Nov 26, 2021

Nov 24, 2021

95% Of Social Security Employees Now In Compliance With Vaccination Requirements

      The White House has posted numbers showing the percentage of employees at major agencies who are vaccinated or in compliance with Covid-19 vaccination requirements. At Social Security, 87.7% of agency employees have had at least one vaccination and 95.0% are in compliance with federal requirements. For those not in compliance, here's what's ahead according to the White House:

... For those employees who are not yet in compliance, agencies are beginning a period of education and counseling, followed by additional enforcement steps, consistent with guidance from the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force and the Office of Personnel Management. At any point, if an employee gets their first shot or submits an exception request, agencies will pause further enforcement to give the employee a reasonable amount of time to become fully vaccinated or to process the exception request. ...

Reopening Applauded

      Representative Adriano Espaillat is a Democratic member of Congress from New York City. He's a senior Democratic Whip. Here's an excerpt from a letter he's recently written to the Acting Commissioner of Social Security applauding the announcement that field offices will soon start reopening:

As a result of the nationwide shutdown and office closures, my constituents have been met with numerous challenges accessing vital resources such as retirement insurance, disability insurance and the social safety net, which they rely on. The digital divide, long wait times over the phone, massive backlogs, and the lack of in-person service has led to a 15 percent decrease of SSI applications over the past year, which is deeply concerning considering that many residents rely on these services for their livelihoods and survival.

Assuring that our seniors are given the resources and care they deserve is a top priority, and it is essential that as we continue to build back from this devastating pandemic, that our seniors, persons with disabilities, and communities of color are not left behind.


Nov 23, 2021

Strong Federal Employee Compliance With Vaccine Mandate

      From a television station in Kansas City:

Monday is the deadline for millions of federal workers to provide proof that they’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19. ...

Nationwide, a U.S. official said over 90% of federal workers received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by Monday’s deadline. ...

In the Kansas City area, the American Federation of Government Employees said compliance with the mandate is strong, and those who have concerns have had plenty of time to file paperwork seeking exemptions.

“As you’ve seen with police unions and firefighters and such, there’s a lot of talk before the mandate comes down, and then at the end, most people relent and get the shot and move on,” said Ben King, a Social Security Administration employee and representative of AFGE Local 1336. 

“It’s the same with the federal workforce. I have not heard from any friends in other departments or agencies that have mass levels of folks who have refused to get the vaccine.” ...

Nov 22, 2021

Overpayments Continue To Draw Attention

      From a column written by Laurence Kotlikoff: 

... Commissioner Kijakazi, I'm asking you to read the attendant letter sent me by Kristin, a 69 year-old New York widow, who, in September, entirely out of the blue, received a bill from Social Security demanding she repay $118,272 in benefits due to alleged overpayment of reduced excess widow's benefits — benefits she never requested and never received, as her bank statements, which record all Social Security wire receipts, clearly show. ...

Nov 21, 2021

Disability And Food Insecurity

      From The Relationship Between Dusability Insurance Receipt And Food Insecurity by Barbara A. Butrica, Stipica Mudrazija, and Jonathan Schwabish, a paper published by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College:
  • … Food insecurity rates are higher in counties with high rates of disability and DI  [Disability Insurance] receipt than in those with lower rates of disability and DI receipt. The paper reports that counties with high rates of disability and DI receipt have lower average food costs, but more limited access to food sources than counties with lower rates of disability and DI receipt.
  • The paper also finds that counties with high rates of disability and DI receipts have fewer food establishments. Furthermore, counties with high rates of disability and DI receipt also have a larger supply of unhealthy food options. …

Nov 20, 2021

Social Security Employee Caught After Stealing Over $100,000 In SSI Benefits

      From, whatever that is:

A 34-year-old Syracuse man and former federal employee admitted Thursday to stealing more than $100,000 in Supplemental Security Income benefits, according to federal prosecutors.

Sean Okrzesik pleaded guilty to theft of government property and aggravated identity theft, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of New York.

While Okrzesik was employed by the Syracuse office of the Social Security Administration, he opened bank accounts using the names and social security numbers of people who receive SSI benefits, according to federal prosecutors. ...

Okrzesik used the money to pay for video gaming equipment, a custom suit, jewelry, airline tickets to the Caribbean and online gambling, according to prosecutors.

In all, Okrzesik took $103,798.77 in benefits, prosecutors said.

He faces up to ten years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000 and a term of up to 3 years of supervised release for the two counts of theft of government property, according to federal prosecutors. ...

Nov 19, 2021

A Sad Story That Happens All The Time

The two sisters

    From the Albany Times Union:

A Greene County woman, who is the estranged sister of Grammy Award-winning singer Mariah Carey, is seeking help in getting her Social Security benefits restored after they were cut to $30 a month in an apparent error by the Social Security Administration.

Alison Carey, 60, says she has struggled with homelessness and the impacts of a brain injury she received from a home-invasion robbery.

She was getting $794 a month in Supplemental Security Income (SSI) until she received a letter dated July 20 saying her benefits were being cut because of an overpayment.

The letter from the Social Security Administration (SSA) claims Carey was incorrectly paid $3,176 from April through July when she was in a "medical facility" and should have only been receiving $30 a month. Carey's SSI was then reduced to $30 a month to pay back the SSA.  …

     This is SOP. Declare the overpayment but don’t explain it. Seize the entire monthly check leaving the claimant destitute. Don’t worry about whose fault it was. Don’t even try too hard to make sure there really was an overpayment. Just inflict maximum punishment on the claimant. Make them figure out how to cope. And, of course, make it incredibly hard to contact the agency to try to find out what you can do. 

    And estrangement from family? That's kinda common for those suffering from brain damage and other forms of mental illness.

      Never fear, though. The problem is now solved for Ms. Carey. All it took was publicity. How do we get publicity for every claimant mistreated by Social Security?

Nov 18, 2021

Reopening Plans -- And Why Reopening Matters

      From Reuters:

The Social Security Administration has announced plans to begin reopening its vast national network of field offices to the public in January following a 20-month COVID-19 shutdown. The reopening will give the agency a needed opportunity to improve public service, but also presents some thorny challenges. ...

Processing of Social Security retirement benefits and Medicare claims has not been impaired during the office shutdown, agency records show. But there was a sharp drop in 2020 in benefit awards for SSI (down 18%) and disability insurance (down 10%).

“The most serious problems are related to the drop in awards for the most vulnerable people,” said David Weaver, a former associate commissioner in Social Security’s Office of Research, Demonstration and Employment Support. “It’s people who might have less ability to get information off the internet, or easy access to information on how to contact the agency. And people seeking SSI and disability may have serious mental impairments or be homeless.”

Had benefit awards continued at pre-pandemic levels for SSI and SSDI, 5.5 million more people would be receiving benefits for these two programs, according to Weaver’s calculation. ( ...

“We are concerned that the plan is vague and full of gaps,” said Rich Couture, president of the AFGE council representing hearings and appeals office personnel and spokesman for a committee made up of six AFGE bargaining councils. “It doesn’t specify what the plan will be for occupancy rates, or how we’ll make sure that waiting rooms don’t get overwhelmed.” ...

Social Security notes that it is following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and government-wide guidelines for occupancy and physical distancing. “Our offices will use signage, seating arrangements, floor markings and Plexiglass barriers to assist with distancing and occupancy requirements,” Hinkle said. The agency also is monitoring the Nov. 22 deadline for all federal workers to be vaccinated, and is collecting vaccination information from workers. ...