May 28, 2017

A Common Story

     From a television station in Denver:
An Arvada woman died about five years ago, but no one told her. And it came as quite a surprise to her late last year.
A mistake by the Social Security Administration put a death alert on Catherine's records -- and it caused problems in every area of her life. ...
Catherine never leaves her west Arvada home without a letter that is an official record of her resurrection from her supposed death. ...
"I couldn't get anybody to tell me what else I could do. So, a year and four months goes by of real hell," she said.
Until the FOX31 Problem Solvers got involved.
"Man, you guys, one phone call, two days later, I was in the Social Security office being helped. And it was taken care of the same day," ...
     I must see a story like this in the media two or three times a week. I rarely post them because they're so repetitive. I guess I'm posting this one because it took so long to get the problem corrected. What was going on here? Usually, the problem is that the undead person has no idea that they need to contact Social Security and wanders around confused about what to do.

May 27, 2017

I Have Seen Some Weird Things Since I Started This Blog

     If you look to the right on this web page you'll see a contact form that allows you to send me a message, anonymously if you wish. Recently, I've received some odd anonymous messages sent through this form. They seem to be from some person or persons who are trying to convince me that they work for Social Security and that they have inside information to give me. However, the messages don't make sense. They seem to have been written by some person or persons who know a little about Social Security but not nearly enough to write something plausible. It's not been just one piece of bogus information that this person or persons have tried to sell me on. It's been several different things. I'd advise them to quit wasting their time. They're not doing anything other than getting me to scratch my head trying to figure out why they would do this. Even if they succeeded in writing something plausible, I'd still try to get confirmation before posting about it. Whatever they're up to, it's not likely to work.

May 26, 2017

A Couple Of Opinion Pieces

     The Chicago Tribune has fallen for the narrative that there's something terribly wrong with Social Security disability because the number drawing benefits is going up, up, up, even though they acknowledge that the number drawing benefits is actually going down. They want something done even though they have no idea what but we have to do something, anything to get these people back to work! It's this sort of confused thinking that brought us all the worthless, confusing work incentives in the Social Security Act.
     Meanwhile Alexandra Petri has an amusing op ed piece in the Washington Post that touches ever so briefly on Social Security:
We need more Real Men in office.
When I see Donald Trump shoving that man out of the way at the NATO summit, my heart turns into an eagle and flaps its magnificent wings. When I see him crushing a Frenchman’s hand, I want to cry a tiny, manly tear of pure testosterone....
I want a president who will lock horns with foreign leaders for hours before shoving them off a cliff. I want a president who can transform into an aircraft carrier and emit jets of steam. I want a president with an enormous neck-frill which expands when he is threatened as he emits a LOW HISS of rage. ...
I want to smash the Social Security disability administration like a bug. I want to punch a rhinoceros and keep punching it until it goes EXTINCT! Dumb freeloader living on government support! Get out of the zoo and take back your own habitat. I also want to defund the EPA. If the environment wants to stick around, it needs to learn to PROTECT ITSELF. ...

When Will We See A Commissioner Nomination?

     From an op ed written by Sam Johnson, the Chairman of the House Social Security Subcommittee, for the Dallas Morning News:
... [T]he SSA needs strong leadership. The president must nominate a commissioner who is serious about helping disability insurance beneficiaries return to work. The SSA has had an acting commissioner since 2013, and that's far too long for an agency that touches the lives of all Americans.
     I couldn't agree more but I would be surprised if there's a nomination before late 2018. Trump has been extraordinarily slow in making nominations to executive branch positions. He's made nominations for only 94 of the 559 key positions in his administration. By the same time in Barack Obama's first term he had made 219 nominations to key positions and, if you remember, Obama was extremely careful in making nominations. That's a major reason why the Obama Administration avoided scandal. To give you an idea how far behind Trump is in making nominations, there are 41 key positions in the Department of Defense for which no nomination has been made, including Secretary of the Army and Secretary of the Navy. Let's face it, for better or worse, Trump has no agenda for the Social Security Administration so it's a position of little interest for him. That's the case in most administrations but usually Presidents are interested in making nominations to help build their political party. The Republican Party is only a vehicle for Donald Trump. He has no concern for it as an institution. Even when the Trump Administration starts thinking of nominating someone for Social Security Commissioner, there's the issue of the term of office. Social Security Commissioners serve a set six year term of office and that six years doesn't run from the date they're confirmed. We're more than four years into the current term without anyone being confirmed as Commissioner. The current term ends on January 19, 2019. Even if Trump nominated someone tomorrow, by the time that person got confirmed, they'd have less than a year and a half in their term. My prediction is that Trump won't bother to nominate anyone until he can nominate someone for the full term that begins in January 2019. That assumes that Trump will still be in office in late 2018.
     By the way, there are two other positions at Social Security needing nominations -- Deputy Commissioner and Inspector General.

