Nov 30, 2007

"With No Human Intervention"

From a recent presolicitation notice posted by the Social Security Administration:
The Social Security Administration (SSA) intends to award a sole source contract under the authority of Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) 13.5 to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), 330 Brookline Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts 02215. The contract will require BIDMC to jointly develop specifications for a standardized request for medical evidence and response, and an associated implementation guide based on standards approved by the Health Information Technology Standards Panel (HITSP) and other widely used industry standards. The contract period will be approximately nine months.

The objective of the project will be to evaluate the feasibility, technical alternatives, and potential value of leveraging electronic communication along with structured clinical information with healthcare providers for the disability claims process. A standardized process and associated implementation guides will be developed to leverage provider-based Electronic Health Records (EHR) to generate responses to electronic requests from SSA with no human intervention using standard electronic transactions transmitting structured clinical information, which could result in quicker decisions on disability claims.

New Changes In Digestive Listings?

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) must approve all federal regulations. OMB's website has a list of regulatory proposals it has received. Here is one that was just posted:

TITLE: Revised Medical Criteria for Evaluating Functional Limitations Due to Digestive Disorders


Social Security just published new final digestive system listings, effective on December 18. Apparently, the agency already wishes to revise the new listings.

Nov 29, 2007

The Poverty Caused By Social Security Delays

Every year newspapers publish stories about people suffering from financial distress during the Christmas season and every year some of these stories are about individuals who have had or are having difficulty getting on Social Security disability benefits. Here are some excerpts from a recent story in the Buffalo News:

Hardworking people who live from paycheck to paycheck face an enormous risk. If something happens that prevents them from working, the consequences can be devastating.

“You see everything you worked for disappear,” Kathleen Clark said. “You fall so far behind in your bills, you just hope they don’t cut the heat off to your house.”

Clark, 49, and her 45-year-old husband, Al, both worked for a living. He was a baker at the market on Niagara Falls Boulevard for many years. She worked in a restaurant. They have two sons, James, 22, and Patrick, 19. ...

Expenses were high; making ends meet was a tough, but they were coping. They even found a little extra to donate to local food pantries and community kitchens.

Then, in 1999, Al Clark collapsed on the job. Years of unexplained dizzy spells culminated in a massive epileptic seizure. Blow No. 1. He couldn’t work anymore. He applied for Social Security disability. It would take five years before Al Clark received his first disability check. ...

With the costly medication her husband needed to treat his illness, expenses were higher than before and making ends meet was tougher. Now, they were barely coping.

In 2004, Kathleen Clark’s chronic bad back finally gave out and she was diagnosed with a herniated disk. Blow No. 2. She had to give up her job. ...

An operation earlier this year stabilized Kathleen Clark’s spine but left her in excruciating pain, which seven different prescription pills a day fail to ease. She applied for Social Security disability. But, as her husband’s found, it could take years before she receives any payments.

Their son, Patrick, is a senior at Niagara Falls High School. James works in shipping and receiving at a City of Tonawanda sporting goods store, but he’s barely getting by and can’t help with his parents’ bills. The Clarks are overdue on several bills, including more than $200 on the water bill. Monthly expenses run about $1,300. They’re trying to get by on the husband’s $760-a-month disability payment. ...

Thanksgiving and Christmas food baskets from Niagara Community Action’s food pantry on 19th Street will help them through the holiday season.

Nov 28, 2007

Major Media Stories Coming

There are major news media stories on Social Security's disability backlogs in the works.

There have been reports over the last month or so that CBS News is doing a story on Social Security's disability backlogs. It has been unclear to me whether the story is for 60 Minutes or for the CBS Evening News.

The New York Times is currently doing a story on the same subject. A New York Times reporter, Eric Eckholm, came to my office on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Eckholm and a cameraman visited the homes of several of my firm's clients that day and the next, returning to New York on Thanksgiving morning. My understanding is that Eckholm is interviewing Commissioner Astrue this week. I know that Eckholm has been in contact with a number of other people concerning the story.

I cannot say when either of these stories will run.

Social Security's Not The Only Agency With Disability Problems

From the Raleigh News and Observer:
The Department of Veterans Affairs fell further behind this year in its attempts to give veterans timely decisions on their disability claims, new records show.

The latest numbers are in an annual report the VA prepares for Congress detailing a range of short- and long-term goals for its disability, health and other benefit programs. Overall, the agency either has fallen behind or has made no progress in improving its performance in more than half of what it lists as its key goals.

In the benefits measure the VA has said is "most critical to veterans" -- the speed of processing disability claims -- the agency lost ground for the third year in a row.

Nov 27, 2007

Comments On GAO Report

From Thomson Financial News:

"The report makes clear that cutting guaranteed benefits for retirees would have a devastating impact on families with a disabled worker and on survivors," House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel of New York said today. "The American people fully expect that any discussions on the future of Social Security will look to strengthen and preserve, not undercut, Social Security's guaranteed benefits." The top Republican on the committee, Jim McCrery of Louisiana, acknowledged that Social Security benefits vulnerable families, but did not say, as Rangel did, that Social Security reform must maintain the same level of benefits.

"This report provides useful information to policymakers as we thoughtfully and carefully consider all options to strengthen Social Security," McCrery said.

GAO Report On "Reforming" Social Security Disability

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has issued a report entitled "Social Security Reform: Issues for Disability and Dependent Benefits." To understand the report one must first understand that almost always when people in our nation's capitol use the word "reform" in connection with Social Security, they are talking about cutting benefits. Basically, this report is about ways of "reforming" Social Security disability and dependent benefits by cutting benefits and how the damage that would cause could be mitigated by employing less "reform", that is, by cutting disability and dependent benefits a bit less.

My guess is that this study was ordered by Republicans when they controlled Congress.

Nov 26, 2007

No Match Rules Development: What Does It Mean?

From the New York Times:
The Bush administration will suspend its legal defense of a new rule issued in August to punish employers who hire illegal immigrants, conceding a hard-fought opening round in a court battle over a central measure in its strategy to curb illegal according to government papers filed late Friday in federal court.

Instead, the administration plans to revise the rule to try to meet concerns raised by a federal judge and issue it again by late March, hoping to pass court scrutiny on the second try. The rule would have forced employers to fire workers within 90 days if their Social Security information could not be verified. ...

The rule laid out procedures for employers to follow after receiving a notice from the, known as a no-match letter, advising that an employee’s identity information did not match the agency’s records. The employer would have had to fire an employee who could not provide verifiable information within 90 days, or face the risk of prosecution for knowingly hiring illegal immigrants. Those immigrants often present fake Social Security numbers when applying for jobs.

What's Happened To Barnhart?

Does anyone know what has become of Jo Anne Barnhart since her term as Commissioner of Social Security ended?

Nov 25, 2007

Your Reward For a Job Well Done: More Work

A press release from the Idaho Department of Labor:

The Idaho Department of Labor agency charged with evaluating the medical eligibility of Social Security disability claims has received national recognition for its speed and productivity.

