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Jan 31, 2006

Duplicate Social Security Checks Sent

The Social Security Administration has issued an emergency message instructing its staff on handling a mistake made by the Department of the Treasury's Austin Financial Center. It seems that 485 duplicate Social Security benefit checks were released on January 18. Apparently, all of the checks were to claimants for regular monthly benefits.
The mistake happened in a transition to using white envelopes instead of brown for benefit checks. The change was not supposed to have been made until February but someone jumped the gun and prepared 485 checks using the white envelopes. The mistake was caught and the checks were prepared again using brown envelopes, but someone forgot to destroy the checks in the white envelopes and both sets of checks were mailed.
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  • Jan 30, 2006

    Rally for Social Security Privatization

    Something tells me this is the kind of help Bush would prefer to do without. This is a press release from the National Center for Policy Analysis:
    The day before President Bush is scheduled to deliver his State of the Union address, students on college campuses across the country will rally and march in support of Social Security reform and call on President Bush to keep it at the top of Washington's agenda. Students will gather on college campuses across the country at noon today in a unified show of support. Students on each campus will march carrying homemade signs and banners while distributing fact sheets to fellow students.
    WHAT: Student Rally for Social Security
    WHERE: College Campuses
    WHEN: TODAY, Monday, Jan. 30, 12 p.m.

    The nationwide rally was organized by the National Center for Policy Analysis's "Team NCPA" Social Security initiative, and joined by student leaders from Students for Saving Social Security. The College Team NCPA is a special project of the NCPA to educate policy makers, opinion leaders and the general public about the problems facing Social Security and the benefits of personal investment-based reform.
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  • Jan 29, 2006

    Monthly Stats

    For a snapshot of Social Security's current status, take a look at SSA's just released monthly statistical summary.
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  • Jan 28, 2006

    The Crime Beat

    The Chattanoogan.com reports that a Cleveland, TN man is facing sentencing for not telling SSA that his mother had died and taking the Social Security benefits sent to her for 18 years. He received $182,092 that he should not have received.
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  • Jan 27, 2006

    Maximus Also Has Conflict

    I had posted earlier about the apparent conflict of interest of Social Security Disability Consultants being a Social Security contractor, while representing claimants before SSA. Social Security Disability Consultants is not the only Social Security contractor with this problem. Maximus has a huge contract for the Ticket to Work program, but is also involved in representing Social Security claimants.
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  • Jan 26, 2006

    Second Non-Attorney Exam Results

    In November 2005, for the second time, Social Security administered the examination to qualify for non-attorney withholding of fees for representing claimants before the agency. By Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request I have obtained the following list of those who qualified as a result of this examination.

    State City Name
    AL, Decatur, Rodney D. Bains

    AL, Anniston, Lana L. Chamlee

    AL, Decatur, William H. Horton

    AL, Sylacauga, Randall S. McKee

    AL, Bessemer , Darlene W. Trammell

    AR, Rogers, Laura K. Bender

    AR, Little Rock, Nonia L. Hartman

    CA, El Segundo, Anthony S. Adderley

    CA, Redding, Shirley A. Hull

    CA, Valencia, Derek S. Margolis-Devermont

    CA, Redding, Jack A. Matlock

    CA, Redding, Alice P. Stribling

    CA, Eureka, David J. Villec

    CO, Grand Junction, Judith L. Knouse

    CO, Colorado Springs, Gerald W. Riley

    FL, Pensacola, Patrick S. Cornelius

    FL, Bokeelia, Theresa Daniels

    FL, Glenwood, Bernice Y. Ippolito

    FL, Deltona, Ron I. Pekoe

    FL, Longwood, Ellen M. Runge

    GA, Clayton, Randy L. Adams

    ID, Lewiston, Deah M. Louis

    ID, Lewiston, Leigh A. Newman

    IN, New Albany, Donna L. Stephenson

    KY, Greensburg, Tivoli A. Altman

    KY, Lexington, Patsy R. Hughes

    KY, Georgetown, Laura B. Palmer

    KY, Lexington, Teresa A. Searcy

    MA, New Bedford, Michelle R. Pequita

    MI, Livonia, Bonnie M. Donahue

    MI, Novi, Jennifer L. Eliassen

    MI, West Bloomfield, Melissa A. Gries

    MI, Novi, Denise S. Kamisar

    MI, Farmington Hills, Cynthia V. Lachowski

    MI, West Bloomfield, Patrice Ladd

    MI, Ann Arbor, Elizabeth Struble

    MN, Cook, Dennis G. Teachout

    MO, Marshall, Robin D. Cox

    MO, St. Louis, Lindsay Howell

    MS, Tupelo, James L. Bryan

    MS, Raynham, Debra M. Emerick

    MS, Jackson, Wesley Hutchen

    MS, Cleveland, Vassie M. Pegues

    NC, Greensboro, David Allen

    NC, Raleigh, Jonathan C. Brookshire

    NC, Winston Salem, Virginia B. Campbell

    NC, Greensboro, Donald P. Martin

    NC, Timberlake, Don M. Narensky

    NC, Wilmington, Northrope D. Rice

    NJ, Magnolia, Leo Hamilton

    NM, Albuquerque, Estanislao M. Gomez

    NY, New York, Daniel S. Jones

    NY, Rochester, Anne L. Lang

    NY, West Leyden, Kimberly G. MacDougall

    NY, Rochester, Mary D. Wilcox-Perry

    OH, Cleveland , Stephanie D. Lucky

    OK, Tulsa, Christopher G. Carr

    OR, Elgin, Katherine M. Harrison

    PA, Pittsburgh, Marcy L. Pitts

    SC, Charleston, Charles N. Straney

    SC, Hilton Head Island, Eleanor K. Swierk

    SC, Shaw AFB, Rosemary Z. Wessendorf

    TN, East Ridge, Robert M. Rasbury

    TX, Wake Village, Valerie K. DePriest

    TX, Austin, Kate Fiorillo

    TX, Austin, David W. Gibbs

    TX, Weslaco, Braulio Gonzales

    TX, San Antonio, Peter C. Higgins

    TX, Austin, Jeanne S. List

    TX, Odessa, Marc K. Powell

    TX, Fort Worth, David E. Price

    TX, Midland, Norma G. Revilla

    TX, Lubbock, Daniel Rey

    TX, San Antonio, Jimmy W. Shepherd

    TX, Waxahachie, Betty J. Square Jefferson

    TX, Lubbock, Connie L. Vance

    VA, Portsmouth, Herman W. Bates

    VA, Abingdon, Eric G. Reese

    VT, Waterbury, Michael F. Milne

    WA, Bremerton, Matthew P. Moreno

    WA, Puyallup, David S. Simonson

    WY, Cheyenne, Lori L. Martin

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  • $40 Million Accelerated Benefits Contract to MDRC

    Social Security has awarded a $40 million contract to MDRC to design a national demonstration program for accelerated benefits. Here is a link to information about the request for proposals, describing what SSA desires. This is a brief description of what SSA says it wants:
    In the Accelerated Benefits demonstration project, SSA plans to test the immediate provision of health care benefits for certain Social Security disability beneficiaries who have medical conditions that are expected to improve or could possibly improve with appropriate medical treatment. The goal of the demonstration is to provide access to medical care and treatment early enough to prevent further deterioration or help improve their medical condition and enable more beneficiaries to return to work and thereby maximize their economic self-sufficiency through employment.

