Mar 31, 2008

Tax Cuts Compared To Social Security Shortfall

From the non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

The Social Security trustees’ report issued this week estimates that Social Security faces a total shortfall over the next 75 years of 0.56 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This is slightly less than the estimated cost over that same period of extending the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts just for the top 1 percent of households: 0.6 percent of GDP.[i] (Currently, households in the top 1 percent make more than $450,000 per year.)

This striking fact should serve as a much-needed “reality check” in discussions over entitlement programs and the nation’s long-term fiscal future. Too often, such discussions assume that Social Security faces a titanic shortfall that will require radical restructuring of the program, while paying little or no attention to the enormous fiscal damage that would result from extending the tax cuts without paying for them.


Mar 30, 2008

Suicide During Long Wait For Hearing And A Mother's Pain

From the Gaston, NC Gazette of March 29:
Less than a month before he committed suicide in March 2007, David "Joey" McKee's manic depression landed him in a hospital one last time.

A doctor's only solution was for McKee to somehow begin taking the prescribed antidepressants that he simply couldn't afford.

"The doctor told me no one is going to help him without insurance," said his mother, Lynn McKee.

McKee had been fighting a losing battle for two years to receive Social Security disability. The delays he experienced in waiting to learn whether he would qualify is typical of what people see across the country, and particularly in Charlotte.

Across the nation, a person applying for Social Security disability must wait an average of 511 days to receive an initial hearing. At Charlotte office, which handles applications from across the region, the average wait time for a hearing is 705 days, according to a recent national report.
And from the same newspaper on March 30:
Cars and trucks whizzing south on I-85 offered the only background music as Lynn McKee knelt by the memorial to her son on a windy morning this month.

The homemade wreath and Easter flowers she brought were carefully arranged beside a small cross, and stepping-stones etched with the words "harmony" and "wonder."

It was hard for McKee not to come to the overpass at Exit 5 in Cleveland County after David "Joey" McKee, 21, of Gastonia, committed suicide there a little more than a year ago.

Her visits have become less frequent over time. But for her and Joey McKee's other loved ones, the pain remains.

"Have I healed? No," said Lynn McKee "I can get up and go to work. I can get through most of the day without getting depressed.

"My heart is still broken wide open." ...

Lynn McKee blames her son's suicide largely on delays he encountered in applying for Social Security disability payments. Such delays have plagued the system and caused a backlog of cases across the nation in recent years.

Two House Members On Social Security Backlogs

From the Kansas City Star:

We read with grave concern The Star’s article (3/23, Moneywise, “Entitled and exhausted”) on the severe disability case backlog now plaguing the Social Security Administration.

Fifteen thousand Kansans are awaiting court hearings to determine their eligibility for disability benefits. Many of those 15,000 have suffered severe injuries or illnesses. Many are enduring a terminal disease or debilitating pain. At this time, when they are most vulnerable, they cannot afford bureaucratic delays.

In Kansas, the average Social Security disability appeal has stretched to 21 months — the longest delay in the nation. It is intolerable that anyone must wait nearly two years before receiving the benefits they deserve.

Today’s backlog crisis has many roots. Two decades ago, SSA employed more than 80,000 staffers to process benefit applications. Now, that number has fallen to 60,000, even as the rate of applications has risen sharply.

For six years, SSA has submitted its annual funding request only to the president — not to Congress, as it is legally authorized to do.

As members of the House, we have sponsored legislation to require SSA to submit its funding request directly to Congress each year. Once the legislative branch finally knows how much funding is required to eliminate the backlogs, Congress can at last respond with the resources necessary.

Kansans deserve nothing less.

U.S. Rep. Dennis Moore
U.S. Rep. Nancy Boyda

Social Security Disability Protest In France

From AFP:
Thousands of disabled people demonstrated in the streets of Paris to demand higher benefit payments ...

Protestors in wheelchairs and on crutches, wearing red shirts, were joined in Paris by HIV positive patients, blind demonstrators with guide dogs and others, behind a banner urgently demanding "income to survive."

Arnaud de Broca, president of Fnath, one of around 100 campaign groups in the demonstration, said they wanted an increase in the disability allowance -- currently 628 euros (990 dollars) per month for a disabled adult.

"You can't live on that," he said.

Mar 29, 2008

The Death Of Newspapers

If you read blogs such as this on a regular basis, you ought to read Eric Alterman's piece in this week's New Yorker magazine, "Out Of Print," about the rapid decline and impending death of newspapers. The culprit is the new media, of which this blog is a tiny part. Only 19% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 even look at a daily newspaper.

Alterman does not miss the irony, obvious to readers of this blog, that the new media are heavily dependent upon newspapers for their content.

I have had occasion to talk with reporters from the traditional media on several occasions lately. They alway seem to ask where they could go to learn more about what is going on at Social Security. For obvious reasons, I always mention this blog. The response has always been the same, an audible sneer of contempt from the reporter.

SSI Monthly Stats

The Social Security Administration has issued its monthly statistical package for the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program.

Mar 28, 2008

New OMB Filing

Social Security must get approval from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which is part of the White House, before publishing any rule-making document in the Federal Register. This item was filed yesterday:

TITLE: Revised Medical Criteria for Evaluating Cardiovascular Disorders (3477A)

Politician Helps In New York

From the Times Herald-Record of the Hudson Valley in New York:
With some high-profile intervention, electrician Robert Veneziali is about to get the disability benefits he deserves.

Veneziali hated going on disability. He's worked all his life and he's proud of it. But the type of multiple sclerosis he suffers from is unpredictable. One day he was fine, the next, he had hardly enough strength to call for help.

So when he called for help to the agency designed to provide working people with exactly that, he was devastated when that agency decided he wasn't sick enough to qualify for benefits.

Try back in another 18 months, they said. But he had a wife and three kids to support.

Veneziali's mother, Elaine, who had seen her son consumed by the disease, was having none of it. Last January, she called Rep. John Hall, D-Dover Plains, who had seen a report alleging that a bureaucratic "culture of denial" permeated some Social Security Administration offices.

Hall paid a well-publicized visit to Elaine Veniziali's home in February. He called her son's treatment "unconscionable." He threatened a federal inquiry.

Wednesday, Veneziali learned his appeal had been approved for disability benefits by an SSA review board. The benefits are retroactive to August, when he first applied for them. He'll get about $1,300 a month, plus about $1,200 for the kids.

Mar 27, 2008

Delays In Minnesota

From KAAL in Austin, MN and note that Allsup is quoted:
One woman, barely able to dress herself, had to wait two years for just one disability check. Social Security says the reason is because its offices are backed up.

Earlier this month, Senator Norm Coleman added his name to the list of U.S. Senators pushing for a 2009 appropriations bill with more necessary money going to Social Security disability offices. ...