The Idaho Disability Determinations Service ranked first nationally for the 2007 federal budget year in expediting claims. The Idaho office processed claims in an average of 58 to 60 days, depending on the type of claim, while the national processing time averaged over 84 days.

The efficiency was achieved in the face of a 3.6 percent increase in cases to nearly 17,000 and a reduction in the number of adjudicators during the year from 26 to 21.

Processing almost 320 cases in an average week won the agency the second highest productivity rating in the country.

Because of the agency’s reputation, the Social Security Administration has asked Idaho to work with other states to improve their operations. Between November and May, Idaho processed nearly 1,200 Utah cases. It was the second year in a row the Idaho office helped reduce the case backlog in another state.

“The staff’s timely, efficient determinations reflect their commitment to top quality service for disabled Idahoans at the time they need assistance,” Idaho Disability Determinations Service Administrator Nancy Vazquez said.

In late August, the agency agreed to handle 300 cases assigned to the regional Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, which has been struggling with an ever increasing case backlog.

The federal government’s annual evaluation of the Idaho operation last summer cited “an extremely high level of performance” and commitment from managers and staff to “the best possible service to the citizens of Idaho.

Nov 24, 2007

One Million Online

From the Business Courier of Cincinnati:

The Social Security Administration recognized a West Chester man as its one millionth person to file for retirement benefits online.

Dewey Bales followed the online application process, which recently ranked top of all federal government websites for customer satisfaction, and received his first payment earlier this month.

Nov 23, 2007

Birmingham PSC To Get Health And Fitness Center

From a solicitation of bids issued by Social Security's Atlanta Regional Office:
The Social Security Administration, Region IV, intends to issue a Request for Quotations (RFQ) to solicit for a fitness management vendor to operate and manage Social Security Administration new fitness center, Birmingham, AL, for SSA employees [which would have to be at the Program Service Center or PSC].

Nov 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

Nov 21, 2007

44 Organizations Work Together On Getting Adequate Administrative Funding For Social Security

Below is the text of a letter that went out yesterday. Take a look at end for the list of the organizations that signed the letter! It is hard to convey just how extraordinary it is for all of these to agree on a single letter. Congratulations and thanks to all involved.
November 20, 2007

The Honorable Jim Nussle
Office of Management and Budget
725 17th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20503

Dear Director Nussle,

We are writing to ask that you include adequate funding for the Social Security Administration (SSA) in the President’s Fiscal Year 2009 budget to address an increasing number of critical service delivery issues. Our organizations represent a significant number of the stakeholders of SSA.

In order for SSA to meet its myriad of responsibilities, we estimate that the agency needs a minimum of $11.0 billion for its Fiscal Year 2009 administrative funding. SSA expenditures are rising very rapidly and budgets in recent years have not kept up with the increasing demands for resources. The field offices, teleservice centers, hearings offices, Disability Determination Services (DDSs) and other parts of the agency are in critical need of additional staffing.

SSA has lost 4,000 positions in just the past two years. Even if SSA were to receive the funding level of $9.872 billion that was recommended in the FY 2008 Labor-HHS Appropriations Conference Agreement, SSA would only be able to maintain its current level of staffing in most of its components – including the DDSs and the field offices. SSA needs to replenish these lost positions and regain a level of staffing that can meet the demands placed on the agency.

Adequate funding is absolutely critical for SSA. For the past ten years (FY 1998 through FY 2007), Congress has appropriated approximately $1.3 billion less for SSA’s administrative funding needs than requested by the President. In Fiscal Year 2008, the President’s budget for SSA was $843 million less than the Commissioner’s Budget Request for the agency.

Going back to the beginning of FY 2000, the number of pending Social Security hearings has risen from 311,000 to a record high of 758,000. In addition, approximately 84,000 of these hearings are for veterans. The average processing time from filing for a hearing to the time a hearing is finally processed has increased from about 275 days at the beginning of this decade to 512 days in FY 2007. As a result, many people are losing their homes, living in homeless shelters, going without medical help, losing custody of their children, and even dying without ever receiving a decision.

SSA actuaries estimate that SSA will receive approximately 35,000 more initial disability claims in FY 2008 than was projected in the President’s FY 2008 budget due to the fact that baby boomers are expected to file more disability claims as they approach retirement age. The President's budget already assumed SSA would not process as many claims as it received, so this increase in receipts merely exacerbates that problem and will increase the backlog. A total of 83,000 claims would be added to the already substantial backlog. This would result in the highest ever initial disability claim pending level – 660,000 – causing processing times for initial disability claims to also increase.

Not only has there been a marked degradation in the level of service that SSA provides related to the disability process but visitors to local SSA field offices for other services are also being negatively impacted by the agency’s insufficient resources. Understaffed field offices are experiencing an ever-increasing number of visitors per week. Currently, SSA employees interview an average of 850,000 customers nationwide per week. In many field offices, these visitors experience waiting times that are in excess of 2 hours. SSA field offices receive over 60 million business-related phone calls from the public per year. A recent report states that 51% of these callers receive a busy signal.

In addition, SSA continues to be given responsibility for new workloads such as processing Medicare Part D subsidy determinations, taking and processing Medicare Part B premium determination appeals and processing increasingly complex security checks and stewardship reviews for Social Security Number issuance, SSI redeterminiations and medical Continuing Disability Reviews. SSA is also facing critical needs to reinvigorate the Ticket to Work Program and other work incentives which, if successful, will reduce the number of beneficiaries dependent on benefits. These programs are designed to actually save money for the trust fund. Yet without adequate administrative funds SSA cannot possibly do all this work. For SSA to process traditional levels of program integrity work (i.e., SSI redeterminations and medical Continuing Disability Reviews), Congress would have to appropriate more than the $11.0 billion recommended by the undersigned.

And, with the recent filing for Social Security benefits by the first baby boomer, SSA will be facing its most daunting challenge ever – the number of workers receiving Social Security retirement benefits will increase by 13 million over the next 10 years. These citizens will be contacting SSA at a time when the agency is proposing to close an increasing number of its field offices in response to inadequate funding to keep the offices adequately staffed and the doors open. Many SSA offices could close and others may reduce office hours without increased funding. With the massive number of baby boomers anticipated to need assistance and services from SSA in the years to come, it is imperative that the agency receives the resources it needs to sufficiently serve the growing numbers of people needing service from the agency.

The effects of the backlog extend throughout SSA. As SSA tries to address the crisis, the agency is forced to divert its limited resources away from its day-to-day operations in field offices and payment processing centers in order to try to manage the disability backlog.
SSA is facing these many workload challenges as its allocated staffing has dropped to the lowest level since pre SSI 1972. Since 1987 staffing has dropped by approximately 28,000. The state DDSs have lost over 900 employees in the last two years. If additional resources are not provided for the agency, staffing levels will continue to decline and service levels will continue to deteriorate.

We urge you to include in the President’s FY 2009 budget a minimum of $11.0 billion in funding to provide SSA with the resources necessary to reduce the backlog and protect many Americans from severe and unnecessary hardship. We are confident that this increased investment in SSA will benefit our entire nation. On behalf of our many members throughout the United States we appreciate your consideration of this request.


