Eight months after leaving, the U.S. Social Security Administration will return to the island, easing fears that the services upon which many residents depend would remain on the mainland.
The administration will open its office, 4918 Seawall Blvd., at 9 a.m. Monday.
Although its island offices sustained minimal damage from Hurricane Ike, administration officials blamed the Sept. 13 storm for its decision in October to leave and lease office space at 2700 Marina Bay Drive in League City.
The return comes after much controversy about the administration’s long-term real estate strategies.
In April last year, the administration generated public outcry when it said it would make a permanent move to League City.
The decision angered island residents who worried the elderly and disabled would have trouble traveling to League City, which doesn’t have public transportation.
Although the administration secured an 18-month lease in League City, terms of the deal allowed it to terminate the agreement in six months, officials said.
Island resident Margaret Canavan collected 1,600 signatures on petitions opposing the move.
In July, administration officials agreed to halt the plans.
The administration, which complained about high rents on the island, has not abandoned its search for new office space, spokesman Wes Davis said.
May 31, 2009
May 30, 2009
May 29, 2009
The economic downturn, inadequate funding and red tape are at the core of an increasing backlog of Social Security disability cases, panelists said during a roundtable discussion in Washington on Thursday.
The government has tried for years to reduce the number of cases awaiting review from administrative law judges, but the recession is a significant setback, said Alan Cohen, senior budget adviser for the Senate Finance Committee.
"Initial claims are going to skyrocket in 2010," he said during the forum, organized by the Association of Administration Law Judges. "The tsunami hasn't hit the administrative law judges here." ...
"You just need the money to properly administer the program," said Kathryn Olson, staff director for the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security. "Too much pressure to crank out cases really does undermine the integrity of the process." ...
Some panelists said SSA's plan to reduce the backlog by 2013 was forcing judges to take on too many cases.
"I am truly stunned by the suggestion that administrative law judges should review 500 to 700 cases per year," said U.S. Magistrate Judge Jillyn Schulze, referring to an expectation set by Chief Administrative Judge Frank A. Cristaudo in a 2008 letter to administrative law judges. "That is truly unconscionable."
I found the regional memo that you issued regarding SSA’s “Going Green” initiative particularly disingenuous. ... Increased use of mass transit will result in less carbon emissions, less pollution, less ozone layer depletion and a diminished greenhouse effect. ...
The economic stimulus package that recently passed Congress provided SSA [Social Security Administration] with an additional $1 billion in administrative expenses. The FY 09 budget resulted in an $834 million increase in SSA’s administrative expenses over FY 08. The stimulus package also contained an increase to $230/month for transit subsidies for federal employees. Other agencies increased their transit subsidies for their employees as a result of the stimulus legislation. SSA’s current transit subsidy is $105/mo. in the Washington DC area and $60/mo. everywhere else.
The Union asked Commissioner Astrue to increase the transit subsidy to the amount provided in the stimulus package. Despite the large amount of additional revenue that SSA is receiving in the stimulus package, the Commissioner refused to increase the transit subsidy. AFGE requested bargaining with SSA regarding the new legislation which increased the amount that agencies could pay to employees for transit subsidies. SSA issued a letter to the Union refusing its bargaining request. ...
So you can tout your horn regarding SSA’s “Going Green” accomplishments if you wish. Unfortunately the notes of your horn are flat and are not in sync with the instrumentation of other agencies of the government. ...
I am confused. I thought that SSI was not payable at all in U.S. territories such as Guam -- and more importantly, Puerto Rico. When did this change and what is the cap?
May 28, 2009
May 27, 2009
May 26, 2009
Ten thousand mistakes sounds like a lot, but in context, it is far less than one mistake per thousand checks sent out. I doubt that this is anything to get excited about.
Social Security has given a contract to Oracle for computer work on a recovery system for these payments. The notice posted in FedBizOpps.Com estimates that there will be 15,000 to 20,000 incorrect payments.