"People are dying while waiting to get a decision on their disability benefits and it's just a horrible situation,” says Dan Allsup of Allsup Social Security Disability Representation.

The Social Security Administration says it’s doing all it can. Officials at the regional social security office out of Chicago say offices nationwide have been under-funded by a total of $1 billion over the last five years.

Turbotax And Lump Sum Payments Of Social Security Benefits

From TaxMama's TaxQuips:
Today TaxMama hears from Scott in Utah, who’s upset . “My wife and I E-filed using TurboTax online deluxe, reporting a lump sum Social Security payment. We had a refund coming from both fed and state. Then we got an IRS letter telling us ‘We changed the amount of taxable social security benefits on line 20b of your form 1040 because there was an error in the computation of the taxable amount.’ Now we owe a ton of money – and TurboTax says it will take six weeks to review my situation. What do we do now?”

TaxMama Replies

Dear Scott,

Call up IRS and ask them to put a 60-day hold on your file. Tell them that you are working with
your software provider to find the problem. ...

Meanwhile, do pester Turbo Tax and try to run the Lump Sum calculation yourself to see if the number on your tax return was correct. ...

Call TurboTax regularly and make a friendly, but persistent pest of yourself. Remind them that they told last year, that their program WILL handle this computation properly – so why should you have to wait six weeks for them to get this to work for you?

While you’re waiting, try to figure out the calculation yourself. Follow IRS’s worksheet on the Social Security lump sum calculation. See Lump Sum – example .
The Social Security Administration has recently issued new instructions for its employees about taxation of Social Security benefits but failed to mention the problems connected with lump sum payments of back Social Security benefits that cover more than one year. By the way, if your first thought is that the way this is handled is to file amended tax returns for earlier years, your first thought is dead wrong.

Too Late

From Melanie Payne at the Fort Myers, FL News-Press:

Rick Shagla can't walk. The stiff fingers of his hands are splayed at odd angles, making his handwriting illegible.

He's lost sensation in his extremities. If he can't see his hands and feet, he loses where they are. Unless he's paying attention, he could place his hand on the burner of a hot stove and he wouldn't know it.

Shagla was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome in 1987. He then had testicular cancer. He continued to develop neuro-muscular problems and needed a wheelchair.

In 2002, the Social Security Administration deemed Shagla permanently disabled, granting him full benefits and Medicare eligibility. By 2008, he was receiving $2,487 a month.

Then, in February, Shagla got a letter saying that his Social Security Disability payments had been miscalculated over the past six years. He'd been overpaid, on average, by $1,200 a month.

Not only would his payments be cut to $1,100 a month, he also owed the agency $83,252.

Sometimes when people call me, I can hear so much panic in their voices that it scares me. Shagla's call was one of those.

This was a desperate man.

He'd been evicted. He couldn't pay his Medicare supplemental health insurance.

"They just ripped my life apart," the 47-year-old man said as he sat surrounded by moving boxes. "I'll end up going to a nursing home."

I called Social Security in Atlanta and spoke with Patti Patterson. After a week or so, she called me back.

"Good news," Patterson said. "It was a mistake."

Patterson said Shagla would get his money for March in a couple of weeks, and in April, he'd be reinstated to his previous level of benefits.

"This is rare," Patterson said of the error made in Shagla's benefit change. "We have told him we're sorry."

I got lost in Patterson's explanation of how the mistake was made. But that's OK. I don't need to know how it happened.

I did wonder, however, how often it happens and how long it takes to fix if you don't have The News-Press calling Social Security for a statement?

The answer: All the time and forever.

According to Douglas Mohney, an attorney with the Avard Law Offices in Cape Coral, Social Security is, "an incredibly complex system and tens of thousands of people a year get hung up by not quite knowing the rules since no one gives a complete explanation."

People receiving benefits can suddenly stop getting them, like Shagla, and it takes years to have them reinstated.

Other people trying to qualify for benefits are repeatedly denied and have to wait for a hearing before an administrative law judge, Mohney said.

Getting a hearing can take years. One of Mohney's clients applied for Social Security Disability in 2005. His hearing is scheduled for April 1.

"He's on a cane, and he's been homeless four or five times," Mohney said.

Many of his clients die while waiting.

When I was talking to Mohney, he had on his desk the file of a woman who had been waiting three years for a hearing. She had a number of health problems, including depression.

Mohney had just received notice that her hearing had been scheduled for April.

But she won't need it.

She committed suicide.

Mar 26, 2008

Package Destroyed Outside Salt Lake City Office

From KSL radio:

A suspicious package led to the closure of several blocks in downtown Salt Lake today.

The package was found outside the local Social Security office ...

About 20 to 30 people were evacuated from the Social Security building.

Investigators say the package was wrapped in twine and had TV remote controls.

Just after 1 p.m. the package was destroyed. Investigators say the package contained food and personal items.

"Relatively Small And Manageable"

From the non-partisan Center for Budget and Policy Priorities:
Social Security’s funding shortfall is relatively small and manageable. The trustees report reaffirms that Social Security is in excellent financial shape over the near term. The program will be able to pay 100 percent of promised benefits for more than three decades — until 2041. At that point, income will be sufficient to pay only 78 percent of benefits. Measured over the next 75 years, the amount by which income will fall short of what is needed to pay benefits amounts to 0.6 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). Many combinations of modest revenue increases and benefit reductions would remedy the projected shortfall for 75 years and beyond.[1] Social Security is structurally sound and does not require drastic changes.

Delays For The Mentally Ill

From WHQR public radio in Wilmington, NC:

Starting the rest of your life with a severe mental illness is a difficult thing. Advocates say just the process of getting coverage for treatment can be a Herculean task. Mike Glancy works as a paralegal to help the mentally ill who can't work receive Social Security Disability Insurance.

"I try to comfort them and commiserate. What can you say to a desperate person who is chronically ill and in pain and mentally ill and have to deal with that. It's hard enough. But then they have to deal with all the financial concerns and worries, it's agonizing."

Getting on disability is a lengthy process. It starts with filing a claim including medical records to prove illness or injury. Only one in four claims are approved off the bat. The rest have to file an appeal and go through a hearing before finally getting the okay for benefits. Glancy says it's a process that often stretches for months on end.

"They're calling me that they're about to lose their house, their car's been taken or whatever because they have no way of paying for it."

The audio is available online.

Idaho Is #1

From the Idaho Statesman:
For the second straight year, the state agency charged with helping people with disabilities receive Social Security payments is the national leader in processing those claims.

The Idaho Disability Determinations Service - a division of the Idaho Department of Labor - extended its top ranking for expediting claims through 2007 by processing cases in an average of 58 to 60 days, depending on the type of claim. The national processing time averaged more than 84 days.

In ranking the agency the best overall in the nation, the Social Security Administration issued its 15th Commissioner's Citation to Idaho, citing "exemplary accuracy, timeliness and productivity that resulted in exceptional service for Idaho citizens with disabilities."

