Mar 31, 2006

Disability Plan Published

Final regulations for Commissioner Barnhart's plan to alter Social Security's processes for adjudicating disability claims have been officially published in the Federal Register.

Mar 30, 2006

New GAO Report

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has released a report on Social Security's efforts to safeguard Social Security numbers and Social Security cards. The report discusses further efforts that might be taken, such as including the number holder's photograph and fingerprint on the card. The report acknowledges that such steps could have a significant effect on SSA's workload.

Mar 29, 2006

What Has To Be Done To Implement Commissioner's Plan

There are many steps that SSA must take before it implements Commissioner Barnhart's new plan for the Social Security disability process. Consider this punch list:
  1. Hire an overall director for the plan -- this job was just advertised;
  2. Write POMS;
  3. Write training manuals;
  4. Figure out what the new quality review process is supposed to operate and how it is different from current practice;
  5. Figure out how the Federal Expert Unit is supposed to operate;
  6. Adapt computer systems;
  7. Designate some current Appeals Council employees to work for Decision Review Board (DRB);
  8. Find office space for Reviewing Officers (ROs);
  9. Obtain office furniture and equipment for ROs;
  10. Write position description for RO supervisors;
  11. Advertise RO supervisor positions;
  12. Interview RO supervisors;
  13. Hire RO supervisors;
  14. Train RO supervisors;
  15. Write position description for ROs;
  16. Advertise RO positions;
  17. Interview RO candidates;
  18. Hire ROs;
  19. Train ROs;
  20. Train DDS, DO and OHA personnel.
We know that SSA has just advertised the position of overall director for this project. The job announcement may be just a formality since the Commissioner may already know whom she will select. There may already be ongoing work on some other items on the list. Most of the items on the list may be undertaken concurrently. Still, this is a long list. It will be a huge achievement to have all or even most of this accomplished by the time these regulations are supposed to go into effect in the Boston region and one has to wonder how well it can be accomplished in such a short time. Chaotic early implementation can discredit any new plan.

Nancy Shor on New Rules

Nancy Shor, executive director of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR), is quoted in the Philadelphia Inquirer on the new Social Security procedural rules announced yesterday:
With the exception of the Decision Review Board's replacing the Appeals Council, much of the rest of it is workable from our perspective. ... The final rules are more claimaint-friendly than the proposed rules were.

Mar 28, 2006

Barnhart on C-SPAN

Commissioner Barnhart appeared on C-SPAN today to talk about her new disability adjudication plan, among other things. A video is available online at the C-SPAN site. The video is lengthy. Barnhart's appearance came during the last hour of a show that dealt with varied topics.

Early Comments on New Rules

These are some early observations on the new rules based upon a quick reading:
  • The new regulations are effective on August 1, 2006.
  • The new regulations will affect only the Boston region of SSA for at least a year. Commissioner Barnhart's term in office will be over before that year ends. Commissioner Barnhart may be nominated and confirmed for a second term, although that is uncertain. It is likely that there will be a new President before the new rules reach most of the country.
  • Continuing disability reviews are not part of the new plan.
  • The new rules are supposed to affect only disability claims, leaving non-disability claims to be processed under the old rules, but the new rules contain almost no discussion of how to handle cases in which a disability claim includes a non-disability issue.
  • ALJs will be required to give 75 days notice of hearings.
  • Claimants will be able to submit new evidence until 5 days prior to a hearing.
  • The current rules on reopening will apply to all cases other than disability claims decided by ALJs. Those decisions could only be reopened within 6 months after the ALJ decision.
  • The new quality review process is not described. Indeed, it seems obvious that it is far from ready.
  • The Federal Expert Unit is not described in detail. Indeed, it seems obvious that it is far from ready.
  • An ALJ would be required to explain "in detail" the reasons for any disagreement with a Reviewing Officer.
  • There will be no specific requirement that a claimant submit adverse evidence, but there is a requirement to submit evidence and to not submit redacted evidence.

Download New Rules While You Can!

Social Security has already modified its press release to eliminate the link to the text of the rules to be published in the Federal Register on Friday. This happened within the last hour. The final rule itself is still available online, but may disappear for the same reason the press release was modified.

What Happens To Federal Courts Under Barnhart Plan?

