Aug 31, 2007

Social Security Enjoined From Sending No-Match Letters

From the Associated Press:
The Social Security Administration cannot start sending out letters to employers next week that carry with them more serious penalties for knowingly hiring illegal immigrants, a federal judge ruled Friday.

Ruling on a lawsuit by the nation's largest federation of labor unions, U.S. District Judge Maxine Chesney granted a temporary restraining order prohibiting the so-called "no-match" letters from going out as planned starting Tuesday.

Utah Incident

From The Salt Lake City Tribune:
Police in Provo say a motorist steered her car into the offices of the Social Security Administration

The crash happened about 4:30 a.m. Friday at the Social Security office at 491 N. 500 West.

The car backed through the front doors, crashing into furniture and interior walls, police said. Officers found the 45-year-old driver unconscious in the car.

Police said the damage may have been intentional and the motorist was under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Officers took her to a hospital for evaluation then booked her into the Utah county jail on suspicion of criminal mischief and driving under the influence.

National Law Journal On ALJ Lawsuit

I saw this link on the CONNECT Board. The National Law Journal has an article about the Association of Administrative Law Judges lawsuit about the process for hiring more ALJs. Here are a couple of excerpts:

For the first time in nearly a decade, the executive branch this past spring opened a register to applications for administrative law judge positions. Within three days of posting the announcement on the government jobs Web site, the opening closed, having drawn a targeted 1,250 applicants. Was it long pent-up demand or something not quite proper that prompted the application onslaught?

The latter, charges the Association of Administrative Law Judges, a union of ALJs, in a federal lawsuit filed this summer. The suit contends one or more federal agencies received advance notice of the vacancy announcement and shared that information with its own attorneys, and, as a result, those agency attorneys received preferential treatment over other qualified attorneys in private practice. Association of Administrative Law Judges v. U.S. Office of Personnel Management, No. 07-0711. ...

"There is a sense of antagonism between [the Office of Personnel Management] and ALJs, at least from the ALJs' view," said a longtime ALJ. "They see an institution historically required to manage and protect ALJs, which now is really doing neither or not doing it very well."

Fraud Allegation In Montana

A Clyde Park woman is accused of lying to get Social Security benefits for 18 years. Sandra Bowman pleaded not guilty to federal fraud charges. ...

The indictment says Bowman falsely claimed she lived alone, or only with her child, when she was living with her common-law husband or boyfriend.

It also alleges Bowman claimed that no other person paid for her food, rent, taxes and utilities, when her boyfriend paid some or all of the bills, the indictment alleges.

Aug 30, 2007

Social Security Bulletin Released

The Social Security Administration has released the latest edition of the Social Security Bulletin. The Social Security Bulletin mostly contains statistical information and articles about statistical research on Social Security issues.

Totalization Agreement With Denmark Not Drawing Controversy

The United States and Denmark have signed a Social Security totalization agreement, according to an announcement from the U.S. Social Security Administration. The press announcement on this touts the fact that the agreement will eliminate double taxation, but it also allows workers to combine wage credits from both countries to obtain Social Security benefits.

Note that this totalization agreement is totally non-controversial, while the totalization agreement with Mexico has been totally controversial. Critics of the agreement with Mexico would point to the large number of Mexican citizens in the United States illegally as the reason for the different reception of the two agreements. Critics of those critics would point to the differences in skin hue between citizens of Denmark and Mexico as being the real reason. However, the two agreements are quite similar. If one objects vehemently to the agreement with Mexico, one should also object vehemently to the agreement with Denmark.

Monthly Social Security Stats

Social Security has issued its monthly statistical summary for Title II and Title XVI of the Social Security Act.

Aug 29, 2007

Interim Policy On EAJA Payments

Eric Schnaufer has been kind enough to post elsewhere a document that states the position of Social Security's Office of General Counsel (at least for the 4th Circuit area) on payment issues under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA). Claimants may obtain reimbursement for their attorney fees under EAJA for federal court cases in which they prevail. There have recently been serious issues about how EAJA fees are paid that have caused confusion and irritation to attorneys who represent Social Security claimants in federal court.

Bill Aims To Improve Customer Service

From a Social Security Legislative Bulletin:

House Passes H.R. 404, Federal Customer Service Enhancement Act

On July 23, 2007, the House passed H.R. 404, the Federal Customer Service Enhancement Act. On July 24, 2007, the bill was received in the Senate and referred to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. Among other provisions, the legislation would require the establishment of customer service standards for Federal agencies, including SSA.

Upon enactment, the House-passed bill would:

• Require the Comptroller General and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to jointly develop performance measures and standards to determine whether Federal agencies are providing high quality customer service;

• Require the head of each Federal agency to collect information from its customers regarding the quality of its services and to include such information in the agency's Performance and Accountability Report;

• Direct the head of each Federal agency to assign an employee to be the customer relations representative of the agency;

• Require each Federal agency to include its address and phone number on any agency stationery. In the case of correspondence originating from a regional or local office, the agency would be required to include the address and phone number of the regional or local office on the stationery; and

• Require the Comptroller General to report on each agency's customer service performance no later than two years after enactment. The report could be used by Congress as well as the Director of OMB to update performance measures for customer service. Compliance with customer service standards would, to the extent practicable, be an element of each agency's performance appraisal system.

Aug 28, 2007

Trying To Straighten Out Earnings Record Results In Criminal Charge

From the Associated Press:
For five years Olivia Avila worked under a false name and bogus Social Security number at the National Beef meatpacking plant in Liberal to support her family. She kept working there after obtaining legal residency two years ago. But it was not until she went into the Social Security Administration to get credit for her earlier wages as an undocumented worker that her legal problems began — even though a loophole in federal law allows lawful immigrants to claim both legally and illegally earned wages in determining Social Security benefit eligibility. Avila, 51, was arrested at her job in June on six immigration-related counts after her visit to the Social Security Administration office in Wichita. Avila is now out on bond while awaiting her Oct. 16 trial on charges of using false documents to work in the United States and aggravated identity theft. ... At least two such recent immigration cases involving legal residents are now being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office in , although such prosecutions remain relatively rare. Fewer than 10 cases involving legal immigrants claiming Social Security benefits for past illegal earnings were filed within the last couple of years in Kansas. ... Jonathan Lasher, spokesman for the Social Security Administration's Office of Inspector General, said such crimes are a "separate issue" from benefit eligibility. ... "The law currently does allow that if someone gains legal status so that they now have a Social Security number that is legal, and they are authorized to work in the United States, the law does allow them to go back and get credit for any earnings they may have," said Mark Lassiter, spokesman for the Social Security Administration.

Aug 27, 2007

Why Did This Case Have To Go To The Court Of Appeals?

