May 28, 2017

A Common Story

     From a television station in Denver:
An Arvada woman died about five years ago, but no one told her. And it came as quite a surprise to her late last year.
A mistake by the Social Security Administration put a death alert on Catherine's records -- and it caused problems in every area of her life. ...
Catherine never leaves her west Arvada home without a letter that is an official record of her resurrection from her supposed death. ...
"I couldn't get anybody to tell me what else I could do. So, a year and four months goes by of real hell," she said.
Until the FOX31 Problem Solvers got involved.
"Man, you guys, one phone call, two days later, I was in the Social Security office being helped. And it was taken care of the same day," ...
     I must see a story like this in the media two or three times a week. I rarely post them because they're so repetitive. I guess I'm posting this one because it took so long to get the problem corrected. What was going on here? Usually, the problem is that the undead person has no idea that they need to contact Social Security and wanders around confused about what to do.

May 27, 2017

I Have Seen Some Weird Things Since I Started This Blog

     If you look to the right on this web page you'll see a contact form that allows you to send me a message, anonymously if you wish. Recently, I've received some odd anonymous messages sent through this form. They seem to be from some person or persons who are trying to convince me that they work for Social Security and that they have inside information to give me. However, the messages don't make sense. They seem to have been written by some person or persons who know a little about Social Security but not nearly enough to write something plausible. It's not been just one piece of bogus information that this person or persons have tried to sell me on. It's been several different things. I'd advise them to quit wasting their time. They're not doing anything other than getting me to scratch my head trying to figure out why they would do this. Even if they succeeded in writing something plausible, I'd still try to get confirmation before posting about it. Whatever they're up to, it's not likely to work.

May 26, 2017

A Couple Of Opinion Pieces

     The Chicago Tribune has fallen for the narrative that there's something terribly wrong with Social Security disability because the number drawing benefits is going up, up, up, even though they acknowledge that the number drawing benefits is actually going down. They want something done even though they have no idea what but we have to do something, anything to get these people back to work! It's this sort of confused thinking that brought us all the worthless, confusing work incentives in the Social Security Act.
     Meanwhile Alexandra Petri has an amusing op ed piece in the Washington Post that touches ever so briefly on Social Security:
We need more Real Men in office.
When I see Donald Trump shoving that man out of the way at the NATO summit, my heart turns into an eagle and flaps its magnificent wings. When I see him crushing a Frenchman’s hand, I want to cry a tiny, manly tear of pure testosterone....
I want a president who will lock horns with foreign leaders for hours before shoving them off a cliff. I want a president who can transform into an aircraft carrier and emit jets of steam. I want a president with an enormous neck-frill which expands when he is threatened as he emits a LOW HISS of rage. ...
I want to smash the Social Security disability administration like a bug. I want to punch a rhinoceros and keep punching it until it goes EXTINCT! Dumb freeloader living on government support! Get out of the zoo and take back your own habitat. I also want to defund the EPA. If the environment wants to stick around, it needs to learn to PROTECT ITSELF. ...

When Will We See A Commissioner Nomination?

     From an op ed written by Sam Johnson, the Chairman of the House Social Security Subcommittee, for the Dallas Morning News:
... [T]he SSA needs strong leadership. The president must nominate a commissioner who is serious about helping disability insurance beneficiaries return to work. The SSA has had an acting commissioner since 2013, and that's far too long for an agency that touches the lives of all Americans.
     I couldn't agree more but I would be surprised if there's a nomination before late 2018. Trump has been extraordinarily slow in making nominations to executive branch positions. He's made nominations for only 94 of the 559 key positions in his administration. By the same time in Barack Obama's first term he had made 219 nominations to key positions and, if you remember, Obama was extremely careful in making nominations. That's a major reason why the Obama Administration avoided scandal. To give you an idea how far behind Trump is in making nominations, there are 41 key positions in the Department of Defense for which no nomination has been made, including Secretary of the Army and Secretary of the Navy. Let's face it, for better or worse, Trump has no agenda for the Social Security Administration so it's a position of little interest for him. That's the case in most administrations but usually Presidents are interested in making nominations to help build their political party. The Republican Party is only a vehicle for Donald Trump. He has no concern for it as an institution. Even when the Trump Administration starts thinking of nominating someone for Social Security Commissioner, there's the issue of the term of office. Social Security Commissioners serve a set six year term of office and that six years doesn't run from the date they're confirmed. We're more than four years into the current term without anyone being confirmed as Commissioner. The current term ends on January 19, 2019. Even if Trump nominated someone tomorrow, by the time that person got confirmed, they'd have less than a year and a half in their term. My prediction is that Trump won't bother to nominate anyone until he can nominate someone for the full term that begins in January 2019. That assumes that Trump will still be in office in late 2018.
     By the way, there are two other positions at Social Security needing nominations -- Deputy Commissioner and Inspector General.

May 25, 2017

What Does A BNC Look Like?

     From the testimony of Mariana Lacanfora, Acting Deputy Commissioner for Retirement and Disability Policy, Social Security Administration to a House Ways and Means Committee hearing yesterday on Social Security Number (SSN) usage:
We take seriously public concerns related to mailing documents that include the SSN. Therefore, in 2015, we convened an intra-agency workgroup to analyze options for removing the SSN from all agency notices. Based on our review, we concluded the best option would be to replace the SSN with the BNC — the identifier we now use on the Social Security COLA [Cost Of Living Adjustment] notice. The BNC will allow us to identify the notice and respond to inquiries quickly — just as the SSN has. As part of our IT [Information Technology] modernization efforts, we will begin to modernize communications (notices and mailings) in 2018. As we modify notices, or develop new ones, we will put only the BNC on such notices. 
In concert with CMS’ [Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services'] efforts to remove the SSN from Medicare Cards, next year we plan to replace the SSN with the BNC on benefit verifications [sic] letters, which account for approximately 11 million notices. We also plan to replace the SSN with the BNC on certain notices to appointed representatives and on Social Security post-entitlement notices, which account for approximately 2.6 million and 28 million notices, respectively.
     This may be a problem for attorneys who represent Social Security claimants. My firm often has two clients with the same name. When we receive correspondence we use the SSN to determine which client it pertains to. The client doesn't know their BNC. How can we know which client the correspondence pertains to? What if it's an award certificate for a child of a client? That won't even have the client's name on it. We already have a problem with fee payments in this situation. Is someone going to tell us the BNC?
     By the way, what does BNC stand for?

