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Dec 31, 2009

How They're Using The Economic Stimulus Money For The DDS's

Here are some excerpts from Disability Determination Services' Staffing Under The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG):
ARRA [American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the economic stimulus bill] provided SSA an additional $500 million to process retirement and disability workloads. ARRA funds should help SSA address increasing disability and retirement workloads caused by the combination of the economic downturn and the leading edge of the baby boomer retirements. In Fiscal Year (FY) 2009, SSA expected disability and retirement claims to increase by 600,000 over FY 2008.

At the time of our review, $87 million of SSA’s ARRA funds for FYs 2009 and 2010 had been allocated for labor costs of DDS employees and additional overtime, including indirect costs. The labor costs included hiring 300 new DDS employees. The remaining $413 million was allocated to the Offices of Operations and Disability Adjudication and Review, as well as for health information technology (IT) research and activities to facilitate the adoption of electronic medical records in disability claims. ...


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  • Dec 30, 2009

    Seven On Your Side Gets It Done!

    From "News Channel 7" in Spartanburg, SC:

    “I have 5 herniated disks,“ said disability insurance applicant Debi Lovell.

    Lovell said she has so much pain from degenerative disk disease she has to use a walker to take the pressure off her back.

    “My spinal cord is being strangled,“ she said.

    Debi says in 2007 her doctor declared her disabled and it’s taken since then to get a final answer from the Social Security Administration about her disability claim. ...

    On December 14th 7 On Your Side asked the Social Security Administration in an e-mail why Debi hadn’t received a decision about her hearing. The next day a judge sent a letter to Lovell saying she had been approved.

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  • Astrue v. Ratliff Wiki

    The SCOTUS Blog has started a Wiki for each case to be argued before the Supreme Court this term. One of these cases is Astrue v. Ratliff which is on the issue of whether attorney fees payable under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) belong to the Plaintiff or the Plaintiff's attorney.

    The government is ordered to pay EAJA fees far more often in Social Security cases than in any other type of case. If the EAJA fee belongs to the Plaintiff, it is subject to offset for debts that the Plaintiff owes the federal government.

    The case is set for oral argument on February 22, 2010. The certiorari stage briefs are available through the Wiki. The government's brief on the merits is also available. The opposing brief should be available in the near future.

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  • Dec 29, 2009

    Pay Up

    According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Social Security has 1,913 employees who owe federal taxes totaling $16,426,239. Social Security's delinquency rate, that is the percentage of its employees who owe federal taxes, is 2.99%.

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  • Dec 28, 2009

    Attorney User Fee To Remain At 6.3% In 2010

    Attorneys and others who receive direct payment from the Social Security Administration of fees for representing claimants must pay a user fee. The user fee has been 6.3% for years but Social Security must determine on a yearly basis whether this percent should be reduced. Social Security will publish a notice in the Federal Register tomorrow saying that the user fee will stay at 6.3% in 2010.

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  • Retirement Of A District Manager


    From the Chattanooga Times Free Press:

    Eleanor Jones has always thought Social Security workers get a bad rap.

    And she hopes she has changed some people's minds after serving as district manager of the area's Social Security office for the past decade.

    "Sometimes people think of the government as uncaring, but we are caring," said Ms. Jones, who plans to retire at the end of December. "I tell everyone to treat everyone as if they are your grandmother and leave them with their dignity." ...

    C.C. Kennedy, assistant director of the district Social Security office, said Ms. Jones' retirement feels like the end of an era.

    "It's been the golden years," she said. "She is kind, compassionate and caring. She cares about the employees and public service. I have looked forward to coming in to work every day working for her."

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  • Dec 27, 2009

    Social Security's Top Ten Contractors

    Courtesy of FedSpending.org here are the top contractors at Social Security for fiscal year 2009, which ended on September 30, 2009:

    IBM CORP.$44,762,855
    CA INC$31,033,053
    VION CORP$20,268,560
    DELL COMPUTER CORPORATION$18,671,233
    NANA REGIONAL CORPORATION INC$12,341,548
    PC MALL, INC.$12,338,011
    KONIAG INC$10,131,412
    COMPUWARE$6,778,885
    YORK TELECOM CORPORATION$5,484,667
    I. LEVY AND ASSOCIATES, INC.$5,202,386

    NANA is an Alaska native owned business. There have been questions asked about the appropriateness of contracting preferences given NANA.

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  • Dec 26, 2009

    Social Security Working On 75th Anniversary Plans

    From the Social Security Update, a newsletter put out by the Social Security Administration:
    Social Security’s 75th Anniversary

    Social Security’s 75th AnniversaryAs we ring in 2010, we also will be ringing in the 75th anniversary of Social Security. On August 14, 1935, Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law. Since then, for 75 years, Social Security has been a cornerstone of our nation, touching the lives of almost every American at one time or another. We’re hoping that Congress will help us celebrate our anniversary by enacting legislation we proposed to name the Operations Building at our headquarters complex after former Commissioner Robert Ball.

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  • Dec 25, 2009

    Poll

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  • Merry Christmas!

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  • Dec 24, 2009

    Christmas Eve

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  • Dec 23, 2009

    Effects Of Furloughs In California

    From a report of the California State Senate Rules Committee:
    Disability Programs. We found that by taking workers off the job as many as three days a month, furloughs have delayed tens of millions of dollars in monthly checks for people with long-term disabilities. Among our specific findings about the federal Social Security Administration disability programs:
    • Federal disability benefits of $68 million to $99 million a year will be delayed for thousands of qualified Californians because furloughs have slowed the processing of applications.
    • Each furlough day delays the processing of an estimated 1,476 applications for federal disability benefits, with a corresponding delay of $420,800 in benefits for blind, needy or disabled people.
    • The backlog of applications for Social Security disability benefits in California is growing.
    • An estimated 27,000 hours of labor per month are lost to furloughs in the programs that determine which Californians qualify for disability benefits.
    • The average amount of time off taken by the state workers who determine eligibility for federal disability benefits increased by 47% between the third quarter of 2008 – before furloughs – and the same quarter in 2009.
    • Furlough of the people who determine eligibility will cost the state between $18 million and $31 million a year in salaries and other administrative costs that would have otherwise been paid by the federal government – with a corresponding loss of at least $1.4 million in state income taxes.
    • Federal officials have gone to court to argue that California’s furloughs hinder delivery of benefits that can prevent homelessness for vulnerable Californians.
    • They have also warned California officials that federal regulations require states to avoid labor restrictions that impinge prompt payment of benefits.
    California is furloughing disability determination employees even though their salaries are paid for by federal funds. Furloughing these employees saves the state government no money. In fact these furloughs worsen the state's budget situation since it reduces the taxes paid by those state employees. More importantly, the recipients of Social Security disability benefits do pay sales taxes and the money they spend provides for employment for others who do pay income taxes. There is no rational explanation for what California and several other states are doing.