Below is SSA's response to complaints about the effects on the federal courts of the Commissioner's plan. This appears in the statement to be published in the Federal Register on Friday. This may be the most insurmountable problem with the plan and this response is not reassuring.
Many commenters, including the Administrative Office of United States Courts, thought that the shift of the Appeals Council’s functions to the DRB would have an adverse effect on the Federal court system and would result in an increase in the number of cases appealed to the Federal courts. To address these concerns, we plan a gradual rollout to minimize the impact on the judiciary. We plan to begin implementation of the new process in the Boston region, which is one of our smallest regions. Because we are beginning in a small region, we will be able to have the DRB initially review all or most of the administrative law judge decisions that are issued in the Boston region. At the same time, we will be fine-tuning the screening tools for selecting cases for DRB review in those regions where we cannot review every decision. In addition, the DRB will monitor administrative law judge decisions in order to identify trends or developments that we need to address. Lastly, we believe that comparing DSI with the process it is replacing fails to consider the many positive changes outlined in today’s rule.

New Disability Process Regs Available

Social Security has posted the 191 pages of the final regulations and suporting material that will be published in the Federal Register on Friday.

Mar 27, 2006

First Press Reports on Barnhart Plan

The AP is reporting that Social Security is about to adopt a plan that would mean that people who are clearly disabled could receive benefits in as little as 20 days. According to the AP the plan that could cut as much as nine months off the time it takes to work through the entire disability process at SSA. Obviously, this is from an SSA press release, although SSA has not yet posted the press release on its website. Apparently, the desire is to promote the good intentions of the plan, before the actual plan, which is likely to draw criticism, is released on Friday.

Commissioner's Proposal Regulations Coming March 31

As agencies bring items to the Office of Federal Register (OFR) for publication, OFR adds them to a list posted on the internet. As soon as these items are posted they are available for review at the Office of Federal Register, but the texts are not posted online until the item actually appears in the Federal Register. Most items delivered to the OFR are published the next business day. Some are held for publication on a later date specified by the agency. The following item was posted today:



Social security benefits and supplemental income:

Federal, old age, survivors, and disability insurance; and aged, blind, and disabled--

Initial disability claims adjudication; administrative review process, 06-3011
[ID RIN 0960-AG31; Filed 3/27/06 at 12:39pm]

Publication Date: 3/31/06

WV Man Pleads Guilty to SSI Fraud

The Chareston Daily Mail reports that a local man pleaded guilty to fraud for applying for SSI and stating that he had no income when he was earning more than $1,000 per month from work.

Mar 26, 2006

Monthly Social Security Stats Released

The Social Security Administration has released its monthly compilation of statistics for its programs under Title II and Title XVI of the Social Security Act.

Mar 25, 2006

Problem With SSA? Call Your TV Station!

WTOL in Toledo, OH reports that it helped a local woman who had received no payment from Social Security even though almost six months had elapsed after her Social Security disability claim had been approved. While such extraordinary delays have always happened at Social Security, SSA's staffing shortages have made them more common. Others with Social Security problems may want to try contacting their local television station.

Mar 24, 2006

Disability Service Improvement Job Open

The Social Security Administration is advertising a job opening for an "Executive Director for Disability Service improvement." The job is in Washington, rather than Baltimore or Boston, where this experiment is to begin. The job will pay from $109,808 to $165,200 per year. The following is the job description:
The incumbent of this position serves as the primary advisor to the Commissioner and lead Agency executive on he rollout and post-implementation phases of the Agency's new approach to the decision-making process when an applicant files an application for disability benefits under Title II or Supplemental Security Income disability benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. In addition, this executive will be responsible for developing future refinements to the disability claims process. This new approach is the first major program enhancement to the Agency's disability programs in more than 20 years and capitalizes on the efficiencies and benefits gained by the Agency's successful implementation of an electronic disability case processing system.

Another Hearing on SSNs

Congressman Jim McCrery, the Chairman of the House Social Security Subcommittee, has scheduled another hearing on the issuance and misuse of Social Security numbers and Social Security cards. This is the fifth hearing he has scheduled on this issue in recent months.

Mar 23, 2006

Illinois Women Charged

The Quad City Times reports that two Illinois women have been charged with fraud against the SSI program. Freida Kay Curry has been charged for receiving SSI under two different Social Security numbers and Sarah E. Mortimer for claiming that her husband was not living with her, when he was.

Mar 22, 2006

Public Citizen Sues Over Budget Reconciliation

The Budget Reconciliation bill that was signed by the President will, among many other things, affect the way that SSI back benefits are paid by the Social Security Administration. However, there was an unusual aspect to the bill's passage. The versions passed by the two houses of Congress were not exactly identical. This has already brought about a lawsuit by an Alabama attorney. Now, Public Citizen, a major national public interest organization, has also brought suit over the matter. Interestingly enough, the Public Citizen lawsuit has been brought against the Clerk of Court. One of the minor aspects of the Budget Reconciliation bill was an increase in the filing fee for United States District Court. If the bill was not truly passed by Congress, the increase in the filing fee is not valid. Suing the Clerk of Court puts the Judicial Branch of government in the defendant's chair, even though it has little interest in the matter, and forces the Attorney General into finding some way to intervene in a lawsuit to which the Executive Branch is not a party. If nothing else, any attorney has to salute the ingenuity of Public Citizen's attorneys, Allison Zieve, Adina Rosebaum and Brian Wolfram, in framing the lawsuit in this way.

