Mar 31, 2007
Iowa County Proposes Aid To Those Waiting And Waiting For Action On Their Social Security Disability Claims
A proposed addition to Johnson County's general-assistance program, which helps county residents experiencing financial crises, would assist those waiting to receive state Social Security disability benefits.
Under the proposed interim assistance program, as presented to the Johnson County Board of Supervisors last week, the county would help support citizens applying for benefits, providing monthly payments to those waiting for state approval. ...
Currently, individuals waiting on benefits do not receive money until their applications are approved. State reimbursement would go to the county rather than the individual under the new plan. The proposed program would provide immediate financial relief to those waiting for Social Security disability benefits.
Mar 30, 2007
Social Security Budget Situation
These budget resolution figure, to the extent that I can understand it, is only a general guideline. The Appropriations Committees of the two houses of Congress must report out specific funding bills and those must be passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the President. Other agencies are jockeying with Social Security for appropriations, within the general guidelines set forth by the budget resolutions. In other words, Social Security's actual appropriaton for FY 2008 could go up or down from the figures suggested by the House budget resolution, but will probably be in the same ball park.Social Security's Fiscal Year (FY) Actual Budget 2007 -- (October 1, 2006 to September 30, 2007) $9.3 billion
Social Security's FY 2008 (October 1, 2007 to September 30, 2008) Budget Request -- $10.44 billion -- a 13% increase over FY 2007
President's FY 2008 Budget --$9.6 billion -- a 4% increase -- little more than inflation
House of Representatives FY 2008 Budget Resolution Budget For Social Security--$10.11 billion -- a 9% increase over the FY 2007
Senate FY 2008 Budget Resolution Budget For Social Security -- I am still trying to figure this one out. I think it is similar to the House Budget Resolution, but a bit lower. I would appreciate it if someone who understands the process better can supply me with the Senate number.
This certainly suggests that Social Security's FY 2008 budget will be much better than its FY 2007 budget, but that does not mean that all of Social Security's budget problems will disappear. Even the budget put forward by Social Security is likely to be well below what the agency needs to work down its backlogs quickly. Any agency must avoid offending the White House's Office of Management and Budget and Congress with budget requests which seem extravagant. Social Security's budget request for FY 2008 was prepared under the direction of Jo Anne Barnhart. She was never willing to pursue her agency's budget needs aggressively, so there is good reason to believe that, if anything, the budget she produced suffers from an excess of modesty, and Social Security is not going to get all of that.
What we can hope for at the moment is enough funds to stabilize Social Security's field offices, teleservice centers and payment centers, which are in a state of impending collapse, and to make some modest improvements at the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR), which suffered a collapse in 2001 from which it has never recovered. Full recovery at ODAR (which should include a name change back to the Office of Hearings and Appeals -- everybody involved HATES the name ODAR) is likely to take many years.
Baltimore Sun On Jo Anne Barnhart, Michael Astrue and Martin Gerry
The Baltimore Sun has finally noticed Social Security. In the context of an article discussing "burrowing," political appointees seeking civil service positions before an expected change in government, the Sun finally mentions Social Security. The article does not mention any burrowing going on at Social Security, although that may be happening. Indeed, the mention of Social Security appears to be tacked onto an unrelated article. Still, the article does mention Michael Astrue, Jo Anne Barnhart and Martin Gerry. Here is an excerpt, which to my reading makes it clear that Martin Gerry was fired:
A longtime political appointee who oversaw the first wave of reforms to the nation's disability system is no longer employed by the Woodlawn-based Social Security Administration, agency spokesman Mark Lassiter said this week.
Lassiter declined to say whether Martin Gerry, who also served under Presidents Nixon, Ford and George H.W. Bush, resigned or was fired from his post. A spokesman for the agency's inspector general also declined to comment. A call to what is believed to be Gerry's Ellicott City home was not returned.
Gerry's departure, however, comes as new Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue contemplates the agency's current strategy for streamlining the disability process - reforms that were a legacy of former Commissioner Jo Anne B. Barnhart. ...
Although Astrue has told Congress that he stands firmly behind Barnhart's goal of reducing the red tape and heaps of appeals from denied applicants, he has not committed to Barnhart's solution, which began in the New England region last year.
Awful Crime Alleged In Massachusetts
Parents accused of killing their 4-year-old daughter with an overdose of prescription drugs had concocted symptoms of mental illnesses to qualify the girl for government benefits, a prosecutor said Tuesday. Michael and Carolyn Riley pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder charges Tuesday and were ordered to remain in custody without bail.
The Rileys' applications for Supplemental Security Income for their daughter, Rebecca, were twice rejected after government doctors examined her and found no evidence to back the parents' claims of bipolar disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, Assistant District Attorney Frank Middleton said. ...
Rebecca's older siblings, now ages 11 and 6, already had gone to the psychiatrist, Dr. Kayoko Kifuji, and were diagnosed with the same disorders and were receiving Supplemental Security Income, the program administered by the Social Security Administration for disabled children.
Middleton said Carolyn Riley told Kifuji that Rebecca had "mood swings" and was "driving me crazy." Kifuji diagnosed her with bipolar disorder at age 3.
