Aug 17, 2017

Hard Time

     From the Lexington, KY Herald Leader:
A Pikeville psychologist tried to hang himself after he was convicted of conspiring with disability attorney Eric C. Conn to defraud the Social Security Administration of millions of dollars, according to a court record.
A federal prosecutor cited the unsuccessful suicide attempt in arguing that Alfred Bradley Adkins should not be released on bond pending sentencing.
U.S. District Judge Danny C. Reeves turned down Adkins’ request to be released. ...
Adkins was charged with signing false mental-impairment evaluations for Conn to use in claims.
A jury convicted Adkins on June 12 of conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud and making a false statement in a record submitted to Social Security.
Reeves ordered Adkins taken into custody after the verdict.
About an hour later, the U.S. Marshals Service notified Reeves that Adkins had tried to hang himself in a holding cell at the federal courthouse in Lexington, according to a court document. The document didn’t provide any additional details.
Reeves said in an order that although Adkins’ attempt was unsuccessful, it “refutes his claims of stability and the assertions that Adkins is not a danger to himself or to others, or that he would not flee if given the opportunity.” ...
Adkins faces up to 65 years in prison, according to a motion by Dustin M. Davis, an attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice. ...

Read more here:

Read more here:

Read more here: faces up to 65 years in prison, according to a motion by Dustin M. Davis, an attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice.

Read more here:

Aug 16, 2017

Why Can't Social Security Get Adequate Administrative Funding?

     Max Richtman of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare wonders why the Sorcial Security Administration can't get an adequate operating budget. He thinks it might have something to do with the fact that Republicans still can't reconcile themselves to the very existence of Social Security.

Aug 15, 2017

1.7% COLA?

     There's always great interest in Social Security's annual cost of living adjustment. We won't know the actual 2018 number until October but it's looking like it will be about 1.7%.

Aug 14, 2017

Happy Birthday!

     President Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act on August 14, 1935.

Aug 13, 2017

New Remand Procedure

     From HALLEX, the manual for Social Security's Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) (and no, the name hasn't changed yet):
I-2-5-12 Remand for Revised Determination Last Update: 8/3/17 (Transmittal I-2-211)  
A.When to Remand for a Revised Determination After a claimant files a request for hearing but before an administrative law judge (ALJ) holds a hearing, an ALJ may, under certain circumstances, remand a case to the Disability Determination Services or other component that issued the determination. See 20 CFR 404.948(c) and 416.1448(c). An ALJ may remand for a revised determination on his or her own initiative, or at the request of a claimant. An ALJ will only remand a case for a revised determination if there is reason to believe the revised determination would be fully favorable to the claimant. While the regulatory language is quite broad, the ALJ will only consider this requirement met if the ALJ is reasonably certain a revised fully favorable determination will be issued on remand. For example, the ALJ may receive new and material evidence that appears to change the outcome, or a change in the law permits a favorable determination. ...

Aug 12, 2017

New Prehearing Reviews

     From HALLEX, the manual of Social Security's Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) whose name will be changed to OHO this fall:
I-2-5-10. Prehearing Case Review by Other Component Last Update: 8/3/17 (Transmittal I-2-211) 
A.General After a claimant files a request for hearing but before an administrative law judge (ALJ) holds a hearing, an ALJ may, under the circumstances outlined in subsection B below, forward a claim for a prehearing case review to the Disability Determination Services or other component that issued the determination the claimant is appealing. On receipt of the claim(s), the receiving component will decide whether to revise the determination based on a preponderance of the evidence. See 20 CFR 404.941 and 416.1441. Under these procedures, the Social Security Administration may only issue a revised determination if it is fully or partially favorable to the claimant. NOTE: While a prehearing case review is pending, the ALJ retains jurisdiction of the claim and will not dismiss the request for hearing. 
B.When an ALJ May Refer a Case for Prehearing Case Review As set forth in 20 CFR 404.941 and 416.1441, an ALJ may refer a case for a prehearing case review if: Additional evidence is submitted; There is an indication that additional evidence is available; There is a change in the law or regulation; or There is an error in the file or some other indication that the prior determination may be revised. In screening cases for the regulatory criteria, the ALJ will only refer cases for a prehearing case review in which application of the criteria may result in a fully or partially favorable decision. 

Aug 11, 2017

One Writer Describes What It Feels Like To Be Disabled

     From Robert Fowler writing for the Washington Post:
... A few weeks after my stroke, when I realized I wasn’t going to be able to work, my wife drove me to the Social Security office to apply for benefits. After stacks of paperwork, it took several months before my first trip to the doctor, for a psychiatric exam, where they asked me to count to 100 by sevens. It should have been simple, but about halfway through, I stumbled, and felt humiliated. More questions passed, and more confusion. A very thorough physical exam came next. And then there was a very thorough check of our finances, including the number of cars and bank accounts we have. Months on, I still haven’t received a single check. Without help from family, I would be homeless, despite over forty years in the work force. To them, I am forever grateful, but also deeply ashamed. 

