Dec 31, 2007

Attorney User Fee Stays At 6.3% For 2008

From today's Federal Register:
...[T]he Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999, established an assessment for the services required to determine and certify payments to attorneys from the benefits due claimants ...

That legislation set the assessment for the calendar year 2000 at 6.3 percent of the amount that would be required to be certified for direct payment to the attorney ... For subsequent years, the legislation requires the Commissioner of Social Security to determine the percentage rate necessary to achieve full recovery of the costs of determining and certifying fees to attorneys, but not in excess of 6.3 percent. ...

The Commissioner of Social Security has determined, based on the best available data, that the current rate of 6.3 percent will continue for 2008 ...

Dec 30, 2007

Marshfield News-Herald On Backlogs

Every newspaper in America will eventually do a story on Social Security's backlogs. From the Marshfield, WI News-Herald:
Since a workplace injury, Wisconsin Rapids resident Jennifer Allen has seen three surgeons and a pain specialist.

Although damaged disks and a pinched nerve have kept her from working since 2003, she won't know whether she is qualified for disability benefits until 2009.

An almost 750,000-case backlog of Social Security Administration disability benefit hearings is keeping her from finding out whether her two claim denials will be overturned.

Wisconsin has about 13,000 cases pending and only a handful of administrative law judges to handle them, according to the Social Security Administration. Nationally, about 2.5 million people applied for the Social Security disability program in 2007, according to the administration's 2007 fiscal year report.

Dec 29, 2007

Lupus Foundation On Five Day Rule

From the Centre Daily Times of Pennsylvania:
As part of its mission to provide service, support and hope to all people affected by lupus, the Lupus Foundation of America (LFA) submitted comments today to Commissioner Michael Astrue of the Social Security Administration (SSA), regarding a proposed change to the rules which could make it more difficult for people appealing a social security determination.

The proposed rule would require medical evidence to be submitted 5 days before an administrative hearing. Under the proposed rule, if the medical evidence was not received by the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) within 5 days of the hearing, applicants could be forced to file new applications to ensure that relevant evidence was considered, rather than continuing the appeals process. This could cause months or years of delays, loss of retroactive benefits, and in some cases result in a complete denial of benefits. ...

The symptoms of lupus make diagnosis difficult because they are sporadic and imitate the symptoms of many other illnesses. Because of the unique and complicated diagnosis of lupus, the LFA is concerned that if the proposed re-opening rules are enacted, individuals will not be allowed to submit medical evidence less than five business days before the administrative hearing.

Dec 28, 2007

Comments On Proposed Procedural Rules Changes

My Comments On Procedural Rules

I have posted on the separate Social Security Perspectives blog my comments on the proposed changes to Social Security's procedural rules.

I urge anyone reading this to file their own comments. Today is the deadline. Comments may be filed online.

The Motley Fool (And Allsup) On Social Security Disability

From The Motley Fool (a internet investing advice site):
Most investors today are taking steps to provide for their own retirement income, since they understand that relying solely upon Social Security retirement benefits is a prescription for poverty. But many seem more than willing to count on Social Security's disability program if something happens to them during their careers. However, they may not realize just how little is covered -- or how difficult it might be to get benefits. ...

Even if you meet all the requirements, it's tough just to get a hearing. There's already a backlog of 750,000 pending requests for disability hearings at the SSA's Office of Disability Adjudication and Review. That backlog equates to about one in every 300 American adults. It's a long line you'll be standing in if you're expecting government insurance to carry you through. And that backlog is expected to keep growing.

Jim Allsup, a disability claims expert and president of Allsup Inc., has seen a 168% increase in the number of people seeking out his assistance in navigating the minefield of the disability application process. Some experts suggest that statistics show as many as 70% of all disability claims are initially denied by Social Security. With that in mind, Allsup has offered 10 ideas to break through the backlog, including timely filing of your application, preparing an accurate medical record, and reducing your spending.

Dec 27, 2007

Deadline To Post Comments On Procedural Regulations Is December 28.

About two months ago, the Social Security Administration (SSA) posted a notice of proposed rule-making (NPRM) on changes in its procedural regulations. The deadline for posting comments on this NPRM is December 28. This is a major NPRM. Anyone who works in the Social Security disability field, either for SSA or representing claimants should strongly consider filing comments on the NPRM. If you want to comment, you must do so quickly. Comments can be posted online.

Bush Signs Appropriations Bill

President Bush has signed the omnibus appropriations bill that will fund Social Security's administrative operations through September 30, 2008. This is is likely to be the rate at which the agency can spend money until early 2009, since there seems little chance of agreement between a lame duck Bush and the Democratic majority in Congress on the fiscal year 2009 budget.

Saving The Juicy Stuff For The Week Of Christmas

From today's Federal Register:
We are issuing these final rules to adopt without change the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking published on August 16, 2007 at 72 FR 45991. These final rules amend the regulation at 20 CFR 422.527, which requires a person, institution, or organization (person) to obtain the Social Security Administration's (SSA's) approval prior to reproducing, duplicating, or privately printing any SSA prescribed application or other form whether or not the person intended to charge a fee. Section 1140(a)(2)(A) of the Social Security Act (the Act) prohibits a person from charging a fee to reproduce, reprint, or distribute any SSA application, form, or publication unless he/she obtains the authorization of the Commissioner of Social Security in accordance with such regulations as he may prescribe.

Dec 26, 2007

Christmas Poll

Social Security Recipients By Zip Code

Dec 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Monthly Social Security Stats

The Social Security Administration has issued its monthly statistics for Title II and Title XVI of the Social Security Act.