Nearly 300 claims were processed on average each week during the year, the second highest total in the country and well above the national average of 243 claims per week.
So, who is in last place?

Mar 25, 2008

Another Take On Trustees Report

From the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College:
The Trustees of the Social Security system have just issued the 2008 projections for the system over the next 75 years. The report contains two surprises. First, the 75-year deficit dropped to 1.70 percent of taxable payrolls from the roughly 2 percent it has been for the last 14 years. The decline was driven primarily by a change in the way Social Security projects immigration. Although the Trustees still project that the trust fund will be exhausted in 2041, the improved outlook enables scheduled payroll taxes to cover more than three-quarters of promised benefits after that point. The second noteworthy difference between this report and earlier ones is that it has not been signed by any public trustees. But this omission reflects a failure with the political process, not with the program itself.
So why did all of those public trustees refuse to sign the report? It sounds like they did not want to associate themselves with a pitch for privatization, particularly at a time when Social Security's long term financing looks better and better.

Social Security "Financially Unsustainable"

From Agence France Presse:
US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said Tuesday that America's Social Security program for the retired is "financially unsustainable" and needs an urgent overhaul.

Paulson, speaking after a government panel had completed its annual assessment of the Social Security and Medicare benefits programs, said waves of retiring Americans threaten to soon deplete available funds stockpiled in the two programs.

Biggs Now At AEI

I am not going to follow this guy's career forever, but Andrew Biggs, who was given a recess appointment as Social Security's Deputy Commissioner, is now a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a right wing "think tank." I put "think tank" in quotations because I there seems to be little going on there other than the production of polemics. Biggs' ardent support for privatizing Social Security made it impossible for him to be confirmed as Deputy Commissioner of Social Security.

Assault Charge In Pennsylvania

From the Philadelphia Daily News:
An official with the Social Security Administration testified yesterday that he "felt threatened" when a West Kensington man yelled obscenities at him over the phone and said he would "kick the s---" out of him. ...

Michael Bankoff is on trial in federal court for allegedly threatening to assault three officials at the district office in February and March 2007. ...

Earlier, during opening arguments, Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter Hardy said that Bankoff, 28, formerly of E. Tusculum Street near B St., was angry because SSA had discovered that it had overpaid Bankoff more than $9,400 in disability benefits and that he would have to return the money.

The payments were made from April 2001 to May 2003, when Bankoff was ineligible for payments because he was in prison for a state conviction. ...

Defense attorney James J. McHugh, Jr. said in his opening argument that the Social Security Administration had found in 1999 that Bankoff suffered from schizophrenia and other mental disorders. "He does things impulsively, without thinking and without intent," McHugh said.

Social Security Opinion On Legal Effect Of Sex Change Surgery

An opinion, apparently from Social Security's Office of Regional Counsel:
You asked whether Leslie A. M~(the claimant), who was born a male and underwent sex reassignment surgery after marrying Janet L. G~ (the insured), could be considered the insured's spouse for purposes of a widower's lump sum death payment. ...

The claimant and the insured were domiciled in California at the time of the insured's death. In California, "[o]nly a marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized." Cal. Fam. Code § 308.5. When the claimant and the insured married each other in 1973, they were a male and female, respectively. Thus, their marriage was clearly a valid marriage recognized under California law at its inception. ...

If a state recognizes an individual's ability to undergo a sex change, we must determine whether the individual has taken the appropriate action to obtain state recognition of the change. If the state does not recognize an individual's ability to undergo a sex change, or the individual has not followed the procedure set out by the state for it to recognize a sex change, we will find an individual to be the birth sex. Although both California and Montana have procedures to obtain state recognition of a sex change, the claimant did not avail herself of these procedures. ...

Since there is no state recognition of claimant's sex change, the claimant is considered a male, and the marriage between the claimant and the insured would remain a valid marriage between a male and female at the insured's death. Therefore, the claimant has the status of "spouse" for purposes of the lump sum death payment.

Kansas City Star: Social Security Cheats Ailing And Injured

From the Kansas City Star:

For years you’ve paid insurance premiums to protect yourself against unforeseen health problems. Yet when an accident or serious illness strikes, the insurer refuses to pay up.

That’s essentially theft, the kind of thing people expect the government to step in and stop.

But in this case, it is the government itself — Social Security, to be precise — that is cheating ailing and injured people out of the money to which they are entitled.

As detailed in a story in Sunday’s Kansas City Star, Social Security is victimizing large numbers of people by delaying their disability payments or refusing to pay them at all.

It’s an outrage.

Mar 24, 2008

The Last Hurrah For The Bush Social Security Plan

A Treasury Department press release:

Treasury Secretary and Managing Trustee Henry M. Paulson, Jr. will be joined by members of the Social Security and Medicare Boards of Trustees for a press briefing to discuss the release of the annual Trustees Reports on Tuesday.

Secretary of Treasury and Managing Trustee Henry M. Paulson, Jr.
Secretary of Labor and Trustee Elaine L. Chao
Secretary of Health and Human Services and Trustee Michael Leavitt
Commissioner of Social Security and Trustee Michael J. Astrue

Press Conference to discuss Social Security and Medicare Trustees Reports

Tuesday, March 25, 2008, 2:00 p.m. EDT

Treasury Department
Media Room (Room 4121)
1500 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC

Copies of the Social Security and Medicare Trustees Reports will be available at the briefing. A pen and pad background briefing will follow the press conference at 2:30 p.m. in the same room.

Mar 23, 2008

Happy Easter

Waiting In Kansas City -- And Allsup Can Help

From the Kansas City Star:

If you get sick or hurt so badly that you may never work again, your last, desperate wisp of a safety net — Social Security disability benefits — is horribly tattered.

Apply for benefits now and, if statistical averages hold for the Kansas City area, it may be December 2009 before you see a check. That is if you are among the estimated one in three applicants who gets any money at all.

That wait is seven months longer than five years ago. ...

Vicki Kindred of Ferrelview in Platte County worked as a hotel and house cleaner before arthritis, fibromyalgia and other ailments made lifting mattresses, lugging sweepers and scrubbing toilets too painful. The 51-year-old woman has been trying since May 2000 to win disability benefits she believes she earned in the more than 20 years she worked previously.

Hers is a longer-than-average appeals process, she concedes. Both she and the first attorney she hired made some early mistakes trying to follow explicit but complex rules to qualify for benefits.

Loose, who is 61, worked in sales and middle management for nearly 40 years before being sidelined by diabetes, an arthritislike illness, hip replacement and finally, a nearly fatal heart attack in September 2005. He hired the Social Security and Medicare claims specialty firm Allsup Inc. to navigate the application maze for him.

Isn't This A Sign That Something Is Wrong?