Alliance for Retired Americans
American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging
American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities
American Federation of Government Employees
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees
American Federation of Teachers Program on Retirement and Retirees
American Network of Community Options and Resources
APSE: The Network on Employment
Association of Administrative Law Judges
Association of Assistive Technology Act Programs
Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law
American Postal Workers Union Retirees
B'nai B'rith International
Easter Seals
Epilepsy Foundation
Federal Managers Association
Goodwill Industries International
Gray Panthers
National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association
National Alliance on Mental Illness
National Association of Disability Examiners
National Association of Disability Representatives
National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers
National Association of Retired and Senior Volunteer Program Directors, Inc.
National Association of Social Workers
National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare
National Council of Disability Determination Directors
National Council of Social Security Management Associations
National Disability Rights Network
National Multiple Sclerosis Society
National Employment Network Association
National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives
National Respite Coalition
National Senior Citizens Law Center
National Treasury Employees Union
OWL, The Voice of Midlife and Older Women
Paralyzed Veterans of America
Social Security Disability Coalition
The Arc of the United States
United Cerebral Palsy
United Spinal Association
Voice of the Retarded

Fraud In Connecticut

From the Connecticut Post:
A 62-year-old former Bridgeport resident admitted receiving nearly $11,000 in Social Security disability benefits while working at a job.

Emma Flippen, also known as Emma Jones, now of Phoenix, Ariz., pleaded guilty Monday to theft of government property. She faces up to 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines when she is sentenced Feb. 7 by U.S. District Judge Stefan R. Underhill.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Deborah R. Slater told the judge that Flippen used the name Emma Jones to obtain $10,967 in Social Security Title II Disability Insurance benefits between 1998 and 2002.

Nov 20, 2007

More On British Plan To Cut People Off Disability Benefits

From the Evening News of Edinburgh, Scotland:
A new disability test aimed at ending Britain's "sicknote culture" is not about punishing people, Work and Pension Secretary Peter Hain insisted today. ...

The Government says the new medical test, to be introduced in October next year alongside the new Employment and Support Allowance, will assess what an individual can do - rather than cannot do. ...

"This is about giving people opportunities because you are better off in work, the evidence shows that."

Mr Hain said: "We know that many people want to work - work is good for you and your long-term well-being and we don't think it's right that in the past people were effectively written off.

"We want to work with people to get them back into jobs and help them stay there.

"Currently, there are many people sitting at home in the belief that they are unemployable, with no life choices or long-term prospects because they do not think their illness or medical conditions can be catered for in the workplace.

"But this is just not the case. Many people with such conditions are perfectly able to take up successful careers, if the right support is in place.

"That is why I have introduced the new assessment. It will not only accurately identify a person's physical and mental ability, it will offer advice on the type of help and support a person may need so that they can find sustainable work. ...

Mr Hain said it was "nonsense" to suggest that someone would be able to claim incapacity benefit simply because they were overweight.
The Guardian newspaper quoted Hain as also ridiculing disability benefits to those suffering from acne.

I am sure that when this new plan is implemented Britain will still have a much more humane Social Security disability program (or should I say programme?) than the United States, but the language used in defending this is so eerily similar to the language used in the United States that I find it depressing. There is the same talk of promoting what people can do instead of concentrating upon what they cannot do and of giving "opportunities" to the disabled. It is all defined as "helping" the disabled. There is no way to describe this as anything other than bull, whether it is the United States or the United Kingdom.

The cheap shot attacks upon the obese and those suffering from acne are especially bothersome. Mr. Hain can easily ridicule giving the concept of giving some moderately obese person disability benefits -- when the ridicule is done in the abstract. Could he so easily ridicule a real 500 pound woman who is in agony because of severe arthritis in her weight bearing joints? He can ridicule the idea of disability benefits for acne in the abstract, but could he so easily ridicule a real person suffering from an extreme case of acne conglobata?

Prospects For Passage Of Labor-HHS Appropriations

The Labor-HHS Appropriations bill that includes funding for the Social Security Administration was vetoed by the President. Override of the veto failed by only two votes in the House of Representatives. There was no veto override in the Senate, but the bill had originally passed in the Senate 75-19, which strongly suggests that the Senate would have voted to override.

Probably, all Democrats have to do is to get two members of the House of Representatives to switch their votes. Democrats are planning to cut the bill down so that it will only contain $11 billion more than the President had requested instead of the $22 billion in the bill vetoed by the President. Would that not be enough to induce two Representatives to agree to override a veto of a new bill? I am no expert on such matters, but it seems like a reasonable possibility. Of course, we have no idea how much the Social Security Administration would get in this new bill.

Britain To Throw One Million Off Social Security Disability Benefits

From Reuters:
The government is to change the way disability is assessed in the hope of removing thousands of people from long-term incapacity benefit, Work and Pensions Secretary Peter Hain said on Monday.

A new test to be introduced from October will check people's abilities rather than disabilities, he said.

"The old test has been reliant on a physical incapacity. The new one is going to test people as to what they can do," Hain told the BBC. ...

Around 2.7 million people claim the benefit for not being able to work at an annual cost of 12.5 billion pounds.

The number on the benefit has trebled since 1979 and the government wants to reduce those claiming by one million people. ...

Hain said the changes were designed to help people, not to punish them.

Nov 19, 2007

Who Wrote The Social Security Act?

From the Watertown, Wisconsin Daily Times:
With the baby boomers now retiring at an ever accelerating pace, concerns over funding the program well into the future are certainly going to intensify.

But, we'll leave that debate for another time. Right now we want to go back to a topic we've covered several times in this column over the years and that is about the “Father of Social Security” who just happens to be the late Edwin E. Witte, a native of Watertown. ...

Edwin Witte was born on a farm in the town of Watertown back in 1887. He was a graduate of Watertown High School and then received his undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin in Madison in 1909 and his doctorate in 1927. He was a statistician for the Industrial Commission in Wisconsin for a short period of time and then moved to Washington where he became secretary for Congressman John M. Nelson. By 1914 he was a special agent for the Committee on Industrial Relations for the Department of Labor.

He became secretary of the Wisconsin Industrial Commission in 1917 and remained there until 1922 when he took over as head of the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Library. He was then the first director of Unemployment Compensation for the Wisconsin Industrial Commission in 1934.

It was shortly after that, he was called upon by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to become executive director of the President's Commission on Economic Security which was ultimately the sponsor of the Federal Social Security Act of 1934-1935. It was during this period that Edwin was on leave from his professorship at the University of Wisconsin. ...

There was a real sense of urgency to this historic legislation and Edwin was leading a team of 20 to 30 experts who were working day and night. ...

When it was all said and done, it was the leadership and the work of Edwin E. Witte that crafted this country's Social Security Administration and its wide reaching programs.

News From The Campaign Trail

Presidential candidates keep talking about Social Security. I keep getting e-mail suggesting that I should post something about what the candidates are saying. I have felt that the candidates' talk is nothing but sound and fury signifying nothing, but I am certainly posting about other things that are no more likely to matter, so let me write something, however reluctantly.

