May 5, 2016

Most Denied Disability Claimants Don't Go Back To Work -- Many Just Keep Appealing And Reapplying Until They Get Approved

     From a recent report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General:
We randomly sampled 275 cases from about 190,900 that ALJs [Administrative Law Judges] initially denied in FY [Fiscal Year] 2011. At the time of our review, 79 claimants (29 percent) were receiving benefits, and another 36 (13 percent) were still awaiting a decision on a new application or appeal for disability benefits. Seventy-five claimants (27 percent) reported earnings in Calendar Year 2011 or later, of which about half reported annual earnings between $12,400 and $66,700. In general, these earnings exceeded a threshold used by SSA [Social Security Administration] to determine eligibility for disability benefits. Another 63 claimants (23 percent) were not receiving Agency benefits or reporting earnings. However, some in this category had unsuccessfully appealed or reapplied. The final 22 claimants (8 percent) either were deceased or had unique situations, such as Medicare-only benefits, incomplete records in SSA systems, or children receiving benefits because of a parent’s status.

May 4, 2016

Proposed Gun Control Regs To Be In Federal Register Tomorrow

     The proposed regulations that will make it impossible for some Social Security disability recipients who have representative payees to purchase firearms will appear in the Federal Register tomorrow. Some points to keep in mind:
  • Remember this is just a proposal. Nothing is going into effect at this time. If Donald Trump gets elected President, it is unlikely to go into effect.
  • This isn't about seizing anyone's guns. It would only prevent some people with serious psychiatric problems from buying guns.
  • It would only apply to people drawing Social Security disability benefits who meet or equal a Listing for psychiatric illness. These are people with very serious mental health problems.
  • It wouldn't apply to anyone drawing Social Security retirement benefits.
  • Those who would be affected by this proposal will still have an avenue to prove that it's safe for them to buy firearms.
  • Don't believe all the nonsense you hear from the NRA. The black helicopters aren't coming to seize your guns and force you into a concentration camp. This proposal isn't the beginning of the apocalypse.

Trite But True: Crime Doesn't Pay

     From a press release:
Sophia Dix, 35, of Newport News, pleaded guilty today [April 25] to charges of wire fraud.
According to a statement of facts filed with the plea agreement, Dix was a service representative for the Social Security Administration (SSA) in its Norfolk office.  In her position, Dix had computer access to SSA beneficiary information, including bank account data for the direct deposit of benefit payments.  From April 2014, through August 2015, Dix rerouted over $56,000 in other persons’ SSA benefits to her own bank account. 
Dix was indicted by a federal grand jury on March 9, and faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison when sentenced on July 21. ...

May 3, 2016

Wi-Fi For Claimant Attorneys?

     I have heard a report that the Raleigh hearing office is installing Wi-Fi for attorneys who represent claimants at the office. Is this something that will be done generally in hearing offices?

Social Security Releases Advance Copy Of Proposed Regulations On Gun Control

     The proposed regulations which would provide a role for the Social Security Administration in determining eligibility to purchase firearms have not yet been published in the Federal Register. However, the agency has posted the proposed regulations on its website. They say that the Acting Commissioner signed them on April 28. I don't understand why they haven't yet been sent over for publication.
     Below are some excerpts from the proposal. Note that this proposal does not provide a right to an evidentiary hearing specifically on the issue of competency to purchase firearms. However, a claimant can appeal a determination that a representative payee should be appointed. Without a representative payee appointment the claimant's name cannot go on the list.  Hearings on representative payee appointments have been extremely rare. I've been representing Social Security claimants for 37 years and I've never done one. I've never heard of another attorney doing one. Also note that this is only a proposal. The public can comment on the proposal. Social Security must consider the comments and then obtain the approval of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) before publishing this as final regulations. That will likely take many months. If a Republican is elected President in November these proposed regulations will probably die. Finally, note that that the proposal would only apply to some individuals drawing benefits due to disability. A person drawing retirement benefits who needs a representative payee because he or she suffers from severe dementia would not be excluded from purchasing firearms. In fact, it appears to me that an individual excluded from purchasing firearms under this proposal who ages off disability benefits and onto retirement benefits would suddenly be able to purchase firearms again even those his or her mental abilities would not have changed.
Affected individual means an individual:
 (1) Who has been found disabled based on a finding that the individual’s impairment(s) meets or medically equals the requirements of one of the Mental Disorders Listing of Impairments... and
(2) For whom we need to make a capability finding under the rules in part 404, subpart U of this chapter, or under the rules in part 416, subpart F of this chapter, and that finding is the result of marked subnormal intelligence, or mental illness, incompetency, condition or disease ...
If we report an individual to the NICS [database used to exclude certain individuals from purchasing firearms] based on a finding that he or she meets the criteria in § 421.110(b)(1) – (5), the individual may apply for relief from the Federal firearms prohibitions imposed by Federal law as a result of our adjudication...
(a) When we decide whether to grant an application for relief, we will consider:
(1) The circumstances regarding the firearms prohibitions imposed;
(2) The applicant’s record, which must include the applicant’s mental health records and a criminal history report; and
(3) The applicant’s reputation, developed through witness statements or other evidence.
(b) Evidence. The applicant must provide the following evidence to us in support of a request for relief:
(1) A current statement from the applicant’s primary mental health provider assessing the applicant’s current mental health status and mental health status for the 5 years preceding the date of the request for relief ; and
(2) Written statements and any other evidence regarding the applicant’s reputation. ...
An applicant who requests relief under § 421.150 must prove that he or she is not likely to act in a manner dangerous to public safety and that granting relief from the prohibitions imposed by 18 U.S.C. 922(d)(4) and (g)( 4) will not be contrary to the public interest....
Judicial review of our action denying an applicant’s request for review is available according to the standards contained in 18 U.S.C. 925(c). An individual for whom we have denied an application for relief may file a petition for judicial review with the United States district court for the district in which he or she resides .