Dec 24, 2007

Nebraska Supreme Court On Effect Of Social Security Child's Benefits On Child Support

The Nebraska Supreme Court has held in Gress v. Gress that a father's child support obligation is not reduced by Social Security children's benefits received by the child. The child involved has Down Syndrome. It is not clear from the decision, but the benefits appear to be Supplemental Security Income disabled child benefits, rather than benefits on the father's account. Previously, the court had held in Ward v. Ward that a father was entitled to an offset for a child's Social Security benefits, even when those benefits were not on the father's account.

Group Home Fraud

From the Gainesville Sun:

Kehua Hu owned and operated Hu Group Homes, 1259 NW 60th St., from 2000 to 2004, providing long-term care for adults and children identified as retarded, psychiatric, self-injurious or physically challenged.

Hu admitted that during those four years, she was depositing her residents' Social Security checks into her checking account at Campus USA Credit Union, stealing a total of $215,500 for her personal use. ...

Now Hu faces 18 charges of payee fraud. Each charge carries up to five years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.

Dec 23, 2007

Fraud Allegation In South Carolina

From the Times and Democrat of Orangeburg, SC:
Latoya Shantell Green, 23, of Orangeburg has been charged in a one-count indictment alleging that between June 2003 and May 2007 she stole approximately $23,731 from the government by forging and cashing 47 Social Security checks that were payable to her deceased aunt, according to the U.S. Attorney's office.

Dec 22, 2007

Cert Denied In Public Citizen Case

The Supreme Court has refused to hear Public Citizen v. United States District Court, a case having to do with the validity of the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, which contained a number of items affecting the Social Security Administration.

Don't Blame Us!

A letter to the editor published in the New York Times:

Re “Disabled Need Help Now, Not Later” (letters, Dec. 17):

The New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance takes great pride in our expeditious review of federal disability claims.

Our work force has the tools and the training to decide initial claims in a timely manner. We review extensive medical documentation, consult with medical professionals and render a decision in less than three months on average.

The backlogs identified by The New York Times in its earlier coverage occur at the appeals stage, which is directly administered by the Social Security Administration.

As a result of our ability to manage our own caseload, our office has taken on and completed approximately 4,500 cases that would otherwise have been handled by the Social Security Administration, to assist in reducing the backlog of cases on appeal.

David A. Hansell

Albany, Dec. 17, 2007

The writer is the commissioner of the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance.

Fraud In Illinois

From WREX-TV in Rockford, IL:
A Rockford woman pleads guilty to stealing social security benefits.

Joan Jarrett, 61, got about more than $79,000 illegally. Investigators say she applied for supplemental security income benefits in 1990 because she wasn't living with her husband at the time.

Even though they started living together again the next year, Jarrett got the benefits until 2005. Jarrett even admitted to lying to the Social Security Administration about living with her husband.

She has to pay the money back and could get as much as 10 years in prison.

QDD Begins In Missouri

No one is even pretending that "Quick Disability Determinations" (QDD) will solve Social Security's backlogs. It is hard to convince those in the field that there is anything new about QDD, other than the name, but QDD is the only fig leaf at hand. From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, announced that the Social Security Administration has implemented its new quick disability determination (QDD) process in Missouri's disability determination services. Under QDD, a predictive model analyzes specific elements of data within the electronic claims file to identify claims where there is a high potential that the claimant is disabled and where evidence of the person's allegations can be quickly and easily obtained. ... "The length of time many people wait for a disability decision is unacceptable," Commissioner Astrue said. "I am committed to a process that is as fair and speedy as possible. While there is no single magic bullet, with better systems, better business processes and better ways of fast-tracking targeted cases, we can greatly improve the service we provide to the citizens of Missouri."
Really, there is a "magic bullet." It is called "being able to hire enough personnel to get the work done."

Dec 21, 2007

Commissioner's Holiday Message

A broadcast e-mail:
From: ^Commissioner Broadcast
Sent: Friday, December 21, 2007 2:44 PM

A Message To All SSA And DDS Employees

Subject: Holiday Message

I want to take this opportunity to wish each of you and your families a wonderful holiday season. I hope that your holidays are filled with happiness and cheer.

I also want to share some important budget news. As you may have heard by now, Congress has filled the SSA stocking more fully this year than it has in a long time. Congress has passed, and we expect the President to sign, an appropriations bill giving the agency $150 million more than the Presidents original request. Late in the process we also gained some flexibility we didn't anticipate relating to program integrity work. We will get more information out to you after the new year.

I have just arrived back in Boston, and I'm looking forward to spending time with family for a little while. We have had a good finish to a good year, and I hope that you all have a chance to unwind and relax for a while!

So, as we celebrate this welcome budget news and the holiday season, let me thank you all for the extraordinary work you have accomplished this year. May you and yours have a happy, healthy new year.

Michael J. Astrue


Connected With New York Times Article?

The Social Security Administration has long urged its employees to be sensitive to cases in which claimants threaten suicide. The agency has just reissued instructions on this subject. You have to wonder if this is connected with the recent New York Times article, which included the sad story of a disability claimant who committed suicide.

Oregon Reports In

From the Portland Tribune:

Kevin Kilmer is stuck in limbo.

Kilmer, 46, is a former machinist who suffers from a rare condition known as a Type II Chiari malformation. [I am familiar with this disorder. It is seriously bad news. If Michael Astrue wants to do something to help people with rare diseases who are not being treated fairly by Social Security, this would be a good place to start.] The bones of his skull press down on his spinal cord, causing devastating headaches and other neurological problems including blurred vision, tinnitus, and loss of sensation in his arms and legs. ...

