Jul 31, 2007

Social Security Ruling On Evaluating Visual Field Loss Using Automated Static Threshold Perimetry

Social Security has published Social Security Ruling 07-01p on using automated static threshold perimetry to evaluate visual field loss. It appears to be intended to give Social Security stamp of approval for a new technology. This sort of technical refinement in disability determination may not excite Commissioner Astrue (or me), but it is what is practical and helpful, while automated keyword searches of medical records, as discussed above, are not likely to be either practical or helpful.

Proposed Rule On "Compassionate Allowances"

The Social Security Administration has published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rule-Making (NPRM) on compassionate allowances. No specific amendment to Social Security's regulations proposed. Here is a key excerpt:
In addition to these methods of identifying compassionate allowances [that Social Security is already using], we are considering the creation of an extensive list of impairments that we can allow quickly with minimal objective medical evidence that is based on clinical signs or laboratory findings or a combination of both. We believe that we could use certain listed impairments, such as those described above, as a starting point for a much longer list of impairments that could be allowed based on established diagnoses alone (supported by objective medical evidence) or based on diagnoses that have reached certain points in their progression that would be considered disabling. We would not limit, however, the compilation of conditions to those already covered by our listing. We would incorporate any conditions that should be allowed quickly with minimal, but sufficient, objective medical evidence. As such, the list of qualifying conditions would be specific and extensive.

Additionally, although we already have some policies and procedures for identifying the most obviously disabled individuals quickly, we are investigating methods for identifying compassionate allowances by perhaps starting with a specific allegation or through the use of a computer system that is able to search key words included in an electronic disability folder. Because the health care industry is capturing more and more clinical information in structured electronic formats using standardized codesets, we also are interested in your ideas about whether and how we can use that information for identifying compassionate allowances.

Many, although by no means all, of the individuals who would qualify for a compassionate allowance will have impairments that are expected to result in death and need immediate decisions on their claims. It is our hope that compassionate allowances will not only bring faster benefits to individuals in need, but that they will also help to quicken the processing time of those claims that must be processed through our existing procedures. ...

Please provide us with any comments and suggestions you have about new standards and identification methods for compassionate allowances.
To believe that this is going to make a significant difference, one has to believe that disability examiners cannot now quickly identify the claims of those who are most seriously ill and get those cases adjudicated quickly. For the most part, I do not believe this to be accurate, nor can I imagine anything coming out of this process that will speed up anything. My opinion is that this comes from a naive view that disability examiners are not so bright and that simple checklists or keyword search programs can speed up their work. I think this greatly underestimates the disability examiners and the complexity of the problem. Social Security has been doing disability determination for 50 years. All the simple ideas were implemented a long time ago. I do not think this idea is coming up from the trenches. It is coming down from the top, from people who have never done disability determination work themselves.

NPR On Social Security Budget And Backlogs

National Public Radio ran a piece yesterday on Social Security's backlogs and its urgent need for a bigger budget. You can listen to it online.

Jul 30, 2007

USA Today On Social Security Backlogs

USA Today has an article in today's paper on Social Security's backlogs, which contains some stunning information. Here is an excerpt:
The Social Security Administration faces a record — and rapidly growing — backlog of appeals by people who claim they are too disabled to work. Through June, it had just over 745,000 cases pending, and the wait for a hearing averaged 17 months, also a record.

Claimants in some parts of the country must wait up to 31 months, according to the agency. "People have died waiting for a hearing," Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue says.

The agency says the backlog doubled in six years and could reach 1 million by 2010.
There is a companion article focusing upon the terrible effects of these backlogs upon individual Social Security disability claimants. These sad stories are too familiar to anyone who has been reading this blog, but read this excerpt which focuses upon the bigger picture:

Now the commissioner of Social Security, Astrue wants to make it easier to file for disability. He's pushing simplified procedures for extreme cases, such as terminal cancer. He's updating and expanding the list of impairments that qualify for disability. He's trying to open a national center to hold electronic hearings, thereby easing backlogs in places such as Atlanta [which has some of the biggest backlogs in the country].

All of that, Astrue says, won't be enough to stop the backlog of appeals from growing because of an aging population. Social Security projects cases to grow about 90,000 annually over the next five years. That means the backlog could hit 1 million in 2010.

"I don't think there is any really easy solution," Astrue says.

The talk of the backlog increasing to one million cases appears to come from Commissioner Astrue, himself! Why would we be facing a threat that the backlog will grow to 1 million in the next three years? I thought that Commissioner Astrue was planning to reduce the backlog. That is what he was telling Congress. Why is Commissioner Astrue discouraging Congress from giving his agency any more money for fiscal year 2008 than President Bush has recommended at the same time that he is warning that his agency is facing an increase in its backlogs? I cannot understand the disconnect between this article and what Astrue has been telling Congress. Is this article a sign that Astrue is now trying to persuade the Office of Management and Budget to recommend a higher fiscal year 2009 budget? Is Astrue finally getting more accurate information about how bleak the future looks for the Social Security Administration? Is he belatedly lobbying for a bigger fiscal year 2008 budget?

By the way, there is a really easy solution to the backlogs. Budget enough money and hire enough personnel. Everything else imaginable has already been tried. Simple "brute force", as Commissioner Astrue himself put it, is the only approach that will work.

Jul 29, 2007

Jul 28, 2007

Fringe Benefit At SSA Central Office

From the Baltimore Sun:

The harvest was spread across folding tables - piles of potatoes, buckets of tender peaches, swollen watermelons, heaps of glossy lettuce and sweet corn.

But at the Woodlawn Farmers' Market, Karen Smith was most pleased to find the carrots that her 5-year-old son "will actually eat."

Until the market opened this month across from Social Security Administration headquarters, the boy had only tasted the prewashed, precut carrots from plastic packages. The leafy green tops were a novelty.

Jul 27, 2007

More On Andrew Biggs

An anonymous poster makes an excellent point about Andrew Biggs. Commissioner Astrue has just hired a replacement for Biggs as Deputy Commissioner for Policy, so if Biggs is denied a salary for serving as Deputy Commissioner, he will not be able to draw the salary as Deputy Commissioner for Policy instead.

However, I will venture a guess that the White House would want Commissioner Astrue to come up with some other salary paying slot for Biggs if Congress forbids paying a salary to Biggs as Deputy Commissioner. The White House might even want Biggs paid a bonus to make up for any difference in pay. That is the sort of feistiness or perhaps belligerence that we expect from this President. Would Commissioner Astrue be willing to show enough independence from the White House to say no to this? Finding another way to pay Biggs after Congress cuts off Biggs' salary would certainly not endear Astrue to Congress. If Astrue serves out his term as Commissioner, he will be in office for four years after Bush leaves office.

