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Aug 31, 2012

Unemployment Benefits and Disability

     From Overlapping Disability and Unemployment Benefits Should be Evaluated for Potential Savings, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study:
In fiscal year 2010, 117,000 individuals received concurrent cash benefit payments from the Disability Insurance (DI) and Unemployment Insurance (UI) programs of more than $850 million, which is allowable in certain circumstances under current program authority. While these individuals represented less than 1 percent of the total beneficiaries of both programs, the cash benefits they received totaled over $281 million from DI and more than $575 million from UI. ...
Under certain circumstances, individuals may be eligible for concurrent cash benefit payments due to differences in DI and UI eligibility requirements. Specifically, the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) definition of a disability involves work that does not rise to the level of substantial gainful activity (SGA). In 2010, a monthly income of $1,000 or more for a non-blind beneficiary generally demonstrated SGA. In contrast, the Department of Labor allows states’ determination of “able and available for work” eligibility criteria for UI benefits to include work that does not rise to the level of SGA. ... Reducing or eliminating overlapping or improper payments could offer substantial savings, though actual savings are difficult to estimate because the potential costs of establishing mechanisms to do so are not readily available.

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  • Aug 30, 2012

    An Idea

    Clint Eastwood for Social Security Commissioner in the Romney Administration. Isn't it time for a senior citizen at the helm?
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  • Why Do All Those OIG Employees Need Firearms Training?

         The recent blowup about Social Security's purchases of ammunition may hint at a bigger issue. My understanding is that federal law enforcement officers are eligible for full retirement under the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) after 20 years of service if they are 50 or older or after 25 years of service at any age. For non-law enforcement federal employees, it's more complicated but certainly more demanding. Is the real issue here whether Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG) is classifying far too many of its employees as law enforcement officers requiring that they qualify on the shooting range requiring the purchase of lots of ammunition? Ammunition isn't cheap but early retirement for lots of employees who jobs don't remotely compare to those of front line police officers is far more expensive.
         This goes well beyond the OIG at Social Security. Dozens of federal agencies have employees that they characterize as being in law enforcement, including:
    • Office of Export Enforcement at the Department of Commerce
    • OIG at the Department of Education
    • OIG at the Department of the Interior
    • OIG at the Department of State
    • OIG at the Department of Veterans Affairs
    • OIG at the Environmental Protection Administration
    • OIG at the NASA
    • OIG at the Office of Personnel Management
    • OIG at the Small Business Administration
    • OIG at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation
    • OIG at Amtrak
    • OIG at the Tennessee Valley Authority
    • OIG at the Agency for International Development
         I don't think you have to be in the black helicopter fringe to find guns and weapons training at all these governmental agencies a bit unsettling but the bigger issue may be giving special retirement advantages to employees whose jobs have the same occupational risks as benefits authorizers and claims representatives at Social Security, mainly carpal tunnel syndrome.

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  • Aug 29, 2012

    Demographics Affect Private Long Term Disability Insurance Companies In The Same Way As Social Security

    From a press release:
    The Council for Disability Awareness (CDA) today announced that the number of long term disability claims [mostly as a part of employer pension plans] continued to increase year over year, while the number of wage earners protected by private disability income insurance declined in 2011 for the third consecutive year. ...
    The age group that experienced the largest increase in the number of new approved claims over the past four years was individuals over age 60, in part, reflecting the aging of the baby boomer generation. ...
    "When you look at the Social Security Disability Insurance program, the number of workers receiving payments increased to 8.6 million by the end of 2011, its highest level ever," [the President of CDA] continued. "Given the current trends, analysts predict that the SSDI trust fund will be depleted within five years. However, the silver lining is that applications and new SSDI claim approvals declined during 2011 after several years of increased applications and approvals." ...
    By a large margin, diseases of the musculoskeletal system and connective tissue - such as arthritis, spine disorders, back pain, sciatica and osteoporosis - continue to be the leading cause of disability claims (representing 30.5 percent of all 2011 claims).
          Notice that it's not just Social Security that's experiencing an increase in disability claims. Private insurance companies are experiencing the same increase and it's for the same demographic reasons and that musculoskeletal problems are the leading cause of disability for both. Notice also that this increase is leveling out as the number of baby boomers entering their most disability prone years is being balanced out by the number entering their retirement years.

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  • COLA For 2013 Will Be Low

         Social Security's Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) is based upon the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W) for the last quarter of one calendar year and the first three quarters of the next. This means that the COLA for 2013 will be based upon the one year time period ending September, 2012. As of the last month for which figures are available, July, the COLA would be eight-tenths of one percent. This could certainly go up or down when the figures come in for July and August but it looks like we're heading for a COLA of less than one percent.

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  • Republican Platform On Social Security -- George W. Bush Redux

         Party platforms do not bind nominees but are still a sign of a party's core value. Here's what the Republican platform for 2012 says about Social Security:
    While no changes should adversely affect any current or near-retiree, comprehensive reform should address our society’s remarkable medical advances in longevity and allow younger workers the option of creating their own personal investment accounts as supplements to the system. Younger Americans have lost all faith in the Social Security system, which is understandable when they read the non- partisan actuary’s reports about its future funding status. Born in an old industrial era beyond the memory of most Americans, it is long overdue for major change, not just another legislative stopgap that postpones a day of reckoning. To restore public trust in the system, Republicans are committed to setting it on a sound fiscal basis that will give workers control over, and a sound return on, their investments. The sooner we act, the sooner those close to retirement can be reassured of their benefits and younger workers can take responsibility for planning their own retirement decades from now.
         These are the same ideas that George W. Bush relied upon when he undertook to "reform" Social Security. That effort didn't work out too well for him.