     Update: I found this in an OIG report: "The BNC is not an alternative identifier. Notices going to the same individual from different notice systems or in different years would display a different BNC." So Social Security is going to use an identifier that will be worthless to anyone other than Social Security. That takes care of the security problem but it increases the calls, that will often go unanswered, from attorney offices trying to figure out who a notice pertains to.
     By the way, are there any reported instances where a notice sent out by Social Security that contained an SSN ever actually caused someone a problem? I don't mean someone's fear that somehow, maybe, theoretically there might be a problem but a real, verified, significant problem? I've never heard of such a case. Why is Social Security doing something that will cause real problems in order to deal with an imaginary problem?

May 24, 2017

Just Brutal

     Here's a good one from the Trump budget proposal. "The Budget proposes increasing the minimum monthly overpayment collection from $10 a month to 10% of the overpayment amount." (I don't have a link to this yet but it's for real.) Let's see how that might work. The claimant owes $25,000. The least that can be collected is $2,500 per month? Do they realize that this would deprive that claimant of all their monthly benefits for a period that would probably be well over a year even though the overpayment may not be the claimant's fault? To make it even better, there's another proposal to exclude Social Security debts from discharge in bankruptcy! If this is all adopted, it may be necessary to double the number of security guards at the field offices.

Trump Budget Calls For $412 Million Increase In Agency Operating Budget -- For Program Integrity

     I was finally able to wade through the Trump budget proposal for Fiscal Year (FY) 2018, which begins on October 1, 2017, until I found the proposal for Social Security's operating budget (page 380). It's $12.687 billion, up from $12.275 billion in FY 2017. However, only $90 million of that is for the general operating budget. The rest of the increase is for "program integrity" which means cutting people off benefits.
     The Trump proposal projects the operating budget declining after FY 2018 but that's meaningless, or perhaps I should say more even more meaningless, than the rest of the budget. Even when a President is popular and has the full support of his party the White House budget gets a lot less respect from Congress than you might think. No one really cares about what are called the outyear projections.

May 23, 2017

From Trump's Budget Proposal

     From Donald Trump's budget proposal for Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 (page 111), which begins on October 1, 2017.
Reform Disability Programs. Currently, people with disabilities have low rates of LFP [Labor Force Participation]-20 percent-which is less than a third of the LFP rate of the overall working age population. There is a common expectation that receipt of disability insurance benefits results in a permanent exit from the labor force. The Budget challenges this assumption by evaluating alternative program designs that will help individuals with disabilities remain attached to the labor force and individuals with temporary work disabilities return-to-work.
As part of this reform effort, the Administration would call on the Congress to establish an expert panel that would identify specific changes to program rules that increase LFP and reduce participation on disability programs based on the results of successful demonstrations and other evidence. This panel would be responsible for making recommendations to reduce participation levels that would be directly tied to reaching a 5 percent reduction in Disability Insurance (DI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) projected outlays by 2027.
To maximize the potential of success, the Administration would simultaneously test a variety of strategies. The Administration is calling on the Congress to mandate participation by applicants and program beneficiaries in these projects including:
1) Test "time limited benefits" for beneficiaries for a period when they would be more likely to return to work;
2) Require applicants to engage in job-seeking activities before their application is considered;
3) Push existing State vocational rehabilitation offices to intervene earlier with individuals on a track to end up on DI;
4) Replicate welfare-to-work strategies in State TANF offices to provide wellness care and vocational services to welfare applicants that cannot work due to a short-term or uncontrolled health condition; and
5) Mandate that lower back pain and arthritis sufferers engage in rehabilitation traditionally used in occupational health treatment services before receiving benefits.
On a separate track, the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) at the Department of Labor would lead the implementation of a demonstration project to test the effectiveness of Washington State's Centers of Occupational Health and Education (COHE) program to improve labor force participation and attachment of individuals with temporary injuries and disabilities. While COHE is focused on workers' compensation related injuries, the demonstration will test the effects of implementing key features of the model in other States or municipalities, and/or for a broader population beyond workers' compensation. Some of the key features include care and service coordination, population screening and monitoring, increased access and targeted vocational rehabilitation and work supports, workplace accommodations, and technical assistance to healthcare providers and employers.
Reduce 12 month retroactive DI benefits to six months. New DI beneficiaries are eligible for up to 12 months of benefits before the date of their application, depending upon the date they became disabled. This proposal would reduce retroactivity for disabled workers, which is the same policy already in effect for Medicare eligibility.
Create sliding scale for multi-recipient SSI families. Currently, families receive an equal amount for each SSI child recipient. However, economies of scale in some types of consumption — housing, in particular — reduces per capita living expenses and therefore means that two children generally do not need twice the income as one child. Federal poverty guidelines and other means-tested benefits take into account these efficiencies. The Budget proposes to create a sliding scale for SSI disability benefits that considers the number of additional family recipients. It would keep the maximum benefit for one recipient the same as in current law but reduce benefits for additional recipients in the same family.
Offset overlapping unemployment and disability payments. The Budget proposes to close a loophole that allows individuals to receive Unemployment Insurance (UI) and DI for the same period of joblessness. The proposal would offset the DI benefit to account for concurrent receipt of UI benefits. Under current law, concurrent receipt of DI benefits and unemployment compensation is allowable. UI is intended to compensate individuals for short-term bouts of unemployment while they look to return to work while DI is intended to compensate individuals who cannot return to work on a long-term basis due to a disability, allowing double dipping that is unnecessary and wasteful.
Reinstate the reconsideration review application stage in 10 States. The Budget proposes reinstating reconsideration in 10 States, conforming these States with the practices used in the rest of the Nation. This reform requires a second review by the State Disability Determination Services (DDS) before an appeal goes to an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Other States already require disability applicants to have their claim "reconsidered" before they can appeal to an ALJ.
Eliminate Workers' Compensation (WC) Reverse Offset. The Budget proposes to eliminate reverse offsets in 15 States where WC benefits are offset instead of DI benefits. Currently, in most States, the combination of benefits from WC and DI is limited to 80 percent of the recipient's earnings before they were disabled. If necessary, DI benefits are usually offset to meet the limit. However, 15 States currently reduce the benefit from WC rather than DI in order to achieve the 80 percent limit, creating an unjustified inequity across States. This option would eliminate the reverse offsets in these States.
Create a probationary period for Administrative Law Judges. The Budget proposes to create a probationary period for ALJs. This option would create a one-year probationary period, similar to the Senior Executive Service, to ensure an ALJ is performing at a satisfactory level. Following the one-year probation, the ALJ would convert to a lifetime appointment. individuals receiving retirement benefits. This proposal will not modify retroactivity for Medicare eligibility.

