Jul 31, 2008

Shutdown Fears

I hate to worry people (and government employees seem to have an incredibly visceral fear of job instability, which may be why they were interested in working for the government to begin with), but here is some news. From The Hill:

The prospect of a September government shutdown loomed over the Capitol on Wednesday as the two parties fought over rising energy prices.

It’s a fight some members of either party are willing to have, but others worry about who will get blamed for a repeat of the 1995 shutdown that President Clinton pinned on a Republican Congress. ...

Senate Republicans debated strategy at a party lunch Wednesday, discussing whether they should block a continuing resolution (CR) that must pass in September if the government is to continue functioning, according to lawmakers who attended.

The moratorium on drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) has been renewed annually for decades in spending bills by Republican and Democratic presidents and Congresses.

Since Democratic leaders this year are not planning to pass most of the individual spending bills, Congress will have to pass a CR to keep government functioning past Sept. 30.

Usually, such resolutions pass easily. But this year, soaring gas prices have changed the political calculus and Republicans have decided the issue might rescue them at the polls. Republican leaders say Congress should not leave for the August recess without taking a vote on drilling.

Republicans would likely have to make the first move by filibustering a bill, or by President Bush vetoing a spending bill. ...

A shutdown fight holds allure for Republicans, who have seen Congress’s favorability ratings slide to record lows with little political consequence for the Democrats in control. Though Republicans tried to tag Democrats with the “Pelosi premium,” polling has shown that Bush is taking far more blame for gas prices than are Democrats.

“It depends on whether the White House wants this fight,” said a Republican aide. “A lot has to be gamed out on both sides.”

Backlogs Keep Getting Worse

I have been paying attention to the overall track of the backlog of claims awaiting a hearing before Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) using the numbers provided by Social Security to the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR). Here are the updated numbers on the state of the backlog at certain points over about the last year and a half:
  • January 25, 2007 -- 508 days
  • May 25, 2007 -- 523 days
  • July 28, 2007 -- 528 days
  • August 31, 2007 -- 523 days
  • November 30, 2007 -- 500 days
  • February 29, 2008 -- 511 days
  • May 30, 2008 -- 523 days
  • June 27, 2008 -- 529 days
This makes one wonder how Social Security can claim with a straight face that it has a Plan to Eliminative the Hearing Backlog and Prevent Its Recurrence.

Jul 30, 2008

ALJ Registry Reopens -- Act Quickly If Interested

The Office of Personnel Management is now accepting applications for Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) positions.

The announcement says that "This announcement is open from July 30, 2008 until either 11:59:59 p.m., Eastern Daylight Time, on the day on which the 600th completed application has been submitted or 11:59:59 p.m., Eastern Daylight Time, on August 13, 2008 -- whichever comes first." This means that the register could close as early as midnight tonight.

New Instructions On 1695s

The National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR) obtained the recent staff instructions from Social Security. Note in particular the language requiring Social Security to contact the attorney or representative if there is no 1695 in the file at the time of implementation.
Identification Number AM-08092 REV Effective Date: 06/27/2008
Intended Audience: All RCs/ARCs/ADs/DDSs/FOs/PSCs/OCO/ODAR/TSCs
Originating Office: DCO OPSOS DOACS
Title: Processing SSA-1695s - Identifying Information for Possible Direct Payment of Authorized Fees
Type: AM - Admin Messages

Program: All Programs
Link To Reference: GN 03910.042
GN 03920.017
GN 03920.055

Retention Date: December 27, 2008

Revision: 7/17/08 - The instructions have been revised to separate and highlight processing instructions for the DDS and ODAR hearing offices. References to Form eSSA-1696 was removed because it does not exist.

The purpose of this message is to provide information and instructions for processing SSA-1695 (Identifying Information for Possible Direct Payment of Authorized Fees). This message also includes an important reminder for DDS and ODAR.

A. Background

Current policy in GN 03910.042 states that all appointments made on or after January 1, 2007 require the claimant representative to register and submit an SSA-1695, prior to the date SSA issues a favorable decision in order to receive direct payment of the representative’s fee. Upon receipt of an SSA-1695, field offices are instructed to establish a link on the SSA system between claimant and representative by:
· inputting information from the form;
· destroying the paper form; and
· sending a manually-generated letter of acknowledgement to the representative.

We’ve received an unusually high number of complaints from appointed representatives with allegations that field offices (FOs) are not acknowledging receipt of form SSA-1695. The complaints also allege that some FOs are not processing the SSA-1695s that are submitted. On April 8, 2008, the president of the National Organization of Social Security Claimant Representatives lodged a formal complaint with SSA; and questioned the policy on how representative fees are released and the workflow for processing of SSA-1695.

Operations staff is currently working with the Office of Retirement and Disability Policy to support an online initiative to reduce this manual workload in the future. Until that initiative is implemented, the procedures below should be followed.

B. Procedures

When the DDS or ODAR hearing offices receives an SSA-1695:
1. DDS and ODAR hearing offices do NOT process SSA-1695s.
2. These offices should send SSA-1695 immediately to the claimant’s servicing FO for processing.

When the FO receives an SSA-1695:
1. Input the information on the Appointed Representative Direct Payment Screens located in POTS, #27 on the SSA Main Menu (If concurrent, input for both Title II and Title XVI cases—verify input posts to records);
2. Prepare and send the manual acknowledgement notice to the representative; and
3. Shred SSA-1695.

NOTE: When an appointed representative does not receive acknowledgement of receipt 30 days after submission of an SSA-1695, he/she is instructed to contact the field office or National 800 Number and then determine if it is necessary to fax the SSA-1695 directly to the field office manager for processing.

When the FO receives a faxed copy of the SSA-1695:
1. Query the appointed representative’s SSN on the Appointed Representative Direct Payment Screens, selection 5, located in POTS, #27 on the SSA Main Menu;
NOTE: If the link is established (if concurrent, verify both Title II and Title XVI cases.)
2. Check ORS to determine if the acknowledgement was sent to the representative, if not;
· Prepare and send the manual acknowledgement notice to the representative; and
· Shred faxed SSA-1695.

1. Query the appointed representative’s SSN on the Appointed Representative Direct Payment Screens, selection 5, located in POTS, #27 on the SSA Main Menu.
NOTE: If the link is not established and no favorable decision has been effectuated, follow existing procedures in GN 03910.042 for processing SSA-1695.
2. Input the information on the Appointed Representative Direct Payment Screens located in POTS, #27 on the SSA Main Menu (if concurrent, input for both Title II and Title XVI cases—verify input posts to records);
3. Prepare and send the manual acknowledgement notice to the representative; and
4. Shred faxed SSA-1695.

