<$BlogMetaData="social security social security social security social social security social security security.$>

May 31, 2008

No Last Minute Rush

From the New York Times:
The Bush administration has told federal agencies that they have until June 1 to propose any new regulations, a move intended to avoid the rush of rules issued by previous administrations on their way out the door.

The White House has also declared that it will generally not allow agencies to issue any final regulations after Nov. 1, nearly three months before President Bush relinquishes power.
Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • May 30, 2008

    VOIP At SSA

    Fed Tech magazine has an article about Social Security's transition to a Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) telecommunications system. The project is expected to take ten years and cost $300 million. Implementation began this Spring.
    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • May 29, 2008

    What Does This Mean?

    In this final rule, we are extending until July 1, 2010, the date on which the listings for the following six body systems will no longer be effective:
    Growth Impairment (100.00)
    Respiratory System (3.00 and 103.00)
    Hematological Disorders (7.00 and 107.00)
    Endocrine System (9.00 and 109.00)
    Neurological (11.00 and 111.00)
    Mental Disorders (12.00 and 112.00)
    And yet, Social Security has an item pending at the Office of Management and Budget to amend the mental listings. I suppose that the agency is up against a June 1 date upon which the mental impairment listings will no longer be effective unless extended, but this does look odd.

    Labels: ,

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • Party Identification Poll

    Labels:

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • May 28, 2008

    Easier To Get Liver Transplant Than To Get On Social Security Disability

    Social Security's Listing for liver disease contains as one possible criteria a SSA CLD score of 22 or greater. CLD stands for Chronic Liver Disease and SSA stands for Social Security Administration. I have no idea why Social Security decided to label the formula in the Listing as SSA CLD, since the formula for determining CLD is the same as the MELD (Model for End-Stage Liver Disease) formula used in determining eligibility for a liver transplant.

    According to the California Pacific Medical Center "... the average MELD score for a patient undergoing a liver transplant is 20 nationally." Yet, Social Security requires a MELD score of 22 to meet the Listing. Yes, there are other criteria for meeting the Listing and claimants with MELD scores under 22 must be found to meet the Listing, still, why would Social Security set the criteria well beyond what is required to get a liver transplant?

    Labels:

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • May 27, 2008

    Widows Still Being Underpaid

    From a report of Social Security's Office of Inspector General(OIG):
    Some individuals are dually entitled to both disability benefits based on their own earnings history and widow's benefits based on their deceased spouse's earnings. Although disability benefits are generally not reduced based on the beneficiaries' age, widow's benefits are reduced when beneficiaries elect to receive them before they reach FRA [Full Retirement Age]. However, if the widow's benefits started when the disability benefits began or later, the widow's benefits are adjusted and the reduction for age is eliminated when disability benefits end and retirement benefits are awarded. Usually, this occurs when the beneficiaries attain FRA. In December 2006, about 3.6 million beneficiaries were dually entitled to both retirement benefits and widow's benefits.

    SSA technicians are instructed to prepare manual diaries to control cases in which disability beneficiaries become entitled to reduced widow's benefits, to ensure the appropriate adjustments are made when disability ends and retirement benefits are awarded. In addition, SSA's Title II Redesign system produces alerts when these beneficiaries attain FRA. SSA technicians then determine whether adjustments to the widow's benefits are needed. Because the Agency does not have an automated system to make the necessary adjustments, employees must take manual actions to ensure these beneficiaries are paid correctly.

    In May 2007, we issued a report on Adjustment of Widow's Insurance Benefits at Full Retirement Age (A-01-07-27122). Based on the results of our audit, we estimated that about 9,751 beneficiaries were underpaid approximately $113.7 million through November 2006. In May 2008, SSA reported these widow's records were reviewed and corrected in Fiscal Year 2007. Because SSA corrected the benefits for these widows, they will receive about $137.8 million in additional payments over the rest of their lives. ...

    Because the population used for our May 2007 audit was identified in 2004, we indicated in that report that we would conduct additional analysis to identify a more recent population of widows who may have been underpaid. Therefore, we identified 9,603 widows who were not in the prior audit population but appeared to be underpaid. In March 2008, we referred these new cases to SSA's Office of Operations for review and corrective action. SSA informed us it began working these cases in April 2008 and expects to complete them all in Fiscal Year 2008.

    We selected a random sample of 200 cases from this new population for detailed analysis. (See Appendix A for additional information about our scope, methodology and sample results.)

    Results of Review
    Based on the results of our review, we estimate that about 8,403 beneficiaries were owed approximately $95 million through February 2008. In addition, if SSA does not take action to correct the benefits paid to these widows, we estimate they will continue to be underpaid about $211 million over the rest of their lives.

    Labels:

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • And This Is Supposed To Reassure Us?

    Take a look at a piece from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) trying to reassure us that the E-Verify error rate is not that high. Using a rather optimistic assumption, DHS comes up with one-half of one percent of all workers having to contact the Social Security Administration to straighten out the mismatch between their name and Social Security number. There are 138 million people employed in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This would mean only 690,000 people desperately trying to contact the Social Security Administration at a time when the agency cannot adequately answer its telephones and has lines forming outside the doors of some of its offices because they are afraid of losing their jobs. That is a nightmare for Social Security and for those 690,000 people right there.

    What I love about this DHS piece is the placid assumption that the 5.3% of people with mismatches who fail to straighten out their records must be illegal aliens and that anyone who worries about that 5.3% is a nasty lover of illegal aliens. No doubt that a lot of that 5.3% are illegal aliens, but anyone who thinks they are all illegal aliens is naive. There is a lot of procrastination in the world. Some significant part of that 5.3% are procrastinators. No one knows what percent of people with mismatches are U.S. citizens who will get thrown out of their jobs because they fail to promptly resolve the mismatch -- or will only make a serious effort to resolve the mismatch after they get thrown out of their jobs.

    Labels:

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • May 26, 2008

    Wall Street Journal On E-Verify

    From a Wall Street Journal editorial:
    The Secure America Through Verification and Enforcement Act (SAVE) was introduced by Heath Shuler, a North Carolina Democrat. The bill does nothing to increase legal immigration, which is the only realistic way to decrease illegal immigration. Instead, it throws more money at a mandatory employment verification system (E-Verify) for the nation's six million employers.

    The Democrats never intended to pass the measure, mind you. While collecting co-sponsors, Mr. Shuler assured Democrats there would be no action this year. The idea was to provide election-year cover for House Democrats from red states, letting them cite the Shuler bill as proof they are cracking down on illegal immigration.

    However, Republicans saw an opportunity to embarrass Democrats by forcing a floor vote on the SAVE Act. Restrictionists Brian Bilbray and Tom Tancredo began a discharge petition drive in early March, eventually gathering 189 of the 218 signatures needed to force a House vote on the bill. Democrats are now backing off the legislation, lest it divide their caucus. ...

    This political theater notwithstanding, the SAVE Act deserves to die on the merits. E-Verify is pitched as a check on undocumented workers. But this law would require that every worker in the country run this new verification gauntlet to change jobs.

    E-Verify is currently a voluntary pilot program for new workers. About 50,000 employers use it, and studies have revealed problems galore, partly because the Social Security Administration (SSA) database on which it relies contains an error rate of around 4%. With about 55 million new hires in the U.S. annually, a 4% error rate means erroneously flagging some two million people each year. They would then have to visit their local SSA office to prove in person that they have permission to work in their native land.

    Keep in mind that the SSA isn't exactly a model of speed and efficiency. By its own admission 50% of calls to branch offices and 25% to the 1-800 number aren't even answered. And what of calls that do get through? It currently takes, on average, more than 500 days to get a decision on a disability appeal. Even if E-Verify were ready for prime time, there's little chance it would reduce illegal immigration. As the CBO analysis concluded, an employment verification mandate is more likely to drive illegal aliens – most of whom now work on the books – into the underground economy, not out of the country.

    Labels:

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • Poll Results

    What do you expect will be the result for Social Security if the "no match" letters go out?
    Getting rid of illegal immigrants is so important that I don't care what happens at Social Security (5) 7%
    I don't think it will be a big deal for Social Security (2) 3%
    I expect some problems for Social Security, but nothing serious (11) 15%
    I expect significant problems for Social Security (16) 22%
    I expect major problems at Social Security (21) 29%
    I expect an incredible crisis for Social Security (18) 25%

    Total Votes: 73

    Labels:

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • Political Pressure Gets Buffalo More ALJs

    From the Buffalo News:
    In a step to alleviate the severe backlog of disability claims in Western New York, the Social Security Administration will appoint two more administrative law judges to Buffalo area hearing offices, Rep. Brian Higgins announced Friday. ...