In a world where we’re all expected to carry our own weight, I fully understand why my fellow taxpayers don’t want to carry mine. But what I don’t understand is that the lady who helped me with the paperwork at the Social Security office told me disability was not charity. What I am to get out is based on what I put in. She told me to stop crying because it is money I have earned. So In a world where we’re all expected to carry our own weight, I fully understand why my fellow taxpayers don’t want to carry mine. But what I don’t understand is that the lady who helped me with the paperwork at the Social Security office told me disability was not charity. What I am to get out is based on what I put in. She told me to stop crying because it is money I have earned. So why do I feel so much shame? 

I was raised with the feeling that public services should be kept to an absolute minimum, and that people who received government assistance have no class, and should have taken better care of themselves. Three weeks after my stroke, my wife of 41 years lost her job, too. She was upset due to my prognosis, and spent so much of her time taking care of me (making sure, for example, that I could turn off the burners after cooking, and make it around the house on my own) that it was hard for her to make it to work. Without her job, we had to apply for food stamps. When we first received them, I was so humiliated I wouldn’t even go to the store with her. I was afraid and demoralized. 

I would gladly work, just to hold my head up again. And I believe most folks like me would prefer a hand up to a handout. It’s just that a hand up is much harder to come by in circumstances like these. I didn’t grow up poor, and I didn’t intend to become poor: Somehow, it just happened. The poor are rarely in a position to defend themselves. I see that now, and I refuse to judge a panhandler these days. I just thank God I’m not in his shoes yet, if he has any.

Aug 10, 2017

A Message From The Commissioner

Date: August 8, 2017 Refer To: S7A-4

To: Senior Staff

From: Nancy A. Berryhill /s/
Acting Commissioner 

Subject: Organizational Realignment - INFORMATION

I continue to identify opportunities to improve efficiency and public service by unifying efforts and advancing our ability to make data-driven decisions.

Today, I am announcing the establishment of a Deputy Commissioner-level organization – the Office of Analytics, Review, and Oversight (OARO) – which will be implemented October 1, 2017. The six offices involved that will form this organization are as follows:

From the Office of Budget, Finance, Quality, and Management:
 • Office of Anti-Fraud Programs; 
 • Office of Business Improvement;
• Office of Quality Review; and
• Audit Liaison Staff 

From the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review:
• Office of Appellate Operations;

From the Office of the Commissioner:
 • Analytics Center of Excellence

Integration of these organizations with complementary missions provides an opportunity to mature our anti-fraud efforts, institutionalize and foster data analysis in our programs, improve coordination to provide oversight of the disability adjudication system, and communicate a unified message within and outside the agency. This restructuring presents an opportunity to maximize our resources and better organize efforts to explore and develop the future of analyses and oversight. I said in my first communication January 23rd that we will be mission focused and mission driven. The establishment of this organization further demonstrates a commitment to maximizing our performance and employee engagement while enhancing and improving agency policies and processes so that we provide quality public service.

Pat Jonas will be Deputy Commissioner, OARO and Amy Thompson will serve as Acting Assistant Deputy Commissioner, OARO. 

In addition to this new organization structure, the Office of Budget, Finance, Quality, and Management will be the Office of Budget, Finance, and Management (OBFM). The Office of Disability Adjudication and Review will be the Office of Hearings Operations (OHO). 

Please join me in congratulating our colleagues on their new assignment. I am sure I can count on you to give them your full cooperation as they begin the task of integration and moving forward.

Aug 9, 2017

ODAR To Become OHO

     I am hearing that Social Security's Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) will be changing its name to the Office of Hearings Operations (OHO). As part of this process, the Appeals Council will go to a newly created Office, where it will undoubtedly bicker with OHO. 
     By the way, I'm old enough to remember when what is now ODAR was the Bureau of Hearings and Appeals (BHA).

Aug 8, 2017

Andrus Sentenced

     From the Associated Press:
A former chief regional Social Security judge [actually Hearing Office Chief Judge] has been sentenced to prison for scheming to retaliate against an employee who blew the whistle on alleged fraud by a Kentucky lawyer. 

The Lexington Herald-Leader reports Charlie Paul Andrus was sentenced Monday to six months in federal prison. 

Andrus pleaded guilty last year to conspiring with disability lawyer Eric Conn to interfere with a person's employment. Conn — at the center of a nearly $600 million Social Security fraud case — disappeared this past June. ... 

Aug 7, 2017

ALJ Register Opening

     From Government Executive:
... The Office of Personnel Management announced this week that it planned to open up applications for administrative law judges throughout government, aiming to replenish a register it maintains for the positions. ... 
SSA cannot resolve the problem simply by adding more ALJs, however, according to Association of Administrative Law Judges President Marilyn Zahm. While SSA must hire 100 judges each year just to keep pace with attrition, Zahm said even an influx above that level would not sufficiently drive down the backlog. 
A shortage of support staff, such as clerks and attorneys, is the driving force behind the growing number of outstanding claims. SSA imposed a hiring freeze in May 2016 ahead of fears that its budget would continue to shrink. It remained in place after President Trump issued a governmentwide moratorium upon taking office. While the agency received authority from OPM to bring on 200 support staff while Trump’s freeze was in place, Zahm said that was a “drop in the bucket” that barely kept pace with the departures taking place across SSA’s 166 hearing offices. SSA lifted the freeze in May, but is hiring on a limited basis for direct service positions only. ...