May 25, 2017

What Does A BNC Look Like?

     From the testimony of Mariana Lacanfora, Acting Deputy Commissioner for Retirement and Disability Policy, Social Security Administration to a House Ways and Means Committee hearing yesterday on Social Security Number (SSN) usage:
We take seriously public concerns related to mailing documents that include the SSN. Therefore, in 2015, we convened an intra-agency workgroup to analyze options for removing the SSN from all agency notices. Based on our review, we concluded the best option would be to replace the SSN with the BNC — the identifier we now use on the Social Security COLA [Cost Of Living Adjustment] notice. The BNC will allow us to identify the notice and respond to inquiries quickly — just as the SSN has. As part of our IT [Information Technology] modernization efforts, we will begin to modernize communications (notices and mailings) in 2018. As we modify notices, or develop new ones, we will put only the BNC on such notices. 
In concert with CMS’ [Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services'] efforts to remove the SSN from Medicare Cards, next year we plan to replace the SSN with the BNC on benefit verifications [sic] letters, which account for approximately 11 million notices. We also plan to replace the SSN with the BNC on certain notices to appointed representatives and on Social Security post-entitlement notices, which account for approximately 2.6 million and 28 million notices, respectively.
     This may be a problem for attorneys who represent Social Security claimants. My firm often has two clients with the same name. When we receive correspondence we use the SSN to determine which client it pertains to. The client doesn't know their BNC. How can we know which client the correspondence pertains to? What if it's an award certificate for a child of a client? That won't even have the client's name on it. We already have a problem with fee payments in this situation. Is someone going to tell us the BNC?
     By the way, what does BNC stand for?

     Update: I found this in an OIG report: "The BNC is not an alternative identifier. Notices going to the same individual from different notice systems or in different years would display a different BNC." So Social Security is going to use an identifier that will be worthless to anyone other than Social Security. That takes care of the security problem but it increases the calls, that will often go unanswered, from attorney offices trying to figure out who a notice pertains to.
     By the way, are there any reported instances where a notice sent out by Social Security that contained an SSN ever actually caused someone a problem? I don't mean someone's fear that somehow, maybe, theoretically there might be a problem but a real, verified, significant problem? I've never heard of such a case. Why is Social Security doing something that will cause real problems in order to deal with an imaginary problem?

May 24, 2017

Just Brutal

     Here's a good one from the Trump budget proposal. "The Budget proposes increasing the minimum monthly overpayment collection from $10 a month to 10% of the overpayment amount." (I don't have a link to this yet but it's for real.) Let's see how that might work. The claimant owes $25,000. The least that can be collected is $2,500 per month? Do they realize that this would deprive that claimant of all their monthly benefits for a period that would probably be well over a year even though the overpayment may not be the claimant's fault? To make it even better, there's another proposal to exclude Social Security debts from discharge in bankruptcy! If this is all adopted, it may be necessary to double the number of security guards at the field offices.

