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Apr 18, 2014

A Little Weird

     Let me tell you something a little weird about this blog. It gets some surprising hits from outside the U.S. I'm sure that some of these hits come from people who are genuinely interested in U.S. Social Security. I'm sure that some of these hits come from people who were looking for information about another country's Social Security system. However, Google Analytics tells me that many of the hits from other countries come from people who did a search for "resignation letter." Long time readers can attest that the subject of resignation letters has not been a major focus of this blog. The term "resignation letter" has come up in only four posts out of 6,367 in the history of this blog! 
     Don't ask me why a search engine would direct people seeking information on resignation letters would funnel traffic this way or why that would only be the case for those making this request who live outside the U.S. I have no idea.
     I think there's an opportunity here. People in other countries want to find examples of resignation letters. They'll seek out your website if you provide them.

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  • Apr 17, 2014

    Social Security Ends Letter Forwarding Service

         From today's Federal Register:
    
    
    Letter Forwarding is a service we provided to the public since 1945. It is not a program related activity under the Social Security Act (Act). Therefore, we will stop the letter forwarding service. ... 
     DATES: The cessation date for letter forwarding services is May 19, 2014. ...
    We provided the letter forwarding service to the public since 1945. ... 
    SSA processes the following types of letter forwarding requests (free and for a fee). 
    • Humanitarian (free)--when the health or welfare of an individual is at risk and the requestor provides a compelling reason to show the person would want to be aware of the circumstances. In addition, when an immediate family member (e.g., parent, sibling) is seeking to re-establish contact with another immediate family member. 
    • Monetary purpose (fee $35 in fiscal year (FY) 2013)-- situations in which the individual sought is due something of value, and it is reasonable to assume that he or she is not aware that the asset is due.
         Reading this makes me sad. Yes, letter forwarding has been a very ancillary service but a damned important one to the people being served. This is one of many signs that the Social Security Administration lacks the funding needed to carry out its work in the humane way that the public deserves.

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  • We've Hit A Plateau

         TheWall Street Journal is noticing that disability claims have hit a plateau. They still don't want to acknowledge that the aging of the baby boom generation had anything to do with the boom in disability claims. It had to have been the economy or fraud or anything other than simple demographics. But it was almost completely demographics and predictable fifty years ago. The WSJ is also now acknowledging that the Disability Insurance Trust Fund may not run out of money in 2016.

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  • Apr 16, 2014

    Major Hepatitis C News

         If you're involved with Social Security disability claims you know that hepatitis C causes much misery, disability and death. There are almost four million people in the United States infected with hepatitis C. It's an epidemic that receives far too little coverage in the media. The treatment available has been horribly inadequate. It's expensive. A high percentage of people who attempt the treatments cannot tolerate the horrible side effects. Even if the patient can afford treatment and can tolerate the side effects, about half the time it doesn't work. Without effective treatment, a person infected with hepatitis C slowly becomes weaker and eventually succumbs to liver failure or liver cancer. It may take ten, twenty, thirty years or more but it's inexorable.
         Finally, finally, there's good news on hepatitis C. Researchers at the University of Texas have come up with a drug that appears to cure, that's right, cure, hepatitis C in a few weeks for those with genotype 1 infections, which account for about 45% of hepatitis C cases. The medicine is expensive but hepatitis C inexorable progressing to liver cancer or liver failure is even more expensive. This is a big deal.
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  • RJ Eskow On Invisible Cuts To Social Security

         It's nice to hear other people talking about these problems

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  • Colvin Says Women Need To Save

         From National Public Radio:
    The Social Security Administration distributes retirement benefits to nearly 60 million Americans. And of those beneficiaries, nearly 60 percent are women.
    The SSA is led by a woman, too. Carolyn Colvin was once retired herself, collecting benefits from the agency she now serves. A call from President Obama brought her back in 2010, and she recently took over as acting commissioner. As part of Morning Edition's look at the, Colvin spoke with Kelly McEvers about how women plan for financial security.
    Colvin points out two realities she hopes women consider when . First, women make less money than men on average; when they stop working, their monthly Social Security checks are smaller, too.
    Also, women tend to live longer than men. Colvin encourages women to estimate their own life expectancy with the, and find out more. Doing so, she says, often makes women realize they can outlive their savings — and that retirement benefits alone won't be enough.

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  • Apr 15, 2014

    Why Collect These Ancient Overpayments Out Of Social Security Benefits?