Aug 6, 2017

Early Out Offered

     From Government Executive:
The Social Security Administration is opening up separation incentives to nearly every job category across its workforce, with about one in four employees eligible to leave. 
The largest independent federal agency announced the early retirement offer in a June memorandum obtained by Government Executive. All employees who wish to take advantage must separate by Sept. 1. Only the agency’s 1,600 administrative law judges are not eligible to accept the offer. 
Employees must have 20 years experience and be at least 50 years old, or have 25 years of service and be any age, to qualify under the Voluntary Early Retirement Authority. ...

Aug 5, 2017

Can Someone Translate This Into English?

     From FCW:
The Social Security Administration is moving forward with back-end tech and records systems to support the agency's long-term plan to modernize and improve customer service. 
As SSA continues to invest in its online help and customer services, the Customer Engagement Tools record system will collect and store electronic communications between SSA personnel and beneficiaries with "my Social Security" accounts. 
The database, which will be developed in-house, will also allow SSA's customer-facing systems quick access to user data. 
A Social Security spokesperson told FCW the agency anticipates the system will be ready for use in fiscal year 2018, and that 10 percent of current my Social Security account holders will be able to access the CET system in its first release.

Aug 4, 2017

FICA Receipts Hurt By IRS Budget Problems

     From the Fiscal Times:
A new report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration released this week highlights the problem and suggests that the IRS may still be doing too little to go after employers suspected of hiding wages and failing to report billions of dollars in federal payroll taxes, including for Social Security and Medicare. 
The inspector general analyzed 137,272 cases from tax year 2013 in which there was a glaring discrepancy between employee wage and withholding information reported to both the IRS and the Social Security Administration and found that the IRS declined to investigate most of the possible fraud. According to the inspector general, the IRS intervened in only 23,184 of those cases, or just 17 percent of the total. ...
   And it's going to get worse since the IRS budget keeps getting cut, allowing abusive schemes to flourish.

Aug 3, 2017

Lots Of No Bid Contracting At Social Security

     According to a piece in The Hill by David Williams only 58% of Social Security's contract spending is awarded based upon competitive bidding.

Aug 2, 2017

Disability Insurance Income Saves Lives

From Disability Insurance Income Saves Lives by Alexander Gelber, Timothy Moore and Alexander Strand: 
We show that higher payments from U.S. Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) reduce mortality. Using administrative data on all new DI beneficiaries from 1997 to 2009, we exploit discontinuities in the benefit formula through a regression kink design. We estimate that $1,000 in annual DI payments decreases the annual mortality rate of lower-income beneficiaries by 0.1 to 0.2 percentage points, implying that the elasticity of annual mortality with respect to annual DI income is around -0.6. These mortality effects imply large benefits that have not been taken into account in the welfare analysis of DI and other social income insurance programs.

Aug 1, 2017

Do Big Backlogs Help The Disability Trust Fund?

     The Hill asks the question: Is the Social Security Disability Insurance Trust Fund doing better because increasing backlogs slow down the number of claims being approved? The answer is pretty clearly yes to some extent although there are more important factors. 
    I think one overlooked factor is that the long backlogs and harsh adjudicatory environment deter people from filing claims. Few people stop work due to illness or injury and file a disability claim immediately. There's usually a lag time that can be anywhere from a few months to a few years. A perception that the process is difficult and unpleasant can cause people to hold off longer in filing claims. I wish some investigator would look into this. You'd only need to look at the difference between claim date and alleged onset date and chart the difference over time. You could then correlate that with backlogs and approval rates. My guess is that the result would be interesting.

Jul 31, 2017

NADE Newsletter

    The National Association of Disability Examiners (NADE), an organization of the personnel who make initial and reconsideration determinations on Social Security disability claims, has posted its Summer 2017 newsletter.

Jul 30, 2017

Vet Cut Off Disability Benefits

     From the Rapid City Journal:
For 31-year-old Wayne Swier, a U.S. Army combat veteran who suffered devastating injuries from an improvised explosive device seven years ago in Afghanistan, this summer should have been a season of solace and celebration. 
But fate and a federal agency seemed to have conspired to turn it into a nightmare. 
Swier is set to marry his sweetheart in a week, and the couple plans to move into a new home near Johnson Siding built by the nonprofit Homes for Our Troops later in August. ... 
Instead, in May the Social Security Administration deemed him no longer disabled and cut off his monthly disability checks, in a manner as harsh as the way that IED blew off his leg in a small Afghan village in November 2010. 
Today, Swier is essentially broke, behind on his rent, his credit cards are maxed out, and just last week, power was cut off to his Box Elder rental home due to nonpayment, meaning he couldn’t even recharge his robotic prosthetic leg. Although his electricity has since been restored thanks to Black Hills Energy, the man’s problems have not been resolved. ...
     No, the article doesn't explain what his VA benefits situation is or why he's not drawing interim benefits from Social Security.

Jul 29, 2017

Five Common Myths Debunked

     Finally, something from the Motley Fool on Social Security that's worth reading. Matthew Frankel debunks five common myths about Social Security. My only bone of contention is that I wouldn't call these myths so much as I would call them right wing lies.