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  • An Incomplete Answer

    From a column by Joanne Crane, Manager of the Social Security District Office in Neptune, NJ (although there is an excellent chance this was written by someone else at Social Security) appearing in the Asbury Park newspaper:
    Q: I'm thinking about getting disability protection from a private company. If I become disabled and have a private policy, would it reduce my Social Security disability benefit?

    A: No. Your eligibility for Social Security disability benefits is not affected by any private insurance you may have.
    The Asbury Park newspaper, like most newspapers these days, seems to try hard to disguise its actual name and location in its online edition. This newspaper identifies itself only as "APP." Perhaps it is the Post, but it will take some effort to find that name online. It was hard enough to figure out where the newspaper is located.

    The problem with the answer given is that it does not mention that Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits would be reduced by "disability protection from a private company." Even more important, these private disability benefits will almost certainly be reduced by Social Security disability benefits. There is an offset; it just works in the opposite direction than the questioner thought. Thus, the answer is incomplete and misleading.
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  • Dec 22, 2009

    Sopranos Actor Acused Of Social Security Fraud -- And It's SSI Fraud At That!


    From the New York Daily News:

    A Brooklyn actor who played wiseguy Donald (Donny K) Cafranza on "The Sopranos" was pinched Monday for a real-life crime - stealing from the government.

    Raymond Franza, 46, who appeared in five episodes of the hit HBO series, was accused of swindling nearly $13,000 from the Social Security Administration.

    Franza was living on Staten Island in 2008 when he applied for disability benefits after a car crash, the Staten Island district attorney's office said.

    He got $12,946 in payments over 14 months, but never said he was also collecting $4,000 a month in benefits from his auto insurance company, which made him ineligible for Social Security help.

    Update: Some of you wonder how this could be Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits because of the amount of money involved for just 14 months. First, it has to be SSI since there is no way it is fraud if the benefits were based upon Mr. Franza's earnings. Those benefits are not means tested. Second, New York has state supplementation. The maximum SSI benefit for an individual in New York is $761 in 2009. Those numbers still do not add up but they are getting closer. The newspaper may have the number of months wrong or they may have the amount of the alleged overpayment wrong, but my bet is that the $14,000 figure includes some Medicaid benefits.

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  • Dec 21, 2009

    Social Security Central Offices Closed?

    The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has announced that Washington, DC area federal offices are closed today due to the snowstorm that hit the area over the weekend. Does this include Social Security's central offices in Woodlawn, Maryland?

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  • Gokhale Appointed To SSAB

    The Social Security Advisory Board (SSAB) reports that Jagadeesh Gokhale has been appointed to the Board by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. He replaces Sylvester Schieber. Gokhale is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, a right wing think tank. He supported former President George W. Bush's plan to partially privatize Social Security.

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  • Employing Vets

    From a press release:
    On Dec. 11, the Interagency Council on Veterans Employment held its first meeting to discuss ways of expanding the participation of veterans in the nation's federal workforce. The meeting was co-chaired by Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. John Berry, director of the Office of Personnel Management, serves as the council's vice chair and chief operating officer.

    The three officials were joined by Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, Commissioner Michael J. Astrue of the Social Security Administration, Director Arden L. Bement Jr. of the National Science Foundation and several other high-level representatives from agencies that together comprise 97 percent of the federal workforce. The council's goal is to transform the federal government into a model of veterans' employment.

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  • Social Security And Senate Version Of Health Care Reform -- Some Asbestosis Victims Gets Special Benefits

    From the New York Times:
    Buried in the deal-clinching health care package that Senate Democrats unveiled over the weekend is an inconspicuous proposal expanding Medicare to cover certain victims of “environmental health hazards.”

    The intended beneficiaries are identified in a cryptic, mysterious way: individuals exposed to environmental health hazards recognized as a public health emergency in a declaration issued by the federal government on June 17, 2009.

    And who might those individuals be? It turns out they are people exposed to asbestos from a vermiculite mine in Libby, Mont.

    The bill (page 198) gives authority to the Commissioner of Social Security to determine exactly who is entitled to this benefit. I think that the bill extends Medicare to this group for screening purposes only (see page 207) but the language is opaque.

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  • Dec 20, 2009

    The Spirit Of Christmas

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  • Dec 19, 2009

    Commissioner's Message On Appropriations

    Subject: COMMISSIONER'S BROADCAST--12/18/09

    A Message To All SSA And DDS Employees

    Subject: FY 2010 Appropriation

    Some good news to share!

    President Obama has signed the omnibus appropriations bill for fiscal year (FY) 2010. The appropriations bill provides us with the amount requested in the FY 2010 President’s Budget, which represents a 10 percent increase over our FY 2009 appropriation.

    Sustained, adequate funding for our agency makes a real difference to the American people. With the additional funding Congress provided over the last few years, we have made significant progress in enhancing service to the public, reducing the hearings backlog, processing hundreds of thousands more claims, and improving 800-number wait times and busy signals. I am proud of what we have accomplished, and I want to thank each of you for your efforts that contributed to our success in FY 2009.

    With our annual appropriation, we will continue to increase staffing in hearings offices and in the State Disability Determination Services (DDSs). This past year, we increased the number of field office staff, and our funding will allow us to maintain this level. In addition, Operations will receive some additional hires to expand Federal capacity to help the DDSs. Our FY 2010 hiring plans will ensure that we maintain the momentum we achieved in FY 2009.

    However, as you all know only too well, we are still dealing with dramatically higher workloads caused by the recession. Even with the 10 percent increase in funding, it will be a challenge to keep the level of pending initial disability claims below one million in FY 2010. We will continue to need adequate and sustained funding in future years in order to achieve our goals of reducing the hearings and disability claims backlogs.

    We obviously have many challenges ahead of us, but I am confident that we are up to the task. I will keep you posted on our progress throughout the year.

    Michael J. Astrue

    Commissioner

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  • Resurrection Takes Time

    From KENS in San Antonio:
    Considering the last several months, Robert McKenzie maintains a good spirit.

    "I believe in God," the 72-year-old said. "I know that he will work things out, but sometimes when the devil gets after you, sometimes everything just falls apart."

    In July, doctors diagnosed him with prostate cancer. But Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas left him with another problem.

    It declared him dead.

    The mistake was a simple coding error while processing his paperwork after he was discharged, the hospital said.

    But that mistake spiraled into more problems.