May 25, 2009
According to the Monday Morning Workload Report (MMWR) of the Veterans' Benefits Administration dated January 5, 2009, the backlog for veterans' benefits claims stood at 808,607. Report is here
The same report for May 11, 2009 shows the backlog at 916,456. That report is here ... http://www.vba.va.gov/REPORTS/mmwr/2009/051109.xls
This is an increase of nearly 108,000 claims in the backlog in just a bit over four months ... an increase of 13.3%.
May 24, 2009
This also has implications for workloads at Social Security field offices.Instead of seeing older workers staying on the job longer as the economy has worsened, the Social Security system is reporting a major surge in early retirement claims that could have implications for the financial security of millions of baby boomers.
Since the current federal fiscal year began Oct. 1, claims have been running 25% ahead of last year, compared with the 15% increase that had been projected as the post-World War II generation reaches eligibility for early retirement, according to Stephen C. Goss, chief actuary for the Social Security Administration.
May 23, 2009
May 22, 2009
Momentum has gathered behind the idea of advanced appropriations for the Veterans Affairs Department to the point that a chief supporter of says he would be stunned if anything derails what has become the top priority for veterans groups....
“It would be stunning if Congress or the administration backed away from advanced appropriations now,”
[a lobbyist] said.... [Peter] Dickinson
The bill passed by the committee, S 423, is called the Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act. It authorizes two years of funding for veterans programs instead of the traditional one year, beginning in fiscal 2011. The second year would be advanced funding for medical programs, including health care services, support and facility costs. Advanced funding would be based on projections of costs, including patient load and funding to cover increased medical costs.
The comptroller general, who is the head of the Government Accountability Office, would be responsible for overseeing both how the estimates are made and how the money is spent, a safeguard against low-balling the budget. The report on the adequacy and accuracy of the projects would be made public, allowing for debate over whether proposed funding is sufficient. ...
For lots of workers, particularly those over 40, the alternative to looking for work is applying for Social Security disability benefits -- and dropping out of the labor force forever
Of course, many of those collecting disability truly can't work. But for workers with minor disabilities who could and, in many cases, would rather work, the Social Security benefits become the only way to pay the rent. Applications for Social Security disability in April were 20% higher than a year earlier. The application process can be arduous, often taking two years. Even among those whose applications are ultimately rejected, 60% never go back to work, says David Autor, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist who has studied disability trends. ...
One approach is to tweak the disability benefit to encourage recipients, more than current rules do, to think of the benefit as a temporary, rather than an all-or-nothing, permanent condition. At a recent town-hall meeting, Mr. Obama was asked about lifting limits on the wages a person on disability can earn. The president's answer suggested he'd been briefed recently: "Social Security disability has gone up significantly during this recession. In principle...I would like to raise the income limits to encourage people to become more self-sufficient. In practice, it costs money on the front end, even though long term it may save money." But he made no promises: "What I'd like to do is examine this in the broader context of Social Security reform and Medicare/Medicaid reform," he said.
India on Friday said it is keen to have a social security pact with the United States, on the lines New Delhi has with the European countries, to address issues like double payment by companies of both the countries.Few native born Americans care about a Social Security treaty between the U.S. and India but this blog gets a lot of hits whenever I mention the subject. This seems to be of considerable importance in India. I suspect the importance to Indians may extend past the financial dimension. Getting a Social Security treaty with the United States may be one of the many signs to Indians that urban India, at least, is moving out of Third World status.
"We are interested in a social security dialogue. We have discussed with the US side on the conclusion of what is called a totalisation of agreement by our IT companies," India's new envoy to the US Meera Shankar said at a reception hosted in her honour by the US-India Business Council. ...
"From the US side, interests have been expressed in commencing negotiations on a bilateral treaty and we hope to do that as soon as the new government is in place," she added.