Andrew Biggs

President Bush repeatedly nominated Andrew Biggs, a huge supporter of privatizing Social Security, to become Deputy Commissioner of Social Security. The Senate repeatedly refused to even consider the nomination, so Bush gave Biggs a recess appointment, good until the beginning of the next Congress in January 2009. The House of Representatives is now threatening to cut off all funding for Mr. Biggs' job as Deputy Commissioner, meaning that Biggs could continue working as Deputy Commissioner, but he could not be paid.

This does not mean that Biggs would have to either work for free or leave Social Security. Social Security's organizational chart shows that Biggs is also Deputy Commissioner for Policy at the Social Security Administration. He would not be getting pay for that job currently, since he is being paid to serve as Deputy Commissioner, but if he lost his paycheck as Deputy Commissioner, presumably he could still draw the Deputy Commissioner for Policy paycheck and still do the Deputy Commissioner job, to the same extent that he is doing it now. I imagine that the Deputy Commissioner for Policy paycheck is a bit less than the Deputy Commissioner paycheck, however.

Is it happenstance that Biggs still has the Deputy Commissioner for Policy job or was someone expecting that Congress would cut off funding for the Deputy Commissioner job and wanted this as a backup?

Also, has Biggs actually been spotted doing the Deputy Commissioner job? I have trouble imagining him chairing a meeting about which new computer system Social Security should buy or about how Social Security will use its scarce budget resources. He just does not seem like that kind of person.

Jul 26, 2007

Fraud Accusation In Arizona

According to the Arizona Republic, Harold Pease, who is pictured here, has been indicted for Social Security fraud. An article in the Arizona Republic about Mr. Pease's beekeeping business led to the charge that he had been earning too much money to stay on Social Security disability benefits.

It seems to me that allowing a newspaper article about his business suggests that Mr. Pease may not have known that he was doing anything wrong.

Jul 25, 2007

Astrue At ALJ Conference

There is an anonymous post on the ALJ Improvement Board from someone who says they heard Commissioner Astrue speak today at the Association of Administrative Law Judges (AALJ) conference. The poster says that Astrue hopes to have new ALJs holding hearings by March 2008, that he expects to hire 700-800 support staff for hearing offices and that he hopes to have 1,200 ALJs by the end of the 2008 fiscal year, which would be September 30, 2008. Astrue also is reported to have said that he expects to be able to restart the senior attorney program soon. He is now planning to have only 10-12 ALJs in the national hearing office. They are also planning to open new hearing offices in Alaska, Michigan, Alabama and Florida (two new offices in the Sunshine state).

First, it is optimistic to expect to have new ALJs on the job by next March. I am not sure Social Security will even have a real budget by then, since the President is threatening to veto the budget bill including Social Security. Hiring always takes longer than you think it will. Second, the number of ALJs to be hired seems to be slipping. Astrue was telling Congress not too long ago that he expected to have 1,250 ALJs on board in 2008. That has already slipped to 1,200. Third, I am extremely happy to hear that the senior attorney program will be restarted. I was very afraid that the Office of Management and Budget would never let this see the light of day. Fourth, I am also happy to hear that this "national" hearing office will be small. This is a bad idea. It should not be done at all, but better small than large. New hearing offices are a great idea. Let me suggest that another hearing office is also needed in Fayetteville, NC. I do not think anyone in this area would disagree with that one.

Washington Post On Social Security Budget And Workforce

Stephen Barr writes the excellent Federal Diary column in the Washington Post. He writes today about Social Security's budget and staffing problems. The whole column is worth reading. Here are a few excerpts:
Staffing at the Social Security Administration will soon be at its lowest level since 1974. The number of disability claims waiting for hearing decisions is at an all-time high.

The drop in staffing and budget constraints have led to crowded waiting rooms and jammed telephone lines at many field offices. For every two field employees who retire or quit, Social Security replaces one.

"It is like a disaster here. We can't do the work we are getting," said WitoldSkwierczynski, an officer of the American Federation of Government Employees who specializes in Social Security field operations. ...

Richard E. Warsinskey, president of the National Council of Social Security Management Associations, said he appreciates that Congress is trying to help. But, he said, the proposed budget still means that Social Security will "be kind of treading water" next year. ...

Partly because of budget constraints, Social Security is closing field offices that serve areas with stable or shrinking populations. Offices are closing in California, Connecticut, New York, Texas and Pennsylvania, Skwierczynski said.

Jul 24, 2007

EAJA -- What's Going On?

My law firm received a direct deposit of an attorney fee under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) today. That would have been unremarkable six months ago, but things changed and may still be changing.

EAJA fees are available in civil actions filed in the federal courts against federal government agencies if the plaintiff is successful and if the government's position in the litigation was not "substantially justified." Social Security cases generate by far the largest number of EAJA payments. Over the years the EAJA fees came to be paid by direct deposit to the attorney. In the last few months the direct deposits have stopped. The Department of Justice has been insisting that the EAJA fees belong to the client and must be paid directly to the client. This is problematic for attorneys representing Social Security claimants since they may have difficulty collecting the money from the client. Most EAJA fees in Social Security cases are in cases that are remanded by the courts. In remand cases the client has not previously paid any fee or received any money from Social Security. When a desperately poor claimant receives a check from Social Security they usually cash it and spend it quickly.

In the last month or so, there have been signs that the Department of Justice's position on EAJA was softening. There have been signs all along that the Social Security Administration was not interested in litigating on this issue and may have even been sympathetic to the position of attorneys representing Social Security claimants. Of course, there are also signs of great distress and disorganization at the Department of Justice related to the Attorney General.

So what is going on now? Was this EAJA direct deposit some fluke or is it a sign that the Department of Justice has, in effect, told Social Security "Oh, never mind. Just go back to what you were doing"?

Another Field Office Closure

From the Wayne (PA) Independent:
Starting Monday, July 30, residents living in the Carbondale service area, which covers sections of Wayne, Lackawanna, Pike and Susquehanna counties, will be served by the Scranton Social Security office. The seven employees of the Carbondale office will be transferred to the Scranton office.

Terri Lewis, communications director, stated during a telephone interview Thursday that after a review of services offered by the Carbondale office, the Social Security administration believe citizens and employees would be better served in a larger office with more resources.

Jul 23, 2007

The Picture Of Dr. David Gray

Shrink Rap on the Social Security Perspectives blog has linked to a biography of Dr. David Gray, recently hired as Social Security's Deputy Commissioner for Disability and Income Security programs. He is replacing Martin Gerry. Here is a picture of Dr. Gray. I think the picture is worth looking at, since it shows Dr. Gray to be what most people think of as a "disabled" person, although he is clearly not disabled in Social Security terms since he is working.