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  • Aug 28, 2012

    Responding To A Leading Question

         From a recent report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG) (footnotes omitted):
    In a January 17, 2012 email, the Commissioner of SSA requested that we determine why some ready to schedule (RTS) cases remained unscheduled. The Commissioner also requested we review the role work-at-home days (Flexiplace) play in case scheduling and report on any office dynamics that are of concern in terms of effective service. ...
    Of the 11 hearing offices we contacted, 8 experienced an increase in RTS cases from April 2011 through March 2012. Hearing office staff cited various reasons for this increase. For example, staff at several hearing offices attributed the increase to their development of additional cases for hearings so they would have a larger inventory from which to select when scheduling conflicts occurred. Staff at other hearing offices attributed the increase to expanded service areas and a greater number of disability filings. In contrast, three hearing offices experienced a decrease in RTS cases. Hearing office staff attributed the decrease to transferring cases to other hearing offices, modifying their scheduling procedures, and spending less time developing cases.
    Hearing office staff cited various obstacles that impacted their ability to timely schedule hearings. Most notably, staff cited claimant representative availability as the greatest obstacle they faced when scheduling hearings. To a lesser degree, hearing office staff cited ALJ availability as another key obstacle that caused scheduling difficulties. Other less cited obstacles included availability of medical and vocational experts, hearing rooms, and video teleconferencing (VTC) equipment. Hearing office staff also reported difficulties when scheduling hearings for incarcerated claimants.
    We acknowledge that accommodating the schedules and preferences of multiple hearing participants is difficult and cumbersome. However, based on our review of 11 hearing offices, we believe ODAR can take additional steps to address some of the key obstacles hearing office staff face when scheduling hearings. To improve the timeliness of hearings, we encourage ODAR to consider limiting the number of times it offers claimant representatives specific dates and times before scheduling a hearing. In addition, we encourage ODAR to analyze hearing office and ALJ performance data to determine whether it should take additional steps to address key obstacles hearing office staff face during the scheduling process. Specifically, we believe ODAR should encourage hearing offices to better coordinate hearing dates and rooms among its ALJs. We also encourage ODAR to consider limiting ALJs’ use of Flexiplace to once a week, where appropriate. Furthermore, we encourage ODAR to reexamine its policy of allowing ALJs to transfer to another hearing office soon after meeting their 90-day service requirement  ...
          We can debate each of the individual factors. The points I would make is that there hasn't been any recent change in ALJ or attorney behavior and there has been no sign of decreased ALJ productivity. To the contrary, ALJ productivity has continued to increase. To me, the answer seems simple.  More cases are getting worked up than there are ALJs to hear them. OIG was responding to a leading question from the Commissioner, one which indicated a desire to point the finger of blame at someone other than Social Security management.

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  • Aug 27, 2012

    A Change To Commenting On This Blog

         I have changed the commenting feature on this blog to require registration. Registration is easy and can be anonymous. You only have to do it once. You can be identified by a screen name. Blogger doesn't give me or anyone else access to registration information.
         I am doing this so that commenters can be identified in some way other than "Anonymous who posted at 1:41 p.m." This will also act as a restraint upon those who seek to use comments on this blog as an astroturf device, posting the same message over and over to simulate grassroots support for a position that has little or no true grassroots support.

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  • Hurricane Causing Office Closures

         Social Security is closing a number of offices in the Gulf area early today. Many more offices will in the Gulf and in Puerto Rico will be closed tomorrow. See Social Security's Emergency Website for a list of the offices.

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  • Some Signals

         In an August 11 newspaper article about an Administrative Law Judge who allows 80% of the disability claims he hears (which isn't particularly high), a spokeswoman for the Republican members of the House Social Security Subcommittee said that legislation to "protect the system" may emerge this Fall.
         An August 17 press release issued by the Republicans on the House Social Security Subcommittee said that "the longer we wait, the harder it will be to protect [Social Security disability] benefits ..."
         From a press release issued by the Republican leaders of the House Ways and Means Committee and its Social Security Subcommittee on August 25, 2012:
    Given the extraordinary changes in the workplace, and new thinking in treatment and rehabilitation that have developed over the last 56 years, this Committee will continue to work with all our colleagues so we can find solutions to strengthen the program for Americans with disabilities.
         I don't know what they have in mind but the "extraordinary changes in the workplace, and new thinking in treatment and rehabilitation that have developed over the last 56 years" language sounds a lot like an attempt to justify making it harder to get on disability benefits, particularly by using the Americans with Disabilities Act as a reason. The phrase about working "with all our colleagues" sounds a bit better. I hope they include Democrats among their colleagues but I don't think that can be assumed.
         A freestanding bill to make it harder to draw Social Security disability benefits cannot possible pass the Senate much less get signed by the President before the end of this Congress. However, there may be a budget deal after the election but before the end of this Congress. Republicans may be preparing to add changes to Social Security disability benefits to the list of items they want in this budget deal. Regardless of what happens with that, these are signals that House Ways and Means Republicans want to do something about Social Security disability benefits should Mitt Romney be elected President in November and bring with him a Republican majority in the Senate. Even if President Obama is re-elected, as long as Republicans control the House of Representatives, they can use the impending shortfall in the Disability Insurance Trust Fund as leverage to pass legislation to make it harder get on Social Security disability benefits and to stay on those benefits.
         The simple solution for the Disability Insurance Trust Fund problem, indeed the only solution that doesn't involve immediate, draconian cuts in benefits, is to allow interfund borrowing. The interfund borrowing would be temporary.

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  • Aug 26, 2012

    Little Support For Cutting Benefits

         A new AP-GfK Poll shows that:
    When given a choice on how to fix [Social Security's long term financing problems], 53 percent of adults said they would rather raise taxes than cut benefits for future generations, according to the poll. Just 36 percent said they would cut benefits instead.

    The results were similar when people were asked whether they would rather raise the retirement age or cut monthly payments for future generations — 53 percent said they would raise the retirement age, while 35 percent said they would cut monthly payments. ...
    Sixty-five percent of Democrats and 53 percent of independents supported higher taxes, compared with just 38 percent of Republicans.

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  • Aug 25, 2012

    Sounds A Lot Like A Threat

    A press release from the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and the Chairman of its Social Security Subcommittee:
    On this date in 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed into law the Social Security Amendments Act establishing monthly Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) and Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson (R-TX) issued the following statement recognizing SSDI’s 56th anniversary.

    “SSDI benefits provide an important safety net for Americans with disabilities. Today, over 10.8 million disabled workers and their families rely on benefits they earned through the payroll taxes they paid. Yet, beginning in 2016, just four years from now, the Social Security Board of Trustees predicts that the Disability Insurance program will be unable to pay full benefits. Clearly, changes must be made.

    “We must secure the future of SSDI. The Committee’s Subcommittee on Social Security has held a series of hearings looking for possible solutions that both meet the needs of those with disabilities, and also protect the hard-earned taxpayer dollars supporting the program. Given the extraordinary changes in the workplace, and new thinking in treatment and rehabilitation that have developed over the last 56 years, this Committee will continue to work with all our colleagues so we can find solutions to strengthen the program for Americans with disabilities.”