When FO does not receive SSA-1695 prior to effectuating the claim:
1. If the SSA-1695 is not present or recorded in POTS prior to effectuation of the claim, and the representative later complains that he/she did not receive direct pay, request proof of timely submission of the SSA-1695.
2. If he/she cannot provide proof of submitting the 1695 prior to effectuation of the claim, follow procedures in GN 03920.017C.3.

When the claim is ready to effectuate/adjudicate a favorable decision; there is an SSA-1696, or written equivalent from a representative; the fee is not waived; and is otherwise eligible for direct pay:
1. Contact the representative;
2. Inform him/her that SSA has not received the SSA-1695,if the representative wants direct payment;
3. Instruct the representative to fax the SSA-1695 immediately.
NOTE: The link must be established before the claim is effectuated.

When the representative provides proof of submitting a 1695 prior to the date the claim was effectuated; and the 1695 is located in the FO after effectuation and receipted in by the FO prior to effectuation; but was not linked or acknowledged:
This is considered an inadvertent release of withheld past-due benefits to the claimant.
Follow procedures in GN 03920.055 if the representative has evidence of submitting the 1695 prior to a favorable decision.

C. Reminders
· After information is input into the system, always send acknowledgement for SSA-1695s; then promptly destroy the paper forms.
· SSA-1695s should never be scanned into the electronic folder nor sent to DDS or ODAR offices.

Additional scenarios for processing SSA-1695 can be found at:
· Appointed Representative Database; and
· Title II Attorney Fee Coding Guide

Direct all program–related and technical questions to your RO support staff or PC OA staff. RO support staff or PC OA staff may refer questions or problems to their Central Office contacts.

You Know Things Are Bad When ...

There is an article in the paper with the headline "Social Security Office Moves Into 'Bat-Free' Location." As the article says, "It was quite startling for the workers."

ALJ Backlog Report

The National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR) newsletter contains information obtained from the Social Security Administration on the state of the backlogs of claims awaiting a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Click on each thumbnail to view it full size.

OPM Suspends Requirement That ALJs Continue To Have Law License

From the Federal Register:
The U.S. Office of Personnel Management is issuing an interim rule suspending the requirement ... that requires incumbent administrative law judges (``ALJs'') to ``possess a professional license to practice law and be authorized to practice law.'' This provision requires ALJs to maintain ``active status,'' (or ``judicial status'' in States that prohibit sitting judges from maintaining ``active status'' to practice law), or to be in ``good standing'' where the licensing authority considers ``good standing'' as having a current license to practice law. ...

ALJ applicants are unaffected by this suspension, and the requirement that applicants possess a professional license to practice law and be authorized to practice law continues to apply. ... We have reconsidered comments received during the notice and comment period, however, about the burdens imposed by the active licensure requirement, as it applies to incumbents, the potential differences between the ethical requirements that pertain to an advocate and those requirements that pertain to someone asked to adjudicate cases impartially, and the variations in what States require as to lawyers serving as ALJs. We intend once again to solicit comments on this point in a new rulemaking. In the interim, we seek to prevent any adverse impact on incumbents while we engage in this process by suspending the current requirement as to incumbents.
Comments are due by September 16, 2008.
Send, deliver, or fax written comments to: Ms. Angela Bailey, Deputy Associate Director for Talent and Capacity Policy, U.S. Office of Personnel Management, Room 6551, 1900 E Street, NW., Washington, DC 20415-9700; e-mail: employ@opm.gov; fax: (202) 606-2329. Comments may also be sent through the Federal eRulemaking Portal at: http://www.regulations.gov.

Jul 29, 2008

Social Security Seeks Automated Scheduling

From a Request for Information posted by the Social Security Administration:
SSA is looking for an expert contractor with experience in scheduling cases in a judicial environment. We are interested in an Automated Scheduling tool that may be of value to any part of the SSA’s Intelligent Disability effort, whether it’s a front-end solution, back-end solution, or combination of both. Please provide enough documentation as to how you would address the needs described below to permit an initial assessment.
This seems to be part of the theory that any amount of money can be spent on contractors in the hope that they can somehow improve service at Social Security, but hiring additional federal employees to actually get the work done is out of the question. The history of the last 7 years or so suggests that this theory does not work. In fact, I would say that this theory is one of the major reasons for the backlogs at Social Security. We are to the point now that Social Security is receiving increases in its operating budget that are well above the rate of inflation, yet the agency is unable to add badly needed personnel, because of all the money being paid to contractors.

On Hold In Sioux Falls

From a piece in the Sioux Falls Argus-Leader by Terry Woster, who had called Social Security to report an error in the earnings record he had received in the mail:
I set aside a noon hour to call. I should have gotten a sandwich before I dialed.

My first electronic encounter was with a menu of options, along with the helpful advice that many questions are answered on the Social Security Web page. I expected that. No way did I think I'd get a human right off.

Several menus later, I was starting to think it was about human time. I answered an electronic voice's questions and then waited for the next available representative. The hold music began, perhaps the most obnoxious music I've ever heard, and that includes some keg-party sing-alongs. Someone pounded a piano, with their fists, maybe, and the product was loud, piercing and without discernable melody or pattern. As a kid, I had an 78-rpm record about a boy who dreamed he had a magic piano that played anything, until he reached Carnegie Hall and the magic ended. He pounded away in frustration until he woke up. His pounding sounded like the Social Security recorded music.

Only thing I could figure was they were trying to force me to hang up. Not a chance, not after 25 minutes. (While I cringed at the music, I tried their Web site and found the question section where I learned that for my question, I needed to call the number that had me on hold.)

The human I finally reached was courteous and pleasant. She asked numerous questions that I'd already answered for the recorded voice. She put me on hold - without music, which was a relief - a couple of times while she checked something or other. Finally, 52 minutes into the visit, she gave me a toll-free number for the Internal Revenue Service.

E-Pulling Gets Poor Reviews

Several anonymous posters on the ALJ Discussion Forum discuss the software that the Social Security Administration is starting to use to "E-pull" exhibits. When files on Social Security disability claims reach the offices of Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) they are a mess. There are many pieces of duplicate medical evidence. Pieces of medical evidence often overlap. (For instance, the file may have a set of records from Dr. Smith covering the time period January 1, 2005 to July 31, 2007 but another set covering the time period December 1, 2006 through December 31, 2007.) The records are in no order. It is confusing and time-consuming to review the file without "pulling" the exhibits, that is removing duplicates and overlaps and putting things in order, but Social Security lacks the personnel to "pull" the exhibits. So Social Security is touting "e-pulling" of exhibits, a computer program that supposedly "pulls" exhibits. "E-pulling is not getting good reviews from the field, but when you think about it, would you really expect this to work?

