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Saturday, September 26, 2015

Congress Considers Proposal to Raise Social Security Benefits

What are the proposed changes concerning Social Security benefits being considered by federal lawmakers?

Social Security benefits are a vital component of the retirement portfolio of millions of Americans. Accordingly, a Congressman from Florida recently requested a memo from the Congressional Research Service in order to determine whether America’s seniors are receiving adequate and fair benefits given the current economy and the amount they have paid in over the years. More specifically, the memo looked at the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) used in calculating benefits to evaluate whether it reflected an accurate financial picture in light of what it truly costs America’s seniors to live in today’s economy.

Historically, retirement benefits have been calculated using a figure known as the Consumer Price Index – Clerical Worker’s (CPI-W) as opposed to a separate figure known as the Consumer Price Index – Elderly (CPI-E). According to the research memo, seniors would reap greater benefits if the CPI-E were included in the calculation of the Social Security COLA as opposed to the CPI-W. This prompted the introduction of the “Seniors Deserve a Raise Act.”

The Act, which will be formally presented once Congress reconvenes, requests a 0.2% increase in benefits per recipient – a figure which more adequately reflects the actual costs of living for America’s seniors. Overall, the act requests $388 billion in additional funding for retirement benefit recipients, and, according to sponsor Congressman Grayson (FL), “protects the purchasing power of seniors’ earned benefits against inflation. The CPI-E does this while the CPI-W does not.”

The changes do not take into account the funding and payment issues affecting Social Security Disability, however. Over the past several years, more and more Americans have experienced debilitating accidents and injuries, requiring additional funds from the heavily burdened system. Hopefully, Congress will continue to consider options for increasing funding for both programs, ensuring that retirement and disability benefits will be available to all who are eligible.

If you are concerned about your Social Security benefits, please do not hesitate to contact the knowledgeable attorneys  at Seelig Law Offices, LLC today. Serving the greater New York City metropolitan area, we can be reached at: 212-766-0600.


Friday, September 4, 2015

State Earmarks $7 million to Help New Yorkers Denied Federal Disability Benefits

I was recently denied disability benefits by the Social Security Administration. What are my options in New York?

As more and more Americans face career-ending physical and mental disabilities, the available resources for new applicants have steadily diminished over the past several years. Accordingly, applicants report an increasingly difficult time obtaining an approval for full disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA), yet are unable to return to work either part-time, or at all, due to the excruciating effects of their conditions.

Fortunately, in July, 2015, the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) announced an increase in funding available to those who have been denied benefits on a federal level, creating a small fund to help assist these individuals as they explore other options.

According to the press release, a total of $6.8 million has been allocated across 12 agencies statewide to provide legal assistance to applicants looking to appeal their denial or discontinuation.

In a statement by the OTDA, “providing this vital support enables individuals in need of assistance to have continued access to services without interruption…Helping eligible individuals receive Social Security benefits improves their financial situation while reducing associated costs to the state and local governments.”

The program is designed to help low-income New Yorkers receive fair and equitable access to representation through the federal appeals process. In so doing, the various legal aid societies across the state have teamed up to offer high-quality pro bono services to those who are in need of federal disability benefits but are unsure where to turn.

In addition to assisting the various legal aid groups, additional funding has also been earmarked for use by the Disability Advocacy Program, which works on behalf of disabled New Yorkers to secure vital services.

If you are struggling with your application for benefits, or have recently received notice that your benefits are being discontinued, please contact one of our knowledgeable attorneys at the Seelig Law Offices. We serve the entire New York City metropolitan area, including all five boroughs, and can be reached at 212-766-0600.



Monday, August 24, 2015

Public Protests Highlight Possible Disability Discrimination in Ridesharing Companies

Are companies like Über and Lyft required to make accommodations for disabled individuals?

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) requires business owners to make areas of “public accommodation” reasonably accessible to those with disabilities. Generally speaking, areas of public accommodation are those sections of either a public or private sector building that are available to the public at large, including the common areas of retail stores, sidewalks, rental facilities, and service centers.