    "I had no income coming in," McKenzie continued. "I had my Medicare cut off. My Social Security was cut off. My SSI (Supplemental Security Income) was cut off. Everything!" ...

    Presbyterian Hospital said when it discovered its mistake it fixed it immediately. The hospital even gave McKenzie $5,000 to help cover bills in the interim.

    But unwinding this error with the Social Security Administration has taken longer.

    Social Security's monthly checks of $700 resumed in December - for the first time since July, McKenzie said.

    Supplemental Security Income was reactivated this week and he should receive checks again in January.

    But neither Social Security nor SSI has been paid retroactively for the months he missed because of Presbyterian Hospital's mistake.

    The Social Security Administration said work remains on McKenzie's file. Getting it all sorted out won't happen until after the holidays. ...

    Part of the problem, he discovered, came from the $5,000 the hospital gave him. Social Security said it will deduct that from his Supplemental Income benefit.

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  • Social Security Employee Finalist For Cost-Cutting Idea Award

    Christie Dickson of Alabama, a Social Security employee, is a finalist for a White House Securing Americans Value and Efficiency (SAVE) Award. Dickson suggested scheduling Social Security appointments online.
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  • Dec 18, 2009

    House Of Representatives Passes Extension of SSI Withholding And Non-Attorney Withholding

    The House of Representatives has passed the Jobs for Main Street Act of 2009 (page 115) which would make withholding of fees for representing Supplemental Security Income (SSI) claimants permanent and which would also make permanent withholding of fees for certain non-attorney representatives of Social Security claimants. There appear to be no other provisions in the bill affecting Social Security.

    This bill is in a complicated procedural posture not worth explaining here. The net effect, however, is that the ball is in the Senate's court. Obviously, the Senate is tied up at the moment with health care reform. This bill will probably be the most important piece of business before the Senate come the new year -- assuming Republicans cannot succeed in delaying health care reform that long. While the Social Security provisions are uncontroversial, the entire bill is anathema to Republicans, who will try hard to stall it.

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  • Driving Me Up The Wall In Two Ways

    From Dave Lieber (who calls his column the Watchdog) writing in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:
    Ray Shuga, a retired truck driver in Fort Worth, twiddled his thumbs for about two years between the time he applied for Social Security Disability Insurance and the arrival of his first check.

    "In Texas, there are so many people applying for disability, they are just way, way backed up," he says.

    So he and his wife waited while the federal government tried to catch up with demand. Or at least catch up with them.

    "We were counting pennies left and right," Shuga says. "We couldn’t buy anything, couldn’t do anything. My pickup had problems. My wife’s car had problems. But we got by."

    In Texas, about 50,000 people are waiting to hear back about their initial application to get SSDI benefits, paid to people who are under retirement age but can no longer work because of a disability.

    That number of applicants almost doubled in one year, the Social Security Administration says. ...

    The Watchdog was alerted to the SSDI backlog by a representative of Allsup Inc., a third-party company that helps Americans file claims and in return takes a percentage of the initial retroactive payment if an applicant is successful.

    Spokesman Dan Allsup says the Belleville, Ill., company has a 99 percent success rate when applicants stick with Allsup through the entire process ...
    This drives me up the wall in two ways. First, I get many clients like this. They hear there are backlogs so they wait until they are destitute and desperate before filing a claim. These clients do not want to hear me telling them it will take another two to three years at best before they receive help. I suppose you can figure out the other part of this that drives me up the wall.

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  • Dec 17, 2009

    Replacing National Computer Center

    From NextGov:
    If the Social Security Administration's data center -- which stores 450 million earnings and benefits records -- suddenly crashed, the agency's operations would come to a near standstill for seven days, a top agency official told a House panel on Wednesday.

    It would take SSA a week to transfer computer tapes to a commercial backup computer facility to recover the data, which the agency uses to issue Social Security numbers and administer benefits, Michael Gallagher, SSA deputy commissioner for budget, finance and management, told the Social Security Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee. ...

    SSA started building its own secondary data center in Research Triangle Park, N.C., in May. That center stores 400 million medical records used to issue electronic disability claims and also provides redundant connections to SSA offices nationwide, including providing them with Internet access.

    But the North Carolina facility will not become fully functional until 2012 ...

    While the agency works on a backup data center, officials are considering how to replace their primary data center, the 39-year-old National Computer Center at SSA's headquarters in Woodlawn, Md..

    The 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provided $500 million for the new data center, the largest single federal building project funded by the stimulus bill. SSA and the General Services Administration are conducting a search for a new site within 40 miles of the headquarters facility.

    Building the data center on a site off the Woodlawn campus would be cheaper than building a new center on site, according to a Booz Allen Hamilton study released in February. Building a new center off campus would cost $748 million compared with $803 million on campus, O'Carroll said. ...

    Rob Hewell, regional commissioner for the Public Buildings Service's Mid-Atlantic Region at GSA, told lawmakers the agency has looked at more than 150 potential sites for the data center and plans to purchase one in March 2009.

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  • MSNBC On Claims Surge

    From MSNBC:
    According to the Social Security Administration, which runs the two main federal disability programs, new claims for disability benefits rose nearly 17 percent nationwide in fiscal year 2009, to 3 million. Disability filings are projected to rise another 10 percent in fiscal 2010, to 3.3 million new claims ...

    Michael Astrue, commissioner of the Social Security Administration, understands the frustration of ... [those] who help disability applicants navigate the system.

    “If I were in their shoes, I’d be concerned too,” Astrue said, acknowledging that his organization doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to processing claims in a speedy and efficient manner. In some parts of the country, disability applicants can wait years before they get a final decision.

    “Where we’re having the biggest problems are states that have a combination of two things: One, the economy is very bad; and two, the state has embraced furloughs," Astrue said. "California, Wisconsin, Ohio are three of the states where we’re really struggling now.”

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  • Wellness Programs For Social Security Employees

    From a notice posted by Social Security on FedBizOpps.gov:
    The Social Security Administration (SSA) is conducting a market survey to seek sources that can provide a comprehensive workplace wellness program for its 67,000 employees located nationwide. SSA envisions this Program to encompass two major parts-the first part being on-line services for health education to include, but not limited to, such topics as: fitness, nutrition, disease management/prevention, emotional/mental well being, stress, and safety. This on-line portion should be a "one-stop shop" for all services, information, and programs SSA offers to employees. The second part of this Program requires the services of professionally certified experts in fitness, nutrition and health to provide individualized coaching services to all employees as well as administer and support the online product for SSA employees nationwide.

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  • Dec 16, 2009

    Social Security Bulletin

    The latest issue of the Social Security Bulletin, the agency's scholarly publication, has been released.

