May 31, 2006

Woman Convicted of Social Security Fraud For Using Child's Benefits To Buy Crack

Wendy Carpenter of Cedar Rapids, Iowa has been convicted for using Social Security disability benefits paid to her child to buy crack cocaine according to the WCF Courier.

New HALLEX On Bench Decisions

The Social Security Administration has issued additional instructions in its HALLEX Manual on Administrative Law Judge bench decisions. The new instructions allow bench decisions in widows and widowers, disabled adult child and most child's SSI cases.

Supreme Court Denies Cert

The United States Supreme Court has denied certiorari, that is they have refused to review, a decision of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that denied a constitutional challenge on free speech grounds to a law forbidding private mailings that appear to be from the Social Security Administration. A conservative group had used the words "Social Security Alert" on the outside of an envelope used in a mass mailing.

Supervisory RO Position Advertised

Social Security has advertised the availability of a supervisory Reviewing Officer (RO) position. This is a GS 15 job. As described, the supervisory RO"serves as an advisor to higher-level management in OFedRO and as a first line supervisor in an Operational Division on all matters related to the ongoing operations of assigned functions." The announcement states that there are "many vacancies."

Access To Social Security's Computers

There have been many reports that Social Security has been working on ways to allow claimants and their attorneys to have limited access to Social Security's computer records. It has never been clear how soon this would be coming into general use. A document that Social Security published in the Federal Register suggests that it may not be much longer. Under the Paperwork Reduction Act, whenever Social Security or any other agency requests information from the public in any systematic way, the agency has to request clearance from the Office of Management and Budget. A summary of what is planned must be posted in the Federal Register. Social Security has published a notice in the Federal Register that it intends to request that individuals provide passwords to obtain internet access to Social Security's computer records. Actually, to some extent this is old news since Social Security had already obtained clearance for the use of passwords for trials that have been underway. Now Social Security is providing some different numbers for the number of people they expect to be providing passwords. It is now estimated to be 1,630,771 per year, signaling a dramatic expansion coming soon.

May 30, 2006

Will Lockhart Step Down at SSA Upon Confirmation at OFHEO?

There was an earlier report that James Lockhart, Deputy Commissioner of Social Security, who has been nominated to become the Director of the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight (OFHEO), and who is currently the Acting Head of OFHEO would not resign his job at Social Security and would be able to draw both salaries even if confirmed at OFHEO. However, the Government Sponsored Enterprise Report states that Lockhart will have to resign the Social Security job once confirmed. The same report indicates that another Social Security official, Edward DeMarch, may be joining Lockhart at OFHEO.

Deputy Chief Federal Reviewing Official Job Advertised

Social Security has announced a job vacancy for a Deputy Chief Federal Reviewing Official. The job is described as:

The Deputy Chief Federal Reviewing Official serves as full deputy and "alter ego" to the Chief Federal Reviewing Official (Associate Commissioner, Office of the Federal Reviewing Official) and is responsible and accountable for the overall program management, direction, planning, objectives, policy-making, and coordination of the Office of the Federal Reviewing Official. Assumes full responsibility for operations in the absence of the Chief Federal Reviewing Official and acts on all matters with full authority of commitment within assigned jurisdiction.

It is a GS 15 job. The announcement indicates that "background and/or security investigation required." Can Social Security do the interviewing as well as the investigation and get someone in the job by August 1, when the Reviewing Official program is supposed to start functioning?

New Drug For Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C already leads to a fair number of Social Security disability claims. There has been reason to believe that Hepatitis C will become vastly more costly for Social Security in coming years since the disease has spread rapidly since it was first discovered 17 years ago. The disease has a long latency period. There may be four million infected people in the United States. Many have no idea that they have a disease that is likely to debilitate them before killing them. Current treatment for Hepatitis C often causes intolerable side effects and is usually ineffective anyway.

Viropharma has announced an experimental drug that it says cut Hepatitis C viral levels by 97% in only 14 days. Only a small scale human study has been done so far. If this holds up, it would be a major public health development and could prevent a big rise in Social Security disability costs.

May 26, 2006

Tremolite Ruling Issued

Social Security has issued Ruling 06-01p on "Evaluating Cases Involving Tremolite Asbestos-Related Impairments." The Ruling appears to contain nothing new. It was apparently issued to satisfy Senator Baucus of Montana, a state where tremolite has been mined. The tremolite mining has led to many sick people who have apparently been having difficult winning their Social Security disability claims. It is unlikely that this Ruling will help them in any way, although unpublicized changes in Social Security's Quality Assurance system may.

