Jan 31, 2013
Jan 30, 2013
Senators Press SSA To Assist VA
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) today called on the Social Security Administration (SSA) to work with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to reduce the dramatic backlog in veterans’ disability claims. The senators wrote a letter to SSA in response to a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, which found SSA’s delays are major contributors to the backlog. ...
In their letter, the senators noted that VA has consistent problems getting the medical records it needs from SSA. In one instance, regional VA officials commented that SSA takes more than a year to respond to requests. The senators asked SSA to provide information on any changes it is currently making or plans to make in the future to resolve their delays.
The Problem With Direct Deposits Of Social Security Benefits
In October 2011, we began tracking allegations that indicated individuals other than the beneficiaries or their representatives had redirected benefit payments away from the beneficiaries’ bank accounts to accounts the individuals controlled. As of August 27, 2012, we had received over 18,000 reports concerning an unauthorized change or a suspected attempt to make an unauthorized change to an SSA beneficiary’s record. ...
Controls over direct deposit account changes were not fully effective and did not prevent field office staff from processing direct deposit account changes requested by someone other than the beneficiary or his/her authorized representative.OIG has only posted a summary of the report, perhaps out of concern that criminals might use the full report to come up with new methods of defeating Social Security's security processes.
I fear this problem is only going to get worse with time. While it has been possible to have paper checks diverted, criminals always had the problem of negotiating the paper check after they stole it. With direct deposit, the negotiation problem is eliminated. Open a bank account online, divert money to it for one or two months, use a debit card to take the money or, if you're more sophisticated, divert the money overseas. Disappear. Repeat. There's little risk of being caught. No one's going to investigate each case that closely since only a few hundred dollars are involved.
Labels: Crime Beat
Jan 29, 2013
Astrue Receives Award
Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, received a 2013 VIDA Award from the National Alliance for Hispanic Health (the Alliance), a science-based source of information and trusted advocate for the health of Hispanics in the United States. The national award honors leaders that exemplify the VIDA credo of Vision, Innovation, Dedication, and Advocacy.
"Commissioner Astrue's commitment to all communities has defined his life. He is a man of principle and values that we respect and honor," said Dr. Jane L. Delgado, President and CEO of the Alliance.
The VIDA National Hispanic Health Leadership Award is presented by the Alliance to recognize exceptional leaders for their work to secure the best health outcomes for all. Under his leadership, Social Security has reduced the average length of time applicants wait to receive a decision on their claim for Social Security disability benefits. Key components to this reduction were his development and expansion of initiatives such as Compassionate Allowances and Quick Disability Determinations. This two-part, fast-track system makes disability decisions in days instead of months or years and provides benefits quickly to applicants with the most severe disabilities. In the last two years, nearly 300,000 people have been awarded disability benefits under these innovative initiatives.
Commissioner Astrue received the award at the Alliance’s 40th Anniversary celebration, held at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
Have To Ask The Question
Stay Classy AFGE
“I’m pleased that [Astrue's] leaving,” said Witold Skwierczynski, president of the union council that includes SSA [Social Security Administraton] locals, said in a phone interview. In a letter to the White House earlier this month, Skwiercyznski said, the union asked Obama to name either SSA Deputy Commissioner Carolyn Colvin or Nancy Altman, co-director of the advocacy group Social Security Works, as the next commissioner.This is the first that I've heard of AFGE expressing an interest in Carolyn Colvin becoming Commissioner. I doubt that the union would have a problem with James Roosevelt or Earl Pomeroy, the other announced candidates for the job, but their names aren't mentioned.
Gave It A Try But Struck Out
Jan 28, 2013
Don't Want To Seem Impatient But When Next Month?
Sent: Monday, January 28, 2013 3:20 PM
Subject: COMMISSIONER'S BROADCAST--01/28/13
- He has served longer than any Republican Commissioner and longer than any Commissioners except Arthur J. Altmeyer (1940-46) and Robert M. Ball (1962-73).
- Adopted fast-track procedures for the 6% of the disability claimants who are most obviously disabled;
- Reduced the time to a disability hearing from about 540 days to about 360 days in an era of rapidly rising claims and dwindling budgets;
- Replaced the fraying data center with a state-of-the-art facility due to open next year and built a second co-processing center that can continue operations in the event of a disaster;
- Developed a suite of electronic services that are rated the best in government;
- Developed the federal government’s first interactive suite of Spanish services;
- Updated most of the agency’s medical listings and entered into a partnership with the Bureau of Labor Statistics to replace the antiquated vocational tool used for disability determinations;
- Created the online Retirement Estimator, which allows Americans to better plan for retirement by obtaining personalized information about their projected retirement payments;
- Improved the quality of disability decision-making through better staffing, training, and software support; and
- Spearheaded “plain language” efforts for the annual reports on the financial status of the Medicare and Social Security programs.
" A Dearth Of Staff To Perform Checks"
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey says a pilot program designed to prevent criminals from becoming managers of a person's Social Security benefits has screened out dozens of people convicted of fraud and violence.
The Pennsylvania Democrat now wants the Social Security Administration to expand and improve the initiative, which was launched last summer in five states and Washington, D.C., after a convicted killer on parole in Philadelphia allegedly kept several mentally disabled people captive while cashing their benefits checks. ...
Under the program, Social Security offices in the Philadelphia region instituted a new policy that barred people convicted of certain crimes — including sex offenses, theft, forgery and abuse — from serving as payees. Applicants were asked specific questions about past criminal behavior and agency employees used an in-house database to cross-check convictions.