Of course, with a legal term like “public accommodation,” there is bound to be a great deal of demand for interpretation given the specific and unique facts of each situation. For instance, how does the law apply to a ridesharing company like Über, which offers taxi services to hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers on a daily basis? For the 900,000 residents of New York City with a physical disability, recent protests solidified their assertion that Über has a responsibility to expand its fleet to include accessible vehicles, and Über’s vehicles should be considered areas of public accommodation.

On the flip side, Über has argued that it is too cost prohibitive to make the necessary acquisitions of accessible vehicles, especially when there is an alternative available through the city’s green taxis. However, as several hundred protestors have pointed out, green taxis are not permitted to service fares below 96th street – a law which Über has vowed to help change.

Overall, there are just 581 wheelchair accessible yellow taxis, and approximately 1,800 green taxis in circulation to help transport the city’s 900,000 disabled residents – a number anti-discrimination activities believe is way too low.

It has yet to be determined whether Über will be mandated to include accessible vehicles in its fleet, however the law will likely exempt a private ridesharing company from mandatory compliance with ADA public accommodation standards.

If you are experiencing disability-based discrimination, or would like to discuss your recent experiences with a knowledgeable disability attorney, please contact the Seelig Law Offices at 212-766-0600.


Friday, August 14, 2015

NYC Council Aims to Assist Taxi Drivers in Obtaining Rightful Benefits & Employment Status

Where does the law stand in terms of disability benefits for taxi cab drivers? 

In New York, a special short-term disability statute allows for workers across a wide variety of industries to enjoy some semblance of financial security when facing a short-term illness or injury. Unlike other states, many employers are legally required to offer short-term disability policies to their workers, provided those workers meet certain criteria.

One such criteria – which has proven problematic for the thousands of cab drivers in New York City – is reaching a status of “employee,” as opposed to independent contractor. The former status allows for a greater number of protections – including access to disability benefits – while the latter offers virtually no financial protection or security. 

The current laws surrounding employment and disability status for taxi cab drivers are somewhat controversial. A recent change to the laws as relating the similarly-situated car wash industry, however, has offered taxi cab drivers (and their advocates) a renewed hope that the laws will soon turn in their favor, resulting in employment and benefits equality. 

Recognizing the limitations imposed by the independent contractor status, the Taxi Workers Alliance began imposing a $0.06 fee on all fare payments tendered by credit card. Over time, this amounted to a sizable $1.4 million savings account reserved for those drivers who needed financial assistance during a time of short-term disability. However, in April 2014, a Manhattan trial court judge struck down the fund, holding that the TWA did not have the authority to impose the fee. 

As the issue lingers on, taxi workers and advocates are hopeful that the recent classification of car wash workers as employees rather than independent contractors will help these hardworking employees obtain the disability and employment benefits they deserve. As a result of the recent ruling by the New York City Council, car washes are now subject to labor compliance oversight, random inspections, and severe penalties for failure to follow labor regulations. 

If you are concerned about your short-term disability benefits, or would like to speak to a reputable attorney about the matter, please contact the New York City lawyers at the Seelig Law Offices today by calling (212) 766-0600. 

 


Thursday, July 30, 2015

Effect of Divorce on Claims for Social Security Retirement Benefits

Can my ex-spouse benefit from my social security retirement?

Social Security retirement benefits are a vital component of the retirement picture for many Americans.  Did you know that your ex-spouse may be able to benefit from the Social Security benefits you collect even after a divorce?  There a several ways in which a divorced spouse can still receive retirement benefits based on his or her ex-spouse’s financial portfolio, provided the eligibility requirements are met. As always, if you are facing this issue and are not sure where to turn, be sure to contact a competent New York City Social Security attorney right away. 