The problem is that most people's perception, or perhaps prejudice about what constitutes or causes disability is far from reality. Let me list some problems, many of which are somewhat linked, that strongly predispose one to become disabled. Indeed, a combination of two or there of these may be more closely linked to filing a disability claim than being in a wheelchair. Most Social Security disability claims feature one or more of these problems.
  1. Below average intelligence
  2. Low educational attainments
  3. Lack of job skills
  4. Chronic psychiatric problems
  5. Progressive illness, one that gets worse over time, such as diabetes
  6. Medical condition causing chronic pain
  7. Poor medical care
Can Dr. Gray be sympathetic to people who have these problems? Maybe, but being in a wheelchair certainly does not guarantee it.

Jul 22, 2007

An Image From 1965

White House On Social Security Funding

The White House has issued a long press release threatening to veto the Labor-HHS Appropriations bill that just passed in the House of Representatives. That bill includes Social Security's administrative budget. Only a small part of the press release dealt with Social Security. That part which is reproduced below does not suggest any problem with adding $100 million more in funding for Social Security, as this bill does. Who knows? Maybe, the White House would not gag at even more money for Social Security. By the way, I completely agree with the White House that Congressional paranoia about totalization agreements is ridiculous.
Social Security Administration (SSA)
Limitation on Administrative Expenses. The Administration appreciates the full funding of program integrity activities, which will allow SSA to process more continuing disability reviews and redeterminations of SSI eligibility, saving an estimated $3.6 billion over 10 years.

Totalization Agreements (TAs). The Administration opposes the provision that would prohibit SSA from using administrative funds to develop TAs with other countries that would be inconsistent with current law. SSA would not undertake any such effort if it was inconsistent with current law. Furthermore, there is an established congressional review process for TAs.

Jul 21, 2007

Looking To The Conference?

Here is an excerpt from the Congressional Record. This was during the House of Representatives debate on the Labor-HHS Appropriations Bill, which includes funding of Social Security's administrative budget:
Mr. OBEY. I yield to the gentleman from New York.

Mr. MCNULTY. Thank you, Chairman OBEY. Mr. Chairman, I rise to enter into a colloquy with the distinguished chairman of the Appropriations Committee and the Labor, Health and Human Services Subcommittee, Mr. OBEY. Mr. Chairman, today my goal is to draw attention to the backlog of applications for disability benefits at the Social Security Administration. Today, more than 1.3 million Americans are awaiting a decision on their disability cases. SSA is staffed with dedicated, hard-working employees, but due to staffing shortages at the agency, some applicants for disability benefits must wait as long as 3 or 4 years before receiving a decision ontheir case. Many of these individuals are severely ill or injured, cannot work or have little or no income or access to health care. American workers pay into the Social Security system with the promise that if they become severely disabled, Social Security will be there for them. Today we are falling far short on that promise. This situation is a direct result of the understaffing of the Social Security Administration in recent years. Other important programs under the Labor, Health and Human Services bill have also been underfunded. Given these competing needs, I greatly appreciate the chairman’s efforts and the committee’s effort to include additional funding for SSA in this year’s bill. Nonetheless, I believe we should strive to do better in conference.

Mr. OBEY. Mr. Chairman, I share the gentleman’s concern about the Social Security disability claim backlog and the hardship it has caused. Under the President’s request for SSA, the disability backlog has gotten worse. The funding increase we’ve included in this bill will keep that from happening and will protect SSA from staffing declines that the agency has seen in recent years. I would make the point that despite the fact that we were left in a considerable mess with all of last year’s domestic appropriation bills not passed when we took over, we still made SSA a priority and included $148 million over the 2006 funding level. In the bill we are debating today, we have included over $401 million above the 2007 level and $100 million more than the presidential request. Mr. Chairman, I would be happy to work with the gentleman and others, such as Mr. ARCURI, toward increasing the amount for SSA in the conference and in future years.

Mr. MCNULTY. Mr. Chairman, I just want to say to Chairman OBEY that, DAVE, I approached you on this earlier in the year. Your response was immediate and positive. You have provided the additional funding. We hope to get more in conference. But what you have done is going to accrue to the benefit of thousands and thousands of Americans who have been waiting a long,
long time for these decisions. On their behalf, I thank you.

Mr. OBEY. Mr. Chairman, I thank the gentleman. Mr. WALSH and I both are concerned about the problem, and we will be happy to work with you.
Okay, so what was going on there? Obey is the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. McNulty is Chairman of the Social Security Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee. McNulty was getting Obey on record in this "colloquy" as saying that he will work to get Social Security more money once the appropriations bill gets to conference, that is, once the Senate passes its version of the bill and the House and the Senate get together in a conference committee to work out their differences. Social Security's budget can come out of conference very different from what either the House or the Senate passed, but additional funding coming out of the conference committee is merely a possibility -- and the President is threatening to veto the bill.

Closing Offices

From a press release from Representative Michael Arcuri of Utica, NY:
“During a recent meeting with high-level SSA officials it was made clear to me that without additional administrative funding, the agency would be forced to close field offices around the country”
Arcuri is concerned about the closure of the Auburn, NY Social Security field office. Maybe a lot of Congressmen ought to share Arcuri's concern, because there may be many more field offices threatened with closure.

Memphis Commercial Appeal On Social Security Staff Shortages

The Memphis Commercial Appeal (a newspaper) has a good opinion column on Social Security's staff shortages. Here are some excerpts:
...a problem of immediate interest to thousands of Mid-Southerners has received no attention -- namely, the horrendous delays for those seeking disability benefits. Because of the years it is currently taking to obtain their benefits, it is the Social Security Administration (SSA) that is itself forcing the Americans who depend upon it into insolvency. ...

This means that, in Memphis, from the day that the average claimant files until the day he or she receives a favorable decision from a judge, he or she will have waited for more than two years. Shockingly, this processing time represents one of the most expedient times in the country, with other cities such as Atlanta experiencing an average delay of some four years.

These appalling conditions are the direct result of insufficient funds being allocated to the Social Security Administration. During the past seven years, the president has never requested the full budget recommended by the Social Security commissioner, and Congress has never fully funded the budget requested by the president. The SSA has been forced to work under a hiring freeze that has decimated the support staff that is the backbone of this system. Nationally, the number of support staff in the hearings offices has decreased by 25 percent, representing a loss of approximately 4,000 staff positions.

Reaction To Vote On Defunding Biggs

Bloggers are reacting to the vote in the House of Representatives to prohibit any money being spent to pay the salary of Andrew Biggs, a proponent of privatizing Social Security, who was given a recess appointment as Deputy Commissioner of Social Security.

Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute is appalled by the "partisan idiocy" in Congress. Matthew Yglesias of The Atlantic Online labels the vote "excellent news." The Corner blog at the National Review called the vote a "stunt." Donald Luskin on Poor and Stupid cannot understand why being an advocate for privatizing Social Security should disqualify Biggs. Dave Budge calls it "crap" and a "dangerous precedent."

