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Jul 30, 2014

Contentious Start To Hearing

     Yesterday's House Social Security Subcommittee hearing on the Social Security Trustees report got off to a contentious start.

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  • Jul 29, 2014

    Witness List For Social Security Subcommittee Hearing

         Here's the witness list for the 11:00 hearing today before the Social Security Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee on "What Workers Need to Know About Social Security as They Plan for Their Retirement":
    Charles P. Blahous III, Ph.D.
    Public Trustee, Social Security and Medicare Boards of Trustees

    Sylvester J. Schieber, Ph.D.
    Independent Consultant

    C. Eugene Steuerle, Ph.D.
    Institute Fellow and Richard B. Fischer Chair, Urban Institute

    Joan Entmacher
    Vice President for Family Economic Security, National Women’s Law Center

    Andrew G. Biggs, Ph.D.
    Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute

    Laurence J. Kotlikoff, Ph.D.
    William Fairfield Warren Professor, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts

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  • Jul 24, 2014

    Social Security Facing A Challenging Budget Situation

         From the prepared remarks of Marianna Laconfora, the Acting Deputy Commissioner for the Office of Retirement and Disability Policy, at the Senate Finance Committee hearing today:
    During FYs 2011 - 2013, our budget situation was severe . For 3 years in a row, we received nearly a billion dollars less than the President’s budget request. Over those years, we had to make some deep reductions in our services to the public and in our stewardship efforts, while still meeting our mission and serving the public as best as possible . We took the following actions.
    • We significantly limited hiring, with only minimal hiring in critical front - line areas;
    • Reduced the hours that our field offices are open to the public to allow us to complete late - day interviews without using overtime and to complete retirement and disability claims and other post - entitlement work;
    • Operated with minimal, non - personnel spending, only funding our most essential costs, such as mandatory contracts, guard services, and rent on our buildings;
    • Closed over 500 contact stations and 7 foreign service posts;
    • Increased our use of video hearings to improve service and lower travel costs ;
    • Suspended our lower priority notices and reduced the number of Social Security Statements issued; and
    • Provided more information online to reduce printing and mailing costs .
    As a result of significantly limited hiring, wait times in field offices increased, callers to our 800 Number had to wait longer to speak with a representative, and hearings processing time increased. In addition, we were not able to ramp up our cost-effective program integrity efforts as planned.
    We are pleased that we received additional resources in FY 2014, and we thank you for your support. As a result, we are able to begin the recovery efforts from 3 years of underfunding. However, it will take time to reverse the impact on service s from the years of underfunding. It is critical that we receive the level of funding requested for our agency in the President’s FY 2015 Budget.

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  • Colvin Confirmation Hearing Scheduled For July 31

         The Senate Finance Committee confirmation hearing on Carolyn Colvin's nomination to a term as Commissioner of Social Security has been scheduled for July 31at 10:00.

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  • Jul 23, 2014

    House Ways And Means Schedules Hearing For July 29

         A press release by the House Ways and Means Committee:
    U.S. Congressman Sam Johnson (R-TX), Chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security announced today that the Subcommittee will hold an oversight hearing on what workers need to know about Social Security as they plan for their retirement.  The hearing will take place on Tuesday, July 29, 2014 in B-318 Rayburn House Office Building, beginning at 11:00 a.m. ... 
    Future retirees face far more questions than answers, as according to last year’s Annual Report of the Social Security Board of Trustees, unless Congress acts, revenues will cover only 77 percent of scheduled benefits beginning in 2033.  Worse, revenues will cover only 80 percent of disability benefits beginning in 2016.  These findings will soon be updated in the 2014 Annual Report. 
    Social Security is central to retirement security, yet Social Security’s complex benefit formula is often confusing to workers and their spouses. ...
    The hearing will focus on the financial status of Social Security programs, the factors influencing the benefits paid, the status of Americans’ retirement readiness and how workers can be helped to better plan for their retirement. ... 
         I'm guessing that the Senate Finance hearing scheduled for tomorrow and now this Ways and Means Committee hearing scheduled for next week are signs that the Social Security Trustees report is due out very soon, like today or tomorrow. We'll see.