Jul 28, 2008

Waiting In Florida -- And A Little About Allsup's Screening Process

From the Bradenton (FL) Herald:

On good days, Michele Saber can get up, get dressed and move around her apartment, but she can't go far. Even on those good days, Saber frequently blacks out four to six times before lunch.

On bad days, the 29-year-old former Bradenton police officer can't get out of bed. ...

Yet Saber's efforts to collect Social Security disability benefits have been met with repeated denials.

Along with almost 15,000 people in the Tampa Bay area, Saber is waiting for a hearing before an administrative law judge who will hear her next appeal.

She has been waiting for that hearing date since April 2, 2007.

Her attorneys say she will likely be waiting a lot longer - perhaps more than two years - because of a backlog in appeals cases. ...

"Social Security has a very rigid definition of disability that has to be backed up by medical evidence and the tons of paperwork that has to be completed precisely," says Dan Allsup of Allsup, Inc., a national company that represents applicants. Most of the staff at Allsup are former Social Security employees.

"We can present a completed, properly documented case to Social Security where all they have to do is say yes or no. This is a tremendous time saver for the government and the applicants."

Nonetheless, Allsup only accepts 8 percent of the potential applicants who ask for help. Of those applicants, half get their benefits at the first step of the process.

Screening prospect calls so well that you take on only 8% of the people who call; screening so well that you win 50% at the initial level? Now that's cherry picking!

New ALJ Backs Out In Tampa

From the Bradenton (FL) Herald:

A new judge selected and trained to help clear a backlog of Social Security disability appeals has declined the job.

"The Social Security Administration still intends to hire an administrative law judge for the Tampa hearing offices," Desmond Thornton, a Social Security spokesman, said Friday in confirming a new judge would have to be selected.

Unfortunately, because the individual who had accepted the position changed his mind shortly before he was due to report, the Social Security Administration is unable to repost the vacancy right away, Thornton said. The Office of Personal Management has to announce the opening and so far, that hasn't been done.

The news of the delay angered Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, who represents part of Manatee County.

"They don't have a backup plan. Now someone else will have to go through the training," Castor said.

Jul 27, 2008

Morbid Interest

From A Connecticut Law Blog:


That’s it. That is really the social security number of the 37th President of The United States, Richard Millhous Nixon.

444-26-7015 is/was Mickey Mantle’s social security number.

The Splendid Splinter, The Greatest Hitter To Ever Live, American Hero, Ted Williams’ social security number: 565-03-1343.

I’m not making this stuff up. No false advertising here.

How did I get these? Easy. Really easy.

The Social Security Death Index contains the social security numbers, date of birth, date of death, last residence, last benefit, and state of issue of more than 82 million people.

Jul 26, 2008

SSA Retirements

It is impossible for any government agency to have a replacement immediately ready to do the job being left by a retiree. Hiring and training does not happen that fast, particularly in government service. Even when a replacement is finally available, the replacement will be inexperienced and less productive than the retiree and will make mistakes that others must straighten out.

Jul 25, 2008

Galveston Office Stays Put For Now

From the Galveston County Daily News:
GALVESTON — The Social Security Administration has halted a plan to move its island office to League City, a spokesman said.

Wes Davis, spokesman of the administration’s regional office in Dallas, said public outcry prompted administration officials to consider starting the move process again.

“Everything is on hold right now,” he said. “We need to evaluate how we will proceed, step back and consider if we need to do another site survey.”

Government leaders and residents have urged the administration to maintain an office on the island. Islander Margaret Canavan has collected 1,600 signatures on petitions opposing the move since it was made public in April.

Senate Pursues Red Herring

From an article by Mary Walsh in today's New York Times:

The Senate is investigating whether insurance companies are forcing able-bodied people to apply for Social Security disability benefits, worsening a severe backlog in the government program while increasing their own profits.

Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the senior Republican on the Finance Committee, has sent letters to nine insurers, requesting detailed information about their handling of disability claims “as part of the committee’s ongoing inquiry into these important matters.” ...

“The last thing those who rely on Social Security need is for insurance companies to be clogging up the system by forcing ineligible applicants to apply,” he said.

Note that it is a Republican who is most interested in this inquiry.

I consider this inquiry to be a red herring that distracts from the real reason for the backlogs, a lack of adequate staffing at Social Security. Over 90% of those on long term disability benefits who apply for Social Security disability benefits are approved. Why is it a bad idea to encourage these people to apply? They have a much higher success rate than other claimants.

Updated Employment Figures

The Office of Personnel Management has released figures showing the number of employees at federal agencies as of March 2008. Below is the March 2008 figure for Social Security with the numbers from earlier dates for comparison. Note that the number of employees at Social Security has gone down by 8.6% in the last two and a half years and that Democratic majorities in Congress have not stopped the decline.
  • March 2008 60,465
  • December 2007 61,822
  • September 2007 62,407
  • June 2007 62,530
  • March 2007 61,867
  • December 2006 63,410
  • September 2006 63,647
  • September 2005 66,147
  • September 2004 65,258
  • September 2003 64,903
  • September 2002 64,648
  • September 2001 65,377
  • September 2000 64,521
  • September 1999 63,957
  • September 1998 65,629

Jul 24, 2008

A Question Of Ethics

On the separate Social Security Perspectives blog I have posted a copy of the decision of the California State Bar on the reinstatement petition of Weldon Ray Reeves, who is pictured to the left. You can click on each page of the decision to read it. It is spread over four posts due to technical limitations in Blogger. Let me briefly summarize the decision.
  • Mr. Reeves was a lawyer in the past, but he was disbarred in March 1996 after he pled guilty to a felony charge of aiding and abetting a false statement in a bankruptcy petition.
  • Mr. Reeves' petition for reinstatement as an attorney was denied in 2000.
  • On June 6, 2006, the Appeals Council of the Social Security Administration overturned a decision of an Administrative Law Judge that held that Mr. Reeves should be disqualified from representing Social Security claimants on the grounds that he had deceived a client, but still disqualified Mr. Reeves from representing Social Security claimants on the grounds that he lacked good character and reputation.
  • Mr. Reeves is the sole proprietor of Disability Advocates. (Note that other entities unassociated with Mr. Reeves use the same name in other parts of the country.)
  • After he was disqualified by the Social Security Administration, Mr. Reeves continued to represent Social Security claimants through the "veil" of Georgia McGreal. Other than discontinuing going to hearings himself, the disqualification hardly changed Mr. Reeves' activities in representing Social Security claimants.
  • On July 15, 2008, the California State Bar again denied Mr. Reeves' petition for reinstatement as an attorney.
There is a good deal more in the decision of the California State Bar about Mr. Reeves' activities. Much of it casts Mr. Reeves in a very bad light.