Through Jan. 23, 100 people were rejected from becoming payees, Casey said. ...
Social Security Administration spokesman Mark Hinkle has previously said key stumbling blocks to more vigorous screening are the agency's lack of access to government databases with criminal background information and a dearth of staff to perform checks on each applicant.
ALJ Attitudes About Unemployment Benefits And Workers Compensation May Be Bias
Sequestration Threat Having An Effect
The drastic $85 billion in automatic spending cuts Congress approved in hopes of heading off another deficit showdown may or may not occur, but federal agencies say the threat has been disrupting government for months as officials take costly and inefficient steps to prepare. ...
Office of Management and Budget spokesman Steven Posner declined to comment on the planning costs. But Jeffrey Zients, the OMB’s acting budget director, warned lawmakers last summer that any planning “would necessarily divert scarce resources” from other important missions and priorities, “to say nothing of the disruptive effects this exercise would have” on federal workers and contractors. Any preparations “could inadvertently trigger some of the negative effects of sequestration even if sequestration never happens,” he said. ...
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said Sunday that he thinks the cuts are inevitable ...
Some federal projects meant to improve public services have been stopped outright, and others have been abruptly delayed. The concern is that investing money now might be risky if it’s not there in two months.
Thousands of backlogged cases at the Social Security office in Rochester, N.Y., will remain that way after a long-awaited plan to double the number of judges handling hearings and appeals was put on hold ...
“They came right out and told us, ‘We’d love to do it, but we don’t know if we’re going to have the money,’ ” employee Timothy Flavin recalled of the September decision.
Intellectual Disability Instead Of Mental Retardation
We propose to replace the term ``mental retardation'' with ``intellectual disability'' in our Listing of Impairments (listings) that we use to evaluate claims involving mental disorders in adults and children under titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (Act) and in other appropriate sections of our rules. This change would reflect the widespread adoption of the term ``intellectual disability'' by Congress, government agencies, and various public and private organizations.
Disability Claims Decline
Jan 27, 2013
If you want to understand the trouble Republicans are in, one good place to start is with the obsession the right has lately developed with the rising disability rolls. The growing number of Americans receiving disability payments has, for many on the right, become a symbol of our economic and moral decay; we’re becoming a nation of malingerers. ...
What strikes me, however, isn’t just the way the right is trying to turn a reasonable development [the increase in disability rolls] into some kind of outrage; it’s the political tone-deafness.
I mean, when Reagan ranted about welfare queens driving Cadillacs, he was inventing a fake problem — but his rant resonated with angry white voters, who understood perfectly well who Reagan was targeting. But Americans on disability as moochers? That isn’t, as far as I can tell, an especially nonwhite group — and it’s a group that is surely as likely to elicit sympathy as disdain. There’s just no way it can serve the kind of political purpose the old welfare-kicking rhetoric used to perform.
Jan 26, 2013
Medical Expert Witness Handbook
Jan 25, 2013
First Report On Youth Transition Demonstration: A Complete Waste Of Money
From a report by Mathematica Policy Research, a Social Security contractor (emphasis added):
The Youth Transition Demonstration (YTD) is a large-scale demonstration and evaluation sponsored by the Social Security Administration (SSA) to improve understanding of how to help youth with disabilities reach their full economic potential. In particular, SSA is interested in testing promising approaches for helping young people with disabilities become more self-sufficient and less reliant on disability benefits. The YTD conceptual framework, which was based on best practices in facilitating youth transition, specified that the six projects that participated in the evaluation provide employment services (emphasizing paid competitive employment), benefits counseling, links to services available in the community, and other assistance to youth with disabilities and their families. Additionally, the youth who received those services were eligible for SSA waivers of certain benefit program rules, which allowed them to retain more of their disability benefits and health insurance while they worked for pay. ...
In this report, we present first-year evaluation findings for the Career Transition Program (CTP), which served high school juniors and seniors, and youth who had recently exited school, in Montgomery County, Maryland. ...
CTP was well implemented, conformed to the YTD conceptual framework, and provided youth with services to help them graduate from high school, obtain employment, and matriculate into postsecondary education programs. The process analysis showed that CTP enrolled 89 percent of eligible youth in the program and provided services to virtually all of the enrollees. On average, enrollees received 28 hours of services, 36 percent of which were directly related to employment, such as job development. Another 42 percent of service hours were for case management to resolve barriers to employment and education. The impact analysis showed that youth who had been given the opportunity to participate in CTP were more likely to have used employment-promoting services than youth in a randomly selected control group. Nevertheless, we found no impacts of the program on employment during the year following the entry of youth into the evaluation. Neither did we find impacts on income, expectations, or a composite measure of school enrollment or high school completion. We conclude that CTP was no more or less effective than the programs and services available to control group members at improving these outcomes during the follow-up year.
Jan 24, 2013
"The Precise Timing Of His Return To Massachusetts"
For anyone who’s wondering, Social Security Administration Commissioner Michael Astrue remains on the job, even though his six-year term officially ran out last Saturday.
In an email today, SSA spokeswoman Kia Anderson cited the federal law that allows Astrue to stay until the Senate confirms his successor. Given that President Obama has yet to even nominate a possible replacement, Astrue could continue to lead the agency for some time to come. Also remaining in place is Deputy Commissioner Carolyn Colvin.