Don't Get Excited But Trump Wants $72 Billion In "Disability" Cuts

     The White House budget proposal for Fiscal Year (FY) 2018, which begins on October 1, 2017, is due out at 11:00 today. The New York Times is reporting that the budget includes $72 billion in cuts for "disability." I have no idea what this means other than that it would be over 10 years. 
     All reports indicate that this budget proposal is outlandish even by the standards of the preposterous Trump administration. There is every reason to believe it will have almost no influence on what Congress actually does.
     Update: This is from Vox:
The budget would also cut $72.5 billion over 10 years to programs for disabled people, including Social Security Disability Insurance (violating Trump’s promise to not cut Social Security benefits) and Supplemental Security Income, which provides support for desperately poor disabled and elderly people without enough earnings to qualify for poverty-level Social Security benefits.
The biggest disability cut is vaguely labeled, “Test new approaches to increase labor force participation,” implying that the budget will require that SSDI test a number of new approaches to get beneficiaries back into the workforce. It budgets $100 million a year in the first five years for testing, but then assumes that the approaches they choose will save more than $49 billion in the final five.
We don’t know what exact measures will be introduced to try to promote work. But many ideas that would increase work among disabled Americans — like increased access to long-term supports and services, subsidized jobs, more funding for vocational rehab programs, and a partial disability benefit available for those who can work part time — would cost more money to the federal government, not less.

May 22, 2017

Trump Budget For FY 2018 Due Out On Tuesday

     On Tuesday the Trump Administration will release its proposed budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2018, which begins on October 1, 2017. Some details are starting to leak out but in considering them be aware that Congress completely ignored the Trump budget proposals for FY 2017. 
     From the Washington Post:
President Trump’s first major budget proposal on Tuesday will include massive cuts to Medicaid and call for changes to anti-poverty programs that would give states new power to limit a range of benefits, people familiar with the planning said, despite growing unease in Congress about cutting the safety net.
For Medicaid, the state-federal program that provides health care to low-income Americans, Trump’s budget plan would follow through on a bill passed by House Republicans to cut more than $800 billion over 10 years. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that this could cut off Medicaid benefits for about 10 million people over the next decade. ...
Leaked budget documents, obtained by the think tank Third Way, suggested other ways the White House plans to change anti-poverty funding. These documents show a change in the funding for Social Security’s Supplemental Security Income program, which provide cash benefits for the poor and disabled. It’s unclear, though, what those changes might look like. A White House official said the Third Way document was out-of-date and would not comment on specifics in their files. ...
Trump has instructed his budget director, former South Carolina congressman Mick Mulvaney, that he does not want cuts to Medicare and Social Security’s retirement program in this budget, Mulvaney recently said, but the plan may call for changes to Social Security Disability Insurance, seeking ideas for ways to move people who are able out of this program and back into the workforce. ...

May 21, 2017

Annual Statistical Supplement Issued

     The Social Security Administration has issued its Annual Statistical Supplement for 2016. As always, it's crammed full of all the statistics about Social Security that you could want except that it includes only limited information on Social Security Administration operations, such as wait times at field offices, length of backlogs to obtain a hearing, Administrative Law Judge reversal rates, etc. I've always found this odd since otherwise these Annual Statistical Supplements are incredibly comprehensive. Want to know how many people are receiving U.S. Social Security widows and widowers benefits who live in Serbia and Montenegro? What about the percentage distribution of persons receiving both a retired-worker and a secondary benefit with and without reduction for early retirement, by sex and primary insurance amount? They're all there in the Annual Statistical Supplement. 
     It does include this table which may be of interest to readers of this blog:

Table 2.F3 Number of work years, fiscal years 1995–2016
Year Full-time permanent staff a Total work years b
1995 62,504 67,063
1996 62,133 66,726
1997 61,224 69,378
1998 59,943 67,210
1999 59,752 66,459
2000 60,434 65,521
2001 61,490 65,562
2002 61,914 65,742
2003 63,569 65,343
2004 63,186 c 66,154
2005 63,696 d 68,026
2006 61,692 66,878
2007 60,206 63,939
2008 61,920 64,358
2009 65,203 67,170
2010 67,548 70,758
2011 64,744 69,936
2012 62,943 67,208
2013 59,823 64,601
2014 62,956 64,006
2015 63,466 67,004
2016 62,685 65,798
SOURCE: Social Security Administration's Payroll Reports.
a. On duty at end of fiscal year; includes seasonal employees.
b. Includes full-time, part-time, and temporary employees; employees in special programs; and overtime hours worked.
c. Includes 178 work years for activities related to Medicare Modernization Act.

