now persons in same-sex marriages are eligible to collect benefits based on their partner’s earning record including survivor’s benefits, disabled widow/widower benefits, and retirement benefits in some cases.  A surviving spouse is entitled to the one-time $255 death benefit.

 Social Security is now processing some retirement and surviving spouse claims for same-sex couples and paying benefits where they are due.  There are many questions that remain unanswered.  For example, what happens when a spouse begins to receive benefits and subsequently moves to a state that does not have same-sex marriage.  In the coming months additional policy will be developed and implemented.

 Perhaps the new policy will assist elderly lesbians in particular.  According to a report by the Williams Institute of UCLA School of Law, 9.1 percent of lesbian couples 65 years of age and older live below the poverty line compared to 4.6 percent of heterosexual couples. 

 In some situations, the Windsor case may work to the detriment of those in same-sex unions.  Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a need-based program.  The income of the applicant’s spouse is taken into account which may reduce or eliminate SSI benefits.

Tagged under: , ,
Categorised under: Disability

Federal Income Tax and Social Security Disability

Posted on: December 6th, 2014 | Comments Off

uncle samDo I have to pay taxes on my Social Security disability benefits?  This is a common question this time of year.  D. Michael Carmody, CPA, gave me an overview of the rules.  Some people have to pay federal income taxes on their Social Security benefits.  This usually happens only if you (and your spouse) have other substantial income.  This could include wages your spouse earns from working, income from rental properties or investments. 

 If you file a federal tax return as an “individual” and your total income is at least $25,000, then you may have to pay income tax on a portion of your benefits.  For persons filing jointly, $32,000 or more is the amount that can make your benefits taxable.

 Maybe your Social Security claim was approved during the year 2013 and you received a lump sum retroactive payment that covered prior years.  In that event you can apportion past-due benefits to previous years, thus lowering or eliminating the taxable amount of the lump sum per year, without having to file amended tax returns.  The formula for calculating your tax liability is highly technical and confusing.  It is recommended that you contact a tax professional to prepare your return. 

 If you do have to pay taxes on your Social Security benefits, you can make quarterly estimated tax payments to the IRS or have federal taxes withheld from your benefits.

 It should be noted that SSI (Supplemental Security Income) is not taxable.  For professional preparation of your tax return, contact D. Michael Carmody, CPA in Haddon Heights (856-310-0717)

Social Security Administration to Fast Track Decisions for Vets

Posted on: December 6th, 2014 | Comments Off

veteran saluting flagA new disability process has been launched to expedite Social Security Disability claims filed by veterans who already have a VA rating of 100 percent permanent and total.  Social Security will now treat these veteran’s applications as high priority and issue expedited decisions similar to the way the agency currently handles Wounded Warrior claims.   

Unfortunately, a 100 percent disability from the VA does not automatically entitle a veteran to Social Security Disability.  Veterans must go through the same medical process as all other claimants, and if they meet all the requirements of Social Security Disability they will be entitled to receive a disability benefit in addition to the VA check.  

“While we can never fully repay them for their sacrifices, we can be sure we provide them with the quality of service they deserve,”  stated Acting Social Security Commissioner Carolyn Colvin.   In order to receive the expedited service, veterans must tell Social Security that they have a VA disability rating of 100 percent permanent and total.  

Tagged under: ,
Categorised under: Disability, veterans

“Everything Special Needs” – a Parent’s Friend on the Radio

Posted on: December 6th, 2014 | Comments Off

radio2“Everything Special Needs” is a new  radio show supporting parents in the special needs community.   The weekly show hosted by Sue Shilling can be heard on Monday nights from 7 to 8 PM on WNJC 1360 AM.  

Recent guests have focused on topics such as sports leagues, assistive technology for those with autism,  and training for young adults in using public transportation.    “Some parents find it difficult to get out to support group meetings because of the demands of caring for a special needs child.  This radio show will bring the meeting to them,”  says Sue Shilling.

Each week there is an opportunity to call in and brag about your child’s most recent accomplishment (no matter how small) and win a specially designed T-shirt.  “Ask the Lawyer” is weekly spotlight by special education attorney, Lisa Krizman.  Listeners may call in or email their questions. 

I think this is a such a great idea that I am a sponsor of the show.  “Everything Special Needs” can be heard at 1360 on the AM dial or online at  You may email your questions or comments to 

Tagged under: , ,
Categorised under: Child SSI

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Posted on: December 6th, 2014 | Comments Off

Deciding to leave work to pursue disability is a gut-wrenching choice.  In the words of the British punk band, the Clash, “If I go there will be trouble; if I stay there will be double.”  Here are a few factors to consider:  

How do you feel?  Are pain or fatigue making it physically impossible to do your job?  Are you able to concentrate well enough?  Is working making your health worse?  Do you feel that you simply cannot do it?  You are the only person who can answer these questions.  