Trump Budget Calls For $412 Million Increase In Agency Operating Budget -- For Program Integrity

     I was finally able to wade through the Trump budget proposal for Fiscal Year (FY) 2018, which begins on October 1, 2017, until I found the proposal for Social Security's operating budget (page 380). It's $12.687 billion, up from $12.275 billion in FY 2017. However, only $90 million of that is for the general operating budget. The rest of the increase is for "program integrity" which means cutting people off benefits.
     The Trump proposal projects the operating budget declining after FY 2018 but that's meaningless, or perhaps I should say more even more meaningless, than the rest of the budget. Even when a President is popular and has the full support of his party the White House budget gets a lot less respect from Congress than you might think. No one really cares about what are called the outyear projections.

May 23, 2017

From Trump's Budget Proposal

     From Donald Trump's budget proposal for Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 (page 111), which begins on October 1, 2017.
Reform Disability Programs. Currently, people with disabilities have low rates of LFP [Labor Force Participation]-20 percent-which is less than a third of the LFP rate of the overall working age population. There is a common expectation that receipt of disability insurance benefits results in a permanent exit from the labor force. The Budget challenges this assumption by evaluating alternative program designs that will help individuals with disabilities remain attached to the labor force and individuals with temporary work disabilities return-to-work.
As part of this reform effort, the Administration would call on the Congress to establish an expert panel that would identify specific changes to program rules that increase LFP and reduce participation on disability programs based on the results of successful demonstrations and other evidence. This panel would be responsible for making recommendations to reduce participation levels that would be directly tied to reaching a 5 percent reduction in Disability Insurance (DI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) projected outlays by 2027.
To maximize the potential of success, the Administration would simultaneously test a variety of strategies. The Administration is calling on the Congress to mandate participation by applicants and program beneficiaries in these projects including:
1) Test "time limited benefits" for beneficiaries for a period when they would be more likely to return to work;
2) Require applicants to engage in job-seeking activities before their application is considered;
3) Push existing State vocational rehabilitation offices to intervene earlier with individuals on a track to end up on DI;
4) Replicate welfare-to-work strategies in State TANF offices to provide wellness care and vocational services to welfare applicants that cannot work due to a short-term or uncontrolled health condition; and
5) Mandate that lower back pain and arthritis sufferers engage in rehabilitation traditionally used in occupational health treatment services before receiving benefits.
On a separate track, the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) at the Department of Labor would lead the implementation of a demonstration project to test the effectiveness of Washington State's Centers of Occupational Health and Education (COHE) program to improve labor force participation and attachment of individuals with temporary injuries and disabilities. While COHE is focused on workers' compensation related injuries, the demonstration will test the effects of implementing key features of the model in other States or municipalities, and/or for a broader population beyond workers' compensation. Some of the key features include care and service coordination, population screening and monitoring, increased access and targeted vocational rehabilitation and work supports, workplace accommodations, and technical assistance to healthcare providers and employers.
Reduce 12 month retroactive DI benefits to six months. New DI beneficiaries are eligible for up to 12 months of benefits before the date of their application, depending upon the date they became disabled. This proposal would reduce retroactivity for disabled workers, which is the same policy already in effect for Medicare eligibility.
Create sliding scale for multi-recipient SSI families. Currently, families receive an equal amount for each SSI child recipient. However, economies of scale in some types of consumption — housing, in particular — reduces per capita living expenses and therefore means that two children generally do not need twice the income as one child. Federal poverty guidelines and other means-tested benefits take into account these efficiencies. The Budget proposes to create a sliding scale for SSI disability benefits that considers the number of additional family recipients. It would keep the maximum benefit for one recipient the same as in current law but reduce benefits for additional recipients in the same family.
Offset overlapping unemployment and disability payments. The Budget proposes to close a loophole that allows individuals to receive Unemployment Insurance (UI) and DI for the same period of joblessness. The proposal would offset the DI benefit to account for concurrent receipt of UI benefits. Under current law, concurrent receipt of DI benefits and unemployment compensation is allowable. UI is intended to compensate individuals for short-term bouts of unemployment while they look to return to work while DI is intended to compensate individuals who cannot return to work on a long-term basis due to a disability, allowing double dipping that is unnecessary and wasteful.
Reinstate the reconsideration review application stage in 10 States. The Budget proposes reinstating reconsideration in 10 States, conforming these States with the practices used in the rest of the Nation. This reform requires a second review by the State Disability Determination Services (DDS) before an appeal goes to an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Other States already require disability applicants to have their claim "reconsidered" before they can appeal to an ALJ.
Eliminate Workers' Compensation (WC) Reverse Offset. The Budget proposes to eliminate reverse offsets in 15 States where WC benefits are offset instead of DI benefits. Currently, in most States, the combination of benefits from WC and DI is limited to 80 percent of the recipient's earnings before they were disabled. If necessary, DI benefits are usually offset to meet the limit. However, 15 States currently reduce the benefit from WC rather than DI in order to achieve the 80 percent limit, creating an unjustified inequity across States. This option would eliminate the reverse offsets in these States.
Create a probationary period for Administrative Law Judges. The Budget proposes to create a probationary period for ALJs. This option would create a one-year probationary period, similar to the Senior Executive Service, to ensure an ALJ is performing at a satisfactory level. Following the one-year probation, the ALJ would convert to a lifetime appointment. individuals receiving retirement benefits. This proposal will not modify retroactivity for Medicare eligibility.