From Costello v. Astrue, ___ F.3d ____ (7th Cir. 2007)
Florine Costello visited her local Social Security office in 1994 with a straightforward question: from which of her two ex-husbands could she collect the largest monthly benefit check? (Divorcees can draw retirement benefits on their former spouses’ earnings records. 42 U.S.C. §402(b).) Based on the advice she received, she applied for (and received) benefits for which, it turns out, she was ineligible. The SSA eventually discovered the error and demanded repayment of eight years’ benefits. Costello seeks to offset this amount by the benefits she would have received had she applied under the other ex-husband’s account. An administrative law judge concluded that such an offset is unavailable because the situation does not fall within 42 U.S.C. §402’s “misinformation” provision, which allows applications to be granted retroactively in some circumstances. After the Appeals Council declined Costello’s request for review, she brought this suit, in which the district court granted summary judgment for the agency.
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, in a decision by Judge Easterbrook reversed and allowed Ms. Costello the offset she requested.

I have a hard time understanding how the Administrative Law Judge, Appeals Council and District Court all ruled against Mrs. Costello. As described, her case is extremely sympathetic.

In addition to the theory Mrs. Costello used, there is at least one other theory that could have been used (and maybe it was used, but was not an issue presented to the Court of Appeals), a theory which I find more compelling than the one used. When Mrs. Costello filed that claim for survivor's benefits, the claim form said that she was applying for all benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act to which she might be eligible. That is what all Title II claim forms say and that language is there for a reason -- to take care of cases in which, by mistake, the wrong claim is taken, which happens to be exactly Mrs Costello's situation. There is nothing in this language that limits the claim to the Social Security number listed on the claim form. Therefore, Mrs. Costello did file a claim for benefits on the account under which she was eligible and has no need to establish the claim filing date based upon misinformation.

Also, Mrs. Costello should have been granted waiver of the overpayment if she had asked. Obviously, she was without fault and probably has nowhere near enough money to repay. In any case, it would be against equity and good conscience to ask her to repay under these circumstances, which would make her financial status irrelevant.

New Veteran's Benefits Proposal

From the Tacoma News Tribune:
The Bush administration is preparing a legislative proposal to present to Congress in September that would establish a separate and, under most circumstances, a more generous disability package for service members who are injured in war or while training for war, sources said.

Under the plan, recommended by the Dole-Shalala commission, service members found unfit for duty as a result of combat or combat-training injuries, regardless of the number of years served, would qualify for an immediate lifetime annuity from the Department of Defense.

I mention this because a number of people have been saying recently that those who are approved for 100% service connected VA benefits should be automatically eligible for Social Security disability benefits. I cannot say whether this will ever happen, but this legislation would be a convenient vehicle to carry such a change forward.

Aug 26, 2007

An Image From 1939

More On Charlotte Observer Article

The article in today's Charlotte Observer concerning backlogs in the Charlotte, NC hearing office may not be the only article along these lines to expect. The Charlotte Observer article indicates that the reporter collected data on individual Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) productivity (and I know that he collected information on ALJ reversal rates as well) from all of Social Security's hearing offices in the Carolinas (and by the way, as a North Carolinian, let me make it clear that there is no geographic entity which may properly be referred to as "Carolina" -- the reference should always be to the Carolinas). The Charlotte Observer is part of the McClatchy chain of newspapers. McClatchy also owns newspapers in Raleigh, NC, Rock Hill, SC, Columbia, SC, Myrtle Beach, SC, Beaufort, SC and Bluffton, SC. There may well be a series of articles in these other newspapers having to do with productivity and reversal rates of ALJs in the other hearing offices in the Carolinas.

Rochester Editorial

From an editorial in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle:
One million people by 2010. That's the estimated backlog of pending cases for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits.

To handle that increase, due largely in part to the aging of baby boomers, the approval and appeals process must be altered.

The Social Security Administration is making an effort to screen and prioritize cases that are or will be 1,000 days old by the end of September.

That's a start. But those are just bare minimums. Implementing those things won't be enough to address the growing backlog, currently at 745,000 cases.

Michael Astrue, SSA commissioner, blames understaffing and an increase in claims. While not much can be done to decrease the number of claims as boomers age, an increase in staffing should be a top priority. Congress, which has provided an annual average of $150 million less to SSA than President Bush has requested since 2001, needs to ease the strain on the system. ...

Change is needed immediately. Congress and SSA officials must act or the future of the country's disabled population will grow even bleaker.

Why is it that "the appeals process must be altered?" Why not just give the agency adequate resources? Social Security's backlogs seem to produce a knee jerk response of a desire to alter or reform the process. However, Social Security is suffering from an overdose of alterations and reform that well meaning people proposed as a means to avoid the need for additional resources. These schemes have only had a negative effect upon productivity while wasting valuable resources and time. Social Security will never alter or reform its way out of this hole. People who ask for alterations or reform in the process are part of the problem. Talk of reform is merely a distraction.

Charlotte Observer On Hearing Backlogs

Some excerpts from an article in the Charlotte Observer (see also a sidebar piece giving a history of how the article came to be written and a touching multimedia story):
Nearly all American workers pay the federal government for insurance in case they get too sick to keep a job. But thousands of disabled workers wait longer for help in the Charlotte region than almost anywhere else in the nation. ...

In one case, a Gastonia man took his own life.

David "Joey" McKee, 21, couldn't afford medicine to treat his manic depression and waited two years to learn whether he qualified for disability. In March, he jumped from an overpass into traffic on Interstate 85 near Kings Mountain. ...

The Carolinas have about 48,500 pending disability cases, including 8,704 in the Charlotte region. Waits at Charlotte's Disability Adjudication and Hearing Office rank among the longest nationwide, 125 out of 141 offices, a recent national report says. ...

Charlotte judge Duncan Frye said judges in his office work "exceptionally hard" to reduce wait times but do not have enough support staff to collect applicants' medical records and prepare cases for hearings. Budget constraints have left the disability court with vacancies, said Frye, who is also executive vice president of the Association of Administrative Law Judges, which represents disability judges nationwide. ...

Through interviews, documents and the results of a Freedom of Information Act request, the Observer found:

Charlotte judges, on average, decided fewer cases than judges in other offices in the Carolinas: 375 cases per judge last year, compared with a combined average of 427 at offices in Greensboro, Raleigh, Columbia, Charleston and Greenville, S.C.

At any given time, half of the six courtrooms at the Charlotte hearing office are not in use. The Observer spent about 40 hours monitoring the office this month.

Around 3 p.m. on a Friday, an office worker observed an empty waiting area when an applicant failed to show up. She said to no one in particular, "We might as well go home." The office closes at 4:30, but lawyers for applicants say hearings are rarely scheduled after 3 p.m. Judge Dennis Dugan issued 188 rulings last year, the fewest among judges in the Charlotte office. Frye, Kevin Foley, Ronald Osborn and Robert Egan also issued fewer than 400 decisions. Saul Nathanson issued the most with 484.

Aug 25, 2007

Work Incentives Touted

Some excerpts from the Contra Costa Times:
Oakland resident Bernadette Nicholson was a law student when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1972. Despite her growing incapacity, she pursued a career in law until she could no longer work. Last year, she launched Write Touch, a greeting card publisher, from her home. ...