Federal Times on SSA Staffing Problems

The Federal Times reports on Social Security's staffing problems. The article indicates that efforts are underway in Congress to obtain an extra $80 million in funding to help the agency this year.

Mar 21, 2006

Cincinnati Bar CLE

The Cincinnati Bar Social Security Committee is putting on a Continuing Legal Education session on Friday May 5, 2006 in Cincinnati.

Social Security Advisory Board Meeting Agenda

The Social Security Advisory Board (SSAB) has announced the following schedule for its meeting on Friday, March 24:

9:15 a.m. - 11:30 a.m. Dr. Ronald Leopold, MetLife

1:45 p.m. - 3:30 p.m. Michael G. Gallagher, Associate General Counsel (Office of General Law) and James A. Winn, Associate General Counsel (Office of Program Law)

Mar 20, 2006

NC Man Sentenced For Social Security Fraud

The Salisbury Post reports that a NC man has been sentenced to three years in prison for receiving Social Security disability benefits without reporting that he was working under a false identity.

SSAB Urges Adequate SSA Funding

The Social Security Advisory Board (SSAB) has written the Chairman of the Appropriations Committe (although one cannot tell whether the letter was to the House Chairman or the Senate Chairman or to both) to urge adequate funding for SSA.

Mar 19, 2006

British Plan To Return Disabled To Work Criticized

The British Prime Minister has proposed a plan that promises to return to work one million people drawing disability benefits under British Social Security. This has relevance to the United States since there have been steadily increasing complaints that U.S. Social Security is not doing enough to return disabled Social Security recipients to work. This goes along with a belief that if further return to work efforts were made that the costs of the U.S. Social Security disability program could be cut dramatically. In Britain, the plan to return disabled people to work has been predicted to save 7 billion British pounds per year.

A key part of British Prime Minister Tony Blair's plan is to draw a distinction between those who have the potential to return to work and those who do not and to give a good deal of return to work assistance to those who have that potential, as well as applying a good deal of compulsion to them. Such a plan would be attractive to many in the U.S. The British plan, which has not yet been implemented, is drawing criticism from a new study. The author of the study, Professor Richard Berthoud of the Institute for Social and Economic Research stated recently that:
The analysis [in the government consultation paper] shows a wide range of impairments among disabled people, with a gradual deterioration in job prospects across that range. It is by no means clear, from these data, where a dividing line could be drawn between those with realistic and unrealistic expectations. The paper does not explain how this judgment will be made. Nor does it say what will happen to disabled people who try but fail to find a job over a long period, even though they had been assessed as potential workers.

Mar 18, 2006

Online Signup for Direct Deposit

The Department of the Treasury and the Federal Reserve Banks have created a new system so banks and credit unions can sign up their customers online for direct deposit of regular government checks, including Social Security checks.

Mar 17, 2006

Statements At House Social Security Subcommittee Hearing

The written statements made by witnesses at the March 16, 2006 House Social Security Subcommittee hearing on Social Security numbers and Social Security cards has now been posted online. It is clear that the Chairman of the Subcommittee, Jim McCrery, has a huge interest in decreasing illegal immigration by imposing strict limits on the issuance of Social Security numbers and, possibly, in turning the Social Security card into a relatively tamper-proof national identification card. The workload involved for SSA in making the Social Security card relatively tamper-proof would be enormous and might make the agency into a very different agency.

Contract Hearing Reporters

Social Security has posted online a solicitation seeking contract hearing reporters to help out with Administrative Law Judge hearings.

Mar 16, 2006

Report on Social Security's Response to Katrina and Rita

A new report from the Social Security Advisory Board (SSAB) gives SSA high marks for its response to hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The SSAB report concludes:
Even in normal circumstances, the operations of the Social Security Administration directly and crucially affect the lives of millions of Americans. Over the years of the Board’s existence, we have been continually impressed by the commitment and expertise of the agency, its management, and its employees at all levels to providing excellent service to the beneficiaries who depend on Social Security. Last year’s hurricanes showed that commitment and expertise to be deep and solid. Service is what SSA does. Its employees both in the area and throughout the country volunteered to do whatever was necessary to assure that service to the public in the affected areas would continue. Agency management did not stop to worry about its constrained budgetary circumstances, but immediately deployed the resources necessary to meet the crisis. The agency and its employees, and especially those in the Atlanta and Dallas regions, have every reason to be proud of their preparedness, resourcefulness, and dedication in meeting the needs of the population they serve under the most trying of circumstances.

