Mar 31, 2015

22 Minute Hold Time On 800 Number -- If They're Even Able To Answer The Phone

     Some numbers from the newsletter of the National Council of Social Security Management Associations (NCSSMA), an organization of Social Security management personnel (emphasis added):
Field Office Appointment Availability
• Beginning of FY [Fiscal Year] 2012: 74 percent of customers could get an appointment within two weeks. Less than 1 percent waited over a month for an appointment.
• End of FY 2014: 28 percent of customers could get an appointment within two weeks. 47 percent had to wait over a month for an appointment.
Field Office Waiting Times
• FY 2012: Customers waited an average of 18.8 minutes; and 4.8 percent, or 2.15 million customers, waited over an hour to be served.
• FY 2014: Customers waited an average of 28.2 minutes (50 percent increase) and 13.3 percent, or 5.42 million customers, waited over an hour to be served.
Field Office Telephone Service
• FY 2012: Busy Rate: 7.4 percent; Answer Rate: 82.9 percent
• FY 2014: Busy Rate: 20.1 percent; Answer Rate: 67.3 percent
800 Number Telephone Service
• FY 2012: Busy Rate: 4.6 percent; Time on Hold: 4 minutes, 14 seconds; Answer Rate: unavailable
• FY 2014: Busy Rate: 13.5 percent; Time on Hold: 22 minutes, 3 seconds; Answer Rate: 53.8 percent

Mar 30, 2015

The Problem With Special Needs Trusts

     From the Raleigh News and Observer:
Floyd Brown was awarded millions of dollars after being wrongfully incarcerated. But for weeks he couldn’t get money to buy flowers for his mother’s grave.
His $4.5 million has been earning interest while Brown, who is 49 and mentally disabled, lives on $733 a month in Supplemental Security Income benefits. ...
Brown has an IQ of less than 60 and the mind of a 7-year-old. ...
In 2012, when Brown was awarded damages for wrongful incarceration, his mental abilities once again defined his future. Brown’s attorneys asked a federal judge to create a type of Special Needs Trust often set up for people with disabilities. It allows Brown to remain eligible for public benefits, including Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid.
But it comes with strict guidelines about how his money is spent.
Strictly speaking, none of it could go toward flowers for his mother’s grave. The money can only be used to benefit Brown....
After Brown’s repeated requests for flowers went unanswered, his sister Frances Staton contacted the Observer. Staton, who has been her brother’s legal guardian since 1994, questioned why he has so much money but can’t use it. “The attorneys are getting paid. Why isn’t Floyd?”
The Observer contacted Charlotte attorney Tony Giordano, who administers the trust. “I’ve got regulations I have to live by,” Giordano said. “If you read the terms of the trust, it has to be used to enhance his life.” ...
Asked why a less restrictive trust wasn’t set up, Giordano said the decision was made jointly among himself, Rudolf and Cogburn. “It was only because he had public benefits (related to his disability); that was the sole motivating reason,” Giordano said. “Hindsight is great.”
To gain flexibility, Brown would forfeit SSI and Medicaid benefits. Staton said there is no reason why her brother, who has millions, should be on public assistance – especially if it’s hindering his access to his money.
“Floyd doesn’t need to be on Medicaid,” she said. “Floyd needs a home.” ...

Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/article16696583.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/article16696583.html#storylink=cpy
Asked why a less restrictive trust wasn’t set up, Giordano said the decision was made jointly among himself, Rudolf and Cogburn. “It was only because he had public benefits (related to his disability); that was the sole motivating reason,” Giordano said. “Hindsight is great.”
To gain flexibility, Brown would forfeit SSI and Medicaid benefits. Staton said there is no reason why her brother, who has millions, should be on public assistance – especially if it’s hindering his access to his money.
“Floyd doesn’t need to be on Medicaid,” she said. “Floyd needs a home.”

Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/article16696583.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/article16696583.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/article16696583.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/article16696583.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/article16696583.html#storylink=cpyBrown has an IQ of less than 60 and the mind of a 7-year-old.

Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/article16696583.html#storylink=cpyBrown has an IQ of less than 60 and the mind of a 7-year-old.

Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/article16696583.html#storylink=cpy
After Brown’s repeated requests for flowers went unanswered, his sister Frances Staton contacted the Observer. Staton, who has been her brother’s legal guardian since 1994, questioned why he has so much money but can’t use it. “The attorneys are getting paid. Why isn’t Floyd?”
The Observer contacted Charlotte attorney Tony Giordano, who administers the trust. “I’ve got regulations I have to live by,” Giordano said. “If you read the terms of the trust, it has to be used to enhance his life.”

Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/article16696583.html#storylink=cpy

Mar 29, 2015

Nostalgia

     I recently saw in a client's file a physician's brief handwritten note on a prescription pad saying my client was disabled. It wasn't something I had requested. I used to see that sort of note all the time but it's been a while since I've seen one.

Mar 28, 2015

Democrats Embracing Social Security Expansion

In the wee hours of [Friday] morning, when most people were sleeping, the Senate took a vote that has momentous implications for who will win in 2016 and beyond. In three resounding votes over the last two days, Democrats rediscovered and reclaimed their legacy. 
Just before recessing until April 13, the Senate passed a budget resolution. Prior to final passage, it voted on three separate Social Security amendments. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) offered an amendment protecting all Americans against cuts in their Social Security earned benefits. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) offered an amendment only protecting current beneficiaries from cuts. And around 2:30 a.m., Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) offered an amendment advocating the expansion of Social Security.  
The results were revealing and important. Every Democratic senator who was present but two voted to expand Social Security. Every Democratic senator but one voted against cutting Social Security's modest benefits.  
In sharp contrast, no Republican voted to expand Social Security. Every Republican but a mere six voted to keep open the option of cutting the earned Social Security benefits of every American except for those fortunate enough to already be receiving those benefits. (Sorry, those of you who are a month away from retiring or have a disabling or deadly illness or accident in your future. The Republicans refused to vote to protect you.)

Mar 27, 2015

Republican Senators Open To Social Security Cuts

     From The Hill:
Senators on Tuesday blocked an amendment from Senate Democrats aimed at protecting Social Security.  
Senators voted 51-48 on a procedural motion, after Democrats tried to override the decision of Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), the chairman of the Budget Committee, to block the amendment. 
The amendment would have required any proposal that cuts benefits or raises the Social Security retirement age meet a “point of order” requiring a supermajority of 60 votes for passage.

Mar 26, 2015

Why Do Republicans Refuse To Fund Program Integrity At Social Security?

     Congressional Republicans loudly decry what they believe to be "rampant fraud" (their term, not mine) in Social Security's disability programs but they refuse to fund increased efforts to find and prosecute this fraud. Democrats support increased funding for program integrity while Republicans oppose it. Are Republicans interested in whatever fraud there may be only to the extent that it may be used as a political issue? Do Republicans have any actual interest in the proper administration of Social Security?

Mar 25, 2015

51 Senators Open To Cutting Social Security

     From The Hill:
Senators on Tuesday blocked an amendment from Senate Democrats aimed at protecting Social Security.  
Senators voted 51-48 on a procedural motion, after Democrats tried to override the decision of Sen. Mike Enzi's (R-Wyo.), the chairman of the Budget Committee, to block the amendment.  
The amendment would have required any proposal that cuts benefits or raises the Social Security retirement age meet a “point of order” requiring a supermajority of 60 votes for passage. 
But, Enzi blocked the amendment, saying it was not "germane" to the budget.