May 25, 2006

Gerry Promises Tremolite Change

The Billings, MT Gazette quotes Martin Gerry, Social Security's Deputy Commissioner for Disability and Income Security Programs, as promising to change Social Security's "regulations" to include victims of disease related to tremolite asbestos, a problem which may be specific to the Libby, Montana area. Exactly what will be done is unclear since Social Security seems to lack any regulations dealing specifically with asbestos related disease other than Listing 13.15 for mesothelioma, which is caused by asbestos, but that Listing does not require proof of any type or degree of asbestos exposure. An article in the Daily Interlake of Kalispell, MT indicates that SSA will release a Ruling that will specify that a person can qualify for benefits based upon exposure to tremolite asbestos as well as exposure to the more common chrysotile asbestos. No ruling was published in the Federal Register today. This all sounds quite mysterious since the word "chrysotile" cannot even be found in Social Security's enormous Program Operations Manual Series. Distinctions over the source of asbestos which has led to disability seems utterly irrelevant to disability determination anyway. Montana residents with asbestos damage from tremolite exposure may be making a not uncommon mistake -- thinking that the problems they are experiencing in obtaining Social Security disability benefits must be the result of some form of discrimation rather than a general problem affecting most Social Security disability claimants.

Update: A ruling on this subject is scheduled for publication on Friday, May 26.

Veterans Disability Benefits Commission Votes Down Social Security Offset

The Veteran's Disability Benefits Commission has voted 11-2 to not even study the possibility of offsetting veterans disability benefits by Social Security disability benefits. This must be considered a rebuke for the chairman of the Commission who had been pushing the idea of an offset. Instead of an offset, the Commission intends to study issues:
... such as waivers if a veteran has less than six quarters of SSDI eligibility, or possibly to expedite reviews for veterans already service-connected by VA or for those medically retired from the military. Other key considerations would be to understand the effects on quality of life for disabled veterans and to understand utilization rates of SSDI by veterans.

SSA Receives Award

The Association of Government Accountants has presented its annual Certificate of Excellence to the Social Security Administration, along with seven other agencies. The Certificate recognizes "outstanding Fiscal Year 2005 Performance and Accountability Reports."

May 24, 2006

SSA Official Plans To Be Doubledipper

James Lockhart III, who holds the second ranking position at Social Security as Deputy Commissioner has been nominated by the President to be the Director of the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight (OFHEO). Lockhart is awaiting Senate confirmation, but in the meantime the President has appointed Lockhart to be the Acting Director at OFHEO. Morningstar reports that Lockhart plans to keep his job as Deputy Commissioner at Social Security even after confirmation in the OFHEO job. He is receiving no salary from OFHEO now, but Lockhart expects to draw salaries both from OFHEO and SSA once he is confirmed at OFHEO.

Lockhart has already been critical of the compensation paid to executives at Fannie Mae, one of the federal housing corporations that he is now overseeing. Those executives were granted enormous bonuses based upon fraudulent accounting. Lockhart is quoted in the Washington Post as saying that "You could argue none of it [bonuses paid to Fannie Mae executives] was deserved."

Lockhart's dual role could cause serious problems for OFHEO and SSA if something happens to Jo Anne Barnhart, the Commissioner of Social Security, since Lockhart would then become the acting head of Social Security as well as OFHEO.

May 23, 2006

DSI Training

Social Security's Disability Service Improvement (DSI) plan is scheduled for implementation on a trial basis in Social Security's Boston Region, beginning on August 1. The National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR) and the Disability Law Center in Boston are sponsoring an all day training session on DSI at Suffolk University Law Center in Boston on July 10 for attorneys and others who represent Social Security disability claimants. Details are still being worked out and no information about the meeting is available online at either the NOSSCR or the Disability Law Center websites at this time. To register, send an e-mail

Social Security History Preserved

The Baltimore Sun has a nice article on the work of Larry DeWitt, the official historian of the Social Security Administration.