    After the Social Security Administration released data in March showing Buffalo’s large backlog of disability claims, Higgins, D-Buffalo, and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, DN. Y., wrote to Social Security Administration Commissioner Michael Astrue, calling for the appointment of more judges in the district.

    The new hires will reduce the time judges waste commuting back and forth between the Buffalo and Rochester offices, Higgins said.

    Higgins said more must be done to lessen the strain on Buffalo- area offices.

    “I’m not content with this action,” he said. “It’s wonderful news, but we’re going to keep seeking changes.”

    Labels: ,

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • May 25, 2008

    Outcomes Chart


    Courtesy of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR). Click on the image to see it full size.

    Labels:

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • May 24, 2008

    SSI County Data Released

    Social Security's Office of Policy Data (is that a new name?) has issued a report entitled SSI Recipients by State and County, 2007. Useful for those objecting to a field office closure. Useful to an attorney who wonders where potential clients might live.

    Labels: ,

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • May 23, 2008

    Congressional News

    A legislative bulletin from the Social Security Administration:
    House Passes H.R. 6081, the “Heroes Earnings Assistance and Relief Tax (HEART) Act of 2008”

    On May 20, 2008, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 6081, the “Heroes Earnings Assistance and Relief Tax (HEART) Act of 2008,” by a vote of 403 - 0. H.R. 6081 is similar to H.R. 3997, different versions of which passed the House and the Senate last year. (See Legislative Bulletins 110-15 and 110-16.)

    The new version of the HEART Act contains the following provisions of interest to SSA:

    Taxable Wage Exclusions for Volunteer Firefighters and Medical Responders

    • Would amend the Internal Revenue Code and the Social Security Act to exclude from FICA taxable wages any property tax rebate or other qualified benefit provided to volunteer firefighters and emergency medical responders in return for labor services. The IRS has previously ruled that such payments constitute compensation for services performed. Would be effective as if included in Section 5 of the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007 (i.e., January 1, 2008).

    Military and National Service Related Changes to the SSI Program

    • Would treat most cash military compensation as earned income for SSI purposes, thus allowing the service member to benefit from the SSI program's more favorable consideration of earned income.

    • Would codify SSA's policy regarding consideration of privatized military housing allowances. In situations where the allowance is withdrawn directly from a service member's pay by military payroll and paid to the landlord, the allowance would be considered in-kind income and the SSI benefit reduction attributable to the housing allowance would be capped at one-third of the Federal Benefit Rate. In other cases, housing allowances would be considered earned income.

    • Would exclude State-provided pensions for aged, blind or disabled veterans (or their spouses) from income consideration for SSI purposes. Such payments would also be excluded as a resource for SSI purposes.

    • Would exclude any cash or in-kind benefits provided under an AmeriCorps program from income consideration for SSI purposes. Under current law, AmeriCorp VISTA payments are already excluded from such consideration, but AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps and Americorps State/National program payments are countable.

    • All SSI-related provisions would be effective for benefits payable for months beginning 60 days after enactment.

    Consideration of Offshore Companies for FICA Tax Purposes

    • Would end the practice of U.S. government contractors setting up shell companies in foreign jurisdictions to avoid payroll taxes. The legislation amends the Internal Revenue Code and the Social Security Act to treat foreign subsidiaries of U.S. companies performing services under contract with the United States government as American employers for the purpose of Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes. This change would affect U.S. citizens and U.S. residents working for these subsidiaries. Would be effective upon enactment.
    The last provision is aimed at military contractors who have been making contract employees in Iraq employees of offshore subsidiaries.

    Labels: ,

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • Andrew Biggs Has A Blog

    I hate to keep going back to the subject of Andrew Biggs, the vocal proponent of Social Security privatization to whom President Bush gave an interim appointment as Deputy Commissioner of Social Security, but Biggs has not had the good grace to stay out of sight after resigning his position. Biggs now has his own blog. If you wish to travel to an alternative universe, take a look.

    Labels: ,

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • May 22, 2008

    New Acting Deputy Commissioner

    My understanding is that Jason Fichtner has been appointed as the Acting Deputy Commissioner of Social Security, replacing Andrew Biggs. Fichtner has been working as the Associate Commissioner for Retirement Policy, which had been Biggs' old job.

    I could guess that it would be impossible for Fichtner to be in the same job that Biggs had been in without sharing many of Biggs' belief, but I do not know. At this point in the Bush Administration, I am not sure that it matters.

    Labels:

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • San Francisco TV Station On Backlogs

    San Francisco TV station KGO is running a story on disability appeals backlogs at Social Security.

    Labels:

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • No Comment Department

    From the Associated Press:
    Todd Davis has dared criminals for two years to try stealing his identity: Ads for his fraud-prevention company, LifeLock, even offer his Social Security number next to his smiling mug.

    Now, Lifelock customers in Maryland, New Jersey and West Virginia are suing Davis, claiming his service didn't work as promised and he knew it wouldn't, because the service had failed even him.

    Attorney David Paris said he found records of other people applying for or receiving driver's licenses at least 20 times using Davis' Social Security number, though some of the applications may have been rejected because data in them didn't match what the Social Security Administration had on file.

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • It's Not Just Social Security


    From a piece by Paul C. Light at Politico:
    The problem is that the federal government is perilously close to the breaking point. Unless the next president takes the lead in fixing government, he or she will preside over a string of meltdowns that will make the federal response to Hurricane Katrina look like a minor mistake.

    Just imagine for a moment the worst possible circumstances for running a high-performing government.

    First, the federal government would be given missions that stretch well beyond its resources. Asked to do more with less, federal employees would eventually be forced to do everything with almost nothing. Old missions would never fade away, even as new missions would suck up scarce resources. ...

    The place to start building a government well executed is to talk about it. Instead of frittering away their time on gasoline tax holidays or complaining about congressional earmarks, the three candidates should put their government reform ideas on the table.

    The media should also start asking about the recent meltdowns and why none of the candidates has said word one about the shortages of food and airplane inspectors, tax collectors, passenger screeners, and Social Security claims representatives. ...

    Finally, Americans should stop pretending that the federal government can succeed without an immediate infusion of the resources to do its job. Either that, or start a betting pool on the next government meltdown. It is coming soon to front pages everywhere.

    Labels:

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • May 21, 2008

    Press Release On Ticket To Work

    A Social Security Administration press release:

    The Social Security Administration issued final rules designed to improve the Ticket to Work program. The changes will improve the effectiveness of the Ticket program in assisting beneficiaries with disabilities who want to work.

    “These rules outline a new and improved Ticket to Work program and are based on learning from our experiences, listening to input from interested parties, and responding to their suggestions,” said Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security. “Beneficiaries with disabilities will have greater flexibility and expanded choices in obtaining the services they need to attain their employment goals.”

    The new Ticket to Work program rules:

    • Include more beneficiaries under the Program--The population of individuals eligible for a Ticket is expanded to include beneficiaries who are expected to medically improve.
    • Increase incentive payments for Employment Networks (ENs)--The new rules modify the EN payment systems to create greater financial incentives for service providers to participate, which will improve beneficiary access to services and expand the pool of quality providers available to serve beneficiaries.
    • Increase the value of the Ticket--The rules for Ticket assignment are changed to enable beneficiaries with disabilities to take advantage of a more effective combination of services from both State Vocational Rehabilitation agencies and ENs.
    • Synergize efforts--The new rules promote better alignment of the Ticket to Work Program, the Work Incentives Planning and Assistance Program, the Protection and Advocacy for Beneficiaries of Social Security Program, and other Social Security work incentive initiatives.

    "Thus far, the results of the Ticket to Work program have been less than everyone expected and clearly less than Congress intended," Commissioner Astrue said. "We need to monitor the results of today’s regulation closely, but it is highly likely that Congress will need to revisit the statute in the next few years in order to achieve the goals that Congress intended."

    In preparation for the new Ticket to Work program, Social Security is undertaking a major recruitment effort to increase the number of organizations functioning as ENs. Social Security also is initiating targeted outreach to promote the Program to more beneficiaries and to encourage their participation. In addition, Social Security is presenting at national and state conferences and bringing beneficiaries and ENs together at local Work Incentives Seminars (WISE events) throughout the country.

