Sep 24, 2023

Yet Another Golden Oldie

     A post on this blog on June 9, 2020:

    The Social Security Advisory Board (SSAB) has issued a brief report recommending that the Social Security Administration "use evidence-based measures to evaluate access to agency services" which isn't the most exciting recommendation you'll find even in the context of government advisory board reports. There's another more complete report which adds detail. However, the brief report includes this chart which I think is far more interesting than the text in either report. (Click on the image to view full size.)

    What I get from this is that the dramatic increase in internet services provided by the Social Security Administration has had almost no effect upon the demand for services provided in person or over the telephone. 
     The idea that Social Security can wean the public off personal service so that in the future the public will just deal with the agency through its online services is bunk. There's no reason to expect that's ever going to work. By all means, provide online services but don't expect that online services will ever replace field offices and telephone service.

Sep 22, 2023

By Far The Most Read Post Ever On This Blog

     From this blog on May 22, 2022:

“Serious Concerns” About IG

      From the Washington Post:

… The acting commissioner [of Social Security] “has very serious concerns about the issues raised by The Washington Post about the inspector general’s oversight of this program,” Scott Frey, chief of staff to Kilolo Kijakazi, said in an interview. Kijakazi has scheduled a meeting with her senior staff on Monday “to discuss how to proceed,” Frey said. …

A spokesman for the Senate Finance Committee, which also has jurisdiction over Social Security, said the committee is “evaluating a number of steps” in response to the article. …

     An extreme reduction in productivity has been signaling for months that something is wrong at OIG.



    And, of course, that Inspector General is still on the job.

Sep 21, 2023

He Didn't See It Coming

     From this blog on July 9, 2021:

President Fires Saul And Black

      With no fanfare, the Office of Legal Counsel at the Department of Justice issued an opinion yesterday that the President may remove the Commissioner of Social Security from office notwithstanding the statutory provisions limiting removal from office. An opinion had been requested by the Deputy Counsel for the President.

     Update: Senator Grassley has tweeted that he's hearing that the President may oust Andrew Saul from his position as Commissioner. Senator McConnell has retweeted this saying "httI agree with @ChuckGrassley. This removal would be an unprecedented and dangerous politicization of the Social Security Administration."

     Further update: I've received several reports that there was a blast e-mail to Social Security employees at 4:30 today from an Acting Commissioner of Social Security indicating that Saul and Black are gone.

     And another update: The Washington Post reports that Saul still believes he’s Commissioner and plans to report for work on Monday — remotely from his home in New York City. Who’s going to break it to him?

Sep 20, 2023

How Field Offices Waste Their Time

     From a "Dear Colleague" letter from Dawn Bystry, Deputy Associate Commissioner, Office of Strategic and Digital Communications, Social Security Administration:

Recently, we notified you that we are no longer accepting faxed applications. We appreciate the feedback we received on the notification and want to provide clarifying information. ...

As you know, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted our services and the public’s ability to apply for benefits in person. In response, we implemented various temporary flexibilities – temporary changes to our policies and business processes. These flexibilities included accepting faxed applications as validly signed applications if they contained a legible, handwritten signature.  ...

With the end of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency as of May 11, 2023, we evaluated our temporary flexibilities and decided to discontinue accepting faxed applications. Since we have reopened our offices to walk-in traffic and expanded in-person services, we determined that continuing to accept signatures on faxed applications was no longer justified given the risk that bad actors could use faxed applications to commit fraud. However, you can still use a fax to help your clients. Although we will no longer accept faxed, signed applications as valid applications, a claimant can still submit a faxed application to establish a protective filing date. Upon receiving the faxed application, we will contact the claimant or a proper applicant, go over the information provided, and obtain a signature to validate the application. ...

    I've got a few questions:

  • What degree of problem has there ever been with faxed claims?
  • Why is a faxed claim more subject to fraud than a mailed claim or any other type of claim?
  • How does a fraudulent filed disability claim actually get approved? They don't just look at the form and put someone on benefits. (I know there's presumptive disability but that really wouldn't get you very far with a fraudulent scheme.) Disability claims have to proceed through disability determination. That usually involves phone calls with the claimant. Medical evidence is gathered. There is at least one internal level of review after a determination that someone is disabled. Don't you think there would be problems getting a phony claim through all this without anyone noticing that something looks fishy? I'm no expert on fraud but I'm pretty sure that there are easier ways to commit fraud than submitting a fraudulent disability claim by fax.
  • Does Ms. Bystry have any clue about the degree of stress that the field offices are under? Maybe she should work in one for a month or two.
  • Why does Ms. Bystry think it important to waste field office time with such obsessive concerns?
  • If she's so concerned about security, maybe she should just force claimants to show up in the office with three types of identification? (I hope I'm not giving her ideas.)
  • Is there anyone over Ms. Bystry who can ask whether this emphasis on security is a bit too much?

Sep 19, 2023

Sanctioned Representatives

     The Social Security Administration has posted an updated list of "Registered and Unregistered Sanctioned Representatives."