Collecting retirement benefits from former spouse

As a threshold consideration, the amount of benefits available to a former spouse will depend on the working spouse’s employment and income records. Naturally, the more paid in by the spouse, the higher the available monthly payments that may be available to the ex. Under current Social Security guidelines – which are subject to change on a yearly basis – the following requirements must be met in order for an ex-spouse to collect from the other: 
• The marriage must have lasted ten years or longer;
• The spouse seeking to collect must remain unmarried;
• The spouse seeking to collect is aged 62 or older;
• The spouse seeking to collect is not entitled to his or her own retirement benefits in an amount equal to or greater the amount available through the ex-spouse; and
• The payor spouse is actually entitled to benefits.
Remarriage will generally negate any opportunity to collect benefits from a former spouse. However, if the remarriage ends through death, divorce, or annulment, he or she may still be able to access retirement benefits from the former spouse, assuming the above-listed requirements are met. 

If you are facing a difficult disability or retirement benefits issue in New York and would like to speak to a reputable attorney, please contact the disability and social security attorneys at Seelig Law Offices by dialing (212)766-0600 today! 


Monday, July 13, 2015

Understanding the Basics of New York Civil Service Disability Benefits

Am I eligible for disability retirement benefits as an employee of the Department of Corrections?

Fortunately, the financial security afforded by a disability pension through the State and City of New York is not limited solely to police officers and first responders. Other civil service employees are also entitled to certain benefits in the event of an on-the-job accident, injury or medical condition that precludes the continuation of work.  From the Department of Corrections to the Department of Sanitation, a disability pension may be available to help offset the enormous costs of medical bills and lost wages incurred as a result of a career-ending injury. We encourage you to contact an experienced civil service disability attorney as soon as possible following your injury in order to assure greater likelihood of success. 

Types of civil service accident claims

As a civil servant, there are generally two types of claims that can result in disability benefits. The first is known as a civil service accident, and is generally classified as a sudden, fortuitous, out- of- the-ordinary mischance that is injurious in impact, such as:

  • Slip and fall while on the job
  • Motor vehicle accident
  • Injuries while effecting an arrest
  • Injuries while fighting a fire
  • Harm caused by defective equipment
  • Certain illnesses contracted by on-the-job exposure. 

Not all injuries at work qualify as accidents. Non-accidental injuries may also qualify for pension benefits. Typically they result in lesser monthly income than that of an accidental disability pension.

 

For Correction Officers to win a 3/4’s pay disability benefit, the cause of the disability must be incurred as the natural and proximate result of an act of an inmate. The only circumstance under which a Correction Officer may be eligible for a 3/4’s pension beyond such an event is if they qualify for a presumptive bill pension, such as the Heart Bill, the Infectious Disease Bill, or the World Trade Center Bill.

Navigating the tier system

There are several tiers within the civil service realm that help dictate the extent of a claimant’s eligible benefits. Within the non-uniformed sector (i.e., workers other than police officers, firefighters, corrections officers, emergency medical personnel, and sanitation workers), there are six pension tiers, and generally the longer a claimant has worked for New York, the greater the benefit available. Likewise, the tier will also determine whether a contribution is necessary, and what formula should be used to calculate the total benefit amount.

The process to obtain uniform civil service disability benefits in New York can be daunting, and we recommend seeking the assistance of a reputable attorney. For help, call the Seelig Law Offices at 212-766-0600. 


Friday, June 26, 2015

Federal Government Restores Hundreds of Wrongfully-Denied Disability Claims

If I am denied Social Security Disability benefits, can I appeal?

Social Security disability benefits are often denied wrongfully, or due to an incomplete application and medical record. Oftentimes, an applicant who receives a Notice of Denial is able to successfully reapply and receive much-needed financial assistance. However, denials may also occur as a result of a glitch or issue in the Social Security Administration’s system – as was the case for hundreds of Kentucky residents who have happily had their wrongfully-denied benefits restored.

Eligibility Review Issues Spark Unprecedented Suspension for Disabled Beneficiaries 

Across several counties in West Virginia and Kentucky, as many as 1,000 disability beneficiaries received an unexpected and life-shattering notice from the SSA that their benefits were being suspended pending an ‘eligibility review.’ For most of these individuals, loss of their benefits would mean virtually no income for an indefinite period of time – leaving many to wonder how they would pay for food, shelter, and medicine.