May 22, 2006

"Special" Medical-Vocational Profiles

Social Security has posted an addition to its Program Operations Manual Series (POMS) that lists three "special" medical-vocational profiles in which a claimant should be found disabled. These profiles are in addition to what are generally referred to as the "grid regulations", which list several dozen such profiles. Here are the three profiles listed in this POMS issuance:
I. A finding of “disabled” will be made for persons who:
  • are not working at SGA level, and

  • have a history of 35 years or more of arduous unskilled work, and

  • can no longer perform this past arduous work because of a severe impairment(s), and

  • have no more than a marginal education.

NOTE: This provision would not necessarily be defeated by very short periods of semi-skilled or skilled work if no transferable skills exist or by longer periods of semi-skilled or skilled work if it is clear that the skill acquired is not readily transferable to lighter work and makes no meaningful contribution to an individual’s ability to do any work within his or her present functional capacity.

II. A finding of “disabled” will be made for persons who:

  • have a severe impairment(s), and

  • have no past relevant work (PRW), and

  • are age 55 or older, and

  • have no more than a limited education.

III. A finding of “disabled” will be made for persons who:
  • are not working at SGA level, and

  • have a lifetime commitment (30 years or more) to a field of work that is unskilled, or is skilled or semi-skilled but with no transferable skills, and

  • can no longer perform this past work because of a severe impairment(s), and

  • are closely approaching retirement age (age 60 or older), and

  • have no more than a limited education.

NOTE: To satisfy the requirement for this profile, the 30 years of lifetime commitment work does not have to be at one job or for one employer but rather work in one field of a very similar nature. If the person has a history of working 30 years or more in one field of work, the use of this profile will not be precluded by the fact that the person also has work experience in other fields, so long as that work experience in other fields is not past relevant work which the person is still able to perform.

May 21, 2006

Retrieving Old Folders at SSA

Old claim folders are a perennial problem for attorneys representing Social Security disability claimants. Many claimants with currently pending claims have filed previously. Sometimes they have been on disability benefits previously. Often the attorneys want these old claim files retrieved. This can be difficult to accomplish since field office personnel are often unfamiliar with the process. Even when the old file is properly ordered, it can take quite some time before it is retrieved. Social Security has issued new instructions in its POMS manual of how it is done.

May 20, 2006

Empire Law Center Newsletter

The Empire Law Center of Rochester, NY has released its May 2006 issue of Disability Law News, a newsletter on disability law with a strong emphasis on Social Security issues. The newsletter has excellent coverage of recent developments in Social Security law.

May 19, 2006

Automated Phone Calls to Claimants With Hearings

With no fanfare or advance warning Social Security has begun a program that gives each Social Security claimant who has a hearing scheduled with an Administrative Law Judge an automated telephone call to remind them of the hearing.

Reality Check

A Baltimore Sun article about a McKinsey & Company study has sobering news for people who have inadequate retirement savings:

Four out of 10 retired workers left their jobs sooner than they had planned, usually because of health problems or the loss of employment, according to the report by McKinsey & Co., which was based on a national survey of 3,086 people.

The survey also found that 45 percent of people who are currently employed planned to keep working past age 65. But among the retirees polled, only 13 percent said they had done so.

May 18, 2006

Kingsport, TN Woman Charged

Knoxnews reports that Angela Kodak of Kingsport, TN has been charged with fraud for collecting Social Security children's benefits since 1991 even though she had given up custody of the children. The amount of the alleged overpayment is nearly $200,000.

Can We Afford Social Security When Baby Boomers Retire?

The National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI) is doing a program in Washington, D.C. on May 25 on whether the country can afford Social Security once baby boomers retire. Here is some information on the program (which features a free breakfast!):

Location National Press Club, First Amendment Lounge
(529 14th Street, NW, 13th Floor, Washington, DC)
Fee Free Event
Registration Deadline 05/24/2006
Contact Anita Cardwell

** Registration and continental breakfast at 8:30am**

Policy makers and policy advisors are busy examining ways to address national concerns about the United States' aging population. How are current retirees faring? What are the latest trends in private pensions and savings? Can we afford Social Security when baby boomers retire?

You are invited to join the National Academy of Social Insurance for this important update on issues affecting all Americans. Come prepared to ask questions. Ample time will be set aside for discussion.