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  • Hearing On National Computer Center

    Two Subcommittees of the House Ways and Means Committee held a joint hearing yesterday on Social Security's project to replace its National Computer Center. The written statements for that hearing are now available online. I see nothing noteworthy in the statements but I will confess that I have not been following this as closely as some others, such as contractors, local governments who want the facility in their backyard, Social Security employees who may be assigned to work at the new facility, etc.

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  • Dec 15, 2009

    Number Of Social Security Employees Jumps

    Below are the June 2009 figures for the number of employees at Social Security, recently released by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), along with earlier figures for comparison purposes.
    • June 2009 66,614
    • March 2009 63,229
    • December 2008 63,733
    • September 2008 63,990
    • June 2008 63,622
    • March 2008 60,465
    • December 2007 61,822
    • September 2007 62,407
    • June 2007 62,530
    • March 2007 61,867
    • December 2006 63,410
    • September 2006 63,647
    • September 2005 66,147
    • September 2004 65,258
    • September 2003 64,903
    • September 2002 64,648
    • September 2001 65,377
    • September 2000 64,521
    • September 1999 63,957
    • September 1998 65,629

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  • Dec 14, 2009

    What Is This?

    A press release:
    Former Space Shuttle Commander Rick Searfoss lays out in detail Attorney Eric C. Conn's qualifications to be appointed to the Social Security Advisory Board. Searfoss was number one in his United States Air Force Academy class and later went on to command the STS-90 mission on Colombia, which was the most complex scientific research mission flown to date. Presently Searfoss is a speaker in high demand as an inspirational speaker to corporations.

    The Social Security Advisory Board is an independent, bipartisan board created by Congress and appointed by the President and the Congress to advise the President, the Congress, and the Commissioner of Social Security on matters related to the Social Security and Supplemental Security Income programs. Conn wants to be appointed by President Obama to this board.

    Searfoss outlines Conn's qualifications to serve on the Board. Conn's law practice had modest beginnings in a singlewide trailer. Searfoss discusses Conn having been an Eagle Scout and having joined the U.S. Army out of high school. Conn's educational background is outlined from undergraduate through law school. Searfoss observes that Conn is a Mensan, which is an organization that only accepts those who have an IQ in the top two percent of the population. Searfoss discusses Conn's Gulf War service as a decorated company commander. Conn is board certified by the National Board of Legal Specialty Certification in Social Security Disability Law.

    Conn launched his campaign in a video with legendary bluegrass singer Ralph Stanley and model/actress Amber Ettinger, more widely known as the "Obama girl." Stanley endorsed President Obama during his successful presidential campaign. Conn's law office has over 35 employees. Conn's law practice as of December 13, 2009 has processed over 2000 Social Security Disability and SSI cases.

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  • I Sure Am Glad We Have Conquered Diabetes!

    From a Notice of Proposed Rule-Making (NPRM) in the Federal Register today:
    Because of advances in medical treatment and detection, most endocrine disorders do not reach listing-level severity because they do not become sufficiently severe or do not remain at a sufficient level of severity long enough to meet our 12-month duration requirement. This is true even for people who have recurrent episodes of hypoglycemia or of diabetic acidosis (also called diabetic ketoacidosis, or DKA), a serious outcome of uncontrolled blood glucose levels. Current listings 9.08B and 109.08A, which provide criteria for people who have recurrent episodes of DKA, and listing 109.08B, which provides a criterion for children who have recurrent episodes of hypoglycemia, reflect an earlier view that people with wide fluctuations in their blood glucose levels had uncontrollable DM. We consulted with endocrinologists, diabetologists, and other medical experts who treat DM, and they indicated that the current listings reflect only inadequate glucose regulation. The information we obtained from these experts and relevant medical references demonstrates that adequate glucose regulation is achievable with improved treatment options, such as a wider range of insulin products.

    For these reasons, we believe that, with one exception, we should no longer have listings in sections 9.00 and 109.00 based on endocrine disorders alone, and we are proposing to remove all such current endocrine listings. The sole exception is for children under age 6 who have DM and require daily insulin.

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  • McPaper Notices State Furlough Problems

    From USA Today:
    Millions of Americans are waiting longer for unemployment checks, disability payments and food stamps as states furlough workers who process the benefits. ...

    The number of people waiting for their first disability checks increased 38% in 2009 to 768,666, according to the Social Security inspector general. Nationally, the average length of time to process a claim went from 81 days in 2008 to 83 days in 2009. ...

    Furloughing workers who help the needy is "fundamentally irrational," says Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue. Disability, unemployment and food stamps are funded by the federal government. "People should be getting their benefits."

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  • Some News From Nancy Shor

    Nancy Shor has been Executive Director of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR) since 1979. Ms. Shor spoke this past Friday at a Continuing Legal Education (CLE) conference put on by the North Carolina Association for Justice (NCAJ). Below are a few items that I gleaned from her remarks, with one interjection from me in brackets. Could someone explain to me how the last item below could possibly be achieved?
    • In January 2010 Social Security will be distributing 1099s to attorneys and others who have received direct payment from Social Security in 2009 of fees for representing Social Security claimants. There will be one 1099 for each individual who received at least one fee totaling $600 or more and another 1099 for each firm for which such an individual worked. Each 1099, however, will list each individual payment of a fee.
    • Social Security has no advice for attorneys who receive 1099s containing mistakes other than to call the agency's 800 number or one of its field offices. Ms. Shor suggested that this sounded inadequate to her.
    • Ms. Shor thinks that all those who represent Social Security claimants will have full access to Social Security's computer records on their clients within something like six months, although it sounded like she would not be amazed if this date slipped a bit.
    • Ms. Shor is hopeful that withholding of fees for representing Supplemental Security Income (SSI) claimants as well as withholding of fees for certain non-attorney representatives will soon become permanent.
    • David Foster, head of Social Security's Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR), has told Ms. Shor that it has been noticed that there are an unusually high number of objections to video hearings when certain Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) are to preside. Social Security is considering withholding the name of the ALJ with which a video hearing is being scheduled in order to prevent forum shopping. [What do attorneys do as a counter-move? Does Social Security want that?]
    • The public has until February 15, 2010 to comment upon the recent report of the Occupational Information Development Advisory Panel (OIDAP) of which Ms. Shor is a member. Ms. Shor recommended that the attendees read the report and file comments upon it.
    • Ms. Shor has been told that claimants filing a request for a hearing today will receive a hearing within 275 days, but this may happen at the expense of claimants who already have pending requests for hearings.

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  • Why Doesn't SSA Want To Work With DOL?