Carolyn Riley "continued to feed Dr. Kifuji fabricated symptoms," Middleton said. He said Rebecca's teachers, a school nurse, mental health therapist and neighbors and adults who lived with the Rileys all told a grand jury that "Rebecca showed none of these behaviors."
Mar 29, 2007
Social Security Attorney Fees And Bankruptcy
The Social Security Administration does not have the authority to demand the return of fees it paid to an attorney who represented a disability claimant whose debts were discharged in bankruptcy, a federal appeals court has ruled.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the payment of $1,200 to the firm of Binder & Binder could not be undone by the agency even though the debtor disputed the firm's bill in her bankruptcy petition.
The ruling in Binder & Binder v. Barnhart, 05-6794-cv, was issued by Judges Roger Miner, Joseph McLaughlin and Robert Katzmann, with Judge Miner writing for the court.
Mar 28, 2007
Letter From Witold Skwierczynski To House Budget Committee Chairman
Senior ALJs Sought
From: Cristaudo, Frank
Sent: Tuesday, March 27, 2007 5:15 AM
To: #ODAR All RCALJs
Cc: Griswold, Nancy J.; #ODAR All RO Mgmt Team; #ODAR All HOCALJs; #ODAR All HODs; #ODAR HQ OCJ Exec Staff
Subject: Senior ALJs and Re-employed Annuitant ALJs
We need to know as quickly as possible the names of retired ALJs who would be interested in appointment as Senior ALJs or Re-employed Annuitant ALJs. We are being advised that a significant number of retired ALJs are interested in appointment as either a Senior ALJ or as a Re-employed Annuitant ALJ. Because of the urgency of this matter, I am copying the HO Chief Judges and HO Directors and asking them to let us know if they are familiar with any retired ALJs interested in re-appointment and to provide this information directly to the Chief Judge's Office with a copy to the ORCJ. The information should be sent to Vicki Norton who will have this information compiled for us. If you have any questions, please let me know. Thanks.
Frank A. Cristaudo
Social Security Starting To Hire
Decline In Social Security Workforce Continues
Digital Imaging Contract Attracts Attention
There will be good money to be made from such a contract, even though the task is quite hopeless. Vendors for projects such as this get paid whether the software they try to develop works or not. As I have said before, this is like something out of Dilbert.
Mar 27, 2007
No Politicking At SSA
... The Merit Systems Protection Board, for instance, overturned a lower court ruling favorable to two former Social Security Administration employees, who forwarded e-mails revealing their allegiances while at work in the agency's Kansas City, Mo., field office.
The first e-mail, from Leslye Sims was titled "FW: Fwd: Fw: Why I am Supporting John Kerry for President" Sims began her e-mail with "Some things to ponder ..." and then copied and pasted a pro-Kerry letter from John Eisenhower, son of former President Dwight D. Eisenhower. ...
Sims e-mailed the letter to 22 people, including colleague Michael Davis, who responded to 27 people with an e-mail tagged, "FW: Your Vote." The message contained a graphic of a button with a flag background and President George W. Bush's face in the center. Above his head were the words "I vote" and below "the Bible." The message questioned Kerry's morals and leadership skills.
...The addressees on both e-mails were not identical and included people not working for the federal government, but Smith said they clearly were improper.
Ana Galindo-Marrone, chief of the Hatch Act unit at the Office of Special Counsel, explained the rules this way.
"E-mails on duty or while in a federal building directed at the success or failure of a candidate, party or political organization are prohibited," she said. "Employees opining on the Iraq war or abortion, even though they may be issues in a hot race, are permitted -- unless they're specifically tied back to a candidate or party."
Mar 26, 2007
ALJ Joe R. Hooper Dies
SSA Responds To Media Attention?
One thing not mentioned in the article, but which has been a topic of conversation among local Social Security attorneys, is that both the Charlotte and Greensboro, NC hearing offices have recently shipped out a large number of cases to be heard by ALJs from other offices. Those claimants will receive video hearings. Perhaps not coincidentally, a television station that serves an area covered by both the Charlotte and Greensboro hearing offices is preparing a story on Social Security backlogs. The only other hearing office in North Carolina, Raleigh, has nearly as big a backlog as Charlotte and Greensboro and the Raleigh backlog is growing much more rapidly than the backlogs in Charlotte and Greensboro, but no cases have yet been transferred out of the Raleigh hearing office.
Proposed New Regulation
We propose to revise our regulations to codify two provisions of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 that affect the payment of benefits under title XVI of the Social Security Act (the Act). One of the provisions extended temporary institutionalization benefits to children receiving SSI benefits who enter private medical treatment facilities and who otherwise would be ineligible for temporary institutionalization benefits because of private insurance coverage. The other provision replaced obsolete terminology in the Act that referred to particular kinds of medical facilities and substituted a broader, more descriptive term.
Results Of Last Week's Unscientific Poll
|Almost certain (2)||2%|
|More likely than not (4)||4%|
|Some chance (21)||19%|
|Little chance (39)||36%|
|No chance (42)||39%|
Total Votes: 108
Mar 25, 2007
Odd And Surprising Decision From the Sixth Circuit
Cook appealed to the SSA’s Appeals Council, which issued a notice of denial of review dated July 27, 2005. This notice was sent to Cook by regular mail in an envelope bearing a postmark of July 28, 2005 ... On Monday, October 3, 2005, Cook filed a complaint in federal district court, appealing the Appeals Council’s denial of review. ...