    The Act provides that a newly awarded SSDI beneficiary must undergo a five month waiting period after the onset of disability before cash benefits begin. This is intended to permit recovery time for those disabilities expected to improve. Once those cash benefits have begun, an SSDI beneficiary must wait an additional 24 months for Medicare benefits (or 29 months from the date of disability onset). Unfortunately, a beneficiary’s health condition may deteriorate during these periods because of the natural progression of the condition, lack of medical access and/or medical care (including prescription drugs), or even physical inactivity. SSA data also show that the likelihood of returning to work diminishes the longer one is away from the labor force.

    With the AB demonstration project, SSA seeks to determine whether providing immediate medical benefits will improve the health and the subsequent return to work outcomes for certain SSDI beneficiaries. SSA expects that, with the accelerated receipt of medical benefits and appropriate employment supports, the participants may recover more quickly, re-enter the labor force sooner, and ultimately decrease their long term dependence on cash benefits.
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  • Jan 25, 2006

    UK May Offshore Social Security Work

    The British government may be looking at other ways of cutting costs in its Social Security system. HindustanTimes.com reports that the British government is considering sending call center and other work associated with its Social Security system to Eastern Europe or India!
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  • A View of the Future in the US?

    The UPI reports that the British government plans to cut the number of people drawing disability benefits by more than 1 million. Under the plan:

    ...those on disability will be reassessed to determine if there is some job they can do. For example, the blind will no longer automatically be considered unable to work.

    Everyone collecting benefits, except for those deemed completely disabled, will be required to engage in job interviews, training and work-related activities or face a cut in benefits.


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  • VOIP Coming to SSA

    The Social Security Administration (SSA) is seeking comments on a plan to implement Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) at all its scattered locations to replace its current telephone service. If implemented it will be the largest VOIP application in the US, if not the world.
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  • Jan 24, 2006

    Maximus Ticket to Work

    The Ticket to Work Program has issued its Winter 2006 newsletter giving information on the progress of this effort to help Social Security disability recipients return to work. The newsletter refers to the program repeatedly as the Maximus Ticket to Work program. Maximus is the prime contractor for Ticket to Work. The program is certainly providing work for Maximus. Here are some statistics provided by the newsletter on what it is doing for others:
    • Approved ENs [Employment Networks]: 1,382
    • Tickets Mailed: 11,293,757
    • Tickets in Assignment: 8,750
    • Payments Made to ENs: $4,013,701.47
    • Number of Milestone/Outcome Payments Made: 11,760
    • Number of ENs/State VR Agencies That Received EN Payments: 317
    • Number of Beneficiaries for Whom Payments Were Made: 1,897
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  • Wrong Link on Social Security Disability Consultants

    The link I gave yesterday for Social Security Disability Consultants, the company which obtained a contract from SSA, to study vocational experts evidence, was incorrect. I gave a link to a similarly named firm, but not to Social Security Disability Consultants of Novi, MI, which actually received the contract. I am sorry for the mistake.
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  • Totalization Agreement with Japan

    The US Social Security Administration has signed a totalization agreement with Japan to reduce dual taxation of wages and to allow, in limited circumstances, those who have worked in both countries to combine wages from both countries to obtain Social Security benefits.
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  • Signs of Stress at SSA

    The following is an e-mail from Linda McMahon, the Deputy Commissioner of Operations for Social Security, to District Office personnel:
    Ordinarily I would be sending you a Happy New Year note at this time, but the circumstances we are facing seem to call for a different message. I didn't want you to think I'm out of touch with reality and don't know about the significant challenges you are experiencing. Ever since the Medicare Modernization Act passed, those of you on the front line have been expressing your deep concern that SSA is not positioned well to help people understand, enroll in and negotiate the new Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Program. Now we are seeing the consequences of that fact. Our National 800 Number Network has been overwhelmed for weeks, with busy rates running above 35 percent many days. In the last few weeks, those folks who can't get us on the phone have been coming into our field offices in large numbers. In fact, during the first two weeks in January, we had nearly 200,000 visitors a day -- as many as 60,000 more than we saw in the fall. We already had large backlogs in our Processing Centers, and those will be exacerbated by the need to put more people on the phone to bring down the busy rate and keep people from needing to visit field offices. Of course, if we aren't careful, we will generate more calls and visits from the folks whose actions will have to pend longer in the PCs. It's not a rosy picture, and the news doesn't get better. Congress finally passed our FY06 budget in late December, and they gave us $300 million less than the President requested. That means we will not be able to replace all the employees we lose to retirement this year or accomplish all the automation projects we had intended to do to streamline work processes. At the same time, we have been given new mandates to do more thorough screening before we process Social Security Number applications and to include children under the age of one in that process. So, where does that leave us? What are we going to do to cope with these problems? First, we have negotiated some new workload goals with OMB. Specifically, we will do fewer SSI Redeterminations and Limited Issues as well as fewer Continuing Disability Reviews. These workloads only affect the field offices and are heavily weighted to Title 16, so that certainly doesn't solve our problems. We will be working within Operations to provide further guidance on workload priorities to all components so you can concentrate on the things that most need attention rather than trying to do everything. This is certainly not ideal, and I recognize that work delayed becomes more complicated when we tackle it at a later date. However, we don't have a lot of options at this point. Second, we are working very closely with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to help them find ways to improve service for the Part D program. For example, at our request, they have set up critical case units to which we can refer problem cases where people can't get answers from the 1-800-Medicare number or their PDP or pharmacy. We have also given CMS detailed information on the types of calls that are being referred to SSA erroneously so they can improve training and guidance for their Teleservice Representatives. Third, we are looking at all non-personnel-related spending to see what we can curtail in order to free up money for overtime. Unfortunately, I don't expect a lot of payoff from this effort because we have very little wiggle room within that portion of our budget. Finally, we are speeding up a couple of projects that will reduce the time it takes for 800 Number agents to answer calls and improve the likelihood that callers will opt for automated services. We are also improving our marketing of Internet services in order to get more people to opt for handling their business via the Internet instead of coming to the office or calling us. I won't try to kid you. This is going to be a very difficult year, and the budget picture for next year doesn't look any better. I commit to you that I will continue to work with the Commissioner to tell our story and enhance our chances of getting a better budget. I will be closely monitoring the impact of our decisions and will make adjustments as necessary to ensure that we maximize the use of our resources and minimize the negative fallout from the shortfall. Of course, that means we will probably be changing priorities as the year unfolds, so please prepare yourselves mentally for that possibility. Someone recently told me that, even though times are tough, we are still blessed to be doing important work and to be pretty well paid for the privilege. That's something worth remembering when we're feeling particularly pressured. Thanks for doing your best to cope with this difficult situation and for continuing to do everything you can to serve the public well despite the challenges.
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  • Jan 23, 2006

    $488,000 SSA Contract to Company Representing Claimants

    Demonstrating that conflict of interest rules apply only to attorneys, Social Security has awarded a $488,000 contract to Social Security Disability Consultants (SSDC) of Novi, MI to "study the value of vocational expertise at all adjudicative levels of the disability determination process." SSDC is involved in representing Social Security claimants on their disability claims.
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  • SSAB Meeting Agenda

    The Social Security Advisory Board (SSAB) has published the agenda for its meeting today. Here is what they have on tap:

    9:15 a.m. – 11:30 p.m. Status of the VA’s disability program – comments and views from the GAO and the VA Cynthia Bascetta, Director, Education, Workforce and Income Security Issues, GAO, Mike McLendon, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy, Department of Veteran’s Affairs