She jumped in without a net. She was willing to take the gamble without knowing -- as so many others are also unaware -- that the Social Security Administration has programs to help people with disabilities transition into self-employment without risking benefits and insurance. ...

Plan for Achieving Self-Support, PASS, is a federal program allowing recipients of SSI and SSDI to set aside money to achieve certain work goals. Under SSI, any outside income reduces your benefit. But if you qualify for PASS, Social Security will not count that new income against your monthly benefit.
My experience is that PASS is almost worthless because of multiple restrictions on how it can be used and because Social Security cannot make PASS decisions on a timely basis. Social Security employees seem almost rightened of approving a PASS application. There seems to be much sentiment at Social Security that if you can even think about working, you should not be on Social Security disability benefits and any statutes or regulations suggesting otherwise must be interpreted against the claimant or ignored.

Aug 24, 2007

Results Of Last Week's Unscientific Poll

New "no-match" rules require that employers must fire workers when they are unable to resolve discrepancies between the name under which they have been working and the Social Security number under which they have been working. What effect do you expect this change to have upon Social Security field office workloads?
Little effect (4) 8%
Mild increase (3) 6%
Moderate increase (7) 14%
Significant increase (20) 39%
Dramatic increase (17) 33%

Total Votes: 51

Aug 23, 2007

Rochester Democrat And Chronicle On Backlogs

From the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle:
John Johnson left the U.S. Army with such physical and mental scars, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs rated him 100 percent disabled in 2003.

But it took nearly four years for the Persian Gulf War veteran from Rochester to win approval for and finally receive Social Security Disability Insurance benefits. ...

"The process is horrifying," said Johnson, whose SSDI benefits started last month. ...

As of the end of July, 14,707 cases were waiting for an appeals hearing at the Buffalo office. Close to 8,000 had been pending for more than a year. There are currently 13 judges working out of the Buffalo office. Social Security Administration spokesman John Shallman says that an additional administrative law judge should be added there in October.

Aug 22, 2007

Backlogs In Kansas

Some excerpts from the Lawrence Journal-World:

While waiting for his Social Security disability claim to be processed, Mark Reser’s children went without Christmas.

Debra Shirar — a one-time homeowner — has whittled her belongings down to $200 worth of clothes, family photos and a few pieces of antique furniture. She moved in with a friend. ...

Judge Frank Cristaudo, SSA chief administrative law judge, says the agency knows the backlogs are a problem.

“We are not satisfied with how long it does take to issue a hearing decision, but it is based on the fact that we just don’t have enough judges and staff to handle the receipts we have received over the last number of years,” Cristaudo said. ...

Kansas had an accuracy rate that was greater than 95 percent in dealing with the initial claims.

“On the front end, we do really well,” SRS spokeswoman Abbie Hodgson said.

Aug 21, 2007

Cleveland Plain Dealer On Social Security Backlogs

Some excerpts from the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

Even with a $2 trillion trust fund for its budget, the Social Security Administration is in serious jeopardy, facing increasing backlogs as it processes more claims with fewer employees.

Richard Warsinskey, manager of the administration's Cleveland office, says he is as frustrated as those who wait for hours in an office or get a recording when they call for help with retirement benefits, survivor or disability benefits or Supplemental Security Income.

"We are really concerned for the public," Warsinskey said during a recent interview with The Plain Dealer. "We want them to get good service, the right amount of money and not wait so long. People are dying before disability decisions are made." ...

What's the biggest concern?

Disability claims take more than half our resources. But we will see a growth in retirement next year as the first of baby boomers turn 62 and are in their first year of eligibility.

Why the backlog in disability claims?

About 90,000 more people have filed each of the last five years. Budget cuts have led to the lowest field office staffing level since the early 1970s. ...

What could further overwhelm your staff?

We are concerned about proposed immigration rules. Currently when someone is hired, their information is sent to Social Security and we check the Social Security number. If it doesn't match, we send it back to the employer. They weren't obligated to do anything but may be required to send the employee to SSA to straighten it out.

Aug 20, 2007

Bismark And Social Security Backlogs

KFVR-TV, located in a city named after the German Chancellor, is running a story on current Social Security backlogs. If this story has reached Bismark, North Dakota, it is truly a national story.

I cannot help recalling a little history. The true father of Social Security is not Franklin Roosevelt but Otto von Bismark. (Take a look at some history about Bismark and Social Security.) By the time Social Security reached the United States, Social Security had already been in effect in Germany for 46 years.

Conservatives who predict that Social Security will soon run out of money may consider why Bismark, no liberal, is the true father of Social Security and how Social Security has managed to last 118 years in Germany despite German losses in two World Wars, an incredible episode of hyperinflation between the two World Wars, the Cold War and the eventual reunification of Germany.

No Match Letters May Not Curb Illegal Immigration

A week after unveiling a major crackdown on businesses that hire illegal immigrants, the Bush administration is now conceding that its most heavily touted weapon in pursuing employers - an assault against Social Security fraud - will be nearly useless.

That's because when the Social Security Administration warns employers about bogus identification numbers, it remains barred from also alerting the Department of Homeland Security, the agency that's supposed to hand out penalties.

In addition, federal promises to hold companies responsible for hiring illegal immigrants could potentially be stymied by several other issues: Employers are still not required to check a new employee's Social Security number against a free federal database, there could be long gaps between when an employee is hired to when the warnings are issued each year, and there is no way to follow up on employees who have been fired. In many cases, illegal workers could still hop from job to job without being caught.

The only way the government can punish an employer - with fines or criminal charges - is if someone first tips them off about potential fraud and then, during the course of the investigation, authorities discover evidence that Social Security warnings have been ignore.

Aug 19, 2007

An Image From 1956

Drug Binges And Social Security Disability Benefits

From a press release issued by the Substance Abuse Policy Research Foundation of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation:
Paying out certain types of government aid in a monthly lump sum appears to fuel a spate of harmful and often fatal drug binges, according to a new study in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Public Economics that links the monthly arrival of disability checks with a sharp rise in drug related hospitalizations and deaths. The findings by researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz and Texas A&M University suggests that spreading out aid payments over several weeks could be a way to relieve some of the stress on hospitals and health care workers who struggle to handle the monthly surge.

The analysis found that in California, the 23 percent increase in drug-related hospital admissions that occurs in the first five days of any given month is driven largely by the arrival of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Income (DI) payments. In particular, hospital deaths among SSI recipients increase 22 percent at the beginning of the month.

Aug 18, 2007

SSA Awards $80 Million Contract

The Social Security Administration (SSA) has awarded a large contract to Micro Tech LLC according to the Baltimore Business Journal. The contract is to provide "mainframe systems engineering and administration and telecommunications and Internet support services" to Social Security's National Computing Center in Baltimore. The initial contract is only for one year, but may be extended for four more years. If extended, the contract would be worth $80 million. EDS (Ross Perot's company), Apptis and Open Technology Group are also involved in the contract.

