May 20, 2022

Trying To Cram Telephone/Video Hearings Down The Throats Of Claimants?

     Yesterday I received word through the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR) that the number of hearings Social Security has scheduled for July and August is down more than 30%. We are told that they will try to schedule more hearings if we'll agree to hearings being held without receiving the notice period required by the agency's regulations and agree that the hearings be held either by telephone or video. 

    I've got three questions:

  • Why has the agency scheduled so many fewer hearings this summer? It's not like they're run out of cases to schedule.
  • If the problem were merely scheduling, why is it necessary to put pressure on claimants to accept telephone and video hearings? If you're doing in person hearings, you're doing in person hearings.
  • Will there be a continuing effort to cram telephone and video hearings down the throats of destitute claimants by scheduling those hearings far more quickly?

May 19, 2022

Backlogs Go Up When Overtime Goes Down, As It Must When SSA Is Underfunded

     From the written testimony of Grace Kim, Deputy Commissioner, Operations, to the House Social Security Subcommittee:

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PC = Payment Center, where Title II disability benefits for older claimants are computed

OCO = Office of Central Operations, where Title II disability benefits for younger claimants are computed

EOY = End Of Year


A Report On Tuesday's Hearing

  There's a report on the CNBC website on Tuesday's House Social Security Subcommittee hearing. I don't see anything indicating that this appears anywhere other than online. There's no video that I see.

    Social Security's problems are receiving only limited media attention.

May 18, 2022

NCSSMA Says Field Office Employees Need To Be In The Office -- And What's This About SSA Being Unable To Accept E-Signatures?

     From the written testimony of Peggy Murphy for the National Council of Social Security Management Associations (NCSSMA) to the House Social Security Subcommittee:

... Field offices can be more responsive to the public only when employees are onsite. The current telework program in field offices makes it difficult to adjust to surges in office visitors or telephone calls while balancing appointments, scheduled and unscheduled employee leave, and back-end work. This is further complicated by having an appreciable number of field office employees continuing to work from home full-time due to personal circumstances. SSA has the technology and flexibility to consider transferring field office employees, who are unable to work in the office, to other components that can better accommodate their telework needs and limit the impact on front-line public service. We need employees in field offices who are able to work onsite and assist those who seek our help in person and to handle the multitude of workloads that are not portable. As an agency we need to be able to maintain our flexibility in the field offices so we can respond to surges from the public.

    By the way, Murphy's written testimony says that Social Security ought to accept electronic signatures. Per a White House order, they must! Social Security is mentioned by name in that order. Grace Kim, Social Security's  Deputy Commissioner for Operations, also testified that the agency couldn't yet accept electronic signatures. I don't understand this.


May 17, 2022

Testimony Of Grace Kim

     From the written testimony of Grace Kim, Deputy Commissioner Operations to the House Social Security Subcommittee:

... While we appreciate the increase over FY 2021, the FY 2022 appropriation of $13.3 billion is not sufficient. This budget limits our capacity to provide service to the millions of people who are applying for SSN cards; retirement, survivors, and disability benefits; and Supplemental Security Income benefits for people who are aged, blind, and disabled. Our funding has remained relatively flat for the previous four years, and appropriations for base administration have failed to cover our fixed costs over the past decade. For instance, the $411 million increase in FY 2022 does not fully pay for cost increases of approximately $550 million to cover employee pay raises, step increases, and Federal Employees Retirement System contributions. Of the $411 million increase we received, over 30 percent covered increased funding for our program integrity workloads, requiring us to prioritize stewardship over other essential workloads. We are also absorbing costs related to expanding in-person services, such as COVID-19 testing, facilities cleaning, more guards, and information technology (IT).

To fund these expenses and our fixed costs, we are delaying critically needed hires, reducing much needed overtime, and postponing select IT improvements. These delays in hiring and technology modernization, coupled with reduced overtime, are resulting in growing backlogs, which have reached unacceptable levels, and a deterioration in service. Less staff and delayed technological upgrades also mean we are not fully prepared to handle potential surges of people returning to our offices for in-person service.

Our employees are one of our greatest assets to help us address these unprecedented demands. We are facing our lowest staffing level in 25 years. This is driven by insufficient funding over multiple years to hire the level of staff needed, and higher than average attrition rates across the agency. Our funding level will constrain our ability to add the necessary staff to reduce the backlogs that have built up during the pandemic. It will also affect employee morale, which is already at a very low level, as demonstrated by the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey and recent Pulse Surveys.

Because of the FY 2022 funding level, we were forced to implement a temporary hiring freeze, including all external Federal hires and DDS hires. In our front-line components such as Field Offices, Teleservice Centers, and Processing Centers, attrition is nearly 7 percent so far this fiscal year, or 2,900 losses. The highest rate is in our Teleservice Centers at over 12 percent to date. At this pace, we believe we will lose over 4,500 front-line operations employees this year, which is 1,000 more losses than we experienced before the pandemic. This would equate to an annualized attrition rate of 11 percent, or about 4 percentage points higher than our historical average.

In our State DDSs, where medical decisions are adjudicated, attrition is also unprecedented, at over 25 percent. These complex jobs require about two years of training. The loss of experienced examiners significantly affects the ability to train new employees and complete program integrity workloads, such as continuing disability reviews, which are generally performed by more experienced examiners due to their complexity. We are working with the States to understand the underlying reasons. 

