May 24, 2018

Solving Social Security Problems The Old Fashioned Way -- Getting News Media Attention

     From a television station in Arizona which hides its call letters:
The whole situation didn't seem plausible. A 7-year old's financial life entangled with a complete stranger's.
She is now 14 years old. The Peoria girl's Social Security number was used fraudulently and repeatedly since she was a second grader and as recently as last year. She had businesses and bank accounts connected to her. Debt collectors were calling her house.
But, the Social Security Administration would not issue the girl a new number. Not after begging from her mom, not with detectives and attorneys pleading her case, not even after Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake got involved, sending letters to SSA on the child's behalf.  For 7 years, denial after denial. Then her story aired on ABC15.
"48 hours later, I get a phone call from Social Security and they offered us a new number," said the girl's mother, Jill Carlon. ...
It sounds easy now, but Carlon will tell you it has been anything but. Over the past 7 years, Carlon said Social Security recommended she press charges against the fraudster, local charity founder Jacqueline Harris, if she wanted to obtain a new number for her daughter. Harris was then convicted of one felony count of possession of a forgery device. Then Carlon said the goal post moved. If she wanted a new number, Social Security said she would have to change her daughter's name. She did that too. But it still wasn't enough to get a new number. ...

May 23, 2018

Not Since February 9, 2009

     The Social Security attorney fee cap was raised on February 9, 2009 to $6,000 and hasn't budged since. If it had been indexed for inflation, it would now be over $7,000. Why hasn't it been raised? I think the fact that Republicans have controlled the House of Representatives since 2011 might have something to do with it. Republicans are all against government regulation except when it comes to anyone they perceive to not be Republican.
     Meanwhile, we hear more and more complaints from the Social Security Administration about the quality of representation that claimants receive. I expect that many complaints are justified. This problem might have something to do with the erosion of Social Security attorney fees in the face of rapidly burgeoning case files. You get what you pay for, or perhaps in this case, what you allow other people to pay for.
     By the way, if your opinion is that we ought to do away with any government involvement in attorney fees, that's fine with me as long as you allow me a lien on my clients' back benefits, the same type of lien that's widely used throughout the economy. Try taking your car in to the dealership for repairs and then getting it back without paying the repair bill. You can't because the dealership has a mechanic's lien on the car. That's normal. Why should attorneys be treated worse than car dealerships?

May 22, 2018

Annual Accounting Relief

     From a press release:
Yesterday, the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma announced its decision to grant the Social Security Administration (SSA) partial relief from the 1984 Jordan v. Schweiker decision requiring all representative payees to submit an annual accounting form. This decision allows the SSA to move forward implementing a key provision of the Strengthening Protections for Social Security Beneficiaries Act.
Commenting on this decision, Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX), the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee, said:
“Last month, President Trump signed into law Ranking Member Larson’s and my bill that improves Social Security’s representative payee program in order to better protect beneficiaries who are unable to manage their own benefits.  The District Court’s decision yesterday frees Social Security to implement our commonsense bill that would relieve families from burdensome reporting requirements.  I thank Social Security and the Department of Justice for moving quickly to request this relief.” 
Subcommittee Ranking Member John Larson (D-CT) added:
“I am pleased that the Court has affirmed the intent of our bipartisan legislation, which strengthened Social Security’s Representative Payee program for vulnerable beneficiaries who are unable to manage their own funds. The ruling allows SSA to fully implement the new law, which lifted a burden on families caring for their children and refocused SSA’s resources on those beneficiaries most at risk for exploitation, including by supporting protection & advocacy groups like Disability Rights Connecticut that exist in every state. I’d like to thank Chairman Johnson for his tireless efforts on behalf of the country’s vulnerable beneficiaries.”

May 21, 2018

Supreme Court To Hear Social Security Attorney Fee Case

     The Supreme Court has issued a writ of certiorari (meaning they'll hear) Culbertson v. Berryhill on the issue of:
Whether fees subject to 42 U.S.C. § 406(b)’s 25-percent cap related to the representation of individuals claiming Social Security benefits include, as the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the 6th, 9th, and 10th Circuits hold, only fees for representation in court or, as the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the 4th, 5th, and 11th Circuits hold, also fees for representation before the agency.
     This will be coming up in the Supreme Court's next term, which begins in October.