What is your doctor’s opinion?  It will be important to have your doctor support your decision and be willing to complete the appropriate paperwork.  It may be helpful to have a frank discussion with your physician. 

 How will you live?  In order to pursue a claim for Social Security Disability you do not have to stop working completely, but you must be earning less than $1,070 per month gross.  Unfortunately, you cannot get your disability claim approved first and then reduce your income below $1,070.   It will usually take about six months for a Social Security Disability application to be processed at the initial level.  Further appeals can take two years.  Can you reduce your expenses sufficiently in the mean time?  Can you collect NJ State Disability for 26 weeks?  Are you entitled to  private short or long term disability benefits? 

 How will you maintain health insurance?  It will be important to continue regular medical treatment, not only for your own well-being, but to prove your case as well.  How long will your employer cover you?  Can you get coverage through a spouse?  Would you be able to get Medicaid through the Board of Social Services? 

 Are you eligible for a pension?  Obviously if you are covered by a pension that requires a certain number of years of service, you will want to meet that requirement if at all possible.

 What emotional impact will it have on you?  Working provides a social network and satisfaction of making a contribution to society.  Staying home can be extremely isolating.  How will you fill that void? 

 Can you take a short leave?  Perhaps taking a short leave of absence can answer your questions without jeopardizing your job.  Try it out and see if the fit is right. 

 Speak to a lawyer.  Feel free to call and I can explain what you need to prove for a person your age with your conditions.  This can help you decide if Social Security Disability is right for you. 


More Disabled Characters on TV Shows

Posted on: December 6th, 2014 | Comments Off

Becky_JacksonThe number of television characters with disabilities is on the rise, according to a report on diversity in television program is released by GLAAD, a gay advocacy group.  The report stated that 11 of the 813 regular network prime-time characters (1.4 percent) have disabilities.  This is an increase from 8 characters last fall season.  Persons living with disabilities make up 12 percent of the non-institutionalized US citizens.    

Max on Parenthood (NBC) has Asperger Syndrome.  FOX’s Red Band Society is set in a pediatric ward of a hospital and includes a character in a coma, one with cystic fibrosis, one with heart issues and two living with reduced mobility. Glee’s Artie is in a wheelchair.  Although Becky on Glee is played by Lauren Potter, an actress with Down syndrome, very few of the performers actually have disabilities.   

Tagged under: ,
Categorised under: Child SSI, Disability

Earnings Statements are Back

Posted on: December 6th, 2014 | Comments Off

earnings statementThe Social Security Administration has resumed the periodic mailing of earnings statements.  The agency stopped the annual mailings in 2011 as a cost-saving measure.   

The earning statement is an important planning tool.  In addition to estimated retirement benefits, your personalized statement includes estimates of survivor’s benefits and how much you could collect if you became disabled. 

 A worker can access this information on-line at any time by setting up a personal account at  Only 6 percent of American workers have opted to do so.  Consequently, Congress urged the SSA to do a better job in disseminating this critical information. 

 In September,  SSA began mailing paper statements to workers attaining ages 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, 55, and 60 and over who are not receiving Social Security benefits and who are not registered for an online account.  

Tagged under: ,
Categorised under: Disability

Surviving the Holidays with a Disability

Posted on: December 6th, 2014 | Comments Off

It will soon be the “season to be jolly.”  The holiday season is especially challenging for those who are living with a chronic illness.  You may be too ill to participate as you have in the past.  Financial difficulties can add to the stress.  As the days become shorter at year’s end, the iconic holiday symbols offer light.  The glowing menorah and twinkling Christmas tree can represent hope.  Using the word “LIGHT,” here are some ideas for surviving the December holidays:

 Let go of expectations.  I spoke to therapist, Penny Page, LCSW, about the pressure we put on ourselves to have a “Hallmark” holiday:  perfect gifts, perfect decorations and food,  a joyous time when everyone loves each other.   When we’re unable to make that happen, we need to set aside the guilt and be realistic.    

 Identify what’s really important.  Ms. Page suggests that the family sit down early on and talk about what is most important to each person.  Challenge everyone’s view of what the holidays are supposed to be.  Then pick and choose what you feel you can do.  For example, maybe a potluck meal can replace the traditional feast.  Can you shop online or give gift cards?  Keep it simple.  

 Get help.  Plan ahead.  Formulate a “to do” agenda.  Ask yourself, “What is the easiest way to accomplish this?”  Ask each person in the family to take responsibility for some part of the holiday plans.  