    1:45 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. National Council on Disability (NCD): Overview of two NCD reports:
    • Long-term Services and Supports Concerns for
    People with Disabilities
    • SSA’s Efforts to Promote Employment for People
    with Disabilities Carol Novak, Council Member
    Jeffrey Rosen, General Counsel and Director of
    Policy, NCD, Joan Durocher, Senior Attorney Advisor, NCD, John Kregel, Chairman, Department of Special Education and Disability Policy,Virginia Commonwealth University (via phone) Martin Gould, Director of Research and Technology, NCD, Michael Morris, Director, National Disability Institute, NCB Development Corporation, Johnette Hartnett, Vice President, NCB Development Corporation

    3:00 p.m. – 4:15 p.m. Ticket to Work evaluation discussion
    Sue Suter, Employment Support Programs
    Dan O’Brien, Employment Support Programs
    Pam Mazerski, Program Development and Research
    Paul O’Leary, Project Officer for TTW evaluation

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  • Social Security A Good Deal for African Americans

    Social Security is a good deal for African Americans according to a report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). Here is what their press release says:
    "African Americans have only about a third as much money in pension and retirement savings as whites do, on average, so they rely on Social Security for a larger share of their income in retirement,” said William Spriggs, Chairman of the Economics Department at Howard University and the report’s co-author (along with Center Senior Fellow and NYU Visiting Scholar Jason Furman). “In addition, African Americans benefit more than other groups from some of Social Security’s key features, such as the survivors benefits it provides to the families of workers who die before retirement and the disability benefits it provides to disabled workers and their families. African Americans thus have more to lose if Social Security is partially replaced by private accounts.”
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  • Jan 22, 2006

    Fraud Indictment in Oklahoma

    The Associated Press reports that Terry Johnson of Enid, OK has been indicted for embezzling $15,000 in Social Security survivor benefits.
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  • Jan 21, 2006

    How Important Are Social Security's ALJs?

    Judges in ordinary civil and criminal courts obviously hold positions of considerable importance to the public. They send criminals to prison, and occasionally to execution. They make decisions in civil litigation that affect millions of dollars. Their actions are frequently reported in the press. How important is the work done by Social Security's Administrative Law Judges in comparison? They do not send people to prison and they are only rarely in the news. It is easy to think that their jobs do not matter that much, but once one takes a look at the dollar value of the cases they hear, it becomes obvious that they hold jobs of great importance.

    Let me try to put a rough value on an average Social Security DIB claim. The total DIB benefits paid in 2003, the most recent year for which this figure is given in SSA's Annual Statistical Supplement, was $70.9 billion. Of course, this figure includes benefits for people approved over many years. The number of people shown in the Statistical Supplement as being approved for DIB in 2003 was 777,461. Those individuals will be paid benefits over many years. However, if you divide the total benefits paid in 2003 by the total number of people newly approved for DIB in 2003, you get a rough idea of the cash value of a DIB claim over the life of a beneficiary. That average figure was $91,236.73. This underestimates the value because of the inflation adjustment and because more people are going on benefits now than in prior years, meaning that the amounts paid out in the future to Social Security disability recipients will be much greater than they were in 2003, but it is still as good a rough estimate of the cash value of a DIB claim as we are likely to get.

    The cash value of DIB is only part of the equation. There is also Medicare. The Medicare costs for 2003 for recipients of DIB were $19.6 billion for Part A and $16.7 billion for Part B, for a total of $36.3 billion according to CMS figures. This works out to a Medicare value per claim approved of $46,690.44.

    The total for both cash benefits and Medicare would be $137,927.17. An ALJ who decided 50 cases per month would be making decisions involving about $6.9 million per month or or about $83 million per year. How many judges hearing civil cases adjudicate cases involving anything like that amount of money? How many judges in other circumstances have anything approaching the discretion of a Social Security ALJ?
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  • Jan 20, 2006

    Service on Advisory Committee Cannot Be SGA

    Service on a federal advisory committee can no longer be considered substantial gainful activity (SGA) under the Social Security Act, regardless of the pay, according to a new final rule just adopted by the Social Security Abministration (SSA).
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  • Jan 19, 2006

    New ALJ Hires Cut in Half

    There are anonymous reports on the ALJ Improvement Board that instead of 100 new Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) this year as the Commissioner of Social Security had promised, there will only be 50, in two classes of 25. The number has reportedly been reduced due to budget problems.
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  • Jan 18, 2006

    New Rules on Attorney and Rep Disqualification

    Social Security has published new final rules which become effective on February 17, 2006 concerning disqualification of attorneys and others from representing Social Security claimants. The rules are non-controversial and drew few public comments.
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  • Jan 17, 2006

    Medicare Part D Problems at SSA

    The National Council of Social Security Management Associations (NCSSMA) has sent out an e-mail to its members about its contacts with top management at SSA asking for help in dealing with a deluge of claimants seeking information about the Medicare prescription drug benefit (Part D of Medicare) and help in signing up for it. Here is how the NCSSMA President describes the situation:
    The core of our call today was discussing the impact of the huge increase in telephone calls to the 800# and the huge increase in visitors to SSA since the beginning of the year. The 800# is seeing a 100% increase in calls on some days for comparable periods the same time last year. Many FO’s [Field Offices] are seeing walk-in traffic far beyond what they have seen in years.

    Unfortunately, the rest of the e-mail suggests that there is no relief on the way for the beleagured SSA employees, or the public.

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  • Ticket to Work Meeting

    The Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Advisory Panel has scheduled a meeting for San Juan, P.R. for February 1-3, 2006. The Caribbean in February, hmmm. I guess the members do not worry about appearances. Even though the Panel is holding the meeting in Puerto Rico where there would only be a limited number of English speaking claimants available to speak, the Panel wants testimony from beneficiaries on:
    (1) Ending the requirement that an individual’s medical benefits must be tied to their eligibility for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) cash benefits;
    (2) gradually reducing beneficiaries’ monthly SSDI checks once they earn a certain amount for a certain period of time instead of ending them all at once; Social Security work rules would affect
    (3) allowing beneficiaries to earn more and still remain eligible for a monthly Social Security check;
    (4) providing beneficiaries accurate, understandable information about how Socia'l Security work rules would affect them;
    (5) extending beneficiaries’ eligibility for other federally funded support services, such as financial help with housing and food for a transition period of up to 3 years after reaching full-time employment; and
    (6) any other issues not listed above that would affect beneficiaries’ ability to return to work.
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  • Jan 16, 2006

    Privatization Not Dead?