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  • Jul 18, 2014

    Senate Finance Committee Schedules Hearing On Social Security Disability

         The Senate Finance Committee has scheduled a hearing for 10:00 on July 24 on "Social Security: A Fresh Look at Workers’ Disability Insurance." Here's the witness list:
    Mr. Stephen Goss, Chief Actuary, Social Security Administration, Baltimore, MD
    Ms. Marianna LaCanfora, Acting Deputy Commissioner, Retirement and Disability Policy, Social Security Administration, Baltimore, MD
    Ms. Rebecca Vallas, Associate Director, Poverty to Prosperity Program, Center for American Progress Action Fund, Washington, DC
    Dr. Richard Burkhauser, Professor, Adjunct Scholar, Cornell University, American Enterprise Institute, Washington, DC
         Will the Social Security Trustees Report be out by then?

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  • Jul 1, 2014

    You're Being Set Up, Carolyn Colvin

         The Post and Courier in Charleston, SC has an article on Social Security's decision to shut down some field offices and reduce service at the rest. The interesting thing about the article is that there is no mention whatsoever of Social Security's inadequate operating budget. As far as any reader would know, service is being cut because stupid bureaucrats at Social Security are making stupid decisions because they just don't care about serving the public. Those idiots think that they can force Americans to do all their business with Social Security over the computer! What's wrong with them? They ought to be fired!
         This is close to what happened at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Congress gave the agency inadequate funding. When the inevitable happened and service deteriorated to the point that the public was outraged, the blame fell not on Congress but on VA management. Villains had to be found. The main villain was the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric Shinseki. He was forced to resign but he wasn't the only one. Others have been forced out as well. Yes, there was the added factor of fiddling with the books to try to hide the VA's service delivery problems but that was little more than a pretext and I'm not absolutely sure that's not happening at Social Security.
         Carolyn Colvin needs to figure it out. The same thing is going to happen to her. Either she's not going to be confirmed or she'll eventually be forced to resign because she'll be made the scapegoat for her agency's terrible service. The deterioration over the last year cannot continue indefinitely. We are headed towards ridiculous busy rates and absurd wait times once a call is answered. We're headed towards long lines outside the doors of Social Security field offices. It's going to blow up. I can't say when but it's coming.
         The only way I can see for Acting Commissioner Colvin to prevent being blamed for the lousy service is to start shouting from the rooftop that she knows her agency is delivering poor service and that it's the fault of the inadequate budget her agency receives. A great case in point is the recent Senate Aging Committee hearing. Why is it that the most important information the Committee received about service at Social Security came not from the agency but from the National Council of Social Security Management Associations (NCSSMA), an organization of Social Security management personnel? Why wasn't Social Security spreading the word? The problem is that Carolyn Colvin and upper Social Security in general want to downplay the agency's service delivery problem and pretend that it's not that bad but that's exactly what happened at VA. Will loudly blaming Congress for poor service at Social Security offend Congressional Republicans? Sure, but does Colvin have any choice?

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  • Jun 18, 2014

    Apropos Today's Hearing

         The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has posted updated figures for the number of employees at the Social Security Administration. By the way, I'm not posting these numbers just because of today's hearing. OPM just released this report.
    • March 2014 60,820
    • December 2013 61,957
    • September 2013 62,543
    • June 2013 62,877
    • March 2013 63,777
    • December 2012 64,538
    • September 2012 65,113
    • September 2011 67,136
    • December 2010 70,270
    • December 2009 67,486
    • September 2009 67,632
    • December 2008 63,733
    • September 2008 63,990
    • September 2007 62,407
    • September 2006 63,647
    • September 2005 66,147
    • September 2004 65,258
    • September 2003 64,903
    • September 2002 64,648
    • September 2001 65,377
    • September 2000 64,521

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  • Field Office Closures And Staffing Reductions To Be Subject Of Senate Hearing