Astrue, a Massachusetts lawyer and published poet (how many top-level feds can claim that kind of resume?), was named Social Security commissioner by former President George W. Bush and has held the job since early 2007. In the email, Anderson noted that Astrue has said repeatedly that he would not seek reappointment to another term.
Because Astrue has not spoken with Obama “about the precise timing of his return to Massachusetts . . . ,” Anderson added, “it would be inappropriate to speculate about that subject.”
Astrue Still On The Job -- Who Replaces Him?
As to what the President may do, there was a flurry of articles a couple of weeks ago about candidates who might be nominated for the position of Social Security Commissioner. There has been nothing publicly available on the subject since. What does the delay mean? It may be that the background checks on those seeking the nomination are incomplete. It could be the President has had more pressing business before him and has not yet made up his mind. However, the President has not been too busy to come up with nominations for the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Horrible Scheme Alleged
A Philadelphia woman and four others face a first-of-its-kind hate crimes prosecution for allegedly imprisoning mentally handicapped adults in a basement while stealing their benefit checks.
The 196 count federal grand jury indictment unsealed Wednesday claims that Linda Ann Weston, 52, and her alleged accomplices preyed on people with mental disabilities from 2001 to 2011. Four adults were found confined in her Philadelphia basement.
“Shocking does not begin to describe the criminal allegations in this case where the victims were tied-up and confined like zoo animals and treated like property akin to slaves,” U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Zane Memeger said in a statement.
The case will be the first to utilize a 2009 statute that enhanced punishments for criminals who target the mentally disabled. Weston is accused of targeting mentally disabled people in order to steal their Social Security disability payments.
Investigators in Philadelphia said in 2011 that Weston and her accomplices were carrying out a “widespread fraud scheme,” and that they trafficked the victims from Texas to Florida to Philadelphia. In Philadelphia, they held their alleged victims in Weston’s daughter’s apartment building.
The victims are believed to have been in the 6 by 10 foot boiler room for about 10 days. They were found in October 2011 reeking of excrement from the bucket they were forced to use, police said.
Jan 23, 2013
The Lame Duck Quacks
... revise our rules to protect the integrity of our programs and to address public concerns regarding the removal of an administrative law judge's name from the Notice of Hearing and other prehearing notices. To accomplish both objectives, these proposed rules state that we will provide an individual with notice that his or her hearing may be held by video teleconferencing and that he or she has an opportunity to object to appearing by video teleconferencing within 30 days of the notice. We have also made changes that allow us to determine that claimant will appear via video teleconferencing if a claimant changes residences while his or her request for hearing is pending. We anticipate these changes will increase the integrity of our programs with minimal impact on the public and result in more efficient administration of our program.What this means is unclear to me. One strong possibility is that a claimant would be notified shortly after filing a request for hearing -- long before any hearing is scheduled -- of the possibility that a video hearing would be scheduled. Unless the claimant objected within 30 days of that notice, he or she would be considered to have waived their right to an in-person hearing. Also, claimants who move after requesting a hearing would be required to have a video hearing whether they want it or not. However, that's just a guess. The summary above was not written to be understood. In any case, this proposal isn't going anywhere until there's a new Commissioner. The new Commissioner will be able to withdraw or revise it. Even if the new Commissioner likes it, OMB may veto it. Even if it went through, it could be challenged since the final regulations would be completely different from the proposal. The public is supposed to be able to comment on proposed regulations. An agency can't publish one set of proposed regulations, take comments on that and then substitute something completely different as final regulations. That would be contrary to the Administrative Procedure Act. OMB itself is supposed to, and does, prevent this sort of thing. The Courts can also prevent it.
I get the impression that Astrue assumed that President Obama would not be re-elected. Astrue kept working on this and other regulatory proposals that he meant to have adopted once a Republican President was elected. He's not letting the election results stop him from making the gesture. I don't see the point.
A Public Debate
Labels: Childrens' Disability
Jan 22, 2013
Grant Program For Graduate Students
The Minorities and Retirement Security (MRS) Program is a new discretionary grant program jointly administered by the United States Department of Education (ED or the Department) and the United States Social Security Administration (SSA). The MRS Program will provide grants to support research by graduate students at selected graduate institutions with high proportions of minority and low-income students (referred to in this notice as Minority Serving Institutions(MSIs)) in the areas of retirement security, financial literacy, and financial decisionmaking (personal savings, labor force planning, personal debt, etc.)within minority and low-income communities.I hope this is not coming out of Social Security's appropriation.
Social Security Slow In Responding To VA's Requests For Medical Records
Difficulties obtaining Social Security Administration (SSA) medical records, as one specific example, can also lengthen the evidence gathering phase. Currently, an interagency agreement exists that establishes the terms and conditions under which SSA discloses information to VA for use in determining eligibility for disability benefits, according to VBA [Veterans Benefits Administration] officials. Although VBA regional office staff have direct access to SSA benefits payment histories, they do not have direct access to medical records held by SSA. If a veteran submits a disability claim and reports receiving SSA disability benefits, VA is required to help the veteran obtain relevant federal records, including certain SSA medical records, to process the claim. VBA’s policy manual instructs claims staff to fax a request for medical information to SSA and if no reply is received, to wait 60 working days before sending a follow-up fax request. If a response to the follow-up request is not received after 30 days, the manual instructs claims staff to send an email request to an SSA liaison. VBA officials at four of the five regional offices we reviewed told us that when following this protocol, they have had difficulty obtaining SSA medical records in a timely fashion. Moreover, they reported having no contact information for SSA, beyond the fax number, to help process their requests. In complying with VA’s duty to assist requirement, VBA staff told us they continue trying to retrieve SSA records by sending follow-up fax requests until they receive the records or receive a response that the records do not exist. VBA area directors said some regional offices have established relationships with local SSA offices and have better results, but obtaining necessary SSA information has been an ongoing issue nationally. For example, officials at one regional office said a response from SSA regarding a medical records request can sometimes take more than a year to receive.For the most part, VA is pretty good about responding to my requests for medical records on my clients. However, getting records from VA's Regional Offices, where benefit determinations are made, can take time. Social Security rarely requests these records. I always ask for them as early as possible since it can take months to get them. It seems to me that the two agencies have the same problem. Their benefits adjudication processes are set up to adjudicate benefits, not respond to requests for medical records.
