1. Social Security benefits to increase 5.8% for 2009. Monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits will receive the largest increase since 1982.
The amount of each year's increases is based on the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers, which is calculated by the U.S. Department of Labor.
The maximum amount of earnings subject to Social Security payroll taxes will increase from $102,000 to $106,800. This increase will affect about 11 million of the 164 million people subject to payroll taxes.
2. Social Security makes progress in processing backlogged disability cases. The Social Security Administration (SSA) has been able to reduce the growth of its backlog from about 70,000 cases each year over the last decade to about 14,000 cases in Fiscal Year (FY) 2008.
"While the backlog grew slightly, the rate of increase in pending cases continues to drop," said Michael Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security.
Social Security hired 190 new Administrative Law Judges (ALJs), opened a National Hearing Center (NHC) in Falls Church, Virginia, and plans to open two additional centers in Albuquerque and Chicago; eliminated virtually its entire aged case backlog of more than 135,000 cases waiting over 900 days for a hearing decision; and implemented a quick disability determination (QDD) process, which allowed 75,000 people to have their cases resolved in about eight days
However, with attrition and experienced ALJs being used to train the new judges, the agency actually had 46 fewer ALJs available in FY 2008 than the prior year. The rate of increase in the backlog was achieved by focusing on those cities and states where claimants had been waiting the longest.
Other accomplishments included:
More than 2.6 million initial disability claims processed;
Astrue said that additional funding for SSA would allow the agency to do even better in the future.
"We simply cannot address the challenges we face without adequate and timely funding. Many things we need to do, such as increase support staff and add new hearing offices, will not happen if Congress fails to pass an adequate appropriations bill," he said.