Sep 30, 2014

Ribbon Cutting Ceremony At New National Data Center

     Social Security held a ribbon cutting ceremony yesterday at its new National Data Center but it won't be fully staffed until August 2016. Bill Zielinski, Social Security's Chief Information Officer, told a reporter that the project came in under the $500 million that was budgeted for the project but couldn't say how much it did cost. Zielinski didn't see another question coming after telling a reporter that the project came in under budget?

Sep 29, 2014

When A Miss Becomes A Mrs.

     It's slow in Social Security News these days. Nobody wants to say or do anything interesting with an election coming.

Sep 28, 2014

Little Green Men And Social Security

     From Tom Margenau:
About 40 years ago, a national organization conducted a poll of people in their 20s and asked them this question: “In the future, do you think you are more likely to see a Martian or to see a Social Security check?” 
It may not surprise you to learn that a vast majority of the respondents picked the Martian. Young people back in the 1970s thought it was more likely that they would encounter little green men from outer space than a little green government check with their name on it. 
Well guess what? Those folks (who are still alive) are now all in their 60s. Not a one of them has ever seen a Martian, but almost all of them see a little green government check each month. (Well, they see a notice from their bank indicating that a Social Security check has been deposited into their account.)

Sep 27, 2014

There's Still Recovery Act Money To Spend

     Did you know that the Social Security Administration still has money to spend under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the economic stimulus plan that was adopted early in the Obama Administration? As of earlier this year the agency still had $100 million to spend. Most of the Recovey Act funds that Social Security is still spending appear to be going to technology projects such as this, many of them related to the agency's new National Data Center, which was funded with Recovery Act money.

Sep 26, 2014

Pete Peterson's Project To Cut Social Security Disability Asks For Proposals

     The Pete Peterson "project" to cut Social Security disability benefits, fronted by former Congressmen McCrery and Pomeroy, has put out a call for proposals for "innovative ideas to improve" Social Security disability benefits. The "project" has listed a number of suggested topics but nothing about removing the cap on the F.I.C.A. tax or transferring monies between Social Security's Trust Funds. The deadline for submitting proposals is November 1, suggesting that the "project" already knows which proposals it's interested in and is already committed to paying people to write those proposals. Proposals from others won't get funding and are unlikely to be published.
     This isn't about improving Social Security disability. It's about using the possible funding shortfall in the Disability Trust Fund as a pretext for cutting Social Security disability benefits. This "project" is designed to place a bipartisan veneer over a right wing plan to cut disability benefits.

Sep 25, 2014

Social Security Still Trying To Make People Pay Ancient Debts They Didn't Incur And That The Agency Can't Prove

It's Got To Be Opioids And Fraud!

     The Birmingham, AL News recently ran an article trying to explain the fact that Alabama has one of the highest rates of Social Security disability benefits receipients in the country. The explanations that the newspaper came up with were high rates of opioid usage, high percentage of the labor force in manufacturing jobs, fraud and the fact that many people qualify for Social Security disability benefits based on "muscle pain." Apparently, the authors of the article didn't understand exactly what the word "musculoskeletal"means.
     All newspaper articles are reductive. This one is more so than most. The reporters really should have concentrated more upon one factor they identified, the high percentage of the Alabama labor force in manufacturing jobs. The article doesn't explain the connection, perhaps because the reporters didn't understand it; perhaps because they were in a rush to get to drug abuse and fraud as possible explanations. It's simple, though. Manufacturing jobs are more physically demanding than office jobs. They put workers at greater risk for workplace injuries and repetitive motion disorders, like worn out shoulders, carpal tunnel syndrome, bad knees, etc. It's harder for a sick or injured worker to return to a manufacturing job because of the higher physical demands of the work. See, that's not hard to explain. It's not a bit controversial, either. Also, the reporters should have talked about the low educational attainments and poor work skills of the Alabama population and the poor health care available to low income people in the state. All of those contribute mightily to the incidence of disability but why bother talking about such boring explanations when you can talk about drugs and fraud? And, by the way, workplace injuries and repetitive motion disorders tend to be painful. Opioids are often prescribed for such disorders for good reason.