Luisa Grillo-Chope,
National Council of La Raza

New Findings: Income of Americans 65 and Older
Debra Whitman, Congressional Research Service

Developments in Pensions and Savings
William Arnone, Ernst and Young

Can We Afford Social Security When Baby Boomers Retire?
Virginia Reno, National Academy of Social Insurance

Stephen Goss, Chief Actuary of Social Security
Margaret Simms, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies
David John, Heritage Foundation
William Spriggs, Howard University

Signature Proxy Extends to Appeals

A Social Security Emergency Message reveals that Social Security will accept signature proxies on appeals effective on May 22, 2006. A "signature proxy" is a substitute for an actual "wet" signature on an actual piece of paper. This means is that effective May 22, Social Security will accept appeals filed electronically.

May 17, 2006

New ALJ Register On The Way?

Nancy Kichak, Associate Director of the Strategic Resources Policy Division of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), testified today before the Committe on Government Reform of the House of Representatives on issues regarding Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) employed by the federal government. OPM is responsible for maintaining a register of applicants for the position of ALJ. The register has been effectively closed to new applicants since 1999 due to litigation and OPM's lethargy. ALJs are still being hired off a very old list of applicants. OPM published draft regulations in December 2005. Here is a quote from Ms. Kichak's statement, which does not suggest that OPM is planning to rush into anything:
OPM is presently completing work on the new ALJ exam [the "exam" for ALJs is mostly a review of the application]. Although the opening date will depend entirely upon the issuance of newly proposed ALJ regulations, OPM is committed to rolling out the new exam expeditiously once the revised regulations become effective. When a new register is generated from the new exam, the current register will be terminated. When the new exam comes out, OPM also plans to take advantage of our state-of-the-art examining technology, USA Staffing, which allows applicants to apply on-line.

We are making great progress in developing the revised regulations referenced above. In December 2005, OPM posted a proposed rule to revise the ALJ program. The proposed rule removed redundant procedures and outdated information, clarified bar membership requirements, and provided for the ALJ examination process to be established in a manner similar to other OPM examinations. The proposed rule was open for public comment for 60 days. In conjunction with publishing these proposed regulations, OPM also posted a new ALJ qualification standard on its Web site. The ALJ qualification standard was also open for public comment for a 60-day period. At this time, OPM is carefully considering the comments submitted on both the proposed rule and ALJ qualification standard

Inspector General Report on SSI Termination Overpayments

Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG) has done a study on the costs of continuining disability benefits to SSI recipients as they appeal decisions that would cut off their benefits. OIG estimates that the costs of doing so were $199.5 million over a two year period.

A few questions come to mind in reading this study. Why was the OIG doing a study of this to begin with? Congress made a value judgment that the fair thing to do for the desperately poor people who receive SSI was to not cut off their monthly checks until the appeal process was finished. Is the Inspector General producing the report in an effort to get the statute changed? What is the purpose of the report otherwise? Is this an appropriate use of OIG funds? OIG attempted to add a little something to suggest that there is some issue other than the statute by saying that the overpayments would not have been as great if SSA could process these cases more quickly. That is true, but there is no mention in the report of the terrible staffing shortages at SSA that delay everything the agency does, including SSI terminations. Although OIG constantly criticizes delays and mistakes at SSA, there is never a mention in OIG reports of the severe constraints imposed upon SSA because its staff has been cut dramatically over the last twenty-five years while SSA's workload has increased dramatically. Perhaps SSA's staffing shortages are not so apparent at OIG, which seems to be flush with money and personnel.

Baltimore Man Sentenced For Social Security Fraud

A Baltimore man was sentenced to a year and a day in prison for fraudulently claiming to have custody of his children to receive about $20,000 in Social Security benefits, according to the Baltimore Sun.

Social Security Advisory Board Meeting Agenda

The Social Security Advisory Board (SSAB) has released the agenda for its meeting today. SSAB never releases its agenda until the last minute, even though the agendas do not seem either complicated or sensitive.

9:15 a.m. - 10:45 a.m. Steve Goss, Chief Actuary, Social Security Administration

10:45 a.m. - 11:15 a.m. Clare McFarland, Deputy Director, Office of Medicare and Medicaid Cost Estimates Group

1:45p.m. - 3:30 p.m. Kelly Croft, Chief Quality Officer, Social Security Administration

New Regulations on Civil Monetary Penalties

The Social Security Administration has published final regulations on civil monetary penalties to

... implement amendments to section 1129 of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 1320a–8) to provide for the imposition of civil monetary penalties and/or assessments: against representative payees who convert Social Security benefits for a use other than for the use or benefit of the beneficiary; against those who withhold disclosure of material statements to SSA; and, against those who make false or misleading statements or representations or omissions of material fact with respect to benefits or payments under title VIII of the Social Security Act.