Under the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure, Cook had 60 days from the Appeals Council’s notice of denial in which to file his appeal. Fed. R. App. P. 4(a)(1)(B) (“When the United States or its officer or agency is a party, the notice of appeal may be filed by any party within 60 days after the judgment or order appealed from is entered.”). But he also had a five-day “grace period” before the 60 days began to run, which reflects the SSA’s rebuttable presumption that he received his notice of denial within five days of the date of the notice. 20 C.F.R. § 422.210(c). Rule 26(a)(3) of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure provides that when the final day of an appeals period falls on a Saturday or a Sunday, then those days are excluded in computing the time period. Fed. R. App. P. 26(a)(3). If the appeals period ended on a weekend day, the appellant accordingly would have until the following Monday in which to timely file. ...
But Cook urges us to calculate the five-day period from the date of mailing, represented by the postmark date, rather than from the date on the notice itself. Unlike the facts in McKentry, however, Cook does not deny that he received the Appeals Council’s notice. He instead argues that the district court miscalculated the applicable review period because the notice was not actually postmarked until July 28, 2005, even though the first page of the notice bears a date of July 27, 2005. ...
Contrary to Cook’s argument, this court has consistently calculated the filing period from the date on the notice itself. See, e.g., McKentry, 655 F.2d at 724; Harris, No. 01-3522, 25 F. App’x at 273-74. This is in keeping with the applicable regulations. Cook has presented no persuasive argument for deviating from this interpretation. His complaint filed on Monday, October 3, 2005, was thus one day late.
Mar 24, 2007
A Ray Of Budget Light
A Message To All Social Security And DDS Employees
Subject: Budget News
As I told you last month, Congress approved and the President signed legislation allocating an additional $200 million for Social Security. That number brought us about half of the way back to the President's recommended budget level for this fiscal year.
This week I had the pleasure of releasing additional resources to different parts of the agency so that we can prepare to do some hiring that will deal with staffing imbalances and loosen restrictions on overtime. As you know, these limits have made it difficult to live up to our own standards. Please join me in congratulating Dale Sopper, Bob Wilson and their staffs for their fine work in making our case to Congress. It is a real credit to SSA that we received such strong support from our Congressional committees of jurisdiction, the Appropriations committees and from outside organizations concerned about the impact of five years of budget reductions on our ability to deliver service.
While I was responsive to most of the requests from senior managers, we are still faced with an overall budget environment that limits our ability to increase the size of our staff and sustain it into the next year. Fortunately, at this stage of the Congressional budget process, the budget levels targeted by the House and Senate for fiscal year 2008 would not require us to consider furloughs or other drastic measures in the coming year. This is incredibly good news but I must caution that Congress is faced with scores of competing priorities, so it is important that we remain vigilant until there is a final vote later this year.
Senior managers will be providing you soon with additional information about what this week's budget decisions will mean for your specific organization.
Michael J. Astrue
United Spinal Association Calls For More SSA Funding
The delays facing applicants for disability benefits at the Social Security Administration are unconscionable and lawmakers could remedy the situation by voting for the full amount the agency has requested in the FY 2008 budget, according to Paul J. Tobin, President and CEO of United Spinal Association.
n an urgent call for action, United Spinal recently received over 1,000 responses from concerned citizens across the nation eager to help alert Congress to the gravity of the situation. “We are asking lawmakers to ensure that the FY 2008 budget includes the full $10.44 billion that the Social Security Commissioner requested for staffing and administrative expenses––not the lesser amount in the Proposed Budget for FY 2008,” Tobin said.
“Unless the Proposed 2008 Budget is increased, Social Security will lose nearly 7,000 full time positions at a time when there were over 700,000 applications for disability benefits pending in Social Security offices last year.” ...
Mar 23, 2007
SSA Employment Dropping
- December 2004 65,286
- December 2005 65,777
- March 2006 64,297
- June 2006 64,814
- September 2006 63,647
- December 2006 63,410
Mar 22, 2007
Senators Press For Adequate Funding For Social Security
While this sounds good, last November more than 50 Senators joined in a similar letter. Apparently, several Senators were willing to sign a letter last fall are unwilling today.
Mar 21, 2007
Hearing Backlog Ideas That Can Be Implemented Quickly -- Installment IV
I have more clients suffering from bipolar disorder than anything else. It may be 10% of my caseload. The next biggest category is chronic pain syndrome. If the claimant is going to a pain clinic and being told to take methadone or some other powerful narcotic several times a day, they might just be in severe pain. However virtually all such claims are being denied at the initial and reconsideration levels, while the vast majority are approved by ALJs. Social Security probably ought to look at its policies on mental retardation, congestive heart failure, obesity and peripheral neuropathy as well.
You could probably eliminate 10-20% of appeals to ALJs in this manner and the vast majority of these claims would have been approved by ALJs anyway. This would probably take at least a year to implement.