I would say that this is a sign that attorneys in at least one area of New York find representing Social Security claimants unappealing. From the Albany Democrat-Herald:
Nearly 25 people — some of whom have first-hand experience with homelessness — spent Thursday learning to be advocates for individuals who need assistance getting approval for Supplemental Security Income and Social Security Disability Income. ...

Terry Mastin of the Addictions and Mental Health Division said 10 similar workshops — each two days long — were held in 2006.

“Before the training, advocates were successful with about 30 percent of their SSI or SSDI applications and the waiting time averaged 11 months,” Mastin said. “After training, the success rate went up to 64 percent and the approval waiting time dropped to about three months.”

Vets Affected By Social Security Backlogs

From the Tacoma Weekly (emphasis added):
...[A] family-friendly G.I. rights rally this Saturday at the gates of Ft. Lewis will reach out to both veterans and active duty soldiers to assure them they are not alone in their struggles. ...

“Here on the fifth anniversary of the war, for America it’s really the service men and women who are paying the biggest price,” said co-organizer Tom McCarthy. ...

McCarthy talked about the “disgraceful lack of resources” at home for those fighting the war, particularly backlogs at the Social Security Administration. “We hear a lot about the VA (Veterans Administration) backlog, but not so much about backlogs at the Social Security Administration. This affects veterans as well as those coming back from Iraq who need to access those benefits.”

Social Security Managers Association Newsletter

The National Council of Social Security Management Associations (NCSSMA) has issued its January 2008 newsletter. It contains an interesting interview with David Rust, Social Security's Acting Deputy Commissioner of the Office of Disability and Income Support Programs (ODISP).

Mar 22, 2008

Fraud In Hawaii

From the Honolulu Advertiser:
A 47-year-old man was sentenced last month to eight months imprisonment and three years supervised release for theft offenses related to fraudulent receipt of his dead father's Social Security benefits, the U.S. attorney's office for Hawai'i announced today.

No Match Rules Coming Back -- Unchanged

While this may be an excellent immigration enforcement technique, the Social Security Administration is not ready for all the calls and visits it will get from U.S. citizens who will inadvertently fall afoul of this plan -- if it comes to pass. From the Associated Press:
The Homeland Security Department on Friday offered a lengthy defense of its proposed program that would force employers to fire workers whose names don't match their Social Security numbers, and said it would try again to have the rules enacted into law.

A federal judge in San Francisco blocked the rules in October, saying the proposal would likely impose hardships on businesses and their workers. Employers would incur new costs to comply with the regulation that the government hasn't evaluated, and innocent workers unable to correct mistakes in their records in time would lose their jobs, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer wrote.

In a 44-page "supplemental" document released late Friday, the department attempted to address several of the judge's concerns.

Among other things, the document "outlines clear steps an employer may take in response to receiving a letter from the Social Security Administration indicating that an employee's name does not match the Social Security number on file," the department said. If businesses follow the guidance in the No-Match Rule, the department said they will have "safe harbor" from the letter being used against them.

The last line of the 44-page document says the department intends to "repromulgate, without change," the same set of rules the judge blocked in October. ...

Chertoff said the department has also filed an appeal of the October ruling, and is pursuing both tracks - revised rules and the legal appeal - "simultaneously to get a resolution as quickly as possible."

Mar 21, 2008

Status Of Ticket To Work

From the Capitol Insider, put out by the Disability Policy Collaboration:
The Social Security Administration and its numerous partners on the Ticket to Work program met in Louisville, KY last week to re-energize the Ticket to Work program in anticipation of the release of new regulations governing the program. Although a success for some individuals seeking to leave the Social Security disability programs for work, the Ticket program has been more limited than was expected by advocates in 1999 during passage of the authorizing legislation. SSA met with representatives of state vocational rehabilitation agencies, other rehabilitation service providers and employment networks, businesses, Work Incentives Planning and Assistance Programs, Protection and Advocacy Systems, consumers, and national organizations to stimulate more interest and to share opportunities for improved cooperation among the various players. UCP and The Arc were represented. Final regulations that are expected to further improve the mechanics of the Ticket program are expected to be published within the next month or so.

Social Security To Start Collecting Race And Ethnicity Data

All federal agencies must file with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and publish a notice in the Federal Register when they establish a new system of records. Social Security put this notice in the Federal Register today:
Race/Ethnicity Collection System--0960-NEW. Currently, SSA has no reliable, statistically valid means of capturing race/ethnicity data in our core business process. While SSA collects some race/ethnicity data on Form SS-5 (OMB No. 0960-0066), the Application for Social Security Card, SSA does not receive the data through other means of enumerating individuals, such as the Enumeration at Birth and Enumeration at Entry processes. Moreover, SSA does not collect it during the disability application process. Adding race/ethnicity to SSA's benefits applications will give us data we can use to ensure the benefits decision process is being conducted in a fair manner.

This ICR [Information Comment Request?] is for the Race/Ethnicity questions. Note that OMB established the categories of racial/ethnic choices and the descriptions we use. We modified our proposed instructions and explanations to the public based on feedback we received during public focus groups (conducted under the aegis of OMB No. 0960-0765). The respondents are Title II and Title XVI claimants.

Type of Request: New information collection.
Number of Respondents: 7,870,538.
Frequency of Response: 1.
Average Burden Per Response: 3 minutes.
Estimated Annual Burden: 393,527.

Mar 20, 2008

Last Chance To Enter Social Security News Bracket Challenge

Enter the Social Security News NCAA Tournament Bracket Challenge and test your knowledge of NCAA basketball! To enter, go to the ESPN Tournament Challenge website for the Social Security News group. The password is "Michael Astrue", without the quotation marks. There is no fee for entry.

There is no prize for winning other than the recognition you will receive here.

You can make an entry up to about noon today Eastern time, which is when the tournament begins.

Dueling Press Releases

First I read a press release from Advantage 2000 Consultants touting their ability to represent Social Security disability claimants and referring to themselves as "America's leading Social Security Disability Insurance representation firm."

Then I read this press release from Allsup (emphasis added):
Allsup (, the nation’s leading Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) representation company, has named Karen Hercules-Doerr as National Sales Director of Consumer Sales & Marketing.

Hercules-Doerr will oversee efforts to raise awareness and educate individuals nationwide about the Social Security Disability Insurance program and the assistance that is available for people with disabilities. These steps include reaching out to social workers, case managers and medical professionals in assisting people who have become disabled and unable to work. ...

Founded in 1984, Allsup has helped more than 100,000 Americans with disabilities obtain $1.5 billion in Social Security and Medicare payments. Allsup has a 97 percent award rate and received the Better Business Bureau Torch Award for excellence in customer service. Today, the company has 500 employees working to pre-qualify individuals to ensure eligibility, develop an accurate factual record and represent applicants through the disability decision process.
I think that few law firm would try to get away with describing itself as the "leading" Social Security law firm or talking about a 97% success rate. State bars take a dim view of that sort of thing.