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  • Aug 24, 2012

    Watch Out For Brinksmanship Ahead For Social Security Disability

         Republicans on the House Social Security Subcommittee have issued a press release attacking Vice President Biden's offhand comment that "I guarantee you, flat guarantee you, there will be no changes in Social Security." Their proof that something will be changed is the fact that the Disability Insurance Trust Fund is growing short of funds. The trust fund problem could be solved quickly by allowing inter-fund borrowing, something that has been done before, which would be "no change" as a practical matter but this press release is one of the signs that Republicans in Congress wish to use the Disability Insurance Trust Fund problem as an opening to cutting Social Security benefits.

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  • Aug 23, 2012

    Beginning To Fight Back

         Adam Hartung writing in Forbes tells us that Americans have reacted to limited economic growth "by feigning disabilities in order to create their own form of social welfare net similar to Europe." Hartung's short piece may be less interesting to me than the vigorous response it received, proof that those who represent the disabled are beginning to fight back against ferocious, unjustified attacks on the disabled population of the United States.

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  • H.I.G. Gives Big Money To Romney Campaign

         H.I.G. Capital, a private equity firm, has given $219,495 to the Mitt Romney campaign this year, making it one of Romney's largest contributors, larger than Bain Capital, Romney's old firm.  H.I.G. is at least the partial owner of Binder and Binder, the largest entity representing Social Security disability claimants. H.I.G. may also have given money to independent groups supporting Romney but that information is not available to the public.

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  • Aug 22, 2012

    Charges For Nonprogram-Related Services

          From today's Federal Register:
    ... [W]e collect information from individuals and entities, such as other governmental agencies, and then store this information in our systems. ... When we release this information for a purpose not related to  implementation of our programs, we consider it a nonprogram-related service. Nonprogram-related services are not within our mission, and we are required to recover the cost of providing those services. ... Under our regulations, whenever we determine a request for information is for any purpose not directly related to the administration of the Social Security programs, we require the requester to pay the full cost of providing the information. ...

    [W]e are implementing standard fees that are calculated to reflect the full cost of providing information for nonprogram-related purposes ...

    The new standard fee schedule per request:

    Copy an Electronic Folder.................................... $49
    Copy a Paper Folder............................................. 86
    Letter Forwarding................................................ 35
    3rd Party Manual SSN Verification...................... 29
    Regional Office Certification............................... 48
    Office of Central Operations Certification.......... 32
    W2/W3 Requests.................................................. 38
    Record Extract.................................................... 33
          Let me hasten to say that this appears not to be directed at attorneys and others who represent Social Security claimants since they are involved in a program-related service. However, the notice does not specify how Social Security will determine what is program-related and what is nonprogram-related.
         By the way, let me give an example of how the letter forwarding charge would arise. A woman contacts Social Security to file a widow's claim on the account of her husband who disappeared some years earlier. After seven years, if the absence is unexplained the man may be presumed dead. However, Social Security looks in its records and determines that the man is alive and still working. The woman wants her husband's address so she may contact him but Social Security refuses on Privacy Act grounds. However, Social Security will forward a letter to the husband.

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  • Ryan Plan Would End Automatic Medicaid For SSI Recipients

         Another element of Paul Ryan's budget plan: Persons who are approved for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) would no longer be automatically eligible for Medicaid. That would be at the discretion of the states which would be receiving much less federal funding for Medicaid.

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  • Aug 21, 2012

    Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Wants Work Incentives Planning Programs Back

         Sam Johnson, Chairman of the House Social Security Subcommittee, sent Commissioner Michael Astrue a letter complaining about Astrue's decision to end two programs that assist disability benefits recipients in planning return to work. Apparently, Johnson and Astrue are trading legalistic arguments over the subject. The underlying problem is that Social Security's budget is ridiculously tight and neither program ever demonstrated much than one could reasonably call success. 
         We needs to understand a couple of things:
    • Everything anyone can imagine to encourage disability benefits recipients to return to work has been tried, including tossing many people off disability benefits. None of it has succeeded in returning more than a tiny percentage of people to work.
    • The only thing anyone can reasonably do to make even a marginal difference in the rate of return to work is to simplify Social Security's return to work incentives. Over the decades, there has been constant Congressional interest in painlessly cutting the numbers of people drawing disability benefits by enticing disability benefits recipients back to work. Again and again, Congress has passed some new incentive program to go on top of the incentive programs already in place.This has left us with a ridiculous crazy quilt of work incentives that almost no one understands. You don't solve the problem by diverting scarce resources to hiring work incentive specialists. Their existence was a symptom of the problem. You solve the problem by simplifying. If the work incentives can't be explained in two simple sentences, they're too complicated.

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  • Aug 20, 2012

    Another Think Tank Report On Social Security Disability

         The think tanks are really churning out reports on the Social Security disability programs. The latest comes from  Kathy Ruffing of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Her report includes this interesting chart:
         Claims filed are highly sensitive to business cycle? Note that applications for disability benefits began soaring not in 2008 when unemployment soared but in 1998, ten years earlier, at a time of relatively low unemployment. Note also the inverse relationship between unemployment and the disability claim rate in the early 1980s. How do you explain these facts if claims filed are so sensitive to business cycles?

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  • Aug 19, 2012

    Social Security Starting To Come Up In Presidential Campaign

         To no one's surprise, Democrats are starting to attack the Romney-Ryan ticket over Social Security. Plans for partial privatization of Social Security play well with Republican voters but not with the electorate as a whole.

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  • Aug 18, 2012

    Get Rich Quick!

