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Oct 25, 2014

Will This Help Colvin's Nomination Move Through The Senate?

     Senate Democrats plan to go into a full court press to confirm as many of President Obam's nominees as possible during its lame duck session after the election. This could include Carolyn Colvin, whose nomination for a term as Social Security Commissioner has been favorably reported out of the Senate Finance Committee. There are currently 156 pending nominations and not all will get confirmed during the lame duck session. Colvin's nomination isn't controversial but it's not clear whether that helps or hurts. She'll still be Acting Commissioner even if she's not confirmed.

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  • Oct 24, 2014

    The Other Cost Of Living Adjustments

         From Social Security's press office:


    Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA):
    Based on the increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI-W) from the third quarter of 2013 through the third quarter of 2014, Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) beneficiaries will receive a 1.7 percent COLA for 2015. Other important 2015 Social Security information is as follows:
    Tax Rate:
    2014 2015
    Employee 7.65% 7.65%
    Self-Employed 15.30% 15.30%
    NOTE:  The 7.65% tax rate is the combined rate for Social Security and Medicare.  The Social Security portion (OASDI) is 6.20% on earnings up to the applicable taxable maximum amount (see below).  The Medicare portion (HI) is 1.45% on all earnings. Also, as of January 2013, individuals with earned income of more than $200,000 ($250,000 for married couples filing jointly) pay an additional 0.9 percent in Medicare taxes. The tax rates shown above do not include the 0.9 percent.
    Maximum Taxable Earnings:
    2014 2015
    Social Security (OASDI only) $117,000 $118,500
    Medicare (HI only) N o   L i m i t
    Quarter of Coverage:
    2014 2015
    $1,200 $1,220
    Retirement Earnings Test Exempt Amounts:
    2014 2015
    Under full retirement age
    NOTE: One dollar in benefits will be withheld for every $2 in earnings above the limit.
    The year an individual reaches full retirement age
    NOTE: Applies only to earnings for months prior to attaining full retirement age. One dollar in benefits will be withheld for every $3 in earnings above the limit.
    There is no limit on earnings beginning the month an individual attains full retirement age.
    Social Security Disability Thresholds:
    2014 2015
    Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA)


    Trial Work Period (TWP) $770/mo. $   780/mo.
    Maximum Social Security Benefit:
    2014 2015
    Worker Retiring at Full Retirement Age $2,642/mo. $2,663/mo.
    SSI Federal Payment Standard:
    2014 2015
    Individual $721/mo. $  733/mo.
    Couple $1,082/mo. $1,100/mo.
    SSI Resources Limits:
    2014 2015
    Individual $2,000 $2,000
    Couple $3,000 $3,000
    SSI Student Exclusion:


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  • Oct 23, 2014

    Same Sex Marriage Battle Continues At Social Security

         If you thought that the issue of same sex marriage was decided and that Social Security was recognizing the marriages throughout the country you'd be wrong. The Social Security Administration is refusing to accept same sex marriages until states finish all their last ditch efforts to delay the inevitable.


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  • Oct 22, 2014

    1.7% COLA

         From a Social Security press release:
    Monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for nearly 64 million Americans will increase 1.7 percent in 2015, the Social Security Administration announced today.
    The 1.7 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) will begin with benefits that more than 58 million Social Security beneficiaries receive in January 2015.  Increased payments to more than 8 million SSI beneficiaries will begin on December 31, 2014. The Social Security Act ties the annual COLA to the increase in the Consumer Price Index as determined by the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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  • Oct 21, 2014

    NADE Newsletter

         The National Association of Disability Examiners (NADE) has posted its Fall 2014 newsletter. NADE's members adjudicate disability claims for Social Security at the initial and reconsideration levels.

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  • Oct 20, 2014

    COLA Announcement Due On Wednesday

         The announcement of this year's Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for Social Security benefits is due out on Wednesday. It will probably be 1.7%.


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  • Nazis On Social Security

         The Associated Press is reporting that there is a "loophole" that allows people who are suspected of having been Nazi war criminals to collect U.S. Social Security benefits after fleeing the U.S. According to the AP at least 38 suspects are involved. Apparently, these are people who left the U.S. after being threatened with formal expulsion.
         I would not call this a "loophole." There is no provision in the Social Security Act that would deny benefits to these people even if they had been convicted of war crimes unless they were actually in prison. 
         The article is sloppily written or edited. For instance, it keeps using the abbreviation "OSI" without once saying what it means. Apparently, OSI is the Office of Special Investigations at the Department of Justice which seeks out Nazi war criminals living in the U.S. The article talks of "a bitter back-and-forth between the two agencies with each accusing the other of being un-American." However, the article doesn't identify the two agencies. I don't think Social Security was one of those agencies but I can't tell for sure.
         By this point, this is mostly of historical interest. The handful of former Nazis involved who are still alive are at least 90. The evidence against them couldn't have been all that strong at the time they left the U.S. or they would have been prosecuted. By this point virtually all witnesses who could testify against them are dead. If some process was created to strip them of their Social Security benefits, they'd be dead before the process could be completed.
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  • Oct 19, 2014

    Washington Post's Bleak Take On Social Security Hearings

         The Washington Post has an article on Social Security's huge backlog of disability hearings. Here are a couple of excerpts to give an idea of the article's bleak, despairing tone:
    In this case, the [disability hearing] system became, in effect, too big to fix: Reforms were hugely expensive and so logistically complicated that they often stalled, unfinished. What’s left now is an office that costs taxpayers billions and still forces applicants to wait more than a year — often, without a paycheck — before delivering an answer about their benefits. ... 
    “I really wonder if what we’re doing is effective at all. If it helps at all,” [Social Security Administrative a Law Judge] Pennock said, after a day of hearing cases and trying to reduce her share of the backlog. “If, based on the amount of evidence we get, my decision is any better than flipping a coin.”
         A reader could only come to the conclusion that not only is the Social Security disability hearing process broken but that it is unfixable. The only solution would be to abolish Social Security hearings and maybe to abolish Social Security disability benefits themselves. It is the right wing view of government as hopeless, something to be largely eliminated since it can't be reformed. 
         Disability determination is a messy business but many worthwhile things in life are messy, including mankind itself. Disability benefits are an essential lifeline for millions. Without hearings Sovial Security disability would lack legitimacy. If the hearings were abolished, they would have to be restarted almost immediately. There would be too many horrible injustices that couldn't be righted.                      
         There is a simple solution for Social Security's hearing backlog -- more resources. That's been done before. We know it works. It was working until tea party Republicans took control of the House of Representatives in 2010. Everything else has been tried without success. 

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