Bush Rejects Part D Signup Extension

The deadline for signing up without penalty for the Medicare Prescription Drug Benefits, Part D of Medicare, is May 15, 2006. Because of confusion over the plan, there have been calls to extend the deadline. The Baltimore Sun reports that President Bush rejected these calls while speaking at a gated retirement community in the Washington suburbs yesterday. Bush told the senior citizens that an extension of time was out of the question and urged senior citizens to sign up now.

Mar 15, 2006

Watch Senate Finance Committee Hearing

The Senate Finance Committee hearing yesterday on administrative challenges facing the Social Security Administration was digitally recorded and is now available as a streaming video.

Mar 14, 2006

Barnhart Testimony at Senate Finance Committee Hearing: New Regs Coming Soon

Commissioner of Social Security Jo Anne Barnhart testified today before the Senate Finance Committee. She stated the following in her written remarks concerning her proposal to alter the disability determination process:
During the comment period, SSA received almost 900 comments. We reviewed these comments very carefully. In fact, I met with my senior staff to consider all of these comments. And we have made changes in response. I am pleased to report that as of last month, the final rule was under review at the Office of Management and Budget, and we expect it to be published shortly.

Senate Finance Testimony on Staffing Shortages

Richard E. Warsinskey, President of the National Council of Social Security Management Associations Inc., testified today before the Senate Finance Committee concerning Social Security staffing. His prepared remarkes are worth reprinting here in full:
Chairman Grassley, Senator Baucus and Members of the Committee, my name is Richard Warsinskey and I represent the National Council of Social Security Management Associations (NCSSMA). I am also the manager of the Social Security office in Downtown Cleveland, Ohio and have worked for the Social Security Administration for 30 years. On behalf of our membership, I am pleased to have the opportunity to submit this testimony to the Committee. The NCSSMA is a membership organization of nearly 3,400 Social Security Administration (SSA) managers and supervisors who provide leadership in SSA's 1,374 Field Offices and Teleservice Centers throughout the country. We are the front-line service providers for SSA in communities all over the nation. We are also the federal employees with whom many of your staff work to resolve problems and issues for your constituents who receive Social Security retirement benefits, survivors or disability benefits, or Supplemental Security Income. From the time our organization was founded over thirty-five years ago, the NCSSMA has been a strong advocate of locally delivered services nationwide to meet the variety of needs of beneficiaries, claimants, and the general public. We consider our top priority to be a strong and stable Social Security Administration that delivers quality service to the people we serve - your constituents. SSA is facing many challenges this year. My testimony today will focus on the following areas: limited resources and ever-increasing workloads and responsibilities.

The President's Fiscal Year 2007 budget proposes $9.496 billion for the Social Security Administration’s Limitation on Administrative Expenses (LAE) account. This account, which is included as part of the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Bill, supplies the resources for SSA’s administrative budget. The budget request for FY 2007 represents less than a 1.0% increase over the amount requested for FY 2006. The Agency did not receive the full President’s Budget request for FY 2006 - the final appropriation was reduced by nearly $300 million during the appropriations process.