In January 2005, unable to work any longer, Kilmer applied for Social Security disability benefits — and thus stepped into a bureaucratic netherworld that every year swallows hundreds of thousands of disabled Americans.

Three years later, his case still is unresolved, leaving Kilmer broke and frustrated.

Las Vegas Sun Editorial

From the Las Vegas Sun:

The federal government's backlog of Social Security disability appeals is getting worse, and there is little relief in sight. ...

This just doesn't make sense. It's not as if the Bush administration couldn't see this coming. The Baby Boom generation, which encompasses people born from 1946 through 1964, makes up 25 percent of the U.S. population. Members started turning 55 in 2001, so it only stands to reason that as more of them age, the number of disability claims will increase.

This is just not a fiscally responsible way to run a large government agency that has a $9.6 billion budget and receives 2.5 million disability applications a year. More important, these yearslong waits are no way to treat people who, because of age or physical disability or both, no longer can take care of themselves and look to their government for the help it is supposed to provide.

Modesto Opinion Piece On Backlog

From Mike Ervin writing in the Modesto, CA Bee:

We must stop the inexcusable delay in getting Social Security benefits to people with disabilities.

Hundreds of thousands of people who have filed legitimate disability claims with the Social Security Administration have been forced to wait, on average, an astonishing 520 days for a hearing on their claims. Many have waited as long as three years, losing their homes in the process.

New Parent To Child Deeming Proposed Rules

From today's Federal Register:
We propose to change the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) parent-to-child deeming rules so that we would no longer consider the income and resources of a stepparent when an eligible child resides in the household with a stepparent, but that child’s natural or adoptive parent has permanently left the household. These proposed rules would respond to a decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Social Security Acquiescence Ruling (AR) 99– 1(2) currently applies the Court’s decision to individuals who reside in Connecticut, New York, and Vermont. These rules propose to establish a uniform national policy with respect to this issue. Also, we propose to make uniform the age at which we consider someone to be a ‘‘child’’ in SSI program regulations and to make other minor clarifications to our rules.

Congressional Quarterly On Social Security Issues

From Congressional Quarterly:
House Democratic leaders Thursday warned the Social Security Administration not to implement a proposed regulation they fear might increase the backlog of disability claims and unfairly deny benefits to deserving applicants. ...

“What if you’re having chemotherapy the day of the hearing, and you didn’t know that in advance?” a Ways and Means aide said. “It’s full of stuff like that. I just don’t see how beneficiaries could navigate this, and the actuary agrees — he says this is going to reduce benefits.”

The new rule, Shor said, is “really designed to discourage a claimant — particularly an unrepresented claimant — from appealing a denial of benefits.” About a third of those who appeal do not hire lawyers, she said. ...

Meanwhile, Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus , D-Mont., wrote Jim Nussle, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, urging him to include more money for administrative expenses in President Bush’s fiscal 2009 budget for Social Security. ...

Dec 20, 2007

Congressional Opposition To Procedural Changes

Below is a press release from the House Ways and Means Committee. Make sure to read both letters linked in this press release. The letter from Social Security's chief actuary says that the real estimate of the effect of the proposed regulations is not $1.5 billion over 10 years, but over $2 billion. Is Michael Astrue bold enough to try to buck this much pressure?

WASHINGTON, DC – The Social Security Administration is proposing to sharply restrict appeal rights for severely disabled individuals applying for Social Security, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Medicare and Medicaid benefits.

If the proposed regulation is adopted, severely disabled persons will be denied access to over $2.0 billion in benefits over the next ten years – not because they do not meet the eligibility criteria in the law, but because they could not successfully navigate the complex new procedural requirements established by the proposed rule.

Nearly two decades ago, the Social Security Administration attempted to put forth a similar rule restricting appeal rights and instituting new procedural complexities. It was quickly abandoned in the face of public outcry.

Today, a letter objecting to the regulation was filed by eleven House Committee and Subcommittee chairs, including the chairs of the Committee on Ways and Means, the Committee on Energy and Commerce, the Committee on the Judiciary, and the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Please click here to read the letter. Please click here to read the proposed regulation.

Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel:
"It would be grossly unfair to deny critical benefits to severely disabled people simply because they lack the sophistication and legal expertise to navigate the complex new appeals rules and limitations the Social Security Administration is proposing," said Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles B. Rangel (D-NY). "No one should lose out on an appeal because of procedural technicalities. The Committee on Ways and Means intends to further investigate the impact of this regulation on people with disabilities early in the next session of Congress."

Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell:
“We should be making it easier, not more difficult, for disabled individuals to access the benefits they need,” said Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Dingell (D-MI). “The proposed rule would create cumbersome and unnecessary obstacles for those seeking an appeal. The most vulnerable among us deserve better, and my Committee will be working to ensure that this regulation does not become a roadblock for disabled individuals seeking health care and support services.”

Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers:
"We must ensure that the hearing and appeals process for disabled persons seeking Medicare and Medicaid benefits is fair and equitable," said House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI). "By proposing a rule that would essentially reduce access to benefits, the Social Security Administration is ignoring the real reason for the administrative backlog they now face, which is the severe and chronic underfunding of the agency."

Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman:
“We have a critical problem of a backlog in the hearings and appeals process at the Social Security Administration,” said Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-CA). “That backlog effectively denies benefits and rights to disabled persons. But Social Security is moving in the wrong direction with these proposals. Cutting claimants’ rights, and adding procedural barriers, will only compound the damage. Mere administrative efficiency can’t trump the obligation of SSA to fully and fairly consider the claims.”