Maybe Dilbert's Employer Will Try To Get This Contract
Let me make it clear that I regard this request as a complete fantasy that reveals the naivete of whoever came up with this idea and whoever approved this request for information. What is requested is far beyond the capacity of any computer program -- but some contractor will certainly be willing to promise to produce a program that does this, for $100 million or so, but definitely without a money back guarantee. Go ahead with this nonsense and you will be wasting lots of money.
The Social Security Administration (SSA), Office of Systems (OS) and Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) are seeking to identify qualified sources interested in providing and implementing a Commercial-Off-The-Shelf (COTS) Image Knowledge Base software product or a service that provides and/or utilizes the functionality of an Image Knowledge Base software product. The software or service may consist of multiple components, if necessary to meet the SSA's requirements. ...
ODAR employees in hearing offices classify documents into various categories and extract pertinent information from those documents. The employee must look at a document's identifying features, determine the type and title of the document and then enter the information into the electronic folder. Afterwards, the employee organizes the documents chronologically and removes duplicates. ...
The SSA invites all qualified sources to respond to this sources sought announcement.ALL REQUIREMENTS ARE MANDATORY.
- At a minimum, possess the capability to process a national workload from 145 hearing offices and remote sites nationwide that process approximately 550,000 cases per year that consist of, on an average, 300 document images per case. Possess the capability to process these images within an acceptable period of time and with an acceptable level of accuracy. ...
- Possess the capability to use the knowledge base of information to classify the document images into categories and subcategories according to the established SSA Electronic Folder (EF) rules for classification.
- Possess the capability to separate document images from one another to avoid multiple document images from being inappropriately scanned, stored, and treated as a single document image. The document images may be any combination of multiple known forms and/or multiple free format text documents. This needs to include the ability to address those document images that already exist within SSA's unstructured data repository where there is already some document separation and classification information.
- Possess the capability to extract structured data from the document images such as Social Security Number (SSN), treatment dates, treatment source names, etc., and place the data in the appropriate fields specified by SSA for the Electronic Folder using SSA's application program interfaces (APIs)....
- Possess the capability to automatically organize the document images (after classifying them), chronologically by treatment date or other parameters established by SSA for the EF.
- Possess the capability to support SSA's viewing function (of the document images) by accessing the stored metadata in the EF, using SSA's API's, to organize the document images based on parameters established by SSA.
- Possess the capability to identify and flag duplicate document images.
- Possess the capability to identify and flag document images with poor quality.
- Possess the capability to identify and flag images with low probability of being classified correctly with the ability to configure and dynamically adjust the probability ratio.
Mar 20, 2007
NTEU On The Future At SSA
March 19, 2007
The Importance of Addressing the Backlog
Members of the Subcommittee on Social Security of the House Committee on Ways and Means have made in clear that addressing the backlog at ODAR hearing offices should be of the highest priority. This is a significant change, and one that bodes well for us. SSA is under considerable pressure to deal with the backlog, and there is little doubt that Commissioner Astrue understands the situation and is committed to effectively dealing with it. However, it is equally clear that presently hearing offices cannot effectively deal with the backlog. Congressman Michael R. McNulty, Chairman of the Social Security Subcommittee, and Congressman Sam Johnson, the ranking member of that Subcommittee, sent a letter dated March 15, 2007 to Congressmen John Spratt and Paul Ryan, the Chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the House Committee on the Budget seeking to significantly increase the appropriations to SSA. Prominently cited in that letter was the size and impact of the Hearings level backlog.
Commissioner Astrue: We have a solution to the backlog crisis that could be implemented immediately; that is cost effective; and that has a history of success – an enhanced version the original Senior Attorney Program. We can provide the Agency with an additional 100,000 legally defensible decisions a year without adversely impacting ALJ productivity or the payment rate.
Commissioner Astrue has stated that he will review DSI in detail prior to deciding which DSI programs will be retained, which will be terminated, and which will be altered. Currently, there are a number of rumors floating around that indicate that the FedRO program will be terminated. While we emphasize that we have no definitive “inside knowledge” regarding the veracity of these rumors, we believe that they may well be true. The implementation of the FedRO program has been a disappointment to many, including NTEU Chapter 224, and it may well be following the path of the Disability Redesign and HPI. In any event DSI was never intended to offer immediate relief to the Hearings level backlog.
As you will recall, we have been a supporter of the FedRO concept - as it was originally formulated in 2003. We have vigorously cautioned against significant changes from the original concept of an independent decision maker located in the field. We have been very disappointed that our warnings were ignored. Simply stated, the FedRO program that was implemented is not the FedRO program we supported. We believe that the FedRO program as presently constituted is seriously flawed, and consequently, we are not surprised by its relative lack of success despite the talent and dedication of the current FedROs. The bureaucratic reengineering of the FedRO concept may simply have been too much to overcome.
As the FedRO program rolled out, it became clear that the original concept, an independent decision maker empowered to review appeals of state agency determinations and render legally defensible decisions, had not been realized, and that the FedRO had been turned into a “federal reconsideration”. Bureaucratic red tape has all but precluded efficiency and substantially increased the cost of the program. In these times of tight budgets funding a new, expensive, and not terribly productive program may be unsustainable. On the other hand, shifting the priorities of the disability program from DSI to eliminating the hearing office backlog certainly should benefit Attorney Advisers currently in the hearing offices.