OIG Report On Disability Claimants Being Overpaid After They Return To Work

     From a recent report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG):
Using data extracted from the eWork system, we identified 4,504 beneficiaries from 1 segment of our data who completed a TWP [Trial Work Period] in Calendar Year 2012 and whose re-entitlement period ended in 2015.6 From this population, we selected a random sample on which to conduct detailed analysis. ...
Of the 200 sampled beneficiaries, SSA determined 97 had earnings that exceeded SGA after the TWP. Of the 97, SSA incorrectly paid 77. The Agency also incorrectly paid one beneficiary because it erroneously determined earnings had not exceeded SGA. In all, SSA incorrectly paid these 78 beneficiaries almost $1.3 million. Of the overpaid amount, SSA incorrectly paid
  • almost $446,000 because of its own processing delays and errors and
  • over $823,000 because of beneficiaries’ reporting failures. ...
We estimate SSA overpaid more than $571 million to over 35,000 beneficiaries who completed a TWP in 2012. Of the $571 million, SSA incorrectly paid almost $201 million because it failed to process work CDRs correctly or within its processing time goal and almost $371 million because beneficiaries failed to report their earnings, as required ...
     The OIG report assumes that if a claimant reported to Social Security that they had returned to work that the agency would have kept a record of that report. They're certainly supposed to but anyone who has experience in this field knows that many claimants insist that they did tell Social Security even though Social Security says that there's nothing in their records recording that. It's impossible to know for sure in each individual case but there are so many reports like this that no one at Social Security should feel confident about their process of recording reports of return to work. For a sign of the agency's fallibility, just look at how frequently they failed to act promptly even when they did record the report of return to work!
     I doubt that there's a foolproof solution to this problem. However, simplification of Social Security's work incentives would help. What's happened over the decades is that some member of Congress gets the bright idea that Social Security could reduce the number of people drawing disability benefits if they just gave them an incentive to return to work. Staffers try to tell the member of Congress gently that work incentives already exist but the member of Congress doesn't bother to study what already exist. They just insist that the staffers come up with a plan for new work incentives in the naive belief that one more work incentive will do the trick. That's how we end up with Expedited Reinstatement on top of the Extended Period of Eligibility on top of the Trial Work Period, supplemented by the concept of Impairment Related Work Expenses, not to mention Subsidized Employment, Unsuccessful Work Attempts, the separate blind standard for determining Substantial Gainful Activity and the near impossibility of determining whether self-employment is Substantial Gainful Activity! What did I leave out? Oh yes, there's some separate SSI work incentives. How many claimant understand any of this? For that matter, how many Social Security employees really understand this?

May 20, 2018

Men Who Work Harder Die Younger

     From the British Journal of Sports Medicine (emphasis added):
Recent evidence suggests the existence of a physical activity paradox, with beneficial health outcomes associated with leisure time physical activity, but detrimental health outcomes for those engaging in high level occupational physical activity. This is the first quantitative systematic review of evidence regarding the association between occupational physical activity and all-cause mortality. ...
Data from 17 studies (with 193 696 participants) were used in a meta-analysis, showing that men with high level occupational physical activity had an 18% increased risk of early mortality compared with those engaging in low level occupational physical activity (HR 1.18, 95% CI 1.05 to 1.34). No such association was observed among women, for whom instead a tendency for an inverse association was found (HR 0.90, 95% CI 0.80 to 1.01 ...

May 19, 2018

A Social Security Quiz

     CNBC has a Social Security quiz that it says half of all Americans can't pass. However, the CNBC quiz has some problems. One of their own answers is clearly wrong (the last one) and one of the other questions (the next to last one) is, in my opinion, misleading or, at the least, so out of date that they shouldn't be asking it. Come on, FERS has covered all new federal employees since 1986, for goodness sakes! Also, they describe their quiz as having five questions but there are actually ten. Other than that, great job, guys.

May 18, 2018

SSNs Criticized

     From Nextgov:
Government and industry rely on Social Security numbers as a fail-safe way to ensure people are who they claim to be, but massive data breaches have led cybersecurity experts to argue the nine-digit identifier is past its prime. ...
With so many numbers floating in the online wilderness, cyber advocates on Thursday told a House panel agencies and companies could no longer trust them as a certain means to verify people’s identities.
“Social Security numbers are so deeply compromised and so widely available to the public...that they can no longer be used as an authenticator,” said Paul Rosenzweig, a cybersecurity expert at the R Street Institute, before the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security. While he and other witnesses largely agreed the number can still work as a unique government ID, the days of using it to prove someone is who they say are long over. ...
Acting Social Security Administration Commissioner Nancy Berry said the agency is open to exploring new authentication methods, but noted advanced solutions often come with a high price tag. Grobman pushed back hard against this notion, highlighting the “staggering” price of doing nothing outweighs the cost of building a new system. ...
Lawmakers and witnesses debated the pros and cons of several alternative authenticators—like ID-embedded cards, biometric data and blockchain tech—but agreed on the need for change as recent breaches rendered Social Security numbers essentially public information.
“It’s clear [Social Security numbers] aren’t a secret anymore, and it’s time to stop pretending they are,” said Chairman Sam Johnson, R-Texas.
     The thing is that just as soon as Social Security goes to a different unique identifier, government and industry will start to use that new unique identifier and it, too, will quickly become just as compromised as the Social Security number.
     If the U.S. does want to go to some other unique identifier, it could do a lot worse than to copy India's Aadhar cards. Yes, poverty stricken India is probably the world's leader in this department. However, the idea of a government-issued biometrically-based identification system in the U.S. seems awfully unlikely for many reasons. The black helicopter people would go nuts or, perhaps I should say, nuttier than the already are.

Peak Royal Wedding Fever

     If you thought there wasn't even a tenuous connection between the royal wedding and Social Security, you were wrong.