In an immediate move by representatives from the area, residents’ voices were heard and benefits were immediately restored pending the outcome of the reviews, which were calculated by the SSA to determine if residents were still eligible to be receiving disability benefits under current guidelines.

Classifying the matter as ‘life or death,’ U.S. Representative Hal Rogers urged the SSA to restore funding to these residents until the review process concluded – as opposed to making them wait for payments while agents processed each file. According to local reports, as many as three residents from the area are believed to have ended their own lives over the thought of complete destitution – a fact with which local residents and lawmakers cannot live.

The eligibility reviews were prompted by an investigation into a Kentucky-area lawyer believed to be falsifying medical records in order to win approvals for his clients. Nonetheless, representatives for the beneficiaries reiterated the injustice of suspending benefits without giving them an opportunity to prove eligibility

As experienced and knowledgeable NYC disability attorneys, we are well-versed in the eligibility criteria required by the SSA, and can help you prepare and defend your application for benefits. To get started, contact Seelig Law Offices by dialing (212)766-0600.


Thursday, June 18, 2015

Newtown Police Officer Eligible For Disability Pay

Are Psychological Ailments Considered A Disability?

 

A police officer began to suffer from anxiety and depression after responding to the 2012 Newtown shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school.  The officer has been on disability due to a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder and has not worked since the day of the shootings when twenty children and six educators were killed.  

Newton’s police chief originally suggested firing the officer because he is unable to return to work.  The chief later withdrew that statement, but brings to light the negative connotation those on disability face when they are unable to return to work because of an injury.  This officer was one of many who responded to a horrific scene at the school that day.  The officer originally supervised the evacuation of children from the school’s side doors but later went into the classroom where many of the children were shot dead by the gunman.  The officer says the things he saw that day continue to affect his mental faculties and ability to adequately perform his job.   

The officer testified in front of Connecticut lawmakers during a General Assembly’s debate on granting worker’s compensation and disability payments to first responders suffering from PTSD.  The town’s insurance company is responsible for paying 50% of the officer’s salary through June.  The State Board of Mediation and Arbitration ruled the officer’s contract with Newtown requires the town pay the officer half of his salary until retirement.    

A first responder’s job often involves witnessing horrific accidents and crime scenes..  New York provides short and long-term disability when people become physically or mentally ill. But, filing for and successfully claiming disability can be tricky and tedious.  The lawyers at Seelig Law Offices have years of experience helping people claim disability benefits and getting a maximum payment while the individual is unable to work. Contact our experienced New York City disability lawyers today at (212) 766-0600 for a consultation.      


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Understanding the Difference Between Short-term and Long-term Disability in New York

I recently suffered a serious injury and I am unable to return to work – however, I’m not sure how long I will be hurt. What is the difference between long-term and short-term disability in New York? 


Disability benefits are an important and – in many cases – vital component to maintaining financial stability in the wake of a serious illness or injury.  In general, the major difference between short-term and long-term disability benefits in New York is the expected duration of the underlying condition and whether it is expected to eventually resolve. In the following, we explain the components of each benefit as well as the eligibility requirements for short-term versus long-term coverage. 


Short-term disability in New York 

If an employee is injured while not on the job (which would not be covered by New York’s workers’ compensation regulations), short-term disability benefits may be available through the New York State Department of Labor. Under its regulations, all covered employers are mandated to maintain a short-term disability policy for workers who experience an injury or illness, which provides approximately 50 percent of a worker’s average wages for up to 26 weeks. The wage amount is calculated based on a worker’s pay rate over the prior eight weeks, and the claim for benefits must be filed within 30 days of the date of the injury or diagnosis. 

If a condition is expected to last longer than 26 weeks, is considered terminal, or the applicant meets certain age criteria, long-term disability benefits may be the best option to supplement the financial loss incurred by a medical condition.


Long-term disability benefit basics 

In New York, long-term disability benefits may be available through the Office of Labor Relations. For covered employees, the option to enroll in long-term disability insurance must be made available by their employers. Under this coverage, an employee can receive 66 and two-thirds percent of their basic earnings each month – which may be reduced if the employee is deemed “partially disabled” as opposed to totally disabled. 