Aug 17, 2007

Clarification Asked On Long Term Care

From Medical News Today:
More than three dozen House members on Aug. 2 sent a letter to the Social Security Administration asking the agency to clarify that Medicare does not cover long-term care, CQ HealthBeat reports. The bipartisan letter urges SSA Commissioner Michael Astrue to include in Social Security statements sent annually to 143 million U.S. residents the sentence: "Medicare generally does not pay for long-term care."

The statement currently says that Medicare provides some coverage for "nursing care," which the lawmakers wrote "creates an unnecessary risk that individuals will assume Medicare covers an extended stay in a nursing home, when in fact it does not."

Aug 16, 2007

Poll Results

The Social Security Administration has restarted the Senior Attorney program. Do you think this is a good idea?

Yes, restarting Senior Attorney is a good idea (109) 75%
No, restarting Senior Attorney is a bad idea (32) 22%
Don't Know/No opinion (4) 3%

Total Votes: 145

Proposed Rule On Private Printing Of Social Security Forms

From today's Federal Register:
Section 312(a) of the Social Security Independence and Program Improvement Act (SSIPA) amended the Social Security Act (the Act) and, among other things, added section 1140(a)(2)(A) to the Act. Pub. L. 103-296, Sec. 312(a) (codified as 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1320b-10(a)(2)(A)). This section prohibits any person from charging a fee to reproduce, reprint, or distribute SSA's official applications, forms, or publications unless the Commissioner grants the person specific written authorization in accordance with regulations which the Commissioner shall prescribe. This proposed rule would implement section 312(a) of the SSIPA by adding SSA publications to the current regulation and by providing for SSA's prior approval of requests to reproduce, reprint, and/or distribute its applications, forms, or publications when the person intends to charge a fee. Furthermore, our proposed rule would implement section 312(a) by establishing the procedure any person who intends to charge a fee for reproducing, reprinting, or distributing SSA materials must follow to obtain SSA's prior approval. The requirement to obtain SSA's prior approval would apply regardless of the means the person uses to transmit the document, e.g., Internet or direct mail. This regulation would help to ensure that consumers obtain accurate and current materials and information regarding the
Administration's programs.

Minor Non-Attorney Withholding Notice

From today's Federal Register:
In prior notices published in the Federal Register, we provided guidance on the requirements for participation in the Non- Attorney Direct Payment Demonstration Project mandated by Section 303 of the Social Security Protection Act of 2004 (SSPA). In this notice, we are announcing that we are revising our earlier guidance in two respects. First, we have decided to replace the requirement that insurance policies must be underwritten by a firm that is licensed to provide insurance in the State where the individual practices with a requirement that the underwriting firm be legally permitted to provide insurance in that State. This change will allow us to accept insurance policies offered by ``surplus lines carriers.'' ppp

In our January 13, 2005 notice, we also announced that we would provide each applicant eligible to sit for the examination required by SSPA section 303(b)(4) a copy of the Compilation of Social Security Laws, Volume 1 (Compilation), to use as an open-book reference during the examination. Based on experience we have gained in the first four examinations, we have decided that providing a limited number of copies of the Compilation at each testing site for test-takers to consult during the examination is sufficient. Therefore, instead of giving each test-taker a copy of the Compilation, we will make available at each testing site sufficient copies of the Compilation for use by test-takers during the examination.

Fee Payment Stats

The Social Security Administration has published the updated numbers seen below on payments of fees to attorneys and others for representing claimants before the agency.

Note that fee payments went up by 80% between January and June, but then went down 21% between June and July. To those who work at Social Security who think this means that attorneys who represent Social Security claimants took home 80% more in June than in January and then 21% less in July, which is itself a huge variation, think again. Those who represent claimants usually have substantial office expenses. These office expenses are a fixed "nut" that change little from month to month. The practical effect of this is that the net profit (or loss) of someone who represents Social Security claimants for a living swings far more wildly from month to month than one might think from reading Social Security's numbers. These fluctuations which seem dramatic even on the surface are far more dramatic for those on the receiving end. It is a wild ride.

Fee Payments

Month/Year Volume Amount

Aug 15, 2007

Social Security Appropriations For FY 2008

Fiscal year (FY) 2008 begins on October 1, 2007. The Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill includes funding for the Social Security Administration. Here is some information from the Disability Policy Collaboration Capitol Insider on the status of the FY 2008 Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill:
Human services advocates were briefed by Senate Appropriations staff on the FY 2008 Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education (L-HHS-ED) Appropriations bill. It appears likely that Senate Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) will not schedule the L-HHS-ED bill for floor action in September. The September calendar is too crammed with “must do” legislation. Thus, the House-passed L-HHS-ED bill will be conferenced with the bill adopted by the Senate Appropriations Committee. This bill will ultimately be included in an omnibus bill where several FY 2008 appropriations bills will be merged together. However, if this tactic plays out, a Presidential veto looms, practically assuring the start of Fiscal Year 2008 without an enacted bill on L-HHS-ED appropriations. Funding will most likely continue under one or more short term Continuing Resolutions until the White House and the Congress agree on spending levels.

DSI Being "Suspended"

The Social Security Administration has published a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) that would suspend new cases going into the Federal Reviewing Officer (FedRO) program. Those 15,500 cases already in the FedRO system would stay in that system. The projected cost savings from this are $907 million over the next ten years.

This is not immediately effective. Comments may be filed on the NPRM for the next month. Probably, the proposed rules will be quickly adopted thereafter. Until then, apparently, new cases will continue to go into the FedRO program.

There is no word on what will happen to those unfortunates who took jobs as FedROs.

Comments are also requested on what to do with the Medical and Vocation Expert System that is a part of the Disability Service Improvement (DSI) plan.

Thus, about six months after taking office, Commissioner Michael Astrue is effectively labeling the greatly heralded DSI plan of his predecessor, Jo Anne Barnhart, a failure and is abandoning it. Is this a decent interval?

Aug 14, 2007

Federal Register Alert

This is from the list of items that will be published in tomorrow's Federal Register. My guess is that it is the death notice for former Commissioner Barnhart's Disability Service Improvement (DSI) plan:



Social security benefits and supplemental security income:

Disability claims adjudication; administrative review process--

Federal reviewing official review level, new claims suspension; medical and vocational expert system, role changes; and future demonstration projects, E7-16071 [SSA-2007-0045]

Happy 72d Birthday, Social Security

Aug 13, 2007

Job Opening

The following job is open with my law firm:
Attorney to do Social Security appeals work for Raleigh, NC law firm. Significant Social Security experience required. Experience with Appeals Council and District Court work would be a big plus. Good writing skills essential. Being licensed in NC or eligible for admission to NC bar by comity a plus, but not essential. Send resume and writing sample to Charles T. Hall. E-mail to charles[@] or fax to 919-791-1886.