    The Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999 established the Ticket to Work and Self-Sufficiency Program. The purpose of the Ticket to Work program is to expand the universe of service providers available to beneficiaries with disabilities who are seeking vocational rehabilitation, employment and related support services. These service providers are available to assist beneficiaries in obtaining, regaining and maintaining self-supporting employment. Available in all 50 States and the US territories, the Ticket to Work program is an important component in a coordinated series of work incentives and initiatives that are designed to help overcome barriers to employment often experienced by beneficiaries with disabilities.

    The final rule can be accessed through the Federal Register online at www.regulations.gov .

    Labels: ,

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • Miami Herald On immigration Enforcement

    The Miami Herald is running a story on the problems associated with using the Social Security Administration for immigration enforcement.

    Labels:

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • Buffalo News On Backlogs

    Social Security's backlogs continue to be a big issue in the Buffalo area. From the Buffalo News:

    Karen Furman’s son, Kelvin, was 10 when she applied to get federal income assistance for parents with disabled children. Kelvin is now 14, living in a group home and still waiting for the government to decide if he’s disabled.

    The Buffalo Social Security hearing office, where Furman filed her claim, is so overwhelmed with cases that people wait an average of 669 days before a judge even hears their case.

    In other words, not much has changed a year after The Buffalo News reported that people had to wait 688 days for an appeal hearing in Buffalo when they apply for Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability benefits.

    Labels:

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • Upcoming Ticket To Work Events

    Social Security has published a long list of upcoming Ticket to Work events.

    I predict that these events will be poorly attended. Ticket to Work is costing a lot of money and doing almost nothing to held anyone other than some contractors. It is past time for Congress to abandon its illusions. If you require people to be half dead or fully crazy to get on Social Security disability benefits, you cannot realistically expect them to go back to work. At a time when the Social Security Administration cannot answer its phones, Ticket to Work is an almost criminal waste of money.

    Labels: ,

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • May 20, 2008

    FY 2009 Budget Situation

    From the Capitol Insider put out by the Disability Policy Collaboration:
    House and Senate conferees reached an agreement on a Fiscal Year 2009 Budget Resolution, although details were not made public. ...

    Both Houses are expected to vote on the FY 2009 Budget Resolution (BR) this week. Even if passed, the BR may have little practical effect since the Democratic leadership in both Houses has sent signals that few, if any, FY 2009 appropriations bills will be seriously addressed until President Bush leaves office next January

    Labels:

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • Detroit Free Press On Immigration Enforcement

    From the Detroit Free Press:
    Whether it's regarded as Big Brother or a big improvement, the plan [to require Social s is getting a good vetting on Capitol Hill. It has enormous implications for employers and the Social Security Administration, which would conduct the background checks.

    The American Civil Liberties Union, which opposes the plan, says the legislation would create a no-work list in the Washington bureaucracy.

    "Americans should not have to ask their federal government if they have permission to accept a new job," said Caroline Fredrickson, the director of the ACLU's Washington legislative office. Others fear the assignment would overwhelm the Social Security Administration, which is already lagging in its work "Disability cases are piling up, and needy people are waiting years to receive their benefits," said Barbara Kennelly, president and chief executive officer of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.

    Labels:

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • New Final Regs On Ticket To Work

    The Social Security Administration has published new final regulations on the Ticket to Work program. I keep waiting for someone to share with me a Ticket to Work success story.

    Labels: , ,

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • India Eager For Totalization Treaty

    From Today Share Market Tips:

    INDIA is trying to expedite a totalisation agreement with the US that would exempt Indian professionals working for a limited period in that country from paying mandatory contributions for social security. India has included discussions on the social security agreement (SSA) in the Indo-US bilateral trade talks launched recently.

    Sources said India is attempting to link progress in the agreement to the bilateral investment treaty (BIT) being worked out between the two sides. Since the US is keen on BIT, India is hopeful that linking the two would ensure the totalisation agreement would also be worked out. Indian professionals could save a total of $1 billion they contribute to social security annually.

    Official sources told ET a team of officials from the ministry of overseas Indian affairs and the commerce and industry ministry will visit the US soon to discuss the pact. They would take forward the talks that took place in India earlier this year. Both sides are working on the pre-requisites and the content of the proposed pact. Sources said notes would be exchanged by the two sides in the next meeting.

    “India is very keen on signing a totalisation agreement with the US. We have been trying to persuade the US for a long time. Now that the discussions are taking place in a structured manner, we hope something will work out,” an official said.

    The US has signed totalisation agreements with 16 countries. However, it has been hesitating to sign one with India as the country’s social security structure is vastly different from the US social security net. US officials have also met officials from the Employee’s State Insurance Corporation and provident fund commission of India.

    Labels:

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • May 19, 2008

    No Match Poll

    Labels:

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • May 18, 2008

    Obama Makes Social Security A Campaign Issue

    From the Associated Press:
    Democrat Barack Obama told seniors Sunday that Republican John McCain would threaten the Social Security that they and millions like them depend on because he supports privatizing the program. ...

    "Let me be clear, privatizing Social Security was a bad idea when George W. Bush proposed it, it's a bad idea today," Obama said. "That's why I stood up against this plan in the Senate and that's why I won't stand for it as president." ...

    Obama said McCain would push to raise the retirement age for collecting Social Security benefits or trim annual cost-of-living increases. Obama has rejected both ideas as solutions to the funding crisis projected for Social Security in favor of making higher-income workers pay more into the system.

    "We have to protect Social Security for future generations without pushing the burden onto seniors who have earned the right to retire in dignity," he said.

    Labels:

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • No Stamped Signatures -- And An Interesting Coincidence

    A new HALLEX release:
    HALLEX Chapter I-2-8-1 General has been revised to only permit an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) to sign a decision and all official copies with his/her "wet" signature or verified electronic signature, unless a "wet" signature or verified electronic signature entered by another person is authorized. A rubber stamp or other mechanical signature is not authorized under any circumstances.
    But another new HALLEX release says "that Hearing Office Chief Administrative Law Judge (HOCALJ) [may be authorized] to sign a decision or order for the ALJ if the ALJ is temporarily unavailable to sign the decision."

    By the way, last year I commented upon the lack of HALLEX updating in a long time. Shortly thereafter there was a minor HALLEX updating. Almost a year later, I again commented upon the lack of HALLEX updating in almost a year. Again, shortly thereafter this minor updating of HALLEX. I am not claiming to be responsible for anything, but this is an interesting coincidence.

    By the way, would you not think that HALLEX should be updated for all the changes affecting the way Social Security disability files are being set up -- without exhibits being numbered and on the eDIB system? I do not see modifications for HALLEX for all these changes.

    Labels: ,

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • May 17, 2008

    Fraud Alleged In Johnstown

    From the Tribune-Democrat:
    JOHNSTOWN A Somerset County woman has been indicted by a federal grand jury in Johnstown on a charge of illegally converting Social Security benefit checks.

    In the one-count indictment, Tammy J. Kearns, 47, of the 600 block of Sipesville Road, Sipesville, is accused of cashing checks issued to her on her son’s behalf after he was no longer eligible to receive the benefits.

    Labels:

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • May 16, 2008

    Fraud Alleged On Long Island

    From the Associated Press:
    A Long Island man with a six-figure salary is charged with collecting nearly $300,000 in disability and Social Security benefits he didn't deserve. ...

    Chathapuram Kumar ... faces up to 15 years in prison after filing claims in 2004 that he was suffering from "Post-Polio" syndrome, which he said prevented him from working.

    Prosecutors say he was seen going to work as a consultant at an information-technology firm in 2006, where he earned $168,000 a year.
    I wish they would not put "post-polio syndrome" in quotes. It is a very real malady.

    Labels:

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • Atlanta Journal-Constitution Editorial On E-Verify

    From an editorial in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Social Security's troubled E-Verify system for verifying that names and Social Security numbers match:
    Rather than spend the money to create a new database that works, the states browbeat the federal government to force the Social Security Administration to do something it was never meant to do —- become an immigration enforcement agency. And as it has scrambled to make quick fixes to E-Verify, Social Security has fallen behind on its real job, determining whether elderly and disabled Americans qualify for social services and benefits they have spent years supporting through payroll taxes.

