Hearing Wait Time Decreases, but Overall Processing Time Continues to Rise at the Social Security Administration

Social Security Hearing TimesAs is often the case with Social Security, good news usually is followed by bad news. First, the good news: the number of cases awaiting Social Security hearings continues to drop. The bad news: the average time it takes for a claimant to receive a decision on a disability application continues to grow. As of March, the backlog of claims awaiting a hearing dropped below 1 million. The last time there were fewer than a million claims pending was November 2014.

The backlog decrease is largely due to declining numbers of hearing requests. So far in Fiscal Year 2018, there have been an average of 2,343 Social Security hearing requests each business day. That’s 141 fewer requests per day than 2017. The total number of hearing requests so far this year is 9.6% lower than at the same time last year.

The productivity of administrative law judges also has increased slightly, from 1.92 decisions per ALJ per work day in Fiscal Year 2017 to 1.97 decisions so far this year. In addition, Social Security has added 42 additional judges since the beginning of the year. Each judge receives 1.59 hearing requests per day and renders 1.97 decisions per day, resulting in a net reduction in the number of people waiting for a Social Security decision. However, as of February 2018, the average claim-processing time, from initial application to final decision, remains high at 607 days.

The increased processing time is primarily caused by a continued staffing deficit in decision-writing positions at Social Security. Social Security has tried pulling workers from other roles into decision writing, but that has caused slowdowns in other areas. The Social Security Administration continues to pay staff overtime in an effort to bring down the backlog, but overtime hours for the first five months of 2018 were down approximately 27.3% compared to last year. The $100 million in funds that Congress recently designated for backlog reduction may allow for increased overtime hours, but Social Security has not yet finalized its plan for spending the money.

Now more than ever, it is crucial that you have an attorney on your side when applying for disability. A hardworking, experienced attorney can help you avoid costly delays and even expedite your application if you meet certain criteria. If you are hurt, injured, or otherwise impaired, and you find yourself unable to work, contact Bailey & Galyen for a free case evaluation.

Immigration and Public Benefits: Facts, Fiction, and Current Proposals

Immigration LawA leaked draft executive order dramatically changes policies and practices long held by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State relating to admission of immigrants into the United States, grants of lawful permanent resident status to foreign nationals, and removal of out-of-status immigrants and persons in the country unlawfully. The draft order permits officers to scrutinize more closely any taxpayer-funded public benefits received by an intending immigrant—as well as those received by the immigrant’s U.S.-citizen children—when determining eligibility for immigration benefits or deciding whether to initiate removal proceedings.

Undocumented immigrants have never been eligible for public benefits. However, until 1996, lawful permanent residents were eligible for public benefits on the same terms as U.S. citizens. In 1996, the Clinton administration barred lawful permanent residents who have been in the U.S. fewer than five years from means-tested benefit programs, including Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Medicaid/Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and food stamps (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP). The 1996 law also created the “public charge” ground as a basis to deny admission to the U.S. or lawful permanent resident status for those considered to be primarily dependent on the government for subsistence.

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) also contains a provision allowing for removal of any lawful permanent resident who becomes a public charge within the first five years of obtaining permanent resident status. Under the INA, a “public charge” is limited to those who receive cash welfare benefits or long-term, government-funded institutional care. The INA further requires each person petitioning for permanent resident status to have a sponsor sign an Affidavit of Support. The Affidavit serves as proof of the sponsor’s ability to financially support the petitioner so that he or she will not use public benefits. If the immigrant ever does receive public benefits, the government may seek reimbursement from the sponsor; however, actually obtaining reimbursement from the sponsor is rare due to the cost of enforcement.

The current guidelines regarding public charges specifically bar officers from taking into consideration an intending immigrant’s receipt of non-cash benefits when determining whether to admit an immigrant to the U.S., grant lawful permanent resident status, or initiate removal proceedings. The draft executive order reflects a huge departure by allowing officers to look at an immigrant’s receipt of any public benefit, including benefits received by the immigrant’s children, such as government-funded Head Start. The draft order also limits intending immigrants’ ability to file for child tax credits, even if the immigrant has a valid social security number and pays taxes. Though only in draft form now, the order has scared many intending immigrants, and advocates predict that many will take their children out of school programs and health and nutritional programs, thereby creating public health risks.