Ticket To Work Proposed Regulations

The Social Security Administration has proposed revisions to its Ticket to Work regulations. Here is Social Security's summary of the proposal:
  • So that the program will be more accessible to beneficiaries who require additional training to return to work, we propose to add requirements for educational or technical training to supplement the work requirements under the timely progress guidelines for beneficiaries;
  • We propose to revise the work requirements under the timely progress guidelines and the documentation and other requirements for progress reviews to simplify and streamline the process for determining whether a beneficiary is making timely progress toward selfsupporting employment;
  • We propose to eliminate the current ‘‘initial 24-month period’’ after ticket assignment during which a beneficiary is considered to be making timely progress if actively participating in his or her employment plan;
  • We propose to replace this 24- month period with two successive 12- month progress certification periods during each of which the beneficiary must complete either a work requirement of an educational or technical training requirement in order to be considered to be making timely progress until the next scheduled progress review; and
  • We propose to recognize one-stop delivery systems established under the program of the U.S. Department of Labor under subtitle B of title I of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 as qualified ENs.

Aug 12, 2007

An Image From 1965

Really Simple Scams Do Work

From television station WGRZ in Buffalo, NY:
A few days ago Lizzie Jones of Buffalo was visited by three men who claimed they were from the government.

Lizzie Jones, Buffalo Resident: "We're from Social Security and we want to make sure the people are getting their social security check."

Lizzie said she gave them personal information including her social security number because they showed her identification.

Lizie Jones: "He did it real fast. He did it so fast I couldn't see it really."

But Lizzie's grandson Avery was suspcious. After the men left he had his mom call Social Security.

Avery Hutchenson, Lizzie's Grandson: "They don't send anyone door to door and they did not send anyone in this area during that day."

Aug 11, 2007

SSAB Meeting Agenda

The Social Security Advisory Board (SSAB) has issued the following agenda for its next meeting. It is nice to see them putting this out well before the meeting.

Social Security Advisory Board
Meeting Agenda
Friday, August 24, 2007

1:00 p.m. - 3:15 p.m. Discussion with Technical Panel and the Trustees Working Group

Cert. Petition In Public Citizen Case

The Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (DRA) contained items that modified Social Security law, particularly in regard to the payment of back SSI benefits. The DRA has been controversial because it was not passed by the two houses of Congress in exactly the same form. The most prominent litigation on this has been Public Citizen v. Clerk, U.S. District Court.

The DRA has been upheld by the District Court, 451 F.Supp. 2d 109 (D.D.C. 2006) and the Court of Appeals, 486 F.3d 1342 (D.C. 2007). Public Citizen has now filed a petition for certiorari with the Supreme Court. Although this litigation has gotten short shrift so far, it is of basic constitutional importance and cert may well be granted.

Tamperproof Social Security Cards Proposed

This is the proposal that Michael Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, says would require a doubling of his agency's staff, which means this Senator's costs estimates are off by an enormous factor. From the Associated Press:
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham said Tuesday he will introduce legislation to replace all paper Social Security cards with plastic biometric cards that can't be duplicated, so employers can be certain of the legal status of their workers. ...

Employers need a system they can rely on to determine the legal status of potential workers, so Graham said he plans to introduce a bill this fall to replace all Social Security cards over the next 10 years at a cost of $8 billion to $10 billion. The new cards would be tamperproof.

A Resurrection

From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

SPOKANE -- Eight years after a judge declared him dead, the Social Security Administration says Judy Sullivan's husband is alive, and it wants back more than $90,000 in survivor's benefits she has received.

But Sullivan doesn't think the person who applied for a new Social Security card and a driver's license in an unspecified Eastern state is Jack Sullivan, her husband of 25 years who disappeared without a trace in 1991. ...

Social Security officials have not responded to her requests to prove the person is not an identity thief, Weiser said. ...

"I can tell you it's devastating because I don't know now. I just can't believe that my husband is alive," she said. "I just can't believe he would do something this way. It's not him. He's just not this kind of a person." ...

Meanwhile, the legal clinic [representing Mrs. Sullivan] has asked for a waiver of the benefits "overpayment" until the matter can be resolved. Allen Gilbert, an official of the agency's Spokane office, told The Spokesman-Review the chances of the waiver being approved are good because Sullivan applied for and received the benefit money in good faith.

A Social Security Spokesman Accidentally Demonstrates The Source Of The Problem

From WSBT in South Bend, IN:
It's a problem facing more than 20,000 families in Indiana and nearly 50,000 in Michigan. People, who say they're unable to work, are appealing to the Social Security Administration for disability benefits; but they have to wait for years. ...

The Selners [who are waiting and waiting for a Social Security disability hearing] are in a very long line. They're among 24,000 Indiana families still waiting to appeal their case to an administrative law judge. In fact, Indiana has one of the biggest backlogs in the country.

Advocacy groups for the disabled ranked Indiana as seventh worst when it comes to delays in getting an appeal hearing. Michigan is fourth.

"I don't think I would characterize it is a crisis, but it is something we are extremely, extremely concerned about,” said Robert Walsh, spokesperson for the Social Security Administration.
Would this look like a crisis to Robert Walsh if it was his family?

New No-Match Rules

The U.S. Custom and Immigration Enforcement issued rules yesterday that will require employers to fire workers whose names and Social Security numbers do not match. The Social Security Administration has been sending no-match letters to employers for years, but there was no punishment for ignoring the letters. Now, there will be punishment if employers ignore the no-match letters. Greg Siskind, an immigration attorney, has posted in his blog a useful list of frequently asked questions about these new rules. For those interested in the effects of these new rules upon the Social Security Administration, the key points are that these new rules are effective on September 9, 2007 and that there are serious penalties if employers ignore no-match letters.

These new regulations add a new and unpredictable workload to Social Security's field offices, as many who have failed to notify the Social Security Administration of name changes are forced to contact Social Security.

Aug 10, 2007

SSA Seeks To Improve LTD Insurers Debt Collection

Under the Paperwork Reduction Act all federal agencies must publish notices in the Federal Register when they plan new systems that require or allow members of the public to provide information to the agency in a systematic way. Here is a quote from a notice published in the Federal Register today seeking comments:
SSA is in the planning stage of developing the Agency's second phase of the fee-based web service system which would provide private industry and other third party requesters with disability and retirement data (including insured status information, dates of entitlement, and benefit amounts). [The first phase was simple Social Security number verification.] This process, the Consent Based Benefit Information System (CBBI), would assist private insurance or pension benefit companies to determine private entitlements and coordinate entitlement to such benefits. These actions help the requesters to reduce and/or eliminate the overpayment of these benefits to their insured clients. Similar to the CBSV process, companies would be required to enter into a legal agreement with SSA, obtain written consent from the record holder, reimburse SSA, and follow SSA's established systems security and audit guidelines.

Aug 9, 2007


OASDI Beneficiaries By State And County

Social Security's Office of Policy has released OASDI [Old Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance] Beneficiaries by State and County, 2006, which lists the number of persons receiving various types of Social Security benefits in each county in the United States.