    The backlog for appeals in disability cases is now more than 500 days. If the administration is forced to spend $40 billion over the next 10 years to make E-Verify work, the basic services of

    Labels: ,

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • VA Facility Tried To Avoid PTSD Diagnosis

    This was primarily about VA benefits, but the effects would certainly spill over to Social Security disability benefits. From the Washington Post:

    A psychologist who helps lead the post-traumatic stress disorder program at a medical facility for veterans in Texas told staff members to refrain from diagnosing PTSD because so many veterans were seeking government disability payments for the condition.

    "Given that we are having more and more compensation seeking veterans, I'd like to suggest that you refrain from giving a diagnosis of PTSD straight out," Norma Perez wrote in a March 20 e-mail to mental-health specialists and social workers at the Department of Veterans Affairs' Olin E. Teague Veterans' Center in Temple, Tex. Instead, she recommended that they "consider a diagnosis of Adjustment Disorder." ...

    Veterans Affairs Secretary James B. Peake said in a statement that Perez's e-mail was "inappropriate" and does not reflect VA policy. It has been "repudiated at the highest level of our health care organization," he said.

    Labels: ,

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • New Hearing Loss Listing Coming

    All federal agencies must have the approval of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which is part of the White House, before publishing new regulations. Social Security just filed the following with OMB:

    AGENCY: SSA RIN: 0960-AG20
    TITLE: Revised Medical Criteria for Evaluating Hearing Loss (2862P)
    STAGE: Proposed Rule ECONOMICALLY SIGNIFICANT: No
    ** RECEIVED DATE: 05/15/2008 LEGAL DEADLINE: None

    Labels: ,

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • Women Worry More About Social Security

    From the Chicago Sun-Times:

    Women are more worried about the government potentially cutting their Social Security (56 percent vs. 41 percent), according to a new survey by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Then again, half of retired women responding to the survey count on Social Security as a major source of income, while only 38 percent of retired men do.

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • May 15, 2008

    Federal Register Items

    Acquiescence Ruling 99-1(2) is being withdrawn because of the adoption of new rules providing that Social Security will "no longer will consider the income and resources of a stepparent when an eligible child resides in the household with a stepparent, but that child's natural or adoptive parent has permanently left the household." The new rules are consistent with the court decision to which Social Security had acquiesced.

    Labels: ,

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • Fraud Alleged In Pennsylvania

    From the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:
    A Fayette County man has been indicted by a federal grand jury in Pittsburgh on charges of committing Social Security fraud.

    U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan said Shawn R. Johnson, 27, of 280 Ringer Road, Uniontown is accused of failing to disclose employment and earned income ... to the Social Security Administration while still receiving benefits.

    Labels:

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • May 14, 2008

    Oral Testimony Of AFGE At Senate Hearing

    Below is the transcript of the testimony of Witold Skwierczynski, President, National Council of SSA Field Operations Locals, American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO given at the Senate Finance Committee hearing on May 8. I am sorry this is all in caps, but that is how it came to me. I have bolded some paragraphs that seemed particularly interesting to me.
    THANK YOU FOR THE OPPORTUNITY TO ADDRESS THE COMMITTEE REGARDING THE IMPORTANT ISSUE OF SSA SERVICE DELIVERY PROBLEMS.

    STAFFING CUTS DUE TO INADEQUATE APPROPRIATIONS CERTAINLY HAVE HAD AN ADVERSE EFFECT ON SSA’S ABILITY TO PROCESS ITS WORK. DECISIONS BY CONGRESS AND THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION TO ADD WORKLOADS TO SSA SUCH AS MEDICARE PART D PRESCRIPTION DRUGS SUBSIDY DETERMINATIONS, MEDICARE PART B GRADUATED PREMIUM APPEALS, MORE STRINGENT SOCIAL SECURITY CARD EVIDENTIARY STANDARDS, E-VERIFY AND NO MATCH WORKLOADS WITHOUT PROVIDING
    FUNDING FOR ADDITIONAL STAFF IS PARTIALLY RESPONSIBLE FOR THE CURRENT CRISIS IN SSA WHERE THE DISABILITY APPEALS WORKLOAD HAS A 750,000 BACKLOG AND THE PROCESSING TIME FOR AN APPEAL IS OVER 500 DAYS.

    THE AGENCY THIS YEAR WILL ONLY BE ABLE TO PROCESS LESS THAN 50% OF THE SSI REDETERMINATIONS THAT WERE PROCESSED IN 2003 AND ONLY ABOUT 355 OF THE MEDICAL CONTINUING DISABILITY REVIEWS THAT IT PROCESSED IN 2004.

    LARGER APPROPRIATIONS AND MORE STAFF IS ESSENTIAL TO ALLOW SSA TO FUNCTION NORMALLY AND PROVIDE THE SERVICE TO THE PUBLIC THAT THE PUBLIC DESERVES.

    AFGE RECOMMENDS THAT $11 BILLION BE APPROPRIATED BY CONGRESS FOR FY 09. AFGE ALSO RECOMMENDS THAT CONGRESS CONSIDER TAKING THE ADMINISTRATIVE EXPENSES OFF BUDGET SO THAT CONGRESS CAN EVALUATE SSA’S RESOURCE NEEDS WITHOUT THE PRESSURES OF OTHER COMPETING INTERESTS.

    HOWEVER, TODAY I’D LIKE TO ADDRESS 2 SERVICE DELIVERY ISSUES THAT HAVE FALLEN UNDER THE RADAR SCREEN WHILE CONGRESS JUSTIFIABLY EXPRESSES ITS CONCERN ABOUT THE OBSCENE PROCESSING TIME OF THE DISABILITY HEARINGS WORKLOAD. THESE 2 ISSUES ARE THE READY RETIREMENT INITIATIVE AND ITS VEHICLE THE INTERNET SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFIT APPLICATION AND ENUMERATION OR CARD CENTERS.

    USING STAFF SHORTAGES AS AN EXCUSE, SSA HAS DECIDED TO IMPLEMENT A POLICY WHEREBY CLAIMANTS ARE ENCOURAGED TO FILE CLAIMS ON THE INTERNET WITH THE GOAL OF ELIMINATING ANY SSA REVIEW OF SUCH CLAIMS.

    SSA HAS ALREADY IMPLEMENTED THE 1^ST STEP OF ACHIEVING THIS GOAL OF RADICALLY REDUCING THE LEVEL OF SERVICE FORMERLY PROVIDED TO SSA CUSTOMERS BY SSA EMPLOYEES. IN FEBRUARY SSA INSTITUTED POLICIES, WITHOUT NOTICE TO THE PUBLIC VIA RULEMAKING, ELIMINATING PROOF OF AGE AND CITIZENSHIP REQUIREMENTS IN MOST CASES.

    SINCE FEBRUARY ANYONE WHO LIED ABOUT THEIR AGE WHEN THEY APPLIED FOR AN SS CARD AND USED THE SAME FALSE AGE WHEN THEY FILED FOR RETIREMENT BENEFITS WILL GET AWAY WITH SUCH FRAUD SINCE SSA NO LONGER WILL DEMAND ANY POA.

    SO ANYONE WHO MADE THEMSELVES OLDER WHEN THEY APPLIED FOR A CARD TO GET A JOB WILL BE ABLE TO RECEIVE RETIREMENT BENEFITS EARLIER AS LONG AS THEY REPEAT THE LIE WHEN THEY FILE FOR RETIREMENT BENEFITS. THIS FRAUDULENT WINDFALL COULD BE FOR THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS.

    IN MARCH AFGE REQUESTED FROM SSA ANY VALIDATION STUDIES THAT WERE DONE TO JUSTIFY THIS EVIDENTIARY CHANGE SO THE PUBLIC WILL UNDERSTAND THE POTENTIAL LOSS IN TRUST FUND REVENUE BASED ON FRAUDULENT DOB ALLEGATIONS. SSA HAS NOT RESPONDED TO THE UNION’S REQUEST.

    SINCE FEBRUARY ANYONE WHO ASSERTED THAT THEY WERE BORN IN THE USA WHEN THEY FILED FOR A SS CARD WILL NOT REQUIRE TO SUBMIT PROOF OF CITIZENSHIP IF THEY ALLEGE US BIRTH UPON APPLICATION FOR RETIREMENT BENEFITS. THUS IF AN UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANT LIED ABOUT UNITED STATES BIRTH WHEN THEY FILED FOR A SS CARD AND REITERATED THAT LIE WHEN FILING FOR RETIREMENT SINCE SSA DOESN’T REQUEST PROOF OF CITIZENSHIP THE LIE WILL NOT BE DETECTED. IN SUCH A SITUATION THE UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANT COULD RECEIVE UP TO HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS IN BENEFITS THAT THEY WERE NOT ENTITLED TO RECEIVE. (BEFORE 1981 SSA DID NOT VERIFY AGE AND/OR CITIZENSHIP FOR SSN APPLICANTS.)