Labels: Veterans and Social Security
Jan 21, 2013
The Union Perspective
Social Security unionists see threats to the program from the inside, in some ways more subtle than benefit cuts, but just as insidious over the long run.
Jim Campana is an officer in the Government Employees (AFGE) union representing Social Security workers in Lansing, Michigan. He says that after President George W. Bush lost his bid to privatize the program in 2005, “the first thing he did was destroy the security part of Social Security. It used to be that people knew it would be there for them. Now a lot of people have lost that confidence.”
Dana Duggins, a vice president of AFGE Council 220, said administrators have been on a mission “to strip away the reasons why the public rejected privatization.”
Management is making the program less efficient and less user-friendly, and enforcing methods that wrongly lower benefits, while nurturing the seed of doubt that Social Security can last.
Michael Astrue, the Social Security Administration (SSA) commissioner appointed by Bush, went full throttle with an internet claims system. Those seeking retirement or disability benefits are encouraged to fill out forms online.
But with I-claims, Duggins says, “85 percent of the time the person is disadvantaging themselves. They complete the information based on what their neighbor told them. They’re guessing.”
The commissioner, who will be in office until January 2013, has insisted that employees not question information on the applications. “He says everybody these days has their own financial advisor,” Duggins said. “This is the elitist attitude he works from.”I think the AFGE might have some antipathy for Michael Astrue.
Jan 20, 2013
Is There Really A Connection Between Unemployment Rates And Disability Claims?
Workers over age 55 with chronic health conditions must choose between applying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits or continuing to work until their Social Security retirement benefits become available. Previous research has investigated the influence of macroeconomic conditions on disability application and, separately, on retirement claiming. This project uses data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation Gold Standard File to determine whether there is a relationship between national and state unemployment rates and disability applications, taking into account the current or future receipt of Social Security retirement benefits. First, reduced-form estimates indicate that retirement beneficiaries are more likely to apply for SSDI as unemployment increases – and, conversely, eligible individuals who have not yet claimed benefits are less likely to apply when unemployment rises. But after accounting for unobserved characteristics associated with both the decision to apply for disability insurance and Social Security benefits, individuals are no more likely to apply for disability benefits when unemployment is high. Second, we find that the probability of SSDI application among individuals age 55-61 is unrelated to macroeconomic conditions and unrelated to proximity to one’s 62nd birthday. These results suggest that, unlike prime-age adults, the decision among older individuals to apply for disability is based primarily on health, and not financial incentives.
Jan 19, 2013
SSI Child Benefits Result In Better Long Term Outcomes For Disabled Children
In 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Sullivan v. Zebley case fundamentally changed, albeit temporarily, the criteria under which children qualified for the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program based on disability. Instead of a system based on medical criteria alone, 1996 enactment of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) tied children’s eligibility for SSI, in part, to the effects of their medically determinable impairments on their ability to function day-to-day in age-appropriate activities at home, at school, and in their communities. This paper examines what happened to the Zebley cohort after the age of 18 relative to cohorts who received SSI payments under stricter criteria. This paper evaluates the long-term impact on educational attainment, earnings, SSI and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) participation, and other markers of adult development for the Zebley cohort. We find that, overall, SSI receipt in childhood is associated more [with] positive outcomes than negative ones. The Zebley cohort has a longer attachment to the labor force and a lower likelihood of welfare receipt in adulthood, but also a higher likelihood of lacking health insurance coverage. In addition, those with health conditions most likely to be affected by the new evaluation criteria appear to substitute welfare benefits for disability benefits These results are consistent with the hypothesis that SSI receipt at the margin improves adult outcomes.
Jan 18, 2013
Sales Tax And Social Security Representation
Jan 17, 2013
Social Security To Be Involved In Reducing Gun Violence
Labels: Gun Control
Getting More Brazen All The Time
Former SSA Employee Sentenced For Defrauding Agency
A former attorney for the Social Security Administration is now in deep trouble for defrauding the agency out of benefits.
37-year-old Robert Brauker’s punishment was handed down on Tuesday. Brauker was sentenced five years probation, lost his law license in Missouri, and he must pay back the government $9,244.
Brauker worked for Social Security at the North St Louis office on Goodfellow for about a year until March 2011. During that time, he was collecting disability benefits from Social Security.
Labels: Crime Beat
Jan 16, 2013
Disability Recipients Concealing Self-Employment Income
Our objective was to identify individuals receiving Disability Insurance (DI) benefits who participated in self-employment activities and concealed the income by reporting it under another person’s Social Security number (SSN). ...
