Apr 30, 2006

Monthly Social Security Stats

Social Security has issued its monthly statistics for Title II and Title XVI.

Apr 29, 2006

New Jersey Man Indicted For Social Security Fraud

The Asbury Park Press reports that a Toms River, N.J. man has been indicted for fraud for accepting over $200,000 in Social Security disability and workers compensation benefits while working for his son's home improvement business.

Apr 28, 2006

Boston Lawyer Convicted Of Social Security Fraud

Prominent Boston lawyer Robert Gerrard has been sentenced to three years of probation for continuining to receive his mother's Social Security benefits for 16 years after she died, according to Boston.com news. His law license has also been suspended.

Plan Coming to Offset VA Benefits Offset By Social Security?

There are reports that Terry Scott, the chairman of the Veterans' Disability Benefits Commission, which was recently set up by Congress to study VA benefits, is pushing a plan to offset veteran's disability benefits by Social Security disability benefits. Any such offset, which would be unpopular with veterans, would have to be passed by Congress and signed by the president.

Apr 27, 2006

Lockhart Nominated To OFHEO

Bloomberg.com reports that James Lockhart, Deputy Commissioner of Social Security, has been nominated by President Bush to become head of OFHEO, the agency that regulates Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the federal housing corporations. There had been earlier published reports that Lockhart had declined the post. President Bush must now nominate a new Deputy Commissioner for Social Security for confirmation by the Senate.

This Day In History

The first U.S. Social Security checks were distributed on April 27, 1937, according to LMT Online.

Dating Over The Internet

The Social Security Administration has published final regulations dealing with the filing date to be assigned to claims for benefits filed over the internet. The issue arises because a claimant may start to file a claim over the internet, but not complete the process until a later date. The date of filing may affect the number of months of benefits to be paid to the claimant. The new rule indicates that normally Social Security will use the date that the claimant began filing the claim. This is consistent with Social Security practice when claimants use the telephone to start the claim. The new regulations also correct a small error in the existing regulations on widows benefits.

Apr 26, 2006

New Chief ALJ -- Acting

David Hatfield, an Administrative Law Judge who has been working in Pittsburg, has been appointed national Chief Administrative Law Judge at Social Security on an acting basis. He replaces David Washington, who will return to the hearing office in Minneapolis.

Apr 25, 2006

Presidential Order On Succession At SSA

The President has issued an order setting forth the following succession order in case the position of Commissioner of Social Security is vacant:
  • Deputy Commissioner of Social Security
  • Chief of Staff
  • Deputy Commissioner for Operations
  • Regional Commissioner, Philadelphia
  • Regional Commissioner, Dallas
One has to wonder why the existing plan was pulled out of the drawer, dusted off and altered. It is hard to imagine anyone bothering with this unless there was a real chance that the plan would be needed in coming months, such as in January 2007 when Commissioner Barnhart's term ends.

Apr 24, 2006

Social Security's Semi-Annual Regulatory Agenda

The Social Security Administration has published its semi-annual regulatory agenda, showing the status of all regulatory proposals the agenda has on its table. There appear to be no surprises. The projected date for finalization of the proposal to add two years to each of the age catagories in the grid regulations has a projected final date of January, 2007, but these projections are often wildly inaccurate. Things usually take much longer than what is listed in the regulatory agenda.

Social Security Advisory Board Agenda

The Social Security Advisory Board (SSAB) has posted the following agenda for its meeting on April 27:

9:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m. Katherine McCary, Vice President and

Program Manager for Accessing Community Talent (ACT)

1:45 p.m. - 3:30 p.m. Marion T. Silva, Chief ALJ, Departmental Appeals Board, Department of Health and Human Services and Perry Rhew, Chief ALJ, Office of Medicare Hearings and Appeals

Length of Time to Get a Hearing

Socialsecuritydisability.com has posted information on the length of time it is taking to get a hearing at the Social Security Administration listed by Hearing Office. The information was received in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. The news is not good. According to a separate press release, nationally, the average length of time was 485 days, in contrast to Social Security's modest goal of 250 days. Dayton had an average wait of 25 months and Miami an average wait of 26 and a half months. The shortest waits were in Colorado Springs, CO and McAlester, OK at 9 months.