The Commissioner of Social Security is required by law to submit her own budget. This budget reflects what she sees as the level of funding necessary to meet the Agency’s service delivery improvements and fiscal stewardship plans through 2011. This budget also factors in that SSA has received less than the President’s budget request in recent years, thus leading to the need for additional resources in future years to meet the full service delivery plan. The budget amount submitted by the Commissioner of Social Security to the President for SSA’s FY 2007 administrative expenses was $10.25 billion. The budget submitted by the Commissioner takes into consideration the increasing workloads and new mandates that are confronting the Agency. The budget shortfalls in comparison to the Agency’s real needs, increased workloads, and new mandates have, and will continue to have, a tremendous impact on SSA’s service delivery. It is important to note that SSA's administrative budget constitutes less than 2% of program expenditures for the current fiscal year which is an outstanding value. This becomes all the more noteworthy when compared to private sector insurance companies which, as pointed out in a report issued by the Social Security Advisory Board, commonly have cost ratios of 10 to 20 percent or more. Certainly the American people deserve to have the Social Security Administration’s excellent service while maintaining such value. A good example of this value can be seen by the service we provided after the hurricanes this past fall. SSA detailed people throughout the country and moved a huge amount of equipment around to assist people in receiving their benefits after the hurricanes. Every possible effort was made to pay benefits due on a timely basis. Increasing Workloads The following are some key current and future workload trends that are impacting SSA:
• In 1999 SSA had 311,000 hearings pending. There are now an estimated 750,000 hearings pending, an increase of 140%. The average Administrative Law Judge has approximately 750 cases pending per available judge. As a result the average time to receive a hearing decision is often more than two years.
• SSA’s Program Service Centers (PSCs) have seen their pending cases more than double in the past two years, increasing by more than 350,000 cases. Backlogs in the PSCs have contributed to an increase in requests from Congress for status of cases by over 40% and requests for special high priority payment of cases by over 110%.
• Waiting times in Field Offices rose dramatically for the first six weeks of the year. Walk-in traffic increased by approximately 40% from the same time last year. Since then traffic has moderated somewhat but walk-in traffic is currently up an estimated 25% from the same time last year.
• SSA’s 1-800 number received nearly 4.8 million more calls for the first two months of this year compared to the first two months of last year.
• Failure to receive an adequate appropriation led SSA to make the decision to cut back on processing Medical Continuing Disability Reviews. This year SSA has reduced the number by about 235,000 and by over 500,000 since FY 2002. SSA estimates that every one dollar spent on a Continuing Disability Review saves ten dollars in program costs.
• Failure to receive an adequate appropriation led SSA to make the decision to cut back on processing SSI redeterminations by approximately 750,000 this year. SSA estimates that every one dollar spent on an SSI Redetermination saves seven dollars in program costs.
• In FY 2005, SSA processed 64% more new claims for Title II and Title XVI disability claims than it did in FY 2000.
• SSA will process an increasing number of retirement claims as the baby boom generation retires. Last year SSA Field Offices processed 16% more retirement claims than the previous year.
• SSA will send out an estimated 2 million letters for those that qualified for Extra Help for Part D Medicare in August to determine whether the amount of Extra Help will change. Many of these cases will need to be reworked by SSA Field Offices.
• SSA will also mail out an estimated 2 million letters for those potentially affected by the Income-Related increased Medicare Part B Premiums this fall. Many of those affected will contact SSA Field Offices with questions and for assistance in helping them determine the correct premium to pay.

Increasing Responsibilities
One of the areas where SSA Field Offices have seen the most significant impact on their workloads and on the public has been due to the implementation of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (IRTPA) on December 17, 2005. This law significantly strengthened the rules for issuing new and replacement Social Security numbers and cards. Immediately after this law went into effect, SSA Field Offices throughout the country saw a dramatic increase in waiting times and number of visitors. This is due to the need to complete a much more intensive interview of those applying for Social Security Account numbers. This more intensive interview process and review of documents has led to an increased number of visitors that must go home and return with additional documents, sometimes multiple times. We estimate that nearly one-third of the people currently coming into SSA Field Offices to apply for an original or duplicate Social Security Account number card have to return to the office with additional documentation for their card. We have seen countless numbers of people leaving our offices angry and frustrated because of the inconvenience. For example someone living in Shenandoah, Iowa would have to make a 150-mile return round trip to their servicing office in Creston, Iowa. If you live in Broadus, Montana you would need to make a 337-mile round trip to the servicing office in Billings, Montana. Last year SSA processed 13.4 million requests for new and replacement cards. If one-third of the public has to obtain additional documentation and return to an SSA Field Office to complete the interview process this is affecting nearly 4.5 million people. An example of the impact on a local Field Office can be seen in this message received from a manager in the metro Washington, DC area:
“The number one impediment in providing acceptable service to the public is the increase in daily visitors to the office, the majority of which are in the office to apply for Social Security cards. We used to have 7 Service Representatives and we are now down to 4 full time and 1 part time employee. We seldom see less than 250 visitors in a day and 55% came in for Social Security Number cards. The reception area is inadequate for the number of visitors, the waiting time often exceeds 2 hours and more importantly the Service Representatives are not able to do much of any other work other than Social Security numbers and are simply burned out. They dutifully handle reception all day, day after day without many complaints but it certainly takes a toll. There are other offices in the Washington, DC Area in similar situations.” As these increased demands on SSA facilities throughout the country have hit the Agency, we are faced with a reduction in staffing of 500 positions this year and an estimated 2,000 people next year. This reduction in staffing will occur even if SSA is funded at the full level of $9.496 billion as proposed in the President’s budget. It is estimated that SSA will have 500 fewer employees on duty next year than before the Agency started working on Medicare Part D cases. Moving forward, we realize that we no longer have the large workloads associated with the start up of Part D. Although resources were provided by the Congress in Fiscal Years 2004-2006 to address the initial workload related to Medicare Part D, there are still incredible challenges to be met in addressing the ongoing Medicare Part D workloads, rule changes in issuing Social Security Number cards, and new Medicare Part B premium increase cases, as well as increased retirement and disability claims and telephone calls. SSA Field Offices receive about the same number of telephone calls as SSA’s 1-800 number. This is because many people prefer to talk to the local Field Office and because all letters that are mailed out must include the local Field Office telephone number on the letter. Yet most local Field Offices do not have adequate staff to answer telephone calls. In the NCSSMA’s 2005 Survey of Management, 78% of the 2,400 respondents stated they did not have enough staff to provide adequate local telephone service. In addition, Field Office telephones systems are antiquated and desperately need to be replaced. Field Offices nationwide are forced to cannibalize parts to keep some telephone systems running. SSA has also made enormous investments in the Electronic Disability Claims Process (e-Dib) which will revolutionize the way the Agency handles disability claims. While these changes will lead to significant savings and improve processing times down the line, it is actually a more labor-intensive process and results in longer interview times for local Field Offices. In fact it takes nearly 30 minutes longer to take an interview under e-Dib because of the amount of information that must be formatted electronically. Is the $9.496 billion dollars requested by the President for FY 2007 sufficient to address the backlogs and increasing workloads described above? Unfortunately, the National Council of Social Security Management Associations would have to say no. We do understand the fiscal constraints of today’s budget environment, but at a minimum, it is absolutely critical that Congress match the President’s FY 2007 budget request for SSA. Each year that SSA receives less than adequate funding for the LAE account, it has a compounding effect on our workloads. This compounding has meant that we have over 8,000 fewer work years than we would have received had we received the full level of funding recommended in recent years in the President’s budget.