May 20, 2017

We're Number Nine!

     Social Security ranks 9th on the list of best large federal agencies to work for in 2016, which is the middle of the pack. NASA ranks first. DHS ranks last. Social Security suffered the largest decline in rating between 2015 and 2016 of any large agency. In fact, it looks like Social Security has been in a fairly steady decline since 2010. While Senior Executive Service (SES) employees at Social Security are happier than employees generally, they are actually quite a bit less happy than SES employees at agencies generally. The agency's leadership scores generally compare poorly with other agencies
     By the way, all the other large agencies have cabinet rank but not Social Security.

May 19, 2017

We're Doing A Poor Job Of Helping Disabled Young People Make The Transition From School To Work

     From a recent report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO):
The Social Security Administration’s (SSA) primary approach for encouraging employment for transition-age youth (ages 14 to 17) with disabilities who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is work incentives that allow them to keep at least some of their SSI benefits and Medicaid coverage while they work. But few transition-age youth benefit from these incentives. ... The work incentive targeted specifically to younger SSI recipients is the Student Earned Income Exclusion (SEIE), which allows income to be excluded from benefits calculations if a recipient is a student under age 22. However, less than 1.5 percent of all transition-age youth — and generally less than half of those with earnings —benefited from SEIE in 2012 through 2015. ... Data also show that almost no youth benefited from other incentives that allow them to exclude earnings used for specific purposes, such as the Impairment-Related Work Expenses incentive. The effectiveness of SSA-administered work incentives may be further limited because, according to SSA and other officials, youth and their families are often unaware of or do not understand them, and may fear that work will negatively affect their benefits or eligibility. ... 
SSA does not have a systematic way to connect transition-age youth on SSI to state Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agencies that provide training and employment services under the VR State Grants program administered by the Department of Education (Education). Although youth receiving SSI are generally presumed to be eligible for VR services, GAO found that less than 1 percent had an open VR service record in 2015 in four of the five states from which GAO collected VR data. ...
We recommend that the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration take the following actions: 
  1. Analyze the SEIE data to determine why a large proportion of transition- age youth on SSI with reported earnings did not benefit from the SEIE and, if warranted, take actions to ensure that those eligible for the incentive benefit from it. 
  2. Analyze options to improve communication about SSA-administered work incentives and the implications of work on SSI benefits, with a goal of increasing understanding of SSI program rules and work incentives among transition-age youth and their families. This should include, but not necessarily be limited to, updating SSAs procedures for staff meeting with SSI applicants, recipients, and their families to regularly and consistently discuss – when applicable—how work incentives can prevent reductions in benefit levels and how work history is considered during eligibility redeterminations. 
  3. Work with the Secretary of Education to determine the extent to which youth on SSI are not receiving transition services through schools that can connect them to VR agencies and services. 
  4. Explore various options for increasing connections to VR agencies and services , including their potential costs and benefits. One option, among others, could be to expand the Ticket to Work program to include youth.
     The report addresses an important topic. I have a few thoughts on this:
  • Transition services are vitally important to disabled youths who are about to leave school. I have seen far too many cases where young people who urgently needed VR had no idea that VR exists. When I see clients in this situation, I tell them and their parents about VR but, of course, most disabled young people never see a Social Security attorney.
  • Some years ago, at least in North Carolina, schools worked with VR to identify disabled young people in need of help and made sure they were offered that help. That seemed extremely effective. That's not happening now. (What about other states?) I'm pretty sure the problem is lack of VR funding. I'm not sure why the school systems don't at least give the disabled young people and their families the phone number for VR although as I discuss below state Vocational Rehabilitation may be of only limited value at this point.
  • Sheltered workshops are a vital part of vocational rehabilitation for disabled young people trying to make the transition from school to work. Sheltered workshops have almost completely disappeared in North Carolina. I'm pretty sure it's due to lack of funding. (What about other states?)
  • What I've seen over the last decade or two is declining effectiveness of North Carolina VR. They seem to be able to do little other than pay for community college courses. Disabled young people trying to make the transition from school to work typically need far more help. (What about other states?)
  • Social Security's work incentives are far, far too complicated. That's not the agency's fault. Congress wrote the work incentives, not Social Security, but don't expect simplification to help much. There's plenty of evidence that work incentives have little value.
  • Social Security lacks funding to do much to help disabled young people making the transition from school to work. I suppose the agency could send out mailings but they would need additional appropriations to do anything more. I think the money might be better spent elsewhere.
  • I think additional funding for VR along with provisions requiring VR to coordinate with school systems would work better than anything the Social Security Administration can do.
  • Finally, don't expect miracles. Most disabled children won't work on a regular basis no matter what anyone does. Many people who work at the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) or who represent claimants get the mistaken impression that almost all children receiving SSI benefits have psychiatric or cognitive impairments that are of less than overwhelming severity. That's because that group is vastly over-represented in the population requesting hearings on SSI child disability claims. Most disabled children on SSI have physical problems and most of those problems are so overwhelming that the disability claims are approved quickly. Work is unlikely to ever be in the picture for most of these children. Many of those suffering from psychiatric disability have schizophrenia. While Social Security is denying too many schizophrenics, it's still a fact that most schizophrenia claims are being approved fairly quickly. The vast majority of schizophrenics won't be able to work no matter what anyone does for them.