Final Rules On SSI Withholding And Non-Attorney Withholding

The Social Security Administration has issued final rules on the extension of withholding of fees for representing Social Security claimants to SSI cases and to some non-attorney representatives of claimants. This replaces "interim final rules" that had published on April 5, 2007.

Senior Attorney Program Reinstated

Effective today, Social Security has reinstituted the Senior Attorney program. The announcement appeared in today's Federal Register. Here is a summary from the notice:
... we are permitting attorney advisors, under managerial oversight, to conduct certain prehearing proceedings to help develop claims, and issue fully favorable decisions in appropriate claims before a hearing is conducted. We expect that this change will help us reduce the very high number of pending cases at the hearing level by enhancing claims development before the hearing and by permitting attorney advisors to issue fully favorable decisions in appropriate claims.
The Senior Attorney program was in effect some years ago and was quite helpful in reducing a much smaller backlog at that time. The new regulations put a two year limit on the Senior Attorney program, although the regulation states that this time could be shortened or lengthened. It is most unlikely that Social Security will work off its hearing backlog in the next two years.

Aug 8, 2007

Federal Register Alert

Each day the Office of Federal Register posts brief summaries of items they have received for publication in the Federal Register the next day. Here are two interesting items from Social Security that just showed up on this list. I know no more than I can glean from this bare description, but the first one sounds like senior attorney decisions.
Social security benefits and supplemental security income:

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

Attorney Advisory program; amendment, E7-15422 [SSA-2007-0036]

Social security benefits and supplementary security income:

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

Attorney Fee Payment System extended, eligible non-attorney representatives fee withholding and payment procedures, and past-due benefits definition, E7-15242 [SSA-2006-0097]

No Match Storm Coming

The Social Security Administration is not ready for this. From the New York Times:
In a new effort to crack down on illegal immigrants, federal authorities are expected to announce tough rules this week that would require employers to fire workers who use false Social Security numbers. ...

“We are tough and we are going to be even tougher,” said Russ Knocke, the spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security. “There are not going to be any more excuses for employers, and there will be serious consequences for those that choose to blatantly disregard the law.” ...

The new rules codify an uneasy partnership between the Department of Homeland Security, which enforces the immigration laws, and the Social Security Administration, which collects identity information from W-2 tax forms of about 250 million workers each year, including immigrants and Americans, so it can credit the earnings in its system.

Mark Hinkle, a spokesman for Social Security, said the agency expected to send out about 140,000 no-match letters to employers this year, covering more than eight million workers. After the rules are announced, the agency is anticipating a surge in requests from employers seeking to clarify workers’ information, he said. [emphasis added]

SSA Urged To Upgrade Online Services

A Press Release From the National Academies:

WASHINGTON -- The Social Security Administration should make a clear, strategic commitment to upgrading its online services for an increasingly Internet-savvy clientele, says a new report from the National Research Council. Although SSA's present computer and database systems continue to operate and do not jeopardize the current delivery of benefits, enhancing online service offerings and maintaining the systems will become increasingly difficult without significant changes.

The SSA developed an "e-government" strategy in accordance with the President's E-Gov Initiative and asked the Research Council to form a committee to review the strategy. The committee found that although SSA offers some online services, it does not strongly promote use of the Internet as an alternative to its traditional methods of customer service. The online services SSA does offer lag behind those offered by private financial institutions, and the agency has not kept pace with technological improvements supporting electronic services, the report adds. SSA has a long-standing tradition of individualized customer service delivered in person or over the phone, which is very labor intensive. However, the new wave of baby boomer clients for SSA benefits and services, unlike previous generations, is more comfortable with computers and electronic commerce.

The report recommends that SSA follow the example of large firms that have successfully rolled out electronic services by giving a high-level office responsibility for developing and managing electronic information and service delivery. To be successful in developing and upgrading its electronic services, the SSA also needs to undergo a shift in organizational culture toward embracing change -- by regularly evaluating emerging trends in technology, business practices, demographics, and public expectations -- as a constant factor in how it does business.

Because the underlying databases are essential to delivery of electronic services, the report also examines SSA's plans to update its more than 20-year-old "MADAM" database system, which is well-behind current commercial technology, and which has not been replaced despite warnings from as far back as 1986 about the risks of maintaining it. This obsolete, custom technology requires highly specialized expertise that is in increasingly short supply. SSA personnel with this expertise will begin retiring in greater numbers and replacing them will be difficult because the required skills are no longer in the mainstream. Moreover, it is much easier to implement electronic services with a modern database system. The report recommends that SSA give considerable weight to the efficacy of electronic delivery of services and remain open to the incorporation of new technologies when planning for conversion and upgrade. Because modernization of MADAM is critical to the SSA's mission, and because the committee has concerns about SSA's current plans for updating MADAM, the committee also recommended seeking technical advice from a broader range of experts in undertaking a conversion.

SSA's approach to balancing risks and rewards for modernization is overly cautious, the committee concluded. It recommended a more appropriate balance that better recognizes the risks associated with failing to modernize and the benefits of modernization such as cost reduction, fraud prevention, and customer satisfaction.
I think I can tell the National Research Council why Social Security does not promote its online services more. It is because they do not work very well. So far, most people find them frustrating to use and there is little or no savings to the agency when they do. Of course with enough money, Social Security might be able to make its online services work better, but since Social Security was struggling just to keep its doors open a few months ago, enough money to greatly upgrade the agency's online capacity may be a pipe dream at this point.

Aug 7, 2007

Dramatic Story From Milwaukee

This is one of the more dramatic stories on Social Security's backlogs. From the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

Disabled by an enlarged heart and unable to work, welder David Olson, 54, waited almost two years to be approved for Social Security disability payments. In July, he was found dead in his recliner at his Montana home.

His sister, Nancy Olson, 53, of Milwaukee, fears help might come too late for her, as well. She is on continuous oxygen because of a rare lung disease caused by inhaling microscopic spores of a fungus.

Olson is part of a nationwide backlog of more than 749,000 seriously ill people who say they are unable to work and are awaiting a decision on disability payments. She's been waiting almost two years. ...

The situation is acute in Milwaukee and getting worse. Last month, 10,956 people were waiting for a hearing to determine whether they qualify for the benefit. That's up about 19% since September 2005 and a historic high, according to records obtained by the Journal Sentinel.

The Milwaukee Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, where the hearings are held, is also well above the national average in the number of days it takes to process a case. In July, the national average was 528 days, and in Milwaukee, the average was 651 days.

"It's horrible," said U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), a member of the House Ways and Means subcommittee that oversees the Social Security Administration. "No doubt about it, this is a crisis."

Legislation On Wounded Warriors

From a Social Security Administration Legislative Bulletin:

On July 25, 2007, the Senate amended and then passed by unanimous consent H.R. 1538, the Dignified Treatment of Wounded Warriors Act. When the House takes up the Senate-passed version, it will either accept the Senate amendments and clear the bill for the President, or disagree with the Senate-passed version and request a conference to resolve the differences.

The Senate-passed bill contains the following provisions of interest to SSA: ...