May 2, 2016

Proposal To Lengthen UWA From Three To Six Months Advances

     Social Security's proposal for changes in its rules on unsuccessful work attempts and expedited reinstatement, which reportedly include lengthening the time period for an unsuccessful work attempts from three months to six months, has cleared the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Expect the proposal to be published in the Federal Register this week.  However, don't expect it to go into effect until at least next year. Once it's published in the Federal Register as a Notice of Proposed Rule-Making (NPRM) the public can comment on it and Social Security must consider the comments. Typically this takes quite some time. The gun control NPRM which should also be published this week may really slow down Social Security's regulatory apparatus. That NPRM may draw thousands of comments.

May 1, 2016

Annual Statistical Supplement Released

     The Social Security Administration has issued its Annual Statistical Supplement, a huge compendium of all the stats the agency keeps and is willing to share with the public. Here's a table from the Supplement that may surprise some.

 Number of SSA employees and percentage with selected characteristics by grade, September 30, 2014
Characteristic All grade levels GS 1–4 GS 5–8 GS 9–12 GS 13–15 SES
Number
Total a 64,838 343 18,151 33,923 10,538 147
Percentage of total
Women 66.5 59.8 69.0 70.4 56.3 42.9
Minorities 51.7 60.9 60.7 52.6 38.4 35.8
Black 28.9 33.8 36.9 27.4 22.6 23.1
Hispanic 14.9 16.3 16.6 16.6 8.1 6.8
Asian/Pacific Islander 6.3 9.6 5.4 6.9 6.4 4.1
American Indian/Alaska Native 1.3 0.3 1.3 1.4 1.1 1.4
Employees with targeted disabilities 2.0 10.5 3.6 1.5 0.9 0.7

Apr 30, 2016

Can Social Security Stop Using Social Security Numbers In Notices?

     Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG) recently issued a report on the agency's use of Social Security numbers on correspondence, noting that this creates a risk of the numbers falling into the wrong hands. OIG found that 66% of the notices that the agency sends out include a Social Security number. OIG recommended that the agency make removing the numbers from correspondence a priority.
     Social Security's response to the OIG report was that including the Social Security number was "central to its business process." The agency had convened a workgroup last year to explore removing the number from correspondence but the workgroup recommended delay in doing anything. However, the agency promised to explore "explore leveraging existing information technology projects to replace the SSN with the Beneficiary Notice Control Number on notices." I haven't seen a Beneficiary Notice Control Number. I don't think they have been used at all to this point even on a trial basis.
     The real problem here isn't Social Security's use of the Social Security number. That's what it was designed for! The real problem is everyone else's use of the Social Security number.

Apr 29, 2016

Proposal For Social Security Role In Gun Control Advances

     The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has approved a set of proposed Social Security regulations that will almost certainly touch on gun control. Apparently, Social Security will be giving information on some individuals who have been appointed representative payees to handle their Social Security benefits. These proposed regulations should appear in the Federal Register next week if Social Security follows its normal practice.
     Once the proposed regulations are published in the Federal Register, the public will be able to comment on them. The agency must consider the comments. If Social Security still wants to go ahead with the regulations, a final version of the regulations must be submitted to OMB. If OMB approves the regulations they are published in the Federal Register and soon go into effect. This process ordinarily takes many months even when there are only a few comments. In this case, there may be a large number of comments. Perhaps, enough pressure will be put on Social Security to complete action on this proposal before President Obama leaves office but I would be surprised. This proposal has moved slowly to this point. If the proposal is still pending after the election its fate will be in the hands of the new President.
     Gun advocates have argued that people with only minor problems will be denied access to firearms. I consider this argument ridiculous. In my experience, Social Security only appoints representative payees in fairly extreme situations. A few clients I've had who were assigned representative payees posed a risk of deliberately harming others. Many, many more were at risk of suicide. Almost all posed a risk of accidentally harming themselves or others if given access to firearms.
     The earlier reports suggested that the agency would create some mechanism for claimants with representative payees to appeal a decision to report them to the database used to limit firearms purchases for those with criminal backgrounds or serious mental illness. This may create a significant new workload for Social Security.
     In any case, individuals with representative payees will be unable to buy firearms. Nobody is going to seize the weapons they already own.

    Update: The White House has just issued a press release on this proposal.