    AGAIN IN MARCH AFGE REQUESTED THAT SSA PRODUCE ANY STUDIES THEY CONDUCTED SHOWING THE NATURE OF THE POTENTIAL TRUST FUND LOSS FROM FRAUDULENT CITIZENSHIP ALLEGATIONS. AGAIN SSA HAS NOT RESPONDED.

    SSA ALSO ELIMINATED LAG WAGE DEVELOPMENT FOR THE MOST RECENT YEAR OF EARNINGS WHICH TYPICALLY IS USED TO INCREASE A RETIREMENT APPLICANT’S BENEFITS. THIS WILL RESULT IN MILLIONS OF RETIREMENT APPLICANTS BEING UNDERPAID UNTIL IRS NOTIFIES SSA OF THE WAGE EARNER’S MOST RECENT YEAR OF EARNINGS AND THE SYSTEM RECOMPUTES THE BENEFIT.

    EVEN MORE DISTURBING IS THE PLAN THAT SSA HAS TO IMPLEMENT THE SCHEME DEVISED BY ANDREW BIGGS, THE REJECTED BUSH NOMINEE FOR SSA’S PRINCIPAL DEPUTY COMMISSIONER, WHO IS FROM THE CATO INSTITUTE WHO ESPOUSED THE ELIMINATION OF SOCIAL SECURITY. ACCORDING TO BIGGS, SSA SHOULD NOT PROVIDE THE APPLICANT WITH ANY ADVICE REGARDING THEIR RETIREMENT DECISION SINCE THE APPLICANT IS BEST SITUATED TO MAKE THEIR OWN RESPONSIBLE ECONOMIC DECISIONS.

    THE AGENCY PLANS TO ELIMINATE THE LONG STANDING ROLE OF SSA EMPLOYEES EXPLAINING TO CLAIMANTS THE ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF FILING FOR WIDOWS OR RETIREMENT BENEFITS AND WHEN WOULD BE THE MOST ADVANTAGEOUS TIME TO ELECT TO START BENEFITS WHEN THE AGENCY INTRODUCES THE NEW INTERNET APPLICATION IN SEPTEMBER, 2008.

    CURRENTLY CLAIMANTS CAN AND DO FILE INTERNET BENEFIT APPLICATIONS. ALL SUCH APPLICATIONS ARE REVIEWED BY SSA CLAIMS REPRESENTATIVES. AFGE RECENTLY SURVEYED CLAIMS REPRESENTATIVES WHO REVIEW INTERNET APPLICATIONS. MOST EMPLOYEES RESPONDING TO THE SURVEY INDICATED THAT THE MAJORITY OF APPLICANTS ON THE INTERNET CHOOSE TO START THEIR RETIREMENT AND/OR WIDOWS BENEFITS IN A DISADVANTAGEOUS MONTH. THIS WOULD RESULT IN THE LOSS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS IN LIFETIME BENEFITS. 86% OF SSA EMPLOYEE SURVEY RESPONDENTS OPPOSE ELIMINATING ADVICE TO THE CLAIMANTS ON WHICH MONTH OF ELECTION IS MOST ADVANTAGEOUS.

    SSA IS ALREADY REQUIRING EMPLOYEES TO ENGAGE IN A CAMPAIGN TO ENCOURAGE THE PUBLIC TO FILE FOR BENEFITS ON THE INTERNET. 87% OF SSA EMPLOYEES RESPONDING TO THE AFGE SURVEY STATED THAT THE QUALITY OF CURRENT INTERNET CLAIMS IS SO POOR THAT OVER 75% OF CLAIMANTS MUST BE RECONTACTED DUE TO CRITICAL MISSING INFORMATION, CLEARLY DISADVANTAGEOUS DECISIONS OR INCONSISTENT INFORMATION ON THE APPLICATION. 71% OF SURVEY RESPONDENTS STATED THAT OVER 90% OF INTERNET CLAIMANTS MUST BE RECONTACTED BY SSA.

    _3^RD PARTY PUSH_

    IN CONJUNCTION WITH SSA’S PLAN TO IMPLEMENT THE ANDREW BIGGS PHILOSOPHY OF ELIMINATING THE ADVICE AND ASSISTANCE THAT TRAINED AND EXPERIENCED SSA CRS HAVE GIVEN THE PUBLIC FOR OVER 60 YEARS, SSA INTENDS TO INCREASE THE ROLL OF 3^RD PARTIES. IN FILING APPLICATIONS AND ADVISING SSA CUSTOMERS. THE IDEA IS TO REDUCE THE ROLE OF EXPERT, EXPERIENCED AND UNBIASED SSA EMPLOYEES AND SUBSTITUTE 3^RD PARTIES WHO WILL CHARGE A FEE
    FOR THEIR SERVICES.

    SSA PLANS TO ALLOW 3^RD PARTIES CREATED ACCESS TO THE SSA DATABASE. THE OPPORTUNITY FOR FRAUD AND IDENTITY THEFT IS AN INCREASING AFGE CONCERN. EXPANDED 3^RD PARTY ACCESS TO THE SSA COMPUTER SYSTEM WILL IN ALL LIKELIHOOD LEAD TO FUTURE IDENTITY THEFT SCANDALS. SSA EMPLOYEES WHO REVIEW CURRENT 3^RD PARTY INTERNET FILED CLAIMS REPORT THAT 3^RD PARTY ERROR RATES ARE AS HIGH AS THE ERRORS BY CLAIMANTS THEMSELVES.

    IT IS THE BELIEF OF AFGE THAT THE ANDREW BIGGS READY RETIREMENT SCHEME AND ITS INTERNET APPLICATION TOOL IS AN ATTEMPT TO UNDERMINE SSA AS A GOVERNMENT AGENCY THAT HAS A COMPREHENSIVE NETWORK OF COMMUNITY BASED OFFICES WITH AN EXPERT WORKFORCE OF TRAINED EMPLOYEES DEVOTED TO HELPING RETIREMENT, DISABILITY, SURVIVORS AND SSI APPLICANTS RECEIVE THE MAXIMUM BENEFITS TO WHICH THEY ARE ENTITLED.

    IMPLEMENTATION OF THESE PROPOSALS WILL RESULT IN A REDUCED WORKFORCE, MORE OFFICE CLOSINGS AND AN EMERGENCE OF A PLETHORA OF 3^RD PARTY PRIVATE INDUSTRY COMPANIES WHO WILL CHARGE THE PUBLIC FOR SERVICES AND ADVICE THAT THEY NOW RECEIVE FROM THE GOVERNMENT WITHOUT COST. EVENTUALLY WE CAN ENVISION PRESSURE TO PRIVATIZE THE ADMINISTRATION OF THE SERVICE DELIVERY ROLE OF SSA.

    ALTHOUGH THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION WAS UNSUCCESSFUL IN PRIVATIZING SSA BENEFITS, IT IS MOVING SWIFTLY TO ELIMINATE THE SERVICE ROLE THAT SSA HAS PROVIDED SINCE ITS INCEPTION AND SUBSTITUTE CLAIMANT RESPONSIBILITY AND 3^RD PARTY FOR PROFIT ASSISTANCE.

    WE URGE CONGRESS TO TAKE ACTION TO INVESTIGATE THIS ATTEMPT TO IMPLEMENT THE BIGGS PLAN AND RADICALLY CHANGE THE NATURE OF SERVICE DELIVERY IN SSA.