    The list has never seemed that interesting to me but it always draws a good deal of attention whenever I post about an update which isn't often, even though they release an update almost every month.

Sep 18, 2023

Government Shutdown Looms

    The federal fiscal year (FY) ends on September 30. Social Security, as well as other agencies, will lack operating funds after that date unless Congress acts. At the moment, appropriations bills are being held up because of disagreements within the Republican Party over what to do. Republicans have a paper thin majority in the House of Representatives. A small group of ultra right wing Republicans is refusing to join the bulk of their colleagues to pass bills that would serve as vehicles for negotiations with Democrats in the Senate, even though anything they pass would be so slanted that Democrats in the House would never vote for those bills. Lacking a functioning majority, the Republicans who have the majority in the House, if not actual control, cannot move forward.

    When Congress is delayed in passing appropriations bills, in the end, they always vote for continuing resolutions (CRs) that allow agencies to continue spending money at basically the same rate as in the just concluded FY.

    House Republicans are working on a one month CR. The Washington Post reports that the CR they're working on would cut expenditures for FY 2024 by 1%. However, this pain would not be spread evenly. The Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs would be excluded from the 1% cut. After these exclusions, the cut for other agencies, including the Social Security Administration, would be 8%. That would result in massive layoffs at Social Security. The agency would be largely incapable of functioning.

    It's not completely clear that the votes are there for this draft CR in the House. It would certainly not pass the Senate or be signed by the President. It's not even a starting point for negotiations.

    We're likely to see a government shutdown at the end of the month. This is actually the result desired by the small group of ultra right wing Republicans holding up things in the House. If your mindset is basically anarchist -- that government is so evil that we would be better off with no government -- then government shutdowns are a good thing.

    If there is a government shutdown at the beginning of next month, most of the Social Security Administration will continue to function. The field offices, teleservice centers, payment centers, OHO offices, and the Appeals Council will not be affected.

Sep 17, 2023

Another Golden Oldie — Many Vets With 100% VA Ratings Get Turned Down When They Apply For Social Security Disability

     A post on this blog on August 7, 2014:

Below is a chart labeled "Allowance rates for first DI applications filed by veterans after receiving VA disability ratings of 100% or IU during fiscal years 2000–2006, by VA rating and SSA primary diagnosis body system and selected diagnostic categories." This appears in Veterans Who Apply for Social Security Disabled-Worker Benefits After Receiving a Department of Veterans Affairs Rating of “Total Disability” for Service-Connected Impairments: Characteristics and Outcomes by L. Scott Muller, Nancy Early, and Justin Ronca published in the Social Security Bulletin, the agency's research journal. DI refers to Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits. IU refers to Individual Unemployability. Veterans may be approved for 100% VA disability benefits either with or without consideration of IU.

          Overall, Social Security is denying about 31% of disability claims filed by veterans with a 100% VA rating. Social Security approves only 43.5% of these 100% disabled veterans claims at the initial level and 13.8% at reconsideration but 70.8% at the Administrative Law Judge level. Social Security is turning down 25.3% of the claims filed by veterans determined 100% disabled by VA due to traumatic brain injury and 34.8% of those found 100% disabled by VA due to dementia associated with brain trauma.

Click on image to view full size


Sep 16, 2023

Variance By Race In Applying For Social Security Disability Benefits

     From How Does the Social Security Claiming Process Vary by Race?, a report by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College:

Sep 15, 2023

Stats From The Only Part Of SSA Working Down Its Backlog

      Recently released report on Social Security's Office of Hearings Operations:

Click on image to view full size


Sep 14, 2023

Should State Agencies Serving As Rep Payees For Children Be Allowed To Seize The Children's Social Security Benefits To Pay For Their Care?

     From WUNC, an NPR station

To Teresa Casados, who runs the department in charge of child welfare in New Mexico, it seemed like an odd question. At a legislative hearing in July, a lawmaker asked her if the state was taking the Social Security checks of kids in foster care — the checks intended for orphans and disabled children.

"My reaction really was: That can't be right," said Casados, who in the spring took over as acting secretary of New Mexico's Children, Youth & Families Department. "That can't be a practice that we're doing." ...

Casados and her chief legal counsel drove back to the office. "When we got back, we looked into it and found out it was a practice that the agency had for using those benefits — and had been going on for quite some time." ...

[L]ast month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Social Security Administration sent a letter to state and local child welfare agencies to encourage these changes.

The NPR/Marshall Project investigation found that in at least 49 states and the District of Columbia, when young people go into foster care child, welfare agencies routinely look for which ones come with Social Security checks. Or, if the children are eligible, agencies sign them up for benefits. Then state agencies cash those checks — usually without telling the child or their family, the investigation found. ...

Just days after that legislative hearing in New Mexico, Casados says her department "sent out a directive to cease using those funds for care and support." It pledged to start putting aside the Social Security benefits checks for foster children to have when they go back to their families or age out of foster care. ...