May 18, 2017

Where We Stand

     Social Security's budget for the current fiscal year declined by $60 million from the previous year. By contrast, NASA received an increase of $226 million for outer planet exploration. I've got nothing against outer planet exploration but still ....

Social Security Wants To Give Priority To Terminating Disability Benefits

     From a recent report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG):
Statutory benefit continuation allows an individual to continue receiving disability benefits during the appeal of a medical cessation determination at the reconsideration or ALJ hearing levels. If the cessation determination is upheld after appeal, the Social Security Administration (SSA) considers the payments received during the appeals process overpayments the individual must return to SSA. ...
We project SSA overpaid approximately $682.5 million to individuals in our population who continued receiving disability benefits during the appeals process but for whom ALJs upheld the cessation determinations from October 1, 2013 through July 8, 2016. This comprised $138.5 million overpaid to DI beneficiaries and $ 544 million overpaid to SSI recipients. 
We estimate, as of August 2016, SSA was in the process of collecting 28 percent of the amount overpaid to DI beneficiaries. It had collected only 4 percent, waived or terminated collection action on 17 percent, and posted another 37 per cent to the beneficiaries’ records but did not take action to collect, waive, or deem them uncollectible. SSA had not posted about 14 percent to the beneficiaries’ records for collection. Likewise, for the amount overpaid to the SSI recipients, SSA was in the process of collecting 61 percent. It had collected 2 percent, waived or terminated collection action on 13 percent, and had posted another 17 percent to the recipients’ records but did not take action to collect, waive, or deem them uncollectible. SSA had not posted 7 percent to the individuals’ records for collection. The average processing time for medical cessation appeals had increased from our prior reviews. Specifically, processing times were 766 days for sampled DI beneficiaries and 831 days for sampled SSI recipients — increases of 18 percent and 20 percent, respectively. If SSA prioritizes medical cessation appeals, it could increase DI and SSI programs’ financial performance. For example, we project SSA could have avoided $69.7 million in DI overpayments and $266 million in SSI overpayments had it completed the appeals process for medical cessation s within its processing time goals totaling 394 days. ...
     The agency's response to the suggestion that it should prioritize cutting people off benefits because that would save money was to say "We agree."

May 17, 2017

Congressional Hearing On Use Of Social Security Numbers

     From a press release: 
House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson (R-TX) and House Oversight and Government Reform Information Technology Subcommittee Chairman Will Hurd (R-TX) announced yesterday that the Subcommittees will hold a joint subcommittee hearing entitled, “Protecting Americans’ Identities: Examining Efforts to Limit the Use of Social Security Numbers,” on Tuesday, May 23, 2017 at 2:00 PM in room 1100 of the Longworth House Office Building. At the hearing, Members and witnesses will discuss the efforts made by federal agencies to reduce the use of Social Security numbers and protect Americans’ identities. 

Treasury Will No Longer Seize Tax Refunds To Satisfy Ancient Social Security Debts Of Relatives

     From Myinforms, whatever that is:
After three years of complaints and pressure from taxpayers, the federal government will stop seizing the tax refunds of Americans whose long-dead parents had incurred debts to Social Security many years earlier.

In an emergency message to its staff late Friday, the Treasury Department announced that it will immediately stop confiscating money from hundreds of thousands of people whose forebears had been overpaid by Social Security decades earlier.

The change, which applied only to debts from 2002 or earlier, follows Washington Post articles that chronicled the impact of the seizures on taxpayers who never knew that their parents had had debts to the government....
     Apparently, there was an article about this in the Washington Post but it's behind a paywall.
     The fact that this ever happened is a sign of just how bizarre things got after the GOP took over the House of Representatives. Overpayments, which were usually due to either mistakes that the Social Security Administration made or honest errors by claimants, were always conflated with fraud. The insistent demand from Congress was to do anything, literally anything, to collect these overpayments. Nothing was too extreme. Forty year old overpayments? Go all out to collect them. Don't worry about the fact that the agency lacks proof that an overpayment actually occurred decades ago. The person who was overpaid is dead? Just collect it from any relative of the person who was overpaid.

May 16, 2017

That Five Day Rule Isn't Being Implemented Uniformly

     An e-mail I received recently from another Social Security attorney:
Judges have been inconsistent with the application of the 5 day rule in my experience so far.
Judge _____ in ODAR Office A refused to consider records that arrived the day of hearing, despite my timely submitted 5 day notice.  I explained to the judge that the regs say that claimant must inform judge of evid not submitted before 5 biz days, and the regs do not require good cause showing for evid that the claimant has informed the judge 5 days before the hearing.  He told me that he feels (and he has spoken with other judges and they also feel) that the claimant needs to not only show good cause, but also provide documentation of good cause.  Basically, my explanation provided in the notice was not sufficient, he needed something to back up what I was saying.  He thinks that a fax confirmation of the med record request etc may be sufficient. 
He did allow a statement submitted by one of client’s providers, saying that he would do so because it is short and it would not delay decision. He did comment that it was not mentioned in my notice.  (I did not include it in my notice because that statement did not exist when I submitted my notice, it was dated about 3 days before hearing.)
He added that in another case just prior, he refused to look at new evidence submitted after the 5 day mark even though there were information in the records hurting the claimant’s case.