This staffing shortage is one of the key reasons for massive backlogs in the Hearings Offices and Program Service Centers, reductions in processing stewardship workloads such as SSI redeterminations and Continuing Disability Reviews in Field Offices, major strains on Field Office employees to handle the increased walk-in traffic, and for Field Offices and Teleservice Centers to handle the nearly 135 million calls per year. The key problem is that SSA is being given more and more responsibilities without sufficient funding to handle these responsibilities. On the horizon is another enormous workload SSA could receive due to language in the Border Security Act that would require the Agency to verify approximately 50 million Social Security numbers a year. SSA would need additional funds to administer the provisions of this bill if it becomes law. The Agency also needs additional funds for IRTPA, ongoing workloads associated with Medicare Part D, and the upcoming income-related Medicare Part B premium changes that take effect in January 2007. SSA is making every effort it can to address these increasing mandates. Our Agency’s productivity continues to rise, and in fact has risen at least 2% a year this decade. When you invest the people’s money in SSA they get their money’s worth and much more. Think of the hundreds of millions of dollars that would be saved if SSA could process more Continuing Disability Reviews and SSI redeterminations. But, because of all of the additional workloads that must be addressed by the Agency this is just not possible without additional funding. Conclusion SSA is facing an enormous challenge to keep up with all of its workloads. Without additional funding backlogs will increase and we will not be able to provide the level of service we believe the American public deserves. At a minimum, SSA needs to receive the FY 2007 budget proposed by the President. Our Agency also needs to receive additional funds for new tasks we are given such as those mandated by IRTPA and the proposed Border Security Act, which has the potential to task SSA with a new and immense workload. Without additional funding for these new workloads, the Agency will have to delay processing various existing workloads, leading to even more backlogs and delays. Ultimately, this will lead to increased costs. We understand the current budgetary constraints, but when making decisions about how limited appropriated funds should be allocated keep in mind that SSA has a reputation as an Agency that gets results, and it has earned that reputation. As the only face of government a broad number of Americans ever see, it is important to retain confidence in our government and that SSA be able to provide these Americans the efficient, accurate, and compassionate service they deserve. On behalf of the members of the NCSSMA, I thank you again for the opportunity to submit this testimony to the Committee and would welcome any questions that you may have.

Federal Court Filing Fee to Increase

The civil filing fee for United States District Courts will increase to $350 on April 9, 2006. The filing fee for the federal Courts of Appeals will rise to $450 at the same time. Social Security disability claims are a significant part of the federal District Courts' workload. This increase in the filing fee will undoubtedly increase even further the percentage of Social Security claimants who proceed in forma pauperis -- that is, in the form of a pauper to avoid the filing fee -- in the federal courts.