         Quotations from Mark Hinkle, a Social Security spokesperson, as quoted in an Associated Press article, with emphasis added:
    We want to assure the public that we do not seek restitution through tax refund offset in cases when the debt in question was established prior to the debtor turning 18 years of age. Also, we do not use tax refund offset to collect the debt of a person's relative — we only use it to collect the overpaid benefits the person received for himself or herself.
         But they're still collecting the same debts every day by offsetting Social Security benefits. The statement makes it clear that they haven't sworn off that tactic. If it's inappropriate to seize tax refunds in these situations, why is it appropriate to seize Social Security benefits in these situations? You or your father or mother was overpaid when you were ten years old. Forty-five years later they're seizing your monthly Social Security check! Does that seem fair and reasonable?
        Let me make it clear that the problem here isn't at the Social Security Administration. The problem is draconian laws passed by members of Congress who equate Social Security overpayments with fraud when, in most cases, the overpayments are caused by the Social Security Administration's own mistakes.

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  • Apr 14, 2014

    Press Release On Overpayment Collections

         A press release issued by the Social Security Administration:
    Statement of Carolyn W. Colvin
    Acting Commissioner of Social Security
    “I have directed an immediate halt to further referrals under the Treasury Offset Program to recover debts owed to the agency that are 10 years old and older pending a thorough review of our responsibility and discretion under the current law to refer debt to the Treasury Department.
    If any Social Security or Supplemental Security Income beneficiary believes they have been incorrectly assessed with an overpayment under this program, I encourage them to request an explanation or seek options to resolve the overpayment.”
         But, what about collecting these ancient alleged overpayments by offsetting benefit payments? I don't see how that's any less of a problem.

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  • Social Security Has A Plan

         The Social Security Administration has asked the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for approval to publish final regulations that would:
    ... revise our rules to protect the integrity of our programs and to address public concerns regarding the removal of an administrative law judge's name from the Notice of Hearing and other prehearing notices. To accomplish both objectives, these proposed rules state that we will provide an individual with notice that his or her hearing may be held by video teleconferencing and that he or she has an opportunity to object to appearing by video teleconferencing within 30 days of the notice. We have also made changes that allow us to determine that claimant will appear via video teleconferencing if a claimant changes residences while his or her request for hearing is pending. We anticipate these changes will increase the integrity of our programs with minimal impact on the public and result in more efficient administration of our program. 
         I'm telling you now, Social Security. This isn't going to work out the way you think. You're just going to dramatically increase the number of objections to video hearings because you won't be able to use the threat of delay to force claimants and their attorneys to accept video hearings. No, I don't think the agency can realistically tell claimants that it's going to take several months longer to get a hearing if they object to a video hearing if that objection is made early in the process. Social Security can get away with that sort of delay if a video hearing has already been scheduled before the claimant objects but it won't be be a credible threat if the hearing hasn't yet been scheduled.

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  • Apr 13, 2014

    And It Only Took Almost Three Years For Social Security To Clarify This

         From a transmittal sheet amending Social Security's POMS manual:
    ...to clarify the following:
    • SSR 11-1p applies when a claimant wishes to file a new disability application under the same title and for the same benefit type as a prior claim pending administrative review.
    • However, we follow existing application and protective filing procedures when a claimant files a new application under a different title or for a different benefit type than the pending disability claim.

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  • Apr 12, 2014

    I've Been Talking About This For Years. It's Absurd. It's Abusive. Why Don't People Care?

         From the Washington Post:
    A few weeks ago, with no notice, the U.S. government intercepted Mary Grice’s tax refunds from both the IRS and the state of Maryland. Grice had no idea that Uncle Sam had seized her money until some days later, when she got a letter saying that her refund had gone to satisfy an old debt to the government — a very old debt. 
    When Grice was 4, back in 1960, her father died, leaving her mother with five children to raise. Until the kids turned 18, Sadie Grice got survivor benefits from Social Security to help feed and clothe them 
    Now, Social Security claims it overpaid someone in the Grice family — it’s not sure who — in 1977. After 37 years of silence, four years after Sadie Grice died, the government is coming after her daughter. Why the feds chose to take Mary’s money, rather than her surviving siblings’, is a mystery. ... 
    The aggressive effort to collect old debts started three years ago — the result of a single sentence tucked into the farm bill lifting the 10-year statute of limitations on old debts to Uncle Sam.

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