Dingell On Biggs Defunding

John Dingell has written a piece for the Detroit Free Press explaining why he sponsored an amendment to defund Andrew Biggs' position as Deputy Commissioner of Social Security. He quotes Biggs as having said: "Social Security reform featuring personal retirement accounts doesn't just send one liberal sacred cow to the slaughterhouse. It sends the whole herd."

Biggs May Be Defunded

Andrew Biggs has now been nominated three times for a six year term as Deputy Commissioner of Social Security. The first time President Bush sent Biggs' name up was in November or December of last year. The lame duck Congress never considered the nomination. The second nomination was in January after the new Congress convened. Max Baucus, the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, refused to have his committee even consider the nomination. President Bush then gave Biggs a recess appointment, good until the end of this Congress, but rather pointlessly also nominated Biggs for a third time.

Why is the Senate so averse to Biggs? He is a big proponent of privatizing Social Security. He campaigned with Bush for privatization in 2005.

The Labor-HHS Appropriations bill is currently being considered by Congress. When the bill came up on the floor of the House of Representatives, Representative John Dingell proposed the following amendment:
None of the funds made available in this Act may be used to pay the basic pay of any individual serving as Deputy Commissioner of Social Security, Social Security Administration, whose appointment to such position has not been confirmed by a vote of the Senate pursuant to section 702(b)(1) of the Social Security Act
The amendment was adopted by a mostly party line vote of 231 - 199. The matter still has to be considered by the Senate and the President has already promised to veto the bill for other reasons.

Jul 20, 2007

Man Needing Heart Transplant Denied Social Security Disability

From the Shenandoah [Iowa] Valley News:
Kyle Nelson can't play with his 8-year-old daughter Ashley without becoming winded. So why has the rural Shenandoah man been denied twice for Social Security Disability benefits?

That is the answer Nelson wants to know as he faces hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills waiting for a heart transplant.

Social Security officials told Nelson, who hasn't worked since December 2006, he is capable of returning to work by December 2007, even though two doctors have confirmed Nelson should not be working.

"I just don't know what to do," he said. "I'm behind on all my bills and I'm in the hole about $290,000 from medical bills," said Nelson.

Jul 19, 2007

List Of Regulatory Proposals Pending For Social Security At OMB

All federal agencies must submit regulatory changes to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for approval before publishing them in the Federal Register. Here is the current list of regulatory proposals pending at OMB for Social Security:

TITLE: Improvements to the Ticket To Work and Self-Sufficiency Program (3377P)

TITLE: SSA Implementation of OMB Guidance on Nonprocurement Debarment and Suspension (3382F)

TITLE: Amendment to the Attorney Advisor Program (3398I)

TITLE: Private Printing of Prescribed Applications, Other Forms, and Publications (530P)

TITLE: Sixty-Month Period of Employment Requirement for Government Pension Offset Exemption (3022P)

TITLE: Revised Medical Criteria for Evaluating Impairments of the Digestive System (800F)

TITLE: Amendments to the Administrative Law Judge, Appeals Council, and Decision Review Board Appeals Levels (3401P)

TITLE: Proposed Termination of the Federal Reviewing Official Review Level, Changes to the Role of the Medical and Vocational Expert System, and Future Demonstration Projects (3394P)

Jul 18, 2007

Bill Reported By House Ways And Means Committee

A House Ways and Means Committee press release:

Ways and Means Passes Bipartisan
Social Security Number- Identity Theft Prevention Bill
Legislation Approved Unanimously Today

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The House Committee on Ways and Means today approved legislation introduced by Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Michael R. McNulty (D-NY) and Subcommittee Ranking Member Sam Johnson (R-TX) designed to address the growing problem of identity theft. The final vote was 41 to zero.

"After 17 public hearings detailing the terrible consequences of identity theft, the time for talk is over and the time for action is at hand," McNulty (D-NY) said today. "If we are serious about addressing this growing problem, we must stop giving access to our Social Security number to every Tom, Dick, or Harry who seeks it."

During the course of the 17 hearings conducted by the Subcommittee, numerous experts testified that the easy availability of Social Security numbers (SSNs) in the public and private sectors, combined with the number’s widespread use as an individual identifier, greatly facilitates the crime of identity theft. The bill would restrict the sale, purchase and public display of the SSN by government and business, to make it less accessible to identity thieves, while providing exceptions for legitimate and necessary uses of the number.

"We are talking about keeping your private information private! If you have ever had your Social Security number stolen or your personal information compromised, you know how difficult it is to clear your good name and reclaim your credit rating," said Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX), Ranking Member of the Social Security Subcommittee. "We need to act now to stop the widespread abuse of Social Security numbers, help prevent ID theft, and further protect Americans’ privacy."

New Hires

Here is the text of a Social Security press release:

Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, today announced the appointment of three new members of his executive team at Social Security.

Dr. David B. Gray is appointed Deputy Commissioner for Disability and Income Security Programs. Dr. Gray will play a key role in helping Commissioner Astrue implement his plan for reducing the backlog of disability cases. “I look forward to working closely with Dr. Gray to improve Social Security’s outdated medical listings and poorly defined categories of disabilities and advance our vision for more compassionate allowances.”

Prior to his appointment, Dr. Gray was concurrently the Associate Professor of Neurology and Associate Professor of Occupational Therapy at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri. He holds a doctorate from the University of Minnesota, a Master of Psychology from Western Michigan University, and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Lawrence University in Wisconsin. His extensive work in the field of paralysis and mobility impairments, rehabilitation and human behavior has earned him respect in the research and academic communities both abroad and in the United States.

Margaret A. Hostetler is appointed Deputy Commissioner for Policy and Dr. Jason J. Fichtner is appointed Associate Commissioner for Retirement Policy. “Ms. Hostetler and Dr. Fichtner both bring strong backgrounds in policy analysis and research that will help us continue to study the effects of possible changes to the Social Security program on individuals, the economy and program solvency. I look forward to their wise advice and counsel.”

Ms. Hostetler has a wealth of experience in federal policy-making, having spent more than 20 years in senior Congressional committee staff positions. Her assignments included the House Ways and Means Committee, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee and the House Budget Committee. Most recently, she was the Senior Legislative Representative with the AARP Economic Affairs Federal Division. She holds a Master of Business Administration from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and a Bachelor of Science degree from the Pennsylvania State University.

Dr. Fichtner has extensive experience in economic policy and analysis. Prior to his appointment, he was a senior economist with the Joint Economic Committee in the U.S. Congress. In addition, Dr. Fichtner has served as an adjunct assistant professor at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute at Georgetown University. He also has worked for the Internal Revenue Service and as an economic analysis consultant in the private sector. He holds a doctorate in Public Administration and Policy from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, a Master of Public Policy from Georgetown University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Michigan.