The regulations had been criticized by the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR) as overly broad, but were adopted with only minor changes.

May 16, 2006

New Regs on PASS

Social Security has published new final regulations on the SSI Program for Achieving Self Support (PASS) program. PASS plans allow SSI recipients to set aside income and resources to help achieve a goal of self support. The new regulations implement a statutory change adopted in 1994 allowing PASS plans to last up to 48 months. Because of other changes in the administration of the PASS program, very few SSI recipients are using the PASS program. It has become nearly a dead letter. Social Security statistics show a declining number of SSI recipients returning to work. Annual Report of the Supplemental Security Income Program 2005 at page 92.

SSA Tries to Drum Up Interest in Ticket To Work

The Social Security Administration is scheduling meetings in Richmond, Sacramento, Boise, Helena, Austin, Mobile, Des Moines, Lansing, Albany and Hartford to try to encourage community groups to apply to offer community based planning and assistance for Social Security disability benefit recipients who wish to use the Ticket to Work program. Despite great fanfare the Ticket to Work program has drawn little interest from Social Security disability benefit recipients.

May 15, 2006

The Final Day

Today is the final day for Medicare recipients to sign up for Medicare Part D, the prescription drug benefit, without penalty. Efforts, primarily by Democrats in Congress, to extend the deadline have been unsuccessful. There are signs that there is interest among Republicans in Congress in reopening the signup period, but it is unclear whether this will go forward. President Bush has strongly opposed any extension of the deadline and many Republicans want to put this behind them as quickly as possible. Any Medicare recipient who has not already signed up should carefully consider signing up before midnight.

May 14, 2006

Monthly Social Security Stats and More

Social Security's Office of Policy (OP) has released the monthly statistical reports on Title II and Title XVI of the Social Security Act. OP has also released selected statistics on children receiving SSI.

May 13, 2006

Most Popular Baby Names

Social Security has released its list of most popular baby names for 2005. The top 1,000 names for each gender are given as well as lists of the most popular names for each state. Here are the national top ten for each gender:

Boys: Girls:





















May 12, 2006

New ALJs at Social Security

An anonymous source on the ALJ Improvement Board has posted the following list of new Administrative Law Judges recently hired by the Social Security Administration along with the offices where they will end up:
  1. Mayaguez, PR McNamee-Alemany, John
  2. San Juan, PR Grippo, Theodore
  3. Ponce, PR Colon, Rafael
  4. San Juan, PR Lebron, Roberto
  5. Albany, NY Pickett, John
  6. Buffalo, NY Trost, Timothy
  7. Brooklyn, NY Weinberg, Maryellen
  8. Newark, NJ Ferrie, Brian
  9. Newark, NJ Krappa, Donna
  10. Pittsburg, PA Cohen, Douglas
  11. Birmingham, AL Lang, jerry
  12. Florence, SC Digby, Patrick
  13. Greenville, SC Swank, Drew
  14. Charlotte, NC Jacobson, Todd
  15. Charlotte, NC Hicks, Clinton
  16. Atlanta, GA Auerbach, Larry
  17. Atlanta, GA Cornick, Karen
  18. Nashville, TN Graves, Carmen
  19. Jackson, MS Schwartz, Phillip declined
  20. Tupelo, MS Fraiser, John
  21. Kingsport, TN Schwartzberg, Sherman
  22. Jackson, MS Rose, Deborah
  23. Tupelo, MS Davis, Harold
  24. Evansville, IN Jacobs, George
  25. Ft. Wayne, IN Miller, Terry
  26. Detroit, MI D’Amato, Donald
  27. Detroit, MI Roulhac, Roy
  28. Columbus, OH Shailer, John
  29. Evansville, IN Vaughn, Jacqueline
  30. Peoria, IL Jordan, Alice
  31. Milwaukee, WI Dombai, Les Nicholas
  32. Lansing, MI Matulewicz, Dennis
  33. Detroit, MI Neumann, David
  34. Flint, MI Fina, Joel
  35. Milwaukee, WI Moore, Ayrie
  36. Albuquerque, NM Willner, Israel
  37. Dallas, TX Shilling, Ralph
  38. Shreveport, LA Haigler, Dave
  39. Shreveport, LA Rodriguez, Leslie John
  40. Kansas city, MO Cooke, Christine
  41. Wichita, KS Werre, Edmund
  42. Wichita, KS Burbank, Robert
  43. Seattle, WA Sampson, Victor

Ticket to Work Newsletter

Maximus, the prime contractor for Social Security's Ticket to Work program, has released its Spring/Summer Ticket to Work Newsletter. At least they are no longer referring to it as the "Maximus Ticket to Work Program", as they did in the past, a name which suggested what many suspect, that the Ticket to Work program is mainly providing work for Maximus rather than Social Security disability recipients.