Jul 28, 2017

Minnesota Man Arrested For Making Threats At Social Security Office

     From, whatever that is -- Atlanta Journal Constitution?
A Minnesota man was arrested Wednesday after threatening employees at a Social Security office ...
According to Capt. John Sherwin of the Rochester Police Department, Leonard Booth, 26, walked into the Social Security office at 10:15 a.m. and complained that he was unable to receive benefits. Booth began “acting erratically” and threatened employees with bodily harm, Sherwin told KAAL. ...

Jul 27, 2017

Bad Advice

     From Philip Moeller, writing for PBS:
William: I took Social Security benefits early in 2014 when I was 62. At the time, my daughter was 15, but Social Security did not ask me if I had a minor child. I did not realize she was eligible until I read an article. I called Social Security, and they said our family was only eligible for six months of retroactive benefits and not the 36 months I think we should receive. I was wondering if you knew how I could get help in getting these back benefits?
Phil Moeller: I would like to tell you that you can get all the past benefits you feel you deserve. Unfortunately, Social Security is not legally responsible for telling you about its rules and benefits. The burden is on you to know these rules as impossible as this may be.
You can file an online appeal, but citing the agency’s failure to tell you about benefits for your daughter is unlikely to be a compelling reason for the agency to change its decision. Having said this, I urge you and anyone else in this situation to appeal, to complain and to copy the offices of their elected representative in Washington.
What good is providing benefits if no one knows about them!
     Well, actually, William was asked. See question 17 on the retirement claim form. The same question is asked when you file online. If he listed the children and Social Security didn't follow up to take their claims, they're eligible for the back benefits. If he didn't list the children, I don't think he can blame anyone but himself.
     This is an issue I have some familiarity with since a few fathers applying for Social Security disability benefits fail to list their children. Sometimes it's a mistake; mostly it's because the fathers mistakenly think their own benefits will be reduced if the children are also paid on the account.

Jul 26, 2017

Some Changes Coming On Wage Reporting

     From Emergency Message EM-17021 issued yesterday:
A. Purpose
This emergency message (EM) encourages technicians to immediately begin keying the Employer Identification Number (EIN) [the EIN is the equivalent of a Social Security Number for corporations] in the Modernized Supplemental Security Income Claims System (MSSICS) and eWork when processing wages and work reports. This process is in preparation for the implementation of two provisions of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 (BBA), which will reduce processing time for wage reports. 
B. BBA Background 
The BBA implemented several changes to improve efficiency in processing wage reports for Title XVI and Title II. 
Section 824 (Payroll Data Exchange) 
Grants Social Security Administration (SSA) the authority to create an information exchange with payroll data providers in order to collect wage and employment information. The information exchange allows SSA to receive wages electronically on a monthly basis for individuals who have given authorization and whose employers participate with the payroll data providers.
Section 826 (Electronic Reporting of Earnings) 
Mandates that SSA implement a system that would permit Title II Disability beneficiaries to report their earnings via electronic means similar to what is available to Title XVI recipients. To comply, SSA is developing an online application platform behind mySSA for users to report both Title II and Title XVI wages. This is a phased release. Title II will be the initial release and Title XVI will follow in a later release.

Jul 25, 2017

Pushback On New Rule

Cheryl Sawyer, working with her physical therapist
     From the Daily Hampshire Gazette:
She had been struggling to keep a job for months.
Southampton resident Cheryl Sawyer had a degree from a two-year college and about 10 years of experience climbing the ranks of retail. She had worked consistently throughout her adult life, priding herself on never being dependent on anyone else.
But then, in 2013, pain began to take over her life, pain that would eventually be diagnosed as multiple sclerosis.
Sawyer couldn’t stand for long. She couldn’t lift. She couldn’t bend. Soon, she began having muscle spasms. After being let go from a job for the fourth time, she decided to apply for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits.
“I always enjoyed working, and I felt like I was contributing,” Sawyer said. “I felt like I was doing something. Now I’m trapped.”
 Like millions of other people in the United States, Sawyer waded through the Social Security disability application process ...
Most applicants for SSDI are denied, and the few who are approved wait on average 18 months to receive benefits after they apply for them.
And that was before a major rule change took effect in March in the way Social Security disability claims are processed ...
The change lets administrator law judges weigh evidence in an applicant’s file however they see fit, instead of being forced to give the most weight to the opinion of an applicant’s doctor. ...
The SSA states on its website that one reason for the change giving judges more leeway in their rulings is a belief that it is inappropriate for adjudicators to be forced to take a certain medical opinion as true. ...
Critics of the new rule say a judge can now give more weight to other evidence in an application, including the opinions of doctors or consultants connected to SSA who meet an applicant once or sometimes never at all. In addition, as part of the rule change, judges no longer have to tell applicants how they weighed evidence when making their decision....
      In the last couple of years, it seemed like Social Security tried to publish any anti-claimant regulation that had floated around the agency in recent years. This one almost certainly dates back to the time that Michael Astrue was Commissioner. There were good reasons it hadn't been published before. I'd be willing to bet that some folks at Social Security warned that this one would backfire, turning a minor problem into a huge one. Just think about it. The federal courts interpret the Social Security Act in a certain way. The agency doesn't like this interpretation. Social Security doesn't try to take the issue to the Supreme Court. Instead, the agency tries to overrule the federal courts by adopting new regulations. How do you think that looks to a federal court? How likely is it that a federal court will meekly accept being overruled by an agency? If you say that of course they will, you aren't even trying to understand how federal judges think. My opinion is that this new rule was peak arrogance by Social Security and we know what often follows arrogance.