Bloomberg reports that Republican candidate Fred Thompson has been saying that we need to cut Social Security benefits. He also advocates private savings accounts, but has not said how private savings accounts may be achieved since he opposes a tax increase. His position sounds essentially the same as President Bush's position, which plays well with those who might vote in a Republican primary, but it is completely unworkable. If you want to carve private accounts out of the current tax rates, you are looking at massive cuts in current benefit payments and that is not going to happen, as Thompson knows well.

Democratic candidates John Edwards and Barack Obama have been proposing an increase in the cap on earnings subject to the FICA tax to bring the Social Security trust funds into long term balance. This position has been harshly criticized by Paul Krugman of the New York Times and others because it buys into the preposterous notion that Social Security is little more than a Ponzi scheme.

Where The Money Goes

The Social Security Administration has released its Performance and Accountability Report For Fiscal Year 2007. It includes this interesting information showing how Social Security's administrative budget is spent:
  • Disability Insurance 24.5%
  • Supplemental Security Income 29.8%
  • Old Age and Survivors Insurance 29.6%
  • Other (including Medicare) 16.1%
To understand what the Social Security Administration is, you need to ponder the fact that less than 30% of the agency's operating budget is spent administering old age and survivor's benefits.

The Real Effect Of The President's Social Security "Reform" Proposal

From the Wall Street Journal:
...[T]he [Wall Street Journal/Harris Interactive] survey shows most Americans are skeptical about whether Social Security will be available to them in retirement. While 56% of those ages 55 and older think it will be available, fewer than 20% of those younger than 55 believe they will be able to rely on Social Security.

Want To Study Anatomy?

Many of the people reading this blog are involved in one way or another with Social Security's disability programs. Basic medical knowledge is essential to those of us working in this field, yet few of us have received any systematic medical education.

Here is a chance to study medicine at its most basic level -- for free. The University of California at Berkeley has posted videos online of Professor Marian Diamond's course lectures on anatomy and physiology. I have not had a chance to watch much of it yet, but what I have watched seems fascinating. Just judging by the size of her class -- for a topic that most people would shy away from -- I would say that she has to be an excellent lecturer.

Nov 18, 2007

Fraud Alleged In New Jersey

From the Asbury Park Press:

MANASQUAN — A 61-year-old local man was indicted Wednesday on one count each of Social Security Disability fraud and theft of government property in connection with receiving approximately $384,980 in benefits he was not entitled to receive, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office, District of New Jersey.

Between about June 1989 and April 2007, Douglas Eugene Fittinger received income, including wages from employment and workers' compensation benefits, using a second Social Security number under the name David Fittinger.

Under his name in that same time period, Fittinger also received Disability Insurance Benefits payments on behalf of himself and his daughter, whose name is not being made public, said U.S. Attorney's Office spokesman J. Gregory Reinert.

Nov 17, 2007

What Appropriations Delays Mean

From the Free Lance-Star of Fredericksburg, VA:
Attorney Bruce Billman dreads the question every client asks.

They come to his office wanting help getting Social Security disability payments. And they all want to know: How long will it take?

"God, I hate looking them in the eye and telling them this," Billman said.

He doesn't have good news: On average, his clients will wait about a year to get a hearing to determine whether they'll get disability payments.

The backlog has long been considered a crisis by those in the field. A September report put out by the Social Security Administration noted, "For some, the long wait for their day in court leads to homelessness and the loss of family and friends. Sadly, people have died waiting for a hearing."

A $606 billion bill to fund education, health and labor programs may have relieved some of the long wait, said those familiar with the backlog. About $10 billion would have gone to Social Security for fiscal year 2008. But President Bush vetoed the bill Tuesday, saying it included too many pet projects and would lead to higher taxes. ...

One client of Bill Botts, executive director of Rappahannock Legal Aid, just got a letter saying it will be 14 months before her hearing.

Another of Botts' clients killed himself days after learning he would have to wait a year for his hearing.

And the wait time for a hearing in Fredericksburg area is much better than the national average.

Indictments In California

From the Sacramento Business Journal:

The owners of Our House Defines Art, an El Dorado Hills art gallery and framing business, were indicted Wednesday on eight counts of conspiracy to defraud the Social Security Administration.

A federal grand jury returned the indictment, which alleges Mary Margaret Donnelly, aka Mary Margaret Wittekind, and Michael Glen Donnelly, aka Michael Hubbs, falsely claimed to be disabled and not working from 2002 - 2007, when they were in fact working on their gallery. The indictment says the Cameron Park couple used $70,000 in disability benefits they were not entitled to.

Nov 16, 2007

No More Recess Appointments For Bush

America Blog reports that the Democratic Majority Leader in the Senate, Harry Reid, has decided to keep the Senate in session over the Thanksgiving holiday to prevent the President from making any recess appointments. I had suggested this idea about a year ago. If Reid had started doing this earlier, Andrew Biggs would not be Deputy Commissioner of Social Security.

Prefunding Con Job?

From the Atrios blog:
Someone showed up at the end of the Social Security thread to write this:
So math isn't one of your skills, then? The system goes into the red around 2017 - a decade from now. At that point, money that would otherwise flow towards discretionary programs will start bleeding to Social Security and Medicare. It will get worse over the course of the following 2 decades, until eventually, there won't be any money left for discretionary spending at all.
Essentially this is the prefunding con job. Since FICA revenues will cease to support general expenditures in the near future what we must do is... increase the FICA tax so it continues to support general expenditures. In other words, we need to increase the regressive payroll tax so that we don't need to raise other taxes. And we're doing it to "save" social security.

This is the con, laid out clearly for all to see. This has nothing to do with "saving Social security" and everything to do with increasing the regressivity of the tax code.

Someone had an idea for a lockbox, but the Village Elders decided that was a very silly idea.

An Important Point

From Tom Shoop at FedBlog:

Here's just a sampling of headlines from today's Washington Post:

This is a pretty typical day for the newspaper. Can there be any doubt at this stage that management of federal operations is not just something that's worthy of the next president's attention, but the critical issue facing the country in the next few years? If recent history has taught us anything, it's that we should be judging our candidates on the basis of how well they will manage the critical functions of the federal government, which are literally a matter of life and death to Americans. And we should be holding their feet to the fire when they make cavalier policy proposals like not replacing half of federal employees who retire and threatening to cut health benefits for political appointees.

While presidential candidates like to focus on policy proposals, and political reporters remain obsessed with the who's-up-who's-down horse race aspects of the campaign, the critically important issue is whether the next president will form an effective team of appointees, make sure agencies have the capacity to perform the roles they've been assigned, and hold federal managers and executives accountable for results. This issue ought to be central to the campaign, and its barely on the periphery.

Omnibus Coming

Last night, the House of Representatives failed by only two votes to override President Bush's veto of the Labor-HHS Appropriations bill, that included funding for the Social Security Administration. Here is a report from the Washington Post.

The next step is what is known as an "omnibus" bill. From The Hill:

After struggling for months, Democrats say they are close to finalizing their strategy to send 11 of 12 remaining annual appropriations bills in one omnibus package to President Bush’s desk. Their strategy has been complicated by Bush’s threats to veto most of the spending bills because they exceed his request. ...