A partial disability is one in which, due to the illness or injury, the employee is no longer able to work on a full-time basis but can still handle part-time work at his or her current job or a different job. By contrast, an employee with a total disability is rendered unable to continue working in any capacity or in any vocation. 

For more information about the benefits available to New Yorkers facing injury or illness, please contact the disability law attorneys at the Seelig Law Offices, LLC by calling 212-766-0600 today.

 

Monday, June 1, 2015

NYC Mayor Proposes New Calculation for Disability Pensions

I am a recently hired uniformed employee of New York City. Are there any proposed increases scheduled for my disability pension? 


Many of New York City’s uniformed officers rely on the availability of disability pension funds in the event of an unforeseen injury or disability. With the costs of living steadily rising and disability claims congruently increasing across the city, Mayor De Blasio recently unveiled his plan to recalculate the amount available for the city’s police, firefighters, and other workers enduring dangerous and hazardous work conditions. 

Under the new plan, which covers the New York Police Department, the Fire Department of New York, the Department of Corrections and the Department of Sanitation, the calculation of disability payments would rely on the employee’s final average salary or “basic maximum salary,” whichever happens to be greater. Moreover, the calculation would remove the offset currently in place to adjust for the payment of Social Security benefits. Lastly, De Blasio proposes an updated formula to adjust for cost of living expenses. 

Using several commonplace examples, the Mayor’s office explained that many of the city’s hardworking employees would see increases as high as 65 percent. Of course, the measure will require final approval by the New York General Assembly, which meets regularly in Albany. 

Currently, disability pensions are calculated using a tiered system based on  the date the employee joined the pension system. This tiered system has caused significant conflict between the mayor and groups like the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association and the Uniformed Firefighters Association. Another bill being considered by the legislature would restore 75% of disability pay to police and fire members. The bill should be amended to include uniform correction officers and sanitation workers.   

If you are a NYC employee and have questions about your disability benefits, we encourage you to contact the disability law attorneys at the Seelig Law Offices as soon as possible. You can reach our office by calling (212)766-0600 today. 


Friday, May 8, 2015

More Female FDNY Retirees Receive Disability Than Men

What percentage of retired firefighters receive disability pension? 

According to a review of the New York City Fire Pension Fund’s 2014 financial report, as many as 70 percent of the former FDNY female workforce is receiving three-quarters disability pension payments in retirement. Among these women is Ms. Brenda Berkman, who broke the FDNY’s gender barrier and was among the first 41 female firefighters inducted in 1982. Today, however, Ms. Berkman suffers from several post-9/11 injuries, as she was one of the brave first responders – and worked Ground Zero for several months thereafter.

The Pension Fund report included 30 retired female FDNY firefighters. Disability pension is paid to 22 of those retirees, or 73 percent, and 21 of those retirees receive an “accidental disability” pension after experiencing a job-related injury. That means 70 percent of all female retirees are getting an accidental disability pension, which represents 75 percent of the former employee’s final average salary.

Following the release of the report, some experts weighed in on the issue and noted the apparently disproportionate number of disabled female retirees versus men, a group with a 63 percent disability pension rate. Some have questioned whether the academy is properly training females for the rigors of the job position, while others are concerned whether certain tactics used in emergency response efforts are too outdated or ineffective to avoid injury.

The 9/11 tragedy triggered a swell in disability claims, ranging from severe respiratory issues to mental health conditions including post-traumatic stress disorder. Other women have suffered severe burns, irreversible orthopedic injuries and permanent lung damage.

Of the 10,500 cadets serving in the FDNY, there are currently 44 active duty females – the most ever to serve since employment was opened to women in 1982.

Civil service employees, including firefighters, turn to Seelig Law Offices, LLC, for valued advice and effective representation when pursuing disability claims. Our attorneys have the knowledge and experience needed to guide your case successfully. Contact us today at (212)766-0600 to learn more.


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