Jul 24, 2017

Settlement Concerning One Consultative Physician

     Social Security has settled a class action lawsuit concerning the agency's usage of Dr. Frank Chen to do consultative medical examinations in disability claims. Chen was alleged to have supplied Social Security with "grossly deficient reports [that] were based on cursory examinations (often lasting ten minutes or less), referenced tests that were never performed, and were inconsistent with plaintiffs’ medical records." The agency kept using Chen despite knowing of problems with his examinations and twice warning him. Many of those who were denied disability benefits after being examined by Dr. Chen will now get redeterminations.

Jul 23, 2017

I'm Expecting To See Lots Of Remands On This Issue

     The Department of Veterans Affairs found a vet disabled. Social Security doesn't think they need to give any explanation why they disagreed and found him not disabled. In fact, to my ears, they sound a bit arrogant about it.  This may sound reasonable to some at Social Security. Those of us who represent claimants think the agency has picked a fight it probably won't win in federal court. If you think it's clear that the agency will win on this issue, I'd suggest you take a step back and try to look at this from the perspective of a federal judge. And saying that federal judges just don't understand Social Security doesn't get you anywhere.
     By the way, yes, I know, this guy probably got some bad advice. Overestimating the strength of one's hand can be a problem for both sides.

Jul 22, 2017

Long Lines In San Antonio

A closed Social Security office in San Antonio is causing long lines throughout the area. 
"We were here for about 2 hours, maybe a little bit more than that,” said Ruby Toombes a Social Security visitor. 
“We currently have three offices in San Antonio and we looked at two different waiting times: wait times for persons who come in for an appointment and wait times for persons who do not have an appointment,” said Veronica Taylor a spokesperson for Social Security. “The average wait time of the offices for persons who have an appointment is 10 minutes. The average wait time of the offices for persons who do not have an appointment is 41.” 
According to local residents at the location along Isom Road, one visit can take several hours. ...

Jul 21, 2017

A Vicious Piece From The Washington Post

     Some excerpts from a Washington Post article:
... [H]e saw Tyler’s father, Dale McGlothlin, a former coal miner living on disability, holding a sign along the side of the road. “Need donations to help to feed my family,” it said.
Hess pulled over. He offered him food, then told him he could do him one better: Would he like a job? McGlothlin, whose arms had been damaged in the coal mines and who hadn’t worked in more than a decade, declined the offer, and Hess drove off, outraged.
Living at the center of an opioid crisis, and in the aftermath of a decades-long surge in the nation’s disability rolls, Hess had long perceived a resistance to work. He had seen it when he couldn’t find anyone to hire who could pass a drug test and had a driver’s license. Or when someone complained they couldn’t find work, and he knew fast-food restaurants were hiring. Or when he saw someone claiming a disability despite having what he thought was a mild condition. He would come away thinking he worked 60 hours a week — despite a thyroid condition, despite two bankruptcies, despite the depressed local economy — not because he felt like it but because that was who he was. And now here was another person who didn’t want to work — he wanted a handout, a concept that so angered Hess that his Facebook profile picture was an outstretched palm with a large red strike across it. ...
... Sheila rested a hand on Tyler’s right knee, ashed a cigarette into a soda can and looked out the window. She had wanted something more for him, something other than what she felt most days: shame. She knew how she must look, in her pajamas and mismatched socks, to people who work. She knew what they must say about her disability: It’s only anxiety, only depression. Why couldn’t she work? Why did she buy soda and cigarettes when they needed food? How could she afford the Internet and cable TV bills on a $500 monthly disability check? She would sometimes consider how she would answer. She would say that cigarettes and soda make hard days a little easier. That television is just about her only connection to a world that hasn’t seemed to want her anymore. But it’s simpler to say nothing at all, so she rarely leaves the house now. ... 
Then she was gone, and he was alone, thinking she was wrong — he had tried to find jobs, after all — but also thinking she was right. Why couldn’t he get a job? Was he to blame? Maybe people were right when they told him tattoos would turn off employers. He also could have walked through the snow that day McDonald’s had fired him — it was less than a mile from his house — but he hadn’t done that, either. And when his father told him to hold a sign [to beg], he could have refused, but he hadn’t. ...