Mar 13, 2006

Senate Hearing on March 14

The Senate Finance Committee will hold a hearing on March 14 on administrative challenges facing the Social Security Administration. The following people are scheduled to testify:

Jo Anne B. Barnhart, Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Baltimore, Maryland

Patrick P. O’Carroll, Jr., Inspector General, Social Security Administration, Baltimore, Maryland

Richard E. Warsinskey, President, National Council of Social Security, Management Associations, Inc., Cleveland, Ohio

Eileen Sweeny, Co-Chair, Social Security Task Force, Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities Senior Fellow, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Washington, DC

Erwin Hathaway, Social Security Disability Insurance Beneficiary, Trego, Montana

Bush Budget Proposal on Workers Compensation Offset

The Bush Administration fiscal year 2007 budget includes a proposal to alter Social Security's workers compensation offset. The offset affects claimants who receive both disability insurance benefits and workers compensation. More information is trickling out about the proposal, which is still under development. Under current law (to greatly oversimplify) a claimant is allowed to keep up to 80% of their pre-disability income. The new plan would reduce the Social Security disability benefits of anyone receiving workers compensation by 37% for up to the first five years they are on Social Security disability benefits. The reduction would be less than 37% if the workers compensation benefits were less than 37% of Social Security disability benefits. Lump sum workers compensation benefits could not be attributed to a period of time longer than five years. There would be no effect in states with reverse workers compensation offsets, which reduce workers compensation on account of Social Security disability benefits.

Collecting Social Security Overpayments From Federal Employees

Today's Federal Register contains a Notice of Proposed Rule-Making (NPRM) from Social Security that would provide for offsetting the salaries of federal employees to collect their overpayments from the Social Security Administration.

Social Security Issues Disability Report

The Social Security Administration has released its annual statistical report on the disability insurance program. Perhaps of most interest is the the percentage of all disability claims approved after all levels of review:

1999 61.4%
2000 62.6%
2001 63.0%
2002 59.8%
2003 53.3%

One major reason for the decrease in the percentage of claims allowed is a huge increase in technical denials, which went up from 104,330 in 1999 to 374,430 in 2003. This may be due to Social Security's staffing problems. More claimants with low intelligence levels or serious mental illness, who needed but did not get sympathetic help from Social Security, may have been denied for failure to cooperate.

Mar 12, 2006

You Can't "Withdraw" From Social Security

Social Security's Office of Regional Counsel felt the need to publish a written opinion that Social Security would ignore a "Notice of Revocation and a Notice of Mandatory Exertion of All Unalienable Rights" from a man who wished to withdraw from Social Security on the grounds that he was a sovereign citizen of Michigan, but not of the United States.

Mar 11, 2006

Study on Latinos and Social Security reports that several universities will collaborate on a national research project on the impact of Social Security on the U.S. Latino population. Although labeled as a research project, it is apparent that educating Latinos about Social Security is also a major aim of the project.

Mar 10, 2006

Social Security Wins Technology Award

The Social Security Administration has been awarded the SHARE 2006 Award for Excellence in Technology. SHARE describes itself as"an independent, volunteer-run association providing IBM customers with user-focused education, professional networking, and a forum to influence the Information Technology (IT) industry." The award is sponsored by IBM. According to SHARE's press release:
The team from the Social Security Administration was honored with this award as a result of their innovation in network connectivity, which resulted in providing thousands of employees with a network that is significantly more resilient, reliable and scalable to better manage data regarding taxes, retirement, disability, family benefits, survivors and Medicare.

Mar 9, 2006

Robert Baulmer Has An Unusual Social Security Problem

Robert Baulmer was on Social Security disability benefits for 22 years, but now has a problem with Social Security. The agency will not let him withdraw his claim for Social Security disability benefits! Baulmer believes his Christian faith has healed him. He not only wants to drop his Social Security disability benefits, but to withdraw his claim altogether. Social Security is refusing his request, since Baulmer is able to repay only $22,000 of the $188, 670.30 he received from Social Security over the years.

Mar 8, 2006

Social Security Subcommittee Hearing

This set of hearings is beginning to sound a bit obsessive. This is an excerpt from the press release from the House Social Security Subcommittee:
Congressman Jim McCrery (R-LA), Chairman, Subcommittee on Social Security of the Committee on Ways and Means, today announced that the Subcommittee will hold the fourth in a series of Subcommittee hearings on Social Security number (SSN) high-risk issues. The hearing will examine expanding uses of the SSN card and measures to prevent SSN card fraud. The hearing will take place on Thursday, March 16, 2006 in room B‑318 Rayburn House Office Building, beginning at 10:00 a.m.