The White House on Thursday slammed the Democrats’ plans, signaling that it will not accept an omnibus bill $11 billion above Bush’s request.
Will this omnibus bill attract enough Republican votes to override the President's veto? How much money will be in the omnibus for Social Security? What happens if Congress cannot override the President' veto of the omnibus bill?

Monthly Social Security Stats Released

The Social Security Administration has released its monthly package of statistics on Title II and Title XVI.

Nov 15, 2007

Social Security Offices Woefully Understaffed

From an opinion piece by John Kuhnlein in the Arizona Daily Star:
Nationwide, those persons who have become disabled and can no longer work are finding it harder and harder to get Social Security benefits. In some jurisdictions, applicants for disability benefits wait more than two years to have their claim processed. ...

Such delays can cause applicants serious hardship.

For example, applicants could lose their homes while they wait for a decision. These financial pressures only add to the problems of people suffering from disabling medical conditions. ...

We would not tolerate such behavior from a private insurance company. We have the right to expect better treatment for such vulnerable citizens.

Social Security employees are dedicated and hardworking. Given the proper resources, they can eliminate the current backlog of disability claims.

Disability Delays

From RNews:

The Social Security Administration faces a record backlog of disability cases. More than 750,000 vulnerable Americans are waiting—some for years—for a hearing and growing more desperate each day.

"That was the only day I had taken off from work. The Friday before I went into the coma, “ says Linda Fullerton of Rochester. Eleven years ago, she was getting out of her car when she bumped her head. She developed a deadly brain infection that lead to brain surgery and a host of auto immune diseases.

She says, “Levels of pain you can't even imagine."

It took Linda two years to finally get her Social Security Disability Insurance. By then, it was nearly too late. “I had pension money from the job but here's the thing. When I tried to get the social security disability, it took so long to get that I lost all my pension money, all my life savings, everything and now I live check to check

Nov 14, 2007

Bush: Failure On Social Security Reform My Biggest Disappointment

From a Fox Business Network interview:
"The biggest disappointment is not getting a Social Security package, Social Security reform, because that truly is the big deficit issue," he told David Asman. "I'm sorry it didn't happen. I laid out a plan to make it happen, to enable it to happen. I'm the first president to have addressed it as specifically as I did. I wish Congress wasn't so risk-averse on the issue."
I can think of something else that would disappoint me more if I were him.

Fee Payment Stats

Below are the recently updated statistics on payments of fees to attorneys and others for representing Social Security claimants. This is an excellent analogue for how quickly or slowly the agency is paying benefits to claimants after a favorable decision, since the attorney and the claimant are paid at about the same time. Obviously, things have slowed down dramatically since the end of August.

Fee Payments

Month/Year Volume Amount

Nov 13, 2007

SSA Appropriation Vetoed

The New York Times reports that the Labor-HHS Appropriations bill, that includes the Social Security Administration (SSA), has been vetoed by the President. Override of the veto is, apparently, out of the question.

Social Security's Own TV Network

From an presolicitation notice by the Social Security Administration:
The Social Security Administration (SSA) intends to negotiate solely with Comcast Cablevision of Maryland ... for system relocations and replacement of minor equipment items to support an existing order with Comcast to maintain the CATV Port Distribution System for the SSA headquarters campus and outlying buildings. ... The CATV network provides real-time news and information for the entire SSA headquarters campus.

Nov 12, 2007

Feedback Button Not Working

The Feedback button to the right of this post is not working. I have not changed anything about it, so it must be a problem with "Get Gear", the company that provides the service. I will leave the button there for now in hopes that eventually they will get the problem solved. You can e-mail me at:


Bernoski Letter Quoted In Baltimore Sun

From Melissa Harris' "Federal Worker" column in the Baltimore Sun:
Ronald G. Bernoski, president of the Association of Administrative Law Judges, was among those who responded to last week's column on the government's new roster of more than 600 administrative law judge candidates.

The Social Security Administration "indicated it had funding to hire 150 new administrative law judges and 92 support staff members to begin clearing the backlog of disability cases," Bernoski wrote. "This is an unjustifiable management decision.

"Each judge needs four to five staff members to prepare cases for the judge to review and to draft the judge's decisions. The 1,150 judges in SSA are already severely short of staff members. In many offices judges are unable to get enough prepared cases to fill their schedules.

"To hire 150 judges and only 92 staff members is a hollow gesture and another example of poor management decisions at the Social Security Administration."

Nov 11, 2007

Veteran's Day

A Direct Approach To Writing A Newspaper Article

Here is the complete text of an item at the Kansas City Star's website:
Have you applied for Social Security disability payments? Tell us about your experience

 Many applicants for Social Security disability payments must wait between 18 months and three years to learn if they qualify, and much longer if they must appeal a first rejection, AARP reports.

We want to know how you or someone you know fared when applying for benefits. If you would like to share your experience, and perhaps be included in future story about the situation, call Gene Meyer at The Star at 816-234-4883 or send e-mail to

Nov 10, 2007

New AARP Article

The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) Bulletin for November contains another article about Social Security's backlogs. Here is an excerpt:
Maria Leal of Portland, Ore., tells her story slowly because her tongue is sutured, making it difficult for her to speak clearly. She has grand mal seizures, and during the last one she bit down on her tongue so violently it needed stitches. ...

But three years after she applied for disability benefits, Leal is living in a residence for the homeless, sharing a bathroom with 54 other women and eating baloney sandwiches. She's still waiting for her claim to be processed. ...

"People have died waiting for a hearing," Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue concedes. "This is America, and it is simply not acceptable for Americans to wait years for a final decision on a claim."

Disability claims, officials say, have doubled since 2001 as millions of boomers in their 50s—the years when working men and women are most prone to illness and disabilities—have applied to collect the insurance. Despite a growing aging population and caseload, the agency hasn't been able to afford to add workers. Congress has consistently cut the SSA's budget requests since 2001, leaving the agency's overall staffing at its lowest level in 34 years.

Nov 9, 2007

National Public Radio Report On ALJ Shortage

You can listen to a report on National Public Radio on backlogs in holding hearings on Social Security disability claims. Here are some excerpts from the text:


Americans, who become disabled before they reach retirement age, often rely on the financial support of Social Security disability benefits. More than half a million people have been waiting now as long as three years to see if they’ll actually get these benefits. The Social Security Administration says it’s made some progress in chipping away at its staggering backlog of cases, but there’s still problems with money to support the program. ...

Mr. MICHAEL ASTRUE (Commissioner of Social Security): Last time I checked, which was about a month ago, we were at 1,041 administrative judges, which is really unacceptable. The minimum that we think we need to start driving the backlogs down in a significant way would be about 1250. ...

Mr. ASTRUE: Congress has had other funding priorities in the domestic area and the administrative budget for the Social Security Administration has been losing out consistently for a long period of time and it is starting to show up in the quality of performance.

KNXV-TV Phoenix On Backlogs

From KNXV-TV in Phoenix:

Imagine being diagnosed with a devastating illness, losing your job, going through your savings, then your retirement and finally losing your home.