I find it distressing that this sort of thing can go on and that the Social Security Administration seems powerless to stop it. If withholding of fees for non-attorneys is to be renewed by Congress, action should be taken to address this sort of situation.

Jul 23, 2008

SSI Monthly Stats

Social Security's Office of Policy has issued its monthly statistical package for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The number of people on SSI has gone up by 139,062 or 2% in the last year. All of this increase is in disability recipients. The number of people drawing SSI on account of age decreased slightly over the last year.

Jul 22, 2008

News Conference On Transferring Cases -- And More About Night Court

I had posted earlier about Social Security disability cases awaiting hearings being transferred from Charlotte to Seattle. My post was in relation to plans to hold hearings beginning as late as 8:00 p.m. on the East Coast.

The Charlotte Observer now has an article up about this transfer of 300 cases. The article was prompted by a news conference held by Representative Sue Myrick, a Republican. With the election coming, it looks like everyone in Congress wants to get on the right side of this issue, or at least appear to be on the right side.

Here is a little excerpt from the article suggesting that night court may become common, possibly in places other than North Carolina:
Officials said Monday's announcement could represent a permanent solution. Nancy Griswold, a Social Security Administration deputy chief administrative law judge, also said working with an office on the west coast essentially extends Charlotte's operating hours. There is a three-hour time difference between Seattle and Charlotte.

"Blood And Destruction" Blamed on Social Security And Congress

Congresswoman Kathy Castor's bill to impose time limits for holding hearings on Social Security disability claims has generated a good deal of media interest. Here are some excerpts from a story in the St. Petersburg Times:
The tens of thousands of people stuck in the national backlog for Social Security disability benefits might disagree, but the agency's top official argues progress is being made in ending the crisis.

The progress is hard to see in the Tampa Bay area, however, where the caseload is among the highest in the nation and an office sits empty awaiting the hiring of a much-needed judge.

The most recent figures indicate that 761,042 people are waiting across the country for hearings to address their claims. In the Tampa hearing office, the number is 14,524, the highest in the state.

The situation prompted Rep. Kathy Castor, a Tampa democrat, to propose legislation this week to break the backlog. Castor's bill would require that a hearing be held between 60 and 75 days from the date it is requested, and that a final verdict be given no more than 15 days after the hearing. ...

"Hiring new judges is a step in the right direction, but you still have to hire the staff in order to help them," said Robert Gutierrez, a South Florida lawyer who has been representing disability clients for 16 years. ...

Linda Fullerton, co-founder of a national grass roots organization called the Social Security Disability Coalition, is not impressed.

Fullerton, who lives in Rochester, N.Y., said she waited for a year and a half to get her benefits. When the wait devastated her finances, she got angry enough to start a cyberspace group that now numbers 3,000 members, she said.

"There is blood and destruction on the hands of both the Social Security Administration and Congress," she said in an e-mail to the Times. "Both have been systematically killing and devastating the lives of the most vulnerable citizens of this nation for decades."

Social Security Earnings Estimator

The Social Security Administration has added a new feature to its online services, an "earnings estimator." I do not understand the name "earnings estimator" since what is estimated is not what I would call "earnings" but what I would call benefits. The agency must be proud of it, since I got about five e-mails about it. Unfortunately, the service is painfully slow, at least this morning.

Jul 21, 2008

Union Newsletter

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Council 220, which represents many Social Security employees, has issued its July 2008 newsletter. No breaking news, but worth reading.

Jul 20, 2008

Waiting In Ohio

From the Columbus Dispatch:

A 57-year-old man has waited three years and counting for a Social Security disability determination because of his failing heart, vascular disease, cirrhosis of the liver and hepatitis ...

Social Security Administration Commissioner Michael Astrue doesn't gloss over the problem with his federal agency. He has told Congress that the jumbo-sized backlog stems from an increasing baby boomer caseload, years of underfunding and an increase in Social Security's responsibilities coupled with a 5 percent staff reduction from 2003 to 2007.

Astrue, who took the top job in February 2007, said that while "everything is focused on moving in the right direction … there is no one magic bullet" to cut through the backlog, stemming from years of the "system being out of whack."

"It's hard if you are on the waiting end," Astrue said. "We are making progress … (But) it is a lot of detail, and it is hundreds of things we have to focus on."

Astrue is sending 13 new disability judges to Ohio this year, two of them to Columbus.

He wants to cut the 761,000-case national backlog by about 60,000 a year.

Jim Allsup, a former administration employee whose company handles rejected disability claims, says, "The whole thing is completely broken" and that the disability benefits process is "so woefully out of date that it has to be totally overhauled and streamlined."

White House Liaison?

I no longer see anyone listed on Social Security's organizational chart as being White House Liaison. This position was created by Commissioner Astrue, as best I can tell. The position may still exist, but just not be shown on the organizational chart, which does not seem as detailed as I remember it. Can anyone enlighten me on whether this position still exists?

Jul 19, 2008

New Regulations In Final Months Of Bush Administration

With the end of the Bush Administration in sight and several possible regulatory changes in the pipe at Social Security, it is a good time to review what the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is telling federal agencies. What OMB says matters since OMB has to approve any proposed regulations before they go in the Federal Register. Here is an excerpt from a recent memo from OMB to federal agencies:
Every regulatory agency and department has a responsibility for continuing to ensure regulations issued in this final year are in the best interests of the Alnerican public. To the extent pennitted by law, the heads of executive departments and agencies should continue to minilnize costs and maxilnize benefits for each of their upcoming regulations, and should avoid issuing regulations that are unnecessary. Except in extraordinary circumstances, regulations to be finalized in this Administration should be proposed no later than June 1, 2008, and final regulations should be issued no later than November 1, 2008.

Jul 18, 2008

Results Of Unscientific Poll

What is your general impression of the job that Social Security does in deciding upon disability claims?

It's way too easy to get on disability benefits. They're approving a lot of phonies. (5) 6%
Social Security is a bit lax . Some people are getting on benefits who shouldn't. (10) 11%
Social Securtiy does as good a job of deciding who is disabled and who isn't as you could reasonably expect. (11) 12%
Social Security makes it a bit too tough. Some people are being denied who should be approved. (10) 11%
They make it far too tough. Many people who are way too sick to work are being denied. (8) 9%
It's a bit of a mess. They approve some people who should be denied and deny some people who should be approved. (22) 24%
It's a total mess. There's little consistency. You can never tell who is going to be approved and who is going to be denied. (24) 27%

Total Votes: 90

Jul 17, 2008

New Regulations

Today's Federal Register includes two new Social Security items.