Selective Placement Coordinators
|Atlanta Region||Alabama , Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee||Stephanie.White|
|Social Security Administration|
|61 Forsyth St SW|
|Atlanta, GA 30303|
|Boston Region||Connecticut , Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont||Denise Cole|
|Social Security Administration|
|JFK Building , Room 2175|
|Boston, MA 02203|
|Chicago Region||Illinois , Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin||Kojuan Almond|
|Social Security Administration|
|600 W. Madison 3 rd Floor|
|Chicago, IL 60661|
|Dallas Region||Arkansas , Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas||Linda Walters|
|Social Security Administration|
|Center for Human Resources|
|1301 Young Street, Suite 130|
|Dallas, TX 75202|
|Denver Region||Colorado , Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Wyoming||Nanci Tuggle|
|Social Security Administration|
|1961 Stout Street, Suite 844|
|Denver, CO 80294|
|Kansas City Region||Iowa , Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska||Jennifer Minor|
|Social Security Administration|
|601 E. 12 th Street , Room 501 Kansas City, MO 64106|
|New York Region||New Jersey , New York, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands||Jaclyn Lurker|
|Social Security Administration|
|Center for Human Resources, SPO-NY 26 Federal Plaza, Room 4020|
|New York, NY 10278|
|Philadelphia Region||Delaware , Maryland (except Headquarters), Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, District of Columbia||Nancy Torres|
|Social Security Administration|
|300 Spring Garden Street - 7 th Floor Philadelphia, PA 19123|
|San Francisco Region||Arizona , California, Hawaii, Nevada, Guam, Trust Territory of Pacific Islands, American Samoa||Lynn Gonzalez|
|Social Security Administration|
|Center for Human Resources|
|1221 Nevin Ave. , 2 nd Floor Richmond, CA 94801|
|Seattle Region||Alaska , Idaho, Oregon, Washington|
|Social Security Administration Benefits and Employment Services Team, Suite 2900, M/S 292B|
|701 Fifth Avenue|
|Seattle, WA 98104-7075|
|Office of Central Operations||Woodlawn, MD||Yesenia Roman|
|Social Security Administration|
|Office of Central Operations|
|1500 Woodlawn Drive|
|Baltimore, MD 21241|
|Office of Disability Adjudication and Review||Nationwide||Lolita McLean Priestly|
|Social Security Administration|
|Office of Disability Adjudication and Review|
|5107 Leesburg Pike|
|Falls Church, VA 22041|
|Headquarters||Woodlawn, MD||Jim Anderson DCHR.OCREO.Selective.Placement.HQ@ssa.gov|
|Social Security Administration|
|6401 Security Boulevard|
|2601-47 Annex Building|
|Baltimore, MD 21235|
Linda King says diabetes and heart problems forced her to quit her office job and apply for disability benefits in January 2007. ...
Two years and five months later, she still waits.
King, who was initially turned down for benefits, is among more than 750,000 Americans trapped in a backlog of disputed Social Security disability claims. Applicants who seek an appeal hearing sometimes wait years for one.
May 21, 2009
"While we applaud the noble endeavor of the Partnership for Public Service to recognize excellency in federal government agencies, we can't ignore the unfiltered facts that come to us from our members at SSA -- that the policies put in place by SSA Commissioner Astrue continue to press unnecessary hardships on employees and degrade one of the nation's most responsive and best-run public agencies into a troubled organization that no longer serves the best interests of retired and disabled Americans and their families." ...
"Since its inception, Social Security employees have delivered quality service to America's retired and disabled. It is tragic that their ability to perform this service has been hindered by faulty leadership," concluded [John] Gage [the head of the union].
The Social Security Administration (SSA) has a requirement for contractor services that provide SSA with independent analysis and documentation regarding the quality of current consultative exams (CEs) used in the determination of disability. Additionally, the contractor would assess if CEs are being requested in compliance with SSA regulations; determine the methodology of a functional data collection system; establish a baseline for CE quality; and determine those initiatives that will improve the quality of future CEs.