    CARD CENTERS HAVE BEEN OPENED IN NY, LAS VEGAS, PHOENIX AND ORLANDO. THE COMMISSIONER PLANS TO OPEN UP TO 20 MORE. CARD CENTERS ARE EXCLUSIVELY FOR SS CARD WORK. IN PHOENIX, ORLANDO AND LAS VEGAS THE CARD CENTERS HAVE A SERVICE AREA THAT EXTENDS UP TO 200 MILES FROM THE OFFICE. CLAIMANTS ARE REQUIRED TO GO TO THE CARD CENTER IF THEY LIVE IN THE CARD CENTER SERVICE AREA AND HAVE AN SSA CARD ISSUE SUCH AS NEEDING A REPLACEMENT CARD OR RESPONDING TO AN E-VERIFY NO MATCH. IF A CUSTOMER INSTEAD GOES TO THE4IR LOCAL COMMUNITY BASED OFFICE, THEY WILL BE TURNED AWAY. IF THEY HAVE MULTIPLE BUSINESS WITH SSA, THEY WILL HAVE TO GO TO 2 OFFICES SINCE CARD CENTERS ONLY DO SSA CARD WORK. THIS YEAR WAITING TIMES IN CARD CENTERS HAVE BEEN UP TO 4 HOURS. THE CENTERS ARE UNDERSTAFFED. EMPLOYEES HAVE BEEN REASSIGNED TO CARD CENTERS AGAINST THEIR WILL. THE PUBLIC IS FORCED TO GO TO A CARD CENTER AGAINST THEIR WILL AND WHEN THEY ARRIVE AT THE CARD CENTER THEY ARE FREQUENTLY SUBJECTED TO LENGTHY WAITING TIMES.

    EXPANSION OF E-VERIFY WILL INCREASE THE WORKLOAD OF THE CARD CENTERS AND FORCE MORE SSA CUSTOMERS TO TRAVEL LENGTHY DISTANCES UNNECESSARILY TO CORRECT ERRORS IN THEIR SOCIAL SECURITY RECORDS.

    SSA HAS ALWAYS HAD AN EXTENSIVE NETWORK OF FULL SERVICE OFFICES. NOW IN CARD CENTER AREAS, SSA HAS CREATED SPECIALTY OFFICES FOR NO GOOD REASON THAT INCONVENIENCE THE PUBLIC.

    CONGRESS SHOULD INVESTIGATE THIS BAD IDEA OF CARD CENTERS AND DEMAND THAT SSA CEASE ATTEMPTS TO EXPAND THIS CONCEPT.
    Someone asked me recently where the AFGE is getting the charge that there is a plan to have third parties provide routine Social Security services such as filing claims for a fee. I do not know. What I do know is that no one at Social Security seems to be responding that this is nonsense, that there is no such plan in the works. That does not make it true, but it does make it plausible.

    Labels: , , ,

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • New POMS On Penal Institutions

    The Social Security Administration has issued a new section of its Program Operations Manual Series (POMS) dealing with what constitutes a "penal institution" for purposes of Supplemental Security Income (SSI). A brief summary:
    • Privately operated prison: Yes
    • Home confinement: No
    • Halfway house: Probably
    • Juvenile treatment center: Probably

    Labels:

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • Fraud In Omaha

    From KOLN and KGIN in Nebraska:

    An Omaha man has been put on five years' probation and must pay more than $50,000 in restitution after being convicted of Social Security fraud.

    Jesse Erwin failed to report his asphalt paving business to the Social Security Administration between 2001 and 2007, while the 65-year-old was collecting $54,000 in disability benefits.


    Labels:

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • May 13, 2008

    VCU Benefits From Ticket To Work

    From the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

    Virginia Commonwealth University has been awarded a $4.2 million contract to help people with disabilities find jobs that reduce their dependence on government assistance

    The three-year contract from the Social Security Administration will allow VCU to provide training and technical assistance for more than 500 so-called community work incentives coordinators ...

    Since 2000, the Work Incentives Planning and Assistance National Training Center at VCU has been awarded more than $14 million in federal contracts and provided training and technical assistance to 800 community-based professionals providing service to more than 250,000 Social Security beneficiaries.

    And just what did Social Security get for that $14 million? Where are the success stories of Social Security disability recipients being put back to work? I have no doubt that has VCU fulfilled its contracts. The question is whether Ticket to Work has fulfilled its promise and the answer to that is obviously "No." That $14 million could have been better used for other purposes.

    Labels:

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • AARP Advertising On Social Security Budget


    This ad is appearing this week and next in Congress Daily and Congressional Quarterly. Click on it to see it full size.

    Labels: ,

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • Aged Cases Report















    Courtesy of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR). Click on each image to see it full size.

    Labels:

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • Why Did This Go In The Federal Register?

    From today's Federal Register:
    The Commissioner of Social Security gives notice that SSA intends to add a new calculator to its online Benefit Calculators suite. The Retirement Estimator will allow authenticated individuals to calculate estimates of potential retirement benefits in real-time, based in part on their SSA-maintained records and in part on user-entered information, such as the last year of Social Security earnings. In addition to quick estimates of retirement benefits at specific points such as full retirement age, users may also submit a number of ``what if'' scenarios based on information they provide regarding future earnings and retirement dates. The estimates can be printed and saved. The initial release of the Retirement Estimator will not reflect offset due to the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), or Government Pension Offset (GPO)....

    The Retirement Estimator will be released to the public on July 19, 2008.

    Labels:

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • Lowest Approval Rate In History

    From a press release issued by the Council for Disability Awareness (which appears to be a Long Term Disability Insurance industry group):
    The number of workers applying for SSDI disability payments increased to 2.2 million in 2007, 2.6% more that in 2006, while the number of disabled workers approved for payments declined to 37.6 percent, the lowest approval rate in the history of the program.

    Labels: ,

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • May 12, 2008

    NY Times Editorial On E-Verify

    From today's New York Times:
    To hear some in Congress tell it, the federal government urgently needs to expand its electronic employment verification system, E-Verify, to all corners of the country and force every business to use it. But a hearing in the House last week raised serious questions about the costs and collateral damage of that expansion, the latest scheme by hard-liners to slam the door shut on unauthorized immigrant workers. ...

    Barbara Kennelly, a former Democratic representative from Connecticut and president of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, warned at the hearing that forcing Social Security to take on the enormous burden of immigration enforcement would be a harmful diversion from its core mission and could strain the bureaucracy to the breaking point.

    Labels:

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • Lie Detectors For Social Security Claimants?

    This is from The Inquirer, a British newspaper, repeat, a British newspaper:
    THE GOVERNMENT has put £1.5million up for another round of lie detector test pilots for social security helplines run by local authorities in the UK. ...

    The DWP [agency administering British Social Security?] said today in a statement that "initial results" from the seven pilots it has conducted across seven local authorities had been "successful". It provided no other details but said the results justified another round of pilot projects with another fifteen local authorities. ...

    The software, licensed through Capita by Digilog UK, which bought the UK licence from Nemesysco, an Israeli software developer, attaches risk scores to people after analysing their voices on the telephone. It will alert a call handler with a "pip" and an on-screen assessment if it thinks it has detected a "high-risk" person. According to Capita, half the people it assesses as high risk turn out to be no risk at all.

    Harrow Council said today it had saved an estimated £420,000 in the year since it first installed the software. This was derived from a DWP estimate of the amount a person would typically claim on benefit.

    The figure was calculated on the assumption that 132 people who refused to complete the voice-risk analysis assessment would otherwise have tried to cheat the system; and that 500 people who, though they had been flagged as low risk, had declared their personal circumstances had changed and no longer needed benefits would also have otherwise attempted to cheat the system.

    Out of 1559 benefits claimants processed by the lie detection system, 118 were flagged as high risk. Just 24 of those, or 1.5 per cent, had their benefits decreased as a result of the intrusion.

    Labels:

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • May 11, 2008

    Federal Times On Senate Finance Hearing

    Some excerpts from an article in the Federal Times:
    ... [E]xperts warned that unless Congress appropriates more funds to increase field office staff, dire consequences would follow. “We could be going down a cliff if things continue,” [Richard] Warsinskey [of the National Council of Social Security Management Associations] said in an interview after the hearing. “It’s been a steady slide downward. We’re entering a fragile period.”

    Added GAO’s [Government Accountability Office's Barbara] Bovbjerg: “Hope for the future is running out.” ...

    Pressed by Baucus, McMahon promised to finalize the agency’s annual strategic plan to Congress by July 4.

    A goal of the plan is to reduce wait times for visitors to field offices by five minutes to 10 minutes for those with appointments and 10 minutes to 15 minutes for those without them.

    Labels: ,

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • Waiting In Rochester

    A brief excerpt from an article in the Daily Record of Rochester, NY:

    Smith ultimately waited for three years before his appeal was heard by an administrative law judge in Rochester.