Press Release On National Hearing Office

A press release from Social Security:

Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, today announced that the agency’s National Hearing Center (NHC) is open for business. The NHC is one of the many steps the agency has taken this year to address the backlog of disability cases at the hearing level. Chief Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Frank Cristaudo presided over the first hearing from the NHC in Falls Church, Virginia using electronic video technology. The claimant and the claimant’s representative took part in the hearing from a hearing office in Cleveland, Ohio.

“The National Hearing Center allows us to capitalize on new technologies such as electronic disability folders and video teleconferencing,” Commissioner Astrue said. “The Center will give us needed flexibility to address the country’s worst backlogs.”

At present, the agency has allotted seven ALJs to the NHC. The NHC ALJs will initially hear cases for the Atlanta, Cleveland and Detroit hearing offices -- areas of the country where the wait for a hearing can be two years or more. Additional ALJs may be added over time to provide the NHC with the capability to assist more offices.

Social Security’s backlog of disability cases is well documented. Currently, there are about 750,000 cases awaiting a hearing -- a number that has more than doubled in this decade. In May 2007, Commissioner Astrue presented Congress with a four part plan to address the backlog. His testimony is available at

“When it comes to addressing the disability backlog, there is no single magic bullet,” Astrue said. “The National Hearing Center is another important step we can take to provide the American public with the service they deserve.”

Issuing a press release on something as minor as this is a sign of just how desperate Commissioner Astrue is to demonstrate that he is trying to do something about the backlogs.

Some More Budget Help

An e-mail from the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR) alerts me to something I missed in the budget bill that just passed Congress -- something that is not there. The section of the budget that ordered the Social Security Administration to spend $477 million on continuing disability reviews and SSI re-determinations has been removed. This may free up a good deal of money to be spent on more urgent matters, if and this may be a big if, Commissioner Astrue decides to do so. Astrue could still choose to spend the money on continuing disability reviews and SSI re-determinations.

Update: I have received conflicting information to the effect that the budget bill does not free up the entire $477 million previously earmarked for continuing disability reviews and SSI re-determinations, but only $213 million, with the rest still required. You need a pickax and shovel to delve into this enormous budget bill.

SSA Duped

From The Red Tape Chronicles at MSNBC:

Ten suspects were indicted last week in Seattle for allegedly impersonating consumers and obtaining their bank records, tax returns and Social Security earnings statements.

According to the indictment, the Internal Revenue Service and the Social Security Administration were repeatedly tricked into coughing up very sensitive documents. ...

In all, 12,000 consumers were victimized by the defendants from 2004-2007, the indictment alleges.

At the center of the crime, according to the indictment, were a Emilio and Brandy Torrella, a Seattle couple, and their employee, Steven Berwick. Operating as BNT Investigations in Belfair, Wash., the three allegedly took orders from private investigators around the country and filled them by impersonating the targeted consumers. The other investigators then resold the information.

Dec 19, 2007

Appeals Council Backlogs

Below is the complete text of an e-mail I received today from a staff member in my office who had just talked with an employee at the Appeals Council of the Social Security Administration:
Told me w/ the backlog they are just finishing up 2005 and starting on 2006, but they are mixing in some 2007.
Undoubtedly, the "mixing in some 2007" is an effort to artificially make their stats look better by "fast-tracking" a few easy cases. It makes the averages look a bit better, while making the wait times worse for the people waiting two years and more for review. What is the plan for working off the backlogs at the Appeals Council. The last I heard the Appeals Council was expected to lose a good deal of staff over the next year.

Budget Bill Moving Forward, But Don't Break Out Any Champagne

President Bush had earlier threatened to veto the omnibus appropriations bill now pending in Congress. An Associated Press article suggests that he is now ready to sign it, assuming the Senate adds more funding for the way in Iraq and they have done so. The House of Representatives is likely to give final approval to the bill later today or tomorrow.

Overall, no one is happy with the bill, but under the circumstances, Social Security did well. The bill does not provide enough money to the Social Security Administration to work down any backlogs. It may not be enough even to prevent the backlogs from getting worse, but the backlogs may not get worse at quite as bad a rate. It is better than nothing, but that may be the best we could have hoped for, and what was achieved took much effort.

Christmas Carols For Psychiatric Patients

Do not give me credit for writing this. I have seen it each Christmas for many years. Does anyone know who wrote it to begin with?

Attention Deficit Disorder
Silent night, Holy oooh look at the froggy - Can I have a chocolate, Why is France so far away?

Borderline Personality Disorder
Thoughts of Roasting on an Open Fire.

I Think I'll Be Home for Christmas

Silent Anhedonia, Holy Anhedonia, All is Flat, All is Lonely.

Deck the Halls and Walls and House and Lawn and Streets and Stores and Office
and Town and Cars and Busses and Trucks and Trees and Fire Hydrants and.....

Multiple Personalities Disorder
We Three Queens Disoriented Are

Hark the Herald Angels Sing About Me

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell Rock,
Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell Rock,
Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell Rock,
Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell Rock,
Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell Rock,
Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell Rock,
Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell Rock,
Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell Rock,
Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell Rock,
Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell Rock,
Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell Rock,
Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell Rock,
Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell Rock,
Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell Rock,
Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell Rock,
Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell Rock,
Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell Rock,
Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell Rock,
Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell Rock,
Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell Rock ........
....(better start again)

Santa Claus is Coming to Get Me.

Passive-Aggressive Personality Disorder
On the First Day of Christmas My True Love Gave to Me (and then took it all away).