In addition to cost, we fear that operational errors have significantly limited the effectiveness of the FedRO program. The FedROs were not located locally; rather they were placed in Falls Church, depriving the program of many, many highly qualified individuals, the Agency’s attorneys in the field. The decisional independence of FedROs has been seriously eroded by the influence of the “medical units”, the “quality assurance process” and even the FedRO management structure. Additionally, FedROs have been discouraged from producing high quality, legally defensible decisions and are burdened with an inadequate decision drafting format.
We again emphasize that we have no definitive knowledge regarding the fate of the FedRO program. Commissioner Astrue could decide to continue it, alter it to enhance its viability, or terminate it. Nonetheless, we believe it is a possibility that it will be terminated. What is the impact of the potential demise of the FedRO program on Attorney Advisers in hearing offices? Obviously, the demise of this program would be a blow to those who hoped to become FedROs in the future. However, whether or not the FedRO program continues, the crisis at the hearing level must be addressed.
Can SSA afford to continue to ignore us? Will SSA continue to ignore its own history or will it finally recognize that the Senior Attorney Program was instrumental in eliminating the backlog of the 1990’s? Will SSA again recognize that we are the solution? We are doing our utmost to make SSA and Congress understand what is in their best interest and the best interest of the claimants and the public at large. Hopefully, SSA will finally listen and implement our improved version of the Senior Attorney Program.
- Jim Hill
OPM Item On ALJs in FR
Hearing Backlog Ideas That Can Be Implemented Quickly -- Installment III
Because of the common tendency towards procrastination, going back to a six month time limit would temporarily reduce the number of reconsideration requests and requests for hearings, since it would increase the average length of time between a denial and an appeal. A good guess is that this would increase this average length of time by one to two months at each level, which would produce a temporary but dramatic reduction in the number of reconsideration requests and requests for hearings. This would be a nice breather for Social Security.
This change might also result in less churning. Many claimants are denied at the initial level, become discouraged or make an unsuccessful attempt to return to work, miss the 60 day cutoff to file an appeal and have to start all over again. It would be better for them and would mean fewer new claims for Social Security if they could just file an appeal.
However, this regulatory change does encourage procrastination and that is not a good thing. I would not suggest it if there were not such a backlog.
This change could be done in three to six months, assuming there is no unusual holdup at the Office of Management and Budget, which has to approve changes in regulations -- and this one takes a change in regulations.
Proposed Regulation Change
We propose to revise the threshold billing amount that triggers annual onsite reviews of medical providers who conduct consultative examinations (CEs) for our disability programs under titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (the Act). The proposed revision would raise the threshold amount to reflect the increase in billing amounts since we first established the threshold amount in 1991. This proposed revision is intended to restore the level of oversight originally required by our rules.
A Dead Man's Social Security Number
Steven Litz, no age listed, Rapid City, faces federal charges of false representation of Social Security number and false statement in application for disability benefits after an investigation by the Social Security Administration.
According to federal court documents, Litz is accused of using a Social Security number that was not his to apply for disability benefits on May 18, 2005, in Rapid City. Litz allegedly claimed his name was Ronald Vincent Amen. Litz applied for more than $1,000 worth of benefits, documents show.
Mar 19, 2007
More Personnel Changes
The following Senior Executive Service assignments are effective immediately:
In the Office of the Commissioner, Office of Executive Operations, David A. Rust will be appointed as the Executive Secretary. David previously served as the Agency’s Associate Commissioner for Disability and has been with the Department of Agriculture since he left SSA in 1989.
In the Office of Policy, Andrew Biggs will be appointed as the Deputy Commissioner for Policy. In addition to his new assignment and to ensure continuity within the organization, Dr. Biggs will continue in his former capacity as the Acting Associate Commissioner for Retirement Policy until I name a replacement. Larry Love will resume his full-time responsibilities as Counselor to the Commissioner.
Manny Vaz, Regional Commissioner in Boston, will replace Martin Gerry as Deputy Commissioner for Disability and Income Security Programs on an Acting basis for the next several months. During this interim period, Susan Harding will serve as the Acting Regional Commissioner in Boston.
Jim Winn, Associate General Counsel for Program Law, who most recently has been serving as the Acting Executive Director for the Disability Review Board, will return to his position in the Office of the General Counsel.
DSI Prospects Poll
More Job Openings In Woodlawn
What I would wonder about if I worked in Woodlawn is whether Larry Dye's new role as Social Security's Liaison to the White House is to pack Social Security with Bush loyalists. If so, there may be little job security at the upper reaches of Social Security.
Results Of Last Week's Unscientific Poll
Mar 18, 2007
FOIA Amendments Pending
The bill that has made the most progress is H.R. 1309, which has been reported out of Committee in the House of Representatives. Here is a link to the Committee report.
Mar 17, 2007
NAMI And ARC And Disability Policy Collaboration On Social Security Budget
People with mental illness who apply for Social Security disability benefits (SSDI) or for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits are currently waiting longer and longer for decisions on eligibility. This is especially the case for claimants that are forced to file appeals to overturn a denial of benefits to which they are entitled.
As revealed in Congressional hearings and news articles, some people have lost their homes and families while they wait for decisions. Others use up all their resources and cannot afford critical medications and treatments, resulting in increased disability and even death. In some places, the wait is almost 900 days, or almost two and one-half more years!