I cannot comprehend how Dr. Gray is going to help reduce backlogs at Social Security. No matter how smart he is, he knows essentially nothing about Social Security's disability programs. I fear this appointment proceeds from the widely held belief among the naive that since the Social Security disability programs are a mess, those with experience in these programs must be incompetent and that the best thing to do is to bring in someone from the outside who has new ideas. However, there are no new ideas for Social Security's disability programs other than foolish unworkable ones such as former Commissioner Barnhart brought in. Gray is likely to resurrect old bad ideas or invent new bad ideas of his own. Social Security's disability programs are not badly run. Disability determination is inherently a messy business. Neither Gray nor anyone else can change this. No new ideas are needed; just enough personnel to make the current systems work. By the time Gray figures this out, if he ever does, Michael Astrue will be leaving office.

Stephen Goss Testifies On Capitol Hill

Stephen Goss, Social Security's Chief Actuary, testified on July 17 before the House Budget Committee on the desirability of funding for continuing disability reviews and SSI redeterminations. You can read his prepared remarks online. I do not understand why Goss would have been testifying. He does has more credibility with Congress than any other senior Social Security official. Goss has been around for many years and is well respected by both Democrats and Republicans. While funding this part of Social Security's operations is certainly desirable, one has to contrast this effort to make sure there is funding to cut off benefits, with the half-hearted efforts to get enough funding to put disabled people on benefits. Of course, Goss may have testified because everyone else was on vacation.

Jul 17, 2007

Social Security Perspectives Blog

I have established a separate Social Security Perspectives blog as a group blog for those who want to post about Social Security topics. So far, only one person has signed up as a blogger and there are only a few posts. If you are interested in posting on this group blog, please use the feedback button on the right side of the page to e-mail me. I can tell you that there are some people who are already checking Social Security Perspectives on a daily basis. Probably a few hundred readers will check out Social Security Perspectives as a result of this post.

Jul 16, 2007

Use Of This Blog On Attorney Website

I have been contacted by an attorney who wishes to pay to use an RSS (Real Simple Syndication) feed from this blog on his firm's website. He was wise to ask. It would be a copyright violation to use an RSS feed on a commercial site without authorization.

I am not sure what to do with the request. It will depend upon whether there are other law firms or other commercial entities who wish to use an RSS feed from this blog on their website or otherwise pay royalties to use items from this blog, either on their website or in some form of newsletter. If you are interested in this, please use the feedback button on the right hand side of this page to e-mail me.

By the way, there is certainly no charge to simply link to this blog. I am delighted if you do so. You need not ask for permission to just link.

Jul 15, 2007

An Image From 1939

NADE Newsletter

The National Association of Disability Examiners (NADE) has published its Summer 2007 newsletter. It may just be me, but I find the ads from NADE's corporate members to be interesting. The ads themselves are mostly just "tombstones." There is nothing about the ads that reflects badly upon NADE or those advertising, but I keep trying to figure out what makes each corporate member willing to pay money to NADE.

Jul 14, 2007

Government Executive.com On Social Security Budget

Government Executive.com has an article up on effort by the Federal Managers Association (FMA) to get an adequate operating budget for the Social Security Administration. Here is an excerpt:

In a summary of the bill, the House Appropriations Committee said the $100 million it added to the president's proposal should improve the agency's ability to handle claims. ...

Jessica Klement, government affairs director for the managers association, disagreed that the $100 million would reduce the backlog. "It's going to slow the growth of the backlog, but it will by no means allow them to work on [it]," she said.

The funds will allow the SSA to replace only 1,000 of the 4,000 employees lost in the last three years, she said. ...

Klement said FMA would like an amendment offered on the House floor to increase SSA funding, but acknowledged that was a long shot.

SSI For Elderly And Disabled Refugees

From Social Security's Legislative Bulletin:

On July 11, 2007 the House passed H.R. 2608, the SSI Extension for Elderly and Disabled Refugees Act by voice vote. The bill was sent to the Senate where it awaits action. The House-passed bill would amend section 402 of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. SSI-related provisions of H.R. 2608 would:

• Extend temporarily the 7-year eligibility period for refugees, asylees, and certain other humanitarian immigrants to 9 years for the period that begins October 1, 2008 and ends September 30, 2010;

• Exempt those refugees, asylees, and certain other humanitarian immigrants with pending naturalization applications from the time-limited eligibility period. This exemption would also be effective only during the 3-year period the provision would be effective;

• Apply retroactively to those non-citizens whose SSI benefits had previously ceased solely due to the expiration of the 7-year period as well as to eligible individuals whose 7-year period would expire before October 1, 2010;

• Provide for prospective monthly payment of additional SSI benefits over the duration of extended eligibility;

• Revert to the 7-year SSI eligibility period for refugees, asylees, and certain other humanitarian immigrants for months after September 30, 2010; and

• Be effective October 1, 2008.

Monthly Statistics Released

Social Security's Office of Policy has issued its monthly statistical packages for Title II and Title XVI of the Social Security Act.

Jul 13, 2007

Policy Change On Name Changes

Social Security seems to be clearing the decks for an expected wave of calls and visits from people whose names and Social Security numbers do not match. Many Americans will soon be forced by new Homeland Security rules to clear these situations or lose employment. While some of these people with name match problems will be illegal immigrants, most of them are going to be simple name change situations. Here is an excerpt from a recent Emergency Message that seems to reflect a desire to get these processed as quickly as possible.
A. New Policy In name change situations when evidence of identity in the old name is required (e.g., name change occurred more than 2 years ago) and the applicant alleges not having any evidence of identity in the old name with him or her at the time the SSN application is filed, request the following documentation (1, 2) and Numident verification (3) to process the name change:
    1. Name change document (e.g., marriage document) showing the old name that agrees with the name on the latest Numident record (e.g., maiden name), and

    2. Evidence of identity in the new name (name to be shown on the SSN card), per criteria described in RM 00203.200E., excludes marriage document if it was submitted as the name change document in 1., above, and

    3. Verification of identifying information (SSN, name(s) on latest Numident record, date of birth, place of birth, parents’ names) from the latest Numident record (this information is propagated into the SS-5 Assistant/MES application path) with the applicant and data shown on the SS-5. Under this policy, consider the identifying information to match if the following minor discrepancies exist: minor spelling errors, mother’s maiden name is incorrect or unknown, and/or place of birth provided is County of birth instead of city.
Important: If these three documentation requirements are not met, the name change request cannot be processed under this new policy. Evidence of identity in the old name would need to be submitted if required under the instructions in EM-06064 (for name changes based on marriage and divorce) or RM 00203.210 (for other types of name changes).

Mental Illness Causing Disability

Bet you would not think there would be anything relevant to this site on iAfrica.com, but you would be wrong. Here is an excerpt from an article about something that is definitely an issue for the U.S. Social Security Administration:
Mental illnesses such as depression and post traumatic stress disorder have overtaken back pain as the world's number one reason for disability claims, the Life Offices Association (LOA) said on Wednesday. ...