Guard Stabbed At Seattle Office

From the Seattle Times:

A South Carolina man with a history of mental illness and an apparent grudge against the Social Security Administration was charged with stabbing a guard Wednesday morning at the administration's office in South Seattle.

Calvin Eugene Bennett, 50, appeared distracted and did not speak Wednesday afternoon during a brief court appearance where he was charged with assault on a federal officer. ...

The complaint filed in Wednesday's attack alleges that Bennett was seen outside the Social Security offices on South Lane Street more than a half-hour before Wednesday's 9 a.m. opening. Witnesses said that two minutes before the doors were to open, Bennett began hacking at the doors with a knife, according to the complaint. ...

The guard, identified in the documents by the initials "J.R.," was attacked when he opened the doors to check on the commotion. One witness said the guard was stabbed twice in the head.

Lorie Dankers, the spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), said the guard was armed but never had a chance to draw his weapon. "He suffered stab wounds in both hands and his head," she said.

Mar 19, 2008

SSA Extended USProtect Contract After Problems Already Apparent

USProtect's website contains a press release showing that the Social Security Administration extended its contract with USProtect in July 2006. However, the company's problems were already apparent in 2002 and became more obvious in 2005 when bribery charges were filed.

Bribery was apparently involved in getting the contract with the Social Security Administration -- not bribery of anyone at Social Security, but bribery of a General Services Administration official who gave recommended USProtect to Social Security. Apparently, it was Social Security's Office of Inspector General who first received an anonymous report of the bribery involved in getting the Social Security contract.

Obviously, the Social Security Administration was aware of serious problems at USProtect in 2006 when the contract was extended. Why was this company's contract with Social Security extended?

SSA Dropped Crime Ridden USProtect Just Last Friday

The mess with USProtect, which had been providing security guard services to the Social Security Administration keeps looking worse. The former chief officer of USProtect has pleaded guilty to bribing a contracting officer at the General Services Administration.

Apparently, the Social Security Administration stopped using USProtect just last Friday. Why did it take so long to drop them? USProtect officers had been in major criminal trouble since 2005! Its former chief financial officer has pleaded guilty to withholding information about felony convictions to get $150 million in federal contracts.

USProtect Defunct

From WUSA in Baltimore (emphasis added):
Federal prosecutors have moved to seize $6.9 million from a bank account owned by USProtect, two homes in Naples, Florida, and a boat owned by the past and present owners of an apparently defunct security contracting firm.

On Monday, 9NEWS NOW reported USProtect had locked its doors after being unable to make its payroll last week. Hundreds of employees are impacted. ...

In Washington, US Protect employed hundreds of Court Security Officers at most of the city's courthouses. The company also had contracts for several other courthouses scattered across the United States. In addition to the Department of Justice, US Protect also done business with the Dept. of Homeland Security, the US Air Force and the Social Security Administration. ...

Leaders of the International Union of United Government Security Officers of America tell 9NEWS NOW this is the second collapse of a major government security contractor in less than a year here in the Washington area. International President James Carney adds several more companies have gone under elsewhere around the country. Carney calls it a "growing epidemic" due to contractors under-bidding multi-million-dollar federal security contract proposals. He says sooner or later they find themselves unable to meet their largest expense: the payroll.

Tuesday's forfeiture move came as sentencings of three former company officials approach following earlier guilty pleas to major corruption charges. ...

Richard Hudec, who took over USProtect, later pleaded guilty to charges of concealing earlier felony convictions from federal contracting officials, as well as tax evasion charges.
I do not know whether this is adversely affecting Social Security Administration operations.

World's Largest VOIP For SSA

From a press release issued by Nortel:
The U.S. Social Security Administration(2) (SSA) has confirmed selection of a team led by Nortel Government Solutions(1) to deploy one of the world's largest enterprise VoIP [Voice over Internet Protocol] networks under the 10-year, US$300 million Telephone Systems Replacement Project(2) (TSRP). ...

TSRP is expected to expand and improve services for an anticipated influx of new users, including retiring 'baby boomers.' It will include a centrally managed contact center solution with carrier-class unified messaging and interactive voice response (IVR) capable of supporting 55,000 field office agents. This will provide a common, more friendly 'look and feel' for users and faster, more efficient call handling through skills-based routing that matches each caller's inquiry to the most appropriate agent. ...

Core network rollout begins immediately and is expected to be complete within 180 days. The schedule calls for replacement of existing telephone systems in 205 of the SSA's nearly 1,600 field offices in the first year and another 500 per year after that. The contract also includes network integration operation, maintenance, user support and training. ...

The Nortel Government Solutions team includes General Dynamics, Black Box Network Services, Shared Technologies, York Telecom, High Wire Networks, NetIQ, NETCOM Technologies and Pal-Tech.

Mar 18, 2008

Fee Payment Numbers

The Social Security Administration has finally posted updated numbers on payments of fees to attorneys and others for representing Social Security claimants:

Fee Payments

Month/Year Volume Amount

Waiting In The Carolinas

From the Charlotte Observer:
A Freedom of Information Act request, federal reports and interviews showed the Carolinas had about 48,500 pending disability cases, including about 8,700 in the Charlotte area. Waits at Charlotte's Disability and Adjudication and Hearing Office ranked among the worst -- 125 out of 141 offices in the nation.

The reason: Charlotte administrative law judges, on average, decided 375 cases in 2006. The Social Security Administration asks judges to make 500 to 600 decisions a year.

Though officials tried to remove reporters from the hearing office, the Observer spent more than 40 hours monitoring workers. At any given time, half of the six courtrooms were not in use.

Judges blamed the problems on staffing. The Social Security Administration has since announced it is hiring more judges to reduce delays.

Advance Notice Of Rulemaking On HIV

From today's Federal Register:
In a separate notice in today's edition of the Federal Register, we are publishing final rules revising the criteria we use to evaluate immune system disorders, found in sections 14.00 and 114.00 of the Listing of Impairments in appendix 1 to subpart P of part 404 of our regulations (the listings). In those rules, we indicate that we will issue an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) inviting public comments on how we might update and revise listings 14.08 and 114.08, our listings for evaluating HIV infection. We are now requesting your comments and suggestions about possible revisions to those listings.

New Immune System Listings

Today's Federal Register contains new final Immune System Listings.

If The News Media Starts Covering Social Security Cases In The Federal Courts, You Know Something Has Changed

From the Associated Press:
Six years after he suffered a stroke at age 46 that ended his career as a truck driver, Paul McCadney faces still more legal proceedings in his effort to collect Social Security supplemental security income and disability insurance payments.

An administrative law judge for the Social Security Administration concluded that McCadney could still work as a janitor, and denied those benefits.