    In an interview with the Jacksonville, TN Sun, Allan Hubbard, President Bush's assistant for economic policy and head of the National Economic Council, insists that the president is not giving up on Social Security "reform." Hubbard blames Democrats and the AARP for the lack of progress on the President's plan.
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  • Jan 15, 2006

    Unemployment Insurance Offset

    Boston.com Business reports that Massaschusetts, Rhode Island, Maine, Colorado, Utah, Illinois, Louisiana, Minnesota, and South Dakota all reduce state unemployment insurance benefits if a claimant is receiving Social Security benefits. Another state, Ohio, denies unemployment benefits altogether to those on Social Security benefits. The American Association of Retired People (AARP) has started lobbying these states to change their laws.
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  • Jan 14, 2006

    Serious Social Security Fraud

    The vast majority of the Social Security fraud prosecutions are minor league affairs, with little threat of real jail time, but there are exceptions. The Herald of Rock Hill, SC reports that a jail guard in Chester County, SC has drawn a twenty month sentence for bribing an employee of a Georgia SSA office to supply blank Social Security cards which were then sold to undocumented aliens for $1,000 each. Apparently, the charges against the SSA employee have not yet been resolved.
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  • Jan 13, 2006

    Institute of Medicine Study Interim Report

    Social Security has given the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences a contract to study SSA's listings of impairments and access to medical expertise. The final report is not due until later this year, but, at SSA's request, the Committee conducting the study has issued an interim report. The interim report is like most such consultant reports -- full of vague, meaningless exhortations to do better. It is also like most such reports in being somewhat self-serving. It is a report prepared by physicians which makes the surprising recommendation that more money be paid to physicians working for SSA and state agencies and to physicians preforming consultative examinations. This is undoubtedly well justified, but hardly a surprise. One would still like some new idea from this panel and there is certainly none in this interim report, nor is there any recommendation that has much real hope of meaningful implementation of what has been recommended.
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  • Arthur Hess Dies

    Arthur Hess, former Deputy Commissioner of Social Security, died on November 15, 2005 at his home in Charlottesville, VA. His passing has attracted almost no attention, which is a shame. Hess was 89. He came to work for SSA in 1939 and stayed with the agency until his retirement in 1974. He was a major part of the founding generation of Social Security employees who created most of what remains good about SSA. See this article prepared by the National Academy of Social Insurance on Hess's life. Hess was the first Medicare director, when Medicare was still part of SSA. The Health Care Financing Administration, which took over Medicare, and which is now the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) had an Oral History program which interviewed Hess in 1996. The transcript of that interview is good reading for anyone interested in the history of the Social Security Administration, and particularly for anyone interested in the history of disability benefits at SSA, since Hess may have been more responsible than anyone for setting up the disability program at SSA.

    Curiously enough, even in 1996 Hess was critical of Social Security staffing, saying "the organization has now been ratcheted down to the point where it hasn't got even enough people to do the job it has to do. There are no people that you can pull from any place in Social Security to take on a new function without hurting existing functions." This may be a lesson that SSA is learning all over again with the introduction of Medicare Part D.
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  • Clown Caught in Social Security Fraud in Montana

    Roland Clown of Busby, MO pleaded guilty to defrauding Social Security of $50,000 in disability benefits, according to the Billings Gazette, and was sentenced to six months of home confinement and probation.
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  • New Cardiovascular Listings

    Today's Federal Register includes new final regulations changing SSA's cardiovascular listings. The new listings go into effect on April 13, 2006. At first look, the new regulations do not seem controversial. The new listings do carry forward with the recent trend towards longer and longer preambles to each listing section. If this process continues, the entire listings may eventually be over a hundred pages in length.
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  • Jan 12, 2006

    Tennessee Approves Specialization in Social Security Disability Law

    Edwin Anderson has posted on the CONNECT Board that the Tennesssee Supreme Court has approved certification of specialists in Social Security Disability Law. Tennessee joins North Carolina as the only two states to approve certification of specialists in this field. The first specialists will be certified in North Carolina in late 2006.
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  • Fee Payments in 2006

    Social Security has posted the following final figures for 2005 on payments of fees to attorneys and others approved for direct payment of fees for representing Social Security claimants:

    Fee Payments

    Month/Year Volume Amount
    Jan-05
    20,744
    $68,463,778.57
    Feb-05
    20,447
    $68,137,343.20
    Mar-05
    20,522
    $67,741,247.04
    Apr-05
    27,563
    $91,228,724.50
    May-05
    21,047
    $70,574,688.29
    June-05
    19,847
    $66,810,743.37
    July-05
    25,840
    $86,788,514.16
    Aug-05
    22,569
    $76,249,416.56
    Sep-05
    20,403
    $67,828,460.26
    Oct-05
    19,217
    $64,828,683.10
    Nov-05
    18,179
    $60,507,993.77
    Dec-05
    21,424
    $73,210,171.27

    Beginning July 28, 2005, fee payments also include payments made to eligible non-attorneys participating in the demonstration project authorized by section 303 of the Social Security Protection Act of 2004 (Pub. L. 108-203).


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  • Nassau County Social Security CLE

    The Nassau County Bar Association ins New York is sponsoring continuining legal education (CLE) training on Jaunuary 18 dealing with Social Security disability benefits and long term disability (LTD) benefits.
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  • NASI To Hold Conference

    The National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI) will hold a conference on January 19 and 20 on policies that create effective job opportunities for older workers. The conference will include presentations on disability and social security. The conference will be held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
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  • Jan 11, 2006

    NOSSCR and CBPP Comments on Age Proposal

    Even though the comment period has ended, SSA is still processing and posting comments made on the proposal to add two years to the age categories of the grid regulations. Two important comments are finally available to the public. Nancy Shor and Ethel Zelenske have written on behalf of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR) and Eileen Sweeney has written on behalf of the Center on Budget and Polity Priorities (CBPP) to object to the proposal. The NOSSCR comments are of enough general interest that they are reproduced in full below:

    Dear Commissioner Barnhart:

    These comments are submitted on behalf of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives (NOSSCR) in response to the proposed rules published at 70 Fed. Reg. 67101 (Nov. 4, 2005). These proposed rules increase the age categories used in making disability determinations.

    NOSSCR is a membership organization of more than 3,500 attorneys and others from across the country who represent claimants for Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Collectively, we have many years of experience in representing claimants at every level of the administrative and judicial process. NOSSCR is committed to providing the highest quality representation and advocacy on behalf of persons seeking Social Security and SSI benefits.

    As advocates for people with disabilities, we are extremely concerned about the detrimental impact of these changes on vulnerable individuals with disabilities and the disparate impact on specific groups. For the reasons set forth below, we strongly oppose these changes and urge that they be withdrawn.

    SSA justifies the change using erroneous and misleading logic. SSA argues that, since there is evidence that the average health of older workers has improved and many older persons are working, the age categories in the disability grids should be adjusted upward.

    Indeed, while the proposed regulation cites much evidence that would justify an increase in the retirement age, this evidence has little to do with the ability to work of persons with severe health problems, who are not working and have applied for disability benefits. That is, the average health of a population reveals little about the individuals who apply for disability benefits, who by definition are not enjoying the average health of the population at large. For them, the “minimal increase” in the age categories is extremely detrimental.

    According to the proposed rule’s preface, SSA believes that

    [I]t is now appropriate to redraw the lines established in 1978 [when the Grids were published]…This minimal increase is a reasonable adjustment to reflect public health factors which have had significant positive effects on the health of older workers and their ability to do other work.

    70 Fed. Reg. 67102. In the preface, SSA provides four reasons for the NPRM:

    (1) “Overwhelming evidence” that the average health of the elderly population is improving;

    (2) An increase in the number of older persons working because of an increase in “healthy, active years” and opportunities for individuals with disabilities to work;

    (3) Congress’ acknowledgment that “it is both reasonable and necessary for people to work longer before retiring”; and

    (4) SSA’s adjudicative experience with the Medical-Vocational Guidelines (“the grids”) which “suggests” changes to “more accurately reflect the ages at which adjustment to other work becomes increasingly difficult.”

    We address below each of the four reasons in the NPRM preamble and explain why they do not provide supportable grounds for the age increase.