 Have a conversation with your loved ones.   If you “don’t look sick,” you need to help them understand what your life is like and what to expect from you at the holidays.  “Put it out on the table,” says Ms. Page.  “Speak to the fact that you may not be able to give people what they’re asking for.” 

 Have one ally in the family who “gets it” and enlist help in speaking to the rest.   Explain what your limitations are, i.e., “I get tired easily, so I’ll only be able to stay for about two hours” or “I’ll do my best to attend your party but if my illness flares up, I may have to bow out.” In the end, recognize that some folks may refuse to accept that you are disabled.    

 Take care of yourself.  Your health comes first.  It’s tempting to abandon healthful living routines around the holidays.   Be sure to get the sleep you need, eat right, and avoid toxic people. 

 Here’s wishing you a bright and peaceful holiday season.

 Penny Page is a licensed clinical social worker with a private practice in West Deptford.  Her phone number is (856) 848-6330. 

Tagged under: , , ,
Categorised under: Disability

The Geography of Disability

Posted on: December 10th, 2013 | Comments Off

Millions of disabled workers in the United States rely on disability payments (Social Security Disability, SSI or both).  About 6 percent of the nation’s working-age population receives disability payments.  Some states have more than 10 percent on disability.  In New Jersey, that figure is just 3.8 percent.   What is the explanation for this disparity?

Lack of education.  Low rates of high school completion are linked with high rates of disability receipt.  This explains why so many people in the Appalachia region and the deep South are on disability.  Those with more education are better able to adapt to a wider range of work.

Age.  Nearly 70 percent of beneficiaries are age 50 or older; nearly one in three are over 60.  The median age in New England and Appalachia is higher than the national average.  Therefore, they have high rates of disability.

Native-born population.  Contrary to popular belief, immigrants are far less likely to get disability checks than native-born individuals.  New Jersey, along with New York, Florida and Texas have large foreign-born populations and lower percentages of disability recipients.

Industry versus service-oriented.  In states whose economies rely on manufacturing, mining and forestry, there are larger percentages of disabled persons than places like New Jersey which have a service-oriented economy.  Therefore, we see more persons on disability in the industrial Midwest as well as the South and Appalachia.

Tagged under: , ,
Categorised under: Disability, SSI

Drowning in Debt? Can bankruptcy be the answer?

Posted on: December 10th, 2013 | Comments Off

Disability and debt often go hand in hand unfortunately.  Those who are sick and out of work will face a pile of bills, collection phone calls, and threatening letters.  I sat down with attorney Barbara Snavely to discuss how bankruptcy may help my clients.

There are two types of bankruptcies for individuals, Chapter 7 and  Chapter 13.   A Chapter 7 works best for those who:

-       have lots of unsecured debt (for example, credit cards, utility bills, unsecured personal loans);

-        do not own much property;

-       do not have much income.  The maximum income for an individual is approximately $60,000 per year; for a family of four, it’s around $100,000.

In a Chapter 7, a trustee who is appointed by the court gathers and sells your non-exempt property.  The proceeds from the sale are used to pay your creditors  according to the priority of the claims.

A Chapter 13 is a good option for those who:

-       owe debt that is the result of a temporary financial setback;

-       own lots of property, such as houses, land, cars, that you want to

entirely protect;

-       have steady, regular income with which to make payments to a trustee;

-       are behind in rent, mortgage or car payments.

A Chapter 13 works to consolidate, order and, in some cases, reduce your debts.  Then, instead of juggling your bills and creditors, you will make one monthly payment (except for home mortgage and car payment loans) to your court-appointed trustee who will handle your creditors.  No more calls from creditors!

Once your bankruptcy case is filed with the court, your creditors cannot collect on your debts because of what is call and “automatic stay.”

Social Security Disability payments are protected in bankruptcy in most cases.  Since SSI payments are intended to provide basic living expenses, they may never be taken in a bankruptcy.

The prospect of filing bankruptcy can be frightening.  Just talking to a bankruptcy attorney does not necessarily mean you have made a decision.  It can just be part of an information-gathering process.  Don’t wait until your circumstances are desperate and you only have days in which to stop foreclosure, vehicle repossession or other collection actions.  Consultations are usually free.

This is a simplified overview of the options.  There are numerous guidelines for each type of bankruptcy.  Get professional advice from an attorney who concentrates in the area of bankruptcy.   Barbara Snavely is an associate in the Law Office of Joseph Rogers in Turnersville.  She can be reached at (856) 228-7964.

» Read the rest of this entry »

Tagged under: , , ,
Categorised under: Financial assistance