Jul 30, 2016

A Social Security Casebook

     There's old saying that law school isn't set up to teach people the law. It's set up to teach people how to think like a lawyer. This won't make much sense to you if you're not a lawyer but, trust me, it does make sense to anyone who's gone through law school only to realize that they really didn't know much about the law. Given that the focus of law school has more to do with modes of thinking and less with the practical aspects of practicing, you'd expect that Social Security law wouldn't be taught much and you'd be right. However, some law schools do teach the subject. Professor Jon Dubin of Rutgers Law School was kind enough to send me a copy of a Social Security casebook that he and Frank Bloch, Emeritus Professor at Vanderbilt Law School, put together. Actually, this is at least the second edition of the book. It's quite good. I would recommend it to anyone learning Social Security law. 
     I have to say that looking at the price of the book brought home to me how long it's been since I was in law school. I think I remember casebooks being about $30-$40 back then but, of course, we were studying by whale oil lamps back then!

Jul 29, 2016

Mind Boggling

     There's a report out that AARP, which bills itself as Social Security's most ardent supporter, is helping fund the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a sinister far right group which has long advocated privatization of Social Security.

Jul 28, 2016

List Of Those Disqualified From Representing Claimants

     Social Security has recently posted a list of attorneys and others who have been sanctioned for misconduct in representing claimants before the agency. It's a longer list than I would have thought although it does go back more than 30 years. I only counted five names added to the list in the year before this was posted. He's not representing clients before the agency now anyway but Eric Conn's name isn't on the list.

Jul 27, 2016

Tape Your Conversations With Social Security?

     Laurence Kotlikoff, writing for Forbes, recommends that you tape your conversations with Social Security because "you do not want to be powerless in facing Social Security’s bureaucracy when it is your word against theirs and tens of thousands of dollars hang in the balance."
     What do you think?

Jul 26, 2016

Crime Doesn't Pay: Part One Gazillion

     From a Social Security press release:
Sophia Dix, 35, of Newport News, was sentenced today to 15 months in prison for wire fraud.  Dix was also sentenced to three years of supervised release and ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $97,584.94.
Dix pleaded guilty on April 25, 2016. According to court documents, from in or about April 2014, through in or about August 2015, Dix devised a scheme to defraud the Social Security Administration (SSA), where she was employed as a service representative at a district office in Norfolk. She had computer access to Social Security Administration beneficiary information, including bank account data for the direct deposit of benefit payments into the bank accounts of beneficiaries. Dix obtained monies for herself by fraudulently processing computer changes to beneficiary account information so that benefit payments would be deposited directly into prepaid reloadable debit card accounts that she opened at a financial institution in the name of a deceased beneficiary. As a result, Dix fraudulently diverted over $97,000 into the prepaid reloadable debit card accounts, which she used for her personal benefit.

Those Cheating Grannies

     From a recent report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG):
We reviewed a random sample of 250 Title II spousal or widow(er) beneficiaries to determine whether they reported their marriages to SSA while they were receiving Title XVI payments as single individuals. Of the 250 beneficiaries, we identified 41 who did not appear to have reported their marriages to SSA while they were receiving Title XVI payments and may have received improper Title XVI payments because of spousal income.
We referred these 41 beneficiaries to our Office of Investigations (OI) to investigate their living arrangements while they were receiving Title XVI payments. OI determined seven beneficiaries were not living with their spouses so were not overpaid, and one beneficiary had potentially committed fraud, resulting in a $104,998 overpayment.
OI did not pursue investigations on the remaining 33 beneficiaries because the potential overpayments were below the applicable U.S. Attorneys’ thresholds for prosecution and/or the periods of potential overpayment were outside the statute of limitations. Since OI did not pursue investigations, we referred these 33 beneficiaries to SSA to assess any overpayments. Of the 33 beneficiaries, SSA determined
  • 22 were not living with their spouses so were not overpaid, and
  • for 7, there was insufficient evidence to proceed with a review. For the remaining four beneficiaries, SSA’s review was ongoing as of July 2016.
Given that our audit did not identify a significant number of beneficiaries who were living with their spouses and overpaid while receiving Title XVI p ayments, we are not making a recommendation.
     Potentially, there are many people who would be affected if Social Security were to start trying to catch widows and widowers who failed to report marriages to the agency. There could be many overpayments and criminal prosecutions. Is Social Security willing to go there? Does Congress want them to? Is disability fraud the only fraud that Congress is interested in?

Jul 25, 2016

Try Being Social Security Czar

     Want to run your own simulations of potential changes to Social Security such as raising full retirement age, raising or lowering benefits, lifting the FICA cap? Take a look at the Penn Wharton simulator
     It's interesting that the model doesn't even allow you to look at the effects of completely removing the cap on the FICA tax. The model only allows you to raise it to $400,000. Penn Wharton seems to believe that's completely off the table.
     If you're a fan of raising full retirement age or fiddling with COLA, be warned. Neither gets you very far. You're going to have to do a lot more than that.

CDRs Target Children; Little Threat To Adults

     Social Security has released numbers on its Continuing Disability Reviews (CDRs) which determine whether those receiving disability benefits remain disabled and eligible for benefits. In 2015 Social Security did 1,971,812 CDRs. That's a big number. However, 59%, of those reviews were just "mailers." They just mail the claimant a form to complete. Unless the claimant reports that that he or she has gotten better or that they've gone back to work, that's pretty much it. Of the 767,797 who got a full medical review, 201,317 were actually cut off. That's 26% of those who got a full medical review but only 10% of those who were subjected to any sort of review, including the "mailers." As low as that number is, it's misleading. A full 65% of those cut off benefits are children. The agency is really targeting them. If you're an adult drawing Social Security disability benefits, your chance of being cut off due to a CDR is only 5%.
     The bottom line is that few Social Security disability recipients get better. You could review more people more intensively but you'd be wasting money. Many who are unfamiliar with the program think that most Social Security disability recipients have had a heart attack or have been in an automobile accident but that they'll get better. Wrong. Your disability has to be expected to last at least a year to get on benefits. The people who were going to get better never got on disability benefits in the first place. I wish it were otherwise but if you're been disabled for at least a year, it's unlikely that you're going to get better. You can talk all you want about medical advances but if they're going to help you get better, that's probably going to happen within a few months after you get sick or injured.

Jul 24, 2016

Chamber Of Commerce Favors FICA Hike In Conjunction With Benefit Cuts

     The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has endorsed an increase in the FICA tax that supports the Social Security trust funds but only in conjunction with benefit cuts and raising full retirement age. This is, I suppose, a step forward for them.