    I. IMPROVEMENTS IN THE HEALTH OF THE ELDERLY POPULATION HAVE NOT BEEN UNIFORM.

    The preface cites to a number of studies and reports that “there is clear and overwhelming evidence that the average health of the elderly population is improving.” According to these selected reports: (1) Adults over age 65 are reporting significant improvement in their ability to perform their activities of daily living and in their functional limitations; and (2) There has been a decline in disability among those over age 50, with “significant and consistent improvement” regarding functional limitations.

    While the “average” health of older persons has improved, these improvements have not been uniform. The literature is replete with studies showing that major differences in disability rates still exist among various demographic groups. Socioeconomic status, which is based on occupation, education, and income, is a strong predictor for whether the disability rate has improved, or worsened, for certain groups. And, these factors come into play regarding the disability rates based on race or ethnicity. Unfortunately, the disability rates still remain much higher for blacks and Native Americans than for whites.

    For individuals with disabilities who have the most adverse vocational characteristics, the impact of increasing the age categories will not be “minimal.” Further, the proposed change will have a disparate impact on individuals in certain racial and ethnic minorities.

    A. Individuals with Lower Educational Levels Have Higher Disability Rates
    Which is Acknowledged by the Current Regulations.

    There is a strong relationship between educational attainment and disability rates. “Inequalities in education and income underlie many health disparities in the United States… [P]opulation groups that suffer the worst health status also are those that have the highest poverty rates and the least education.” “Recent health gains for the U.S. population as a whole appear to reflect the achievements among the higher socioeconomic groups; lower socioeconomic groups continue to lag behind.

    Individuals with a high school or less education have higher disability rates than those individuals with a college education. “Research has shown that having a college degree is often closely tied to other outcomes such as higher income and better health.” Indeed, these disparities are not limited only to disability rates. For persons aged 25-64, the overall death rate for individuals with less than 12 years of education is more than twice that for people with 13 or more years of education.

    Several significant government reports clearly establish the fact that those with lower education levels and income levels suffer from poorer health and work disability.

    Summary Health Statistics for the U.S. Population: National Health Interview Survey, 2003. This recent report underscores the relationship of socioeconomic factors and disability:

    The percent of persons in excellent health increases with increased levels of education and income;
    Persons with the least education and lowest income are most likely to have an activity limitation. Poor adults are three to four times as likely as nonpoor adults to require help with activities of daily living; and
    Most relevant to these comments, persons with the least education and lowest income are the most likely to be unable to work due to health problems.

    Congressional Budget Office. This 2004 report uses data from a national survey to provide information about individuals who leave the labor force before age 62 and their sources of income. “Survey responses indicate that the circumstances of men and women not in the labor force because of a disability were quite different from those of the men and women who had retired.” The report finds that individuals who leave work because of disability have a much lower median income and higher poverty rates, and are much less likely to have a high school education. Disability was cited as the most frequent reason for leaving the labor force – it was the reason for two-thirds of men and two-fifths of women. Compared to retired workers, people who leave work due to disability have a much lower education level: 34% of men (vs. 11% of retired men) and 40% of women (vs. 15% of retired women) did not have a high school diploma.

    Recent reports by AARP also establish the strong relationship between educational levels and disability rates. “Education can influence the likelihood of having a disability, and having a disability can influence educational opportunities.” Another report that surveys data on disability rate declines concluded that the data “found that only those with more than 12 years of education experienced significant declines in disability rates.” In fact, the disability rate for those with more than 12 years of education may be about one-half the rate for those less educated.

    B. Individuals with Lower Income Levels Have Higher Disability Rates.

    The previous section discusses the correlation between low education, low income, and higher disability rates. While it focuses on education, “[i]ncome and education are intrinsically related and often serve as proxy measures for each other….” Many of the studies and reports discussed above also corroborate the fact that low income leads to poorer health and higher disability rates, establishing that lower socioeconomic groups, the very individuals who benefit most from the grids, continue to lag behind the higher socioeconomic groups.

    C. Some Racial and Ethnic Groups Have Higher Disability Rates Due to Overall Low Education and Income Levels.

    One of the most troubling aspects of the preface to this NPRM is the way it generalizes about data on improved health for older individuals. Unfortunately, significant racial differences in health status exist in reasons for leaving the labor force. Nonwhites report in much larger numbers that disability, versus retirement, is the reason. Policy makers should be cautioned about drawing conclusions from statistical averages when data for different races are pooled.

    Many recent reports look at racial disparities in the health and disability rates of whites and nonwhites in the United States. The findings are striking and demonstrate the disparate impact of the proposed change in the NPRM on certain racial groups. Older blacks have higher disability rates than whites and others. While Hispanics and Asians seem to have somewhat lower rates, Native Americans and Alaskans much higher rates than whites.

    While the intent of this NPRM is not to discriminate against certain racial groups, the impact of raising the age categories most assuredly leads to a perception of discrimination if the proposed rule is adopted.

    Two studies presented at SSA-sponsored symposia on SSI provide graphic findings regarding the racial disparities in health that continue to exist in this country. One study analyzes the significance of socioeconomic status in explaining the race gap in chronic health conditions by looking at the rise of health problems among middle-aged (age 51-63) blacks and whites. The following are key findings of this report:

    Blacks live fewer years than any other group and live more years with a chronic health problem.
    Although blacks are not disadvantaged across all medical conditions, the prevalence of functional limitation is substantially higher than for whites.
    All forms of disability are more prevalent among blacks than whites, including significantly higher incidence rates of work disability.
    Health restrictions severely limit the ability of blacks to engage in economic and domestic productive activities during their peak earnings years.
    The level of disease prevalence that blacks experience in their early fifties is not experienced by whites until their mid to late sixties.
    Blacks’ lower levels of income increase the chances that chronic health conditions are disabling. “Blacks experience extraordinary rates of premature aging” which is caused by diminished economic well-being. Blacks’ rates of economic achievement lag significantly behind whites, which in turn deprive blacks of good health relative to whites.
    Since low income is a key indicator of disability and blacks are over-represented in poor households, they experience a broad range of health problems at ages decades younger than whites.

    The second study analyzes racial inequality in active life among adults, taking a close look at disability prevalence based on race. A significant finding compares disability rates between racial/ethnic groups:

    The highest rate is for Native Americans. At ages 30-34, 12% report being disabled.
    The rate for blacks is only “marginally lower,” reaching the same level of disability in their late 30’s.
    Hispanics and whites do not reach the same level of disability until ages 50-54.
    Asian Americans have the lowest rate, not reaching the same level of disability until age 60.

    Like the report discussed above, the study finds that black men can expect to live the fewest years with a higher percentage of life spent in poor health compared to other race groups. Native Americans live longer than blacks but the difference is spent living with a chronic health problem.

    Relevant to this NPRM, the study asks the key question: Does longer life mean better health? The answer: It depends. “[T]he link between morbidity and mortality is neither as simple nor closely timed as sometimes implied…Stated simply, longer life does not necessarily lead to better or worse health – it all depends. In this case, the relationship depends on the race/ethnic group.” The study finds that the most disadvantaged group is blacks: They live substantially fewer years than other groups and they live a higher proportion of those years with a chronic health impairment.


    II. CHANGES IN THE WORKFORCE HAVE NOT INCREASED WORK OPPORTUNITIES FOR ALL OLDER INDIVIDUALS.


    Based on the studies it cited in the NPRM preface showing an increase in “healthy, active years,” SSA again refers to a general shift among older adults who are working past 65. SSA also states that economic and social changes have increased opportunities for individuals with disabilities to work. As discussed in the previous section, the agency should exercise caution in generalizing about the ability of older persons to work and remain in the labor force.