The first is a "direct" final regulations with request for comments, which is effective on August 18, 2008 unless adverse or critical comments are received
... amends our regulations by correcting a cross-reference affecting entitlement to mother's and father's benefits, to include alternatives to the 9-month duration of marriage requirement. We are deleting an out-of-date cross- reference to the definition of ``substantially all.'' In its place, we are restoring the regulatory definition for ``substantially all'' that had been inadvertently deleted to show if a grandchild or stepgrandchild is dependent based on our support requirements. Also, we are revising headings in six of our regulations to conform to plain language provisions of Executive Order (E.O.) 12866, as amended.

We are also amending one of our regulations for clarity and to correct a typographical error.
The second is a notice of proposed rulemaking:
These proposed rules would amend our title II regulations to explicitly provide that we apply an underpayment due an individual to reduce an overpayment to that individual in certain cases. Our title XVI regulations already state this policy. Additionally, these proposed rules reflect our procedures for collecting overpayments when a payment of more than the correct amount is made to a representative payee on behalf of a beneficiary after the beneficiary's death. These proposed rules would clarify that we would collect overpayments in this situation from only the representative payee or his estate but would not collect these overpayments from the representative payee's spouse or from the spouse's estate.

What Hourly Rate For Paralegals?

The Supreme Court recently held in Richlin Security Service Co. v. Chertoff that fees are available for paralegal assistant time under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), which requires the federal government to pay attorney fees for those who sue the federal government when it is determined that the government's position was not substantially justified. This raises the question of what rate is available for paralegal assistant time. The Alaska Employment Law blog tells us that the government did not object to a $95 hourly rate for paralegals in Onstead v. Astrue, 2008 WL 2065252 (D.Alaska May 13, 2008).

Jul 16, 2008

NADE Newsletter

The National Association of Disability Examiners (NADE), an organization of personnel who make the initial and reconsideration determinations on Social Security disability claims, has issued its Summer 2008 newsletter.

The following is a letter to the President of NADE reproduced in the newsletter that others may find of interest:
I thought that you and your colleagues might be interested in the following:
I looked at 100 consecutive claimant scores on the Test of Memory Malingering(TOMM) from psychological evaluations that I conducted between 8/07 to 6/08 and found that 36% provided a suboptimal performance. In other words, 36% of the claimants did not provide a valid level of effort during testing, for whatever reason. The age range was 8 to 66. This finding suggests to me the importance of including an effort level test, such as the TOMM, in most CE psychological test batteries.

Jack Stephenson, Ph.D.
Torrance, CA 90505

Jul 15, 2008

Deadline Bill Proposed

From the March on Politics blog:

U.S Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa has filed a bill aiming at a longstanding problem, the backlog of Social Security disability cases.

Castor’s bill is only the latest of many legislative attempts made over the years to solve the problem, but Congress has never figured out how.

The problem arises when individuals are turned down on claims for disability benefits under Social Security. Many appeal, and two-thirds of those who appeal eventually win their cases, Castor said. But the appeals process often takes years, during which the individuals don’t get the benefits.

From fiscal year 1997 through 2006, Castor noted in a news release, backlogged disability claims in the Social Security Administration’s processing system doubled, reaching about 576,000 cases.

Castor’s legislation would set deadlines for the Social Security administration to hold hearings on appeals.

“Some Tampa Bay families wait as long as four years for a hearing,” Castor said in a news release. “They can lose their homes and some end up living in homeless shelters. ... This is unacceptable.”

Last year, President Bush proposed more money for faster hearings, and Congress approved more than Bush requested. But partly because of concerns about widespread fraud, speeding up approval of claims enough to dispel the backlog has proved an insoluble problem.

Jul 14, 2008

$48 Million Extra Funding For SSA

From a Legislative Bulletin issued by the Social Security Administration (SSA) (emphasis added):

On July 9, 2008, the Senate passed H.R. 6331, the “Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act of 2008,” by unanimous consent. Earlier in the day, a cloture vote passed by 69-30, which cleared the way for final approval. The bill is identical to the bill that passed the House on June 24, 2008. The President has indicated that he will veto the bill. However, the margin of the votes in the House and the Senate has been characterized as “veto proof.”

A general description of the bill may be found in Legislative Bulletin 110-29.

H.R. 6331 contains the following provisions of interest to SSA:

Eliminating Barriers to Medicare Savings Programs Enrollment

• Requires SSA to provide applicants for Medicare Part D Low-Income Subsidy (LIS) with information about Medicare Savings Programs (MSP) assistance, including information about how to contact the State health insurance assistance program (SHIP).

• Requires SSA (with the consent of those filing) to transmit LIS application data to the States. Once received, the LIS data would serve as a protective filing for MSP, with State agencies being required to complete appropriate MSP development and make eligibility determinations. The content, form, and manner in which information (on a uniform basis for all States) shall be transmitted would be determined by the Commissioner, in consultation with HHS and the States. Effective January 1, 2010.

• Requires SSA to provide MSP training to employees currently involved in LIS application-taking, so that those employees can promote beneficiary awareness of MSP, thereby increasing MSP participation.

Provides start-up funding of $24.1 million to SSA for activities related to MSP outreach and transmittal of data to states. Funds would be appropriated as of October 1, 2008, and remain available until expended. Ongoing funding for MSP-related activities would be provided, beginning with fiscal year 2011, through a separate ongoing appropriation of $3 million annually to HHS. HHS would provide this funding to SSA via a reimbursable agreement, and the funds would only be available to HHS for this specific purpose.

Provides funding of $24.8 million to SSA for LIS activities required due to changes in MSP and LIS programs. Funds would be appropriated as of October 1, 2008, and remain available until expended.

Exemption From Income and Resources for Determination of Eligibility for Low-Income Subsidy

• Eliminates counting in-kind support and maintenance as income and life insurance as a resource for LIS purposes. Effective for applications filed on or after January 1, 2010.

Judicial Review of Decisions of the Commissioner of Social Security Under the Low-Income Subsidy Program

• Codifies SSA's existing policy that denied LIS applicants can appeal to the civil courts, once the administrative appeals process is exhausted. Effective as if enacted with the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003. ...


• Eliminates Part D late enrollment penalties for individuals who are eligible for LIS. Effective January 1, 2009.

• Clarifies that, in the event of a recipient's death, the State is not allowed to attempt recovery (through the recipient's estate) of costs associated with providing MSP assistance. Effective January 1, 2010.

Backlog Just Gets Worse

Since February 2008, the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR) has been publishing statistics it obtains from Social Security on the backlog of claims awaiting hearings before Administrative Law Judges (ALJs). This started about the time that Democrats became the majority party in Congress, as well as about the time that Michael Astrue became Commissioner of Social Security. You can make your own guess on the explanation for the timing.