Insufficient funding has also resulted in other reduced services, including delays in processing earnings reports and the inability to respond to reports of lost checks or answer questions from beneficiaries or the public.
The problem has reached crisis proportions and will continue to get worse for people with disabilities. The President’s budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2008 indicates that average waiting times will continue to grow, even if the Social Security Administration (SSA) is funded at the level of his request ($9.6 billion).
The solution is simple: the SSA must be given enough funding to get disability decisions made in a timely manner. As required by law, the Commissioner of Social Security submitted a budget request separate from the President’s request. This request indicates that the agency needs $10.44 billion in administrative funding for FY 2008 for its administrative expenses, known as SSA’s Limitation on Administrative Expenses (LAE). This is almost $1 billion more than the President requested.
Action on the FY 2008 budget has already begun. If SSA is going to receive the funds it needs to reduce the backlogs of disability decisions and improve other services, it is imperative that the House and Senate Budget Committees include enough funding for SSA in the FY 2008 Budget Resolution. The House and Senate Budget Committees will mark up their Budget Resolutions in early to mid March.
Contact your representatives in the House and Senate and urge them to contact the leadership of the House and Senate Budget Committees to encourage them to authorize additional resources for the Social Security Administration (SSA) under the Limitation on Administrative Expenses (LAE). This funding is vital to reducing the backlog of Social Security claims and speeding up response time.
It is important that every Member of Congress urge the Chairman of their respective Budget Committee to include sufficient funding in the Budget Resolution to appropriate funds for SSA’s Limitation on Administrative Expenses at the level requested by the Commissioner of SSA: $10.44 billion for FY 2008.
Mar 16, 2007
At Least Part Of DSI About To Be Terminated?
This would be an essential part of former Commissioner Barnhart's Disability Service Improvement (DSI) plan. DSI had been criticized on the grounds that removing Appeals Council review would swamp the District Courts with Social Security civil actions. To respond to this criticism, Barnhart came up with the idea of the "profiling/screening tool" that would allow cases that would be appealed and reversed to be identified and dealt with by the Decision Review Board.
Social Security posted this late yesterday:
Request for Proposal SSA-RFP-07-1011 is hereby cancelled in its entirety.One possibility is that Social Security has decided that it can produce the necessary software in-house. Another possibility is that Social Security thinks it can somehow get by without the "profiling/screening tool" or wants to delay its procurement. The more likely possibility is that the DSI plan to terminate the Appeals Council is being abandoned which means that all of DSI is in serious trouble.
Basis: The agency no longer requires the solicited services.
Hearing Backlog Ideas That Can Be Implemented Quickly -- Installment II
Senior attorney decisions could be implemented more quickly since those personnel are already in place. Once case files reach ODAR, which is the office where ALJs work, they are routinely reviewed to see if the case can be approved without the need for a hearing. These are called on the record reversals, or ORRs or OTRs. Usually, it is a staff person rather than an ALJ, who does the ORR initial review at ODAR. Once a staff person identifies a case that he or she thinks is a good candidate for ORR, he or she must get an ALJ to sign off on the ORR. Most of the time the ALJ does agree with the ORR, but there are some ALJs who seem to believe that virtually no case is appropriate for ORR and some other ALJs seem unwilling to take the time to review these case files, which may not be as unreasonable as it might sound when you consider ALJ workloads. In the senior attorney program, which was also employed during the Clinton Administration, Social Security's senior attorneys reviewed case files for potential ORRs, much the same as now, but instead of taking potential ORRs to an ALJ for action, the senior attorney was able to take action on his or her own to approve the claim. Like re-recon this can be criticized as paying down the backlog, but the vast majority of the time these claims would be approved by ALJs later anyway. ALJs do not like senior attorney decisions because they feel it reduces their status. Under the circumstances neither objection seems important. My estimate is that re-starting the senior attorney program would reduce the number of cases requiring ALJ hearings by 5-10%. Again, Social Security should have numbers showing what the results were the last time this was done.
The problem with restarting the senior attorney program is that the regulations which allowed senior attorney decisions have lapsed, meaning that an official re-start of the program would require new regulations which would require the approval of the Office of Management and Budget, which could take months, but the re-recon regulations are still on the books. There is nothing in those regulations that prevents the re-recon regulations from being used as authority for senior attorney decisions. Using this authority the senior attorney program could be restarted in less than three months, although, again, the complaints about it would continue for years.
Mar 15, 2007
Hearing Backlog Ideas That Can Be Implemented Quickly -- Installment I
When case files come into ODAR, they are a mess. There are duplicate copies of medical records. Medical records may have been requested from a single provider on several occasions, meaning that the records from that provider are spread out at several places in the file. Even when all of the records from a single provider are in one place, they may not be in chronological order. Even if they are in chronological order, the order will go forward in one set of records and backwards in another. The files are jumbles. A staff member "pulls" out the relevant medical evidence and places it in some order. The exhibits are marked with numbers. This is extremely helpful for all involved and should never be abandoned permanently. However, staff shortages have made pulling exhibits a bottleneck. Many ALJs would like to hold more hearings but cannot because files have not been "pulled."
