By Whitney Young
Our Social Security system is a federal income-security program established as part of President FDR’s New Deal in 1935. The benefits received under this program are funded by the payroll taxes paid by current workers. Said payroll taxes are deducted from each worker’s paycheck as FICA and Medicare tax, which operate on a 15.3% tax split among employers and employees. Social Security operates in three different capacities: retirement, survivor benefits, and disability. To qualify for Social Security retirement benefits, workers must have worked at least 40 consecutive or non-consecutive quarters, making at least $1,200 per quarter. The retirement program provides lifetime income to qualified workers once they have reached retirement age. Eligible workers may apply for an abridged amount of benefits at 62 and begin receiving their full amount at 67. The amount a worker receives depends on his income while working. Survivor benefits are available to the spouse of a deceased, qualified worker and his children under the age of 18, paid to the children’s custodian. To disabled workers, lifetime income is available through the Social Security disability program. However, you must apply soon after you become disabled, or your claim may expire. Additionally, you must meet specific criteria under the Social Security Listings of Impairments regarding your ailment/diagnosis.
All of these benefits must be applied for at your local Social Security Administration office.
If you are fortunate enough to be determined eligible for benefits, and begin receiving the same, your benefits may be subject to federal income tax. Generally, those who are taxed federally receive income from multiple sources, rather than solely from Social Security.
If you apply for benefits and are denied, Social Security has an appeals process, to provide you a second (sometimes third or fourth) chance at receiving benefits. This process is available to those applying for retirement and/or disability benefits. After the initial denial, you can request a reconsideration at your local office. At the reconsideration level, an adjudicative team employed by the Social Security Administration will review your initial application and any new evidence submitted with your request for reconsideration, and you will either be approved for benefits or denied. If you are again denied, this is the time when you should seek representation by an attorney experienced in representing workers in the Social Security appeals process. A Social Security attorney will be able to guide you through the appeals process, and help you determine whether you qualify for benefits pursuant to Social Security law. The next step requires you to file a request for hearing before an administrative law judge. Getting a hearing can take between 12 and 18 months. At the hearing, you will have an opportunity to present new evidence and testify before the administrative law judge regarding your current ailments and how they prohibit you from working. Afterwards, you will receive a decision from the judge either approving you for benefits based on a finding that you are entitled by law to the same, or denying your claim. If you are approved for benefits, the judge may award a lump sum payment of back benefits, plus future monthly benefits. If you are again denied, there are two more steps that will allow you another chance for benefits: (1) first, appeal to the Appeals Council, and if denied again, (2) file a claim in federal court. Again, if you get this far in the appeals process, you should seek the assistance of an experienced social security attorney.