I thought it would be interesting to extract the numbers to show what has been happening to the ALJ hearing backlog over this time period. Here are the national numbers, shown by the number of days of backlog existing at any given time:
  • January 25, 2007 -- 508 days
  • May 25, 2007 -- 523 days
  • July 28, 2007 -- 528 days
  • August 31, 2007 -- 523 days
  • November 30, 2007 -- 500 days
  • February 29, 2008 -- 511 days
  • May 30, 2008 -- 523 days
The net result is that we are half a month further behind than we were a year and a half ago. Neither Michael Astrue becoming Commissioner of Social Security nor Democrats becoming the majority party in Congress has helped, other than, perhaps, keeping the backlog from growing more than it has.

Jul 13, 2008

Washington Post On Garnishment Of Social Security Benefits

From the Washington Post:
... [I]n some cases, the actions of the financial institutions in carrying out court [garnishment] orders are of questionable legality, according to a new report by the Social Security Administration's Office of the Inspector General.

The inspector general found that some financial institutions are apparently violating federal law by garnishing accounts that receive electronic deposits of old age, survivors and disability insurance, and/or supplemental security income payments. These funds are supposed to be protected from creditors except under certain conditions. ...

During a 12-month period beginning September 2006, the 12 largest banks took $1 million from accounts that held only government benefits. An additional $29 million was taken from accounts that held government benefits money mixed with cash from other sources, according to the report. The inspector general also found in some cases that banks were charging legal processing fees, overdraft charges or insufficient-funds charges as the result of a garnishment.

Although the sample size in this investigation was relatively small, the inspector general's report concluded that if all financial institutions followed the pattern of those investigated, as much as $177.7 million in garnishments could be attributable to beneficiaries receiving direct deposit of Social Security benefits.

And here is a link to the Inspector General report.

Social Security Selects Prime Contractor For Distance Learning

From a press release issued by Hughes Network Systems, LLC:
Hughes Network Systems, LLC (HUGHES), the global leader in broadband satellite network solutions and services, today announced it has been selected as prime contractor by the Social Security Administration (SSA) to provide operational support services for its distance learning network and has received an initial task order for $4M.

Under the agreement, issued through the U.S. General Services Administration's (GSA) SATCOM-II contract vehicle, SSA has outsourced the operation and support of its Interactive Video Tele-training (IVT) Network to Hughes. ...

Jul 12, 2008

Powerful TV Story On Backlogs

WGRZ-TV in Buffalo is running a lengthy story (more than six minutes) on Social Security's terrible backlogs in adjudicating disability claims. The story includes interviews with Congressman Brian Higgins and Senator Chuck Schumer.

I know that the description of the problems suffered by the claimant who is used as an example may give you pause, but that is merely a television reporter's understanding of a claimant's understanding of her medical problems. It should not be surprising if there is a lot misunderstood along the way. There are plenty of people who give similarly incoherent accounts of their medical conditions who are genuinely in terrible shape. I talk with them every day and try to help them better understand what their doctors have said and what they are experiencing so they can testify in a coherent fashion.

If you have wondered why there have been so many backlog stories coming from the Buffalo area, watch. The reason is one person, Linda Fullerton. It makes you wonder what would happen if there were a hundred or a thousand people out there like Ms. Fullerton pressing Congress and the media.

By the way, the reporter's desire to blame President Bush and former President Clinton may not be completely off the mark, but, by far, the bigger problem was Republican control of Congress between 1994 and 2006. This is not Republican bashing. This is plain fact.

Updated Fee Payment Stats

The Social Security Administration has posted updated statistics on payment of fees to attorneys and others for representing Social Security claimants. This is a good analogue to show the ups and downs in payments of back benefits to newly entitled claimants. The numbers are below:

Fee Payments

Month/Year Volume Amount

Jul 11, 2008


Results Of Last Week's Unscientific Poll

How Did You Spend Your Fourth Of July?

At the beach (8) 10%
At a lake (5) 6%
Poolside (2) 3%
In the mountains (2) 3%
Other vacation destination (3) 4%
Traveling to visit family or friends (5) 6%
Staying home but getting together with family or friends (26) 33%
Catching up with chores around the house or yard (9) 11%
Didnt't do anything much (16) 20%
Working (3) 4%

Total Votes: 79

Closer To Social Security Treaty With India

The possibility of a U.S. Social Security treaty with India is not much of a story in the U.S., but it draws a lot of attention in India. From the Indian Express of Mumbai:
... A long-standing Indian demand for a social security pact that allows Indian workers stationed in the US to bring back their contributions to the US Social Security system on their return to India, is close to being met.

Over $1 billion of contributions to the US Social Security Fund are made annually by an estimated 80,000 “detached workers” from India working on consultancy and onsite assignments — each one has to contribute at the rate of 15% of basic salary. However, when they return to India, these contributions are forfeited as the minimum period to qualify for pension benefits in the US is 10 years (the same is true of India as well).

After a series of meetings between Indian officials and the US Social Security Administration as well as a senior White House official in Washington last week, Indian workers’ annual donations to the US social security fund — which currently has a $4.1 trillion deficit — may finally come to an end.

“We are close to sealing the pact. Indian workers who spend three years in the US would get a refund of their contributions to the US pension system. Moreover, the pension will also be portable — once a worker completes the qualifying period of 10 years, the pension will be payable in either country,” a senior government official said. ...

Between December 2007 and now, India has made some progress on this front which it convinced the US administration about. The Unorganised Sector Workers’ Social Security Bill has been introduced in Parliament as well as reviewed by a standing committee. ...

“It has been an intractable wall we have been chipping away at for years, but this time, we feel they are convinced that there is a sound social security sytem in India,” the official said. ...

Jul 10, 2008

Backog Report

The National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR) has obtained from Social Security and published statistics on the hearing backlogs at each of Social Security's hearing offices as of the end of May. Thumbnails of each page are reproduced here. Click on each thumbnail to view it full size.

It's Official: Appropriations Process Suspended

From the Associated Press:
Sidestepping battles with Republicans over offshore oil drilling and pork barrel projects, Democrats controlling the House have called a halt to efforts to pass the 12 annual bills that fund Cabinet agency budgets. ...

Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, D-Wis. -- blindsided last month by a GOP effort to transform a bill funding education and health care into a vehicle to permit additional offshore oil drilling -- has suspended his panel's work on spending bills for the budget year beginning Oct. 1. ...

