New SSA Rule Reduces Work History Requirement

The Social Security Administration (SSA) is simplifying the process for qualifying for disability benefits by reducing the period considered for past relevant work (PRW) from 15 years to 5 years. This change, effective June 22, 2024, aims to simplify the application process, improve accuracy, and reduce wait times. 

What you need to know:  

  • When you apply for disability benefits, the SSA looks at your work history. They do this to evaluate your ability to do your past work or adjust to a new line of work. 
  • Previously, applicants needed to provide 15 years of work history.
  • Now, the SSA will only look at the past 5 years of your work history. 

Key Changes and Explanations

Shorter Work History Requirement

When reviewing your work history, the SSA focuses specifically on work considered “substantial gainful activity” (SGA). That is, work that earns a certain amount of income each month. 

This change means that the SSA will only be looking at substantial gainful activity you did over the past 5 years. Previously, the SSA considered SGA from the past 15 years. Social Security will also not consider past work that “started and stopped in fewer than 30 calendar days to be PRW”.

In 2024, Substantial Gainful Activity is $1,550/month

Impact on the Eligibility Review Process

The SSA assesses five factors when determining your eligibility for disability benefits:

  1. Your Work Status: The SSA will check to see if you are working and engaged in SGA. 
  2. The Severity of Your Impairments: The SSA will assess whether your impairments (your disabilities) significantly limit your ability to perform basic work activities. 
  3. The SSA Listed Impairment Guidelines: The SSA will review your impairments to see if they match up with the criteria listed in its guidelines. 
  4. Your Past Relevant Work (PRW): The SSA will consider if you can still perform any jobs you did in the past (your PRW) given your residual functional capacity (your RFC). RFC is essentially the work you can still do on the job even though you have a disability.
  5. Your Ability to Adjust to Other Work: The SSA will consider if you can adjust to other work, given your RFC, age, education, and work experience. 

The new rule impacts items four and five. The SSA will now only consider the past five years of your work history when they assess your past relevant work and your ability to adjust to other work.

Reasons for the Change

Changes in the Current Job Market

Job skills and requirements are changing much faster today than in previous decades. By concentrating on the last five years of your work history, the SSA aims to:  

  • Reflect current job market conditions. 
  • Improve the accuracy of disability determinations by focusing on more recent and relevant work history.

Fairer Assessments

Job skills can diminish if not regularly practicedEvaluating claims based on the most recent work history ensures a fairer assessment of a person’s capabilities.

Faster Processing Times and Easier Applications

With more accurate and detailed information covering a shorter period of time, the SSA may be able to process disability claims more efficiently, thus enhancing customer service and reducing wait times.  

This change will also make it easier for applicants who previously had to provide detailed information on jobs held up to 15 years ago. In other words, this change “lightens the load” if you are already overwhelmed by the paperwork of the disability claims filing process.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is Past Relevant Work (PRW)?  

PRW refers to substantial and gainful work performed long enough to learn how to do it. Under the new rule, only work done in the last five years will be considered.  

Why is the SSA changing the PRW period from 15 years to 5 years?  

Job skills and requirements change quickly. Focusing on the last five years ensures that only your most current and relevant work history is evaluated, making the process fairer and more accurate.  

How will this change affect my disability claim?  

The SSA can make more accurate assessments based on your recent work experience, reducing the burden on you to provide a detailed job history from over a decade ago.  

When does the new rule take effect?  

The new rule takes effect on June 22, 2024.  

What if I haven’t worked in the past five years?  

The SSA will evaluate your claim based on other factors, such as the severity of your impairments and your ability to adjust to other work.  

Will this change speed up the processing of my disability claim?  

Yes, with more accurate and detailed information for a shorter period, the SSA expects to process claims faster, enhancing customer service and reducing wait times.  

How can I get more information about this change?  

For more information, visit the SSA’s official website or contact your local SSA office. They can provide detailed guidance and answer any specific questions you may have.

The SSA’s reduction of the PRW period from 15 to 5 years marks a significant step toward a more accurate, efficient, and fair disability determination process. This change aligns with modern workforce dynamics and addresses the evolving nature of job skills and requirements.

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