That is exactly what happened to Suzanne Beveridge.

About 14 years ago, she shattered her elbow and broke her arm in three places. Even with two surgeries, her severe osteoporosis won't let her heal.

Beveridge struggled for years before she finally filed for disability. By that time, she had multiple illnesses.

That was more than five years ago. As of today, even though the government says she's eligible, she hasn't seen a dime. ...

And she is not alone. According to a report issued by the American Association of People with Disabilities, Arizona has more than forty six hundred people backlogged and waiting for disability. And almost twice that if you count those waiting to get assigned.

Sherry Whitener is the head of Advocates for the Disabled here in Phoenix. By the time the disabled go see her, they have lost everything.

A process the Social Security Administration says it's trying to change. Changes include reorganizing the administration, hiring more law judges and filling their dockets, and triaging cases electronically with Quick Disability Determination.

It's what they call Compassionate Allowances--to help keep people in their homes.

Are compassionate allowances the new Disability Service Improvement, a plan that Michael Astrue can tout as the solution that lies just around the corner, even though "compassionate allowance" is nothing more than empty words?

Press Release On Wounded Warriors

A press release from the Social Security Administration:

Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, today highlighted the agency’s efforts to improve service and reach out to wounded veterans. “On Sunday, we honor America’s veterans whose love of country, willingness to serve and sacrifice ensures the many freedoms we enjoy today,” Commissioner Astrue said. “While we can never fully repay them for their sacrifices, we can be sure we provide them with the quality of service and the respect they so richly deserve.”

Commissioner Astrue highlighted a number of activities Social Security has undertaken in the last several months to improve service and expand outreach to wounded veterans and their families. These include:

Expedited processing of disability claims for men and women serving in the U.S. military who become disabled while on active duty. The expedited process is for military service members disabled on or after October 1, 2001, and is applicable regardless of where the disability occurs. Social Security also expedites survivors claims.

Development of an easy-to-use website - - that provides information about Social Security and military service. The website also includes a link to apply for disability benefits online.

An agreement with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for the VA to electronically provide Social Security with the medical records of veterans applying for disability benefits. This agreement enables us to get medical records quicker and more efficiently and helps us expedite the disability determination.

Assigning Social Security liaisons throughout the country to work closely with VA’s Transition Patient Advocates (TPAs). Social Security’s liaisons provide TPAs with Social Security information and ensure that the application for benefits is expedited.

Instructions and extensive training for our disability examiners -- the people who make the medical decisions on our disability claims -- on how to properly identify and evaluate Traumatic Brain Injury, the signature injury of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

A fact sheet that provides information about Social Security and military service and explains how to apply for Social Security benefits. The fact sheet has been distributed to all branches of the military service, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion and other interested groups.

An active presence at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Bethesda Naval Medical Center, Brooke Army Medical Center, Evans Army Medical Center and numerous other treatment facilities throughout the U.S. For example, Social Security employees are onsite every week at Walter Reed, Bethesda, Brooke and other facilities to take disability applications and ensure expeditious handling of the case.

Coordinated efforts with organizations such as the Severely Injured Marines and Sailors and Wounded Warriors Project to address concerns and facilitate open communications regarding the processing of Social Security claims.

“The Social Security Administration is proud to have within its ranks many people who have honorably served -- or are presently serving -- their country in uniform,” Commissioner Astrue said. “Let me assure veterans and their families that the dedicated men and women of Social Security stand ready to help them in any way they can, and that we will continue to look for ways to improve our service to those who have given so much in defense of our freedom.”

Congressional Democrats Talking Omnibus

The Hill reports that despite the failed effort to tack together the Labor-HHS, Military Construction and VA appropriations bills into one bill, that Congressional Democrats are looking at an omnibus appropriations bill joining together most of the federal budget in one bill after the anticipated veto of the Labor-HHS appropriations bill. Social Security's administrative budget will be part of this omnibus bill.

This all sounds like an inside game of little importance to anyone other than a congressman, but the success or failure of such strategies will determine how many employees the Social Security Administration can hire between now and September 30, 2008 as well as how much overtime the agency can authorize. If you are a prospective Administrative Law Judge, this may determine whether you get a job. If you are a current Social Security employees, this is what determines how much overtime pay you will draw and how frustrating your job will be. If you are an attorney representing Social Security claimants, this is what determines whether your stream of income accelerates or slows down and how frustrating your job will be. If you are a Social Security claimant, this is what determines how quickly you get a decision or a hearing.

Nov 8, 2007

House Of Representatives Passes Social Security Appropriations

Reuters reports that the House of Representatives has passed the Labor-HHS appropriations bill, which includes Social Security, by a vote of 274-141. The bill has now passed in both the House and Senate and will go to the President for a certain veto. Neither the House nor the Senate was able to pass the bill by a veto-proof majority, which means that we are back at square one.


I was under the impression that the Social Security Administration was not authorizing any employee overtime at the moment because the agency was operating under a continuing funding resolution rather than an appropriation. However, I am getting messages telling me that some overtime is being allowed. I hope this is true. Without overtime, Social Security would rapidly approach collapse.

Senator Bingaman And The Backlogs

From the Albuquerque Tribune:

The stories of New Mexicans waiting on their government inspired U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman to take action. ...

At the end of September, 746,744 Americans were waiting for a hearing to ask an administrative law judge to overturn their initial denial of disability checks from the Social Security Administration. The average wait at the Albuquerque field office is about the same as the national average - 17 months. ...

Bingaman, a Silver City Democrat, has heard firsthand about the problems from New Mexicans and from testimony earlier this year at a Senate Finance Committee hearing, where the National Organization of Social Security Representatives related some of the specific stories from New Mexico and other states.

"We heard instance after instance where individuals with severe disabilities were unable to work and were forced to declare bankruptcy," Bingaman said.

"They lost their homes, suffered deterioration in their medical conditions, and some even died while their claims lingered in Social Security administration offices." ...

That's why, when the spending bill that funds the Social Security Administration came to the floor two weeks ago, Bingaman offered an amendment to add $160 million over President Bush's request for the agency to help settle the disability appeals backlog.

The Appropriations Standoff Continues -- White House In No Mood To Compromise

Congressional Democrats have been attempting to lump together the Labor-HHS appropriations bill, which includes funding for the Social Security Administration, with the Department of Veterans Affairs and Military Construction appropriations bills in hopes of getting enough votes for a veto-proof majority for the bill in each house of Congress.

The Hill reports that this ploy did not work. Senate Republicans were unanimous in opposition, preventing the bills from being combined. The Associated Press reports that the Labor-HHS appropriations bill by itself then passed the Senate by 56-37, less than the two-thirds majority that would be needed to override the veto that President Bush has promised.

This increases the chances of a prolonged standoff over Social Security's appropriations, which would force the agency to operate under a continuing funding resolution until well into the next calendar year. That would mean virtually no hiring of Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) or anyone else and limited or no overtime for a long time to come.