Apr 23, 2006

Willard Scott?

Social Security has posted a notice that it intends to hire Ari Fleischer, former presidential press secretary, and Willard Scott, the Today Show weatherman, to speak at its National Public Affairs Training Conference on May 2-3, 2006. Presumably, this is a training conference for Social Security's public affairs (known in the non-governmental world as public relations) personnel.

Apr 22, 2006

Part D Premium Withholding Problems

Medicare Part D premiums are supposed to be withheld automatically from Social Security benefits, but Tim Waller reports that there have been many problems. Premiums were not withheld for several months from many people and then the premiums for all those months were suddenly withheld from one month's benefits. National Public Radio reports that some people who signed up for Part D and whose premiums were never withheld are receiving notices from their Part D insurer that the Part D coverage will be stopped if no payment is made. The insurance companies are blaming the problem on delays at Social Security.

Apr 21, 2006

Social Security Specialization in NC

The North Carolina State Bar has posted information about the examination it will give in November 2006 to certify the first batch of Social Security Disability Law specialists in NC. Only attorneys licensed in NC are eligible to take the exam.

The NC State Bar also posted some Social Security training material on reading earnings records and computing date last insured to help applicants taking the exam. These materials may be useful to attorneys and others who represent Social Security claimants in other states.

Apr 20, 2006

Recess Appointment Resolves Social Security Board Issue

Market Watch reports that President Bush has resolved a dispute over the re-nominations of John Palmer and Thomas Saving to the Social Security Board of Trustees by issuing a recess appointment to each. The Senate had balked at confirming the two because of a tradition that trustees serve only one term. The recess appointment allows the two to serve until the end of the current Congress. The nomination delay had prevented the Board of Trustees from issuing routine reports.

Apr 19, 2006

Rep Payee Inconsistencies

Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG) has done a study of claimants who are entitled to both a Title II benefit, based upon their own or someone else's earnings record, as well as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and who have a representative payee to handle their benefits for them. OIG found that there are many thousands of cases in which a claimant has a representative payee for either Title II or SSI benefits, but not for the other type of benefits, that is that part of the claimant's benefits were paid to a representative payee, while part was paid directly to the claimant, a glaring inconsistency. OIG recommended that SSA make the effort to resolve these inconsistencies.

Apr 18, 2006

Backlogs and Delays at SSA

Richard Warsinskey, the President of the National Council of Social Security Management Associations (NCSSMA), testified before the House Appropriations Committee on March 29, 2006. He gave the Committee stark evidence of the massive workload problems facing the Social Security Administration:
  • In 1999 SSA had 311,000 hearings pending. As of the end of February there are now about 725,000 hearings pending, an increase of 133%. The average hearing processing time continues to go up. Current processing times are 476 days, up from 443 days last fiscal year. The average Administrative Law Judge has approximately 710 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%. The PSC backlogs have been exacerbated because so many of the employees must assist in answering the 1-800 number.
  • Waiting times in Field Offices rose dramatically for the first six weeks of the year. Walk-in traffic increased by approximately 40% for the first six weeks of the year. Since then traffic has moderated somewhat but walk-in traffic is currently up an estimated 25%.
  • SSA’s 1-800 number has received nearly 4.4 million more calls this year compared to the same time last year.

Apr 17, 2006

Overpayment Problems

A recent Emergency Message to Social Security staff admits that
Some [Social Security] beneficiaries have had their Title II benefits withheld because their record has been charged with an overpayment that may or may not be correct. Most of the records identified are of individuals that were living in the Katrina Disaster Area in September 2005 and received an Immediate Payment (IP) after the hurricane and have been charged with a Duplicate Check overpayment.
Apparently, the problem is caused by a failure to record returned checks or previous repayments by beneficiaries.