         From a website:
    This is Brian Mittman and I want to ask you few questions…Is your practice feeling the effects of “TORT” REFORM, ATTORNEY BASHING, the Stalled Economy, HIGH UNEMPLOYMENT, FISCAL UNCERTAINTY? Is your practice SUFFERING a DROP in Client Flow? Are your Revenues FLAT or worse…declining? ...
    Good news is: Nancy Cavey and I are hosting a NEW 2-DAY workshop experience called “7 Figure SSD Practice Blueprint” intended ONLY for lawyers who SERIOUSLY desire to take advantage of (and profit from) an aging workforce and the current downturn in the economy by adding (or improving) their social security disability profit center. ...
    And it’s NOT about how much you know about substantive SSD law or how long you’ve been practicing. Once you hear the STRATEGIES Nancy and I reveal during this seminar, your practice and your financial future will SOAR as you’ve always dreamed. ...
    Here are just some of the powerful strategies you’ll discover at this “one-time-only” event this September:
    • Why almost everything you’ve been told about SSD is DEAD WRONG
    • CAUTIONARY RED FLAGS you MUST correct BEFORE EVER considering a SSD Practice
    • How to double your profits with the same amount of time, money and energy you’re putting into your practice now
    • Marketing secrets to attract quality SSD clients without breaking the bank on advertising
    • A simple (Yet Powerful) strategy which Positions you as the SSD expert in your area
    • How to positively influence the minds of your clients, and instantly increase client engagement rates
    • The exact clients to target (and which to avoid!) which will help you sustain a lucrative SSD practice
    • The basics of SSD law and how to manage claims in a way that is cost-effective and less time consuming for you and your staff.
    • Easy ways to automate and systematize your firm to enjoy a steady income stream which feels virtually effortless and runs on autopilot
    • Effective marketing strategies designed to attract a consistent flow of new prospects each and every month
    • How to obtain the income levels you desire without sacrificing your personal and family life. ...
          Why would I post this? Because it's so absurd! If these folks have the secret to easy riches why would they share them with others? Why wouldn't they just keep expanding? Why would they need such a ridiculously lurid come-on to get people to cough up $1,000 to listen to them?
         The reality is that there are enormous barriers to entry into Social Security practice and serious risks once you get there. The money isn't that wonderful and it's unstable in the best of times and these are not the best of times. Unless you really want to help people, you're likely to find Social Security practice unfulfilling.
         As I've said before, if you think representing Social Security claimants is the fast track to wealth, consider the fact that it's rare for a Social Security employee to leave employment with the agency to begin a Social Security practice. If it were easy, wouldn't Social Security employees be leaving en masse? If you still think it's easy, come join us and see if she still feel the same way in a couple of years.

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  • Aug 17, 2012

    Dayton Backlogs Draw Senator's Attention

         From the Dayton Daily News:
    U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown’s state director met in Columbus on Wednesday with regional officials from the Social Security Administration to discuss how to reduce the local backlog of appeals for disability benefits, following a Dayton Daily News story on processing delays.
    In a July 30 article, the Daily News reported that the Social Security Administration’s Dayton hearing office in the last two fiscal years was the second slowest in the nation for processing appeals for benefits. Even though the office has improved wait times — this year it has not ranked among the 20 slowest in the country — Brown said more must be done to reduce the delays further.

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  • Ammunition Purchases Attract Attention

         I have posted in the past about Social Security's large scale purchases of ammunition -- yes, ammunition. These ammunition purchases are now attracting attention from Business Insider: Military and Defense but, really it's all over the blogosphere. Just do a search on Google Blog Search for "Social Security ammunition." I received e-mails from five different people yesterday giving me a link to stories about this. This is spreading fast.
         Why would Social Security buy 174,000 rounds of .357 magnum hollow point ammunition?  That's vicious stuff. What's next, rocket propelled grenades? Armored personnel carriers? Black helicopters?
         This is nothing to get paranoid about. It's for target practice for Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG). Years ago OIG had a website that proudly featured a photo of their huge cache of firearms. They really wanted to play up the G-man aspect of their work even though crime isn't that big a part of what they do and the crime they deal with is almost never violent. It's more like dealing with some pathetic soul who stuffed his deceased mother into a freezer so that he could continue to collect her Social Security benefits. Arrest them. Convict them. Send them away to prison. But don't pretend you're dealing with a Mexican drug cartel. OIG can easily call upon other law enforcement agencies to help when they are required to deal with people who might be armed. That ridiculous photo of OIG's arms cache is long gone from the OIG website but the attitude seems to remain. Should taxpayers be subsidizing this sort of fantasy? How many OIG employees really need to make regular visits to the firing range? I'm guessing it's not nearly enough to justify purchasing 174,000 rounds of high powered ammunition. Waste can happen even at OIG but who do you ask to investigate when it's OIG that's wasting money and inciting paranoia?

         Update: OIG has responded. 

         Further update: Fox News is jumping to OIG's defense.

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  • Aug 16, 2012

    A Nudge?

         Social Security's Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) are denying a higher percentage of the disability claims they hear. Earlier this week I posted this excerpt from a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review article:
    The Social Security Administration has moved toward more standardized decision-making, said Assistant Deputy Commissioner Jim Borland. He said the number of judges who allow nearly all claims has fallen by more than half since 2007.
    “We have created new tools to focus on quality,” Borland said. “Each quarter, we train our adjudicators on the most complex, error-prone provisions of law and regulation.” ...
          That seemed to me to be something of a boast that Social Security had found a way to influence at least some ALJs to deny more claims. How would the agency accomplish this? One commenter, probably an ALJ posted this response:
    I believe what you say here is true insofar as the training part. For decades, the files were assembled, i. e., organized and exhibited, and then given to the judge to review before it was scheduled. During this review, the judge would determine whether any additional medical exams should be ordered and whether the evidence was sufficient for an award on the record. 
    Beginning two to three years ago, the new judges were "trained" to NOT conduct a pre-scheduling review, but rather to review the cases just shortly before the hearing.  
    The general effect of this is to deprive some claimants of more thorough development of the medical record and in my opinion likely reduces the award rate.  
    In addition, the most sinister program in place is called "How Am I Doing." This is a desktop program that opens to display graphs which show the case production rate of the judge in comparison to his peers. The really bad part is a graph that displays the judge's grants versus denials. 
    There is no purpose for the grant/denial graph other than to herd judges to the mean. Not based on the facts of the case. I question the impartiality of judges with the introduction of this behavior modification tool. It can have no other purpose except to influence the outcome of cases based on something other than the facts of the case.
         For those of you on the inside, is this an accurate statement of what is going on? Are these good things or bad things? If there is such a thing as "How Am I Doing", would it have the effect of reducing the percentage of claims approved? Would it affect ALJs who allow a high percentage of claims more than it affects those deny a high percentage of claims?

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  • What Is This?

         While a Social Security employee, Andrew Biggs campaigned with then President George W. Bush for partial Social Security privatization. In case you don't know, that's definitely not the done thing, even for Social Security Commissioners. In fact, especially for Social Security Commissioner and other high ranking officials as Biggs was at the time.The Social Security Administration tries hard to stay out of any long term financing issues apart from having the agency's Office of Chief Actuary provide technical support to everyone involved in the debate. Bush later nominated Biggs to become Deputy Commissioner of Social Security. He could not get confirmation so Bush gave Biggs a recess appointment to the position. After Bush left office and Biggs' term as Deputy Commissioner ended, Biggs went to work for the American Enterprise Institute, a right wing think tank.
         Biggs has now authored a piece for Our Generation on Social Security disability insurance. Our Generation describes itself as "membership-based nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization founded in 2009 to research, educate and promote long-term free market solutions to today’s public policy concerns." The piece that Biggs wrote is only nine pages and was certainly nothing researched in depth or, at least, any research is not reflected in the piece. Our Generation makes a point of noting that the piece was edited by its executive director. In the piece Biggs recommends:
    • Tightening eligibility requirements, although he does not say how;
    • Doing continuing disability reviews. These are already being done but at a low level due to lack of administrative funding. Biggs doesn't explain how he would want these done differently or how he would pay for anything more than what is being done now.
    • Include incentives for employers to keep individuals on the job such as "experience rating" for the disability portion of the F.I.C.A. tax or requiring employers to carry short term disability benefits to help workers deal with the waiting period for Social Security disability benefits. How the latter would help escapes me. Neither would be a bit acceptable to the people paying Biggs' salary.