Personality Disorder
You Better Watch Out, I'm Gonna Cry, I'm Gonna Pout, Maybe I'll tell you Why.

Do You Hear What I Hear?

The Accidental Social Security Story

Every year in December I see these stories. They are intended solely to be about a person having it tough in the Christmas season, but they are also about the Social Security Administration's problems. From the Miami Herald (with emphasis added):

James Johnson unbuttons a faded blue shirt to reveal an eight-inch scar that runs over a sunken sternum.

His heart is big, but it is weak and gave out four years ago. Since then, he has found his family somewhere he never thought they would be.

Thursday, sitting in a Broward County park around what amounts to their living room and kitchen -- a picnic table sheltered by a tarp -- James, his wife Margie and their son Richard peered through pictures of the house where they once lived.

''This is hell,'' James says.

But even hell is closing its doors on the family. They have lived in the park nearly six months -- the maximum stay according to Broward County regulations -- and have been unable to find a place to move. ...

James, 60, has been told by doctors he is terminally ill. He lives with his two sons and wife Margie out of a tent and camper. They say they were tricked into giving away their West Park home at 5616 SW 36th Ct. by a man who said he would help them save the house from foreclosure. ...

James said within a year he had fallen three months behind on the mortgage. Then James and his son lost their Social Security disability last October because their assets -- including the house -- exceeded the acceptable limit. It became likely his home would be foreclosed on.

Dec 18, 2007

Budget Riders -- None On Biggs?

Below are the only two budget riders for the Social Security Administration that I have been able to find in the omnibus appropriations bill that has passed the House of Representatives and which will soon be considered in the Senate. I have so far been unable to find a budget rider prohibiting payment of a salary to the Andrew Biggs, who received a recess appointment as Deputy Commissioner of Social Security. Biggs is an ardent advocate for gutting Social Security, by means of privatization. Earlier versions of this legislation included such a prohibition. This is a mammoth piece of legislation. I cannot exclude the possibility that a prohibition on paying Biggs is hiding somewhere in the 1,443 page document.
§526. None of the funds appropriated by this Act may be used by the Commissioner of Social Security or the Social Security Administration to pay the compensation of employees of the Social Security Administration to administer Social Security benefit payments, under any agreement between the United States and Mexico establishing totalization arrangements between the social security system established by title II of the Social Security Act and the social security system of Mexico, which would not otherwise be payable but for such agreement.

§527 None of the funds appropriated in this Act shall be expended or obligated by the Commissioner of Social Security, for purposes of administering Social Security benefit payments under title II of the Social Security Act, to process claims for credit for quarters of coverage based on work performed under a social security account number that was not the claimant’s number which is an offense prohibited under section 208 of the Social Security Act.

Letters To NY Times Editor

The New York Times has published a series of letters to the editor concerning its recent story on backlogs at the Social Security Administration.

Fee Payment Stats

The Social Security Administration has issued updated statistics on payments of fees to attorneys and others for representing Social Security claimants. These numbers are a good analogue for how quickly or slowly the agency is paying benefits to claimants after a favorable decision since the attorney or representative and the claimant are generally paid at the same time.

Fee Payments

Month/Year Volume Amount

Omnibus Gives SSA $150 Million Over President's Budget

I have found myself confused in the past by the appropriations process. It is good to have confirmation from a House Appropriations Committee press release that the omnibus spending bill passed by the House last night does give the Social Security Administration (SSA) $150 million over the President's recommended budget.

Dec 17, 2007

Bush Threatens New Veto

From The Hill:
President Bush suggested Monday that he may not sign the omnibus appropriations bill that is expected to be sent to his desk later this week and said lawmakers should consider passing a one-year continuing resolution.

Even though Congress has bowed to his spending wishes, Bush warned lawmakers that he will be “watching very carefully as the Congress works through how to spend your money coming down the stretch before Christmas. They can’t have any gimmicks — accounting gimmicks — in there.”

Budget: $150 Million More Than President's Recommendation

If I am reading it correctly, the omnibus appropriations bill likely to be passed by the Congress and signed by the President is $150 million over the President's recommendation for the Social Security Administration. Please study it yourself. It is a 364 page document. Page 361, however, is the key page for Social Security. I have reproduced that page above. Click on it to see it full size.

Appropriations Situation

Congressional leaders have come up with a mammoth omnibus appropriations bill, which would cover the Social Security Administration (SSA). I have not yet been able to find a good summary of the bill. Here is a little nugget from the New York Times, however, suggesting that the bill contains something for SSA beyond the President's recommended budget: "...Democrats touted, for instance, increases for Social Security administrative costs aimed at reducing backlogs for disability claims ..."

Dec 16, 2007

Editorial On Social Security Backlogs

From the San Antonio Express News:
The system that is supposed to help those least able to help themselves is failing them.

Appeals of Social Security disability claims are taking years to get resolved. ...

The problem appears to be a lack of sufficient judges to hear the appeals. ...

It's a shame that a system established to help is instead aggravating the problems.

Social Security Employees Drawing Social Security Benefits

The Social Security Administration's Office of Inspector General (OIG) recently did a study of Social Security employees drawing Social Security benefits. The vast majority of these folks were perfectly entitled to what they were drawing from Social Security. Remember that there is no retirement earnings test for those who have reached full retirement age and Social Security has a fair number of employees who are well into their 60s and beyond. But there were problems cases and OIG wants to prosecute. From the report:

Overall, SSA ensured that employees who are also entitled to OASDI or SSI are paid the appropriate benefits. However, we identified 8 employees (out of 194 who received benefits) who were overpaid $245,311 in OASDI benefits because of their earnings. By stopping these benefits, the Agency will save $124,176 over the next 12 months.