But a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at St. Louis on Monday sent the case back to federal district court at Little Rock. The appeals panel ruled that it wasn't clear if the administrative law judge took into account or discounted the findings of a psychologist who concluded that McCadney suffered from dementia, adjustment disorder and avoidant personality.

Waiting In Indiana And Michigan

From WSBT in South Bend:
They worked hard for years, giving part of each paycheck to social security. Now a backlog is causing tens of thousands of people in Indiana and Michigan to wait months, even years for their Social Security Disability money.

In Indiana, the average processing time to collect Social Security Disability is 694 days. In Michigan it's 698 — that's almost 2 years. ...

"There's blame everywhere," explained attorney Bob Rosenfeld. "Congress has cut back substantially on the social security budget, resulting in reduction of the work force, resulting in an increased backlog."

Rosenfeld helps people involved in the backlog. When we asked the Regional Social Security Public Affairs office why the backlog is so large, a representative said over the phone:

"[The backlog] is not something that can be corrected overnight, but we are working at getting those processing times reduced."

Mar 17, 2008

Social Security Hiring

The Social Security Administration currently shows 183 job openings, which sounds like a lot and which is a lot compared to the hiring the agency has done in recent years. In reality, the Social Security Administration is keeping a near steady workforce this year. They are hiring only very slightly more than enough to keep up with attrition. Important parts of Social Security are still losing workers.

Help In Waukesha

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has an article on Hebron House of Hospitality, apparently a homeless shelter, that provides help for individuals applying for Social Security disability benefits. Hebron House claims a success rate of over 90%. The executive director of Hebron House is quoted as saying "We take the hardest cases there are."

March Madness For SSA Employees?

The Small Business Administration has informed its employees that it is illegal for them to participate in an NCAA Basketball Tournament pool while on the job, at least if they involve money.

I hate to open a can of worms, but has the Social Security Administration taken a position on this?

Mar 16, 2008

What Does This Mean?

The title of this one had thrown me. David Traver at SSA CONNECT noticed this notice to potential contractors put out by the Social Security Administration:
SPECIAL NOTICE TO: Contractors who can provide subscription access for an electronic publication that will provide SSA with updated occupational information for use as a replacement for the Department of Labor's (DOL) Dictionary of Occupational Titles Revised 4th Edition (DOT) in SSA's disability evaluation process. -- THIS IS NOT A SOLICITATION AND NO CONTRACT AWARD WILL BE MADE AS A RESULT OF THIS POSTING.

INTRODUCTION: The Social Security Administration (SSA) anticipates awarding multi-award contracts to contractors for electronic publication subscriptions on a pilot 120-day trial basis. Following the trial period, SSA may exercise the option of a full subscription with one of the contractors. SSA's requirements are further delineated in the attached Statement of Work (SOW).

FYI - Under SSA-RFI-08-1500, SSA is concurrently seeking Independent evaluators IE services which will include pre-award and post-award evaluations of the occupational information and methodology employed by the subscription contractors.

If you feel your organization possesses the capability and expertise for performing the above type of service, please provide the following information about your company:

1. Company name, address, email address, website address, and point of contact;
2. GSA FSS contract number if available;
3. Does your company have relevant experience in providing similar information to the government? If yes, briefly explain;

SSA anticipates issuing a Request for Quotation for the services described above around April, 2008 and awarding a single BPA within approximately 60 days thereafter.

This RFI is not a solicitation and does not constitute a request for quotation or proposals. The purpose of this RFI is strictly for determining capable sources for market research purposes only and for incorporating industry comments into the SOW. Submission of any information based on this RFI is purely voluntary.

Please submit your response directly to Robert Pfaff via email at .

Mar 14, 2008

Worse Off For Getting Workers Compensation

A recent study by the Social Security Administration shows that because Social Security disability benefits are offset by workers compensation benefits and because of the way in which Social Security disability benefits are computed, Social Security disability benefits recipients who also receive workers compensation benefits actually replace a lower percentage of their pre-injury wages than those who receive only Social Security disability benefits.

Mar 13, 2008

Youth Transition Demonstration Extended

From today's Federal Register:
On October 7, 2003, the Commissioner of Social Security published a Notice in the Federal Register (68 FR 57950) announcing the beginning of a demonstration project designed primarily to test the effectiveness of altering certain Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and other program rules as an incentive to encourage individuals with disabilities or blindness to work or increase their work activity and earnings. In order to complete a more thorough evaluation of this project, we are extending the duration of the altered program rules in three of the seven original project locations and adding three new project locations that will also offer the alternative program rules.

Mar 12, 2008

New On Record Reversal Form

The February 2008 issue of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR) newsletter includes a form that can be used to request that an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issue a fully favorable decision on the record (OTR or ORR for On Record Reversal), that is, without holding a hearing. Apparently, the form comes from the Social Security Administration, but Social Security will not post the form online until July, probably due to the need to meet the requirements of the Paperwork Reduction Act that requires approval by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for any new form.

I am attaching the form here, with NOSSCR's name and logo cropped out. Click on the images to view them full size.

Andrew Biggs Already Campaigning

Until his recent resignation, Andrew Biggs held a recess appointment as Deputy Commissioner of Social Security. The Senate had refused to confirm Biggs' appointment because of his advocacy for privatizing Social Security.

From a Wall Street Journal editorial page piece penned by Biggs and published today:

Until recently, Sen. Barack Obama took a responsible position on Social Security, noting the urgency of reform and saying all options should be on the table.

But having cornered himself among Democratic activists whose attitudes toward Social Security reform range from demagoguery to denial, Mr. Obama has recently veered sharply left. He now proposes to solve the looming Social Security shortfall exclusively with higher taxes. [Obama's plan is to partially lift the cap on wages covered by the FICA tax] ...

If we want to retain the shared character that underpins its political support and distinguishes it from traditional welfare programs, we need to share the burdens of reform proportionately.

For Biggs to talk about Obama undermining "the shared character that undepins [Social Security's] political support" is rich, since undermining Social Security's "shared character" is Biggs' purpose in life.

Mar 11, 2008

53 Days Behind In Birmingham

Earlier today, a staff member at my firm called Module (or Mod as they are usually called) 3 at Social Security's Program Service Center in Birmingham, AL to inquire about a case. Mods are where the actual work of putting claimants on benefits is done.

The staff member was told that Mod 3 was 53 days behind on its workload -- and I suspect that that is 53 days behind in even starting each workload item, not on finishing each workload item.

Commissioner Astrue has conceded that Program Service Center backlogs will grow over the course of this year, because few departing program service center employees will be replaced.

The claimant in the case about which my firm had inquired has now been waiting about three and a half months after a favorable decision for payment of back benefits. The delay occurred because Social Security took an unnecessary Supplemental Security Income (SSI) claim, which was denied due to excess income. However, this SSI claim lived on in Social Security's computers. Once she was approved, the Title II back benefits could not be paid until something was done about SSI, because of windfall offset concerns. No one did anything about implementing SSI benefits, because there was nothing to implement. Would the back benefits ever be paid without someone raising questions? I cannot say. I can say that it will be quite some time before this lady's back benefits will be paid, through no fault of hers.