    In making disability determinations, the Social Security Administration (SSA) relies upon the Dictionary of Occupatonal Titles (DOT), both as a means of classifying a claimant's past work and as a means of determining whether alternative jobs may exist which the claimant can perform despite his or her impairments. The data upon which DOT is based dates back more than thirty years. There is universal agreement that the DOT is unreliable, but Social Security still uses it to deny disability claims. The DOT was produced by the Department of Labor (DOL). The DOL has produced a replacement for the DOT called the O*NET. Unfortunately, the O*NET as it currently exists does not mesh with Social Security's methods for determining disability.

    Social Security appointed the Occupational Information Development Advisory Panel (OIDAP) to study what to do about this situation. OIDAP has recently issued its report. There is one glaring omission in the lengthy OIDAP report -- any discussion of the possibility of SSA working with DOL to create some version of O*NET that would satisfy Social Security's needs. Instead, OIDAP recommended that Social Security create its own occupational information system, that is its own equivalent of the DOT or O*NET, from scratch.

    OIDAP may not feel like working with DOL, but that feeling is not mutual. The DOL recently set up a panel to review O*NET. That panel has issued its report which is available to download for free. The report devotes an entire chapter to the question of how O*NET might be made to work for disability determination. I have reproduced that entire chapter elsewhere. Here are some excerpts from that chapter (emphasis in original):
    Given that occupational information is critical for use in disability determination, our panel invited Sylvia E. Karman, a representative of SSA, to make a presentation on this issue. SSA appears to think that O*NET is not able to fulfill the needs of vocational rehabilitation experts and others involved in the process of disability determination. ...

    Having ruled out the use of O*NET for disability determination purposes, SSA has begun taking steps to develop its own occupational information system. In December 2008, the commissioner of social security established the Occupational Information Development Advisory Panel. ... The panel’s report, issued in September, 2009, recommends the creation of a new “Social Security Administration Occupational Information System” for use in disability determination ...

    The panel understands that, pending SSA’s response to the advisory panel recommendations, the jury is still out on the topic of whether and to what extent O*NET should be changed or expanded to meet SSA’s needs. However, given public demand for budgetary restraint and efficient government, which acquire additional importance in times of economic recession and slow economic growth, duplication in government functions should be prevented. Therefore, the development of parallel, possibly redundant, occupational information systems, one for general purposes termed O*NET and the other tailored to the needs of SSA, is of concern to taxpayers. In addition, dual data collection processes would seem unnecessarily expensive.

    The panel is not advocating the adoption of O*NET by SSA or the development of a hybrid O*NET-Disability system in the disability determination process. However, we conclude that a considerably modified and expanded O*NET may be capable of informing the disability determination process. There are also some potential economies of scale to be derived from the development of a single occupational information system to be used by both agencies, which may allow cost-sharing of resources in such functions as data collection and system maintenance. ...

    Not all stakeholders share the opinion that O*NET cannot be amended to meet the needs of those involved in disability determination. In fact, the Committee to Review the Social Security Administration’s Disability Decision Process called for interagency collaboration (Institute of Medicine, 1998). Its 1998 report encouraged SSA to explore some interagency agreement “to initiate a version of O*NET that would collect information on minimum as well as average job requirements to better serve SSA’s needs to assess ability to engage in substantial gainful activity” (p. 24).

    We found evidence suggesting that these calls for collaboration between DOL and SSA were heeded. In 2000, vocational rehabilitation professionals initiated discussions with DOL and SSA which led to the creation of the Inter-Organizational O*NET Taskforce with representatives of 16 associations of physicians, psychologists, therapists, counselors, insurers and educators (Cannelongo, 2009). The group met for 4 years and proposed development of a modified version of O*NET called O*NET –D (for Disability) that would incorporate occupational information gathered in the field by disability professionals trained in job analysis, using standardized questionnaires. A pilot study of the approach funded by DOL yielded promising results. Although SSA staff initially agreed with the plan and submitted it to the SSA administrator, the agency later withdrew its support.

    At around the same time, SSA commissioned the American Institutes for Research (AIR) to examine the suitability of O*NET for the disability determination process (Gustafson and Rose, 2003). Based on an analysis of the initial O*NET database (the “occupational analyst” database), the AIR research team found that reliability, definitional, and anchoring issues could lead to problems if O*NET data were used for disability determination. At the same time, however, the authors identified specific steps for addressing these problems. For example, they suggested that a disability decision maker could use O*NET task lists and other descriptive information to help determine the activities of claimants’ current jobs and described an approach to using selected O*NET descriptors that would adjust for the positively skewed distributions of ratings of these descriptors. Gustafson and Rose (2003, p. 15) concluded that “SSA could implement into the [disability determination process] a version of O*NET that is legally defensible and acceptable to decision-makers and claimants alike.”

    Another piece of evidence, suggesting the continued possibility of collaboration between DOL and SSA, is the testimony provided by former O*NET director, James Woods, to the SSA advisory panel on January 13, 2009 (Woods, 2009). In his address, he regretted that earlier efforts to accommodate the SSA needs into O*NET did not bear fruit; however, he remained hopeful that O*NET
    may provide a basis to help SSA focus on a specific set of data needs and to organize data within the O*NET framework—for SSA’s specific needs. O*NET, or at least the lessons learned in developing the O*NET system, may provide a starting point rather than SSA starting from scratch.
    In spite of such past interagency efforts, communication and collaboration between DOL and SSA regarding a common occupational database now appears quite limited. An inspection of their most recent communications suggests that both agencies have reached the implicit conclusion that DOL will not modify O*NET to accommodate disability determination users, and that SSA will build an entirely different occupational information system for its purposes. The fact that SSA’s newly formed advisory panel does not include a DOL liaison suggests that the development of an SSA-sponsored system may proceed relatively independent of O*NET.

    [The report goes on to examine objections raised by SSA to using the O*NET and then comes to its conclusions and recommendations]
    Recommendation: SSA and DOL should create an interagency task force to study the viability of potential modifications of O*NET to accommodate the needs of SSA with regard to disability determination. Before implementing these or similar modifications, however, we recommend that the task force conduct (1) an in-depth needs analysis of the occupational information required by the current disability determination process and (2) an interagency cost-benefit and
    cost-sharing analysis of the additional resources that would be needed to make O*NET suitable to the disability determination process.

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  • Average Processing Time Report





    This was published in the Social Security Forum, the newsletter of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR). The newsletter itself is not available online. Click on each page to see it full size. The report concerns the processing times at Social Security's hearing offices.

