Jan 31, 2015

Trouble In New Jersey

     From the Daily Journal of some city in New Jersey (the newspaper's website hides the city name):
A Vineland man’s anti-social behavior at a Social Security office landed him in jail, authorities said. 
The trouble began Thursday when 53-year-old Jeffrey Kuss became “irate” because he was unhappy with the long wait time while in line at the Social Security office on West Broad Street, according to police Lt. James Battavio. A security officer at the office contacted police because Kuss was acting up, he said.
The guard told Kuss that his appointment had been canceled due to his inappropriate behavior and asked him to leave the premises. Kuss responded by shouting obscenities in front of a crowd of 40 people, including children, police said. 
Police informed Kuss he had to leave, but he refused and insisted he had an appointment, Battavio said. Officers then escorted him outside the building, 
That’s where Kuss began blocking patrons from going inside as he made threats and used profanities, police said. 
He was arrested on a charge of disorderly conduct and taken to the police station, where he refused to be processed and subsequently charged with obstruction, Battavio said.
Kuss was held on $1,000 bail in Cumberland County Jail.

Continuing Disability Reviews Study

     The Social Security Advisory Board convened the 2014 Disability Policy Panel to study Continuing Disability Reviews. Here are the Panel's recommendations:
  • Provide Continuing Disability Review (CDR) Funding that is adequate, predictable, and sustained
  • Retain the Medical Improvement Review Standard (MIRS) and strengthen its implementation
  • Strengthen other payment integrity tools
  • Strengthen links between CDRs and support for return to work
  • CDRS for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) children and youth: 1) SSA should communicate expectations of independence to youth beneficiaries whose medical improvement is expected or possible. 2) As with the adult population, the Panel recommends that Congress continue the employment support services of the Ticket to Work program for one additional year. 3) The training recommended for the medical review standard should be extended to include examples unique to children.

Jan 30, 2015

Plea Bargain Sends 91 Year Old Man To Prison For Nine Years

     A press release from Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG):
A 91-year-old ex-cop at the heart of a massive Social Security scam involving more than 120 retired NYPD cops and FDNY firefighters who raked in millions agreed to a plea deal Friday that could land him behind bars for up to nine years, prosecutors said.
Thomas Hale copped to grand larceny and agreed to pay $2 million in restitution in exchange for three to nine years in prison during a hearing in Manhattan Supreme Court.
“In essence, he was the epicenter of the scheme,” said Assistant DA Christopher Santora. “Even with respect to the other ring leaders, it was Mr. Hale who was the hub through which everything and everybody went right up until this case was taken down and Mr. Hale surrendered for arrest.”
The nearly $22 million scam that spanned 25 years was orchestrated by Hale, who coached applicants to lie on their Social Security disability applications, authorities said.
About half of the defendants exploited 9/11 by falsely claiming they suffered post-traumatic stress by responding to the attacks.

It's a Weird Scheme But Why Not Allow It?

    PBS runs some pieces by Laurence Kotlikoff on Social Security. His specialty is figuring out angles to increase Social Security payouts. It's all legal but often a bit weird. It's always schemes that only a few people could use. One scheme he's been promoting is for people who are drawing Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) to suspend their Social Security retirement benefits once they reach full retirement age (FRA) and wait until age 70 to start collecting them. He's mad that Social Security has decided to stop this scheme. It's an odd scheme he's been promoting, available to only a few and advisable for even fewer but I think that Social Security's decision to prevent this scheme is wrong.
     Let me explain how his scheme would work -- if Social Security allowed it. If you file a claim for DIB, you're also filing a claim for retirement benefits. It says so at the top of the claim form. When you get to FRA, your DIB automatically stops and your retirement benefits start. You don't have to file a claim for the retirement benefits because you did so at the time you filed your DIB claim. A person who never files for DIB can get more per month by waiting until age 70 to file their claim for retirement benefits. It's called the delayed retirement credit. It's a good thing to do if you can afford to wait and if you're healthy because you receive a good deal more per month if you wait until age 70 to start drawing benefits. You can, in the alternative, file a claim for retirement benefits at FRA and ask that Social Security suspend your benefits. You still get the delayed retirement credit but dependent benefits are payable on the account. Kotlikoff was urging DIB recipients to suspend their retirement benefits once they reach FRA, thus getting the delayed retirement credit.
     Kotlikoff was unhappy to find out that Social Security decided in December to treat a request to suspend benefits in the automatic conversion situation as a request to withdraw the original DIB claim. That would require the claimant to pay back all DIB benefits that had been received. Almost no one would do that, ending Kotlikoff's scheme.
     I think the scheme that Kotlikoff has been promoting would be of value to very, very few people even if it were allowed. The vast majority of people eligible for Social Security retirement benefits have no choice but to take the money in order to support themselves. Many, perhaps most, of those who could afford this strategy shouldn't do it anyway because their life expectancy is low. The very impairments that put them on Social Security disability lower their life expectancy. Even those few claimants who could do this are unlikely to do so because the scheme is so exotic and hard to explain.
     Even though I think that Kotlikoff's scheme would be of value to very, very few people, I think that Social Security's position is wrong. I can't think of anything in the Social Security Act that supports the agency's position. There's a difference between asking that benefits be suspended and withdrawing a claim. The agency recognizes that difference. Why would you refuse to recognize that difference in just this one situation? What's wrong with permitting a handful of people to get the delayed retirement credit after being on DIB? Would it be OK if a claimant tells Social Security to stop their DIB a month before they reach FRA and then does a file and suspend? Surely, Kotlikoff will soon figure out that possibility.

