Last month, the Social Security Administration (SSA) released its expected changes for FY 2017*. Some of these changes are more likely to have an effect on disability attorneys and advocates than others. There are three changes that are likely to increase the average monthly benefits for SSDI recipients, which will lead to an increase in back pay and thus an increase in average representative fees.
Maximum Monthly Benefit
The maximum monthly benefit an SSDI recipient could receive in 2016 was $2,639. That number will be increased to $2,687 in 2017. That is about a 1.8% increase. While only a small percentage of claimants receive the maximum benefit, those claimants can expect a 1.8% increase in back pay as well as monthly benefits. This should lead to attorneys and advocates getting a 1.8% increase in fees from these clients as well.
After not having a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) in 2016, the SSA will institute a 0.3% increase in benefits for 2017 recipients. The average representative fee in 2016 was $3006. With a 0.3% increase in benefits, you can expect the average attorney fee to rise by about $10 due to the increase in COLA alone.
Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) Thresholds
In 2016, a disabled (non-blind) individual was allowed to earn up to $1,130 per month before becoming ineligible for disability benefits. That number will be increasing to $1,170 per month in 2017. This comes after a $40 increase in 2016. This is the first time that the SSA has increased the SGA threshold by at least $40 in back to back years since 2009. The SGA for threshold for the blind, increased to $1950 per month (from $1820). This is the largest year over year increase of the SGA threshold for blind individuals ever. These changes should slightly increase the number of individuals who are eligible for benefits.
How These Changes Could Affect Your Profitability
While none of these changes are going to have a huge impact on representative fees, coupled together they could have an impact on a disability practice’s profitability. From 2015 to 2016, the average representative fee went up $47.32 without any COLA. If we were to see at least a $47 increase in average fees from 2016 to 2017, a sole practitioner that handles about 10 hearings per month can expect to receive at least an additional $5,640 in 2017. While larger firms that handle about 50 hearings per month can expect to earn at least an additional $28,200 in 2017. With 2017’s COLA, it’s likely the average Social Security representative fee will rise by even more than $47 next year.
Increase Your Firm’s Social Security Disability Caseload
With average claimant representative fees trending upward, now could be a great time to potentially expand your caseload. Social Security leads are a profitable way for firms of all sizes to increase their caseloads. At eGenerationMarketing, we have been generating Social Security disability leads for over seven years. Call us at 617.800.0089 to see how we can help you expand your Social Security disability practice.