May 11, 2006

Barnhart Statement to Social Security Subcommittee

Commissioner Barnhart's written statement to the Social Security Subcommittee has been posted. The Subcommittee's website indicates that it is possible to watch the hearing live over the internet, but this may be in error. Every time I have checked, there was nothing to watch.

Watch Barnhart's Testimony Live

Jo Anne Barnhart, Commissioner of Social Security, will be testifying before the House Social Security Subcommittee today (May 11) at 10:00 on "Service Delivery Challenges." The Subcommittee's website has a link allowing anyone to watch and listen to the proceedings live.

Ticket to Work Meeting

The Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Advisory Panel has scheduled a meeting in Arlington, VA from June 7 through June 9. No agenda is available at this time.

May 10, 2006

Senate Votes $38 Million Extra for SSA

The Senate has approved $38 million in additional funding for the Social Security Administration as part of the Hurricane Katrina supplemental appropriation bill.

Inconsistency Between ALJs

Houston TV Station KHOU has recently run a story on inconsistency between ALJs at the Downtown Houston Social Security hearing office. The percentage of favorable decisions issued by ALJs in that office ranged between 68.11% and 7.19%. Registration is required to watch a video of the story (and even then there may be technical problems.) However, the statistics on ALJ allowance rates in the Downtown Houston office are available as a PDF and the ALJs names are listed. Also there are statistics that show the ALJ allowance rate by state, figures that I have never seen before. It is hard to understand how the reporter obtained the statistics on ALJ allowance rates that list ALJs by name. Social Security has released these numbers previously in response to Freedom of Information Act requests, but not with the ALJs' names listed.

Veterans Disability Benefits Commission Studies Offsetting Social Security Disability Benefits

There have been allegations from outside parties that the Veterans Disability Compensation Commission recently set up by Congress was studying the question of whether veterans disability compensation should be reduced by Social Security disability benefits. There is no doubt now. The Commission has now confirmed this with a press release. No final decision has been made, but it seems clear from the press release that recommending an offset is under very serious consideration.

May 9, 2006

A Question About Part D

Many Social Security disability claimants are approved for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). It is taking so long to get an ALJ hearing that most of these claimants are now entitled to retroactive Medicare benefits, despite what amounts to a two and a half year waiting period for Medicare coverage. The mechanics of retroactive entitlement to Part A and Part B of Medicare are well established -- Part A coverage automatically goes back to the date of first eligibility and Part B goes back if the claimant asks that it go back and is willing to pay the back premiums. But what about Part D, the prescription drug benefit? Is there any way to get retroactive Part D Medicare coverage?

Social Security Financing Problem Disputed

David Francis reports in his Christian Science Monitor column that the annual report of the Social Security trustees may seriously overstate Social Security's funding problems. He relies upon David Langer, a New York actuary, who claims that there is actually no problem. The issue is how one predicts future economic growth. Very slow economic growth was assumed in the prediction that the Social Security trust funds will run out of money in 2040. According to the column, the slow growth assumptions were choosen deliberately to portray Social Security's situation in a bad light. Actually, no one can accurately predict economic growth in the 75 year period over which Social Security trust fund predictions are made. In the past, the economic growth projections used by Social Security's actuaries were too low. Assume more vigorous growth and there is little or no problem.

May 8, 2006

Reviewing Official Job Advertised

Social Security is now accepting applications for the Reviewing Official (RO) job that is a centerpiece of Commissioner Barnhart's plan to revamp the adjudication of disability claims. The job notice indicates that the positions will be in Falls Church, VA. No specific number of jobs is mentioned, only that there are "many vacancies." The job is at the GS 13 or GS 14 level and requires a fair amount of Social Security experience. Social Security is only accepting applications for the position through May 19.