We referred these eight employees to our Office of Investigations (OI) for criminal investigation. As of November 2007, three of these eight cases were with the United States (U.S.) Attorney's Office or the District Attorney's Office for prosecution due to possible fraud. For another three cases, the U.S. Attorney's Office declined to prosecute the cases and they were being handled by SSA administratively. Also, in the remaining two cases, SSA was taking administrative action.

Fraud In Montana

From KPAX in Missoula, Montana:
A Montana State Prison inmate, who illegally received about $14,000 in Social Security benefits, has been sentenced to 16 months in federal prison.

James Hendershot was also ordered to pay restitution of $16,000.

The federal term will be consecutive to his state sentence of five years on a 2004 conviction for aggravated assault and assault with a weapon.

It is unlawful to collect Social Security while in prison.

Dec 15, 2007

Continued Workforce Reduction -- Correction

Yesterday, I had posted the numbers on the number of employees at Social Security, reporting that there had been a 3% decline in the past year. Actually, the decline was 1.9%. I had mistakenly posted the numbers for Social Security employment in the United States, instead of the gross Social Security employment as I had done previously. Social Security has some employees in territories such as Puerto Rico and Guam and one lone employee on truly foreign territory. (I believe that one person is employed at the U.S. consulate in Frankfurt, Germany and is completely overwhelmed. I have helped some people who have filed claims for U.S. Social Security benefits while living in other countries and the problems are almost literally insurmountable. Did you know that there is an international DDS that handles claims for U.S. Social Security disability benefits filed from overseas and that its backlogs make any other backlogs at Social Security look trivial?) Below are the corrected numbers from the Office of Personnel Management.

Social Security can take little comfort in having a 1.9% decline in employment in the past year instead of a 3% decline. The agency's workforce may decline at an even greater rate in the next year.

In the face of rapidly increasing workloads and a significant workforce reduction, how can Social Security work its way out of its backlogs? The answer is simple. It cannot. Expect backlogs to get worse.
  • September 2007 62,407
  • June 2007 62,530
  • March 2007 61,867
  • December 2006 63,410
  • September 2006 63,647
  • September 2005 66,147
  • September 2004 65,258
  • September 2003 64,903
  • September 2002 64,648
  • September 2001 65,377
  • September 2000 64,521
  • September 1999 63,957
  • September 1998 65,629

Arkansas TV Station On Backlogs

From KFSM in Arkansas:

People trying to tap into social security funds may have a hard time getting help, according to a recent national study.

Attorneys that 5News spoke with say there are not enough people to handle the sheer volume of disability claims coming through the pipes. They say most of the appeals are valid, but the process takes so long, it can leave those needing help without funds for two to three years. ...

Attorneys 5News talked to say many times, the health of those waiting declines dramatically, because they don't quite qualify for Medicaid. Attorneys also say if applicant's utilities are cut off, or if they're being evicted, they can request an expedited hearing, but say even those are not much faster.

Fraud In Arizona

From the East Valley Tribune:
A former Scottsdale resident was convicted Wednesday of stealing from and lying to the government when she obtained Social Security benefits for her disabled son who didn’t qualify for them.

Denise Crouse, 49, now of Georgia, was convicted Wednesday in Maricopa County Superior Court after a three-day trial.

According to Attorney General Terry Goddard, Crouse lived in Scottsdale and Glendale between 1995 and 1999, where she collected more than $20,000 in Supplemental Security Income for her son, ineligible for the funds because he already had a $1 million trust fund.

During trial, Crouse testified that she held assets worth between $1 million and $2 million, not including the trust fund.

Dec 14, 2007

Social Security An Emergency?

From CNN (emphasis added):
Congressional negotiators worked to cut hundreds of federal programs, big and small, as they fashioned a $500 billion-plus catchall government funding bill Thursday. ...

In the meantime, the House passed a bill to keep the federal government open for another week to give negotiators time to fashion the omnibus spending bill, pass it in both the House and Senate and then adjourn for the year.

Democrats hoped to make an exception for a $3.7 billion increase for veterans health care, calculating that Bush and his GOP allies on Capitol Hill would relent in the case of that politically sacrosanct program. ...

The White House does not believe the additional veterans money is needed and previously has issued veto threats if the money for veterans is not accompanied by cuts elsewhere in the budget. That approach has been widely seen as unrealistic, even by top Republicans like House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio.

But with the White House playing such a strong hand in the negotiations, Boehner now insists Democrats stick within the president's $933 billion figure, with exceptions for border security and a few other "emergencies."

Backlog Report

The National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR) has obtained from Social Security a December 2007 report on the hearing backlog. You can read it on the Social Security Perspectives blog. Just click on a page to enlarge it for easier reading.

Encouraging People To Work Longer

An announcement from the Social Security Advisory Board:

The Social Security Advisory Board

Invites You

To Attend a Public Forum

Working Toward Retirement Security:

Policies to Help Extend the Working Life of Older Americans

Friday, January 18, 2008

9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Top of the Hill Conference Center

Reserve Officer's Association, (5th Floor)

1 Constitution Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002

As the nation faces the challenges of an aging population, the Advisory Board believes retirement security will depend ever more on the ability and willingness of individual Americans to extend their working lives. We are sponsoring this forum to facilitate a discussion of specific policies, regulations and practices to eliminate barriers and increase support for those who wish to work longer. Please join us as we discuss these issues with:

Keith Brainard, NASRA John Martin, OECD

Alicia Munnell, Boston College Gerald Shea, AFL- CIO

John Shoven, Stanford Eugene Steuerle, Urban Institute

Additional Speakers – To Be Announced


Edward P. Lazear

Chairman, Council of Economic Advisors

Please share this invitation with interested colleagues.