    Here are some numbers over time for comparison:
    • January 25, 2007 -- 508 days
    • May 25, 2007 -- 523 days
    • July 28, 2007 -- 528 days
    • August 31, 2007 -- 523 days
    • November 30, 2007 -- 500 days
    • February 29, 2008 -- 511 days
    • May 30, 2008 -- 523 days
    • June 27, 2008 -- 529 days
    • July 31, 2008 -- 530 days
    • September 3, 2008 -- 532 days
    • November 5, 2008 -- 476 days
    • December 3, 2008 -- 480 days
    • March 8, 2009 -- 499 days
    • April 24, 2009 -- 505 days
    • June 3, 2009 -- 505 days
    • September 29, 2009 -- 472 days
    • October 30, 2009 -- 446 days

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  • Dec 13, 2009

    Early Accounting Operations At Social Security

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  • Updated Fee Payment Stats

    Below are undated statistics on payments of fees to attorneys and others for representing Social Security claimants:

    Fee Payments

    Month/Year Volume Amount
    Jan-09
    28,423
    $101,128,880.69
    Feb-09
    31,352
    $112,791,207.17
    Mar-09
    29,199
    $104,155,187.96
    Apr-09
    30,963
    $110,133,425.19
    May-09
    36,603
    $126,725,262.45
    June-09
    31,799
    $113,962,564.84
    July-09
    34,802
    $124,621,068.71
    Aug-09
    28,218
    $100,279,282.51
    Sept-09
    28,455
    $100,918,402.40
    Oct-09
    36,729
    $131,011,485.43
    Nov-09
    29,423
    $103,696,628.46

    It is worth noting that representing Social Security claimants now generates more than a $1 billion a year in fees. We first passed that threshold last year.

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  • Dec 12, 2009

    More On Monday

    I will have some excerpts on Monday, but if you have the slightest interest in what replaces the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) in disability determination at Social Security, you need to take a look at Chapter 8 of A Database for a Changing Economy: Review of the Occupational Information Network (O*NET) and then ask yourself why Social Security is insisting on forging ahead on its own at enormous expense on a project which is far outside its field of expertise.

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  • Legislation Enacted On Payments To Prisoners

    The No Social Security Benefits for Prisoners Act was passed by Congress on Thursday. The Act prohibits payments of Social Security benefits to anyone who is ineligible for benefit payments because of imprisonment. This may seem redundant but some prisoners are otherwise eligible for benefits for periods of time before their imprisonment. This prohibition on payment of benefits only applies until the claimant is again eligible for payment of benefits, at which point the back benefits may be paid. Amounts may still be deducted and paid out of benefits owing to a prisoner for items such as child support or attorney fees that will be paid to someone other than the prisoner.

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  • Dec 11, 2009

    Press Release On Incorrect Notices

    A Social Security press release:

    The Social Security Administration earlier this month mailed notices that contained incorrect January 2010 payment dates. These erroneous notices went to about 6 million beneficiaries who receive their payments on either the second, third, or fourth Wednesday of each month, and are part of the annual benefit notices that go to 52 million Social Security beneficiaries. In the notice the payment date is incorrectly shown as one week before what the actual date of payment will be. The other information in the notice, including the payment amount, is correct. Social Security is sending a letter explaining the error to beneficiaries who received the incorrect one as soon as possible.

    “We apologize for the inconvenience and confusion these incorrect notices will cause,” said Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security. “The problem was caused by an unfortunate human error. We are correcting the misinformation as quickly as possible, and we are reviewing our processes closely to prevent this type of mistake from happening in the future. People receiving Social Security benefits in January 2010 should know that their payment will arrive on the same payment day that it has arrived in the past.”

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  • Bed Bugs In Jamaica

    From a presolicitation notice posted by Social Security:
    The Social Security Administration (SSA), Region II, requires a contractor to use sufficient heat levels and heat application time to remove a bed bug infestation that has been identified inside a several [sic] vertical file cabinets currently containing paper files and folders. The files are located at the SSA facility in Jamaica, Queens, New York. The seven areas in the building needing treatment are spread across five floors.

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  • Dec 10, 2009

    Commissioner's E-Mail On Labor Management Forum

    From: ^Commissioner Broadcast
    Sent: Thursday, December 10, 2009 9:41 AM
    Subject: COMMISSIONER'S BROADCAST--12/10/09

    A Message To All SSA Employees

    Subject: Executive Order Creating Labor Management Forum

    I want to share with you an Executive Order President Obama signed Wednesday. The Order calls for creation of a non-adversarial forum for managers, employees, and employees' union representatives to promote constructive labor relations and improve productivity and effectiveness in the Federal Government.

    I look forward to implementing this Executive Order and have asked Dr. Reginald Wells and his staff to take the lead in this new initiative.

    To read the Executive Order, click here.

    Michael J. Astrue

    Commissioner

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  • Ways And Means Hearing Scheduled

    From an announcement of the House Ways and Means Committee:
    Congressman John S. Tanner (D-TN), Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee Subcommittee on Social Security, and Delegate Eleanor Holmes-Norton (D-DC), Chairwoman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management, announced today that the Subcommittees will hold a joint oversight hearing on the progress made to replace the Social Security Administration’s National Computer Center. The hearing will take place on Tuesday, December 15, 2009 in the main Ways and Means Committee hearing room 1100 Longworth House Office Building, beginning at 9:30 a.m. ...

    This hearing will continue Congressional oversight of this critical project. It will provide a general update on the status of the project, including an examination of the decisions made thus far, and on the planning and next steps being taken by SSA and GSA. It will also provide an update on the agencies’ plans for avoiding delays in the project’s completion, and contingency plans in the event of catastrophic failure of the existing NCC prior to completion of the new facility. ...

    The hearing will focus on the progress to date of SSA [Social Security Administration] and GSA [General Services Administration, the agency that handles construction of new government buildings] in using ARRA [American Recovery and Reinvestment Act] resources to replace the NCC, [National Computer Center] including the development of requirements for the new center, and the site selection process and criteria. The hearing will also evaluate SSA’s and GSA’s management of the potential for unexpected cost and delay. Finally, the hearing will examine SSA’s preparedness in case of catastrophic failure of the existing NCC, including the role of the new data support center in North Carolina.

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  • Dec 9, 2009

    Labor-Management Forum

    From FedBlog (emphasis added):

    President Barack Obama signed an executive order today creating a "Labor-Management Forum"--a national partnership including both management and labor representatives to discuss labor issues and try to resolve differences, to advise the president on labor-related issues, and also to set up similar entities at the agency level.

    Unlike an earlier version of the order, it will not require agencies to collectively bargain over the so-called "permissive issues," such as employee grading, technology, method of work, and other issues which are exempted from collective bargaining by Title V of the federal code. ...