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  • Aug 15, 2012

    Institutional Rep Payee Shut Down In Oregon

         From KVAL in Oregon:
    David Finch said his company has done no wrong.  
    "Oh, I'm very angry at this thing," said the director of Emmanuel Credit Management. 
    The company got word last Friday from the Social Security Administration that it had lost legal standing to make rent, utility and other payments for 102 senior and disabled clients who receive Social Security payments. 
    "They've already suspended all the payments to the clients," Finch said. 
    Social Security claims Emmanuel Credit has made mistakes in handling funds and keeping records. 
    Among the allegations: records not kept to track individual funds, lack of overall receipts, and receipts not kept on expenses paid for clients.
          I don't know what's going on here but there have been far more problems with Social Security not acting soon enough on problems with institutional representative payees than with the agency being overly hasty. Shutting down a major institutional payee like this is a major headache for Social Security and for local social service agencies, not to mention the individual claimants involved.

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  • OIG Report On Households With Multiple Members Receiving SSI

         From a recent audit report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (footnotes omitted):
    Based on address matches that appeared on SSA [Social Security Administration] payment records, we estimate that 647,922 households had 2 or more SSI [Supplemental Security Income] recipients receiving payments in July 2011. Because SSA payment records indicated that, in general, annual SSI payments to two-and three-recipient households were at or below the Federal poverty guideline (see Table 1), we performed no further analysis of these payments.
    However, SSA payment records indicated that annual SSI payments to about 11,481 households with 4 or more recipients were above the established Federal poverty guideline for comparable household sizes. SSA payment records indicated that individuals in these 11,481 households received approximately $63 million in annual SSI payments above established Federal poverty guidelines.
          I have some concern that OIG may have misidentified some group homes or other institutional settings as "households" since their own numbers show that many of the SSI recipients involved suffer from mental retardation. A footnote in the report says that these cases were excluded but I have trouble believing that Social Security's databases are accurate enough to completely exclude these cases.
         Any change in program rules for households with four or more SSI recipients would add administrative complexity. The additional costs of administration would partially offset any savings which could be achieved.

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  • Aug 14, 2012

    Interpreters

         Social Security's Chief Administrative Law Judge has issued a Bulletin on hiring interpreters for Administrative Law Judge hearings. It seems to indicate that the norm is to use an interpreter who participates only by telephone and that a claimant must make a special request for an in-person interpreter. 
         This does not seem adequate or fair to me.

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  • Aug 13, 2012

    What Is Going On In Pittsburgh?

        Just a few days ago, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ran a bizarre op ed piece that baldly stated that all one had to do to get on Social Security disability benefits was to go to one psychiatric exam and feign mental illness, which is simply untrue. Now the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review is running this article:
    Few of the petitioners who appear before Administrative Law Judge Manny Smith hear the word “no.”
    Smith grants benefits in close to 80 percent of the Social Security disability claims he hears, nearly twice as often as other administrative judges in Western Pennsylvania and much higher than the national average of 58 percent, federal data show. ...
    “If we don’t do something, in four years it won’t be able to pay full benefits,” said Sarah Swinehart, a spokeswoman for the House Ways and Means Committee. Its Social Security Subcommittee has held five hearings on disability insurance over the past year. ...
    “The whole procedure may have made sense 20 years ago, when most people were honest and didn’t know about” the disability program, said James Bukes of Mt. Lebanon, who retired in January after two decades as an administrative law judge. “But now it’s become such a big business.” ...
    Legislation to change the system might emerge this fall. Lawmakers want to ensure Social Security keeps paying those who need help while safeguarding taxpayer dollars, Swinehart said. ...
    The rise in disability applications to 2.88 million in 2011 stems from a half-dozen sources, including the economic downturn and a surge in legal representation for applicants, Pierce said. He said lawyers earn about $1.4 billion a year by representing disability appellants, about 85 percent of whom have private counsel. ...
    The Social Security Administration has moved toward more standardized decision-making, said Assistant Deputy Commissioner Jim Borland. He said the number of judges who allow nearly all claims has fallen by more than half since 2007.
    “We have created new tools to focus on quality,” Borland said. “Each quarter, we train our adjudicators on the most complex, error-prone provisions of law and regulation.” ...
    [Richard J.] Pierce [a George Washington University law professor who has been harshly critical of ALJs] has suggested the government drop law judges from the process. He estimates their salaries and benefits cost more than $2 billion a year.
          A few points:
    • The article does not once mention the aging of the baby boomer generation as a reason for the problems of the disability trust fund even though no one with any knowledge of the situation would deny that this is far and away the most important reason.
    • The House Social Security Subcommittee may report out legislation in the next month to do something about Social Security ALJs.
    • A Social Security Assistant Deputy Commissioner is bragging that the agency has found a way to "train" ALJs so that they allow fewer disability claims.
    • Professor Richard Pierce thinks that Social Security's ALJs cost $2 billion a year. Since there are about 1,500 ALJs at Social Security, Pierce must think that pay and benefits for each ALJ are over $1.3 million a year. The real figure is less than one-tenth of that.
    • The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review is owned by Richard Mellon Scaife. Scaife is best known for promoting bizarre ring wing conspiracy theories about President Bill Clinton, including accusing Clinton of murder and drug smuggling. In a bizarre twist, Scaife later endorsed Hillary Clinton when she was running for President. The Tribune-Review and Post-Gazette newspapers are bitter rivals.

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  • Password Delays

         I and others have been experiencing significant and annoying delays in the transmission of the passwords necessary to obtain access to our clients' files through Social Security's Electronic Records Express system. Does anyone know what's going on?
         By the way, the whole second password as a text message process seems pointless to me. You don't need the second password to change the cellphone to which the text message is sent. If I were up to no good and had the user name and first password, I would just change the cellphone number, which defeats the point of the second password. How does the second password via text message add anything other than delay and annoyance to the system?