May 20, 2009
- Nuclear Regulatory Commission
- Government Accountability Office
- National Aeronatics and Space Administration
- Intelligence Community
- Department of State
- Environmental Protection Agency
- Department of Justice
- General Services Adminsitration
- Social Security Administration
- Department of Commerce
- Securities and Exchange Commission
- Department of Veterans Affairs
- Department of the Army
- Department of the Navy
- Department of the Air Force
- Defense Department (Tie)
- Department of the Treasury
- Department of Labor
- Department of Energy
- Office of Personnel Management.
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) has advised SSA of an order against the Bank of Agriculture and Commerce in Stockton, CA to “cease and desist” their alleged unsafe and unsound bank practices involving Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefit payments.
The FDIC’s investigation uncovered that the Bank of Agriculture and Commerce maintained a relationship with a third party, Petz Enterprises, Inc. (PEI), to solicit SSA/SSI beneficiaries for direct deposit of their payments and to deposit the benefits into a master account in the name of PEI. PEI, in turn, contracted out with check cashers, payday lenders, and retail merchants to enroll beneficiaries in their direct deposit program and disburse payments to the beneficiaries using questionable practices.
The investigation discovered instances where these check cashers; payday lenders and small retail merchants withheld the whole amount or a significant amount of the beneficiary’s benefit payment (e.g., transaction fees, cashing fees, short-term loans, and financing secured by upcoming benefit payments, repayment of loans, etc.) These practices left some beneficiaries in need of further short-term loans in order to meet their basic living expenses. ...In response to the order to cease and desist, the Bank, FDIC, and SSA are working closely to inform the affected individuals of the need to make alternative payment arrangements by August 1, 2009 for receipt of future benefit payments.
When will Social Security shut down Allsup's similar arrangement?
May 19, 2009
MAXIMUS (NYSE:MMS - News) announced today that its Federal Services subsidiary has been awarded a five-year, $10.4 million contract by the Social Security Administration (SSA) to continue its work as the program data operations center manager for the Ticket to Work and Self-Sufficiency Program. ...
In addition to the contract renewal for program data operation services, MAXIMUS continues to run operations support management for the Ticket to Work Program. Under the current support management contract, MAXIMUS provides critical oversight and process support in order to sustain ongoing program operations, including the management of call center operations and maintenance of employment networks.
- Bobbie Christensen, Ticket to Work Program Participant, Mesa, Arizona
- Robin Clark, Ticket to Work Program Participant, Largo, Florida
- Sue Suter, Associate Commissioner for Employment Support Programs, Social Security Administration
- Cheryl Bates-Harris, Senior Disability Advocacy Specialist, National Disability Rights Network, on behalf of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities Employment and Training Task Force and Social Security Task Force
- Susan Webb, President and Co-founder, National Employment Network Association, Avondale, Arizona
- Thomas P. Golden, President, National Association of Benefits and Work Incentives Specialists
- Dr. Bruce Growick, Associate Professor of Rehabilitation Services, The Ohio State University College of Education, Columbus, Ohio
- Dr. John Kregel, Center Associate Director & Director of Research, Virginia Commonwealth University, Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Workplace Supports and Job Retention, Richmond, Virginia
May 18, 2009
The Social Security Administration (SSA) has a requirement for contractor services to collect, classify, and analyze occupational characteristics; job information; and functional limitation information documented in electronic claims of SSA adult title II and title XVI disability claims. Additionally, the contractor will perform a review of claims adjudicated at the initial and hearings levels for claims allowed or denied based on vocational factors at Steps 4 and 5 of the Sequential Evaluation Process.
|I haven't been getting calls about the checks. (30)||42%|
|I've gotten a few calls about the checks, but nothing much. (12)||17%|
|I've been getting quite a few calls about the checks. (4)||6%|
|I've been bombarded with calls about the checks to the point that it's hard to get anything else done. (2)||3%|
|I'm not in a position to be getting calls about these checks. (19)||26%|
|$250 economic stimulus checks? What are you talking about? (5)||7%|
Total Votes: 72
May 17, 2009
Vanguard Total Bond Market Index [Mutual Fund] + 3.85 %
[Vanguard] Target Retirement 2010 [Mutual Fund] -19.23 %
[Vanguard] Target Retirement 2050 [Mutual Fund] -32.43 %
S&P 500 Index -35.31 %
[Vanguard] Total International Stock [Mutual Fund] -43.11 %
Social Security + 5.8 %
Social Security = Security
Update: Actually, the end of the retirement earnings test came in 1996 for those above full retirement age. It was part of the Contract with America Advancement Act.