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  • Waiting In West Virginia

    From The State Journal of Charleston, WV:
    According to Dan Allsup, director of communications for Allsup Inc., 13,700 West Virginians are awaiting hearings on claims, with a 490-day average nationwide for a hearing. ...

    In West Virginia in September, the average wait for a hearing was 396 days at the Morgantown branch of the Social Security office. Charleston's wait was 317 days, and Huntington's was 299 -- an average of 337 for state residents waiting for a judgment hearing. ...

    "Ninety-eight to 99 percent of the people we work with are approved because we cut the hassle and make the process easier," Allsup said.
    Are there unfair trade practices laws in West Virginia?

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  • Nine Years?

    From a press release:
    The U.S. Social Security Administration has awarded Abt Associates a contract to implement and evaluate the Benefit Offset National Demonstration (BOND). The demonstration, mandated by Congress in 1999, will determine whether retaining benefits at higher levels of earnings will increase employment and income for recipients of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). ...

    Congress mandated this study to test the effect of reducing the SSDI benefit by $1 for every $2 of countable earnings above the SGA threshold. In addition to offering this positive financial incentive, the demonstration will also test whether offering BOND participants enhanced counseling--to assist them in understanding the rules changes and taking advantage of them--will lead to higher earnings than only eliminating the "SGA cash cliff." ...

    After a pilot period to test important implementation procedures, the full demonstration is scheduled to be launched in April 2011 and will involve approximately 90,000 participants in ten large, randomly selected sites around the U.S. SSDI beneficiaries will be randomly assigned to treatment and control groups for the purpose of testing the incentives. The results will be followed over the course of the nine-year period.

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  • Dec 8, 2009

    What Data Do You Want Social Security To Release?

    The White House has just released a new "Open Government Directive." Complying with this directive will require a major effort at all federal agencies, including Social Security. The entire directive is worth reading, but here are a couple of short excerpts that sets a very specific goal for each agency:
    Within 45 days, each agency shall identify and publish online in an open format at least three high-value data sets ... These must be data sets not previously available online or in a downloadable format. ...

    High-value information is information that can be used to increase agency accountability and responsiveness; improve public knowledge of the agency and its operations; further the core mission of the agency; create economic opportunity; or respond to need and demand as identified through public consultation.
    What "high-value" data would you like for Social Security to release? Remember, Social Security is supposed to consult with the public about what is to be released. What you post here could actually make a difference.

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  • SSA Wants Contractor To Screen ALJ Applicants

    From a posting made on FedBizOpps.gov, where federal agencies must post notices of contracting opportunities:
    The Social Security Administration (SSA) intends to issue an unrestricted solicitation to obtain the services of one experienced company to perform telephone background screenings on potential candidates that could serve as Administrative Law Judges for the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR). The contractor shall provide staff experienced in conducting background screening of mid- to senior level attorneys (comparable to 6th year associates and above, partners, judges, general counsel, associate general counsel positions, U.S. Attorneys, etc.) Only experience U.S. based telephone interviewers (including Alaska and Hawaii) who speak English clearly may be used.

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  • Dec 7, 2009

    Social Security Fix-It Book

    The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College has released its most recent edition of the Social Security Fix-It Book, a graphic laden guide to how to deal with Social Security's long term financing issues. Unfortunately, I have to say that this book has a tilted take on the problem. The option of completely removing the cap on earnings covered by the FICA tax is not even mentioned, even though that is probably the method most favored on the left. Individual accounts, which are favored on the right, are discussed, but the book says that "the effect [on the shortfall] is indirect and unclear." That is false. Add-on individual accounts do nothing about the long term shortfall. Carve-out individual accounts make the problem worse.

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  • Dec 6, 2009

    Walking Out Empty-Handed

    From the News Journal of Delaware:
    Every year, more than 1,000 people tell their stories of ailments, impairments and shortened careers to a Social Security judge in Dover, hoping to win their claim for disability benefits.

    Many who walk out empty-handed share one thing in common: Judith A. Showalter, the administrative law judge who denied their claim....

    In fiscal years 2005 through 2008, the most recent years for which data are available, Showalter denied 56 percent of the cases she heard, twice the national average of 28 percent, Social Security figures show.

    Claimants under age 50 face even tougher odds with Showalter. From 2005 through 2008, Showalter denied 70 percent of their cases, compared to a national average of 32.5 percent, agency data show.

    Showalter's record was a big reason the Dover hearing office had the eighth-highest denial rate -- 44 percent -- among 141 offices nationwide

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  • Dec 5, 2009

    Fed Chairman Calls For Social Security Cuts

    From Huffington Post:

    Ben Bernanke [Chairman of the Federal Reserve] has overseen the greatest expansion of the Federal Reserve's balance sheet in its history, pouring trillions of dollars into Wall Street firms at roughly zero interest rates.

    His generosity, however, has a limit.

    In testimony before the Senate Banking Committee today, where he's seeking re-appointment as the Fed's chairman, Bernanke called for cutbacks in Medicare and Social Security ...

    Bernanke reminded Congress that it has the power to repeal Social Security and Medicare.

    "It's only mandatory until Congress says it's not mandatory. And we have no option but to address those costs at some point or else we will have an unsustainable situation," said Bernanke.

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  • Dec 4, 2009

    Social Security Offices To Be Closed Christmas Eve

    From Commissioner Astrue to Social Security employees:
    A Message To All SSA Employees

    Subject: Leave on December 24th

    This has been an unbelievably challenging, yet remarkable, year for us. I am keenly aware of the impact that the nation's current economic situation has had on our workloads. Once again, you have stepped up to this challenge and continue to set the standard for public servants. In appreciation for your hard work and dedication, on December 24, 2009, I am excusing employees from work and closing all Social Security Administration offices for normal business. The excused absence will be handled in accordance with existing policy and applicable negotiated agreements. The Office of Personnel will issue detailed guidance to managers and timekeepers.

    I am grateful for the work that you do and for your accomplishments. Enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done and the additional time to be with your family and friends during this holiday season.