We are also severely limiting our use of overtime, which reduces our ability to compensate for staff losses. Reduced overtime in our Processing Centers is contributing to our current 4.5 million pending actions, which are up from 3.2 million at the end of 2018. We expect pending cases to surpass our 2016 record high of 4.6 million by the end of the fiscal year.

Additionally, the lack of overtime opportunities and the increasing workloads have resulted in low morale, with our employees reporting they feel overworked, overwhelmed, and exhausted.

We are at a crossroads. The cumulative impact will increase our customers’ wait times for in-person and phone service, increase claims processing times, and lead to increases in pending workloads. As we dig out from the effects of the pandemic, we must have sustained funding for the public to have continued confidence not just in our agency, but in government. We know people need our help, and Congress recognizes the importance of our local offices to communities. None of us think it is okay for applicants to wait six months for a decision on their disability application, but that is the level of service Congress and the public should expect absent sufficient resources. It will take a multi-year effort and adequate funding to restore pre-pandemic initial claim wait times. We hope we can work with you to resolve these funding challenges and restore the level of service the public requires. ...

    I have no reason to believe it's coming but Social Security needs a special appropriation -- now!


Biggs Nomination

     The President has nominated Andrew Biggs to become a member of the Social Security Advisory Board.

    During the George W. Bush Administration, Biggs was Deputy Commissioner of Social Security -- only in an acting capacity if I remember correctly. Biggs openly plotted partial privatization of Social Security and campaigned for it with George W. Bush while serving as Deputy Commissioner. That was beyond the pale in my opinion. Completely inappropriate. As I recall saying at the time, Biggs was put in a position where he was supposed to be making the trains run on time but what he actually wanted to do was to blow up the locomotives and tear up the tracks.

    As you may recall, George W. Bush's campaign to partially privatize Social Security went nowhere because it was a disaster politically. I have no idea why Republicans would want a man who is partially responsible for that fiasco in a position of honor.

    Why is President Biden nominating Biggs? I don't know but there must be some deal. He certainly wouldn't be nominated by this White House based on his merits. I have no idea what the White House is getting in return.

May 16, 2022

DDS Backlogs Draw Press Attention

     From the Chattanooga Times Free Press:

A longstanding backlog in the processing of disability benefits applications from people who are too sick to work has surpassed 1.1 million people nationally — a 27% increase from pre-pandemic levels two years ago and a level not seen in more than a decade.

In Tennessee, the number of people waiting to see if their disability benefits have been approved has increased by 40% ...

Attorneys in Tennessee say the long wait has imposed "significant hardships" on many of their clients, including losing homes, jobs and access to health care benefits received through employers. In extreme instances, attorneys described clients who have died — from illness and suicide — while waiting. ...

[Peter] Harris, who also serves as general counsel for the federal employee union that represents Social Security employees across the country, said the Social Security Administration and state disability determination departments have compounded the difficulties faced during the pandemic.

"Management has made things 20 times worse, and applicants have been left out in the cold," he said. "Employees [who process disability applications] are pushed in this environment to hurry things up." ...


Two New Rulings Related To Eric Conn Cases -- Reasonable Suspicion Is Enough Proof

     Social Security will publish two new Rulings in the Federal Register tomorrow. You can read them today. Here are a few excerpts:

  • Social Security Ruling 22-1p: Fraud and Similar Fault Redeterminations Under Sections 205(u) and 1631(e)(7) of the Social Security Act -- "... We may find there is reason to believe fraud or similar fault was involved in a claim for benefits or payments, or in providing evidence, based on the actions of any individual whose actions affect an application for benefits or payments, or the evidence provided in support of it, even when such an individual has no direct relationship to the affected claimant, beneficiary, or recipient or acts without the affected claimant’s, beneficiary’s or recipient’s knowledge or participation. These individuals may include, but are not limited to, claimants, beneficiaries, auxiliaries, recipients, spouses, representatives, medical sources, translators, interpreters, and representative payees. For example, we may have reason to believe a medical source or a representative provided false information to support a claim without the knowledge or participation of the beneficiary or the recipient. ..."
  • Social Security Ruling 22-2p: Evaluation of Claims Involving the Issue of Similar Fault in the Providing of Evidence -- "... We must disregard evidence under sections 205(u)(1)(B) and 1631(e)(7)(A)(ii) of the Act due to similar fault if there is reason to believe, meaning reasonable grounds to suspect, that the person knew the evidence provided was false or incomplete or that the information that was material to the determination was knowingly concealed. A finding of similar fault requires more than mere suspicion, speculation, or a hunch, but it does not require a preponderance of evidence. ..."

Signs Already Made Up To Tell You How Long You'll Have To Wait

     From a television station in Austin:

The mix of long outside lines and 95-degree heat is becoming a problem for some elderly and disabled customers at the Social Security Administration office in Georgetown.

“This is ridiculous,” said Melanie Barrier.

Barrier is one of the many people who lined up Thursday at 3010 Williams Drive. ...

The Georgetown woman contacted CBS Austin about the problem and met us at the social security office. On Friday, signs said the estimated wait time was 150 minutes or two and a half hours. ...


May 15, 2022

Top Baby Names By State

 

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