May 16, 2009
The government could rein in aggressive marketing practices of health insurance companies, regulate their premiums and allow workers to drop out of group health plans to seek a better deal on their own under legislation being developed by leading Democratic senators. ...
Under the Senate proposals, everyone would be required to carry insurance. The requirement would take effect in 2013 ...
In addition, most employers would be required to offer insurance to their full-time workers, or else pay a special tax. The government would set minimum standards for benefits ...
Consumers could sign up for insurance at hospitals, schools, Social Security offices and state departments of motor vehicles.
The National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD) has given Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, their Public Health Leadership Award. The award was presented at the 2009 NORD Gala at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. The NORD Gala is an annual event at which researchers and others are honored for significant achievements to improve the lives of people with rare diseases.In recognizing Commissioner Astrue, NORD noted “his focus on reducing the disability backlog and improving service to the public.” A key component of the Commissioner’s backlog reduction plan is the agency’s Compassionate Allowances initiative, a way to expedite the processing of disability claims for applicants whose medical conditions are so severe that their conditions obviously meet Social Security’s standards. Social Security worked closely with NORD in developing the expedited decision process which was launched in October 2008 with a total of 50 conditions -- 25 rare diseases and 25 cancers.
May 14, 2009
- She is concerned about the concept of a revolving fund in the budget for efforts to reduce "fraud" at Social Security. She thinks this could create incentives for Social Security to go overboard with Continuing Disability Reviews (CDRs).
- Bills are pending in Congress to eliminate the five month waiting period for Title II Social Security disability benefits and the twenty-four month waiting period for Medicare for the disabled.
- She hopes to have a Senate sponsor within ten to fourteen days for legislation that would raise the cap on attorney fees under the fee agreement process to the full extent of inflation, almost $6,300 and to include an automatic adjustment for inflation in the future. John Lewis is already sponsoring the legislation in the House.
- She predicts that Social Security will not be able to send out 1099s to attorneys and others who represent Social Security claimants even in 2010. The holdup is new regulations on recognizing entities as representing claimants.
- Ms. Shor believes that Social Security may have to publish a new Notice of Proposed Rule-Making (NPRM) on recognizing entities as representatives of claimants because things may change so much from the NPRM published last year.
- Claimants' attorneys may have to use a "fob" device to obtain an code to access their clients' records electronically. Apparently, the fobs are easy to come by and inexpensive. These are already used to access some bank records.
- She fears that if there are cuts in Social Security that disability benefits will be cut more than retirement benefits.
- She would like to see a 2% increase in Social Security benefits this year despite the lack of inflation.
- Foster had on a suit, but spoke in his shirtsleeves.
- There was to have been a Senate Finance Committee hearing next Tuesday at which he would have spoken, but this has been postponed.
- Social Security has seen a recent spike in disability claims filed.
- He believes that Social Security turned the corner on the disability hearings backlog last month.
- Informal remands (also known as re-recon) may end soon due to backlogs at the Disability Determination Services (DDS) offices.
- Social Security hopes to adopt regulations recognizing entities as representatives of claimants by next February. Attorney and representative internet access to claimant electronic records is on hold pending these regulations. [See my next post for what Nancy Shor had to say on this subject. See below in this post for signs of bandwidth issues. that mighgt also delay this] He wants to include electronic access to earnings records to the e-file access.
- Social Security's Vocational Experts have recently received a 10% increase in the fees they are paid for testifying.
- A raise for Medical Expert witnesses testifying at ODAR is being complicated by possible effects upon the DDSs.