    The NPRM preface infers that older workers can remain in the labor force because, since the 1978 publication of the Grids, “the economy has shifted toward service and knowledge-based jobs that may allow for greater participation for some persons with physical limitations.” 70 Fed. Reg. 67102 (emphasis added). While it is generally acknowledged that there are fewer physically demanding jobs now, the relevance of this shift is questionable as it relates to older workers with disabilities who do not have the education or skills or ability to work in service or knowledge-based jobs.

    Having disabilities is a consistently significant factor in determining work status. Rather than generalizing about older persons working longer, it is critical that SSA pay considerable attention to the circumstances of men and women who are no longer in the labor force because of a disability. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report found that of persons under age 62 who were not in the work force at any time in 2001, 64% of men and 40% of women stated that the reason was due to disability. Most had worked before withdrawing from the labor force and few had subsequent earnings.

    As pointed out by the CBO, their circumstances are “quite different from those of the men and women who had retired” – they have lower income, higher poverty rates, and fewer assets. They are more dependent on disability benefits – about 80% receive SSDI and/or SSI. Another significant finding is that they have less choice about deciding not to work than those who retire.

    Similarly, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that “[h]ealth was the most-often cited constraint on work and retirement decisions by [focus group] participants without college degrees.” These individuals had no choice but to leave or limit work when they did because of health problems.

    The GAO report also finds that the majority of workers age 55-74 are in white collar and service occupations and points out that their movement is away from blue collar work, which is generally more physically demanding. An earlier GAO report found that the majority of older workers who stop working do not re-enter the labor force. Clearly, health and disability status and the physical demands of their job play a major role. “[W]orkers in poor health are less able to continue working, and retirees in poor health are less able to have worked longer than they did.” For many older workers in physically demanding jobs, they eventually reach their physical limits and can no longer work.

    Other reasons cited by SSA to support the NPRM are the “economic and social changes [which] have also increased opportunities for individuals to participate in the workforce.” 70 Fed. Reg. 67102. In these comments, we have previously cautioned the agency about generalizations regarding the ability of persons with disabilities to work. Many people surviving injuries, disabling diseases or traumatic accidents live with significant disabilities but do not have access to state-of-the-art services or medical advances, resulting in broad discrepancies in work opportunities.

    There also needs to be a recognition that advances in medical treatment or technological innovations or expansions/improvements in labor market conditions are likely to benefit those persons with disabilities who have a high level of education and/or work experience and whose disabilities are relatively easy to accommodate. Further, such advances may not necessarily work for those with severe cognitive or mental disabilities, communications difficulties, multiple impairments, or other adverse vocational factors.

    And even if these older workers could continue in the labor force, the general job environment is not yet conducive to hiring and retaining older workers. The GAO recently found that while some employers make a special effort to hire and retain older workers, most do not, including the federal government, which is usually considered ahead of the curve on employment issues.


    III. THE REASONS FOR INCREASING THE RETIREMENT AGE DO NOT APPLY TO THE DISABILITY PROGRAM.

    The retirement age is gradually increasing from age 65 to age 67 over the next 22 years (it will be age 66 in 2009 and age 67 in 2027). SSA cites this statutory change (passed by Congress in 1983) as Congress’ acknowledgment “that it is both reasonable and necessary for people to work longer before retiring.” 70 Fed. Reg. 67103. However, it is inappropriate for the agency to infer that Congress’ reasons for increasing the retirement age increase apply as well to increasing the age for disability determinations.

    In fact, it can be argued that Congress has spoken on this issue, taking a position that undermines that taken by the agency in the NPRM. The NPRM preface states that “Congress has not made policy decisions with respect to age and its relationship to the determination of disability.” 70 Fed. Reg. 67103.

    This statement ignores the fact that Congress has made a decision on this very issue by not acting to make a change. Widows and widowers between the ages of 50 and 59 are eligible for benefits if they are disabled, using the same standard that applies to disabled workers. 42 U.S.C. § 402(e)(1)(B)(ii). For this group, Congress has not changed the age in the statute. The fact that Congress has not acted to change the age of eligibility for disabled widows and widowers provides strong evidence of the NPRM’s inappropriateness in applying the reasons for increasing the retirement age to substantiate increasing the age categories for disability determinations.

    [In addition, Congress’s retention of the age 50 to 59 statutory age category for disabled surviving spouse benefits raises the question: how would the proposed change in the age categories affect disabled widows and widowers? The regulatory change could not apply to surviving spouses in light of the statutory provision.]

    What is the relationship, if any, between the retirement age and age as it relates to disability? As discussed above, SSA should proceed very cautiously in generalizing and applying average statistics to the population as a whole, since the improvements in health and ability to work have not been uniform for all segments of the population. As noted by AARP: “More years of life expectancy do not necessarily translate into more years of active life expectancy, the number of years one might expect to live without a disability.” A study looking at racial inequality in active life among adults asks the key question: Does longer life mean better health? Once again, the answer is “it depends”:

    [T]he link between morbidity and mortality is neither as simple nor closely timed as sometimes implied…Stated simply, longer life does not necessarily lead to better or worse health – it all depends.

    In referring to the proposed age change as a “minimal” increase, the agency inappropriately diminishes the critical importance of the Social Security and SSI disability programs to disabled workers and their families. Over 7 million people with disabilities, their spouses, and children receive Title II benefits. People can plan for retirement over many years. But disability affects anyone at any time and often is completely unexpected. People with disabilities need Social Security benefits because:

    Millions of families face disability. About 3 in 10 men and 1 in 4 women become disabled before reaching normal retirement age.
    Adults with serious disabilities have a very low employment rate. According to a 2004 Harris Survey, only 35 percent of people with disabilities reported working full or part time, compared to 78 percent of those who do not have disabilities. Disabilities can interfere with the ability to work until normal retirement age and save for a family’s future.

    Although Social Security reduces poverty, disabled workers and their families still struggle financially. But without Social Security, their circumstances would be even worse:

    The poverty rate among disabled workers who receive Social Security and their families is twice as high as the rate for other Social Security beneficiaries. However, it is estimated that 55 percent of families of disabled workers would live in poverty without Social Security benefits.
    Social Security is half or more of the total family income for about one in two disabled worker beneficiaries.

    The recent CBO report shows how important these benefits are to older workers who leave the labor force before age 62 due to disability. These individuals, aged 50-61, have a higher poverty rate than their counterparts of the same age who left the labor force by choice to retire.

    Retired workers living in poverty: 15% of men; 14% of women
    Disabled workers living in poverty: 24% of men; 34% of women

    The fact that SSDI benefits keep older workers out of poverty is very apparent when the percentage of beneficiaries receiving these benefits is compared to the above percentage of these workers living in poverty. The percentage living of disabled workers living in poverty is much lower than the percentage receiving SSDI benefits:

    64% of men received SSDI and 37% received SSI; overall, 82% received either SSDI and/or SSI
    58% of women received SSDI and 44% received SSI; overall, 79% received either SSDI and/or SSI

    The full impact of receiving these benefits is further reflected in the fact that SSDI and SSI benefits were a main source of income for disabled men and women.