Some hearing offices have abandoned "pulling" exhibits as a general matter. The exhibits are "pulled" only if a claim is to be denied. This is inconvenient for all concerned and can lead to confusion and misunderstandings, but there is no doubt that it improves productivity. Social Security seems to have no fixed policy on this. My opinion is that instructing ALJs to hold hearings routinely on unpulled files would improve ODAR productivity by at least 10%. This is a temporary expedient that should be abandoned quickly after the crisis is over. This could probably be implemented in less than three months, although the complaints about it would continue for years after it was over.
Buffalo News Editorial On Backlogs
If you have been disabled and are applying for Social Security Disability benefits, don’t count on a quick resolution of your claim. In the Buffalo and Rochester regions, once a claimant has been denied on an initial application, it may take as long as 22 to 26 months before a SSD or SSI hearing is held. ...
Congress needs to wake up to the fact that the SSD processing delays can have devastating effects upon claimants who, like our clients, dutifully paid into the Social Security system for years and are now desperately in need of benefits. People’s lives are at stake.
It’s time for our elected officials to act. It’s time to remove the hiring freeze. It’s time to gear up the review offices and speed up the hearing process. It’s time to ensure that our citizens are justly protected by the SSD safety net. For justice delayed is justice denied.
Mar 14, 2007
SSA Now Has White House Liaison
Why does Social Security need a White House Liaison?
NCSSMA On Staffing
As you may know, we are in the process of tabulating the results from the 2007 NCSSMA Survey of Management. The resounding theme I am seeing is that staffing on the front lines is the number one issue of field and TSC management staff across the country. Over the past year, feedback has evolved from subtle messages about staffing and service concerns to strong demands from members that NCSSMA must try to do something to address the deterioration of service in the field and TSC's.
We are most concerned about the significant resource losses in field offices since the beginning of Fiscal Year 2006. FO’s have lost over 1,700 CR and SR positions and in this fiscal year alone, there has been a loss of about 700 in these two positions. The Field has 1,270 fewer positions now compared to the beginning of FY 2005, which was before we did special hiring for Part D Medicare. Losses in these critical positions are significantly more than the average losses for the entire Agency. The Field and TSC’s [Teleservice Centers] have lost had nearly two-thirds of the FTE [Full Time Equivalent] losses in the Agency since the beginning of the Fiscal Year while they only represent about 52% of the Agency’s staffing. (Note Area Offices are included in this percent.) Offices across the country are finding it very difficult to provide a full level of service.
We can clearly see this from the survey results and overwhelming feedback coming in from the Survey of Management. The results of this survey will be published soon. Here are three examples of comments that are typical of the feedback we received:
■ “We have lost 20% of our staff over the last several months with little hope of replacing them. A once happy, productive and successful office now has morale sinking to an all time low. Management staff is doing all the clerical work and is taking over more and more production workloads just to keep things moving and try to keep staff morale from hitting rock bottom. Bright, hardworking employees are finding work elsewhere.
As a manager, I find it very frustrating. I can’t hire. I can’t reduce workloads. I can’t even adequately reward staff members for their hard work.
We have management staff trying to answer the general phone lines all day long, which is impossible with all the clerical and production tasks we are trying to cover in addition to management duties.”
■ “It is discouraging to keep being asked to do more with less and embarrassing to see the service you provide erode before your very eyes. Although we manage to keep our head above water, the constant interviewing and long lines of people waiting to be seen is also impacting our staff. Even my most energetic staff members seem to be demoralized and anxious wanting to take care of their workloads and dealing with irate visitors who want to know what’s taking so long to clear their cases.”
■ “We have not been able to replace our losses, resulting in very poor telephone service answering in FO’s. Our reception area is standing room only because callers cannot get through on the telephones.”
Most offices are not doing an adequate job of answering telephone calls, and waiting times are climbing. As we continue to refine and promote our internet services, the need for skilled interviewers to assist the online filers is increasing. This additional task is falling on the already burdened shoulders of our front-line employees. As the recent hearings on disability backlogs graphically illustrated, the Congress has a strongly held interest in public service issues. We would hope that the steady deterioration of field office resources be remedied before we too are subject to such outside scrutiny.
We recognize that the Agency’s budget is very tight this year and that next year’s budget could also be very bleak. We helped advocate for the funds that are available this fiscal year and well understand that the ability to hire new CR’s and SR’s will be limited. However, now is the time to reprioritize within the Social Security Administration - the status quo is not acceptable nor fair to the public we serve. We firmly believe that there needs to be an Agency wide focus on providing more resources and support to critically shorthanded Field Offices and on increasing the number of interviewing positions.
We do believe that we need to slow down the trend of assigning CR’s [Claims Representatives] to non-interviewing positions such as SDW [Special Disability Workload -- too complicated to explain here] cadre. We need a commitment to increase the number of interviewers and slow down the growth of staff components. Although we agree that the Regional Offices play an important role, we note the Regional Offices have grown in staff in the past few years despite the losses we’ve seen in field offices and TSC’s.
Perhaps a special workgroup can be formed soon to come up with a plan on how to best address these losses. We certainly would be willing to provide our assistance in any such workgroup. We do believe that a concerted effort needs to be made immediately to look at this issue. We sincerely want to be part of developing the solutions needed to address the staffing and service issues that we are facing in the field and TSC's.
