The technical aspects of government programs like Social Security can be overwhelming to all but specialists who work for the agency that administers the program or who deal with the agency on a regular basis. What people may not appreciate is that these programs consist of layers and layers of rules and requirements.
One way of thinking of them is that they are a great collection of rules that function like a mathematical formula. In the same way, that 2 + 2 = 4, if you have worked a sufficient amount of time and meet the Social Security Disability program's definition of "disabled" you will be eligible for benefits from the program. Now, the details of demonstrating your disability can be messy and convoluted, but once SSA accepts your evidence, your equation will result in benefits.
However, a failure of any part of the equation can lead to the denial of benefits. A shocking case has developed involving police who work at St. Louis's Lambert airport. It seems that an agreement from 1951 defined workers who would become security employees as St. Louis Police, and therefore city employees.
The "218 agreement" between Social Security Administration and Missouri apparently did not ask for Social Security coverage for those employees, who would presumably be covered by state or city retirement programs. However, it appears that no one recognized this issue and many of these security employees have paid into the SSA program for years or decades.
If SSA's interpretation is correct, they are not eligible for any Social Security benefits, despite years of paying into the program. SSA claims the money they paid into the program would be refunded, although that could be another problem, as SSA may lack authority to go back as far as some workers may have been paying.
It is unclear how to resolve this issue. SSA believes the Missouri legislature will need to fix this problem. For the 70 Lambert workers, it must be very frightening to know that their retirement and disability benefits are no longer available and they will have to rely on some custom solution that has yet to be created.
Source: stltoday.com, "Social Security benefits taken away from Lambert security workers," Chuck Raasch, May 10, 2016