Apr 16, 2006

Lockhart No Longer Interested in OFHEO

Marketwatch.com reports that James Lockhart, Deputy Commissioner of Social Security, the number two position at Social Security, is no longer interested in taking a job as director of the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight which oversees Fannie Mae and Fredde Mac, the federal housing corporations. Earlier reports had Lockhart interested in the position. With the term of Jo Anne Barnhart as Commissioner of Social Security ending in January 2007, this leaves open the possibility of Lockhart taking over from Barnhart. Lockhart is an old college buddy of President Bush and an ardent supporter of Bush's plans to partially privatize Social Security, while Barnhart, apart from one op ed piece in the New York Times in support of the plan, remained silent.

Apr 15, 2006

Georgia Man Pleads Guilty To Social Security Fraud

The Weekly reports that a Locust Grove, GA man pled guilty to three fraud counts for receiving Social Security retirement and disability benefits under two names and Social Security numbers. He had originally been charged with 113 counts of wire fraud, mail fraud and Social Security fraud. His sentence was 54 months of probation, 18 months of home confinement and restitution to the Social Security Administration of $86,401.50, in addition to a $300 special assessment.

Apr 14, 2006

Just What Democratic Party Leaders Wanted

A group of Democrats in the House of Representatives, led by Jerry Nadler of New York, has introduced H.R. 5152, the Equal Access to Social Security Act, which would give same sex couples the same rights as married couples under the Social Security Act.

In addition to Nadler, Tammy Baldwin, Howard Berman, John Conyers, Joseph Crowley, Rahm Emanuel, Sam Farr, Barney Frank, Raúl Grijalva, Patrick Kennedy, Barbara Lee, Carolyn Maloney, Jim McDermott, George Miller, Charles Rangel, Pete Stark, Henry Waxman, and Lynn Woolsey are co-sponsors.

Regardless of the merits of the bill, it is politically damaging to Democrats. One has to wonder, in particular, why Rahm Emanuel is a co-sponsor. Democrats can do little to advance the cause of gay and lesbian Americans if they are in the minority in the House of Representatives.

Apr 13, 2006

11th Circuit Allows Attorney Fees in Cases Won on Remand

It has generally been understood that if a Social Security case was remanded by a U.S. District Court and the claimant won on remand that the claimant's attorney could come back to the District Court and petition for approval of an attorney fee for work done in representing the claimant before the Court. A judge in the Middle District of Florida challenged this, interpreting the statute to forbid approval of a fee in this situation. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has now reversed in Bergen v. Commissioner of Social Security, holding as other courts have, that the attorney may petition for approval of a fee in this situation.

Apr 12, 2006

OIG Report Showing Billions of Dollars of Disability Overpayments Available Online

The report of Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG) that shows billions of dollars of overpayments of Social Security disability benefits is now available online at the Senate Finance Committee website.

March Fee Payment Stats

Social Security has released statistics on payments of fees to attorneys and others entitled to direct payment for representing claimants in March 2006. Fee payments were up 30% in March over February 2006 and up 35% over March 2005. The following are the 2006 payment figures:

Fee Payments

Month/Year Volume Amount

Barnhart Touts Part D

Newszap.com reports that Jo Anne Barnhart, the Commissioner of Social Security, will be in her home state of Delaware today to encourage seniors to sign up for Part D of Medicare, the prescription drug benefit.

Apr 11, 2006

Senator Grassley Says SSA Paying $9.1 Billion To Ineligible Beneficiaries Annually

According to WAVE, Senator Grassley, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee which has jurisdiction over Social Security, has apparently issued a press release attacking Social Security's handling of the disability program. The press release saying that Social Security's Office of Inspector General has issued a report that estimates that the agency is paying out $9.1 billion annually to ineligible beneficiaries. The report is not listed on the OIG website.

Rep Payee Fraud in Raleigh

The Raleigh News and Observer reports on a disability advocate who became a representative payee for Social Security disability recipients. He stole at least $69,000 from claimants and may have stolen over $100,000.

Apr 10, 2006

First Group of Board Certified Specialists in Social Security Disability Advocacy

According to a handout available at the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR) meeting in Boston, the National Board of Trial Advocacy (NBTA) has certified the first group of specialists in Social Security Disability Advocacy. NBTA certifications of specialization are accepted in some, but not all states.