Sep 24, 2014

Rep Payee Problems

     The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports on problems in Social Security's representative payee system.

Sep 23, 2014

I Warned You But You Didn't Listen

     When it proposed new regulations to force a claimant to make a decision on whether to accept a video hearing soon after a request for hearing is filed -- and long before a hearing is actually scheduled -- Social Security was implicitly making a bet that the result would be a decrease in the number of claimants objecting to video hearings. I warned at the time that the result would probably be the exact opposite, an increase in objections to video hearings. Those early choice letters started going out in my area in the last week or so. What I'm hearing so far from other attorneys and from claimants themselves suggests that Social Security is going to lose the bet it made. In my area, I looks like there will be vastly more objections to video hearings.
     So, what's next, mandatory video hearings with all the Administrative Law Judges herded into a huge warehouse where they only do video hearings and can be completely overseen by wise central office taskmasters?

Sep 22, 2014

Let's Simplify Work Incentives

     The Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) has issued a proposal for simplifying and improving the work incentives in Social Security's disability programs. Here are the major points:
  • Benefit offset level: $1 benefit offset for every $2 of earnings over the earning disregard threshold
  • Earning disregard threshold: Initial earning disregard should be set no lower than the current law Trial Work Level (TWL) period earning threshold of $770 for 2014 ... The earning disregard threshold for SSDI should be indexed ...
  • The earned income disregard in the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program should also be increased to the level it would be at if it had been indexed since its inception. The earned income disregard in the SSI program should be indexed after it is increased.
  • Eliminate the Trial Work Period. A Trial Work Period would no longer be needed with a benefit offset.
  • Eliminate the Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE) ... [E]arnings should never cause an SSDI beneficiary’s eligibility to be terminated. Instead, benefit eligibility should be put in suspension in any month that a beneficiary’s earnings rise to the level that no benefit is payable. An SSDI beneficiary’s eligibility should only be terminated if the individual has medically improved and no longer has a disabling impairment according to the Title II definition of disability.
  • We recommend improving the administration of the IRWE [Impairment Related Work Expenses] by making the reporting of IRWEs easier – allowing online submission of evidence of expenses that might be eligible to be counted as an IRWE and reducing the frequency at which someone must provide evidence of the IRWE – e.g. create a presumption that the expense continues at the same monetary amount unless SSA is notified. If needed, verification of the expense could be asked for annually.
  • The current SSI blindness rule should be applied to both Title II and SSI disability claimants and beneficiaries to allow the consideration of all work expenses, not only those that are “impairment - related.”
     These are common sense reforms. They would make the work incentives much easier for claimants to understand and for Social Security to administer. Congress has added one work incentive after another over the decades. It's gotten to the point that almost no one understands the incentives and that includes front line Social Security employees. How can incentives work if the people you're trying to incentivize don't understand the incentives and there's no one available to explain them? It's time to take down this Christmas tree loaded with ineffective incentives and replace it with something simple and workable.
     I don't think this proposal if adopted will put large numbers of people back to work. The vast majority of Social Security disability recipients are too sick to have any realistic hope of returning to work. I do think that this proposal will make a difference on the margins and be much easier to administer. That's all anyone should hope for.

Sep 21, 2014

NCSSMA Newsletter

     The National Council of Social Security Management Associations (NCSSMA) has finally posted its June 2014 newsletter online. I'll bet it was distributed to members months ago. NCSSMA is a major organization of Social Security management personnel. This issue of the newsletter contains a long interview with Kenneth Rivers, Social Security's Associate Commissioner for the Office of Telephone Services. Here's one small excerpt:
As NSBR [Network Skills Based Routing] rolls out across the nation, how will it enhance telephone service delivery for the FO [Field Office]