We reviewed a sample of 50 beneficiaries who reported SEI [Self Employment Income] before they were approved for DI benefits and had a spouse or child who reported SEI after the beneficiary was approved. Our review did not find any instances where beneficiaries concealed SEI by reporting it under a child’s SSN. However, our review found that 5 (10 percent) of the 50 beneficiaries were engaged in self-employment activities and concealed their income by reporting it under their spouse’s SSN. Of these five, we determined that three beneficiaries received improper payments of $348,000, and their auxiliaries received an additional $77,000. ...
The analysis we undertook for a sample of beneficiaries was labor-intensive and yielded a small number of beneficiaries who were actually concealing SEI. Therefore, we cannot recommend that the Agency integrate such a process into its procedures. However, we would be willing to work with SSA to develop a more sophisticated method for profiling cases where individuals are concealing SEI while receiving DI benefits.
Should Social Security Have A Role In Preventing Gun Violence?
Labels: Crime Beat
Jan 15, 2013
Chicago Regional Office Loses Daycare
In one sense, I understand; the agency's budget is ridiculously tight. In another sense, I don't understand. What is Social Security going to do with the space? It's not like the agency needs the space for a growing workforce. Its workforce is declining. I'm sure many of the building's employees are already upset over the closure of this daycare center. How are they going to feel if that space sits vacant for years after the daycare center closes? Is Social Security planning to lease out space in the building?
I wonder whether this is a decision that might get reversed after Michael Astrue leaves office.
Jan 14, 2013
Debt Ceiling Threatens Payment Of Benefits
Labels: Payment of Benefits
- 2007-2008 -- George W. Bush is President and resurgent Democrats control Congress. Despite serious funding needs and despite the fact that his agency has officially asked for more money than the amount the White House is asking for, Astrue tells a somewhat skeptical Congress that he only wants for his agency what the White House is asking for. This is still far better than what Social Security had been receiving before the 2006 Congressional elections when Republicans controlled both the White House and Congress and were unwilling to give the agency what President Bush had asked for.
- 2009-2010 -- Barack Obama is President and Democrats control Congress. Social Security receives far better appropriations than it has received in many, many years. Social Security hires some employees but relies heavily upon overtime to dramatically work down backlogs. Astrue makes spending on information technology an extremely high priority. This includes construction of a new National Computing Center, which seems to be Astrue's highest priority.
- 2011-2012 -- Barack Obama is President. Democrats have a majority in the Senate. Highly confrontational tea party Republicans control the House of Representatives. Appropriations become the primary focus of a running battle between the President and House Republicans. Social Security's appropriations suffer badly. How hard Astrue fights for appropriations is hard to gauge. Certainly, he could have been more public about the fight. The agency's workforce, which had never increased that much even between 2009 and 2010, begins to dwindle. Overtime becomes scarce. Backlogs begin to creep up. As Astrue prepares to leave office, overtime has almost disappeared and backlogs are worsening dramatically.
- September 14, 2006 -- Astrue nominated to become Social Security Commissioner by President George W. Bush.
- January 24, 2007 -- Hearing on Astrue nomination. Astrue promises to reduce the hearing backlog. Astrue testifies that he believes that "brute force" in the form of additional manpower will be needed to deal with backlogs. Astrue promises to meet with employee union leaders. Astrue promises to meet with employee union leaders.
- February 2, 2007 -- Astrue confirmed as Commissioner.
- March 2007 (not sure of exact date) -- Astrue fires Martin Gerry, a key aide to former Commissioner Barnhart, who had tried to hang onto his job. Astrue has Gerry escorted out of the building by a security guard.
- May 29, 2007 -- Astrue announces plan to reduce hearing backlog.
- July 18, 2007 -- Astrue appoints Dr. David Gray as Deputy Commissioner for Disability and Income Security Programs.
- July 31, 2007 -- Social Security announces compassionate allowance program.
- August 2, 2007 -- Dr. Gray resigns.
- August 2007 -- AFGE, the union that represents most Social Security employees, is already complaining that Astrue's staff is refusing to meet with union leaders.
- August 15, 2007 -- Astrue suspends new cases going to former Commissioner Barnhart's Disability Service Improvement plan.
- October 10, 2007 -- Astrue has a very unfriendly meeting with the head of the Association of Administrative Law Judges.
- October 29, 2007 -- Astrue has proposed regulations published that would limit Appeals Council remands in Social Security disability cases to a closed period only.
- November 29, 2007 -- Astrue's staff sends out "high priority" e-mails to staff telling them to never use "impact" as a verb regarding people.
- January 22, 2008 -- Social Security releases report calling for an ALJ quality assurance program.
- January 29, 2008 -- Bowing to Congressional pressure, Astrue suspends the proposed regulations that would limit Appeals Council remands to a closed period only.
- July 9, 2008 -- Office of Management and Budget clears proposed mental impairment listings for Social Security. The proposal is never published in the Federal Register. No doubt they would have been published had McCain been elected President and no doubt they would have been very unfavorable to claimants with mental illness.
- September 8, 2008 -- Social Security publishes proposed regulations on the recognition of law firms and other entities as representing Social Security claimants. The proposal is incomprehensible and clearly unworkable.
- October 11-13, 2008 -- Social Security online systems shut down for maintenance, hindering voter registration efforts shortly before the election. Democrats are upset. Astrue refuses to delay the maintenance.
- November 4, 2008 -- Barack Obama elected President.