Here is a discouraging quote on the situation from the Los Angeles Times:
Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, recently invited White House budget director Jim Nussle over to the Capitol to talk about how to avert what could become the biggest budget showdown in years.

"We went out on our balcony and had a drink and talked for a while," Obey said. But the White House was in no mood to compromise, according to Obey, who said the budget director told him, "As I go around the White House, I don't find anybody in any quarters interested in any kind of a compromise at all."

Nov 7, 2007

Live Traffic Feed

If you look to the right on this page, you will see a "Live Traffic Feed." I do not know whether it is worth keeping, but it seems interesting for the moment. It shows some limited information on those recently accessing this website. It shows the reader's geographic location. It shows "arrived on Social Security News" if the person came directly to this blog. It would show the name of a particular post if the person came directly to that post. If the person came here by clicking on a link somewhere else, the referring source is shown. If the person leaves this blog by clicking on a link here, that fact is shown.

If you are receiving this by e-mail, you may need to drop by the website from time to time to see things like this.

Let me know what you think.

County Cannot Use Child's Social Security Money

From the Daily Comet (and no, I have no idea why a Louisiana newspaper is reporting this case from North Carolina):
RALEIGH, N.C. A county child welfare agency must use a teenager's Social Security benefits to pay the mortgage and upkeep on a home he inherited, and the agency can't use the money in its budget, the state Court of Appeals ruled in a decision released Tuesday. ...

Attorney Lewis Pitts of Legal Aid of North Carolina, which represented the teen, said the ruling means a state judge "has the power to order (the Department of Social Services) to use his money to pay his mortgage and not stick it in their pocket."

Pitts said the case was the first to go to court in the state. He also said it is common across North Carolina and in other states for Social Security benefits to be used in a similar way.

Continuing Resolution -- Until February?

From Government Executive:
Acknowledging Congress will be in session for at least two weeks next month, House and Senate leaders are preparing a continuing resolution [to fund the federal government since Congress and the President have been unable to agree upon a budget] to last through Dec. 14, although extending that by another week is not out of the question given the heavy remaining workload. ...

If Congress cannot get its work done in time for Christmas, as a fallback, federal agencies have already been instructed to plan as if Congress will eventually pass a CR running through Feb. 15, sources said. ...

There has been speculation that Democrats are preparing to quietly acquiesce in large part to Bush's overall spending limits, with perhaps some flexibility for veterans' health funding, in order to complete the appropriations bills this year.

Additional domestic funds could then be attached to Bush's new war-funding request early next year, the thinking goes.

The Social Security Administration is in a hiring freeze at the moment and is unable to authorize any overtime because it is working under a continuing funding resolution.

SSA Releases Annual Statistical Report

The Social Security Administration (SSA) has released its Annual Statistical Report for 2006, chock full of almost every bit of statistical information you could want about Social Security, but with little data about how SSA itself is operating.

Service Problems In Idaho Falls

From KIDK (or view the video):
There's a problem at your local social security office and its affecting your service.

We need the social security office in Idaho Falls to change our names, get a new social security card and request benefits for retirement or disability, but when I called to set up an appointment I spent about one hour getting no where.

I made my first attempt to reach our local social security office at 10:30 in the morning, and after 20 minutes of getting a busy signal, I finally got through, not to a person but a recording.

Then I sat on hold for just under ten minutes, and was transferred to an answering machine.

40 minutes later, I got frustrated, and tried the call, hang up, call again immediately trick but fifteen minutes later that hadn't worked either.

It wasn't until after about 20 minutes later that someone answered.

The clerk I was speaking to promised me he would have his supervisor call me as soon as she was free.

Five hours later the supervisor finally called me back, and told me my complaint had been transferred to their regional office, and that she would not be answering my questions.

Two days later Joy Chang from Seattle called me. Chang told me that if I wanted to talk to someone, calling my local office was a bad idea.

"We try to give people alternatives such as calling our national 800 number their primary function is to answer phones," says Chang.

Nov 6, 2007

Federal Times On Social Security Staffing

From the Federal Times (emphasis added):
The Social Security Administration has a problem.

The first baby boomers started applying for Social Security retirement benefits last month, signaling what is certain to be a huge demand for the agency’s services.

Yet the agency has its lowest staffing levels in 35 years.

SSA expects its staffing to dip to fewer than 60,000 by next September, spokesman Mark Lassiter said last week. That’s the lowest level since 1973, the year before Congress ordered the agency to ramp up staffing to handle a new supplemental security income program, which provides cash for elderly, blind and disabled people to pay for food, clothing and shelter. ...

“This is a cause for concern,” Lassiter said. “We’re seeing a significant increase in the number of disability claims in recent years directly because of the baby boomers. And we can’t do any hiring.”

Lassiter said SSA imposed a hiring freeze at the start of the current fiscal year. Congress has not yet passed any spending bills, so the agency — like all others in government — is operating under a continuing resolution that keeps its funding at the 2007 level of $9.3 billion. ...

To whittle down its backlog of disability claims cases, the agency plans to hire more administrative law judges: 150 by spring and 125 more in 2009. SSA wants to have 1,250 judges in all by September.

The agency expects to lose about 65 of its 1,040 administrative law judges to attrition over the next two years. [Less than 3% annual attrition among a group of employees who, on average, are probably in their mid-50s! Who are you kidding?] Lassiter said SSA also will hire 92 support staffers this fiscal year to assist the judges.

The agency plans to replace only one of every two state disability determination service (DDS) employees who leave in 2008, Lassiter said. These SSA-funded offices decide whether people claiming severe disabilities should receive benefits.

About 1,500 of the 15,000 DDS employees nationwide are expected to retire in 2008, and 750 are expected to be replaced.

250 More ALJs?

From the Capitol Insider put out by the Disability Policy Collaboration:
The House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on Tuesday on the conference report on the FY 2008 appropriations bill for the Departments of L-HHS-ED [Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Department, but also includes the Social Security Administration]. Should the conference report on the Labor-HHS-Ed appropriations bill be passed in the House, the Senate is expected to vote on the bill this week. House and Senate Democratic leadership have yet to announce a final strategy on which appropriations bills, singly or in combination, to send to the President for his signature or veto.

The Labor-HHS-Ed conference report is expected to include an appropriation of nearly $9.9 billion for the Social Security Administration’s funding to cover administration of its programs, known as its Limitation on Administrative Expenses (LAE). This amount is $576 million above the FY 2007 level and $275 million above the President’s request for FY 2008. Much of the increase will simply allow SSA to keep pace with inflation in office leases, security expenses, and employee salary and benefits costs. In addition, the National Council of Social Security Management Associations predicts that the Conference Report amount will allow SSA to hire about 250 more administrative law judges to help reduce the backlog in hearings for claimants with disabilities.

Suspension Of New Claims To Federal Reviwing Officers

The Social Security Administration has submitted the following item to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review before publication:

TITLE: Proposed Suspension of New Claims to the Federal Reviewing Official Review Level (3394F)

Compassionate Allowances Public Hearing

From today's Federal Register:
SUMMARY: We are considering ways to quickly identify diseases and other serious medical conditions that obviously meet the definition of disability under the Social Security Act (the Act) and can be identified with minimal objective medical information. At present, we are calling this method '‘Compassionate Allowances.’’ We plan to hold four public hearings over the next year. The purpose of this first hearing is to obtain your views about the advisability and possible methods of identifying and implementing compassionate allowances for children and adults with rare diseases. We will address other kinds of medical conditions in later hearings.