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  • Aug 12, 2012

    Gloom And Doom From The Associated Press

          From the Associated Press:
    As millions of baby boomers flood Social Security with applications for benefits, the program's $2.7 trillion surplus is starting to look small. ...
    Since 2010, Social Security has been paying out more in benefits than it collects in taxes, adding to the urgency for Congress to address the program's long-term finances.
    "To me, urgent doesn't begin to describe it," said Chuck Blahous, one of the public trustees who oversee Social Security. "I would say we're somewhere between critical and too late to deal with it." ...
    Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue said he is frustrated that little has been done to solve a problem that is only going to get harder to fix as 2033 approaches. If changes are done soon, they can be spread out over time, perhaps sparing current retirees while giving workers time to increase their savings.
    "It won't be easy but it's just going to get harder the longer they wait," Astrue said.  ...
         The article does not mention the fact that lifting the cap on earnings subject to the F.I.C.A. tax would solve the problem. It sounds as if Charles Blahous regards that idea as being unworthy of any consideration.

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  • We're Frugal

         From the Associated Press:
    Compared with most public pension systems in Europe, Social Security is downright frugal.
    On average, European pensions are more much generous than Social Security, providing retirees with benefits that come closer to matching the wages they earned when they were working. Americans are expected to rely more heavily on private pensions and savings when they retire.
    European workers also have been able to retire earlier than American workers, though many European countries are retreating from those policies, a subject that has caused more than a little unrest.
    Taxes also are higher in most European countries and some of their retirement systems are facing worse financial problems than Social Security.

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  • Battle Of The Op Eds

         The recent op ed pieces attacking the Social Security disability programs are stirring up a spirited response. Here's one from the Jacksonville Times-Union.

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  • Aug 11, 2012

    The Ryan Plan On Social Security

         Paul Ryan's budget plan would:
    • Means test Social Security
    • Raise full retirement age to 70
    • Allow workers the right to divert one-third of their F.I.C.A. taxes to optional private Social Security accounts
    • Alter the way in which average wages are computed for determining the Primary Insurance Amount (PIA), the amount one receives upon retirement, in such a way as to reduce benefits for all but the lowest wage workers

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  • Educational Loans Eating Into Social Security Benefits

         From Smart Money:
    According to government data, compiled by the Treasury Department at the request of SmartMoney.com, the federal government is withholding money from a rapidly growing number of Social Security recipients who have fallen behind on federal student loans. From January through August 6, the government reduced the size of roughly 115,000 retirees' Social Security checks on those grounds. That's nearly double the pace of the department's enforcement in 2011; it's up from around 60,000 cases in all of 2007 and just 6 cases in 2000. ...
    Many of these retirees aren't even in hock for their own educations. Consumer advocates say that in the majority of the cases they've seen, the borrowers went into debt later in life to help defray education costs for their children or other dependents.

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  • Aug 10, 2012

    Spending Money To Save Money -- Is It Really So Hard To Understand?

         Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG) has done a study using a database of persons who are receiving Social Security retirement benefits but who have not used Medicare in the preceding three years even though they are 96 years of age or older. OIG estimates that if Social Security contacted or attempted to contact these people, that they would find that the agency is paying benefits to several hundred deceased individuals. OIG estimates that $99 million could be saved if this were done.
         Unfortunately, it takes manpower to do this sort of thing and Social Security has less manpower and more and more work to do. Projects like this which would save money are deferred because the agency has to answer its telephones and deal with people filing claims. 
         There's no way around it. It comes up all the time. You have to spend a little money at Social Security to save a lot of money in benefit payments. Republicans in Congress have a hard time understanding a concept that any businessperson can quickly grasp.

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  • Aug 9, 2012

    Online Calendar For Hearing Availability Coming

         Under the Paperwork Reduction Act, federal agencies must obtain the approval of the Office of Management and Budget before using any new form, including electronic forms, that requires information from the public. Agencies must post notice of requests for approval of a new form in the Federal Register. This notice appeared in the Federal Register today:
    SSA [Social Security Administration] is creating an online-based scheduling tool, the Automated Scheduling Application (ASA), to document the availability and special needs of participants for hearings before administrative law judges (ALJ). The respondents are disability applicants or recipients, ALJ staff, SSA Hearing Office employees, appointed representatives, medical experts, vocational experts, and verbatim hearing recorders who need to schedule or request special needs related to an ALJ hearing. All respondents will use the ASA system (via SSA's Intranet for SSA employees, and a public-facing Internet site for members of the public) to document their hearings availability and needs, and to view scheduled hearings in an electronic calendar.

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  • A Very Bad Sign

         From the Federal Times:
    The Social Security Administration on Monday offered early retirements to 9,000 employees, almost 14 percent of its workforce.
    Anyone taking voluntary early retirement must retire by Sept. 30. The offers are effective immediately, SSA said in an e-mail to Federal Times. SSA is not offering buyouts.
    To be eligible, employees must have completed 20 years of creditable service and be at least 50 years of age, or have at least 25 years of creditable service at any age. They must have been continuously on SSA’s payroll since Dec. 26, 2011. ...
    SSA currently has more than 62,000 employees. The agency already is struggling with last year’s 6 percent reduction in staffing, which has forced it to rely on overtime or close field offices to the public a half-hour early.
    SSA Commissioner Michael Astrue told the Senate Finance Committee on May 17 that further cuts in fiscal 2012 and fiscal 2013 would force the agency to cut its hours even further next year.
    Staffing cuts also could hurt SSA’s ability to reduce its claims backlog, which has troubled the agency for years.
          This strongly suggests that the agency is trying to avoid or reduce furloughs once the new fiscal year begins on October 1.
         There's no question about who's responsible for this. It's Congressional Republicans.

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  • Who Is This Guy?

