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Social Security Commissioner Andrew Saul — Don’t Let These People Starve

  September 17, 2019 | By Laurence Kotlikoff, Forbes

Dear Social Security Commissioner Saul,

I write to relay two Social Security horror stories with the hope that you can help these people and take steps to prevent similar cases.

The first involves Christopher Carriero, who lives in Georgia (302 Victoria’s Circle St. Mary’s, Ga. 31558). He’s receiving Social Security disability benefits. He has three disks missing in his back, a herniated disk in his neck, scoliosis, a torn rotator cuff, arthritis in both ankles, and essentially no vision in one eye. Yet, Chris, after a long and arduous search, found a job working 29 hours per week to help support himself and his wife — a job that would provide his wife health insurance or what passes for health insurance these days. About two years ago, Chris’ manager was fired and his employer insisted he work an extra 7 hours per week. As a consequence, he earned, without knowing it, more than the monthly amount you can earn and still collect disability. How much did Chris earn above the monthly limit? The amount ranged from $14 too much to $435 too much. In most months, Chris exceeded the limit by about $200.

Chris contacted me because he just received a $21,000 bill from Social Security. The bill reflects their rule that if you earn even $1 too much in a given month, you lose all your disability benefits for that month. This astronomical tax on earning just $1 above the Substantial Gainful Activity amount represents a terrible poverty trap for people like Chris. But it’s one Chris knew nothing about. He complied with his boss’ demand to work more hours. He feared he’d otherwise have been fired. The payback? Social Security is poised to stop paying him his disability benefits for the next 18 months until it recoups the $21,000. Had Chris been informed in a timely manner that he was above the limit and that his prior work had disqualified him for the trial work period, he could, perhaps, have told his employer that he’d work for free if that was what was needed to keep his job. But it took Social Security a year and a half to inform him.

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