I predict that Social Security's response to this post will be to tell Mod 3 and other Mods not to tell attorneys anything specific like 53 days; just keep it vague and pretend that things are not as bad as they are, because if Social Security admits that things are bad, then Social Security would have to admit that its current budget is inadequate, and that is not what the Commissioner of Social Security wants to admit.

Waiting In Tuscaloosa -- And Allsup Can Help

From the Tuscaloosa News:
Rebecca Sutton was 46 years old when she realized that her body would no longer allow her to hold a job.

She had suffered for years from spondyloarthritis, a severe and degenerative form of arthritis of the spine, and had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a muscle affliction that causes chronic pain, tenderness to being touched and fatigue. ...
Despite recommendations from her longtime rheumatologist and years of documentation of her worsening condition, her first application for Social Security benefits was denied. As part of the application process, the Social Security Administration sent her to a doctor who said he felt her medical conditions did not qualify. ...

So began Sutton’s waiting process that, in light of the Social Security Administration’s backlog of such cases, was fairly short. ...

Through a friend at church, Sutton turned to one of several Social Security claimant advocacy providers (Allsup, Disability Group or a Social Security lawyer are a few options) that help people denied disability benefits maneuver through the appeals process.

The company she chose was Allsup, which claims to have helped 100,000 disabled Americans obtain about $1.5 billion in Social Security and Medicare payments since 1984. ...

“Allsup pre-qualifies claimants to help ensure their eligibility, gathers critical medical and other information to prepare an accurate factual record and represents the individual at hearings,” Allsup said. “This can ease a significant burden for Tuscaloosa residents who may have to travel more than 60 miles for a hearing.”

Proposed Regs On Rep Payees

The Social Security Administration has posted proposed regulations on representative payees in today's Federal Register. There is some technical problem with the Federal Register at the moment, so the link is not working. I suppose they will get it straighted out shortly, since none of the links from today's Federal Register is working at the moment. My understanding is that what is being proposed is only a minor change.

Mar 10, 2008

Unions Oppose Rehires

From the Federal Times:
Drowning under a growing case backlog in 2001, the Social Security Administration rehired 152 of its retired claims representatives, office attorneys, administrative law judges and other employees on a part-time basis. By 2006, 392 retirees were on board.

SSA got special waivers from the Office of Personnel Management to pay those retired employees their full pensions and part-time salaries. Without the waivers, retirees returning to SSA would have had their pensions docked by the amount of their salaries. In effect, they would have been working for free.

OPM and some leading lawmakers are pushing legislation to expand those waivers — available now to only a few agencies — to all agencies.

But the government’s two biggest unions, the American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union, oppose the measures, which have gone nowhere.

Without the waivers, retirees would be “working for nothing, and I think that is outrageous,” OPM Director Linda Springer said at a Feb. 29 news conference.

Now, with the Bush administration in its final year, Springer appears pessimistic about the chances of getting the bills passed.

“It will probably be the greatest frustration I have” this year, she said.
What I do not understand is why Social Security would be offering incentives for employees to retire early at the same time they are trying to rehire retired employees -- unless the real goal is reduction of the work force.

New Item Filed With OMB

All new federal regulations must be approved by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which is part of the White House. Social Security filed this item for OMB approval recently:

TITLE: Additional Insured Status Requirements for Certain Alien Workers (2882P)

House Budget Resolution

The budget resolution (page 33) reported out of the House Budget Committee would give the Social Security Administration $10.64 billion for its operating budget -- or Limitation on Administrative Expenditures, as it is technically known, for fiscal year 2009, which begins on October 1, 2008.

President Bush's recommended LAE for Social Security was $10.386 billion.

A number of Senators have been seeking $10.677 billion or perhaps it is $10.917 billion. These things get hazy since the House Budget Committee budget resolution includes $240 million specifically earmarked for continuing disability reviews. It is unclear whether the Senators were including this amount in their total.

Remember, that the Budget Resolution sets only general guidelines for the Appropriations Committees.

Seven Months To Get Initial Determination

WKRC in Cincinnati is running a story on the length of time it takes to get an initial determination on a Social Security disability claim. The woman in the story had to wait seven months for an initial determination -- and then she was denied. See the video online.

In my part of the country, it takes an average of about six months to get an initial determination. Waiting seven months for an initial determination is nothing unusual. Of course, the wait to get a hearing is ridiculous, but that does not mean that the time it takes to get an initial determination is of no consequence.

Mar 9, 2008

Disability Illusions

From a press release issued by "America's Health Insurance Plans:"
Most Baby Boomers underestimate their risk of suffering a disability that would cause them to miss work for an extended period of time, according to a new survey conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of Americas Health Insurance Plans (AHIP). ...

The survey found that just over a third of Baby Boomers think the chances of becoming disabled due to illness or injury is 5 percent or less, a slight majority think the chances are 10 percent or less, and two-thirds think the chances are 20 percent or less. In reality, a worker has a 30% chance of suffering a disabling injury or illness causing him or her to miss three or more months of work before reaching retirement, according to the Social Security Administration. ...

One of the reasons Baby Boomers underestimate their risk is because they are unaware of the most common causes of disability, mistakenly believing that injuries cause more disabilities than illnesses. According to the survey, Boomers believe the most common causes of disability are back, muscle or joint problems (26 percent), injuries on the job (18 percent) and injuries off the job (16 percent). In actuality, research shows that the most common causes of disability are illnesses such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
Even policymakers share many of the same illusions, persistently believing that rehabilitation is possible for a high percentage of Social Security disability benefits recipients -- because they believe that a high percentage of the disabled will get better because they became disabled as a result of trauma. The reality is that the vast majority of disability is caused by disorders that just keep getting worse, making rehabilitation impossible.

Mar 8, 2008

Michigan Social Security Section Issues Newsletter

The Social Security Section of the State Bar of Michigan has issued its Winter 2008 Newsletter.

Asheville Citizen-Times Op Ed Piece

From an op ed piece in the Asheville, NC Citizen-Times:

Americans who become disabled prior to retirement are forced to wait a disgraceful amount of time to receive the benefits they are entitled to. These taxpaying citizens deserve a vastly different and more just system of determining their disability. Most of these people have paid into the system for their entire lives through paycheck deductions to support the system that now betrays their trust.

The current system requires disabled citizens to wait an average of 512 days for a final decision by an administrative law judge as to whether they meet Social Security disability standards. Many others, including a large number of my clients, wait even longer for their day in court, losing homes, declaring bankruptcy and losing trust in the system to decide their case in a fair and timely manner. ...