Duplicate SSN Problems

     There are cases where the Social Security Administration (SSA) has assigned more than one Social Security Number (SSN) to an individual. This can happen intentionally because the person is fleeing domestic violence or is in a witness protection program. It can also happen by mistake. My impression is that it's extremely rare for individuals to accidentally be issued multiple SSNs these days but decades ago it wasn't so rare. I have memories of seeing cases where one individual had been issued three or four SSNs but I haven't seen that sort of thing in decades. It's only a small percentage of number holders who have multiple numbers. However, because hundreds of millions of SSNs have been issued, there are about 4.9 million people with multiple SSNs.
     When SSA becomes aware of one individual having multiple SSNs, the records are supposed to be cross-referenced in the agency's Numident database to prevent payment mistakes.
     Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG) has done a study on how the agency is dealing with these multiple SSN cases. Here are some excerpts (footnotes omitted):
... We identified more than 5,000 instances where, contrary to Agency policy, SSA appeared to simultaneously issue monthly OASDI [Old Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance] benefits and/or SSI [Supplemental Security Income] payments to individuals under both of their cross-referred SSNs. SSA systems did not automatically identify and consider payments issued under one SSN when determining eligibility for, or computing the benefit amounts paid, under the cross-referred SSN.
Our review of 534 instances ... indicated that, in most cases, it appeared the numberholders simultaneously receiving payments under multiple cross-referred SSNs were not the same individuals, and SSA had cross-referred the SSNs in error. However, in about 20 percent of the cases, it appeared SSA had issued both payments to the same individual. ...
We also identified over 13,000 instances where SSA continued paying beneficiaries after it recorded death information on their cross-referred SSNs. ...  [M]ost of the individuals receiving the payments were not the same individuals whose death information appeared on the cross-referred SSNs, and SSA had cross-referred the SSNs in error. However, in 6 percent of the cases, it appeared that SSA had assigned both cross-referred SSNs to the same individual. Based on our sample results, we estimate SSA issued about $115.4 million in improper payments to 930 deceased beneficiaries after it input death information on their cross -referred SSNs. If the Agency does not correct these errors, we estimate it will issue $13.7 million in additional improper payments over the next 12 months.
Finally, we identified approximately 2. 7 million additional instances not involving SSA payments where SSA input death information on a numberholder’s Numident record for 1 SSN but did not input the death information on the numberholder’s cross-referred SSN(s). ... [A]pproximately 97 percent of these cross- referred SSNs belonged to the same individuals. Therefore, we estimate SSA had death information for more than 2 million deceased numberholders that it did not input into the Numident. As a result, SSA erroneously excluded more than 2 million deceased numberholders’ SSNs from the DMF. ...
     This is one of those things where you could say that millions of dollars have been wasted. I'd say it's one of those things that shows that administering benefit payments to 67 million people is far more complicated than most people would think. Social Security will do some things to try to address this problem but there will always be problems to find because Social Security is just so big.

Jul 20, 2017

The House Budget Resolution

     Below is the language from the House Draft Budget Resolution (starts on page 104) concerning Social Security:
(b) POLICY ON SOCIAL SECURITY. — It is the policy of this concurrent resolution that the House should work in a bipartisan manner to make Social Security solvent on a sustainable basis. This concurrent resolution assumes, under a reform trigger, that —
(1) if in any year the Board of Trustees of the Federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund and the Federal Disability Insurance Trust Fund annual Trustees Report determines that the 75-year actuarial balance of the Social Security Trust Funds is in deficit, and the annual balance of the Social Security Trust Funds in the 75th year is in deficit, the Board of Trustees should, no later than September 30 of the same calendar year, submit to the President recommendations for statutory reforms necessary to achieve a 75-year actuarial balance and a positive annual balance in the 75th year, and any recommendations provided to the President must be agreed upon by both Public Trustees of the Board of Trustees;
(2) not later than December 1 of the same calendar year in which the Board of Trustees submit its recommendations, the President should promptly submit implementing legislation to both Houses of Congress including recommendations necessary to achieve a positive 75-year actuarial balance and a positive annual balance in the 75th year, and the majority leader of the Senate and the majority leader of the House should introduce the President’s legislation upon receipt;
(3) within 60 days of the President submitting legislation, the committees of jurisdiction should report a bill, which the House or Senate should consider under expedited procedures; and
(4) legislation submitted by the President should — 
(A) protect those in or near retirement;
(B) preserve the safety net for those who count on Social Security the most, including those with disabilities and survivors;
(C) improve fairness for participants;
(D) reduce the burden on and provide certainty for future generations; and
(E) secure the future of the Disability Insurance program while addressing the needs of those with disabilities today and improving the determination process. 
(c) POLICY ON DISABILITY INSURANCE. — It is the policy of this concurrent resolution that the House should consider legislation on a bipartisan basis to reform the Disability Insurance program prior to its insolvency in 2028 and should not raid the Social Security retirement system without reforms to the Disability Insurance system. This concurrent resolution assumes reform that—
(1) promotes opportunity for those trying to return to work;
(2) ensures benefits continue to be paid to individuals with disabilities and their family members who rely on them;
(3) prevents a 7 percent across-the-board benefit cut;
(4) legislation submitted by the President should — 
(A) protect those in or near retirement; 
(B) preserve the safety net for those who count on Social Security the most, including those with disabilities and survivors;
(C) improve fairness for participants;
(D) reduce the burden on and provide certainty for future generations; and
(E) secure the future of the Disability Insurance program while addressing the needs of those with disabilities today and improving the determination process.
(d) POLICY ON SOCIAL SECURITY SOLVENCY. — It is the policy of this concurrent resolution that any legislation the House considers to improve the solvency of the Disability Insurance Trust Fund must also improve the long-term solvency of the combined Old Age and Survivors Disability Insurance Trust Fund.
     Some comments:
  1. Seventy-five years is a very long time. Securing Social Security for 75 years into the future would require either dramatic cuts in Social Security benefits, significant tax increases or some combination of the two. How likely is it that a Republican controlled Congress would enact tax increases? No, this is Republicans trying to find a way to cut Social Security.
  2. This includes the idea that the public will accept cuts in Social Security if we just "protect those in or near retirement."  Republicans have been pushing this idea for decades but the public hasn't been buying it -- at all. By this point, the faith of Republican leaders that this plan will work is pathetic.
  3. Even though the draft resolution calls for no cuts in Social Security benefits for those in or near "retirement" it would be almost impossible to apply this to disability benefits. Accomplishing the goals of this resolution without "raiding" the retirement trust fund and without raising taxes would require dramatic cuts in disability benefits for those already on benefits unless there was some draconian limit on the number of people going on disability benefits. I don't know how you'd achieve this kind of savings without something like that 7% across the board cut.
  4. Note that this draft doesn't say exactly what should be done. It just demands that the President and other Congressional committees do something. The resolution keeps saying what others "should" do. What if they don't actually do what this resolution says they "should" do? This is not a rhetorical question. Trump is unlikely to propose cutting benefits or raising taxes. The votes won't be there to report a bill out of committee that would do either. It's a bigger non-starter than enacting Trumpcare. This is a wistful statement of what Republicans in Congress would really love to do if they didn't have to worry about those pesky voters back in their districts.