    The hearing on March 6 lasted about 10 minutes. The judge asked Smith a few questions about his surgery and medical problems, and said that he had already reviewed the materials. Most claimants have to wait 30 to 45 days for a written decision; but this time, Smith was lucky. The judge granted his appeal on the spot.

    Labels:

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • May 10, 2008

    A Ray Of Light For Galveston

    Local efforts to prevent the Social Security Administration from closing its Galveston field office may be starting to get somewhere. The Daily News of Galveston County is reporting that while the office may close, a satellite office may open there in its place. Local Congressman Ron Paul, who is still running for President, is refusing to get involved, however.

    Labels:

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • Most Popular Baby Names: A Social Security Press Release Worth Reading

    The Social Security Administration has released its list of most popular baby names for 2007. This is always a fascinating item, but I have to commend whoever wrote this press release. Included are discussions of the effects on baby naming of popular figures such as Danica Patrick, JaMarcus Russell, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Elvis, the popularity of names rhyming with the word "maiden" and names for girls that reflect spiritual concepts, such as the name "Neveah." You're familiar with the spiritual meaning of the name "Neveah", aren't you? Anyway, here is the top ten list:

    Boys: Girls:

    1) Jacob

    2) Michael

    3) Ethan

    4) Joshua

    5) Daniel

    6) Christopher

    7) Anthony

    8) William

    9) Matthew

    10) Andrew

    1) Emily

    2) Isabella

    3) Emma

    4) Ava

    5) Madison

    6) Sophia

    7) Olivia

    8) Abigail

    9) Hannah

    10) Elizabeth


    Labels:

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • ALJ School

    An anonymous poster on the ALJ Discussion Forum gives an interesting description of the training that the Social Security Administration gives to newly hired Administrative Law Judges (ALJs). It is worth a read. The Commissioner spoke to the group.

    Labels:

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • New ALJ Promised For Rochester

    From the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle:

    A Social Security Administration official has promised to place a new judge in its Rochester satellite office to help ease the backlog of pending disability cases in the area, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer said this week.

    Legislators and advocates raised concerns last month after Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue announced 10 new administrative law judges throughout New York to help take on the mounting requests for appeals hearings but assigned none to Buffalo. The Buffalo office, which handles most local cases, traditionally had one of the country's longest processing times.

    Labels: ,

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • Message To The Troops

    This e-mail message went out to many Socal Security personnel on Friday:

    This is a message from Linda McMahon, the Deputy Commissioner for Operations, to all Operations employees. You receive these messages from time to time because the DCO wants to communicate her views to you personally.

    I waited until now to send this note so I can be the last person to acknowledge you during Public Service Recognition Week. However, I have been thinking about you and the great job you do all week -- and every day before this week as well!

    I testified before the Senate Finance Committee yesterday on the challenges we are experiencing in our field offices, and I know those challenges are duplicated throughout Operations. I was proud to talk about your dedication, service commitment and hard work, and I was most gratified when Senator Baucus, Chairman of the Finance Committee, closed the hearing by acknowledging the terrific job all of you do under extremely difficult circumstances.

    Despite the shortage of resources, the myriad policy changes, and the ever-increasing number of people coming to us for help, you have better than held your own. You have demonstrated through your actions that service is much more than the work one person does for another. It is, in fact, the relationship that you have with the public and with each other. It's obvious to me that you take those relationships seriously, and that is the key ingredient to our success.

    I hope you took time this week to appreciate each other and celebrate your contributions. As always, thanks for what you accomplish every day. Happy Public Service Recognition Week!

    Linda

    Labels:

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • May 9, 2008

    ALJ Association Rebuttal

    From a statement filed with the House Social Security Subcommittee by the Association of Administrative Law Judges (AALJ), a union which represents many Social Security ALJs (emphasis in original):
    For the April 23 2008 hearing before the House Ways and Means Committee on Clearing the Disability Backlog, Commissioner of Social Security Michael J. Astrue submitted a written statement and testified. The Association of Administrative Law Judges (AALJ) believes significant portions of the Commissioner’s statements were incorrect, misleading or irrelevant to the backlog issue. This statement is submitted in rebuttal. ...

    It is critical to understand that currently, of the 758,000 total pending cases, 446,000 of them, 59% of the total backlog, are waiting in the hearing offices to be worked up for a judge to review. This is the precise location of the blockage causing the backlog. ...

    The Commissioner’s statement that since he took office in early 2007 he has increased the number of support staff from 4.1 to 4.4 is a surprising statement. Of course any attrition in the number of judges would increase the ratio of staff to judge. To increase the ratio to 4.4 would require a net addition of about 300 staff, or approximately 2 per hearing office. It is quite possible that staff personnel have been added in administrative offices, not working on programs, but such personnel cannot legitimately be considered to be staff supporting the work of the judges. This statement needs clarification and supporting data. ...

    Smoke and Mirrors
    Many of SSA’s highly publicized “Initiatives to Reduce the Backlog” in fact can have little if any effect on actually reducing the backlog. A few examples:
    • The National Hearing Center took five judges from several offices and put them together in a new office in Falls Church. Moving five judges does nothing to reduce the backlog.
    • As explained above, hiring 175 new judges without adding adequate staff is a hollow gesture. It is equivalent to purchasing 175 new trucks and fuel for 20.
    • SSA has expended approximately 50,000 hours of overtime to aid ODAR in getting its work done. The faults are that the money was spent on non-ODAR personnel who do not know the ODAR work and the overtime was viewed as a benefit and thus rotated among field office personnel. The personnel who learned the job this week were replaced the following week by new personnel who did not know the job. With time lost for on-the-job training plus overtime premium, the cost to SSA has been excessive and the production sub-standard.
    • Even the initiative to clear out all cases more than 1,000 days old, while commendable, did not reduce the backlog. Dozens of pages in releases and reports have been devoted to hailing this as reducing the backlog when in fact it merely shifted the production effort from one group of claims to another.
    SSA’s Public Relations machine is endeavoring to convince Congress and the public that it is reducing the backlog but a review of the initiatives discloses that, while they may give the appearance of reducing the backlog, in fact they do not. ...
    (This is not available elsewhere online at this point to the best of my knowledge)

    Labels: , ,

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • Mother's Day Message From Social Security

    From The Star in Shelby, NC, but obviously from a Social Security press release:
    "I helped my mom save $3,600 on prescription drugs and you can too."

    As millions greet their moms Sunday with a "Happy Mother's Day," the Social Security Administration is using the tagline above to spread the word of how they're helping cut Medicare drug costs for those in need.

    Have a parent on Medicare and with limited income? According to Paul D. Barnes, the Social Security Administration's regional commissioner, his office wants to hear from you.

    Barnes, from his Atlanta office, said Congress passed a law in January 2006 for Medicare to expand to cover prescription drugs. And when Congress approved that motion, they also allowed Medicare beneficiaries to apply for extra help if they needed it.

    The only problem? Not enough people know they're eligible. ..
    Actually, I think there is another problem, lack of Social Security personnel to help with Medicare issues.

    Labels: ,

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • ACLU Gets involved

    The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is starting to pay attention to Social Security's backlogs and staffing problems. They put out a press release on April 23. They just put out filed a statement with the Senate Finance Committee yesterday.

    Labels:

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • Allsup Responds On Its Role As Debt Collector

    I posted on April 21 about a Social Security Administration notice in the Federal Register seeking comments on the use of "master" and "sub" accounts as well as pre-authorization of drafts immediately after benefits are deposited as a means of collecting debts out of Social Security benefits. I mentioned that this seemed to me to raise questions about Allsup's "Overpayment Recovery Service." Allsup represents Social Security disability claimants mostly on behalf of Long Term Disability (LTD) insurers.

    LTD plans always contain an offset for Social Security disability benefits. Many people win Social Security disability benefits only after a lengthy struggle. In these cases there are large amounts of back benefits. When the back benefits are paid, the LTD insurer has its hand out wanting back what it had earlier paid. Collecting this offset from the insured might be a problem. Allsup describes its Overpayment Recovery Service as "Withdraw overpayment funds directly from claimant’s bank account using our patented electronic process." I cannot say exactly how this "patented electronic process" works, but it seems obvious that the notice that Social Security published has to do, in part, with what Allsup is doing.

    Allsup has belatedly responded to my post.