    IV. SSA’S “ADJUDICATIVE EXPERIENCE” DOES NOT SUPPORT INCREASING THE DISABILITY AGE CATEGORIES.

    SSA asserts that its own adjudicative experience “suggests that the current rules should be revised to more accurately reflect the ages at which adjustment to other work becomes increasingly difficult.” 70 Fed. Reg. 67103. This “adjudicative experience” is based on the agency’s millions of step five determinations. “It appears that there are many jobs that individuals, despite their age, are capable of performing and adjusting to, even though they have not done those jobs previously.” Id.

    One example to support this conclusion is provided: Individuals who can perform “light” work can generally do all tasks associated with sedentary work. The Grids “nevertheless require a finding of ‘disabled’ for individuals who are age 55 and over” and can still do a full range of light work, unless they have transferable skills or recent education leading to skilled work.

    A closer look at the example provided does not provide support for increasing the age categories.

    First, this example (and the rest of the NPRM preface) fails to recognize that the Grids are a set of rules that consider the vocational factors required by the statute. They are calibrated to benefit those individuals with the most adverse vocational factors:

    [The guidelines] consist of a matrix of the four factors identified by Congress – physical ability, age, education, and work experience – and set forth rules that identify whether jobs requiring specific combinations of these factors exist in significant numbers in the national economy.

    In a large body of well-developed case law, the courts have recognized that these four vocational factors must be evaluated together to develop a vocational profile that indicates whether or not an individual can make a successful vocational adjustment. The courts also recognize that there is a direct relationship between age and the likelihood for employment.

    Second, the example infers that the rules are too liberal in who will be found “disabled.” But who exactly are these individuals? Under the “Light Work” rules, the individuals who would be found “disabled” have the most adverse vocational factors.

    “Advanced Age” -- Age 55-59:
    Less than a high school education and unskilled past work
    Less than a high school education and no transferable skills from semi-skilled or skilled past work
    High school education which does not provide for direct entry into skilled work and unskilled past work
    High school education which does not provide for direct entry into skilled work and no transferable skills from semi-skilled or skilled past work

    For those under age 55, there is only one rule that leads to a finding of “disabled,” which is extremely limited – the individual must be age 50-54 and illiterate or unable to communicate in English with an unskilled or no past work history. All other claimants will be found “not disabled.”

    The “Sedentary Work” rules include a few more categories of individuals who will be found “disabled” since sedentary work “represents a significantly restricted range of work.” These rules extend the categories listed above for light work to individuals age 50-54. And the one category for persons who are illiterate or unable to communicate in English is extended to persons age 45-49. This list summarizes who will be found “disabled” under the sedentary work rules:

    Age 50-59:
    Less than a high school education and unskilled past work
    Less than a high school education and no transferable skills from semi-skilled or skilled past work
    High school education which does not provide for direct entry into skilled work and unskilled past work
    High school education which does not provide for direct entry into skilled work and no transferable skills from semi-skilled or skilled past work

    Age 45-49:
    Illiterate or unable to communicate in English with an unskilled or no past work history.

    These rules reflect some of the key factors discussed earlier in these comments: low education is an adverse vocational factor; lack of transferable skills is an adverse vocational factor; being limited to sedentary work is an adverse vocational factor. When these three factors are combined, the Grids recognize that the occupational base is so restricted that a finding of “disabled” is warranted.

    The NPRM preface states that “there are many jobs that individuals, despite their age, are capable of performing and adjusting to, even though they have not done those jobs previously.” As another reason for changing the age categories, the NPRM preface mentions that there was “no hard data” to support the original age categories in 1978. 70 Fed. Reg. 67103. Yet the NPRM preface provides no “hard data” or cogent explanation how individuals with these types of adverse vocational factors are better able to “adjust” to other work. In fact, SSA’s current regulations explaining the sedentary work rules suggest just the opposite:

    “Sedentary work” represents a significantly restricted range of work, and individuals with a maximum sustained work capability limited to sedentary work have very serious functional limitations.
    The adversity of functional restrictions to sedentary work at advanced age (55 and over) for individuals with no relevant past work or who can no longer perform vocationally relevant past work and have no transferable skills warrants a finding of disability.
    Advanced age and a history of unskilled work or no work experience would ordinarily offset any vocational advantages that might accrue by reason of any remote past education, whether it is more or less than limited education.
    In order to find transferability of skills to skilled sedentary work for individuals who are of advanced age (55 and over), there must be very little, if any, vocational adjustment required in terms of tools, work processes, work settings, or the industry.
    Individuals approaching advanced age (age 50-54) may be significantly limited in vocational adaptability if they are restricted to sedentary work.

    In 2003, SSA published proposed rules to clarify the education and previous work experience categories in the Grids. The changes were proposed:

    [T]o ensure that our regulations clearly reflect our longstanding policy that, if you have skilled or semiskilled work experience, but you cannot use your skills in other work (i.e., your skills are not transferable to other work), your ability to adjust to other work is no greater than it would be if you had only unskilled work experience.

    These proposed regulations also clarified SSA policy on the Grid rules that apply if the individual is illiterate or unable to communicate in English. We are concerned that these proposed changes have not yet been issued as final rules, since the current unclear regulatory language could lead to improper denials by SSA adjudicators. The proposed rules, if adopted, will lead to more consistent decision making and proper application of SSA policies for claimants with particularly adverse vocational characteristics.


    CONCLUSION

    Referring to the change in the U.S. economy since 1978, from one that is primarily a manufacturing based economy to one that is service based, SSA states in the NPRM preface: “We would be remiss in our stewardship responsibilities if we failed to acknowledge these important developments.” 70 Fed. Reg. 67103. Does SSA’s “stewardship” of the program also extend to restricting eligibility and thereby saving money? The budgetary impact for Title II, SSI, Medicare, and Medicaid is enormous, as there is a significant reduction in program outlays. See 70 Fed. Reg. 67107 for a detailed chart of the savings.

    Like the other bases for the rule change discussed above, the preface fails to discuss, let alone acknowledge, the interplay between the various vocational factors used in the Grids – age, education, work experience, and RFC – whose rules must, by statute, be weighed in favor of those with more adverse vocational characteristics.

    For the reasons discussed above, we urge that the proposed rule be withdrawn.


    Very truly yours,


    Nancy G. Shor
    Executive Director


    Ethel Zelenske
    Director of Government Affairs


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  • Jan 10, 2006

    Half of Bankruptcies and Mortgage Foreclosures Caused By Disability

    A company selling disability insurance has put out a press release showing the terrible financial problems caused by disability. Despite the existence of Social Security disability benefits, about half of all bankruptcies and mortgage foreclosures are caused by disability. There is no way of knowing how many of these tragedies could have been prevented if SSA were faster and less harsh in adjudicating disability claims. It is hard to imagine any easier way of reducing the level of misery in American society that by improving the Social Security disability process.
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  • NCSSMA Teleconference

    The National Council of Social Security Management Associations (NCSSMA), an organization of SSA managers, has posted the minutes of its December teleconference. The prospects for what Congress would do with Social Security's Limitation on Administrative Expenditures (LAE), the term of art for Social Security's administrative budget, was the most important focus for the teleconference. Anyone dealing with SSA has to also be concerned about the LAE.
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  • Social Security Death Index For Free

    Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter reports that free copies of Social Security's death index are available from Progeny Software.
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  • Jan 9, 2006

    A Sad and Disturbing Blog By A Social Security Disability Recipient

    The title of Penny Sue Scheff's blog, to the extent it has a title, is Penny Sue Scheff's Blog. I am not dead, I am on Social Security disability. In her blog, Ms. Scheff relates the details of her difficult day to day struggle with schizoaffective disorder. Ms. Scheff is terribly impaired by mental illness and may end up in a long term care facility eventually. The blog is a very disturbing read. It would be a good place to send someone who doubts the reality of "mental illness." I put quotes around the word "mental illness" since that is often done by those who think that psychiatric illness is simply a manifestation of a lack of willpower.
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  • Many Comments on Age NPRM

    Although the time has passed to comment on the proposal to add two years to the age categories of the grid regulations, Social Security continues to post comments on its website that were received before the deadline passed.