Lunch will be provided.

Due to limited seating, please RSVP by January 9, 2008:


This event is being co-sponsored by University of Illinois Center for Business and Public Policy (please visit:

St. Louis Post Dispatch On Backlogs

From the St. Louis Post Dispatch:
Mark Denny's disability hearing took place Monday at the Social Security Administration office in Creve Coeur. An administrative judge was there, as were lawyers and Mr. Denny's mother and sister.

Mark Denny himself wasn't there. He died on Jan. 24, 2006 — two weeks after being told he wasn't sick enough to collect federal disability insurance, and shortly after he decided to appeal.

His case isn't unusual, though most clients don't die during the average 486 days it takes from the time a disability appeal is filed with the Social Security Administration in St. Louis until a hearing can be held. It takes even longer in Kansas City: 684 days.

The problem isn't caused by lazy civil servants. The judges who preside over disability appeals face a crushing caseload, as do the Social Security employees who process the paperwork. Federal funding for their agency hasn't kept pace with demographics. Aging baby boomers have now reached their 50s and 60s. That's the age range of most people who file federal disability claims.

DDS Administrators Letter On I-Appeals

A letter that went out recently to Disability Determination Service administrators:
Policy Instruction

Identification Number DDSAL 750 Effective Date: 12/12/2007
Intended Audience:
State Disability Determination Services Administrators Picture (Metafile)
Originating Office:
DCO ODD Picture (Metafile)
Title: iAppeals Notice Language- ACTION
DDS Administrators' Letters Picture (Metafile)
Picture (Metafile) Picture (Metafile) Picture (Metafile)
Program: Disability
Picture (Metafile)
Link To Reference:
Picture (Metafile)

The purpose of this Disability Determination Services (DDS) Administrators’ Letter is to announce national rollout of Internet Appeals (iAppeals) on 12/22/07. DDSs need to modify certain disability determination denial notices to explain that appeals can now be requested on the Internet. The Disability Processing Branches (DPB) and Flexible Disability Unit (FDU) in the Processing Centers will be notified via an e-mail to the MIDAS User Group (MUG). It will indicate the implementation date that the notices will be modified with the necessary language found in this DDS Administrators letter. No additional action is necessary for the DPB/FDU components.


Since 12/1/03, some members of the public have been able to complete and submit the SSA-3441 Disability Report Appeal online (i3441). Effective 12/22/07, members of the public will also be able to complete and electronically submit the Request for Reconsideration (i561) and the Request for Review by Administrative Law Judge online. Additionally, on 12/22/07, the URL currently reflected on the notices will redirect users to the Welcome page of iAppeals. The Welcome page will solicit information to determine if a SSA-561 or SSA-501 applies and will link the user to the appropriate form.

Instructions for modifying notices

Beginning no earlier than 12/22/07, all DDSs should include the revised language for iAppeals in the Notice of Disapproved Claim and Notice of Reconsideration for disability determination denials. Notices should be revised no later than 12/19/07. The notices that need revision are:...

Please advise your regional office of your completed actions by COB December 19, 2007. If you have any questions, please direct them to your regional office.

Ruby Burrell
Associate Commissioner
for Disability Determinations

All Regional Commissioners
Directors, Centers for Disability

Dec 13, 2007

Status Of Appropriations

From The Hill:

Democratic leaders hope to finish the 11 annual spending bills over the weekend and vote on an omnibus package early next week.

At a press conference Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) sketched a tentative schedule for legislation funding the government next year.

“Right now we’re engaged in a four-way negotiation on what the bill will be,” said Pelosi, in reference to talks between Senate Democrats, Senate Republicans, House Democrats and House Republicans. “And we will wait and see what emerges from that, and I hope it would be soon.”

“We would love to have it up on the Internet over the weekend and in the Rules Committee on Monday and on the floor on Tuesday,” said Pelosi of the omnibus. “That is our hope.” ...

Democrats have also floated the possibility of adding $3.7 billion in emergency spending for veterans’ healthcare.

“I think there’s a lot of rumors and a lot of discussion out there,” said Perino, when asked whether the president might accept added funding for veterans. “And the president has said his number is $933 billion, and we’ll see what they come up with.”

Obama On Disability Backlogs

From a press release issued by the Obama campaign, containing promises on what Barack Obama will do for the disabled if he is elected president:
Streamline the current application and appeals processes to reduce the unacceptable delays experienced by individuals applying for Social Security disability benefits, and ensure that the SSA has the funding it needs to hire additional judges and staff and to invest in technology to expedite final decisions ...
I am sorry, but the word "streamline" in the same sentence with the words "Social Security disability" gives me hives.

Bomb Threat In Florida

From NBC-2 in Fort Myers:

The sheriff's office is investigating a bomb threat at the Social Security Office on US 41 East.

According to authorities, a woman called in the threat at 9:49 a.m. Thursday.

She reportedly said she was not happy with the service she received at the office so she was going to blow it up.

The sheriff's office is investigating the incident, but managers at the Social Security Office have decided to go forward with business as usual.

No evacuations have been ordered and the office is open.

Editorial In Virginian-Pilot

From the Virginian-Pilot, a newspaper in the southeastern corner of Virginia:

According to a piece in Monday’s New York Times, the appeals process for Social Security disability cases has been so bogged down — because there aren’t enough judges, essentially — that Americans are dying, losing their houses or being forced into financial ruin before the government decides their cases. ...