Another judge in ODAR Office B also seemed to think a good cause determination needs to be made despite 5 day notice.  A 3rd judge in ODAR Office B not only allowed me additional time to submit the evid mentioned in my 5 day notice, but also allowed me to submit other evidence posthearing (claimant told me of additional treatment the date of hearing). 
     Social Security hastily drafted these proposed regulations. They completely ignored comments made about the proposed regulations and adopted them in haste. Hey, if attorneys oppose them, they must be good, right? The agency gave its staff no meaningful explanation, much less training on the regulations. No one should be surprised when Administrative Law Judges start interpreting the regulations in ways never imagined by those who drafted them. What is happening is exactly what I expected. I expect that all of us who represent claimants were expecting this.

May 15, 2017

Trump Proposal Coming On SSI Children's Benefits?

     The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) has put out a piece on the importance of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for disabled children. I take it as a sign that they believe that Trump budget proposal will call for ending these benefits. By the way, if that is the proposal, take it seriously but don't get too excited. It wouldn't save much money and would be very difficult to get through the Senate. Think about it. Taking benefits away from disabled kids; how popular would that be, really?

May 14, 2017

New Acting Associate Commissioner For External Affairs

     From a recent announcement:
We are very pleased to announce that Social Security has a new Acting Associate Commissioner for External Affairs.
Robert (Bob) Patterson comes to Social Security with a wealth of experience in communications and public engagement.
He has served as Speechwriter and Advisor to the Assistant Secretary for Children and Families with the Department of Health and Human Services, and Senior Speechwriter with the U.S. Small Business Administration. Most recently, Bob served as Vice President for Government Relations at the U.S. Business and Industry Council. His background also includes a wide range of experience in the private sector and academia as a policy expert, professor and op-ed contributor.

May 13, 2017

About $200 Per Case

     From a press release:
David Black Daugherty, 81, of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Danny C. Reeves of the Eastern District of Kentucky to an information charging him with two counts of receiving illegal gratuities. Sentencing is set for Aug. 25, 2017. 
Daugherty was an administrative law judge at the Social Security hearing office in Huntington, West Virginia (Huntington Hearing Office) for more than 20 years, where his primary responsibility was to adjudicate disability claims on behalf of the SSA. According to admissions made as part of his guilty plea, from November 2004 to April 2011, Daugherty accepted more than $609,000 in cash payments, total, in more than approximately 3,100 cases from Social Security disability lawyer, Eric Christopher Conn, of Pikeville, Kentucky, for awarding disability benefits to claimants represented by Conn. Furthermore, in an effort to conceal the source of these cash payments, Daugherty divided cash deposits into various bank branches and accounts, he admitted.
Daugherty admitted that he sought out Conn’s cases pending with the Huntington Hearing Office, contacted Conn and told him what type of medical evidence to submit in support of disability findings and then awarded benefits to claimants represented by Conn without holding hearings. As a result, Conn ultimately received at least $7.1 million in representative fees from the SSA, and Daugherty further obligated the SSA to pay more than $550 million in lifetime benefits to claimants, according to the plea.

May 12, 2017

Top Baby Names Of 2016



Male name Female name
1 Noah Emma
2 Liam Olivia
3 William Ava
4 Mason Sophia
5 James Isabella
6 Benjamin Mia
7 Jacob Charlotte
8 Michael Abigail
9 Elijah Emily
10 Ethan Harper

Source: Social Security Administration

An Exit Interview With Carolyn Colvin

     Before leaving office, then Acting Commisioner Carolyn Colvin sat down for an interview with McKinsey and Company, a huge and highly influential consulting company. 
     Colvin has had a long and distinguished career as a public servant. She made the best of a bad funding situation at Social Security. She has a lot to be proud of. However, this interview does not improve my opinion of her. It's crammed with endless Dilbertesque management buzzwords. If you're touting Vision 2025 as a major achievement, one that truly effected change, you've lost touch with reality. Vision 2025 was of no consequence at the time it was issued and has already been forgotten because it was nothing more than vapid generalities.
     I'll say this for her. If she kept a listed landline after becoming Commissioner, I don't know whether to be impressed or just amazed.

May 11, 2017

A Poll


May 10, 2017

Trump Budget To Call For Social Security Disability Cuts

     Roll Call is reporting that the White House budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2018, which begins on October 1, 2017, will call for cuts in Social Security disability benefits. The cuts are not specified in the article. 
But sources said the budget will include proposals to reduce the cost of the Social Security Disability Insurance program, which is not means-tested. - See more at: http://www.rollcall.com/news/policy/trump-wants-800-billion-10-year-cut-entitlement-programs#sthash.YV839krT.dpuf
White House officials are crafting a fiscal 2018 budget proposal for President Donald Trump that aims to wipe out the deficit through a combination of robust economic growth, steep cuts in certain means-tested entitlement programs and other savings. - See more at: http://www.rollcall.com/news/policy/trump-wants-800-billion-10-year-cut-entitlement-programs#sthash.YV839krT.dpuf
White House officials are crafting a fiscal 2018 budget proposal for President Donald Trump that aims to wipe out the deficit through a combination of robust economic growth, steep cuts in certain means-tested entitlement programs and other savings. - See more at: http://www.rollcall.com/news/policy/trump-wants-800-billion-10-year-cut-entitlement-programs#sthash.YQqJR9St.dpuf
White House officials are crafting a fiscal 2018 budget proposal for President Donald Trump that aims to wipe out the deficit through a combination of robust economic growth, steep cuts in certain means-tested entitlement programs and other savings. - See more at: http://www.rollcall.com/news/policy/trump-wants-800-billion-10-year-cut-entitlement-programs#sthash.YQqJR9St.dpuf

Social Security Wants Case Processing System For ODAR Pronto

     From a contracting notice posted by the Social Security Administration:
The Social Security Administration (SSA) is seeking a Case Management Software System inclusive of a correspondence system; scheduling system; invoicing system and a provider repository that will move cases along the Office of Disability and Adjudication Review’s (ODAR) business process to the closure of the case. The purpose of this RFI [Request for Information] is to identify potential vendors capable of providing a solution for this Case Management Software System....
The solution must be able to do the following: 
  • Be a commercial off the shelf (COTS) product; 
  • Be commercially available as of May 31, 2017;  ... 
Responses must be received by 12:00 noon EST on May 17, 2017. ...
     A response by May 17? Sounds like they already know what product they intend to buy. But how will an off the shelf product do everything they want it to do and work with Social Security's other systems?
     I'm probably wrong but what they're describing sounds a lot like the case management systems used by law firms. They're not going to use one of those, are they? One of those wouldn't be this scalable, would it? That wouldn't work with the agency's other systems, would it? But what other type of off the shelf system could it be?