- E-scheduling is about a year from proof of concept and at least two years from implementation. Foster seemed dubious about the concept. [I heard from some other attorneys about some experiment along these lines going on now, which confuses me. They did not seem to understand what was going on either.]
- Robbie Watts (name?) was recently hired to help with coordination between ODAR and the DDSs. Watts, if I understood the name correctly, had been the director of the Natonal Council of DDS Directors.
- He took a question concerning a controversy about how a claimant's attorney could help a claimant file a claim electronically. The problem is that Social Security is insisting that the claimant literally push the "send" button to do this. Foster seemed to be blaming the advocacy community for opposition to legislation on this subject. [I did not understand where he was coming from, but then I do not understand why Social Security seems to be persisting in obstructing electronic filing of claims for this reason, at the same time they are encouraging electronic filing of claims.]
- ODAR is looking at centralized burning of CDs of claimant files for attorneys and representatives. He said that doing this locally was eating up too much bandwidth. [If this is eating up too much bandwidth, how can Social Security be seriously contemplating giving attorneys and representatives access to their clients' records online? That would eat up far more bandwidth.]
- 55% of the $250 economic stimulus checks went out last week. Most of the stimulus checks going out to SSI recipients will go out in the next two days.
- Astrue expects to send proposed regulations on "single decision-maker" to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for approval soon.
- He expects to hold two more compassionate allowance public hearings this year -- on Alzheimer's disease and schizophrenia. [I have a suggestion. Why not just make a simple confirmed diagnosis of schizophrenia enough to meet the Listing. That is what is happening anyway.]
- The actuaries predict a million more disability claims in the next three years as a result of the recession. Astrue seemed skeptical of the actuaries' ability to predict this. [I'm with Astrue, although maybe for different reasons. In my experience the number of claims filed has much more to do with public perceptions of the adjudicative climate at Social Security than with economic circumstances. At any given time there are several million people who could file a claim for Social Security disability benefits but do not have a claim pending. The decisions of members of this group to file or not file have little to do with the state of the economy.]
- Precessing times at state Disablity Determination Services (DDSs) will get worse this year.
- 8% of New York state DDS employees are being laid off due to state budget problems, even though Social Security is willing and able to pay for the New York DDS to hire 15% more employees.
- He believes that Social Security is hiring at an "incredible" rate, attempting to hire 6,400 employees this fiscal year.
- For four straight months the number of cases pending at Social Security's Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) has gone down.
- Social Security plans to send a proposal for an extension of the senior attorney program to OMB for approval.
- ODAR will be adding 1,000 new staff on top of attrition this year. Many of those have already been hired.
- 157 new Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) are bing hired this month -- in the next week or so.
- Another 208 ALJs are to be hired before the end of the next fiscal year (September 30, 2010), with perhaps 55 of those to be hired in September of this year (which would still be in this fiscal year).
- Finding enough office space for additional ALJs is a problem which could hold back some hiring.
- Social Security is now aiming for 1,400 to 1,450 ALJs total.
- Social Security now has goal of an average ratio of 4.5 staff to each ALJ.
- Astrue expects to open 14 additional hearing offices in FY 2010.
- Astrue noted that it takes the General Services Administration (GSA) 18 to 24 months to lease space for federal agencies. This slows down the process.
- Astrue said that Fayetteville, NC would have a full hearing office once space can be leased which will take time. In the meantime, a large remote video site would be opened. I had previously posted that I thought it misleading for Astrue to talk about opening a hearing office in Fayetteville when all that was planned was a large remote hearing site. Astrue made reference to this blog and to me by name in his remarks, though not in an unfriendly way. He did not think what he had said was misleading. [Local Social Security employees were unaware until quite recently that a true hearing office was coming to Fayetteville.]
- Astrue hopes for a real turaround in electronic records in the next three years, which will help Social Security reduce the time it takes to adjudicate claims.