• Would require the Department of Defense to develop and maintain a comprehensive handbook that describes the compensation and other benefits to which a service member and that member's family would be entitled upon the member's separation or retirement from the Armed Forces as a result of a serious injury or illness.

In developing and maintaining this handbook, the Department of Defense would be required to consult with the Social Security Administration, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Health and Human Services. The provision would be effective upon enactment.

NCSSMA Executive Committee Conference Call Discusses OCO Problems

The National Council of Social Security Management Associations (NCSSMA), an organization of Social Security management personnel, has posted the minutes of its July 12, 2007 executive committee conference call. Here is an snippet that may have some resonance with attorneys who represent Social Security claimants:
Rick [Warsinskey, NCSSMA President] spoke with Roger McDonnell [Social Security's Associate Commissioner for the Office of Public Services and Operations Support] regarding [backlogs in PC 7, which is part of the Office of Central Operations] this morning. Roger is aware that the backlogs are growing and that processing time is increasing. He has talked with Carolyn Simmons [Associate Commissioner for the Office of Central Operations] in the last month about these issues. He would like NCSSMA to share some feedback with Carolyn Simmons. Rick wants to establish a way to communicate to the module managers when there are problems. The Executive Committee discussed the issue. Some reported success by getting assistance from their Regional Offices after two attempts without success. Others reported frustration even at the Deputy Director level at PC 7. Many agreed that there are some modules in PC 7 that are very responsive and “customer” focused and that there are others that are very difficult to deal with.

Aug 6, 2007

AFGE Newsletter

Council 220 of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents more than 25,000 Social Security employees, has issued its July 2007 newsletter. Here are a few tidbits:
When the Union met for the first time with Commissioner Michael Astrue June 6, immigration reform was still a hot topic. He estimated its passage would requiring double the staff (currently 61,000) to issue national identification cards and verify social security numbers for employers. [emphasis added. This is the first time I have seen an estimate on this from Social Security. It may still happen. Why has Michael Astrue not been giving loud and public warnings about this?]

However, backlogs in hearings offices are first priority with the Commissioner. He made 20,000 hours of overtime available for volunteers from the field/TSCs to assemble hearings files. He also would like to hire 173 more Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) and support staff for them (each ALJ averages 4.4 support staff) and allow senior attorneys to review and reverse reconsideration decisions on pending hearings. ...

After experiencing a communications boycott from former Commissioner Barnhart, the Union participants were pleased the Commissioner openly discussed his ideas on how to improve the disability program with Union leaders. ...

Mr. Astrue’s desire for better communications with the Union is not mirrored by his subordinates. The Deputy Commissioner for Operations Linda McMahon and all Regional Commissioners (RCs) refuse to meet with employee-elected representa-tives. They make decisions without employee input.

WBKO On Backlogs

Television station WBKO of Bowling Green, KY is running a story entitled "Red Tape and Disabilities" on Social Security's disability adjudication backlogs. See it in streaming video.

Aug 5, 2007

An Image From 1997

Expanding Workload For Social Security

Employers across the country may have to fire workers with questionable Social Security numbers to avoid getting snagged in a Bush administration crackdown on illegal immigrants.

The Department of Homeland Security is expected to make public soon new rules for employers notified when a worker's name or Social Security number is flagged by the Social Security Administration.

The rule as drafted requires employers to fire people who can't be verified as a legal worker and can't resolve within 60 days why the name or Social Security number on their W-2 doesn't match the government's database.

Employers who don't comply could face fines of $250 to $10,000 per illegal worker and incident.
The natural thought is of illegal immigrants working under phony Social Security numbers and there will be plenty of those cases. However, there may be millions of other cases involving U.S. citizens where the records are simply incomplete or inaccurate. There are many women who changed their names when they married or divorced, but never told the Social Security Administration. Social Security employees will have to resolve these cases -- and in short order. Potentially, this is a huge workload, for which the Social Security Administration is ill-prepared.

Disability Benefits For Wounded Warriors

Social Security has created a new web page and a new pamphlet for "wounded warriors." Social Security promises expedited review of the claims of those who became disabled while in military service regardless of whether the disability is the result of combat or is any sort of wound.

Aug 4, 2007

More Work For Social Security Employees

From Social Security Legislative Bulletin 110-5:
On July 27, 2007, by a vote of 24 to 17, the House Ways and Means Committee passed H.R. 3162, the Children's Health and Medicare Protection (CHAMP) Act of 2007. ... [The bill]
  • Would direct the Commissioner of Social Security to provide MSP and LIS applications to individuals who apply for Medicare benefits with SSA. SSA would also be required to provide assistance to beneficiaries in completing these MSP applications, which would be forwarded to the State Medicaid Agency for processing. This provision would be effective January 1, 2009.
  • Would increase allowable assets for Medicare Savings Programs (MSPs) and the Low-Income Subsidy (LIS) program to $17,000 for an individual and $34,000 for a couple, in order to qualify for assistance with Medicare Part B and D costs. Would be effective January 2009, with limits increasing annually starting in 2010, by $1,000 per individual and $2,000 per couple. ...
  • Would allow the Commissioner of Social Security to obtain certain adjusted gross income data including information on State, private or individual pensions and annuities from IRS to identify beneficiaries potentially eligible for the LIS, effective upon enactment.

Aug 3, 2007

Proposed Regulation On Government Pension Offset

From today's Federal Register:
To implement section 418 of the Social Security Protection Act of 2004 (SSPA), we propose to revise our regulations to explain that a State or local government worker will be subject to the Government Pension Offset (GPO) provision under title II of the Social Security Act (the Act), if any part of the last 60 months of government service was not covered by Social Security. We also propose to replace the words ‘‘receiving’’ and ‘‘received’’ with the word ‘‘payable’’ when referring to the eligibility to or payout from a government pension. This wording change will make the regulatory and statutory language consistent and help clarify when the GPO is applicable. In addition, we propose to revise our regulations to reflect a separate 60- month requirement that was made applicable to Federal employees by a 1987 law.
This proposed regulation is not controversial, but the underlying statute remains controversial.

Aug 2, 2007

Gray Leaves After Two Weeks

An anonymous person has sent me this e-mail which appears to be genuine and which, apparently, was just sent out:
DATE: August 2, 2007
TO: Senior Staff
FROM: Michael J. Astrue /s/

SUBJECT: Executive Personnel Assignment - INFORMATION

I regret to announce that Dr. David Gray has resigned as Deputy Commissioner for Disability and Income Security Programs due to personal issues and he has returned to Washington University.
I have continued to be impressed by his intelligence and thoughtfulness and believe that this hard decision is best for David and his family. I wish him well and I am sorry that we will not benefit from his talents and knowledge.
During this time of transition, I have asked David Rust to serve as Acting Deputy Commissioner for Disability and Income Security Programs. Executive Secretariat matters should be referred to Gary Thorne until further notice.
I would also like to thank Manny Vaz once again for his strong leadership during his tenure as Acting Deputy Commissioner for Disability and Income Security Programs in recent months.
Astrue had just announced the hiring of David Gray on July 18!