Here is the list of those who have recently been certified by NBTA as Social Security Disability Advocacy specialists:
  • William T. Coplin, Jr, Demopolis, Alabama
  • Terry LaPorte, San Jose, California
  • Donna M. Lefebvre, Knoxville, Tennessee
  • David J. Linden, Napa, California
  • Kenneth A. Miller, Knoxville, Tennessee

Apr 9, 2006

Do Employee Buy-Outs Make Sense?

Social Security and other federal agencies are now "buying-out" many of their long time employees, that is offering them incentives to retire. The effect is to reduce the average experience level of Social Security employees. SSA and other agencies have explained employee buy-outs by saying that the government can save money by replacing these older employees who have high salaries with younger employees who receive lower salaries. The National Council of Social Security Management Associations (NCSSMA) is questioning this logic. The notes of a recent meeting of the NCSSMA board contain this interesting statement:
Our research shows that the benefit costs for new employees are much higher for new employees under FERS [Federal Employees Retirement System, which covers all federal employees first hired beginning in 1987] than the CSRS [Civil Service Retirement System, which only covers federal employees who started their government careers before 1987] employees they are replacing. The difference is 15.4% if you include matching the 5% thrift contribution. The question was raised why we offer early outs if it costs the agency more to do so. Linda McMahon [SSA Deputy Commissioner for Operations] responded that she likes to give this opportunity to people who want to leave to do so. It also gives the agency the opportunity to bring in fresh perspectives and new energy with new hires.

Apr 8, 2006

Social Security CLE Live Webcast

Stetson University Law School's Social Security CLE on May 19 and 20 is now set for live webcast.

Apr 7, 2006

Status of EDIB

Martin Gerry, Deputy Commisioner for Disability and Income Security Programs at SSA, submitted a statement for the record for a hearing before the Subcommittee on Human Resources of the House Ways and Means Committee on the usage of technology to improve public benefits administration. Here is what he had to say about the status of the implementation of EDIB (and he did refer to it as EDIB, rather than AEDIB, removing the word "accelerated" from the name):
This year, I expect each of the DDSs and OHA to be using electronic disability folders on a regular basis, and I expect all 50 states to be fully IDA certified [fully able to function independently using EDIB] by the end of calendar year 2006. The President’s FY 2007 administrative budget of $9.496 billion for SSA would provide the resources to allow SSA to make the necessary technological investments in eDib to maintain service levels and continue to improve the way we do business in the disability process.

Inspector General Gives SSA Good Marks on "Independence Day"

"Independence Day" is what SSA is calling the day they certify a state agency as having made a full transition to the Electronic Folder (EF), used in EDIB. The process of assessing a state's readiness for Independence Day is being called the Independence Day Assessment (IDA). SSA's Inspector General has issued a report giving SSA on the IDA process.

SSA Donating Computers

The Social Security office in Madison, OH is donating 31 used computers and 6 laser printers to the local school district, according to the Mansfield News Journal. This can be taken as a sign of technological progress at SSA, since it was not long ago that any computer equipment that SSA was disposing of would have more properly belonged in a museum of computer history.

Apr 6, 2006

Martin Gerry at NOSSCR Conference

Martin Gerry, who is effectively Jo Anne Barnhart's right hand man at SSA, and the one who has overall charge of her plan to transform the disability adjudication process at SSA spoke today at the NOSSCR Conference in Boston. His remarks were mostly an explanation of the current plan. I noted nothing in his prepared remarks that would surprise anyone who has kept up with recent events at SSA.

Gerry was kind enough to take questions. I posed a question to him that went something like this: "A few years ago some very smart and very well meaning Social Security officials developed a plan that they thought would lead to dramatic improvements in Social Security's hearings process. They called their plan Hearing Process Improvement or HPI. There were early trials which showed problems with HPI. Despite these problems, SSA went rapidly forward into national implementation of HPI and the result was a disaster, with dramatic increases in the length of time it takes to get a hearing at Social Security. Can you assure us that you will not go forward with implementation of your plan in other regions unless and until you can demonstrate in Region I that the plan is making things better?"