DATES: Dates and location: We must receive written comments by December 21, 2007. Comments made at the hearings will be considered in preparation of a final rule. The first hearing will be held on December 4 and December 5, 2007, between 8:45 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (EST), in Washington, DC. The hearings will be held at 500 E Street, SW., Washington, DC 20436, in the main hearing room of the International Trade Commission. Space limitations and time constraints require hearing attendance to be by invitation only. However, you may listen to the proceedings by calling 1–888–456–0278, at 9 a.m., EST, the mornings of December 4 and 5. If you plan to listen in, please send an e-mail to by November 21, 2007.
Let me take a guess as to the thinking behind this:
We really want to push "compassionate allowance" since it sounds really nice. It makes it sound like we are doing something, when we really cannot do anything of consequence due to lack of budget. The problem is that we have no idea what "compassionate allowance" means, much less how it is different from what we already do, so we will hold "hearings", which will allow us to publicize "compassionate allowance", while actually doing nothing. Since allowing real people to testify and ask questions and even demonstrate could be inconvenient, we will keep these "hearings" carefully controlled.
This sounds like something cooked up at the White House. Why would an independent Social Security Administration be part of this nonsense?

The notice indicates that Diane Braunstein is now the Director of the Office of Compassionate Allowances and Listings Improvement of the Office of Disability Programs, Office of Disability and Income Security Programs at Social Security. I have found an old document showing that Braunstein was Legislative Affairs Advisor in the Office of Policy Development at Social Security in 1988. She was working for the Alzheimer's Association at one time. She was working for the National Governors Association in 2003. Braunstein appears not to be a career employee at Social Security.

Web Service Beta Test

From today's Federal Register:
The Social Security Administration (SSA) is pleased to announce that, in 2008; the agency will develop and implement a Beta test of a web service which will allow the submission of Initial-level claims, including Disability applications and Adult Disability Reports, from companies who assist the public with filing for benefits. In 2008, SSA plans to develop the web service to initially collect data on the Internet Social Security Benefit Application and Disability Report. Note that when a third party submits an application, SSA must contact the claimant before it is considered valid. In the initial phase, organizations will be able to submit claims data in bulk and receive a confirmation of receipt of the submitted data. In subsequent phases, the systems interface will also include the ability for organizations to check on the status of previously submitted claims information.

SSA would like to extend an invitation to companies who assist individuals with their Social Security benefit applications, to participate in this web service claims data exchange Beta test. The Beta test is structured to use the ``consolidator'' model, where the participating company serves as a conduit to receive claims data from their client base and electronically transfer the data to SSA. After the initial disability claims data collection effort in 2008 is evaluated, SSA will add functional capabilities in future years to collect data on electronic appeal forms and integrated claims applications. This multi-year initiative will provide a comprehensive systems interface for companies to send claims data (including Title II Retirement and Spouse application data, disability data, and medical evidence) to SSA on behalf of their clients. The envisioned long-range solution beyond 2008 is a web service that will facilitate the collection of data through the entire life-cycle of Internet applications, including Title II and Title XVI initial claims and appeals.

Nov 5, 2007

Verification Now Required For Comments

Because this blog has been hit lately with dozens of roboposts, I have had to implement word verification for commenting. It is a small extra step to prevent what amounts to spam.

Federal Register Alert

A notice about an item to appear in the Federal Register tomorrow:


Social security benefits and supplemental security income:

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

Compassionate allowances for rare diseases; hearing, E7-21828

I think this is only about a public hearing, rather than an actual proposed rule. Social Security rarely holds public hearings about proposed rules, but they can. Michael Astrue may be familiar with this sort of public hearing process from his prior experience with the Food and Drug Administration.

Twenty-Five Years Ago

From the Battle Creek Enquirer:
25 years ago today, 1982: The Social Security system had to borrow $1 billion recently to pay November benefits, but its top administrator says mismanagement and a "rambling wreck" of a computer are more of a threat to the retirement system's immediate future than running out of money. Social Security officials consider it a monthly miracle that they get retirement and disability checks out on time. They also admit to at least $1 billion a year in overpayments.

Appropriations Override Possible?

From Robert Novak:
Democrats are plotting a rapid override of three expected vetoes of spending bills by George W. Bush, who did not veto a single bill until his sixth year as president. ...

The third attempted override would involve a contemplated merger of Defense appropriations with spending for Labor and Health and Human Services [which includes Social Security]. That package would contain so many pet earmarks for individual lawmakers that it would be difficult to sustain a veto.

Nov 4, 2007

Misleading Advice

From the syndicated column of appearing in the Baltimore Sun:

I retired a few years ago from the military after 20 years. Does the windfall elimination provision reduce my future Social Security benefits?

A number of factors could throw you under the provision, including how long and how much you paid into Social Security from your non-military employment over the years.

The answer to the question goes on quite a bit longer, but it remains confused and confusing.

The answer should have been simple. The person asking the question might be affected by the windfall elimination provision, but military service would have nothing to do with it, except to the very peripheral extent that military service was considered in determining some governmental pension based upon work not covered by Social Security. This foolish column will convince many people that the windfall elimination provision will prevent them from receiving Social Security benefits because of military retirement pay or VA benefits and that is not true.

Nov 3, 2007

Working Under A CR

From David Ignatius via the Denver Post:
The talk among some of my government buddies this week was an obscure term of federal budgeting known as a "continuing resolution." This is what Congress passes when it hasn't gotten its act together to pass a real appropriations bill before the start of a new fiscal year. The "CR," as it's known, allows agencies to continue operating at the same spending level as the previous year. ...

We are now a month into fiscal 2008 without Congress having approved a single appropriations bill. That means that every federal agency is operating on a "CR" basis, with that funding due to expire Nov. 16. ...

Late appropriations have become a chronic problem, whichever party is in control of Congress. According to Philip Joyce, a budget expert who teaches at George Washington University, Congress has managed to pass all its appropriations bills on time in only three years since 1977. ...

[Rop] Meyers [a political scientist] summarized the inefficiencies that result from having to run an agency without knowing your budget. "When regular appropriations are delayed, uncertainty about final appropriations leads many managers to hoard funds; in some cases, hiring and purchasing stops.

These effects are so unnecessarily counterproductive, it is surprising (the comic strip) 'Dilbert' has not devoted a month to this topic." Joyce argues that government contractors jack up their prices to compensate for the risk and uncertainty. And he notes the added cost for federal agencies who have to plan for the possibility that a new CR won't be approved and that they may have to shut down. "That's what economists would call a dead-weight loss," says Joyce.

"It's a lousy way to do business," says Leon Panetta, who grappled with these issues as director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Clinton administration.

"You're almost guaranteeing that there will be incompetence, because the agencies don't have the resources to do the job."