    As a practicing psychiatrist in Pittsburgh, I have become all too aware of a disturbing and potentially dangerous way in which Social Security Disability is now being deployed for psychiatric patients.
    In years past, a person who applied for SSI/Disability would have his or her psychiatric records requisitioned from a treating psychiatrist. The applicant would then also be evaluated by a second psychiatrist contracted to the Social Security Administration and not linked to the patient. In addition, the applicant was required to be seen by a contracted psychiatrist annually to ensure that he or she indeed remained disabled and qualified for the subsidy.
    In recent years, however, I am finding patient after patient placed on disability, often after an initial evaluation with me, without any attempt made to check if that individual remains disabled, even years after the initial determination.
    For instance, I queried a middle-aged patient I've treated for four years as to how he is now supporting himself. "Well, I am on Social Security Disability," he replied.
    I asked him why he remains on disability. "I have depression." But you are no longer depressed, I countered. Indeed, he has been free of symptoms since a few months after beginning treatment three years ago. ...
    Here is a typical scenario: A patient makes an appointment with me for what are often, though not always, legitimate psychiatric symptoms. Then, within a week or two of my evaluation, I receive a request from Social Security for a copy of my report (the patient has signed a release for this information).
    The patient has often applied for disability prior to seeing me, and hardly ever volunteers that he or she has done so. The patient is awarded the disability before our next visit! By the third visit, often within two months of the initial evaluation, the patient has fully recovered from the initial "disabling" symptoms.
         Here are a few comments on this piece:
    • Social Security already does continuing disability reviews. The agency would do more of them and do them more intensively if the agency had decent administrative funding. Take your complaint up with Republicans in the Congress.
    • There was never a time where all persons disabled by psychiatric problems were automatically sent to a second psychiatrist when they applied for Social Security disability benefits nor was there ever a time where all individuals drawing Social Security disability benefits by reason of mental illness were automatically reviewed every year. I'll be kind and say this man's memory is playing tricks on him.
    • I'm getting schizophrenics denied in North Carolina even though they've been in psychiatric treatment for years and have had involuntary commitments but one visit to a psychiatrist can get you on Social Security disability benefits in Pennsylvania?
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  • Aug 8, 2012

    Can You Spot A Theme?

         From the final report of Social Security's Occupational Information Development Advisory Panel (OIDAP) (bolding in the original):
    Central to OIDAP’s role as a Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) Panel, is transparency in its process. ...
    To date, transparency in the process of developing occupational data for SSA’s disability programs has been achieved primarily through the OIDAP. SSA’s decision to discontinue the OIDAP beyond its 6 July 2012 charter, presents the additional challenge of maintaining transparency with this project in the future. ...
    The OIDAP held its last public teleconference on 4 June 2012 and strongly advised SSA to maintain all development of occupational data for disability programs in a transparent and public arena, and to adhere to scientific standards and scrutiny. ...
    At the OIDAP meeting on 4 June 2012, the Panel unanimously developed General Recommendation #9 about the transparency and scientific activities for future efforts ...
    The OIDAP has not been consulted or involved in efforts for the future direction of occupational data development beyond the public meeting on 4 June 2012. ...
    The OIDAP brought transparency to SSA’s occupational information development process that impacts the lives of millions of Americans. We believe SSA must continue this transparency as it develops any occupational information that will affect decision-making in the disability programs. ...
    Failure to fully ensure the scientific veracity of the occupational taxonomy, data collection instrument, sampling strategy, and sources of data or data collection methods, will make SSA vulnerable to legitimate litigation. ...
    Further, SSA should consider external oversight, including establishing an oversight body involving technical experts and users, as part of future efforts and initiatives for occupational information development.
         And I didn't think that OIDAP itself was anywhere near transparent enough itself! Anyone still think I'm paranoid about what Social Security is up to with its occupational information system project?
         By the way, OIDAP sent this report out as an e-mail attachment to those on its mailing list. I've uploaded it to Scribd. Will Social Security post this final report online?

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  • Aug 7, 2012

    TRAC Report On Federal Court Filings In Social Security Cases

         The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) is a project of some part of Syracuse University. TRAC compiles data on various government functions. TRAC has recently released a report on federal court filings in Social Security cases. These are appeals from final agency decisions denying benefits. Almost all of these are disability benefits cases. They have gone up:

    Number Latest Month 860
    Percent Change from previous month     3.9%
    Percent Change from 1 year ago     19.4%
    Percent Change from 5 years ago     62.6%
      
         Here is a chart from the report showing the gross numbers on new federal court filings in Social Security cases:

         TRAC also studied which federal court districts had the heaviest rate of federal court filings in Social Security cases (sorry about this table not lining up so well -- the problems are caused by limitations in the way that TRAC presents the data and limitations in Blogger):

         The increase in the number of federal court appeals should surprise no one familiar with the way the program operates. Administrative Law Judges are denying more claims. The Appeals Council is remanding fewer cases. More claims are being filed. If anything, Social Security should be happy that it's not seeing a bigger increase in these appeals.
         By the way, note that the areas with the heaviest filing rate tend to be in the South. A lot of this has to do with demographics. The South produces more disability claims because of lower educational levels and work skills in its population and poorer access to health care.

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  • Aug 6, 2012

    Waiting Period For Social Security Disability Leads To Bankruptcy For Mother Of Gold Medalist

         From the Associated Press:
    Court records show that the mother of Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas [who won the gold medal for women's all around gymnastics] filed for bankruptcy earlier this year in Virginia. ...
    Documents filed in January in the Eastern District of Virginia show Douglas' mother, Natalie Hawkins, filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy ...
    Hawkins is separated from her husband and lists about $2,500 in income a month, which comes from Social Security disability benefits and child support, according to the documents.
    Natalie Hawkins went on long-term medical disability in 2009, and there were six months when the single mother of four had little to no income. In addition to mortgage payments for her home, there were expenses for Douglas' training and her other three children.
         Where would you be if you had no income for six months?

    Read Whmorhere: http://www.newsobserver.com/2012/08/05/2247264/gymnast-gabby-douglas-mom-filed.html#storylink=misearch#storylink=cpy

    Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2012/08/05/2247264/gymnast-gabby-douglas-mom-filed.html#storylink=misearch#storylink=cpy
    Natalie Hawkins went on long-term medical disability in 2009, and there were six months when the single mother of four had little to no income.
    Reamore here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2012/08/05/2247264/gymnast-gabby-douglas-mom-filed.html#storylink=misearch#storylink=cpy

    Readmore here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2012/08/05/2247264/gymnast-gabby-douglas-mom-filed.html#storylink=misearch#storylink=cpy

    Read more
    here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2012/08/05/2247264/gymnast-gabby-douglas-mom-filed.html#storylink=misearch#storylink=cpy

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  • Another Pointless Attack On Social Security