NSBR provides the ability to route incoming FO General Inquiry (GI) calls to other FOs within an SSA Region, before reaching the 15-min max wait time. We are nearly at 70% project completion for this effort, having installed this tool in nearly 800 FOs nationwide. NSBR has afforded us the opportunity to improve telephone service delivery by increasing call answering pools of available FO agents in neighboring offices throughout the country to assist and answer calls from the local public. To date, neighboring offices have answered over 120,000 callers, who might have otherwise walked into our FOs to receive the same exact service that they were able to receive over the phoned. Additionally, we minimize performance deterioration on our N8NN [National 800 Number Network] platform by deploying NSBR, so that FOs can assist each other. 
     Note the concern with the maximum 15 minute wait time on calls to Social Security Field Office. Apparently, that's the point at which the telephone system automatically disconnects you even if no one has talked with you. They're trying to route calls to other FOs before the callers are automatically disconnected.

Sep 20, 2014

Want More Effective Government? Hire A Million Bureaucrats!

     The excerpt below is from an opinion piece in the Washington Post written by John J. Dilulio, Jr., a professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania and a member of the National Academy of Public Administration. Dilulio served as the first director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives under President George W. Bush. This was abstracted from Diulio's book, “Bring Back the Bureaucrats."
 We all know that the federal government has gotten a lot bigger in the past half century. ...
And yet, the number of federal civilian workers (excluding postal workers) has barely budged. ... 
This is the dirty secret behind all those debates over the size of government. Yes, government is big and is dangerously debt-financed, but it is also administered by outsiders — and that is what guarantees that our big government produces bad government, too.
Post-1960 Federal America has become a grotesque Leviathan by proxy, in which an expanding mass of state and local government workers, for-profit contractors, and nonprofit grant recipients administers a vast portion of federal money and responsibilities.  ...
We don’t need fewer federal workers; we need more of them — a lot more. More direct public administration would result in better, smarter, more accountable government. ...
[W]ith little regard for performance or results, Washington’s proxies lobby for federal policies, programs and regulations that they are paid to administer. The proxies rarely lose, which is a big reason government never stops growing. ...
Today’s federal civil service is not bloated — it is overloaded. We have too few federal bureaucrats monitoring too many grants and contracts, and handling too many dollars. Many federal agencies are in crying need of more workers. By 2025, for instance, the number of Social Security beneficiaries will exceed 85 million , and the Social Security Administration will disburse nearly $1.8 trillion a year. But the SSA projects that it could lose a third of its workforce by 2020, when some 7,000 headquarters workers and 24,000 field employees become eligible for retirement. Unfortunately, in recent years, because of a congressionally mandated hiring freeze, the SSA has been unable to fill positions left open by employee retirements. ...
How many more federal bureaucrats are needed? Here’s a rough measure: In 1965, the ratio of full-time federal civil servants (1.9 million) to the total U.S. population (193 million) was about 1 to 100. In 2013, with a civilian workforce of 2.1 million and a U.S. population of 316 million, that ratio was about 1 to 150. The Census Bureau estimates that the nation’s population by 2035 will be about 370 million.
If the federal workforce grew back to its 1965 ratio, then by 2035 it would need to have 3.7 million employees. If, instead, the federal workforce merely maintained its 2013 ratio, then by 2035 it would have about 2.5 million workers. The midpoint would land the federal personnel roster at about 3 million by 2035, with roughly 1 federal bureaucrat for every 125 citizens.
Crude as it is, that calculation is probably in the ballpark of what’s needed: 1 million more full-time federal civilian workers by 2035.

Sep 19, 2014

Senate Finance Committee Clears Colvin Nomination

     The Senate Finance Committee has voted 22-2 to favorably report out the nomination of Carolyn Colvin to a term as Commissioner of Social Security. She is currently the Acting Commissioner. Senators Burr (R-NC) and Isakson (R-GA) voted against Colvin.
     The nomination is not out of the woods. This will not be taken up by the full Senate until after the election. If Republicans gain a majority in the Senate after the election, they may try to prevent almost all action in a lame duck session, perhaps including action on non-controversial nominations.

Sep 18, 2014

A Little Good News

     The Continuing Resolution (CR) passed yesterday by the House of Representatives allows federal agencies to continue spending at the same rate as in the fiscal year that ends on September 30 -- less 0.0554%. §101(b). However, the Social Security Administration is exempted from the 0.0554% reduction. §114 (b)(2).

Pete Peterson Launches Another "Bipartisan" Attack On Social Security

     From a press release:
Former Congressmen Jim McCrery (R-LA) and Earl Pomeroy (D-ND) today launched the McCrery-Pomeroy SSDI Solutions Initiative, a bipartisan effort to identify potential improvements to the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program. 
The goal of the initiative is to provide policymakers with a menu of options to improve the SSDI program well in advance of the program’s 2016 projected insolvency date. The initiative will solicit ideas for concrete and practical reforms that improve various aspects of the SSDI program. The proposed ideas will be subject to a rigorous review process, be presented at a conference in 2015, and then published along with recommendations from the initiative co-chair. 
McCrery and Pomeroy both served as chairmen of the Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee during their time in Congress and have retained an interest in the SSDI program. The co-chairs will be advised by an Advisory Council of experts representing a diverse range of experiences and perspectives.
     This is coming from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB). CRFB tries to appear bipartisan but it always favors budget cuts over increased revenues. It has a history of ties to tobacco interests and is heavily involved with Pete Peterson, a billionaire, who has been tirelessly and fruitlessly working for decades to undermine Social Security. This initiative will produce a report recommending slashing Social Security disability benefits.
     What is it with Earl Pomeroy? If you don't nominate me to become Commissioner of Social Security, I'll just switch teams?

Sep 17, 2014

An OIG "Special Report"

     Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG) has issued a "Special Report" on The Social Security Administration's Ability to Prevent and Detect Disability Fraud. There are some small bits of news in the "Special Report" but it's mostly a stale rehashing of old news in an attempt to placate Congressional Republicans who want proof that fraud is rampant in Social Security's disability programs. Three isolated instances of alleged small scale schemes to defraud Social Security do not constitute proof of rampant fraud. It's merely a sign that there are stupid people who make the mistake of thinking that it's easy to defraud Social Security.
     Anyway, here's the few nuggets of news that I found in this "Special Report":
  • "The Acting Commissioner and others have consistently and inaccurately cited a 2006 OIG report as the “best-available evidence” that the rate of fraud in the disability program is less than one-tenth of one percent. We are currently updating that 2006 report, and expect that our findings will give us more insight into fraud and abuse in the disability programs." Later in the report, OIG says, basically, that even though there's a report they issued some years ago that can be interpreted in the way that the Acting Commissioner interpreted it that she shouldn't have because maybe there are some overpaid claimants that OIG doesn't want to prosecute but who OIG still wants to label as fraudsters. Is it reasonable to call something fraud if you're not willing to prosecute it as fraud?
  • "The Agency’s dated systems, combined with the diverse and unintegrated systems of 54 DDSs, provide little protection against the cookie - cutter approach to large - scale DI fraud conspiracies such as those in New York and Puerto Rico, where only vigilant DDS analysts were finally able to detect signs of a scheme after millions of dollars were paid to fraudulent beneficiaries."
  • "This year, SSA began an initiative to develop predictive analytics to detect disability fraud."
  • "SSA is currently working with three vendors: Northrup Grumman and SaS on the use of the predictative analytics tool, and Accenture regarding a joint anti-fraud unit."
  • OIG has noticed that scanned images of documents don't contain searchable fields, meaning it's impossible to turn the powerful software that Northrup Grumman and SAS wants to sell the agency loose on all those scanned documents so why is the agency considering buying the software? That means that humans, who are actually pretty good at noticing patterns, will probably have to be the ones noticing the patterns.
  • OIG wants "a comprehensive tracking and review process for all claimant representatives."
  • "SSA is currently working with the Disability Researth Consortium and the Library of Congress in a literature review to look at how other disability systems factor in age, education and work history. The agency intends to update the vocational grids, used to establish disability and to identify other work that a claimant could perform."
  • "In FY 2007, 19.6 percent of ALJs allowed more than 85 percent of their cases; in FY 2013, that percentage dropped to 2.9% of ALJs ..." What does this have to do with fraud? Also, did the percent of ALJs denying a huge percentage of the cases they heard go down in a similar way?

Sep 16, 2014

Social Security Statement Mailings To Resume

     From a Social Security press release:
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, today announced the agency will resume the periodic mailing of Social Security Statements—once every five years for most workers-- while encouraging everyone to create a secure my Social Security account to immediately access their Statement online, anytime. ...
Beginning this month, workers attaining ages 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, 55, and 60 who are not receiving Social Security benefits and who are not registered for a my Social Security account will receive the Statement in the mail about 3 months before their birthday.  After age 60, people will receive a Statement every year.  The agency expects to send nearly 48 million Statements each year.

Colvin Nomination Moving Forward

     The Senate Finance Committee has scheduled an "Open Executive Session" for September 18 to consider reporting out the nomination of Carolyn Colvin to be confirmed as Commissioner of Social Security. Although it appears that there is no opposition to the Colvin nomination, it is far from clear that she will be confirmed. There may not be enough time for full Senate to confirm her before it adjourns for the election. If Republicans win a majority in the election, they will almost certainly try to run out the clock on all nominations in the lame duck session after the election. It's judicial nominations they'll be aiming at but she may get caught in the crossfire.

Sep 15, 2014

Why Are So Many Student Loans Being Collected From People On Social Security Disability Benefits?

     The Government Accountability Office (GAO) did a recent study on the collecting of student loan debts from Social Security benefits. The chart below is from that study.

     Obviously, most of the student loan debt that the Social Security Administration collects comes from disability benefits. Under the Department of Education's own regulations, these student loan debts are supposed to be discharged if the debtor is "permanently impaired." The Department of Education has interpreted "permanently impaired" to include anyone found disabled by the Social Security Administration who has a five to seven year review date, a group that Social Security classifies as Medical Improvement Not Expected (MINE). That's a fair number of younger disabled people. It would be easy for Social Security to identify student loan debtors who are in the MINE category and notify the Department of Education so that no more money would be improperly withheld from the Social Security disability benefits of these disabled people and, indeed, so that all other collection efforts would be ended for this group of people. I'm pretty sure this isn't being done. Why not? If data matches can be done to collect debts, why can't data matches be done to stop inappropriate debt collection?

Sep 14, 2014

Women And Social Security Disability

     The National Women's Law Center has produced a fine fact sheet on women and Social Security disability benefits. This chart is from that fact sheet.


Sep 13, 2014

Phased Retirement For SSA Employees In Doubt

     From the Federal Times:
Federal employees at the Social Security Administration may have to wait longer for phased retirement — if the agency decides to implement it at all.
Dorothy Clark, SSA spokeswoman, told Federal Times that the agency was still deciding if it was going to implement the program.
“We are currently evaluating OPM’s [Office of Personnel Management's] regulations and what would be required if the agency decides to implement a phased retirement program,” Clark said. “If SSA decides to implement a program, it will not be implemented until calendar year 2015 or later.”

Sep 12, 2014

Student Loans A Growing Problem For Social Security Recipients

     From the New York Times:
Janet Lee Dupree, 72, was surprised when she received her first Social Security benefits seven years ago. About one-fifth of her monthly payment was being withheld and she called the federal government to find out why.
The woman, who is from Citra, Fla., discovered that the deduction from her benefits was to repay $3,000 in loans she took out in the early 1970s to pay for her undergraduate degree. ...
She is among an estimated two million Americans age 60 and older who are in debt from unpaid student loans, according to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Its August “Household Debt and Credit Report” said the number of aging Americans with outstanding student loans had almost tripled from about 700,000 in 2005, whether from long-ago loans for their own educations or more recent borrowing to pay for college degrees for family members.
The debt among older people is up substantially, to $43 billion from $8 billion in 2005, according to the report, which is based on data from Equifax, the credit reporting agency. Currently about 155,000 people, according to federal data, have money deducted from their Social Security payments to pay down their outstanding student loans. ...

Sep 11, 2014

Attorney Fees Down 19% In Last Four Years

     I have written that attorneys and others representing Social Security disability claimants are under considerable economic stress. It's a simple matter to demonstrate what's happening. Social Security posts the totals on fees paid. These numbers are available through August of this year. Let's compare the total fees paid to attorneys and others for representing Social Security claimants for this year and each of the preceding four years through August of each year:
  • 2010 $977 million
  • 2011 $941 million, a reduction of $36 million or 4% from 2010
  • 2012 $935 million, a reduction of $6 million or 1% from 2011; a reduction of $42 million or 4% from 2010
  • 2013 $876 million, a reduction of $59 million or 6% from 2013; a reduction of $101 million or 10% from 2010
  • 2014 $792 million, a reduction of $84 million or 10% from 2013, a reduction of $185 million or 19% from 2010
     If there had been essentially no change in representation, these numbers should have gone up modestly due to inflation. Instead, they went down by 19% over five years, with most of that change happening in the last two years.
     What happened? There's been a generalized slowdown in processing disability claims at Social Security. It just takes longer to get a case through every stage of the process. Naive people might think that slower processing would mean higher fees but the reality is that it just means lower total fees as the cases pile up at every level. Even more important, it has become more difficult to get a favorable decision from an Administrative Law Judge. That's had the direct effect of reducing the fees paid because fewer claimants are winning. It's had the secondary effect of changing the standards used by attorneys and others in selecting cases. Because a fee is paid only if the claimants wins, everyone tries to avoid cases they regard as unlikely to succeed. The "unlikely to succeed" category has gotten considerably larger over the last five years. More prospective clients are turned away. It's also had the effect of reducing the advertising that attorneys and others do seeking Social Security clients. Many people who were advertising in the past just can't afford it now. Even if they do advertise, the advertising is less effective because more prospective clients are turned away because of increased selectivity. This means that advertising has a lower yield, making it less cost effective. Less advertising means that fewer claimants learn that they can try to hire an attorney. "Try" is the right word here since it's clear at ground level that there are many claimants desperately seeking an Social Security attorney and not finding one willing to take on their case.
     If you're not in the business of representing Social Security claimants, your reaction to this is probably, "Who cares? That's your problem, not mine." However, Social Security has offloaded a considerable part of its workload to those who represent Social Security claimants. We have to do a lot of the filing of appeals, gathering of medical evidence and advising claimants. The agency is in no position to pick up that workload.

Sep 10, 2014

Controversial Pay-Fors In ABLE

     Support has been growing in Congress for the ABLE Act of 2014 (H.R. 647). ABLE stands for Achieving a Better Life Experience. Under ABLE, individuals receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid could establish tax favored accounts to cover qualified expenses for medical care, housing and transportation. The accounts would not count against SSI and Medicaid resource limits. There is a chance that ABLE will become law this year.
     The ABLE bill, apart from its "pay-fors", is certainly worthy of passage. However, I would prefer that ABLE be a part of a comprehensive effort to update the income and resource provisions of SSI and Medicaid. I'm not sure about Medicaid but the SSI income and resources provisions in SSI haven't been updated since SSI became law more than 40 years ago. They are ridiculously out of date. As it stands, ABLE is primarily a bill to help the disabled children of middle class and wealthy parents. Those parents could use ABLE accounts to transfer funds to their disabled children. Those who are on SSI and Medicaid seldom have the ability on their own to accumulate assets in an ABLE account.
     The big problem with ABLE is that it would cost money and the House of Representatives is proposing "pay-fors" that would:
  • Eliminate the percentage and dollar cap on the user fee that those representing Social Security claimants pay for processing direct payment of fees for representing Social Security claimants.
  • End the Single Decisionmaker pilot currently used in twenty states.
  • End the Reconsideration elimination pilot currently used in ten states.
     Ending the single decisionmaker and reconsideration elimination pilots would make it more difficult to be approved for disability benefits in the affected states. I don't think there is any substantive opposition to those pilots. Instead of eliminating them, they should be extended to all states. Why should ABLE be used to help middle class and wealthy families at the expense of disability claimants generally?
     Eliminating the percentage and dollar caps on the user fee is a big deal. Already, attorneys and others pay hefty fees to Social Security for the processing of their fees. This would increase those fees to preposterous levels that bear no relationship to Social Security's actual costs. Why would it cost Social Security almost $400 to compute 25% of a claimant's back benefits and authorize a direct deposit?
     I will write more about this later but those who represent Social Security claimants are already under considerable economic stress. Although no statistics have been released, it seems clear to me that fewer claimants are represented now than was the case a few years ago. Representing Social Security claimants is a high overhead, low profit margin business. Reducing the gross income of those who represent Social Security claimants by, perhaps 5%, would reduce their net income by a much higher percentage. Should ABLE be adopted with the elimination of the user fee caps, I expect a downward spiral of Social Security representation. At some point, it's just not worth it any more and we're rapidly approaching that point even without this proposal.
     The "pay-for" in the current House proposal will undoubtedly generate some opposition in the Senate which would endanger ABLE. As difficult as it is to pass any legislation in Washington, I would have thought that House Republicans would have tried harder to find less controversial "pay-fors" assuming they really want to pass ABLE. There aren't many legislative days left in this Congress. It may not take much of a dispute to kill ABLE in this Congress.

Sep 9, 2014

Three Confirmed To SSAB

     From The Hill:
The Senate voted Monday to clear three nominations to the Social Security Advisory Board.
Henry Aaron’s nomination was confirmed on a 54-43 vote. Shortly after, the Senate approved the nominations of Alan Cohen and Lanhee Chen by voice-votes. ...
President Obama is expected to make Aaron chairman of the board.
      Aaron was nominated to the SSAB in 2011. That's how long it took to get his noncontroversial nomination through the Senate.
     Chen was a campaign aide to Mitt Romney. He referred to President Obama's plans for Social Security as "laughable." Aaron and Cohen have a history of avoiding partisanship.

Sep 8, 2014

But Our Customer Satisfaction Ratings Are About 80%

     From the Baltimore Sun:
Hiring by Maryland's largest employer — the federal government — has fallen by more than 40 percent nationally over four years, and the state's job market is feeling the pain. ...
One agency that has taken an especially hard hit is the Social Security Administration, headquartered in Woodlawn. New hires in Maryland fell from 1,507 in 2009 to 117 in 2013. Employment at the agency in Maryland has dropped from 12,744 in 2010 to 10,769 this year. ...
Withold Skwierczynski, president of the American Federation of Government Employees' council for employees of Social Security field offices, said attrition has led to shorter office hours and longer waits for people seeking services. "The public is getting very frustrated and angry because of the diminishment of service, and people take it out on our employees," he said. "We're really producing a shoddy product. It's not the Social Security of old." ...
Nicole Tiggemann, a spokeswoman for Social Security, said service has not deteriorated. She pointed to customer satisfaction ratings in which the agency consistently scores about 80 percent...
     Why, why, why would Social Security try to downplay its service delivery problem? That's how the Department of Veterans Affairs got in such trouble. Is denial just a conditioned reflex in the public affairs office?

Sep 7, 2014

Three Former Social Security Employees Charged

     From the Philadelphia Inquirer:
Five women, including three former Social Security Administration employees, have been arrested in connection with what prosecutors are calling a “complex welfare, childcare and medical benefits scheme,” the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office announced Friday. 
Investigators said Sakeenah Belle, 31, Chanae Thomas, 31, Felicia Fernandez, 30, Shonda Wayman, 30, and Abigail Millian, 38, received SNAP, subsidized childcare and medical assistance benefits totaling more than $76,000 between 2009 and early 2013. ... 
Prosecutors said the Social Security Administration received a complaint March 6, 2012 alleging Belle was using the computer and hard drive assigned to her by the SSA to create bogus Leave and Earnings Statements for herself and the four other women. 
The women allegedly used the fictitious statements to gain eligibility or to remain eligible for the welfare benefits.

Sep 6, 2014

Social Security Sets Up Message Board For Comments On Open Data Project

     Social Security has established a message board to allow the public to offer its opinions on the agency's Open Data project which has been mandated by the White House. A number of data sets have been made available to the public as part of this project.

Sep 4, 2014

"Dumb Ass Stupid Management"

     Alan Weiss believes his local Social Security field office has "dumb ass stupid management."

Sep 3, 2014

Big Dual Benefit Overpayment Problem

     A recent report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG) found that "Of the 50 sample Title II beneficiaries who were receiving benefits on 2 Social Security records, we determined that SSA incorrectly paid 29 (58 percent) beneficiaries full benefits on both records." 
     Let me give an example of how this happens. A woman goes on Social Security disability benefits at age 50. A couple of years later, her husband dies. She files a claim for Disabled Widows benefits. What's supposed to happen is that the widows benefit is reduced by the amount of benefits she's already receiving on her own account. The OIG report, which is based on a fairly small sample, suggests that more than half the time, Social Security is paying the full widows benefit. That would quickly cause a large overpayment. There are many, many cases along these lines.
     OIG estimated that there were over $6 million in potentially recoverable overpayments in just the 29 cases identified in their small sample, over $200,000 per case, and that there were more overpayments that would not be potentially recoverable.
     You can look at this report and say that Social Security is run by a bunch of incompetents. Maybe. What I see here is a demonstration of how completely inadequate Social Security's data system is. Why didn't the computers stop these overpayments before they ever happened? How can anyone think that Social Security's data systems are so wonderful that the agency can dispense with field offices?
     Note that these overpayments are entirely due to agency error. The claimants would have no idea they're being overpaid. They'll be very unhappy when they're told of the large overpayments. It's not just the Social Security trust funds that are the victim here. These claimants are victims also.
     In any case, the OIG report has identified a problem that will have to be addressed. This data system problem must be definitively resolved quickly.

Sep 2, 2014

More From Patricia Wen On Child SSI

     Patricia Wen at the Boston Globe has written a new piece on children's disability benefits under Supplemental Security Income. The piece contains words and phrases such as "controversial", "dramatic growth" and "replaced welfare." The piece seems to have little if any new information.
    The hard numbers show that 1,083,874 children received SSI in July 2013 and 1,074,908 received the benefits in July 2014. That's not dramatic growth. That's a modest decline. Ms. Wen doesn't report this.
     Ms. Wen got a lot of attention for her original series of articles on SSI child's disability. She doesn't seem to have anything new to report on the subject but she keeps repeating what she originally wrote.

An Overpayment Story

     From WNYT in Albany, NY:
Life was complicated enough for Bruce and Sarah Whaley. they're raising three children in their Corinth home, one of them disabled, Sarah works full time, but Bruce is also disabled and has been out of work for a couple of years.
Monthly workers compensation and social security checks enable the Whaley's to make ends meet, which helps explain why, just over four months ago, Sarah thought a miracle occurred.
"When I woke up Monday morning, April 14th, I looked in my bank account and saw over $33,000 in our checking account," Sarah recalls. ...
"Social security said it's your money, take it," Sarah says. ...
"Every human being I speak to in social security has a different story on what's going on," Bruce says.
What the Whaley's eventually found out however was that someone at social security didn't realize Bruce was also receiving workers compensation from the state, and if he wasn't collecting that money, he would have been entitled to collect more money from the federal government. That misunderstanding also affected the amount being paid to the Whaley's children.
Even though the Whaley's told social security to stop sending them the money, the money kept coming.
"It all added up before they got it fixed back to his regular pay to $38,124," Sarah says.
And the plot thickens. After initially refusing any repayment, social security finally sent the Whaley's a letter now demanding the $38,000 be paid back or else Bruce's monthly checks would be cut off. ...
Finding themselves in sort of a bizzaro web of bungled burocracy, the Whaley's sent all of the money back by certified check. They have the receipt that someone at Social Security initialed, indicating social security received the checks in early August. Social Security's demand for repayment came just before the Labor Day weekend.