The Department of State has already revised its instructions to allow officials abroad to consider non-cash benefits received by an intending immigrant, his or her family members, or even his or her sponsor, when determining whether or not to admit the immigrant into the U.S.

It is important to note that under federal law, certain immigrants are not subject to the public charge determination, and this cannot be changed by regulation or executive order. Those not subject include immigrants granted asylum; those granted protection as victims of trafficking, domestic violence, or other crimes perpetrated in the United States; and those granted Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS). Also, lawful permanent residents applying to become U.S. citizens cannot be denied citizenship based on public-charge grounds.

There may be hope for certain immigrants subject to the public charge determination. The intending immigrant may use positive factors to tip the decision in his or her favor and prove that he or she will not use public benefits in the future. Factors that may be considered are current income, age, health, family members’ incomes, education, and employment opportunities.

If You Think It Is Expensive to Hire a Professional to Do a Job, Wait Until You Hire an Amateur

Family LawLike everyone else, I have to be careful with my money, and, whenever possible, I try to do a job myself rather than hire a professional. There are plenty of outlets to help you do it yourself in order to save a buck, including TurboTax, Home Depot, and various YouTube channels. This now applies even to legal matters. Plenty of people download forms from Intuit and other sites in order to make a will or lease property.

A few years ago, the Texas Supreme Court decided to provide forms that would allow people to handle their own divorce. The goal was laudable. Many people don’t have discretionary income to spend on a lawyer but make too much to qualify for legal aid. The forms provided are intended to be used by couples who don’t have a marital estate, property, or minor children. However, the implementation of this program has been nothing short of nightmarish. I don’t believe anyone other than a trained legal professional is capable of using these forms correctly. Even for legal professionals, the forms are confusing. Moreover, numerous people with minor children, or a marital estate, or other property try to use the forms.

Ask any attorney who practices family law, and they are likely to have plenty of horror stories about people who used the forms incorrectly, with devastating results. One woman came to me because she was trying to get her share of her ex-husband’s retirement account, and the retirement administrator told her she would need a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO). She had done the divorce herself using the forms published by the Texas Supreme Court. Their children were all grown. They didn’t have any property other than personal items (or so she thought). So why not use the forms? It turns out she did not award the retirement account to herself in the divorce decree. Thus, a QDRO was not possible. Yes, she probably saved a few thousand dollars on the divorce, but she lost several thousand dollars and a lifetime of income by doing it incorrectly.

In another instance, a woman had a sexual encounter with someone other than her husband during the course of her marriage and wound up pregnant as a result. Genetics being what they are, in time it became apparent that the child was not “of the marriage,” and the couple divorced. Once again, in order to save money, the couple handled her own divorce. Neither she, nor her husband, hired an attorney. They completed the forms incorrectly, and now, because of that, the husband is the legal father of the child. Eventually, the Office of the Attorney General, Child Support Division, intervened because the woman could not afford insurance for the child and applied for Medicaid. Following standard procedure in such cases, the Attorney General filed suit against the former husband to have him pay child support and provide medical coverage for the child. The ex-husband protested that he wasn’t the father of the child; nevertheless, the court ordered him to pay child support for several years. The couple attempted to have the biological father named as the child’s legal father, but the time allowed for doing so had run out. The entire mess resulted from the fact that the couple used free forms to get divorced so they could save a little money.

These are only two examples among many. If you think it is expensive to hire a professional to do a job, wait until you hire an amateur. If you find yourself in need of a divorce, child support, or a will, call one of the professionals at Bailey & Galyen.


FOCUS ON OWNERSHIP: You can’t give away or sell what you don’t own!

Estate PlanningProperty rights are important under the law. Often, clients fail to consider the important question, “Who owns the property?” Ownership is not the same thing as possession. You can occupy a seat at a ballgame or concert as a licensee for the period of that event, but you don’t own the seat. You might rent a room or a house or 1,000 acres, but that does not mean that you own it.

When Dad dies, clients typically assume that Mom owns their property once Dad’s name is removed from the statements of the appraisal district, insurance company, and mortgage company. Mom may discover that assumption to be wrong when she tries to sell the property, borrow money for home improvements, or get a reverse mortgage. She also might be contacted by Dad’s children from a previous marriage about their ownership interest in the property. Sometimes, Mom dies without ever learning that half her property is titled in the name of Dad’s long-dead ex-wife. This is an unpleasant surprise for the next generation and adds time and expense to clearing title and wrapping up the estate.