Don't Get Excited But Trump Wants $72 Billion In "Disability" Cuts

     The White House budget proposal for Fiscal Year (FY) 2018, which begins on October 1, 2017, is due out at 11:00 today. The New York Times is reporting that the budget includes $72 billion in cuts for "disability." I have no idea what this means other than that it would be over 10 years. 
     All reports indicate that this budget proposal is outlandish even by the standards of the preposterous Trump administration. There is every reason to believe it will have almost no influence on what Congress actually does.
     Update: This is from Vox:
The budget would also cut $72.5 billion over 10 years to programs for disabled people, including Social Security Disability Insurance (violating Trump’s promise to not cut Social Security benefits) and Supplemental Security Income, which provides support for desperately poor disabled and elderly people without enough earnings to qualify for poverty-level Social Security benefits.
The biggest disability cut is vaguely labeled, “Test new approaches to increase labor force participation,” implying that the budget will require that SSDI test a number of new approaches to get beneficiaries back into the workforce. It budgets $100 million a year in the first five years for testing, but then assumes that the approaches they choose will save more than $49 billion in the final five.
We don’t know what exact measures will be introduced to try to promote work. But many ideas that would increase work among disabled Americans — like increased access to long-term supports and services, subsidized jobs, more funding for vocational rehab programs, and a partial disability benefit available for those who can work part time — would cost more money to the federal government, not less.

May 22, 2017

Trump Budget For FY 2018 Due Out On Tuesday

     On Tuesday the Trump Administration will release its proposed budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2018, which begins on October 1, 2017. Some details are starting to leak out but in considering them be aware that Congress completely ignored the Trump budget proposals for FY 2017. 
     From the Washington Post:
President Trump’s first major budget proposal on Tuesday will include massive cuts to Medicaid and call for changes to anti-poverty programs that would give states new power to limit a range of benefits, people familiar with the planning said, despite growing unease in Congress about cutting the safety net.
For Medicaid, the state-federal program that provides health care to low-income Americans, Trump’s budget plan would follow through on a bill passed by House Republicans to cut more than $800 billion over 10 years. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that this could cut off Medicaid benefits for about 10 million people over the next decade. ...
Leaked budget documents, obtained by the think tank Third Way, suggested other ways the White House plans to change anti-poverty funding. These documents show a change in the funding for Social Security’s Supplemental Security Income program, which provide cash benefits for the poor and disabled. It’s unclear, though, what those changes might look like. A White House official said the Third Way document was out-of-date and would not comment on specifics in their files. ...
Trump has instructed his budget director, former South Carolina congressman Mick Mulvaney, that he does not want cuts to Medicare and Social Security’s retirement program in this budget, Mulvaney recently said, but the plan may call for changes to Social Security Disability Insurance, seeking ideas for ways to move people who are able out of this program and back into the workforce. ...