Back To Two Factor Authentication

     In August 2016, Social Security introduced two factor authentication for claimants using its online systems. It was a fiasco. The public hated it. The agency quickly backed away.
     They're not letting that set them back. They're now planning to again require two factor authentication as of June 10. Users will have the choice of receiving the second factor either by text message or e-mail message.
     Will the public find this any more acceptable? Will it actually improve security?

May 9, 2017

Why Disability Benefits Are Especially Important Fro Less-Educated Workers

     The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) has a report up on 4 Reasons Why Disability Insurance Is Especially Important to Less-Educated Workers.
     Let me be less diplomatic than the folks at CBPP. Less-educated workers are frequently people with lower cognitive abilities. We do not live in Lake Woebegone. All the children are not above average. Some are born with lower cognitive abilities. The cognitive abilities of others are permanently stunted by difficult childhood circumstances. Lower cognitive abilities lead to lower educational achievements. Adult education is of only limited use for people with low cognitive abilities. They lack the ability to profit from it. People with lower cognitive ability are at a huge disadvantage when they develop medical or psychiatric problems. All they are suited to do is to work at jobs with low skill requirements and those jobs aren't in offices. Those jobs generally involve significant exertional requirements and offer limited tolerance for psychiatric issues. If all you ever had to offer an employer was a strong back and a good attitude you're in big trouble if your back loses its strength or your good attitude isn't so good.

May 8, 2017

DCPS Fight Going Into Extra Innings

     Social Security is now planning to hire MITRE, a consulting company, to do a "Build Versus Buy" analysis of its plan to build a new Disability Case Processing System (DCPS) in-house rather than buying it from an external vendor. The vendor of the DCPS now in use is vigorously promoting a new system it wants to sell Social Security but to this point the agency has been convinced that it can build a better system in-house. A good new DCPS is of great importance to Social Security.

May 7, 2017

I Know! Let's Just Be Harsher!

     Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG) did a study on collection of overpayments through long term repayment plans. Social Security deducts amounts from current benefits to repay the debt. The amount of the deduction depends upon the claimant's income. OIG found that some claimants were so poor that their monthly repayment amount wereso low that they would die before their overpayments were recouped. OIG's response: Stop worrying about whether the claimants have enough money to live on; just recoup more each month. Social Security's response is that they agree. They want to go to collecting at least 10% of monthly benefits without regard to whether this leaves the claimant with enough money to live on. They're not sure if they can just change their regulations or whether they need new legislation.
     And by the way, many, perhaps most, of these overpayments are due to mistakes made by the Social Security Administration. Few are due to fraud.

May 6, 2017

More Cross-Program Recovery Possible

     From a recent report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (footnotes omitted):
CPR [Cross Program Recovery] is the process of collecting overpayments for one SSA-administered program by withholding the individual’s payable benefits from another SSA-administered program [recovering an SSI overpayment from regular Social Security benefits or vice versa]. ... The Agency can use CPR to withhold up to 10 percent of individuals’ OASDI [Old Age Survivors and Disability Insurance] monthly payments and either 100 percent of individuals’ SSI monthly payments or an amount that is 10 percent of their income, whichever is lower. ...
The Agency did not always use mandatory CPR to recover OASDI and SSI overpayments, as authorized under SSPA. ....
The Agency could have used mandatory CPR to collect $257,914 in OASDI overpayments from the SSI payments of 49 of the 50 individuals we reviewed. Based on our sample results, we estimate the Agency could have imposed mandatory CPR to collect about $52.9 million in OASDI overpayments from the SSI payments of the remaining 11,268 individuals we identified. ... 
The Agency could have used mandatory CPR to collect $248,166 in SSI overpayments from the OASDI benefits of the 50 individuals we reviewed. Based on our sample results, we estimate the Agency could have imposed mandatory CPR to collect about $33.5 million in additional SSI overpayments from the OASDI benefits of the remaining 9,364 individuals we identified.

May 5, 2017

Acting Commissioner's Message



From: ^Commissioner Broadcast
Sent: Friday, May 05, 2017 4:34 PM
Subject: FY 2017 Budget

A Message To All SSA Employees

Subject:  FY 2017 Budget

I have some good news to share about the budget.  This afternoon, President Trump signed the omnibus spending bill for fiscal year 2017, which provides the Federal Government with funding for the remainder of the fiscal year.

The omnibus appropriation includes an increase to our agency’s program integrity funding, which will allow us to conduct additional continuing disability reviews and redeterminations.  It also sets aside funds to focus on reducing our hearings backlog.    

I appreciate your patience during the latest budget negotiations.  Thanks again for all you do each day to support our mission.