Obey says Republicans simply want to drag out the annual appropriations debates for political ends and that he won't be a pawn in such a game. But with President Bush promising veto after veto of the Democratic bills -- and Senate action unlikely for most of them as well -- there's little enthusiasm among either rank and file Democrats or their leaders to pass all the bills. ...

At a hearing last month, Lewis and a colleague tried to force a vote to lift the offshore drilling ban, enraging Obey, who quickly gaveled the meeting to a close. The panel hasn't reassembled since and has no plans to vote on bills this week.

"With all due respect, there are only seven weeks left in the session. I don't see why we should spend those seven weeks in Jerry Lewis' playpen," Obey said.

Mental Impairment Listings Coming

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) acted yesterday on Social Security's proposed new mental impairment listings. We can expect to see the proposal in the Federal Register shortly. Apparently, OMB forced Social Security to alter the proposal since the notice indicates that the "Concluded Action" on the proposal was "Consistent with Change."

The public will be able to comment on the proposal after it is published in the Federal Register. Social Security must then consider what will probably be extensive comments. It is virtually inconceivable that these regulations would be finalized before President Bush leaves office, especially since Bush has already promised no new regulations after November 1. Since final regulations will have to be approved again by OMB, the new President who takes office in January 2009 will be able in influence the final rules.

As I have said before, I and many others are apprehensive about this proposal. Previously, Social Security proposed regulations that would have increased the age categories of the grid regulations by two years in an obvious attempt to save money at the expense of Social Security disability claimants. This has been blocked by Congressional opposition, but could be revived at any time with little prior notice. More recently, Commissioner Astrue proposed new procedural rules that would have created barriers to claims being approved in another obvious attempt to save money at the expense of Social Security disability claimants. This too has been blocked by Congressional opposition, but, again, it could be revived at any time with little prior notice. Is this proposal in the same vein?

Eight Circuit Says No Right To Cross-Examine

A panel of the Eight Circuit Court of Appeals held yesterday in Passmore v. Astrue that a disability claimants has no absolute right to cross-examine a consultative physician who examined a claimant at the behest of the Social Security Administration and who issued a report adverse to the claimant. This is at odds with the decisions of some other Courts of Appeals and even with a prior panel of the Eight Circuit. The Passmore panel went to some effort to avoid prior precedent. I would read the Court's analysis of the issue of whether it was an abuse of discretion to deny Mr. Passmore's request to cross examine the physician to mean that a claimant simply has no right to cross-examine the author of an adverse consultative examination report under just about any circumstance.

I have no idea whether this case is an appropriate vehicle for Supreme Court review -- Social Security filed the appeal in the case suggesting that the underlying case might not be that strong -- but this issue may be headed for the Supreme Court.

Jul 9, 2008

John McCain On Social Security

Today Is The Deadline

Under Executive Order (EO) 12866 any regulation proposed by any agency must be submitted to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for approval. EO 12866 sets forth a 90 deadline for OMB to act upon a regulatory proposal. This deadline can be extended by 30 days.

On April 10, 2008 the Social Security Administration submitted proposed new mental impairment listings to OMB for approval. As of this writing, OMB has taken no action on this regulatory proposal. OMB's time is up today. Either OMB must take action on this proposal or extend the time period.

Some are hopeful that what is in this proposal will help people who suffer from mental illness, particularly those who suffer from mental retardation. Some are fearful that the proposed listings would hurt mentally ill claimants. A lot of people are just apprehensive.

In any case, it is far too late for any final mental impairment listings to be finally adopted during the Bush Administration. All that OMB can approve now would be proposed regulations. The proposed regulations would then be published in the Federal Register for public comments. Final regulations could not be adopted until at least next year.

Jul 8, 2008

Client Abducts Social Security Attorney

From the Herald Bulletin of Madison County, Indiana:

Anderson police are still searching for a man who they say abducted his attorney at knifepoint while on their way to the Madison County Jail.

Anderson attorney Thomas Hamer was driving his client Richard Lee Hudson from a successful Social Security benefits hearing in Indianapolis on Monday, when, according to Hamer and police reports, Hudson jumped into the backseat of Hamer’s sport utility vehicle and held a knife to his throat.

Police were called to Rangeline Nature Preserve at 12:41 p.m., Detective Mitch Carroll said, after Hamer flagged down a telephone repair truck going southbound on Rangeline Road for help.

“When we were coming back from Indianapolis, we were right in front of KeyBank (across the street from the jail), and that’s when (Hudson) said ‘I’m not going back to jail,’ or ‘If you think I’m going back to jail you’re crazy’ or something like that,” Hamer said during an interview Monday night.

At that point, Hudson jumped from the passenger’s seat into the backseat behind Hamer, where he held a knife to Hamer’s throat, Hamer said. The attorney said then Hudson said he wanted to go to Maplewood Cemetery because his mother and father were buried there.

“When we got to the cemetery, we kept going farther and farther back, and that’s the first time I thought he was going to kill me,” Hamer said.

According to Hamer, Hudson then tied Hamer’s hands behind his back with a belt and put him in the car.

“He was driving, talking about how he was going to kill his ex-girlfriend,” Hamer said. “I tried talking him out of it, but he was saying he was going to kill her, then commit suicide. What I thought he was going to do was go to this girl’s house, stab her, take the pills — he said he already had the pills, and I thought he would leave me in the car.”

Hudson drove the SUV to Rangeline Nature Preserve, located at 1200 S. Rangeline Road, Hamer said, and the men started walking along one of the trails in the park.

“I said, ‘if you’re going to tie me up, just tie me up here,’” Hamer said. “We went a few steps further and instead of walking on the path, we started walking on the brush. He said if I didn’t do anything stupid, he wouldn’t hurt me.”

Hudson then tied Hamer’s ankles with his old shirt and ran from the scene, leaving in his attorney’s burgundy 2007 Ford Escape hybrid with Hamer’s wallet, cell phone and other personal item.

2007 Allowance And Denial Rates

The National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR) has obtained from Social Security a report on the allowance and denial rates on disability claims at the initial and reconsideration levels for 2007. The pages are reproduced here. Click on each to view full size. Note the disparities between the states. By the way, you may want to note NOSSCR's newly redesigned website.

Night Court

My firm has been notified that several hundred cases are being transferred from the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) office in Charlotte to the Seattle ODAR office for video hearings. We have been told that the Seattle ODAR office is planning to schedule hearings starting as late as 8:00 p.m. on the East Coast, which would be 5:00 Pacific time.

We have not heard any explanation for why these hearings would be scheduled so late in the day. I do not know if this is merely a peculiar aberration or a sign of things to come, but ODAR is going to some trouble to arrange for personnel to work this late. I do know that there have been some capacity problems in midday on the network through which Social Security does video hearings.