This vicious and harsh attack on Americans who are least able to defend themselves must stop. The current Congress is finally taking steps to reduce this nightmare for disabled Americans. All of us should support increased funding and measures to make sure that the disabled citizens of our country receive the dignity and justice they deserve in resolving their disability applications. No one should be permitted to be kicked so hard for so long when they are physically and/or mentally unable to work.

Mar 7, 2008

Waiting In Colorado

KOAA in Pueblo, Colorado is running a story on a local man who is suffering through the long wait for his hearing on a Social Security disability claim. See the story in streaming video. By the way, interesting ad the TV station runs before giving you the streaming video.

Reinstatement Of Prototype and Single Decisionmaker In Boston Region

From today's Federal Register:
Effective March 23, 2008, we are reinstating New Hampshire as a ``prototype'' State in the disability redesign tests we are conducting under the authority of our regulations. We are also reinstating Maine and Vermont as States that use ``single decisionmakers'' under the same authority. These three States stopped participating in the disability redesign tests on August 1, 2006, when they began to participate in the Disability Service Improvement (DSI) initiative that we have been testing in our Boston region since that date. On January 15, 2008, we published a final rule in the Federal Register suspending the Federal Reviewing Official review level of the DSI process. The final rule will be effective on March 23, 2008. Therefore, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont will resume their participation in the disability redesign tests on the effective date of the final rule.

Mar 6, 2008

Federal Register Alert

An item due to run in the Federal Register on Friday:



Modifications to the Disability Determination Procedures:

Reinstatement of "Prototype" and "Single Decisionmaker" Tests in States in the Boston Region, E8-04531

41 Senators Join In Letter On Social Security Budget

Here is the text of a letter that went out yesterday:
The Honorable Kent Conrad
The Honorable Judd Gregg
Ranking Member
Senate Committee on the Budget Senate Committee on the Budget
United States Senate United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510 Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senators Conrad and Gregg:

We respectfully request that the FY 2009 Budget Resolution recommend $350 million above the President’s Budget request of $10.327 billion for the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) administrative expenses. Last year, the Senate approved as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2008 as much as $363 million additional dollars that will allow Social Security to begin to reduce the enormous waiting times for many disability benefit applicants to have their benefits approved, and to reverse cuts in services to the public in SSA field offices.

Currently, many applicants to the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program and the disability portion of the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program face significant delays before receiving benefits. Indeed, waiting times can exceed three years in some cases. Such delays create serious or desperate financial situations for the applicants and their families. According to the SSA, about half of these waiting times result from the Agency’s huge backlogs of initial claims and hearings before Administrative Law Judges.

As you know, these waiting times are a major concern for many of our constituents and are a constant source of casework in Senate offices. As of January 2008 nearly 751,000 cases are awaiting a hearing on an appealed claim, compared to 312,000 cases at the beginning of FY 2000. Nearly 300,000 of these appeals are over one-year old. Approximately 91,000 veterans have their hearings pending. The average processing time for a hearing is currently over 500 days, up about 200 days from earlier this decade.

In recent years, Congress has increased the SSA’s responsibilities. Today, the SSA is required to evaluate Medicare beneficiaries’ incomes in order to determine whether they need to pay increased Part B premiums. The SSA is also responsible for implementing a low-income subsidy program to help individuals with limited incomes and assets obtain Medicare Part D coverage. Furthermore, the implementation of the Intelligence Reform legislation has increased SSA’s workload.

The President’s recommendation for SSA’s funding for FY 2009 and the additional funds received for 2008 will begin the process of reducing the backlogs, but are not enough funding to make the progress that is needed. Under SSA’s long-term plans, it would still take five years to eliminate the backlogs altogether. Moreover, the President’s Budget proposes to defer work on other important workloads, such as initiating repayments of amounts that beneficiaries have been overpaid. For these other workloads, the Budget falls $140 million short of what is needed even to operate at the same deficient processing rates as last year. Furthermore, the President’s Budget does nothing to improve other inadequate levels of service to the public in SSA’s field offices, such as the inability to get through to the office on the telephone and the long waiting times for walk-in customers.

We also suggest that the funding level for SSA’s administrative costs assumed in the Budget Resolution include funding for program integrity views to assure that only qualified individuals receive Social Security and Supplemental Security Income program benefits. Ultimately, conducting a greater number of these Continuing Disability Reviews (CDRs) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) redeterminations will reduce benefit payments to ineligible individuals and save substantially more money than they cost. CDRs detect payments in SSA’s disability programs to beneficiaries who are no longer disabled, and these reviews save $10 for each dollar spent. SSI redeterminations review the eligibility of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) beneficiaries each year. Seven dollars is saved for every one dollar spent on these redeterminations.

Providing SSA with the amount of funding requested by the President -- plus an additional $350 million -- accomplishes two objectives. First, more funds can be used to reduce backlogs of disability cases and shorten waiting times for disability benefit applicants. Second, because CDRs and SSI redeterminations save more than they cost, the adoption of both of these proposals in the Budget Resolution will result in lower Federal deficits, not higher ones. We believe this is a win-win proposition for everyone.

Thank you in advance for your consideration of this important issue.


John Kerry
Olympia Snowe
Max Baucus
Edward Kennedy
Daniel Akaka
Evan Bayh
Jeff Bingaman
Joseph Biden
Barbara Boxer
Sherrod Brown
Maria Cantwell
Robert Casey
Hillary Clinton
Norm Coleman
Susan Collins
Christopher Dodd
Elizabeth Dole
Byron Dorgan
Russ Feingold
Dianne Feinstein
Daniel Inouye
Tim Johnson
Herbert Kohl
Frank Lautenberg
Patrick Leahy
Carl Levin
Joseph Lieberman
Blanche Lincoln
Claire McCaskill
Robert Menendez
Barbara Mikulski
Ben Nelson
Barack Obama
Mark Pryor
John Rockefeller
Ken Salazar
Charles Schumer
Gordon Smith
Jon Tester
George Voinovich
Ron Wyden
Richard Durbin

Possible "Mass Loss" In Minnesota

From the Associated Press:

The Social Security Administration may have to declare a "mass loss" to speed disability checks to residents of southeastern Minnesota.

Dozens of people in Austin, Rochester and other parts of southeastern Minnesota are still waiting for their disability checks -- days after they were supposed to arrived.

The checks were sent from the U.S. Treasury's office but never made it to the post office.

If the checks don't arrive today in people's mailboxes, the Social Security Administration will declare it a mass loss and expand its investigation.

OMB Action Completed

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which is part of the White House, must approve all new federal regulations. OMB has just completed action on this item sent to them by the Social Security Administration:

TITLE: Revised Medical Criteria for Evaluating Immune System Disorders (804F)
** COMPLETED: 03/05/2008 COMPLETED ACTION: Consistent with Change