    My opinion is that what they are doing is abusive, especially when one considers that they are both trying to represent a Social Security disability claimant and collect a debt from the claimant. This is a hopeless conflict of interest. More directly, what they are doing is a subterfuge to avoid the statute that makes assignment of Social Security benefits illegal:
    The right of any person to any future payment under this title shall not be transferable or assignable, at law or in equity, and none of the moneys paid or payable or rights existing under this title shall be subject to execution, levy, attachment, garnishment, or other legal process, or to the operation of any bankruptcy or insolvency law.

    Labels: ,

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • No Match Letters To Cause "Massive Disruption Of The Work Force"

    From David Hendricks at the San Antonio Express-News:

    Letters listing millions of Social Security “no-match” workers are ready to mail to employers.

    The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency personnel are trained and ready. Buses and vans are standing by for raids. Detention facilities have expanded.

    All that is lacking is clearance from the courts.

    Employers should be prepared in the coming months for immigration raids on scales never before staged by the federal government. ...

    Austin lawyers Kevin Lashus and Robert Loughran compare the federal government's preparations for increased worksite enforcement to an army practicing for battle.

    “The government expects a massive disruption of the work force,” Loughran said. “A climate of fear is the strategy of this administration.” ...

    Lashus, a former ICE official, has been involved in some of the agency's previous workplace raids. Loughran is a longtime specialist in employer sanctions law.

    Whereas ICE has routinely conducted about 10 raids a month, the lawyers expect the pace to rise significantly once the Social Security Administration mails the letters. ICE could strike workplaces 20 to 30 at a time in any given city. The agency would pause to process the cases, then begin new rounds of raids, Lashus said.

    Homeland Security wanted to implement its plan last fall, but a U.S. district judge blocked Social Security's no-match letters after labor unions and other organizations contended the plan would disrupt companies and harm innocent workers. ...

    Homeland Security appealed the judge's decision but in March proposed to go ahead on its plan. Any day now, the Arizona judge must decide whether to lift the injunction or make it permanent.

    If the injunction becomes permanent, Social Security will hold the letters while Homeland Security again appeals. If the injunction is lifted, the no-match letters could be mailed within days.

    So what happens at Social Security if this "massive disruption of the work force" goes forward? My best guess is massive disruption. Illegal immigrants will not be contacting the Social Security Administration. It will be U.S. citizens whose careers will be jeopardized by errors in databases and the simple failure to notify the Social Security Administration of name changes. These U.S. citizens will be unable to get through on the telephone. They will find impossibly long lines outside the doors of Social Security field offices. If my guess is correct, I think some people may be asking Michael Astrue why he did not give a stark public warning about what was going to happen.

    Labels:

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • May 8, 2008

    Senator Snowe On Social Security Funding

    Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME), a member of the Senate Finance Committee, was present and asked questions at today's hearing. This afternoon, she posted the following on her blog at The Hill:

    Both Congress and the Administration have failed mightily to provide the Social Security Administration the resources it needs to assist the millions of Americans who rely on its services. Consequently, the Agency has been unable to hire new employees to replace the 10 percent of its workforce that has retired in just the last two years.

    As baby boomers begin applying for Social Security and disability claims increase, it is absolutely critical that Congress provide the appropriate funding to address this shortfall and prepare for future challenges. Our constituents deserve nothing less, and we must not fail to act on this priority.

    Labels: ,

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • What Struck Me About Today's Hearing

    I have not yet been able to watch all of today's hearing. The thing that struck me most about what I was able to watch was the comments made by Senator Bunning. Bunning had previously been most insistent that Social Security's hearing backlog, at least, had nothing to do with budget. At this hearing Bunning talked about how getting the Social Security Administration $240 million above the President's recommended budget for the next fiscal year is "essential." He browbeat Linda McMahon about why her agency had not been more independent about submitting its own budget to Congress. I have seen Bunning browbeat other witnesses in the past and did not like it. I found his browbeating of McMahon especially unfortunate, since she is not responsible for Social Security's budget submissions. Perhaps I had misinterpreted some comments he made earlier or perhaps he is now seeing the light. Clearly, he now realizes that Social Security has a big budget problem. Perhaps, it is the office closures and the telephones not being answered. It has to be hard for a Senator to ignore that. If a fairly right wing Senator like Bunning is talking like this, things are changing.

    Labels: ,

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • Written Statements At Senate Finance Committee Hearing

    From the Committee Chairman, Max Baucus:
    My staff found that many Montanans who tried to phone the field offices got busy signals for weeks. In desperation, these Montanans gave up trying to telephone the local field offices. They drove hundreds of miles to the offices and back. This is not acceptable.

    In 2006, Social Security surveyed people who reached the field offices by telephone. They found that most callers — 51 percent — had encountered busy signals earlier that day.

    And the 51 percent figure is only the tip of the iceberg. Social Security could survey only the people who actually got through to the field offices’ automated answering services or to an employee. If you got a busy signal for weeks on end, and never got through, you were not even part of the survey sample. ...

    By the end of last year, Social Security indicated that there was already a backlog of 1,000 workyears for the workloads that are being deferred. That’s not even including the deferred medical continuing disability reviews and SSI redeterminations. By the end of next year, that backlog is expected to grow to 8,100 work-years.
    From the Ranking Member, Charles Grassley:
    I recently instructed my staff to begin a comprehensive review to identify ways to reduce administrative complexity and improve program integrity [at Social Security]. This is an ongoing effort that is still in progress. I hope to introduce legislation before the end of this summer.
    From Linda McMahon, Deputy Commissioner for Operations (somebody screwed up since her statement still has a "Draft" watermark on it):
    Although the President's budget will allow us to process more continuing disability reviews and SSI non-disability redeterminations, we still will be unable to address as much of this important workload as we did just a few years ago. ... Although the [President's proposed] FY 2009 budget will allow us to make important strides in core areas, the backlogs of our less visible work, which is generally performed after an individual is approved for benefits, will continue to grow.
    This sounds like she thinks her agency needs more money than the President proposed.

    We are very skeptical that any computer program could be designed to fully substitute for the in-depth review and analysis that our Claims Representatives conduct for claimants filing for benefits. Again, we are discussing a quarter of a million dollar worth of benefits and the options on selecting these benefits are varied and can be very complicated. Would individuals turn over investing their own money to a computer without any human analysis? We don’t believe SSA has developed a thinking computer, we are nowhere close. We do believe that new estimating software being produced by SSA can assist in educating the claimants on their choices. But this should be backed up by someone who is an expert at providing this assistance. ...

    A key concern we have at this time is that there is intense pressure on our employees to increase internet utilization in SSA at the same time the back end of the product we receive isn’t fully ready for prime time. Once a tested and proven internet claims product that works better is released it would be more appropriate to market and try to increase utilization. But all claimants should have the choice to file a claim on the internet and not be pressured to do so. We are aware of instances where some claimants come into a Field Office to file but are encouraged to go back home and file their claim on the internet. We believe this practice is occurring to meet intense pressure to attain internet percentage goals that are often set at regional and area levels.
    From Witold Skwierczynski, President of the American Federation of Government Employees National Council of Social Security Administration Field Operations Locals:
    Employees who work on the SSA front lines and interact with the public are assigned impossible workloads. They are expected to increase their productivity, interview more and more claimants, maintain a high level of accuracy, provide friendly and compassionate service when interacting with the public while Congress and the President not only assign more programs and workloads to the Agency but do so while reducing staff. Dedicated veteran employees are fed up with the deteriorating stressful work environment and count the days till they can retire. SSA changes priorities and engages in crisis management efforts to plug the rapidly multiplying holes in the dam. ...

    SSA staffing shortages have encouraged 3rd party businesses to fill the void and offer to assist claimants in their interactions with SSA. Such assistance, of course, is for a price. Few claimants attempt to navigate the SSA hearings appeal system without representation. However, SSA has plans to encourage and assist 3rd parties in expanding the menu of services that they offer claimants for a fee. ...

    SSA asserts that 2.5 million electronic transactions were completed by the public in FY 07. However, a substantial number of these electronic transactions were problematic to the degree that SSA employees were required to recontact the transactor. SSA employees are very concerned about the direction of the Agency strategy toward unreviewed Internet transactions because few Internet applications are completed accurately and, consequently, require recontact by SSA employees.
    Barbara Bovbjerg of the Government Accountability Office also testified. It is impossible for me to copy anything from her report. Read it online, however.

    Labels: , ,

    Share |
  • Visit the Charles T. Hall Law Firm Website
  • Free Counters
    Free Counters