- December 11, 2008 -- Astrue says he's staying as Commissioner despite the election of Barack Obama as President. Most had expected him to leave. Obama had wanted him to leave.
- February 5, 2009 -- AFGE, frustrated that Astrue is hanging on as Commissioner, runs full page ad in the Baltimore Sun calling on Astrue to resign.
- March 24, 2009 -- Members appointed to Occupational Information Development Advisory Panel (OIDAP) which is supposed to work on creating an occupational information system to replace the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT), a key element in disability determination.
- July 16, 2009 -- ABC runs story on lavish Social Security management conference in Phoenix.
- August 12, 2009 -- Class action on fugitive felons settled. $500 million in back benefits paid to 80,000 recipients.
- September 14, 2009 -- Astrue criticizes the "callous Kumbaya attitude" behind states having financial problems furloughing personnel making disability determinations for Social Security even though all salaries and costs for these employees are borne by Social Security.
- October 15, 2009 -- Astrue issues statement supporting President Obama's plan for $250 payments to Social Security beneficiaries.
- March 17, 2010 -- Astrue revealed to be a poet who has published under the pen name of A.M. Juster, an anagram of M.J. Astrue.
- July 11, 2010 -- New York Times reports on rift between Commissioner and Chief Actuary Stephen Goss.
- August 19, 2010 -- Social Security publishes proposed revisions to its mental impairment Listings. In the proposal, the word "or" in “Maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace" are changed to "and" making the listing far harder to meet. Social Security tries to maintain that no substantive difference was intended. No one believes this. The proposal is harshly criticized in many quarters. The proposal remains pending as Astrue leaves office.
- November 2, 2010 -- Republicans win big in midterm elections, retaking control of the House of Representatives.
- May 19, 2011 -- ALJ in West Virginia who rarely denies disability claims featured in Wall Street Journal article.
- May 28, 2011 -- Astrue says that his agency's budget situation is enough to induce "sheer panic."
- June 5, 2011 -- Astrue refers to critics of the agency's child SSI disability policies as “old-line left-wingers’’ with “a ’60s mentality.’’
- July 19, 2011 -- Social Security's Chief Information Officer abruptly resigns after Astrue removes most of his responsibilities in a major shakeup of information technology at Social Security.
- December 14, 2011 -- Astrue decides to begin withholding the identity of the ALJ scheduled to hold a hearing.
- May 15, 2012 -- Astrue revealed to be a big fan of Elvis.
- May 17, 2012 -- Astrue testifies before Senate Finance Committee that attorneys representing Social Security claimants have no legal obligation to submit adverse evidence on their clients.
- June 6, 2012 -- OIDAP ends.
- August 8, 2012 -- OIDAP issues final report that repeatedly calls for transparency, something that critics have said has been sorely lacking with OIDAP itself and generally with Social Security's project to create an occupational information system.
- September 28, 2012 -- Social Security signs agreement with the Department of Labor (DOL) to begin a process for the DOL to produce an updated occupational information system for Social Security, marking the end of the Commissioner's go it alone plan.
- October 31, 2012 -- The ARC [formerly Association for Retarded Citizens] awards Astrue its President's Award. This award amazes those familiar with Social Security's policies on mental retardation during Astrue's term as Commissioner.
- December 18, 2012 -- Astrue's "secret ALJ" policy crumbling as agency is forced to settle a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit on the issue.
Jan 13, 2013
NY Times Argues Against Chained CPI
At the end of last year, just shy of the 11th hour in the fiscal cliff negotiations, President Obama made an offer that included a Republican-backed idea to cut spending by lowering the cost-of-living adjustment for Social Security benefits. The move shocked Congressional Democrats and dismayed Mr. Obama’s liberal base.
The offer, however, was rejected by House Republicans who could not stomach the tax increases and other concessions that Mr. Obama demanded as part of the deal. The talks moved on, and when all was said and done, Republicans did not get the lower cost-of-living adjustments (known as COLAs) and Mr. Obama did not get the concessions he had sought.
But that is not the end of the story. As the next round of deficit reduction talks gets under way, the administration seems determined to include the COLA cut in any new package of spending reductions. Rather than using the issue as a bargaining ploy, the administration appears to have embraced it as a worthy end in itself.
Is it? In a word, no.
That is not to say that Social Security should be off the table. There are reforms that are eminently sensible, if only the political will could be found to enact them. But reducing the COLA is not a sound idea now and may never be....
The administration and other proponents of switching to a chained C.P.I. contend that it is a technical fix in the interest of greater accuracy, not a benefit cut per se.
But that claim does not stand up to scrutiny. The chained index is in many ways a better method of tracking price changes for the broad working population, but there is no compelling evidence that it is better for computing the Social Security COLA.
What is known is that elderly households tend to have lower incomes and lower expenditures than younger households, and that more of their purchases are for needs that cannot be met by switching to products and services in unrelated categories. That indicates that they do not have the same flexibility as younger households to respond to price changes while still maintaining their standards of living. ...
Jan 12, 2013
Social Security Settles Class Action On Low Approving ALJs
Thousands of poor Queens residents with debilitating conditions who were denied federal disability benefits would have their cases reconsidered, under a settlement proposal in a class-action lawsuit that accused judges of bias.