The law also provides for many and varied interests in property that do not involve outright ownership. For example, a surviving husband might know his deceased wife held oil and gas interests. After researching the matter, though, he might discover his wife did not own those interests entirely but instead held a life estate in them. In such a case, upon the wife’s death, the oil and gas interests pass to the person holding the remainder of the estate, regardless of the wife’s wishes or her family’s understanding of her ownership of those interests.

If you need estate planning, or advice about probate, give us a call.

Third Party Workplace Injury Claims

Third Party Workplace Injury ClaimsWhen you’ve been injured in an accident at work in Texas, you have the right to seek benefits under the state’s workers’ compensation program. But that may not be your only recourse. Here’s how it works.

The workers’ compensation laws were set up as part of what’s often referred to as the “great bargain,” designed to provide benefits to both workers and employers. For workers, the workers’ compensation system allows you to recover benefits without a lot of the hassle and expense of filing a lawsuit. You may have to take your claim to a referee or workers’ compensation judge, but the process customarily takes a lot less time. If your claim is initially approved, you can be receiving benefits within a number of weeks. Compare that with a civil suit for damages, where it can take six months or more just to complete discovery and another year or more before you go to trial… and you won’t receive a single penny until the lawsuit has run its course, including appeals.

For employers, there’s also a benefit—you don’t have to worry about a sympathetic jury returning an exorbitant jury award to an injured employee. The workers’ compensation system has fixed benefits, based on the worker’s wages and degree of disability.

Workers’ compensations was designed to be the exclusive remedy for an injured worker for losses caused by the negligence of an employer or co-employee. In most instances, it is the only avenue of recourse. However, if the injuries suffered were caused, in whole or in part, by an unrelated third party, an injured person may seek damages from that third party in a separate lawsuit in civil court, in a proceeding unrelated to the workers’ compensation claim.

Accordingly, if your injuries were the result of negligence by someone other than your employer or a co-worker, you can file a lawsuit. In fact, if your employer or a co-employee was partially liable and a third party also had some liability, you can simultaneously file a workers’ compensation claim and a civil suit.

Examples of injuries for which you could file a third-party claim include:

  • Injuries suffered in a work-related motor vehicle accident, where the at-fault driver was neither your employer nor a co-employee

  • Injuries caused by the negligent design or manufacture of a product, tool, machine or device

  • Injuries caused by workers or conditions on property adjacent to that of your employer

It’s important to understand, though, that when you file a third party lawsuit, there are potential benefits and consequences. You won’t be limited to a fixed amount of damages, but you’ll also have to wait a long time before you see any compensation.

Contact Us

At the law office of Bailey & Galyen, we provide a free initial consultation to every client. To set up an appointment with an experienced Texas personal injury attorney, contact us by e-mail or call our offices at one of the convenient locations listed below. We will take your call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Does lighting strike twice? – Timelines for filing a new bankruptcy case.

Bankruptcy LawIf you have filed bankruptcy in the past and you find yourself in a position where you need to file again, you need expert legal advice to make sure you get it right. Job loss, divorce, medical emergencies, business closing, or other unexpected situations can all come together in a perfect storm to necessitate a new bankruptcy filing. Are you able to file bankruptcy again? The answer is usually “Yes” but you have to be careful to get the timing of your case right if your goal is to receive a new discharge on your outstanding debt. Below is a brief outline of the filing time periods between cases filed to receive a discharge in the subsequent bankruptcy filing:

Chapter 7 Discharge Chapter 7 8 Years
Chapter 7 Discharge Chapter 13 4 Years
Chapter 13 Discharge Chapter 13 2 Years
Chapter 13 Discharge Chapter 7 6 Years - Unless you paid all your unsecured creditors in full in the Ch. 13 or you paid at least 70% of the claims filed in your case and you proposed your case in good faith and it was your best effort

*If your case has been dismissed and not discharged, then the filing time requirements do not apply; However, you may still be subject to additional filing requirements.

Even if you filed a previous case and received a discharge, either a Chapter 7 or a 13, you may still want to file a new Chapter 13 to protect you from foreclosure, vehicle repossession or tax garnishment if you find yourself in any of these circumstances. You may not receive a discharge but you can protect your property and pay back these debts on your own terms. Remember, your choice in attorney matters and you need an experienced bankruptcy attorney to review your case. Contact our office today for a free consultation to see if a new case is right for you.