$300 Million Contract For Nortel

From a Nortel press release:
The U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) has awarded a 10-year contract, valued up to US$300 million, for the SSA's Telephone Systems Replacement Project (TSRP) to a team led by Nortel Government Solutions*, a U.S. company wholly owned by Nortel* [NYSE/TSX: NT].

The award calls for replacement of the SSA's existing worldwide telephone systems with IP technology to create a converged voice and data network. ...

Expected to be among the world's largest enterprise VoIP [Voice Over Internet Protocol] implementations, the network will replace existing telephone systems in nearly 1,600 SSA field offices. It will include a 55,000-agent contact center with carrier-class unified messaging and comprehensive interactive voice response (IVR) capabilities. ...

Death Of Many Joanne Gludt

From the Baltimore Sun:
Mary Joanne Gludt, former chief of the disabilities litigation branch of the Social Security Administration, died July 19 of Alzheimer's disease at Genesis Elder Care Spa Creek Center in Annapolis. The former longtime Columbia resident was 70.

WCPO On Backlogs

Television station WCPO of Cincinnati is running a story on Social Security backlogs. You can watch online or read the text.

KSL On Backlogs

Radio station KSL of Salt Lake City, UT is running a story on Social Security's backlogs. There has been an explosion of stories along these lines since the USA Today article. It is impractical and pointless to link to all of them here. The USA Today article has to be the strongest publicity yet for Social Security's backlog and budget problems.

Albany Times Union On Backlogs

When it comes to waiting for Social Security disability insurance benefit claims to be processed, New York state has a backlog bigger than the population of Troy.

More than 52,000 people statewide have been waiting months or years for decisions on their applications, according to two groups that researched the problem. It's the 18th worst showing among the states in disability backlogs.

Albany is in the district of Mike McNulty, the chairman of the House Social Security Subcommittee.

The article also contains this, which may make a few people cringe:

"The Social Security crisis is already here today, manifesting itself first in the disability program," said Allsup, who was a claims and field representative for the agency before starting his company, which represents disability applicants. "They are a direct reflection of staffing problems that Social Security has."

The rankings were also compiled by the American Association of People with Disabilities, the nation's largest cross-disability membership organizations. Andrew J. Imparato, president and CEO of the not-for-profit, said the wait is keeping seriously disabled Americans from getting insurance they paid for.

I had earlier posted about the apparent alliance between Allsup and the American Association of People with Disabilities, which until this alliance seemed to have little interest in Social Security disability matters.

Nobody Could Have Foreseen This Problem

From an article by Eric Yoder in Government Executive published on September 1, 2001 (emphasis added):

During the next 10 years, the Social Security Administration's retirement processing workload is projected to increase by one-fifth as the oldest of the 77 million baby boomers enter their 60s. At the same time, the disability insurance workload is projected to rise by one-half as the rest of the boomers hit ages at which they are more likely to file disability claims. By 2020, the retirement workload will increase by one-half and the disability workload by three-fourths over current levels. Meanwhile, claims under the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program for the poor, disabled and elderly are expected to grow by one-fifth by 2020. ...

According to "2010 Vision [a report prepared by the Social Security Administration in 2000]," SSA would need 95,000 to 100,000 work years to handle its projected 2010 workload using current methods. [Social Security's annual staffing is now about 65,000 work years] "We recognize that an infusion of this level of resources is neither likely nor the best means to achieve our vision," it says. Thus the agency plans to make more and better use of technology. ...

Says [Stanford] Ross [a former Commissioner of Social Security], "The agency, I think, is whistling a little in the dark. They're saying, 'Well, if we get this, that and the other thing, we'll do the job. We always have. We'll be OK.' I don't think you'll wind up with the resources you're going to need unless you make your case clear. The beginning of getting the resources is being candid with the Congress and OMB and the President and the public about how deep and serious your problems are.

"Clearly, the number of workers is inadequate for the workload, and, short term, there's no substitute for the number of workers. Longer term, maybe technology and different methods of doing business can substitute for bodies, but I don't think that's true in the short term," he says. "The public is going to be ill-served if these shortfalls in service delivery are not corrected, like, yesterday. It's not being well-served right now in some ways."

This puts into better focus just how irresponsible former Commissioner Barnhart was. She was entering office about the time this was published and, undoubtedly, was made aware of the 2010 Vision report. Instead of vigorously pushing for increased staffing for Social Security, she promised that her "plan" would dramatically improve service at Social Security without any increase in personnel. Indeed, she seemed to have no objection as her agency's staffing was cut.

Aug 1, 2007

Backlog Of Disability Claims By State

The Associated Press is reporting a list of the "backlog of disability claims by state." It has already been picked up by a number of newspapers. I do not know what this means, but here is their list:


Kansas 14,842 55,542 26.7

D.C. 2,299 10,233 22.5

North Dakota 2,518 11,604 21.7

Michigan 49,951 250,351 20.0

Alabama 30,972 178,375 17.4

South Carolina 22,653 135,892 16.7

Indiana 24,330 148,690 16.4

Mississippi 16,346 109,531 14.9

Georgia 30,498 205,249 14.9

New Mexico 7,088 48,044 14.8

Ohio 36,561 251,748 14.5

Tennessee 26,709 190,539 14.0

Montana 3,019 21,611 14.0

Louisiana 15,857 114,609 13.8

Colorado 10,217 75,836 13.5

Oregon 10,349 78,860 13.1

Nebraska 4,356 33,915 12.8

New York 52,212 416,715 12.5

Missouri 19,648 168,301 11.7

West Virginia 9,479 83,143 11.4

Washington 14,754 130,146 1 1.3

Pennsylvania 33,454 309,778 10.8

Wisconsin 12,481 116,190 10.7

North Carolina 27,390 261,068 10.5

Illinois 24,278 231,633 10.5

Oklahoma 9,536 97,042 9.8

Texas 39,211 410,912 9.5

Arkansas 10,357 109,118 9.5

Rhode Island 2,779 29,721 9.4

Florida 38,056 407,268 9.3

Utah 2,903 32,274 9.0

Minnesota 8,087 94,885 8.5

Delaware 1,765 21,685 8.1

Kentucky 12,906 167,356 7.7

Maine 3,647 48,022 7.6

Maryland 6,155 94,524 6.5

Iowa 3,961 61,782 6.4

New Hampshire 2,158 34,310 6.3

California 35,568 570,084 6.2

Connecticut 3,761 67,281 5.6

New Jersey 8,586 158,619 5.4

Virginia 6,539 173,734 3.8

Arizona 4,607 125,727 3.7

Massachusetts 5,436 158,781 3.4

Nevada 1,014 46,966 2.2

Hawaii 362 19,203 1.9

TOTAL 709,655 6,566,897 10.8

Figures are as of end of 2006.

Backlog figures not available for Alaska, Idaho, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming.