I received a question from a reader who wanted to know why I hadn't posted news from last week's conference of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR), held in Arlington, VA, just outside D.C. The answer is simple. There really wasn't much news. Here's the little I gleaned.
Glenn Sklar, the head of Social Security's Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR), said that things were going to get better because the agency was hiring more Administrative Law Judges (ALJs). However, Sklar couldn't give a clear answer when asked if there would be any net improvement after the expected attrition of ALJs retiring, quitting and dying.
Senator Sherrod Brown gave a nice speech, promising to fully support Social Security, including disability benefits but Brown's support was never in question. The problem is on the other side of the aisle.
Ellen Nissenbaum of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) gave a depressing talk about the challenges affecting the Social Security Disability Insurance Trust Fund. Nothing she said would be news to any regular reader of this blog. I thought she was overly pessimistic, talking almost exclusively about the negative while failing to mention the positive -- that Democrats, to this point, are solidly against significant changes in Social Security disability benefits and Republicans haven't produced a bill. Nissenbaum seemed to think that Republicans might get away with saying they would cut "disability" but not Social Security. I wouldn't bet on that working if I were a Republican running in anything other than an extremely safe district. I can see the TV ad now accusing a Republican of cutting, let's say, $100 billion from Social Security. Would it really work for the Republican to go around complaining that the ad is misleading because the $100 billion would be "disability" instead of Social Security?
Barbara Silverstone, NOSSCR's Executive Director, noted that the attendance at the conference was under 700. In recent years, conference attendance, particularly in D.C., has been around 1,000. The reason the attendance was off wasn't the date or the location or the hotel or anything else like that. It's the fact that it has become extremely challenging to practice Social Security law these days. A fair number of Social Security attorneys are dropping out of the practice. Fewer who are still practicing Social Security law can afford to attend a conference. The next conference is scheduled for the end of October in Denver. That may be the sort of intimate gathering that NOSSCR hasn't seen in decades.