Somehow, the idea of night court has a declasse feel to it. Besides being inconvenient for the claimant's attorney, the symbolism strikes me as inappropriate.

Disability Mentoring Day Again

It is hard to understand why a cash strapped agency would do this, but they do it every year. From a notice on FedBizOpps.gov:
The Social Security Administration (SSA) intends to award a sole source purchase order to the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), located at 1629 K Street NW, Suite 503, Washington, DC 20006-1634 to provide consultative services that will assist SSA in its outreach efforts during the 2008 Disability Mentoring Day (DMD). The DMD is commemorated on the third Wednesday of every October. DMD is a large-scale effort designed to promote career development for students and other job seekers with disabilities through hands-on career exploration, job shadowing, internship or employment opportunities, and matching of mentee/mentor relationships.
By the way, AAPD has a relationship with Allsup.

The Twenty-Four Month Waiting Period For Medicare

A person who is approved for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act faces two waiting periods. First, there is a five month waiting period until cash benefits begin. This works out to be more than a six month waiting period in fact, since the five months must be full months and because benefits for a month are not paid until after the month has ended. If you become disabled on July 2 2008, you cannot count July as one of the five months. The date of first entitlement to cash benefits would be January 2009, but the check for January 2009 would not arrive until well into February, 2009. Your waiting period in this example would be almost seven months.

The second waiting period is for Medicare. This is a 24 month waiting period after the entitlement to cash benefits begins. Thus, the claimant who became disabled on July 2, 2008 would not become eligible for Medicare until January 2011.

My clients often ask why they have to endure these waiting periods. What is the rationale behind it? They crave some logic to explain these long waits. The only answer I can give them is that it saves money. There is no other explanation. There is no logic.

Both waiting periods are controversial. There have recently been rumblings about eliminating them.

Someone at Social Security decided to do a study to see how many of those people enduring that 24 month waiting period were covered by Medicaid. (Remember, Medicaid is the poverty program and Medicare is the non-poverty program. If you are on SSI, you are categorically eligible for Medicaid. Got that?) My guess is that someone, perhaps the Commissioner, perhaps someone in the White House, perhaps someone in Congress, was looking for ammunition to fight off a push to end the 24 month waiting period. If that was the goal, it looks like the statistical study will not help. The study is presented in a confusing format, but it looks like only 11% of those in the 24 month waiting period for Medicare are on SSI and thus categorically eligible for Medicaid. Of the other 89%, undoubtedly some are covered by health care insurance provided to them at no cost by their former employer and others are able to come up with the money to keep paying their health care insurance premiums. Others are eligible to receive care from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). My best guess (and I am in a much better position to guess about this than anyone at Social Security, the White House or Congress) would be that around half of the people who are in the 24 month waiting period have no Medicare, no VA medical care and no health care insurance, even though they have been acknowledged as disabled by their government. Does this sound right? Is it defensible?

Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Having Problems

Appropriations are the lifeblood of all federal agencies including the Social Security Administration. Anything that affects the appropriations process is of considerable importance to the Social Security Administration. It seems as if Robert Byrd of West Virginia has been a Senator since shortly after the Civil War. He has been chairman or ranking minority member of the Senate Appropriations Committee for decades, but he has long been the most respected of the elders in the Senate, but for some time now there have been whispers about the effects of age on Byrd's ability to lead the Appropriations Committee. Those whispers are getting much louder. From Politico:

Oh, the full dialogue from the blogpost below according to WaPo's Paul Kane (and other reporters in the gallery) who heard the full shouting match between Sen. Robert C. Byrd and Sen. Jim Bunning, shouting from their seats across that aisle at each other:

Bunning: "Regular order!"

Byrd: "Who said that?"

Bunning: "I did."

Byrd: "Who are you?"

Bunning: "I'm a senator."

Byrd: "You're a great baseball man."

Bunning: "I'm a senator; I have the same rights as you."

Byrd: "Yeah, man, you're a senator." [Ends by laughing hysterically at Bunning.]

Jul 7, 2008

McCain On Budget And Social Security

From Jobs for America: The McCain Economic Plan, put out by John McCain's campaign:
Comprehensive Spending Controls: John McCain will institute broad reforms to control spending:
  • The McCain administration would reserve all savings from victory in the Iraq and Afghanistan operations in the fight against Islamic extremists for reducing the deficit. Since all their costs were financed with deficit spending, all their savings must go to deficit reduction.
  • A one-year spending pause. Freeze non-defense, non-veterans discretionary spending for a year and use those savings for deficit reduction. A one-year pause in the growth of discretionary spending will be imposed to allow for a comprehensive review of all spending programs. After the completion of a comprehensive review of all programs, projects and activities of the federal government, we will propose a plan to modernize, streamline, consolidate, reprioritize and, where needed, terminate individual programs. ...
Reform Social Security: John McCain will fight to save the future of Social Security, and he believes that we may meet our obligations to the retirees of today and the future without raising taxes. John McCain supports supplementing the current Social Security system with personal accounts – but not as a substitute for addressing benefit promises that cannot be kept. John McCain will reach across the aisle to address these challenges, but if the Democrats do not act, he will. No problem is in more need of honesty than the looming financial challenges of entitlement programs. Americans have the right to know the truth and John McCain will not leave office without fixing the problems that threatens our future prosperity and power.

I Had Wondered About This

You knew about disability claims for children under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, but did you realize there can be disability claims for children under Title II of the Social Security Act? They do and curiously enough, Social Security applies adult standards to these child disability claims. Seems odd to me. Here is some information from a recent addition to Social Security's Program Operations Manual Series (POMS):
Effective 9/1/81, P.L. 97-35 discontinued spouse's, mother's, and father's benefits when the youngest child-in-care attains age 16, unless the child is disabled. Although the spouse’s, mother’s, or father’s benefits may cease, the child's benefits continue to age 18 regardless of whether he or she is disabled. A disability determination for the alleged DMC [DisabledMinor Child] is needed only to entitle the mother or father to continue to receive benefits. ...

To determine if a child is disabled for the child-in-care provisions use the sequential evaluation process applicable to Title II Adult and CDB claims. See “Sequential Evaluation” (DI 22001.000).

At step 3 of the disability evaluation process (Does impairment(s) meet or equal a listing?), consider Part “B” of the listings first. If the child’s alleged impairment(s) does not meet or equal a Part “B” listing, consider the Part “A” listings.

NOTE: The “functional equivalence” policy applicable to Title XVI child cases (see DI 25225.001) does not apply to DMC, or any other Title II cases.

It is not clear to me from this whether the adult listings apply or the child listings. It would be weird to refuse to apply the child listings, but everything else about this policy is weird.