Jan 29, 2015

Many Opting Out Of Video Hearings

     The newsletter of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR) (not available online) says that over 220,000 claimants opted out of video hearings when they were given the chance in October and November of 2014. That's more than one in five pending requests for hearing. I'm surprised that the number opting out isn't even higher. Some claimants and attorneys are more willing than others to tolerate video hearings but nobody likes them.

Jan 28, 2015

New Layout And Colors

     I'm sure that regular readers of this blog know that I've been adjusting the layout and colors for the blog. I'm not finished yet but I'm getting there. Please share your opinions.
     Just below the blog title is a line for you to enter your e-mail address. If you do that and hit enter, you'll start getting blog posts by e-mail. So far, I've been unable to get Blogger to properly label this gadget but that's what it's for.

SSA Employees Like Their Jobs

     The Social Security Administration ranks 6th on the list of best places to work among federal agencies.

Jan 27, 2015

Final 2014 Numbers On Disability Insurance Trust Fund: What Do They Portend?

Disability Insurance Trust Fund, 1957-2014
[In millions]

Net increase
during year
Assets at
end of year
1957 $709 $59 $649 $649
1958 991 261 729 1,379
1959 931 485 447 1,825
1960 1,063 600 464 2,289
1961 1,104 956 148 2,437
1962 1,114 1,183 -69 2,368
1963 1,165 1,297 -133 2,235
1964 1,218 1,407 -188 2,047
1965 1,247 1,687 -440 1,606
1966 2,079 1,947 133 1,739
1967 2,379 2,089 290 2,029
1968 3,454 2,458 996 3,025
1969 3,792 2,716 1,075 4,100
1970 4,774 3,259 1,514 5,614
1971 5,031 4,000 1,031 6,645
1972 5,572 4,759 813 7,457
1973 6,443 5,973 470 7,927
1974 7,378 7,196 182 8,109
1975 8,035 8,790 -754 7,354
1976 8,757 10,366 -1,609 5,745
1977 9,570 11,945 -2,375 3,370
1978 13,810 12,954 856 4,226
1979 15,590 14,186 1,404 5,630
1980 13,871 15,872 -2,001 3,629
1981 17,078 17,658 -580 3,049
1982 22,715 17,992 -358 2,691
1983 20,682 18,177 2,505 5,195
1984 17,309 18,546 -1,237 3,959
1985 19,301 19,478 2,363 6,321
1986 19,439 20,522 1,459 7,780
1987 20,303 21,425 -1,122 6,658
1988 22,699 22,494 206 6,864
1989 24,795 23,753 1,041 7,905
1990 28,791 25,616 3,174 11,079
1991 30,390 28,571 1,819 12,898
1992 31,430 32,004 -574 12,324
1993 32,301 35,662 -3,361 8,963
1994 52,841 38,879 13,962 22,925
1995 56,696 42,055 14,641 37,566
1996 60,710 45,351 15,359 52,924
1997 60,499 47,034 13,465 66,389
1998 64,357 49,931 14,425 80,815
1999 69,541 53,035 16,507 97,321
2000 77,920 56,782 21,138 118,459
2001 83,903 61,369 22,534 140,993
2002 87,379 67,905 19,475 160,468
2003 88,074 73,108 14,966 175,434
2004 91,380 80,597 10,783 186,217
2005 97,423 88,018 9,405 195,623
2006 102,641 94,456 8,185 203,808
2007 109,854 98,778 11,076 214,884
2008 109,840 108,951 889 215,773
2009 109,283 121,506 -12,223 203,550
2010 104,017 127,660 -23,643 179,907
2011 106,276 132,332 -26,056 153,850
2012 109,115 140,299 -31,184 122,666
2013 111,228 143,450 -32,221 90,445
2014 114,858 145,060 -30,201 60,244
     The crucial question is what happens in the next two years. There was modest improvement in  the rate at which the Disability Trust Fund went down in 2014 over 2013. Was it just a blip or a sign of things to come. The number actually drawing Disability Insurance Benefits stabilized in 2014 and was heading down in the last three months of the year. Was 2014 an inflection point? If so, how much of an inflection point?