May 7, 2006

Medicare Part D Implementation at SSA

Beatrice Disman, Chairman of Social Security's Medicare Planning and Implementation Task Force testified on May 3 to the Health Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee. She spoke on Social Security's efforts to implement Part D of Medicare, the prescription drug benefit. Her prepared remarks did not contain any statement on whether she believes that the signup period for Part D should be extended past the current May 15 deadline.

May 6, 2006

Fee Payments Down In April

Payments of fees to attorneys and others who qualify for direct payment for representing claimants before the Social Security Administration were 13% lower in April than in March, 2006, as well as down 13% from April 2005, in figures released by Social Security.

Fee Payments

Month/Year Volume Amount

May 5, 2006

Social Security Extends Digestive Listings

Social Security's listings of impairments are a significant factor in determining the outcome of disability benefits claims. Each listing has an expiration date. The expiration date for the digestive disorders listings was coming up in July 2006. Social Security has now published a statement in the Federal Register extending the expiration date to July 2, 2007. The statement indicates that Social Security intends to amend the listing before that date.

Social Security Subcommittee Hearing

The House Social Security Subcommittee has scheduled a hearing for May 11 on service delivery challenges facing the Social Security Administration. The Chairman of the Subcommittee, Jim McCrery issued the following statement about the hearing:
Despite growing workloads and a number of service delivery challenges, including assisting the victims of the Gulf Coast hurricanes, the employees of the Social Security Administration press on, doing everything they can to effectively serve our Nation’s seniors, individuals with disabilities, and their families. The costs of providing these services are paid for by the hard-earned wages of American workers, and these workers expect and deserve responsive service. This hearing will highlight the degree to which that service is achieved, and at what cost.

May 4, 2006

NADR Referral Service

The National Association of Disability Representatives (NADR) now has a referral service for claimants who wish representation. NADR is an organization composed primarily of non-attorney representatives of Social Security disability claimants. NADR's referral service will be in competition with that of NOSSCR, the National Organization of Social Security Disability Representatives (NOSSCR), an organization composed primarily of attorneys who represent Social Security disability claimants.

May 3, 2006

Atlanta Regional Commissioner Receives Award

Paul Barnes, Social Security's Regional Commissioner for the Atlanta Region, has been awarded the 2005 Presidential Rank Award in recognition of personal leadership and achieving outstanding results. The award is conferred upon the top 1% of federal career executives.

May 2, 2006

More Litigation on Budget Reconciliation

The 2005 budget reconciliation bill, labeled as the "Deficit Reduction Act of 2005", was passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the President. It contains provisions affecting the Social Security Administration, primarily a new requirement for staged payments of back SSI benefits. The versions passed by the two houses of Congress were not identical, a fact that was known before the President signed the bill. Since the bill passed by the narrowest of margins in each house, Republican leaders have been very leery of a legislative correction to the problem, insisting that the bill became law despite the differences in the bills passed by the House and Senate. This brought about first a lawsuit in Alabama filed by a Republican lawyer and politican, then a lawsuit brought by Public Citizen, a Washington based public interest group, and now a lawsuit by eleven members of the House of Representatives, filed in Detroit. There may also be a lawsuit in Florida on the same issue. The matter is likely headed to the Supreme Court.

May 1, 2006

Social Security Trustees Report For 2005

The annual report of the Social Security trustees for 2005 has finally been released. This document is normally of little public interest. There is a little more interest this year than usual because the report had been delayed due to a dispute between the President and the Senate over the appointment of public trustees. That dispute was settled by the use of recess appointments. The report shows that the trust funds will be depleted in 2040, a year earlier than indicated by the last report.

Status of Disability Service Improvement Plan

I suppose we can officially call Commissioner Barnhart's plan for disability adjudication at Social Security the Disability Service Improvement (DSI). Implementation of DSI is set to begin on August 1, 2006 in Social Security's Boston Region. A centerpiece of DSI is the Reviewing Officer (RO) position, a new job. Although implementation of DSI is supposed to begin three months from today, Social Security has not yet announced any job openings for ROs or their supervisors on the USAJobs website. Interviewing job applicants takes time. After they are hired new employees often have to move themselves and their families to a new city. Training of new employees takes time. In general, the Federal establishment moves more slowly than private enterprise. All of this suggests that the August 1, 2006 start date for DSI may already be in danger.

Upcoming Meetings and CLE

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