Jul 19, 2017

A Press Release

The Acting Inspector General of Social Security, Gale Stallworth Stone, is warning citizens about a new Social Security Administration (SSA) employee impersonation scheme.  SSA and its Office of the Inspector General (OIG) are receiving reports from citizens across the country about phone calls from an individual posing as an SSA employee.  The caller attempts to acquire personally identifiable information from victims to then edit the victims’ direct deposit, address, and telephone information with SSA.

Acting Inspector General Stone warns citizens to be cautious, and to avoid providing information such as your SSN or bank account numbers to unknown persons over the phone or internet unless you are certain of who is receiving it.  “You must be very confident that the source is the correct business party, and your information will be secure after you release it,” Stone said.

See the full advisory at the OIG website.

Budget Plan Includes Possible Cuts For Social Security

     From the Washington Post(emphasis added):
House Republicans unveiled a 2018 budget plan Tuesday that would pave the way for ambitious tax reform legislation — but only alongside a package of politically sensitive spending cuts that threaten to derail the tax rewrite before it begins. ...
The House Budget Committee blueprint, which is set for a Thursday committee vote, sets out special procedures that could ultimately allow Republicans to pass legislation over the objections of Senate Democrats who can normally block bills they oppose. GOP leaders in the House, as well as top Trump administration officials, hope to use those procedures — known as reconciliation — to pass a tax overhaul later this year. ...
Unlike Trump’s budget, the House proposal cuts into Medicare and Social Security — entitlement programs that the president has pledged to preserve. ...
The Ways and Means Committee, which is drafting the tax bill, would be instructed to find $52 billion in deficit savings over the coming decade. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and the panel’s chairman, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Tex.), have said they intend to pursue a deficit-neutral reform bill, meaning the savings would have to be found in other programs under the committee’s jurisdiction — such as Medicare, disability aid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and unemployment compensation. ...
     Note that a budget plan only gives top line numbers -- gross amounts of appropriations in broad categories and gross amounts of savings to be achieved from broad categories of programs without specifying exactly what gets cut. Congress would then have to pass bills specifying exactly which agencies get how much for what purposes and exactly what would be cut to achieve the promised savings. Enacting a budget is tough enough. Enacting the appropriations and reconcilation bills needed to fulfill the budget is much tougher still.

Jul 18, 2017

Conn Sentenced To 12 Years

Conn on the lam as seen on a security camera in New Mexico
     Eric Conn has been given a 12 year sentence for defrauding Social Security. Once he's caught, he'll get addition time for having fled. He's going to be an old man by the time he gets out of prison, if he gets out alive. What I hear from criminal attorneys is that he'll end up doing a lot of that time in a federal super max prison and that's a real bad place to be doing time.

Jul 17, 2017

Report On Effects Of Telework

     From The Social Security Administration’s Telework Program and Its Effect on Customer Service by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG):
... As of January 2017,
  • 4,526 (16 percent) of the 27,530 FO [Field Office] employees were participating in the telework pilot at 317 (26 percent) of the 1,213 FOs;
  • 831 (19 percent) of the 4,298 TSC [Teleservice Center] employees were teleworking at 17 (68 percent) of the 25 TSCs; and
  • 5,541 (64 percent) of the 8,725 hearing office employees were teleworking across all 164 hearing offices, National Case Assistance Centers, and National Hearing Centers. 
 SSA’s [Social Security Administration's] management information showed that teleworking FOs performed slightly less as well as the non-teleworking FOs while TSC teleworking staff performed slightly better than non-teleworking staff. Finally, as the number of hearing office teleworkers increased, hearing office productivity declined in three of the four metrics ODAR monitored. SSA explained that multiple factors affect productivity, regardless of telework. 
SSA managers and staff recognized various telework challenges, and SSA told us it was working to resolve them. SSA needs to establish a business plan that monitors telework productivity to ensure it will timely identify and correct trends that may negatively affect customer service. ...

Jul 16, 2017

Conn Spotted

     Eric Conn has been spotted in New Mexico.

Waiting In Arizona

     KVOA in Arizona reports on how Social Security's hearing backlog for disability claimants is affecting one woman struggling to get. The local Republican Congresswoman calls the wait "ridiculous." She's also written a letter to the Acting Commissioner of Social Security.