... mental diseases presented a challenge for life insurers because they were difficult to measure due to their "subjective nature". "
Demonstrating that circumstances in Africa are a bit different than the U.S, iAfrica has this as a a blurb for an article:
A North West owner of 10 lions that killed a boy has offered to sell two of the animals to compensate the child's family, the province said on Thursday.

If You're Reading This On A Government Computer, Pay Attention

From FedSmith:
The firing of a Navy Department civilian employee stemming from his improper use of his government computer has just passed muster with the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals. (Winters v. Department of the Navy, C.A.F.C. No. 2007-3106 (nonprecedential), 7/11/07)

Winters was a GS-11 Electronics Specialist at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, Indiana. Unfortunately for him, the Navy had to access his computer in order to respond to a Freedom of Information Act request. When the agency's computer people found "unusual" documents on Winters' computer, they notified his boss. It would seem Winters had more than 250 pages of unauthorized materials on a website he had set up using his government computer. This website said Winters was a Navy employee, talked about his job duties, and also talked about his unhappiness with his job and co-workers. ...

Winters was fired for poor judgment, wasting an excessive amount of government time, misuse of government equipment, and making a threat against a supervisor in a statement on his website. The Merit Systems Protection Board sided with the agency and sustained the firing. Winters took his case to court, but found no more sympathy there.

The Bureaucracy

Tom Shoop runs the excellent FedBlog. It is worth reading on any day. I think this post that he made applies very well to Social Security:

Newt Gingrich hasn't officially returned to politics yet, but that hasn't stopped him from running against the government. “We need to rip apart every single government bureaucracy,” he told Norfolk, Va.-area Republicans yesterday, according to a report in the Virginian-Pilot. “We’ve replaced government for the people with government for the government.”

It's enough to make you wonder why Gingrich didn't solve that problem when he was speaker of the House and his party controlled both houses of Congress. But actually, we know the answer to that question, don't we? First, because it's really, really hard to do. And second, because when you start pulling the lid off all of these agencies and programs, it turns out a lot of them are doing their jobs pretty well, and almost all of them have strong constituencies that even the most hardcore government-hater can't afford to alienate. That's why anti-bureaucracy talk like this (from all sides of the political spectrum, by the way) has always been more about rhetoric than reality.

Stats On Children Receiving SSI

Social Security's Office of Policy has released a compilation of statistical information on children receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Here are a few excerpts:

In December 2006, almost 1,079,000 blind and disabled children were receiving SSI payments. They made up 14.9 percent of the more than 7 million SSI recipients. The data reflect an increase of more than 42,000 child recipients since December 2005. ...

In calendar year 2006, the most recent year for which complete data are available, the Social Security Administration (SSA) received almost 460,000 SSI applications for children. This represents 17 percent of the more than 2.6 million SSI applications received during that period.

More than 170,000 children were awarded SSI payments in calendar year 2006. This was more than 20 percent of the 838,000 persons awarded SSI in that period.

Historically, the percentages of both applications and awards for children have gradually increased. Both rates rose rapidly in the early to mid-1990s, after the Sullivan v. Zebley decision. They dropped off somewhat after welfare reform legislation was enacted in 1996. The number of applications for children has continued to increase since then, but their percentage share of all applications has gradually decreased. Both the number and percentage of awards for children steadily increased for several years following welfare reform, but there was a slight decrease in the number in 2005 and 2006 and in the percentage of all awards in 2004, 2005, and 2006. ...

In addition to the almost 1,079,000 recipients who are currently considered as children for program purposes, the SSI rolls in December 2006 included almost 731,000 adult recipients who first became eligible for SSI payments before age 18. Twenty percent of these recipients first became eligible during the 1974–1980 period and thus have been receiving SSI for much of their lives.

What Astrue Hasn't Done

I try to look at what is not happening as well as what is happening, since this tells us about options that have been rejected, or at least deferred. Here is a list of things that Commissioner Astrue has not done so far that some might have expected him to do in the five months he has been in office:
  • Kill the proposed age regulations -- Social Security still has proposed regulations pending that would increase the age categories of the grid regulations by two years. This would have a devastating effect upon Social Security disability claimants. It would be politically suicidal for Astrue to adopt these regulations. Even former Commissioner Barnhart who had the proposal published said she did not want to adopt them, but was forced to propose them due to budgetary pressure from the Office of Management and Budget. Astrue has said he is not planning to go ahead with the proposal at this time, yet it sits there, ready to be adopted by Astrue or any future Commisioner upon no more than a few days notice. I have this vision of Astrue deciding to resign when President Bush leaves office, but adopting the age regulations as a parting shot. That is unlikely to happen, but Astrue knows well that he would make many people more comfortable by officially withdrawing that Notice of Proposed Rule-Making but he has not done so. Why?
  • Increase attorney fee cap -- The cap on fees for attorneys and others who represent Social Security claimants has stayed at $5,300 for more than six years despite significant inflation. For the sake of fairness, Astrue ought to raise the cap. He has been asked to do so. It would take little effort to do so, but he has not. Why?
  • Lobby for SSA's budget -- Under former Commissioner Barnhart the Social Security Administration had come up with a proposed budget for the next fiscal year of about $10.4 billion. Social Security really needs the money, yet Astrue has lobbied for the much lower budget proposed by President Bush. Why?
  • Show any sign of independence from White House -- Connected to the last item is the question of why Astrue has shown no sign of independence from President Bush. By statute, the Commissioner of Social Security is independent, yet Astrue has a person in his office working full time as White House liaison. As far as I can tell, no Commissioner has ever had an employee in such a role. Even in avoiding talk of privatizing Social Security, Astrue is doing the White House's bidding, since Astrue said during his confirmation hearing that this subject was just about the first thing that came up when he was talking with the White House about the nomination and they wanted him to stay away from privatization. Why not show some sign of independence from such an unpopular president?
  • Go ahead with senior attorney without OMB blessing -- Astrue wants to go ahead with this. He needs to go ahead with it, yet decided to propose it as a regulation which lets the White House's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) veto it -- and it looks as if they probably have vetoed it. Why not just call senior attorney decisions reconsideration decisions? Astrue could do that quickly without OMB approval, yet he has not done so.
  • Announce any plan that goes beyond FY 2008 -- Social Security needs a long term plan to deal with its workload -- a plan that calls for a lot more personnel. I am not interested in any "grand plan" like Barnhart's Disability Service Improvement (DSI) fiasco, but I would like to see some sign of long term planning. It may be too soon for a full blown plan, but why is there no sign of work on it?
  • Decide what to do about DSI in Region I -- Astrue has clearly decided not to go national with DSI, which is now in use in Social Security's Boston region (Region I). However, something has to be done about DSI in Region I. Federal Reviewing Officer (FedRO) morale has to be terrible. Many FedROs must be looking for other jobs. Productivity must be awful. Cases are in limbo. It is a situation that cries out for rapid resolution, but there is no sign of a plan for unraveling DSI in Region I. Why not?