The lawsuit claimed that five administrative law judges with the Queens office that reviews claims for Social Security benefits had presided over hearings that trivialized the applicants’ physical and mental impairments and subjected them to harsh questioning that often brought them to tears. Now, in a settlement accepted by the plaintiffs and the Social Security Administration, the agency has agreed to remove the judges from those cases, allowing applicants — many of whom have been unable to work for years — to appear before new judges. As part of the settlement, the administration would enact new policies against bias and establish a special unit to monitor disability claims for the next 30 months. ...
However, one of the judges named in the lawsuit, David Z. Nisnewitz, was replaced as the chief of the Queens review board after the lawsuit was filed. As part of the agreement, he and the other four judges named — Michael D. Cofresi, Seymour Fier, Marilyn P. Hoppenfeld and Hazel C. Strauss — would be retrained....
Lawyers with the firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, which handled the suit pro bono, and the Urban Justice Center, a nonprofit group, estimated that more than 4,000 cases — applicants who were denied benefits between January 2008 and the date of the settlement — would be reconsidered. ...
[T]he Queens board is already changing its ways. Before the suit, Judges Cofresi and Fier denied over 60 percent of the applications before them; those rates have dropped by more than half. The denial rates of Judge Nisnewitz and Judge Hoppenfeld also declined. Only the rate of Judge Strauss, who denied more than 80 percent of claims before the lawsuit, increased: In the most recent quarter, she denied 90 percent.I first posted about this class action lawsuit at the time it was filed in April 2011. I didn't say so at the time but I thought it quixotic. Hats off to Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and the Urban Justice Center.
Here are the denial rates -- not allowance rates but denial rates -- of the individual ALJs involved at the time the class action was brought:
- Strauss 81%
- Fier 63%
- Cofresi 63%
- Nisnewitz 62%
- Hoppenfeld 48%
Jan 11, 2013
Another Crisis Averted
Turn up your noses if you must, but this is one of those tales that can only occur in that vortex of life, work and bureaucracy.
The Social Security Administration reprimanded an employee last month for allegedly creating a “hostile work environment” by regularly passing gas at the office, according to an official letter sanctioning the worker.
The Smoking Gun Web site published the document online. The agency said it withdrew its action against the employee before the letter was publicized, but officials did not respond to requests for a date of the rescinding action.
“When senior management became aware of the reprimand it was immediately rescinded,” agency spokeswoman Dorothy J. Clark said in an e-mail.
Labels: SSA As Employer
Credit Reports Freeze Creates Problems
I wrote this week about expanded online services offered by the Social Security Administration through its My Social Security Web site.
In response, a Bucks reader wrote to express his disappointment that, because he had a security freeze on his credit reports, he had been unable to create an online account...
Mark Hinkle, a spokesman for the agency, said My Social Security works through Experian, one of the three major credit bureaus, to verify the identities of people setting up online accounts. When you go online to register, the agency’s system performs a so-called “soft” inquiry of your Experian credit file. If a freeze is in place, your information can’t be accessed and you can’t create an account, at least not without jumping through some extra hoops.
Labels: Online Services
Jan 10, 2013
Maybe Republicans Don't Really Want Sequestration
House Republican defense hawks are pushing back strongly against Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) claim that he has GOP support to allow steep automatic budget cuts to take effect if President Obama does not agree to replace them with other reductions. ...
“I don’t support that,” said Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), a member of the Armed Services Committee whose district includes one of the nation’s largest military installations. “You get into dangerous territory when you talk about using national security as a bargaining chip with the president.” ...
The Speaker suggested the sequester was a stronger leverage point for Republicans than the upcoming deadline to raise the debt ceiling ...
“In order to get the Republican Conference to pass the debt-limit increase last time, he promised them sequestration would not go in place,” the Republican House member said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “To be using sequestration and these defense cuts in the next debt-limit talks certainly is pretty bad déjà vu for the Republican Conference.”
"He's Been Campaigning For The Job Forever"
Tufts Health Plan chief executive James Roosevelt Jr. is a candidate to run the Social Security Administration, the program his grandfather signed into law in 1935, according to people briefed on the matter....
He helped lead a review of the Social Security Administration as part of President Obama’s transition team, and previously served as associate commissioner for retirement policy for the agency under President Clinton. ...
A number of lawmakers are backing Roosevelt. US Representative Michael Capuano, Democrat of Somerville, said in a statement, “Jim’s health care expertise as well as his Massachusetts roots and previous work with Social Security make him an excellent choice to oversee this vital program.” ...
Said [Michael] Tanner [of the Cato Institute], “He’s been campaigning for the job forever.”Let me guess. We see a newspaper article tomorrow promoting Earl Pomeroy.
SSA Employee Arrested For Accessing Child Porn At Work
A 49-year-old employee of the Social Security Administration (SSA) has been arrested and charged with accessing child pornography at work, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Thomas Joseph Barrett, of Lynnwood, was arrested at the SSA’s Official of Disability Adjudication, where he worked as a senior case technician. He is expected to appear before a U.S. Magistrate in Seattle this afternoon.
The complaint alleges that Barrett had viewed child pornography on his work computer in November 2012, and had looked up news stories about the penalties for possessing or distributing child porn. The crime carries a penalty of up to 10 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
Labels: Crime Beat
Social Security May Owe Millions To Employees
The Social Security Administration may be forced to fund millions of dollars in additional back pay to black male employees who say the agency breached the terms of a 2002 class action discrimination settlement, according to the Federal Times.