    Today, there is a comment opposed to the proposal from Congressmen Charles Rangel, Sander Levin and Jim McDermott. Rangel is the ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee in the House of Representatives. Levin is the ranking Democrat on the Social Security Subcommittee and McDermott is the ranking Democrat on the Subcommittee on Human Resources. No Republicans joined in their opposition to the proposal.

    The Coalition for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) has posted its comments opposing the proposal. The CCD is an umbrella group of many non-profit organizations dealing with disability issues.

    Somewhat surprisingly, the
    West Virginia Disability Determination Service has also written in to express opposition to the proposal. On the other hand, Florida DDS has written to support the proposal, although they recommend that "that SSA conduct an independent study to determine the number of unskilled jobs at each exertional level that realistically exist today since that is a critical underlying premise of the vocational rules." They do not explain why it would not be best to do such a study before making the change.

    Expressing opposition were:
    1. American Council of the Blind
    2. National Council of La Raza
    3. Epilpesy Foundation
    4. Paralyzed Veterans of America

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  • Jan 8, 2006

    Fraud Conviction in Massachusetts

    A New Bedford, MA man has been sentenced to three years probation for Social Security fraud, according to a press release from the US Attorney's office. James Stewart had started drawing Social Security disability benefits but continued to work for eleven years under a different Social Security number. Surprisingly, the fraud involved only $30,796.
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  • Jan 7, 2006

    SSA Leases Space Near BWI

    The Social Security Administration has leased 144,000 square feet of what is described as "office/warehouse space" on Magellan Drive in Hanover, MD near the Baltimore-Washington International Airport and the National Security Agency.
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  • Jan 6, 2006

    Cut Social Security For National Security?

    The TPM Cafe reports today that Tom Friedman is arguing in today's NY Times that the increasing amounts of money that must be spent for Social Security and Medicare for baby boomers will take money away from national defense and weaken America's national security. His proposed solution is to cut Medicare and Social Security for baby boomers. According to Friedman "Either Social Security and Medicare shrink or the Pentagon shrinks."
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  • Comments on Age Proposal

    Social Security is posting many of the comments received in the final days that the comment period was open on the proposal to increase the age categories of the grid regulations by two years. Here are some interesting or significant comments:
    1. AARP
    2. Otto Lukert
    3. ARC and UCP
    4. Protection and Advocacy, Inc.
    5. American Public Human Services Association
    6. AFL-CIO
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  • User Fee Stays at 6.3%

    To no one's surprise, SSA today announced that the user fee charged for withholding fees for attorneys and qualifying non-attorney representatives of Social Security claimants will stay at 6.3% in 2006. The user fee is now subject to a $75 cap.
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  • Jan 5, 2006

    Weird Fraud Story

    This is only marginally related to Social Security, but it is hard to resist posting a link to a newspaper article entitled Cross-Dressing IRS Agent Pleads Guilty to Fraud.
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  • Additional Meeting -- Salt Lake City

    The Tenth Circuit Social Security Claimants’ Representatives group will have a Continuining Legal education (CLE) seminar in Salt Lake City on February 11, 2006. For more information, contact Julie Byassee at jbyassee@troutmanlaw.com or by phone at (918) 587-0050. Registration is limited to 50, so sign up as soon as possible. I wonder if there would be opportunities for skiing in the area before or after the conference.
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  • All the Social Security Stats You Could Want

    Social Security has published its annual Statistical Supplement. This is an enormous compendium of Social Security statistical information.
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  • Jan 4, 2006

    Upcoming Meetings and CLE

    There are always continuining legal education (CLE) sessions on Social Security and meetings of various groups of SSA and DDS employees. These are the upcoming CLEs and meetings that I am aware of:
    If you know of others, please e-mail me: charles@charleshallfirm.com
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  • Eric Schnaufer Back at Work

    After suffering severe injuries in a fall and being in intensive care for a time, Eric Schnaufer is back at work, updating his schnaufer.com website with the new Social Security appellate decisions from the last month or so, including the typically elegant writing of Judge Posner in Gentle v. Barnhart from the 7th Circuit.
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  • Interesting Comment on Age NPRM

    Alan Polonsky, an attorney in private practice, made an interesting comment on Social Security's Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that would increase the age categories in the grid regulations by two years. Polonsky writes:
    The stated premise of the proposed rule is that advances in health care have increased life expectancy. You state that the change from 1978, when the guidelines were published, to today is just under 4 years increase from 73.5 to 77. You then make the assumption that this means that at all ages, individuals are 3.5 years healthier than they were in 1978. The two do not follow.

    With particular regards to the less educated, the research shows quite the opposite. On November 6, 2005, the New York Times published a synopsis of research from a paper presented by Peter Muennig at the Fall 2005 Symposium of the Campaign for Social Equity of Teacher’s College, Columbia University. The paper is available for review at http://devweb.tc.columbia.edu/manager/symposium/Files/81_Muennig_paper.ed.pdf

    Among the specific findings were that the life expectancy of a high school dropout is nine years less than that of a high school graduate and that the health of a typical high school graduate is similar to that of more educated persons twenty years older.

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  • Jan 3, 2006

    Media Attention to Grid Regs Proposal

    The Philadelphia Inquirer is the first traditional media outlet to have any reporting on Social Security's proposal to increase the age categories in the grid regulations by two years, a proposal that will cut disability benefits by almost $6 billion over ten years. The piece by Mark Alan Hughes criticizes the proposal on the grounds that it will have a disproportionate effect upon African Americans. Perhaps a more accurate criticism is that the proposal affects blue collar America almost exclusively and African Americans are a disproportionate part of blue collar America.
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  • One Day Left to Comment on Age Proposal

    There is only one day left to comment on Social Security's Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on the age classifications in the grid regulations. The proposal would add two years onto each of the age categories, making age 57 the new 55 and 52 the new 50. The change is predicted to cut Social Security disability benefits by almost $6 billion over ten years. Anyone wanting to comment on the NPRM may do so online at an SSA website. The deadline is January 3.
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  • Jan 2, 2006

    Friedman Warns That Social Security Isn't Secure

    Saul Friedman warns in Newsday that the attacks on Social Security have not ended. In 2006 he expects the President and his allies will continue their efforts to privatize Social Security.
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  • Jan 1, 2006

    Happy New Year!


    Happy New Year!
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  • Bush's Social Security Gamble

    The Washington Post reviews a new book by Nancy J. Altman, entitled The Battle for Social Security: From FDR's Vision to Bush's Gamble. According to Altman, Republican attacks on Social security have a long and completely unsuccessful history. Eisenhower was one who was having nothing to do with such attacks:
    He wrote to his brother Edgar in November 1954, ridiculing oil tycoon H.L. Hunt of Texas and like-minded millionaires who refused to accept Social Security. "Their number is negligible," Ike wrote his brother, "and they are stupid."
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