Congressmen Want Bipartisan Social Security Commission

     From TPM:
Reps. Tom Cole (R-OK) and John Delaney (D-MD) plan to introduce a bill this Congress that would create a Social Security commission to propose changes to the program, Cole's office confirmed to TPM on Monday.
 The bill's language and timing has not been finalized, but Cole, a close ally of House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), and Delaney co-sponsored similar legislation last year. ...
Last year's bill would have created a 13-member commission to produce recommendations to keep Social Security solvent for 75 years. If tax revenue were transferred from the retirement to the disability fund to avoid the 2016 benefits cliff for the latter program, both funds are projected to start running out of money in 2033.
One member would have been appointed by the president, and each caucus leader in Congress would have picked three members, under last year's bill. They would be tasked with issuing recommendations to Congress one year after the commission's creation. Those recommendations, if approved by nine of the commission's 13 members, would then be expedited to the House floor for a vote, with no amendments allowed.
Cole outlined to The Hill some of the proposals that he thought the commission would recommend.
“The commission would probably gradually raise retirement age, it would probably look at chained CPI, would probably look at means-testing and probably look at some sort of revenue, or reduce benefits for upper-income people,” he said. “Then you have to vote.” ...
     This just looks like Republicans looking for bipartisan cover for benefit cuts. There's no reason for Democrats to cooperate with this. Republicans are in the majority in both houses of Congress. If they're willing to vote for benefit cuts, they get them through without Democratic votes. Even the filibuster won't work for Democrats on this because it can go through the budget reconciliation process which only requires a majority vote. If Republicans are unwilling to vote for benefit cuts, why should Democrats?

CALJ Charles Boyer 1950 - 2015

     Former Social Security Chief Administrative Law Judge Charles Boyer passed away on January 20.

Jan 26, 2015

Reno To Become Deputy Commissioner For Retirement And Disability Policy

     The National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI) announced today that its longtime Vice President for Income Security Policy, Virginia Reno, is leaving NASI to become Social Security's Deputy Commissioner for Retirement and Disability Policy. In previous testimony to the House Social Security Subcommittee she did not indicated support for cuts in Social Security disability benefits.

Social Security Headcount Gets Back To 2002 Level

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has posted updated figures for the number of employees at the Social Security Administration:
  • September 2014 64,684
  • June 2014 62,651
  • March 2014 60,820
  • December 2013 61,957
  • September 2013 62,543
  • June 2013 62,877
  • March 2013 63,777
  • December 2012 64,538
  • September 2012 65,113
  • September 2011 67,136
  • December 2010 70,270
  • December 2009 67,486
  • September 2009 67,632
  • December 2008 63,733
  • September 2008 63,990
  • September 2007 62,407
  • September 2006 63,647
  • September 2005 66,147
  • September 2004 65,258
  • September 2003 64,903
  • September 2002 64,648
  • September 2001 65,377
  • September 2000 64,521

Jan 25, 2015

Senate Subcommittee Assignments

     The Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over Social Security has released its subcommittee assignments. The subcommittee assignments seem to be vastly less important in the Senate than in the House but here is the lineup for the relevant subcommittee:

Subcommittee on Social Security, Pensions and Family Policy

Republicans Democrats
Dean Heller, Nev., Chairman Sherrod Brown, Ohio, Ranking Member
Johnny Isakson, Ga.
Pat Toomey, Pa.
Charles Schumer, N.Y.
Tim Scott, S.C