Fee Payments Increase

Social Security has posted the statistics for January and February on payments of fees to attorneys and others entitled to direct payment of fees for representing claimants. Fees increased by 9% from January to February of this year. Here are the numbers:

Fee Payments

Month/Year Volume Amount

Mar 7, 2006

Montana Woman Charged With Social Security Fraud

The Great Falls Tribune reports that a Glendive, MT woman has pleaded not guilty to Social Security fraud. She had received over $100,000 in dependent's benefits after she lost custody of the children for whom the benefits were being paid.

Bill Thomas to Retire

Bill Thomas, the powerful chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, has announced his retirement from Congress at the end of this Congressional session. Thomas had been ineligible for another term as Chairman under House Republican rules. The current chairman of the Social Security Subcommittee of Ways and Means, Jim McCrery, is the leading candidate to succeed Thomas, if Republicans retain control of the House of Representatives.

Mar 6, 2006

Rubin Advises Democrats To Reject Bush Social Security Commission

Robert Rubin, Secretary of the Treasury in the Clinton administration, has advised Democrats to reject President Bush's State of the Union address proposal for a bipartisan commission to study Social Security. Rubin advises Democrats instead to push for a broader "fiscal commission" to study all aspects of the federal budget, including whether the Bush tax cuts should be continued, in addition to Social Security.

Mar 5, 2006

Massachusetts Man Charged With Fraud

A Boston man has been charged with using the name, Social Security number and date of birth of a New York man to obtain $22,250 of Social Security disability benefits over two years.

Mar 4, 2006

Budget Reconciliation Lawsuit

Jim Zeigler, the attorney in Mobile, AL who brought a declaratory judgment lawsuit to obtain a determination of whether the budget reconciliation act was properly passed by Congress, is seeking contributions for his effort. Questions have arisen because the bills passed by the two houses of Congress were not identical. One of the provisions of the bill lowers the threshold for staged payments of back SSI benefits to three months but many other interests are affected by the budget reconciliation package.

Mar 3, 2006

Social Security Subcommittee Hearing

The written statements submitted at yesterday's House Social Security Subcommittee hearing on assignment of Social Security numbers and payment of benefits to foreign born individuals are now available on-line. At least in the written statements, no one was calling for additional measures.

Proposed New Regulation

The Social Security Administration has published a Notice of Proposed Rule-Making (NPRM) on Medicare Part B Income-Related Monthly Adjustments. Here is the NPRM's description of the proposed regulation:
We propose to add to our regulations a new subpart, Medicare Part B Income-Related Monthly Adjustment Amount, to contain the rules we would follow for Medicare Part B income-related monthly adjustment amount determinations. The monthly adjustment amount represents the amount of decrease in the Medicare Part B premium subsidy, i.e. the amount of the Federal Government’s contribution to the Federal Supplementary Medical Insurance Trust Fund. This new subpart would implement section 811 of the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003 (the Medicare Modernization Act or MMA) and would contain the rules for determining when, based on income, a monthly adjustment amount will be added to a Supplementary Medical Insurance (Medicare Part B) beneficiary’s standard monthly premium. These proposed rules describe: what the new subpart is about; what information we would use to determine whether you would pay an income-related monthly adjustment amount and the amount of the adjustment when applicable; when we will consider a major life-changing event that results in a significant reduction in your modified adjusted gross income; and how you can appeal our determination about your incomerelated monthly adjustment amount.

Mar 2, 2006

State By State Stats

Social Security has released a set of state by state Social Security statistics, showing the numbers of people receiving benefits and the aggregate amounts received.

Mar 1, 2006

7th Circuit Reverses on 12.05(c)

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals remanded in Mendez v. Barnhart because of strong evidence that Ms. Mendez met listing 12.05(c) for mental retardation. Social Security has interpreted this listing in increasingly stringent ways in recent years.

SSA Proposes To Make Optometrists Acceptable Medical Sources

Social Security has published a Notice of Proposed Rule-Making (NPRM) that would declare that optometrists are "acceptable medical sources" for disability determination. It will probably surprise many that optometrists were not already on this list.

Nwe Medical Equivalence Regulations

Social Security has published new regulations effective March 31, 2006 on medical equivalence, that is medical equivalence to the listings of impairments. The listings contain criteria for determining whether a claimant is clearly disabled by a particular disease or condition based solely upon medical evidence. Despite the often controversial nature of medical equivalence determinations, the new rules appear relatively non-controversial, even trivial, and attracted few public comments. As a result of the new rules, AR 00-2(7), which acquiesed to Hickman v. Apfel, 187 F.3d 683 (7th Cir. 1999), has been rescinded.

Upcoming Meetings and CLE

If you know of others, please e-mail me.