         From the Associated Press:
    People retiring today are part of the first generation of workers who have paid more in Social Security taxes during their careers than they will receive in benefits after they retire. It's a historic shift that will only get worse for future retirees, according to an analysis by The Associated Press. ...
    "For the early generations, it was an incredibly good deal," said Andrew Biggs, a former deputy Social Security commissioner who is now a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. "The government gave you free money and getting free money is popular."
    If you retired in 1960, you could expect to get back seven times more in benefits than you paid in Social Security taxes, and more if you were a low-income worker, as long you made it to age 78 for men and 81 for women. ...
    A married couple retiring last year after both spouses earned average lifetime wages paid about $598,000 in Social Security taxes during their careers. They can expect to collect about $556,000 in benefits, if the man lives to 82 and the woman lives to 85, according to a 2011 study by the Urban Institute, a Washington think tank.
         This "study" is misleading since it ignores the value of Social Security disability, survivors and dependent benefits. A person who remains healthy to retirement age and has a spouse who has earned wages at about the same rate never uses any of these benefits but a person who buys homeowners insurance receives nothing tangible from the insurance until they suffer some calamity such as their home burning down. That does not mean that homeowners insurance is useless. The study stacks the deck against Social Security by assuming that the married couple had similar incomes. If one spouse had a significantly higher income there would be dependent benefits which would change the equation dramatically. The equation would also be changed dramatically if the couple had a child who became disabled before age 22 or if they had to adopt one of their grandchildren. By the way, I can't find this study at the Urban Institute website.
         The best answer to this attack is to point out that the public just isn't buying it. See this survey issued in July 2012 by the Hofstra University  Center for Suburban Studies:
         So continue the attacks on Social Security, Republicans.The attacks play well on Fox News, so they must be good politics, right?

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  • Aug 5, 2012

    Slowdown In Payment Of Benefits

         Social Security has posted updated numbers on payments of fees to attorneys and others for representing Social Security claimants. These fees come out of the back benefits of the claimants involved. If the money weren't going to the attorney, it would be going to the claimant. Since the attorneys are paid at the same time as the claimant, these numbers show how quickly or slowly Social Security was able to pay benefits after a decision approving benefits. There was a dramatic slowdown in July. This means that it was taking longer for a claimant to be paid after approval. Why? Lack of overtime? Other priorities?

    Fee Payments

    Month/Year Volume Amount
    Jan-12
    29,926
    89,749,312.99
    Feb-12
    43,946
    134,207,416.10
    Mar-12
    47,376
    139,571,577.57
    Apr-12
    38,239
    113,225,483.07
    May-12
    37,648
    112,446,283.39
    June-12
    43,816
    128,559,225.66
    July-12
    33,342
    97,458,955.82

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  • Aug 4, 2012

    Two Diverse Documents

         Over the years, hell, decades, I have accumulated a collection of documents pertaining to Social Security. From time to time I notice one that might be of interest to other people. Here are a couple of very different documents that I have uploaded to Scribd.
    • An American Medical Association Ethics Opinion stating that it is unethical to withhold medical records for non-payment of medical bills. Note that this PDF starts out as if it just applies to North Carolina but keep going. It's national. This issue comes up from time to time in representing Social Security disability claimants.
    • The Comptroller General's 1981 report that provided justification for throwing hundreds of thousands of people off Social Security disability benefits. I heard rumors at the time that some person or persons at Social Security angled to get the Comptroller General to write this report  Regardless, this document was a major factor leading to policies and practices that created the biggest crisis that Social Security has ever faced.

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  • Aug 3, 2012

    A Possibility For Social Security?

         The Department of Justice has announced openings for Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys. The job involves "researching legal issues, drafting briefs, conducting hearings and trials and attending judicial proceedings."According to the announcement "only applicants with outstanding academic records and superior legal research and writing skills will be considered." There's just one little problem with the job.There is no pay. That's one way of dealing with a lack of adequate funding. Of course, this only works when there is a ridiculous oversupply of newly minted attorneys unable to find employment which is what we have at the moment. Would it work at Social Security?

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  • Aug 2, 2012

    NOSSCR Issues Press Release

         The National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR) has issued a press release announcing that it is "launching a campaign to fight back against misleading allegations being made about the SSDI [Social Security Disability Insurance] program..." I mention this not because the press release itself has much importance but because as far as I know this is the first press release that NOSSCR has ever released. This means that NOSSCR now has a public relations firm and is ready to fight back against the lies and misrepresentations being spread about the Social Security disability programs.

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  • Aug 1, 2012

    Op Ed Piece In The Hill

         Charles Martin and Debra Shifrin, attorneys who represent Social Security disability claimants, have an op ed piece in The Hill (as in Capitol Hill), a D.C. newspaper for those working on Capitol Hill. The op ed piece is directed at the lies and misrepresentations being spread about the Social Security disability programs.
         Churchhill said that "A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on." I'm afraid that we're facing this reality when it comes to the Social Security disability programs. 
         I wish I had a better idea of what group or groups are behind this campaign of lies and distortions and exactly what their motivations are. This isn't organic. It's not happening spontaneously. It's organized.

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  • Is This Right?

         This is from a recent report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General:
    SSA’s [Social Security Administration's] administrative finality rules permit it to continue paying incorrect payment amounts to some beneficiaries and recipients. During our prior and current reviews, we determined that SSA did not correct beneficiary and recipients’ payment amounts when it invoked administrative finality. For example, we identified a beneficiary receiving a full retirement benefit under her own SSN [Social Security Number] and another full benefit under her deceased spouse’s SSN that resulted in an $870 monthly overpayment. The overpayments started in July 1982 and created a total overpayment of approximately $215,000. Since our 2007 recommendation to revise its administrative finality rules, SSA has paid this beneficiary approximately an additional $40,000.10
    We identified another beneficiary receiving a full retirement benefit under her own SSN and a full benefit under her deceased spouse’s SSN that resulted in a $373 monthly overpayment. The overpayments started in June 1988 and created a total overpayment of approximately $85,000. SSA had paid this beneficiary approximately $16,000 since our 2007 recommendation. Because of SSA’s administrative finality rules, it will not reopen these cases and these overpayments will continue increasing throughout the beneficiaries’ lifetimes. In addition, SSA does not pursue recovery of these types of improper payments.
          Is this an accurate statement of Social Security's position? I haven't seen one lately but I've certainly seen cases in past years where Social Security changed current benefits and declared large overpayments in this type of case.
         Really, OIG should not be pressuring Social Security on the overpayment part of this kind of case. There's a very good argument that it's against equity and good conscience to try to collect an overpayment when the mistake was clearly made by the agency, could not have reasonably been caught by the beneficiary but should have been caught by the agency's data systems. "Against equity and good conscience" is enough under the statute to get an overpayment waived.

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