Nancy A. Berryhill
Acting Commissioner

Tax Evasion Hurting Social Security Trust Funds

     From the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP):
“Egregious employment tax noncompliance” by employers has risen substantially in recent years while the IRS’s ability to recover the lost revenues and investigate fraud and embezzlement has fallen, a report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) finds. More than 1 million employers owed over $45 billion in unpaid employment taxes as of December 2015, including interest and penalties. The report provides further evidence that the deep cuts to IRS funding since 2010 have weakened the agency’s ability to perform its core functions of collecting taxes and enforcing the nation’s tax laws.
This type of employer tax evasion is particularly harmful; it not only reduces federal revenues but it also hurts workers because employers often don’t report their earnings to the IRS and Social Security Administration. That makes it hard for employees and their families to claim the benefits they’ve earned when they retire, become disabled, or die and leave dependents behind. ...
     The "employment tax" they're talking about is F.I.C.A., the tax that goes to the Social Security trust funds.

May 4, 2017

Death Master File Problems

     From a recent report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG):
Death information on CDPH [California Depart of Public Health] files was not always recorded on SSA records. At the time of our audit, SSA was issuing benefit payments to 83 individuals whose PII [Personally Identifiable Information] matched that of individuals who died in California from 1970 through 2004. 
  • In 34 cases, the beneficiaries were deceased. SSA terminated benefits to 28 beneficiaries and identified approximately $4.6 million in improper payments. SSA suspended payments to five beneficiaries but had not quantified the related improper payments. We estimate improper payments in these five cases totaled approximately $ 1.2 million. The remaining case did not involve improper payments. 
  • In 43 cases, the beneficiaries were alive. SSA and the Office of Investigations determined that none of the cases involved improper payments to the beneficiaries. 
  • In six cases, SSA was determining the beneficiaries’ status. The Office of Operations referred the cases to its regional offices for development. 
We also identified approximately 188,000 numberholders who were likely deceased but had no death information on the Numident [Social Security records]. At the time of our review, none of these numberholders was receiving SSA payments. We provided SSA with the numberholders’ information, and SSA recorded death information on most of these record. ...
     There's a lot to notice here. Yes, benefits were being improperly being paid to at least 28 people. However, there were more cases where simple data matches indicated that a person was dead when they were actually alive. More aggressive use of data matches to cut off the benefits of dead people will inevitably cut off benefits to more people who aren't dead. That's a nightmare for the people whose benefits are cut off. Notice that sensationalist media may point to 188,000 people that Social Security doesn't know are dead without mentioning that none of them is being paid benefits.

May 3, 2017

Sad Situation In Charlotte

     From a television station in Charlotte:
An east Charlotte mother doesn’t know how she’s going to care for her permanently disabled son, after the benefits that were helping to keep him alive were discontinued at the start of the month.
Lakescia Gamble reached out to FOX 46 Charlotte to tell the heartbreaking story of her 17-year-old son Jai’Quan, who was involved in a horrible accident when he was younger, and would later fall victim to his own attorney. ...
Jai’Quan’s story begins in 2005, when he was 5-years-old. He was hit by a speeding truck while playing in the front yard of his grandma’s house. ...
As if that wasn’t already enough, Gamble would later find out that the attorney she hired to facilitate a settlement with the driver’s insurance company, John L. Schurlknight of Florence, S.C., had stolen Jai’Quan’s settlement money. ...
According to the FBI, Rivers and Schurlknight failed to tell their clients when their cases had been settled, and failed to pay the client’s medical providers, instead forging client’s signatures on releases and keeping all the money received in the client’s settlements.
Schurlknight would later commit suicide at his law office the day investigators were set to meet with him. ...
Gamble said a judge ordered $15,000 to go to Jai’Quan in the form of a trust that he can’t touch until he turns 18.
She told FOX 46 Charlotte that Jai’Quan’s medical costs exceed $30,000 a year, which is why he has been receiving monthly Supplemental Security Income, or SSI benefits, to help with the costs, but now there’s a problem. ...
“Social Security is now saying he’s unable to get any benefits, not even Medicaid,” Gamble said.
Last month, Gamble received a letter from the Social Security Administration informing her that Jai’Quan’s SSI benefits would be slashed from $735 per month to zero beginning in May 2017, because Jai’Quan “has countable resources worth more than $2,000.” ...
On top of that, the Social Security Administration sent Gamble another letter informing her that she needs to pay back $6,900 within weeks due to overpayments. Days after our interview, Gamble told FOX 46 the SSA increased the amount she owes to $12,000, which she says, she can’t afford to pay. ...
     If the money in the trust can't be touched until the child turns 18, this is a mistake because the funds would not be available to the child.
     You can't tell from this article if all the funds stolen from the child have been recovered. The North Carolina State Bar has a Client Security Fund that protects clients whose money has been stolen by their attorney. I and other NC attorneys pay into the fund. I can't find any reference online to a similar fund in South Carolina where this attorney was located. If there isn't one, SC attorneys need to get their act together.

May 2, 2017

Appropriations Bill Out

     The full text of the omnibus appropriations bill that will fund the government, including the Social Security Administration, for the remainder of the fiscal year, which only has five months to go, is out. It's 1,665 pages. The Social Security part begins on page 1,042. At first glance, I see no noxious riders, that is language directing or forbidding certain agency actions, but appropriations language is notoriously difficult to read so please let me know if I've missed something.

May 1, 2017

Social Security Funding Declines

     An omnibus budget deal has been announced. It will probably be enacted shortly. Here's an excerpt from a summary of that bill:
Social Security Administration (SSA) – The bill provides $12.5 billion for the administration of SSA activities – a decrease of $ 60 million from the fiscal year 2016 enacted level. This funding will ensure those served by the program receive efficient and timely assistance and service. One-time costs for building renovations provided in fiscal year 2016 account for a majority of the decrease. The bill supports program integrity efforts at the fully authorized level of $1.8 billion, an increase of nearly $400 million over the fiscal year 2016 enacted level.