    Michael J. Astrue
    Commissioner

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  • ODAR Deputy Commissioner Broadcast




    Here is a copy of the December 3, 2009 Office of Disability Adjudication and Review Deputy Commissioner Broadcast. Click on each page to see it full size. A few highlights:
    • This past month, we reduced the disability backlog by 3,399 cases, putting us at 8,337 below the FY 2010 opening pending of 722,822. We have now reduced the disability backlog 11 months in a row. We are fortunate, however, that receipts have been well below the projections, 11% below in October and 6% below in November.
    • This fiscal year, we expect to replace all of our staff losses and hire approximately 1,300 additional employees ...
    • On November 20, our first class of ALJs for FY 2010 was sworn in at the Longworth House Office Building in Washington, D.C. Congressman Earl Pomeroy delivered the keynote speech. By bringing on board 43 ALJs and 8 AAJs, we are on our way to increasing our ALJ corps to 1,450 by the end of the fiscal year.
    • We have updated the ODAR map that shows our new hearing offices, satellite offices, and National Hearing Centers, plus the hearing sites scheduled to open during FY 2010. To view the map, visit http://odar.ba.ssa.gov/odarweb/DCDAR/ODARmap.pdf. [This is either a bad link in the original or only available to those inside the firewall at Social Security. I think that people on the outside would be interested in seeing this.]
    • We have completed the FY 2009 fourth quarter reports for the Hearing Backlog Reduction Update booklets. We distributed to each member of Congress a booklet describing the progress we have made in their respective districts. To view these booklets, visit http://www.socialsecurity.gov/appeals/congressional-booklets.html.

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  • Dec 3, 2009

    Anything For Social Security?

    The Hill reports that Democrats in Congress are in the early stages of developing a jobs creation bill that might be as much as $300 billion. Since Social Security got major funding in the last jobs bill, I hope Social Security is trying to get something out of this new bill.

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  • Killing Off DSI

    Former Social Security Commissioner Barnhart had a grand plan for resolving all the problems in disability determination at Social Security. It was called Disability Service Improvement or DSI. There were just a couple of problems with DSI. It made no sense. It did not work when implemented. It quickly became obvious that DSI would not last once Barnhart was replaced by Michael Astrue, the current Commissioner. However, some parts of DSI have continued in Social Security's Boston region. Social Security will publish proposed regulations in the Federal Register tomorrow to officially and finally kill off DSI.

    Does anyone know how much money was wasted on DSI? Many people in high places at Social Security talked glowingly about the wonders of DSI while Barnhart was Commissioner. Did they really believe what they were saying?

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  • Dec 2, 2009

    Child Conceived By IVF Gets Benefits In Iowa

    From KCRG:
    A federal judge has ruled that a girl born almost two years after her father died of leukemia is entitled to the man's Social Security benefits.

    A judge ruled that 6-year-old Brynn Beeler can collect Social Security survivor benefits. The girl was conceived through in vitro fertilization.

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  • Waiting In Bakersfield

    From a piece in The Bakersfield Californian written by John Tello, a local attorney who represents Social Security disability claimants:

    A hearing is scheduled in April 2010 for a Bakersfield woman who has been waiting since 2006 to get approval for Social Security disability benefits. That's right, four years.

    My client, who suffered a serious work-related injury, was initially denied benefits in October 2006. Her application has gone through the process of reconsideration, denial, request for hearing, denial and appeal of denial. Finally, she has been granted the April hearing. While her disabilities are serious, it is a good thing they are not fatal. Otherwise, Social Security could have waited her out, allowing death to resolve the matter.

    Regrettably, that is what often happens. And with a recent spike in the number of disability applications pouring into Social Security offices, the tragic consequences of long-delayed decisions are growing

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  • Can't Get Through In Fort Worth

    From the Fort Worth, Texas Star Telegram:

    With his 65th birthday approaching, Eric Martin of Arlington knew it was time to sign up for Medicare. Thirty phone calls, countless busy signals and an office visit later, he still couldn’t get the help he needed. ...

    To get the ball rolling, Martin had called a national toll-free number listed on a document he received in the mail from the Social Security Administration. He was then given the phone number to its Mid-Cities field office in Grand Prairie.

    That’s when the process ground to a halt.

    Martin began calling the during the first week of September, with no luck.

    By Sept. 24, Martin said, he had called about 30 times without getting through. So he went to the office, only to find it packed with people waiting to be seen. One person was being helped every 30 minutes, he said. By his calculation, that meant he would not be seen until the next day. ...

    Nationally, more than 3 million people had a wait of more than an hour at field offices, the GAO [Government Accountability Office] said, citing the Social Security Administration but noting that it had not validated its data.

    GAO also reported that more than half the people who call field offices get busy signals. ...

    An employee there who would identify herself only as Miss Rojas told the Star-Telegram that the number of workers tending the phones depends on the line of people inside the building.

    But Charlie Brittian, project manager for the administration’s Regional Public Affairs team, has a different take.

    "We answer the phone all day long," she said and noted that the Mid-Cities office has 52 employees.

    She said Martin’s experience is not common at the Mid-Cities office. The average wait time this year for individuals without appointments, like Martin, has been 35.6 minutes, Brittian said. Individuals with appointments averaged a wait of 4.8 minutes, she said.

    Brittian also said the Mid-Cities office has a policy of returning calls that day, or, if necessary, the next morning.

    Martin disagreed.

    "That’s stupid," he said. "You don’t even get a recording, so how can they call back?"

    I have said it before. We will know that Social Security field offices are adequately staffed when they are able to dispense with secret telephone numbers which are supposed to be used only by family and friends of Social Security employees and by higher ups at Social Security who need to reach the office by telephone. Contrary to the opinion of many Social Security field office employees this is not a normal situation. Few businesses need private numbers like this so.

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  • New Forum For Social Security Disability Claimants

    Allsup, which represents Social Security disability claimants mostly on behalf of long term disability insurers but which is also seeking individual cases, has just started a web forum for Social Security disability claimants.

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  • Improper Payments Info To Become More Visible

    From Government Executive:

    Federal agencies soon will be required to create dashboards on their Web sites tracking the amount of money they have spent on improper payments, under a new directive from President Obama.

    The executive order -- which Office of Management and Budget Director Peter R. Orszag previewed last week -- is aimed at increasing the transparency and public scrutiny of payments to beneficiaries of federal programs, contractors, grant recipients and other entities.

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  • Chairman Of Social Security Subcommittee To Retire

    Representative John Tanner, the Chairman of the Social Security Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee, has decided not to seek re-election in 2010. Tanner is one of the founders of the Blue Dog coalition.

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  • Dec 1, 2009

    Swamped

    From Federal Times:

    The Social Security Administration has been working for years to reduce its backlog of disability claims, which now stands at 780,000 claims. It even hired and trained 8,600 new employees last fiscal year.

    But any progress it made has come to an abrupt halt. Largely because of the recession, Americans filed 400,000 more disability claims than predicted last year and the agency expects 700,000 more to be filed this year than in 2008.

    SSA is not alone. Agencies across government that provide federal assistance are seeing their workloads explode as Americans seek unemployment insurance payments, health care insurance, school lunches, food stamps and college loans. Benefit claims and payouts have jumped in the last year at assistance programs run by the Labor, Veterans Affairs, Agriculture, Education, and Health and Human Services departments, among others.

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