Jul 12, 2007

Off Topic: Can We Get SSA To Go For This?

Take a look at this report from Mark Kleiman on a proposal by the European Commission to ban the wearing of neckties by its employees during the summertime as a means of saving money on air conditioning. Can we get Social Security to go for this, maybe even banning male attorneys representing Social Security claimants from wearing ties to hearings during the summer?

A Couple Of Items From Senate Appropriations Committee Report

Here are three interesting excerpts from the Senate Appropriations Committee report on the Labor-HHS Appropriations bill.
The Committee requests a letter report not later than August 24, 2007, on current and planned initiatives to improve the disability process, including the status and results of the disability service improvement process being piloted in the New England region and efforts to improve the hearing process. ...

The budget request includes bill language earmarking not less than $263,970,000 of funds available within this account for continuing disability reviews and redeterminations of eligibility under Social Security's disability programs. An additional $213,000,000 earmark for continuing disability reviews and redeterminations of eligibility also was proposed in the budget request. ...

Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have reported that Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is as disabling as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, end-stage renal failure, and multiple sclerosis. The Committee has encouraged SSA officials to continue the education of adjudicators at all levels about the functional impact of CFS to ensure that they remain up to date on the appropriate evaluation of disability that results from this condition. Within 60 days of enactment of this act, the Committee requests a report from SSA on these ongoing educational activities as well any plans to update the existing policy ruling on CFS, SSR 99-2p.
Note that the Senate bill would give Social Security $125 million more than requested by the President, but would earmark about $51 million of that to continuing disability reviews, meaning that there would only be about $74 million more than in the President's budget for reducing backlogs. Apparently, CDRs are a much higher priority for the Senate than backlogs.

Cuts Down On The Walk In Traffic

I think Social Security employees mostly deserve praise for the hard work they do under circumstances which are often difficult, but they occasionally screw up. Here is an article about an unfortunate screw-up from the Daily Sentinel in Nocogdoches, TX:

The new scaled-down version of the local Social Security office is now open, but unless you already know where it is, good luck trying to find it.

Those who didn't hear about the closing and set off for a quick trip to the Old Mize Factory office on North Street, where the office has been for years, could be in for quite an adventure.

The parking lot of the former North Street location was buzzing with people Tuesday afternoon — people who weren't sure where to go. Drivers would pull up to where the sign was, get out and try the locked door. They'd look around for some sort of "closed" or "moved" sign, which wasn't there, and then use both hands to block the sun as they tried to peer inside the vacant building for clues before leaving to walk around the Old Mize Factory and ask for directions.

The Nacogdoches Economic Development Corporation, which is located in the same building, actually produced their own sign and put it outside their entrance, with a new map and a photo of the new location of the Social Security office, so people would know where to go. But many cars came and went without seeing NEDCO's flyer. ...

As it turns out, the Nacogdoches Social Security office has moved into an apparently unmarked building in a small retail strip center between the former H-E-B grocery and Ultrafit, in the slot formerly occupied by Accessories Unlimited. The large sign at the top of the building remains blank, but if you manage to figure out that it's the right place, and see through all the cars parked up next to the building, you might catch a glimpse of the Social Security seal through the dark tinted windows of the front door.

Jul 11, 2007

Action Towards Hiring ALJs -- But A Long Way To Go

There are multiple reports on the ALJ Improvement board and the CONNECT board that the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is making progress on sorting out the hundreds of applications to become Administrative Law Judges (ALJs). Some applicants have been told that they do not meet the minimum requirements.

Do not expect to see any ALJs hired off a new register holding Social Security hearings soon. OPM has indicated that it does not expect to have a new register ready until late October. There are strong signs of an impending budget showdown between Congress and the White House that will delay new funding for Social Security. Until it gets a new budget, Social Security is not likely to be hiring new ALJs. This is a problem that could drag on for a long time after the beginning of the new fiscal year on October 1. A government shutdown is entirely possible. Even after the budget is finally approved, Social Security has to interview ALJ candidates and make decisions on hires. Those newly hired will then go to training for eight weeks, if I recall correctly, and most will then have to move themselves and their families to new cities. I do not expect new ALJs to be holding Social Security hearings until next summer. It takes time for new ALJs to become productive. In the meantime, current ALJs retire and die each month.

Federal Managers Association On Social Security Budget

A press release from the Federal Managers Association:
Meager increase in funding over FY07 level will do nothing to eliminate growing backlog of disability cases

Alexandria, VA – Representing the managers and supervisors in the Social Security Administration (SSA) Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR), the Federal Managers Association (FMA) is extremely disappointed in the level of funding provided by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees for SSA administrative expenses.

In his FY08 budget request, the President proposed $9.597 billion for SSA Limitation on Administrative Expenses. While this is an increase from his FY07 proposal, and far greater than Congress appropriated for FY07, it still falls short of the SSA Commissioner’s request and prevents the agency from meeting its backlog challenges. Before the end of her six year term, Commissioner Barnhart developed a Service Delivery Budget through 2012 to provide a framework for making decisions on needed improvements in service delivery and fiscal stewardship, and the requisite staffing to accomplish both. The Commissioner proposed $10.44 billion for administrative expenses for FY08.

Previously, Congress approved $10.1 billion in SSA salaries and expenses for fiscal year 2008 in the Budget Resolution; an amount which would allow the agency to tackle the growing disability claims backlog. However, today, the House Appropriations Committee approved only $100 million in funding for SSA administrative expenses over the President’s request. In June, the Senate Appropriations Committee went slightly further and allocated $125 million above the budget request.

“We at FMA believe that the $10.1 billion in funding agreed to in the budget resolution will allow the agency to fulfill its mission in serving the American people. SSA needs the additional funds to address the severe backlog in disability hearing requests,” commented FMA National President Darryl Perkinson in a letter to the House Appropriations Committee last month. “The President’s request is insufficient as the number of disability claims pending, as well as the average time to process those claims, will rise if the President’s request is appropriated.”

Currently, in the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, there exists a backlog of over 745,110 requests for a hearing, an increase of 433,152 requests since the start of fiscal year 2000. With the meager increase over fiscal year 2007 funding levels, SSA will only be able to replace roughly 1,000 of the 4,000 employees lost in the last three years. The funding provided by Congress will slow the rapid growth of the backlog; however, it will not allow the agency to begin work on wrestling with this problem.

“The solution to the problem is simple – more staff will allow SSA to deliver its services to the American people in the best possible manner,” continued Perkinson. “However, this cannot be done without adequate funding from Congress. The programs administered by SSA provide benefits to more than 50 million Americans. We, at FMA, believe that the level of funding proposed by the Appropriations Committees falls too short of the mark for SSA to serve its customers efficiently.”