         From the New York Times:
    The Social Security Administration is closing field offices and reducing services to the public even as demand for those services surges with the aging of the baby boom generation, according to a bipartisan Senate committee report.
    The report, to be issued Wednesday by the Senate Special Committee on Aging, says the agency has closed more than two dozen field offices in the last year, generally without considering the needs of communities and without consulting beneficiaries or field office managers. ...
    The Social Security Administration is closing field offices and reducing services to the public even as demand for those services surges with the aging of the baby boom generation, according to a bipartisan Senate committee report.
    The report, to be issued Wednesday by the Senate Special Committee on Aging, says the agency has closed more than two dozen field offices in the last year, generally without considering the needs of communities and without consulting beneficiaries or field office managers. ...
    Senator Susan Collins of Maine, the senior Republican on the committee, said that despite a growing caseload, “in the past five years, Social Security has closed 64 of approximately 1,245 field offices — the largest field office reduction in its history — and shuttered 533 temporary mobile offices.”
          Members of Congress get very upset by field office closures -- and they are a big deal -- but the bigger problem is inadequate staffing at the remaining field offices, teleservice centers, payment centers, hearing offices and the Appeals Council. That affects everyone who interacts with Social Security, not just those who live in areas where a field office has closed and everyone eventually interacts with Social Security.
         The Aging Committee is holding a hearing this afternoon at 2:15 on this issue. Here's the witness list:
    • Tammy DeLong, Aroostook Area Agency on Aging
    • Nancy A. Berryhill, Deputy Commissioner for Operations, Social Security Administration
    • Scott Hale, President, National Council of Social Security Management Associations
    • Brenda Holt, Commissioner, Gadsden County

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  • Jun 17, 2014

    Hearing On SSAB Nominees

         The Senate Finance Committee is holding a hearing tomorrow on the following nominations to the Social Security Advisory Board:

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  • Jun 12, 2014

    Hearing On Threat To Face To Face Service

         The Senate Special Committee on Aging has scheduled a hearing for June 18 on the threat to reduce or eliminate face to face service at Social Security.

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  • Jun 10, 2014

    Unthinkable Interference With ALJ Independence

         From the Associated Press:
    Amid complaints about lengthy waits for Social Security disability benefits, congressional investigators say nearly 200 administrative judges have been rubber-stamping claims, approving billions of dollars in lifetime payments from the cash-strapped program. ...
    House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., was incredulous that so many judges would rule that initial rejections were so often wrong.
    "Are the people below you always wrong?" Issa asked Judge Charles Bridges of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
    "I would say they are not legally trained," replied Bridges, who approved 95 percent of the cases he decided.
    When pressed further about his approval rate, Bridges said: "I don't pay attention to those figures. All I do is concentrate on each case, one at a time."
    Issa: "You don't notice that you're essentially saying 'approved, approved, approved,' almost all the time?"
    Bridges: "I don't want to be influenced by that."
    The committee's report found that 191 judges approved more than 85 percent of the cases they decided from 2005 to 2013. All told, those judges approved $153 billion in lifetime benefits, the report said.
         At some point in the future, I can't say when, Democrats will control the House of Representatives.  Should they hold hearings then and browbeat ALJs with low reversal rates?

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  • Conflicting Views On ALJs

         From the Associated Press:
    Four Social Security judges are headed to Capitol Hill to face accusations they rubber-stamped claims for disability benefits, approving billions of dollars in payments from the cash-strapped program.
    Each of the judges approved more than 90 percent of the cases they heard from 2005 to 2013, according to a new report by the Republican staff of the House Oversight Committee. The report says the high approval rates indicate the judges didn't follow proper procedures or conduct meaningful hearings. ...
    A report by the committee's Democratic staff said the judges at Tuesday's hearing don't reflect the vast majority of administrative law judges. The Democratic report says oversight and training for the agency's 1,400 judges has improved over the past decade.
    Both reports note that, overall, judges are approving claims at the lowest rate in years. In 2013, judges approved 56 percent of the cases they decided, down from 72 percent in 2005. ...

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  • Jun 9, 2014

    This Congressional Hearing Would Have Been Unthinkable Five Years Ago

         Here is the witness list for tomorrow's hearing before the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform, with the reversal rate for the Administrative Law Judges in parentheses:
    • Tom Coburn, M.D. Ranking Minority Member, Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs United States Senate 
    • Charles Bridges Administrative Law Judge, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (80% reversal rate)
    • James A. Burke Administrative Law Judge, Albuquerque, New Mexico (87% reversal rate)
    • Gerald I. Krafsur Administrative Law Judge, Kingsport, Tennessee (96% reversal rate)
    • Harry C. Taylor II Administrative Law Judge, Charleston, West Virginia (83% reversal rate)
         Commissioner Colvin is the only scheduled witness at the hearing on Wednesday.

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  • Jun 8, 2014

    House Committee Schedules Hearing

         The House Committee on Oversight & Government Operations has scheduled hearings for June 10 and 11 at 9:30 on Social Security Administration Oversight: Examining the Integrity of the Disability Determination Appeals Process.