NCAA Challenge -- Still Time To Join
The name of the group is Social Security News and it is on ESPN Tournament Challenge. It is a public group, so anyone can join.
Mar 13, 2007
Hearing Office Processing Times
Mar 12, 2007
Off Topic: Social Security News NCAA Tournament Challenge
Attorney Fee Payments Down
GAO Questionnaire On Attorneys And Non-Attorney Representatives
Why are you interested in Social Security News?
|I work for SSA. (74)||59%|
|I am an attorney who represents Social Security claimants. (27)||22%|
|I am a non-attorney representative of Social Security claimants. (1)||1%|
|I work for DDS. (10)||8%|
|I am a Social Security claimant. (2)||2%|
|I work on Capitol Hill. (1)||1%|
|I work at a non-profit involved in Social Security issues. (1)||1%|
|Other reason (9)||7%|
What Part Of SSA Do You Work For?
|ODAR, including AC and RO employees (35)||32%|
|Field Office (15)||14%|
|Area Director Office (0)||0%|
|Regional Office (5)||5%|
|Teleservice Center (6)||6%|
|Payment Center, including OCO (10)||9%|
|Central Office, other than OCO (29)||27%|
The two poll results look a bit different because I used different formats. We will have more polls coming up.
Social Security Advisory Board Agenda
9:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m. Martin Holmer, President of the Policy Simulation Group; Joyce Manchester, Director of Division of Economic Research of ORES; John Sabelhaus, Unit Chief for Long Term Modeling at the Congressional Budget Office; Noah Meyrson, Congressional Budget Office; Melissa Favreault, Senior Research Associate at the Urban Institute
12:30 p.m. - 2:00 p.m. Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board (FASAB) -Tom L. Allen, Chairman FASAB; Robert Dacey, Chief Accountant GAO
Mar 11, 2007
Lying To SSA Not A Good Idea
Connie L. Morris, 43, of Waterloo, was sentenced Friday in federal court in Cedar Rapids to ten months in prison for lying to the Social Security Administration.
Morris, when she pled guilty to the charge on Dec. 11, admitted she lied about whether she was married and her living arrangements when she applied for Supplemental Security Income benefits. She received more than $29,000 she wasn't entitled to.
Now she must serve the prison sentence, pay back the money and serve three years of supervised release.
Mar 10, 2007
Fraud By Strip Club Owner
Timothy Ray Cline once owned three Southern Exposure bars, including locations in Princeton and Bradley.
Tuesday, Cline pleaded guilty in federal court to tax evasion and social security fraud.
Cline was accused of failing to report over $50,000 in income from 2001.Cline also collected more than $35,000 in Social Security Disability from September 1991 to March 2003.
Mar 9, 2007
SSA Recognizes Same-Sex Marriage Name Change
You asked us to determine whether an individual who enters into a civil union in the State of New Jersey may legally change his or her name based solely upon the civil union event or whether a court order is required to effectuate the proposed name change. Recently enacted New Jersey legislation legalizing civil unions specifically allows for the right to change surnames based upon a civil union event without a court order. Accordingly, an individual who enters a civil union in the State of New Jersey may legally change his or her name without a court order.
Mar 8, 2007
One Republican Senator Asks For Hearing Speedup
"Those appealing a denial of Social Security disability benefits are experiencing outrageously long delays in the scheduling of hearings at the Offices of Disability Adjudication and Review," Dole wrote to Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue. "North Carolinians appealing a denial must in many cases wait nearly two years, and individuals who are ultimately granted benefits on appeal suffer substantial financial, emotional and even physical hardships during this delay.
"This situation concerns me deeply and is clearly unacceptable."
Mar 7, 2007
One View Of Social Security Disability Benefits
Most Americans probably assume that to qualify as “disabled,” an individual must be physically unable to work for a living. In fact, the Social Security Administration deems individuals disabled if they cannot continue working in their chosen profession and “cannot adjust” to a different job. ...
It’s even possible to collect payments for being disabled from a job you were never able to perform. A few years ago, a Newport News pipefitting apprentice was fired for cause after earning failing marks in her training courses.
But because she injured her wrist before she was terminated and would have been unable to continue in the job, had she been able to do it, a judge ruled that she established “a prima facie case of total disability.” ...
The SSA’s guidebook, which might as well be entitled, “You, Too, Can Be Disabled!” walks applicants through the steps to collect their jackpots. The first requirement is not to have traceable income of more than $900 a month.
Next, one must present a malady that is either among the listed impairments or is equal in severity. The lists are so exhaustive that almost everyone has some condition by which they could claim to be disabled. ...
For example, the guidelines say that in determining whether an individual has a musculoskeletal disability, the “inability to walk on the heels or toes, to squat, or to arise from a squatting position may be considered evidence of significant motor loss.” It also may be considered evidence of being older than 40.
Among the disabilities listed under “skin disorders” is dermatitis — i.e., dish-pan hands. Some skin conditions can be deemed disabling merely because they’re upsetting. ...
Yet the biggest travesty is that chiselers are clogging a system designed to help individuals who drew the genetic short straw and, through no fault of their own, cannot work to support themselves.