In a ruling issued on Dec. 18, Carlton Hadden, the director of the Office of Federal Operations at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, ordered an administrative judge to oversee distribution of back pay to black males working at SSA’s office in Baltimore from April 1, 2003, through Sept. 30, 2005. Hadden said that the agency must “correct any misapplications of its policies for granting performance awards,” and instructed the agency to provide written notification to a compliance officer. ...
In a statement, Michael Kator, the employees’ lawyer, said that the ruling would mean that SSA would be forced to pay a steeper penalty than if they had followed the terms of the original settlement. As many as 2,200 current and former employees would likely be affected, according to the settlement documents.
“While it may ultimately be for the experts to decide, SSA’s liability could well exceed by 10 times the amount of the original settlement,” Kator wrote.
Kia Anderson, a spokeswoman for the Social Security Administration, told the Federal Times that the agency “disagreed with the ruling” and would “defend its position” to the administrative judge, who will determine the final sum the agency owes the employees.
Labels: SSA As Employer
Jan 9, 2013
Other Names Mentioned For Commissioner Position
The head of the Social Security Administration could be out in less than two weeks, and it’s not clear yet who will replace him. ...
It’s possible an announcement could come as early as this week, according to a Capitol Hill source ... SSA’s Deputy Commissioner Carolyn Colvin could be named acting head of the agency before Obama makes a permanent nomination; her term of deputy also expires on Jan. 19.
“Commissioner Astrue remains on the job and has not submitted his resignation to President Obama,” said Mark Hinkle, a spokesman for SSA. ...
Other names circulating as possible replacements to Astrue include Nancy Altman, James Roosevelt Jr., and former Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D. Altman is chairman of the nonprofit Pension Rights Center’s board of directors and has spent most of her career studying, teaching and writing about Social Security and pension issues; James Roosevelt Jr. -- the grandson of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the late president who helped create Social Security in the 1930s -- is president and chief executive officer of Tufts Health Plan. Roosevelt also served on Obama’s 2008 transition team as a Social Security adviser and is a former associate commissioner at the agency. Pomeroy was chairman of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security when he served in the House.
Altman Called For Paid Parental Leave As Part Of Social Security
Social Security is the most efficient, universal, and secure part of the retirement income system. It is often the only disability insurance and life insurance protection that workers and their families have. It returns in benefits more than 99 cents of every dollar collected -- administrative costs much lower than those found in the private sector. At a time when employer-provided traditional pensions are disappearing, Social Security should be increased, not decreased. Its modest shortfall -- just 0.6 percent of GDP -- is highly affordable. The program's increased cost is an appropriate and modest response to an aging population.
If President Obama and his fellow Democrats take this route, they can use the support of the American people to lead a powerful long-term movement not just to eliminate Social Security's projected shortfall through increased revenue, but to push for higher benefits, particularly for those most disadvantaged, and for new benefits, such as paid parental leave, as the Social Security programs of many other nations provide.
Jan 8, 2013
Damage At Georgia Social Security Office
Eight different air conditioning units were damaged at the Rome Social Security Administration building, according to Rome police reports. ...
Copper tubing going to seven four-ton American Standard brand units were punctured for a total of approximately $5,500 worth of damage while a three-ton Mitsubishi unit was also damaged for approximately $750 worth of damage.
Labels: Crime Beat
Altman Being Touted For Commissioner Position
Less than a week ago, Altman wrote on Huffington Post that she was afraid that the recent fiscal cliff "set the agenda for negotiations that will threaten the future of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid."Fact is, the chained-CPI cut [some politicians] want to push past the American public is a benefit cut, and a pretty big one at that, about $112 billion right out of the pockets of Social Security beneficiaries over the next ten years. It's hardest on persons most dependent on Social Security's modest benefits, averaging just $13,600 . It would lower the COLA gradually but inexorably, year after year -- a cumulative loss over 30 years of $28,000 for a 65 year old retiree who lives to 95 and receives an average Social Security benefit, or a 30 year old disabled war veteran who reaches age 60.
Jan 7, 2013
Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, today announced the agency is expanding the services available with a my Social Security account, a personalized online account that people can use beginning in their working years and continuing throughout the time they receive Social Security benefits. More than 60 million Social Security beneficiaries and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients can now access their benefit verification letter, payment history, and earnings record instantly using their online account. Social Security beneficiaries also can change their address and start or change direct deposit information online. ...
Social Security beneficiaries and SSI recipients with a my Social Security account can go online and get an official benefit verification letter instantly. The benefit verification letter serves as proof of income to secure loans, mortgages and other housing, and state or local benefits. Additionally, people use the letter to prove current Medicare health insurance coverage, retirement or disability status, and age. People can print or save a customized letter.
Social Security processed nearly nine million requests for benefit verification letters in the past year. This new online service allows people to conduct business with Social Security without having to visit an office or make a phone call, and very often wait for a letter to arrive in the mail. It also will reduce the time spent by employees completing these requests and free them to focus on other workloads.
People age 18 and older can sign up for an account at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount. Once there, they must be able to provide information about themselves and answers to questions that only they are likely to know. After completing the secure verification process, people can create a my Social Security account with a unique user name and password to access their information.
People age 18 and older who are not receiving benefits can sign up for a my Social Security account to get a personalized online Social Security Statement. The online Statement provides eligible workers with secure and convenient access to their Social Security earnings and benefit information, and estimates of future benefits they can use to plan for their retirement. In addition, the portal also includes links to information about other online services, such as applications for retirement, disability and Medicare.