House Appropriations Committee Press Release

Below is part of the House Appropriation Committee's press release on the funding bill it reported out today that covers Social Security:
Social Security Administration (SSA). The bill provides $9.7 billion for the administrative expenses of SSA, a $401 million or 4.3 percent increase over fiscal year 2007 and $100 million above the President’s request in nominal dollars. In real terms, however, the increase is just $221 million or 2.4 percent over last year’s level. SSA provides monthly cash benefits to nearly 55 million Americans each year, and the increase will help to improve processing times for initial disability claims and hearings, which have increased in recent years. It will also help to reduce the backlog of disability cases as well as allow SSA to process additional disability reviews and SSI eligibility determinations.
I am hearing reports that this may come up on the floor of the House of Representatives within the next week.

House Apprppriations Committee Mark Up

I was not able to watch it, but I am told that the House Appropriations Committee did not add any additional money for Social Security's budget in the bill they have reported out. In their bill, Social Security is at about $100 million over the President's recommendation, but still hundreds of millions of dollars below what the agency says it needs.

Budget Markup Today

The House Appropriations Committee marks up the Labor-HHS Appropriations bill, which includes the Social Security Administration, today at 10:00. The markup session is available in streaming video.

Jul 10, 2007

AARP Lobbies For Social Security Budget

I have suggested in the past that the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) seems to have only a limited interest in what happens at the Social Security Administration. Despite having a high degree of influence they have mostly seemed to be missing in action when it comes to any issue other than Social Security funding -- and they mumble on that issue.

In fairness, I must say that the National Journal is reporting that the AARP is lobbying for more funds for Social Security. It is good to see AARP paying attention to something other than selling insurance. I hope they have some influence.

Social Security To Spend Money On "Disability Mentoring Day"

A contracting notice published by the Social Security Administration:
The Social Security Administration (SSA) intends to award a sole source purchase order to the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), located at 1629 K Street NW, Suite 503, Washington, DC 20006-1634 to provide consultative services that will assist SSA in its outreach efforts during the 2007 Disability Mentoring Day (DMD). The DMD is commemorated on the third Wednesday of every October. DMD is a large-scale effort designed to promote career development for students and other job seekers with disabilities through hands-on career exploration, job shadowing, internship or employment opportunities, and matching of mentee/mentor relationships. AAPD is a nonprofit organization that is familiar with SSA's target population and can provide the personnel, materials, services, and equipment necessary to assure the success of SSA's outreach efforts during DMD. SSA believes that AAPD is the only source qualified to meet our needs. This notice is for informational purposes only and is neither a request for quotation nor an announcement of a forthcoming solicitation. Interested parties that believe they are capable of providing these services can submit a capability statement to Tonya Saunders via e-mail at tonya.saunders@ssa.gov no later than 2:00 p.m. EST, July 12, 2007. The Government will consider all information from responsible sources, but a determination by the Government not to compete this action is solely at the discretion of the Government.
Let me guess that the American Association of People with Disabilities has some friends in high places. Otherwise, I cannot explain why an agency strapped for funds would spend good money on such frippery. This has nothing to do with Social Security's mission, which is to pay cash benefits to certain people. Social Security is not in the disability mentoring business.

Bill On SSI For Certain Immigrants To Move Forward

From the Capitol Insider put out by the Disability Policy Collaboration:
The House will consider the SSI Extension for Elderly and Disabled Refugees Act, H.R. 2608, on the suspension calendar on Wednesday. Sponsored by Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA), the bill would extend the eligibility for Supplemental Security Income for 2 additional years for certain refugees, asylees, and other humanitarian immigrants who have applications for naturalization pending. Under current law, the limit on receipt of SSI is 7 years for those who have not become citizens, but the backlogs in processing naturalization case have made it difficult for many to be processed within the time limit. The bill would temporarily allow a 2-year extension of SSI benefits from Fiscal Year 2008 through 2010. Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR) has sponsored a related bill in the Senate, S. 821.

No Match Letters May Gain Importance

Greg Siskind has an important blog on immigration law. He is reporting that the Department of Homeland Security will soon publish a regulation telling employers that they cannot ignore a "no-match" letter from Social Security notifying them that the name and Social Security number of one of their employees do not match. The employer will be considered to be in violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act if they do not resolve the issue within certain time limits. If true, this would put the Social Security Administration in a place that it does not want to be -- in the forefront of the battle against illegal immigration. If nothing else, it would create plenty of business for Social Security when many women who never got around to it in the past have to suddenly notify Social Security that their names changed when they got married. This is not what Social Security's understaffed field offices need.

NCSSMA President On Social Security Funding

Richard Warsinskey, the President of the National Council of Social Security Management Associations (NCSSMA), an organization of management personnel, has written a commentary in the Federal Times on Social Security's backlogs and the agency's need for more funding and more personnel. Let me excerpt one paragraph:
SSA will lose about 4,000 positions from the beginning of fiscal 2006 to the end of fiscal 2007. This will leave the agency at its lowest level of staffing since the early 1970s, which is before SSA took over the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. The largest proportion of these losses has been in the field — nearly 2,500 positions.


Social Security has published the Notice of Proposed Rule-Making (NPRM) on Quick Disability Determinations (QDD). The NPRM would remove the 20 day time limit on making QDDs and take QDDs out of special units in the experiment that had been underway in the Boston region. In other words, QDDs will identical to the process which has been in place since forever for placing the most seriously disabled on benefits very quickly. This NPRM is completely meaningless for any part of the country other than the Boston region and has almost no meaning for that region.

Jul 9, 2007

Press Release On QDD

A press release from Social Security:

Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, today announced that Social Security will publish a proposed regulation to extend the quick disability determination (QDD) process to all State disability determination services. The process is now operating in the Boston region, comprised of the states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. 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 claimant’s allegations can be quickly and easily obtained.

“At my confirmation hearing, I promised to look closely at the disability changes we were testing in New England and implement nationally those things that were working well,” Commissioner Astrue said. “We have seen the success of the QDD model in identifying cases that are most likely to be allowed. To date, 97 percent of the cases identified have been decided within 21 days and the average decision time is 11 days. We plan to build on the success of QDD by expanding it to all States because it is both efficient and compassionate for us to do so.”

Social Security currently receives more than 2.5 million new disability cases each year. In the Boston region, QDD cases constituted slightly less than 3 percent of all new cases because the model does not yet cull a wide enough variety of diseases. Commissioner Astrue has committed to expanding the number of cases that can be decided through the model as high as possible while maintaining accuracy.

“The length of time many people wait for a disability decision is unacceptable,” 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 this vulnerable population.”

The proposed regulation provides for a 30 day comment period. It is on display at the Federal Register today and, starting tomorrow, can be read online at www.regulations.gov. For more information about Social Security’s disability programs, go to www.socialsecurity.gov

I am still waiting for someone to tell me how this is really different from what has been going on for years.