Jul 15, 2017

It's Nearly Certain That He'll Win But He Still Has To Wait And Wait

     From the Riverdale Press:
Ted Grohowski spent five days during a recent week in the hospital suffering from tender, infected ulcers on his feet — his sixth overall visit for the issue. The blisters are so painful, they often make him unable to stand up or walk. 
But for the 64-year-old, it is only one ailment on a laundry list of illness and injury. 
Some 14 years ago, Grohowski had a knee replacement that is now starting to fall apart. Last August, his left kidney was removed because of a cancerous tumor. 
He has a rotary cuff tear in his right shoulder that sometimes makes him unable to lift his head.
So, when Grohowski walked into the Yonkers Social Security office in April to file for disability, he thought it was a no-brainer. Two months later, however, the office sent him a letter rejecting aid, stating he “did not meet our standards.” ...
For most of his adult life, Grohowski sold jewelry in midtown Manhattan. While he enjoyed the work, the days were filled with long hours standing on his feet. After a while, it proved to be too agonizing, and he stopped working altogether more than a year ago.
He plans on appealing the Social Security Administration’s decision, which means he’ll have to go to court and state his case. But according to the disability adjudication and review office, Grohowski could wait as long as two years before he can appear before a judge. ...
One of the reasons there is such a backlog of cases ... is because of the federal government’s continual budget cuts to the Social Security program. President Donald Trump already has proposed another $64 million cut to the disability agency’s $813 billion budget. ...
     Yes, I know, he can get his early retirement benefits while he's waiting but most claimants can't.
     Don't ask how I know he's nearly certain to win. I represent claimants. I have to predict chances of success. It's easy to predict that he'll win. In better times he would be approved shortly after requesting a hearing. If the system were more sensibly and humanely administered, he would never have been denied.

Jul 14, 2017

NPR On Eric Conn

     National Public Radio reports on Eric Conn's strange story.

Trustees Report

     From a Social Security press release:
The Social Security Board of Trustees today released its annual report on the long-term financial status of the Social Security Trust Funds. The combined asset reserves of the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) Trust Funds are projected to become depleted in 2034, the same as projected last year, with 77 percent of benefits payable at that time. The DI Trust Fund will become depleted in 2028, extended from last year’s estimate of 2023, with 93 percent of benefits still payable.
In the 2017 Annual Report to Congress, the Trustees announced:
  • The asset reserves of the combined OASDI Trust Funds increased by $35 billion in 2016 to a total of $2.85 trillion.
  • The combined trust fund reserves are still growing and will continue to do so through 2021. Beginning in 2022, the total annual cost of the program is projected to exceed income.
  • The year when the combined trust fund reserves are projected to become depleted, if Congress does not act before then, is 2034 – the same as projected last year. At that time, there will be sufficient income coming in to pay 77 percent of scheduled benefits.

Jul 13, 2017

Just A Note To Social Security: We Haven't Forgotten

     Here's something I posted on October 26, 2015:
The National Association of Disability Examiners (NADE), an organization of personnel involved in making disability determinations for Social Security, has released its most recent newsletter, focusing on NADE's recent conference in Portland.
NADE members attending the conference heard a presentation on Social Security's effort to create a new occupational information system to replace the outdated Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) used in disability determinations. There are a couple of items of interest from the write-up. The number of occupations listed will go down from the DOT's 12,000 to 1,000, which means that each job title will be even more of a composite. Composite jobs are broader and can only be described in more amorphous ways. Training on the new occupational information system is supposed to begin sometime in 2016.
     Here's a little something from the newsletter of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (not available online) concerning the organization's conference in Washington in June 2017 where Bea Disman, Acting Chief of Staff of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security, spoke:
Disman also discussed SSA’s work with the Bureau of Labor Statistics to update the Dictionary of Occupational Titles. She indicated that they have ended the first year of a multi-year effort by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to complete an Occupational Requirements Survey SSA can use in a replacement for the DOT.
     Wait, what? In October 2015, the DOT replacement was so nearly done that it could be described, so nearly done that training was scheduled to begin shortly. However, in June 2017, the DOT replacement project had just begun with completion many years into the future. Anybody at Social Security want to explain that one?
     My assumption is that the data collected earlier didn't show what the agency wanted it to show. The unskilled sedentary jobs have disappeared and the unskilled light jobs are dramatically fewer. That's inconvenient for Social Security since that should result in many more disability claims being approved but Congressional Republicans don't want that. The result is that Social Security sits on the updated data and tries to find some way to twist the results into something that will please Congressional Republicans. I don't think I'm alone in this assumption. In fact, does anyone who understands this issue think otherwise?
     Democrats can do little about this now but if they control the House of Representatives after the 2018 election, the agency should expect pointed questions on this subject. Sitting on this for several years won't look good.

Jul 12, 2017

Caseload Analysis Report

     This was published in the newsletter of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR) (which is not available online).
Click on this to view full size

     Notice the decline in receipts of new requests for hearings. Note that 46% of cases have been pending over a year. Of course, this includes cases where the request for hearing was filed recently. The average processing time is 613 days. That includes a fair number of cases that are quickly dismissed because the request for hearing was filed too late or too early. Take those cases out and the numbers would look even worse.