There are a couple of possible simple answers to the question: "We definitely won't go forward with implementation outside Region I until we can demonstrate success in Region I" or "We're so sure this will work that we're going to procede rapidly with national implementation regardless of what happens in Region I." Gerry did not give either of these simple answers. Others may characterize what he said and it will be possible to buy a tape of what he said. What I heard was Mr. Gerry talking for some length of time without ever giving anything close to an answer to the question, which, unfortunately, suggests that Gerry and Barnhart intend to go ahead with implementation regardless, or at least that they cannot imagine failure. To be fair to Gerry, later, in response to another questioner, he came back to the question which I raised by saying that he could not imagine going forward with the plan if the number of civil actions in Region I were to dramatically increase. However, that answer is not completely reassuring since the plan is to implement this in a very different way in Region I than would be the case nationally. The plan is to have the Disability Review Board review 100% of all ALJ decisions in Region I during the trial. That would not be possible nationally. A dramatic increase in civil actions is unlikely during the trial because the replacement for the Appeals Council, the Disability Review Board, would be reviewing all decisions in much the same way that all cases are now reviewed by the Appeals Council before a civil action is possible.

International Social Security Report

The U.S. Social Security Administration has released a report on Social Security programs in the Americas.

NADE Newsletter

The National Association of Disability Examiners (NADE), an organization of employees of state disability determination services, has posted its Winter 2006 Newsletter, which includes copies of a good deal of correspondence between NADE and Social Security.

SSA Issues Acquiescence Ruling on Fugitive Felon

The Social Security Administration has issued an acquiescence ruling, agreeing to abide by Fowlkes v. Adamec, 432 F.3d 90 (2d Cir. 2005), in the Second Circuit area. The Second Circuit held in Fowlkes that a person could not be a fugitive felon and ineligible for Social Security benefits if he or she were unaware that they were being sought. This ruling applies only in New York, Connecticut and Vermont.

Apr 5, 2006

SSA Seeking To Overhaul Medical Evidence Collection

Social Security has posted on the Federal Business Opportunities website that it is seeking help in answering the following questions:
What are the availability, capability and experience of consulting services that would enable SSA to find information and products necessary to develop and migrate to a business process that utilizes standards-based transactions for locating, requesting, receiving and utilizing medical information?

Are these consulting services available to provide responses to the following questions:
How can SSA best accomplish building the framework for the new business process?
How should a new business process be best aligned with comparable business processes in the general health care environment?
How could the transition effect the current environment at SSA?
What services, products and processes exist for maximizing the utility of the medical information once it is received in the future as both structured and unstructured data?

Apr 4, 2006

Dispute Over Social Security Trustees

The NY Times reports that a disagreement over the appointment of Social Security trustees is delaying issuance of a report by Social Security's trustees on the financial health of Social Security required by statute. President Bush wants to reappoint two public trustees, but the Senate is resisting, saying that the tradition is that public trustees only serve one term.

Apr 3, 2006

Organizational Changes At SSA

JOA posts on the Connect Board that he and other SSA employees received an e-mail today from the Commissioner of Social Security containing the following news, of uncertain importance:
I am pleased to announce the establishment of the new Office of Disability Adjudication and Review. The current Office of Hearings and Appeals will move from the Office of Disability and Income Security Programs to form the nucleus of this new organization.

Lisa de Soto, currently our General Counsel, will lead the new organization as the Deputy Commissioner for Disability Adjudication and Review. Jacy Thurmond, currently the Associate Commissioner for Hearings and Appeals, will move to the new organization as the Assistant Deputy Commissioner for Disability Adjudication and Review. Tom Crawley will serve as the Acting General Counsel.

Please join me in congratulating Lisa , Jacy and Tom on their new roles. I am sure they can count on your continued support.

Criticism of Constitutionality of Budget Reconciliation From The Right

Norman Ornstein at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) is now describing the passage of the budget reconciliation bill as unconstitutional. AEI is generally labeled as a conservative or right wing think tank. The budget reconciliation bill affects many interests, but the effect on Social Security is primarily on the payment of back SSI benefits.

Apr 2, 2006

Too Much Asbestos at SSA?

Social Security's Office of Inspector General is critical of efforts to control asbestos in SSA buildings.

Apr 1, 2006

Upcoming Meetings and CLE

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