Feb 18, 2017

How Do You Beat This Efficiency?

Source: Center for Budget and Policy Priorities

Feb 17, 2017

Income Inequality Takes Toll On Trust Funds

     Rachel West and Rebecca Vallas of the Center for American Progress write about the serious effects of income inequality on the Social Security trust funds. Because of the $127,200 cap on wages covered by the FICA tax, rising income inequality a greater and greater portion of income is escaping FICA. It's not like those with incomes over $127,200 a year are struggling. That's the group receiving the vast majority of income gains. If, instead of a flat cap, the FICA cap had been set since 1983 so that 90% of wages are covered, the Social Security trust funds would be $1.3 trillion higher now.

Feb 16, 2017

Senate Votes To Allow Mentally Ill Claimants With Rep Payees To Buy Guns

     The Senate has now joined the House of Representatives in voting to block regulations adopted during the Obama Administration that would have prevented some individuals with representative payees drawing disability benefits from Social Security from buying firearms. 
     Great work by all those in the Obama Administration who slow walked these regulations. The GOP couldn't have blocked these regs without your help. Oh, I know, you rushed it from Notice of Proposed Rule-Making (NPRM) to Final Regulation. I'm talking about all the time this was being ever so slowly considered before the NPRM was published.

Feb 15, 2017

Report On DQ Reviews -- And I'm Not Talking About Dairy Queen!

     For some years, the Division of Quality (DQ) of Social Security's Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) has reviewed a small number of Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) decisions granting disability benefits prior to effectuation of benefits. Some decisions are overturned as a result of these reviews. A recent report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG) looks into these DQ reviews. Here's the bottom line of the OIG report:
Overall, about 5 percent of the total PER [Pre-Effectuation Review]  cases processed in FY [Fiscal Year] 2011 led to a denial or dismissal. Given the rate of denials and dismissals, we estimated the potential net program savings ranged from $23 to $25 million for that year. Overall, the Agency saved $4 to $5 on average per $1 spent on the PER process in FY 2011.
     There's one big problem with these DQ reviews -- there's zero proof that DQ possesses the gold standard for determining who is and who isn't disabled. You could save money by randomly overturning ALJ decisions that approve disability claims with no less validity.  No one has a gold standard for determining disability.
     By the way, take a look at this table from the report (click on it to view full size):
      Notice the decline in dispositions at the same time as the agency's backlogs were increasing. Note also the much more dramatic decline in the number of favorable decisions. The 2010 election brought GOP control to Congress. The laws weren't changed but the climate at the agency changed dramatically. Backlogs were no longer a big concern. Denying as many cases as possible became a good thing. Anything like DQ that would cause more claims to be denied received favorable attention.
     In any case, I'm going to keep repeating, DQ isn't the repository of the gold standard for determining disability. There is no gold standard. DQ is a waste of money unless your goal is denying more claims.

Feb 14, 2017

Full Retirement Age Increasing

     From U.S. News and World Report:
Most baby boomers can receive the full amount of Social Security they have earned at age 66. However, retirees who will turn 62 in 2017 need to wait an extra two months to collect their full Social Security payments. Starting this year the retirement age begins a gradual increase toward age 67. Here's how the older retirement age will impact how much you receive from Social Security.
A longer wait to claim full payments. The Social Security full retirement age is 66 for people born between 1943 and 1954. For those born during the five years after that, the full retirement age will gradually increase in two-month increments from 66 and 2 months for people born in 1955 to 66 and 10 months for those born in 1959. The full retirement age is 67 for everyone born in 1960 or later. ...

Feb 13, 2017

Student Loan Debt Out Of Control

     The New York Times has an editorial today on the rapidly increasing problem of student loan debt among the elderly. The editorial urges an end to seizing Social Security benefits to pay off private lenders.

Feb 12, 2017

A Poll

Feb 11, 2017

We're Cheapskates

From the International Social Security Association

    Public spending on incapacity (sickness, disability and occupational injury). Click on image to view full size. Note how low the United States is in comparison to other countries.

Feb 10, 2017

Meet Nancy Berryhill

     Nancy Berryhill, Social Security's new Acting Commissioner, has written a piece for the agency's blog, giving some of her background story.

Feb 9, 2017

Long Lines In Corpus Christi

     From KRIS-TV:
People at the Social Security office are upset with long wait times. 
"I am more than frustrated, and I am not going to use any bad language. but I am more than frustrated," 
Aaron Simons just described how people felt when they visited Corpus Christi's only Social Security office. 
 "I think it's nonsense that I have to wait this long. I think it's not organized properly," said Simons.  
People aren't just waiting inside the office. Many of these people lined up outside hours before doors opened at eight this morning. 
"I've been here since 7 o'clock this morning. Still waiting still waiting, I'm tired of waiting, but I have to wait because I need that paperwork for my wife," said Simons. 
Dozen's of people decided to leave after waiting for hours. ...
According to the social security office, before this month people waited for an average of 32 minutes in line.  So, what happened? That's what KRIS 6  asked a spokesperson for the social security office. We're told, the office sees increased traffic at the beginning of every year. Lots of people go to the office to get their social security cards before they fill out their taxes.  ...