The people waiting for the judges to decide are already so sick that they can’t work. Some have been diagnosed with terminal illnesses. Some will die while they wait. Others will go bankrupt. All to save a few bucks by refusing money to those who deserve it, who most need it.

Knoxville TV Station On Backlogs And Foreclosure

WATE in Knoxville is running a story on Tony Grindstaff, who has rheumatoid arthritis and who may be about to lose his home because it has taken so long for him to get a hearing on his Social Security disability claim. He has been selling off his assets to survive. (That name, Grindstaff, is so perfectly Dickensian!) Read the written article or view the video.

Dec 12, 2007

Astrue As Stickler

These copies of e-mail traffic came in over the transom. I cannot completely vouch for them, but they appear to be genuine:
From: xxxxxxxxx
Sent: Monday, December 10, 2007 4:57 PM
To: #DCS Front Office Management; #DCS AC Admin Staffs
Cc: #DCS Executive Officers
Subject: FW: Use of "Impact" as a verb
Importance: High

Please share with appropriate staff.

From: xxxxxxxxxx
Sent: Wednesday, December 05, 2007 12:05 PM
To: #DCHR Exec Officers; #DCHR FO All; #DCHR ESS All
Cc: #DCHR Exec Staff; ^DCHR Controls
Subject: FW: Use of "Impact" as a verb
Importance: High

To Executive Officers: Please ensure that the below preference is
shared with analysts in your component. Thanks!

From: xxxxxxxxxx
Sent: Wednesday, December 05, 2007 11:21 AM
To: xxxxxxxx; ^DCBFM Controls; xxxxxxxx;
xxxxxxxx; ^DCHR Controls; xxxxxxxx; ^DCLCA Controls

Cc: xxxxxxxxx
Subject: FW: Use of "Impact" as a verb
Importance: High

Please see xxxxx's email below regarding the Commissioner's preference
and pass this on to your components. The Commissioner does not accept
usage of the word "impact" as a verb regarding people. Please do not
forward correspondence to OC for his signature used in that manner. I'm
attaching some recent examples.

If you have any questions, please let me know. Thanks.

Senior Executive Analyst
Office of the Commissioner
Office of Executive Operations
From: xxxxxxx
Sent: Thursday, November 29, 2007 11:53 AM
To: #HQ OC OEO Analysts
Subject: Use of "Impact" as a verb

Commissioner Astrue has indicated on several occasions that the word
"impact" should not appear in SSA correspondence as a verb.
Unfortunately it keeps coming up in letters for his signature. Please
share with your components that they should not use it as a verb and
that if they substitute affect/effect. Affect is a verb and effect is a

Potential Vehicle For More Social Security Funding?

Maybe this explains Pelosi's apparent capitulation. Remember, that it is merely my speculation that it is possible that additional funding for the Social Security Administration could find its way into this emergency bill. From Fox News:

The top Republican in the House made a modest but important break with President Bush over the budget Wednesday, endorsing more than $6 billion in new spending.

The surprise development removed one hurdle from among the many standing in the way of Congress completing its budget work.

House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, has been perhaps Bush's most loyal ally in his months-long battle with congressional Democrats on the budget. His remarks came as a surprise to the White House, but reflected a realistic assessment of the budget battlefield on Capitol Hill.

Boehner endorsed adding funding above Bush's budget for border security, foreign aid and State Department operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and other purposes. These "emergency" funds are supposed to reflect one-time needs and not be permanent fixtures in the budget.

Boehner remains committed to supporting Bush vetoes of any catchall spending bill that tops his budget request.

"It all passes the straight-face test," Boehner said in supporting the emergency budget items. Later, a Boehner spokesman said the top House Republican doesn't necessarily support the entire bundle of emergency spending.

SSA Appropriation Likely To Be Same As Bush's Proposed Budget

From The Hill:
In the face of stiff opposition from powerful fellow Democrats, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) has abandoned a proposal she supported less than 24 hours ago to eliminate lawmakers’ earmarks from the omnibus spending package.

Pelosi told the Democratic chairmen of the House Appropriations subcommittees, the so-called appropriations cardinals, that earmarks would stay in the omnibus and that Democratic leaders would accede to cut spending to levels demanded by President Bush in order to save 11 spending bills from a veto, said sources familiar with a meeting that took place in Pelosi’s office early Wednesday morning.

The House Democrats’ tentative plan is to finalize the package for passage in the next day or so, said sources.

By leaving earmarks largely untouched and agreeing to Bush’s budget ceiling, Democrats have capitulated in their spending battle with Republicans. In the end, Democrats realized they would not be able to muster enough Republican votes to override Bush’s veto. The president vowed to reject any spending package that exceeded the $933 billion limit he set.

Advanced Rulemaking Notice

From today's Federal Register:
On October 19, 2007, we published final rules in the Federal Register (72 FR 59397) revising the criteria in sections 5.00 and 105.00 of the Listing of Impairments in appendix 1 to subpart P of part 404 of our regulations (the listings), the sections that we use to evaluate claims involving digestive disorders. In those rules, we indicated that we would issue an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) inviting public comments on whether we should add a functional listing for digestive disorders, and if so, what functional criteria would be appropriate (72 FR at 59416). We are now requesting your comments and suggestions.

After we have considered your comments and suggestions, other information about the functional effects of digestive disorders, and our adjudicative experience, we will determine whether it is appropriate to add a functional listing for digestive disorders. If we decide to add such a listing, we will publish for public comment a
Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that will propose specific revisions to the rules.
Just what do they mean by "functional limitations?"