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  • May 21, 2014

    "The Attacks On Disability Insurance Will Accelerate"

         From Greg Sergeant, writing for the Washington Post:
    ... Dem Senator Sherrod Brown, a member of the Finance Committee, tells me that GOP Senators have requested hearings into Social Security Disability Insurance this summer. Dems expect Republicans to attack the program as wasteful and fraudulent, in part because conservative media have already done so, and in part because at least one GOP proposal in recent days took aim at the program.
    Brown says Dems should seize this occasion to get behind a proposal that would lift or change the payroll tax cap, meaning higher earners would pay more, while adopting a new measure for inflation that would increase benefits for all seniors. ...
    Brown said he expects Republicans to renew attacks on disability insurance (as opposed to the retirement security portion) to divide supporters of Social Security and renew the push for structural changes to the program, and said Dems could use that to draw an effective contrast. SSDI’s trust fund is set to be depleted soon, but that could be solved by a reallocation fix that’s been done before, rather than a deep benefits cut, which Republicans may press for.
    “They want to separate ‘good’ Social Security (retirement security) from ‘bad’ Social Security (disability insurance), to win support for structural reform,” said Brown, who is holding a Senate Finance sub-committee hearing tomorrow on the overall program. “The attacks on disability insurance will accelerate. This is how they will try to back-door the dismantling of social insurance. But the public is with us on social insurance.” ...

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  • Apr 10, 2014

    House Oversight Committee Hearing

         The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing yesterday on Social Security's continuing disability reviews. Here are links to the written statements:
          LaCanfora, O'Carroll  and Nottingham all talked about the limitations on continuing disability reviews caused by inadquate administrative funding. Bertoni, as is normal for witnesses from the GAO, said nothing of consequence other that the agency was doing a bad job and ought to be doing better without saying what exactly they should be doing different given budget restraints. I think that if GAO had its way agencies would spend 100% of their funding making sure that they don't misspend any money. I don't know what Lockhart was talking about. Her written testimony seemed to have nothing to do with Social Security.

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  • Mar 6, 2014

    Senate Committee Schedules Hearing

         The Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, Subcommittee on Economic Policy has scheduled a hearing for Wednesday, March 12 at 2:30 on “The State of U.S. Retirement Security. Can the Middle Class Afford to Retire?” Among other things, the hearing will deal with the question of whether Social Security should be "strengthened."

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  • Feb 26, 2014

    Social Security Subcommittee Hearing Today

         The Social Security Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee will hold a hearing today at 10:00 EST on "Preventing Disability Scams." Social Security's Acting Commissioner, Carolyn Colvin, will testify. The Subcommittee will also hear from J. Matthew Royal who is Vice President and Chief Auditor for the Unum Group (a large insurance company which writes most private long term disability insurance in the United States), William B. Zielinski who is Social Security's Deputy Commissioner of Systems and Chief Information Officer and Alan R. Shark who is a Fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration.

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  • Feb 19, 2014

    House Social Security Subcommittee Schedules Hearing

         The House Social Security Subcommittee has scheduled a hearing for 10:00 on February 26 on:
    [T]he Acting Commissioner’s plan and legislative recommendations for preventing conspiracy fraud.  The Subcommittee will also hear the recommendations of public and private sector experts to stop disability fraud schemes before benefits are awarded and to deter criminals from attempting to cheat the system.
         Disability fraud schemes are actually almost non-existent at Social Security and not that hard to identify when they do occur but that won't stop Republicans from scheduling these hearings. You say, nonsense, I've been reading about all these fraud conspiracies at Social Security. Really? How closely did you read those stories? There have been three recent "schemes" alleged. One was in Puerto Rico. It's being prosecuted. As described by Social Security, that scheme was unsophisticated and easily identified. If the charges are true, those involved were fools, which is not surprising since most criminals are fools. A second, similar scheme is alleged in New York City but the local U.S. Attorney declined to prosecute, a fact which should cause any reasonable person to wonder just how strong the evidence is. In the third case, there have been lurid allegations of bribery and other wrongdoing in the Kentucky-West Virginia border area but no one has been charged. These is reason for concern about those allegations since the people making the allegations are suing to try to recover money. They have a financial motivation. The Department of Justice has refused to get involved in that civil lawsuit, suggesting that the charges will be difficult to prove even by a preponderance of the evidence standard, not to mention the beyond a reasonable doubt standard that applies to criminal cases.
         By the way, it should now be obvious why the Acting Commissioner wanted to rush out the proposed "submit all the evidence" regulations.

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