Nov 20, 2017

Washington Post On Social Security's Hearing Backlog

     The Washington Post has another in its series on Social Security disability. The stigmatization is still there -- focusing on an uneducated claimant, a photo of an extremely messy home, a mention of drug abuse -- but the primary focus is on the suffering that Social Security's hearing backlog causes for disabled people and the cause of that backlog, inadequate administrative funding. Still, articles such as this suggest that the problems caused by Social Security's hearing backlog aren't near by. They're out there. They only affect stupid people living in rural areas who are drug addicts. I don't have to worry about this because it doesn't happen to people like me. Let me suggest to the Post's writers that they don't have to travel far to find disabled people to write about. I expect that they can find them within a couple of miles of their offices. They can easily find people with the same problems who have college educations. There are plenty of people their readers can identify with whose lives have been devastated by Social Security's hearing backlog. It can even happen to reporters.
     By the way, I do not tell clients that they should avoid work while awaiting a hearing. I do tell them that regular work, even part time work, can affect their case. Theoretically, if it's below a certain earnings level, it's not supposed to but in the real world it can affect perceptions. Anyway, most claimants who return to work, even part time work, don't last long. Also, by the way, I don't require that male clients wear a dress shirt to their hearing, much less to meet with me.

Nov 19, 2017

Being Poor Is Bad For Your Health -- Or Maybe Being In Poor Health Makes You Poor

     From The Guardian:
... [O]ver a 10-year period, Americans aged 54 to 64 who were in the lowest wealth bracket (with financial holdings of $39,000 or less) faced a 48 percent risk for developing a disability and 17 percent risk for dying prematurely, the investigators found.   
By comparison, their peers in the highest bracket (with holdings equaling $560,000 or more) had a 15 percent disability risk and 5 percent premature death risk. 
The fact that people in England are guaranteed cradle-to-grave government-run health care coverage, while Americans are not, did not seem to have much effect. 
The study was published online October 23 in JAMA Internal Medicine.”We saw similar relationships in both the United States and England, which are two countries with very different health and social safety-net systems,” explained Dr. Lena Makaroun, the study’s lead author. ... 
Disability status was assessed on the basis of whether participants could, on their own, get dressed, bathe, eat, get in and out of bed, and use the bathroom. ...

Nov 18, 2017

If You Thought That Social Security's Workload Would Decrease After All The Baby Boomers Retired, You Were Wrong

     This is from a report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG). Online services will only get the agency so far. Social Security needs more funding so it can hire more warm bodies to get the work done.
Click on chart to view full size

Nov 17, 2017

Devote Estate Tax Revenues To Social Security Trust Funds?

     From an opinion piece written for The Hill by Nancy Altman, co-director of Strengthen Social Security and a member of the Social Security Advisory Board:
Of the many giveaways to the super-rich in the Republican tax bill, the elimination of the estate tax stands out. This tax, the government’s most progressive source of revenue, does not affect 99.8 percent of Americans. Rather, it is paid by Republicans’ billionaire donors. ...
If Republicans don’t want the revenue from that top 0.2 percent of wealthiest Americans to run the government, let’s dedicate it to Social Security and use it to expand those modest but vital benefits for everyone. ...
[T]he bulk of income gains captured by the wealthy either fall above Social Security’s maximum earnings contribution cap (currently $127,200), or are unearned income on which they do not pay Social Security contributions.
Since the earnings of high-income workers have increased much more rapidly than the average in the last several decades, Social Security now covers only about 82 percent of all wages. In 2016 alone, those at the top paid $80 billion less to Social Security, only because the cap has slipped from covering 90 percent of wages, as Congress intended, to 82 percent today. Those are billions of dollars that should have gone to Social Security but instead stayed in the pockets of the wealthiest among us. Unquestionably, the richest are not paying their fair share into Social Security. ...
Isn’t it more than fair that their heirs, who had nothing to do with creating the wealth, receive most of it, but not every single penny of it? Isn’t it more than fair that a small piece of all that wealth go to the rest of us, without whom that wealth would never have been amassed? ...

Nov 16, 2017

Social Security Will Be Affected By Republican Tax Bill

     The tax bill that Republicans hope to pass would potentially have effects upon Social Security. It would trigger budget rules that would demand significant cuts in Social Security and Medicare. Congress would still have to pass those cuts but they would have held a gun to their heads to force themselves to do so. However, the bill would end a tax loophole that has allowed many professionals to avoid the FICA tax that supports Social Security by using pass-through corporations.

Nov 15, 2017

"Backlogged To The Point Of Near-Absurdity"

     The Fort Worth Star-Telegram is reporting on the effects that Social Security's horrible backlogs are having on disabled people. Here are some excerpts:
...[T]he system is backlogged to the point of near-absurdity. Local applicants can wait up to two years for a hearing before a judge, with many cities facing longer waits. A hearing is scheduled after applicants have already been denied — as most typically initially are — a process in itself that can take up to eight months.
And so as the bureaucratic clock creeps toward a hearing, many applicants are faced, month after month, with slashed household income, dwindling or drained savings accounts and often no option left but to pile car payments, mortgage payments, the electricity bill and prescriptions and groceries on to credit cards....

Read more here:

Read more here:
A staffer in the Washington, D.C., office of Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas — who is a member of the House Ways and Means Committee where he serves as the chairman of the Social Security Subcommittee and sits on the Health Subcommittee referred calls to health adviser Darren Webb.
Webb, however, did not return an email message. ...
A Fort Worth woman who has had breast cancer, has undergone heart surgery and suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease that limits her lung functionality to 54 percent, filed her initial disability claim two years ago. She isn’t scheduled for her hearing until early 2018.
She said she is “appalled at the process” and was too scared to be quoted by name for this story because she feared jeopardizing her chances at winning her claim, or delaying the process further. She said she has “has always worked and paid my taxes,” but is now in “serious financial problems.” If not for her ex-husband helping her pay bills, she said she would have lost her house through this process. ...

Read more here:

Read more here:

Nov 14, 2017

Good Contracting Move?

     When a Social Security Administrative Law Judge holds a hearing, there's always someone helping him or her -- escorting the claimant and attorney into the hearing room, operating the recording equipment, taking notes, etc. I've heard this person referred to as a hearing recorder or monitor or reporter. Some years ago, the hearing recorder was a regular Social Security employee. Then the agency began using contract workers to do the job. The hearing recorders were paid a set amount per hearing -- as long as the claimant showed up for the hearing. When my client failed to show up for the hearing, I wasn't the only one who was disappointed! The contracting was done on an individual basis with each hearing recorder.
     We've now heard that Social Security has decided to contract with a firm which will hire and manage hearing recorders to provide this service generally. I don't know how widespread this is. It covers at least all the hearing offices in North Carolina. This will start at the beginning of 2018. 
     The contractor that has been hired has informed the current hearing recorders in North Carolina that they can continue the work but that they'll be paid 40% less. Almost all of the hearing recorders I've talked to have told me they're not interested in taking a 40% pay cut and working for the new contractor.
     Like a lot of jobs, the hearing recorder job may seem easy to perform and not that important -- until you get someone performing the job badly. I'm concerned that because the job will pay so much less that the new people hired will be unable to provide quality service. I know that at best there's going to be problems and frustration come January.