Feb 8, 2017

Benefits Card Problems

     From KING-TV:
Washingtonians who are among the roughly 5 million Americans relying on a special debit card offered by the federal government for Social Security recently had trouble accessing their cash.
Direct Express promises safety and convenience. However, multiple users complained they couldn't find an ATM in Western Washington that would accept the card without a $3 penalty.
"To direct deposit, you need to have a bank account for the money to come into the bank, which I didn't have. So, it really was my only choice," said Larry Woods, a recipient of Social Security, explaining why he chose Direct Express.
The trouble started when Woods visited his nearest ATM and was blocked from obtaining cash without paying a surcharge.
Woods lives on just over $800 a month. So for him, $3 makes a big difference. As he put it, "It's lunch." ...
Technically, Woods shouldn't have to pay. On the website, Direct Express claims to have an extended network of surcharge-free ATMs.
However, when KING 5 accessed the website,  most of the links weren't working or identified zero participating ATMs west of the Rockies.
While Department of the Treasury's Bureau of Fiscal Service regulates the program, it's facilitated through a contract with Comerica. A Comerica spokesperson said the Direct Express website was experiencing temporary technical issues. ...
After roughly two weeks, the website ATM search tool was functioning again.
Direct Express Card Holders can visit BECU branch ATM's without a penalty, according to other area banks. ...

Feb 7, 2017

For Most People Disability Isn't Something That Happens All At Once

     Jackson Costa has done a study, published in the Social Security Bulletin, on the decline in earnings prior to claims for Disability Insurance Benefits. Below is a chart from the study.
     The study demonstrates something that's obvious at ground level -- for most disabled people, disability isn't something that happens all at once. It comes on over the course of years. 
     This is important because those in Congress and the higher reaches of Social Security tend to visualize disability as mostly associated with trauma but that's wrong. Trauma is actually a relatively minor source of disability. It's illnesses that accumulate and worsen over time. Often it's more than one thing that disables a person. People try hard to fight off disability. Often they wait a considerable period of time after stopping work altogether before filing a claim. People don't like to have to concede that they're disabled.

Feb 6, 2017

"Not Sustainable"

     This comes from a trusted source but I can't verify it otherwise:
1. The ODAR [Office of Disability Adjudication and Review] leadership had a call with all of ODAR management and a separate call with the decision writers. They were told the state of the current way of doing business is not sustainable model. So as part of this, the decision writers were told they had to increase their productivity as there is a backlog of about 52,000 cases that continues to grow. In addition management has to start writing up decisions. This applies to management in ODAR offices that have some training on writing up decisions. It is my understanding the most group supervisors have this training so they have started writing up decisions. 
2. SSA [Social Security Administration] slapped a freeze yesterday on all competitive promotions after 1/22/17. This applies to all promotions except career ladder promotions. An example is that you can’t promote someone into a group supervisor position or Hearings Office Director. This also applies to Field Offices. It is Agency wide. This comes from interpreting President Trump’s decision to put a freeze on hiring. That freeze also applies to promotions.

When Will A New Commissioner Be Nominated?

     The Baltimore Sun asks how long it will be before the new President nominates someone to become Commissioner of Social Security. Their answer, which is certainly true, is God only knows. My guess, which may be proven wrong any day now, is that it will be months and months before there's a nomination. Commissioners of Social Security have precious little discretion. It's not likely to be a priority to nominate someone.

Feb 4, 2017

No Bait And Switch Allowed

     The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals isn't buying Social Security's "bait-and-switch." By the way, this is the first judicial decision I've seen with Nancy Berryhill as the named defendant.

Feb 3, 2017

Why Deny A Man His Right To Self-Defense Just Because He Hears Voices Telling Him To Kill People?

     The House of Representatives approved  on Thursday a resolution that would undo regulations adopted during the Obama Administration that would prevent many Social Security recipients from buying firearms if they need the help of a representative payee handling money. I am uncertain whether Democrats can or will filibuster this in the Senate.

Feb 2, 2017

Report On Social Insurance For The New Administration

     The National Academy of Social Insurance has issued a Report to the New Leadership and the American People on Social Insurance and Inequality. It might be helpful if some of those in the new administration would read this but I'm not expecting that.

Feb 1, 2017

Hearing On Rep Payees

     The Social Security and Oversight Subcommittees of the House Ways and Means Committee have scheduled a joint hearing for February 7 on representative payees for Social Security benefit.