I start with Marty Ford, who is the Chairperson of the Coalition for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD), the major umbrella organization of disability advocacy groups in the United States. I do not mean to slight Ms. Ford, whose presentation was mostly news to the audience, but the only thing that I heard from her that was more or less news to me, was that the twenty-four month waiting period for Medicare after one qualifies for disability benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act is "on the table" at the Senate Finance Committee.
May 13, 2009
May 12, 2009
The Social Security Board of Trustees today released its annual report on the financial health of the Social Security Trust Funds. The Trustees project that program costs will exceed tax revenues in 2016, one year sooner than projected in last year’s report. The combined assets of the Old-Age and Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) Trust Funds will be exhausted in 2037, four years sooner than projected last year.
Congressman John S. Tanner (D-TN), Chairman, Subcommittee on Social Security, today announced a hearing on the Social Security Administration’s (SSA’s) employment support programs for disability beneficiaries, including the Ticket to Work Program. The hearing will take place on Tuesday, May 19, 2009 ...
[A]n April 2009 report by the SSA Inspector General found that SSA was not acting quickly enough to terminate the benefits of disability beneficiaries who lose eligibility because they have returned to work. This has been a longstanding concern. Past testimony before the Subcommittee has reported that former beneficiaries have been overpaid tens of thousands of dollars due to SSA’s delays in terminating benefits, even if beneficiaries have informed the agency that they are working. The threat of receiving large overpayments which must later be repaid can be a significant work disincentive for disability beneficiaries. In addition, the failure to terminate benefits in a timely way increases costs to the Social Security Trust Fund, as overpaid funds may not be completely recovered.
... “Last November’s election results will certainly have a lot to do with our abilities to achieve success,” [Witold Skwierczynski, the President of Council 220] continued. “Under the Bush administration, the attitude was to diminish the Union’s strength and to de-unionize the workforce as much as possible. I expect just the opposite from President Obama.
“Unfortunately, current SSA Commissioner Astrue has cut off all communication with the Union and he has no inclination to provide employees with new benefits or better working conditions.” ...
“A grass roots employee movement will be the key to success, especially if Mr. Astrue doesn’t change his attitude toward SSA employees,” Skwierczynski believes.
Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue thinks the long-delayed discussion about reforming the government insurance program could be taken up as early as next year.By the way, I will dispute the author's smug assumption that almost everyone agrees that Social Security is in need of "reform." I think a lot of people dispute this. All Social Security needs is more revenue to replace the extra money being paid out since the Republican Contract with America ended Social Security's retirement earnings test.
Astrue, who was in New York on Thursday to promote the $250 recovery payments that were sent out this week to people who receive Social Security and Supplemental Security Income, acknowledged that Social Security discussions could be delayed in favor of addressing healthcare reform, but doesn’t foresee the issue getting completely lost as it did during President Bush’s tenure. ...
“I think President Obama would like to have this conversation right now,” Astrue said in an interview. “But I think it will definitely happen during his first term.” ...
“We have a menu of hard choices and we have to suck it up and make those choices,” he says. ...
While there is little argument about the need to reform Social Security, Astrue also seeks to dispel the common notion that the program is in danger of going bankrupt.
May 11, 2009
You have to wonder just how much they know about the subject since they seem to be seeking clients with Down Syndrome. Of course, Down Syndrome is disabling, but folks with Down Syndrome are almost always approved quickly and do not need an attorney. There would not be enough of a fee in the average Down Syndrome case to make it worth an attorney's time anyway.
There is also the issue that affects any outfit which tries to represent Social Security claimants nationwide -- how do you represent people who will be having hearings all across the United States? It would take hundreds of offices and thousands of employees all across the country to do this properly. No entity representing Social Security disability claimants has that kind of network. So what does the Cochran Firm do, work through local attorneys and non-attorneys, which means that the Cochran Firm exists for little more than advertising purposes, or try to deal with the claimant only over the telephone until the day of the hearing and then parachute in someone to represent the claimant at the hearing, which is expensive for the firm and not too satisfactory for the claimant? Either way, a "national" firm representing Social Security disability claimants has a lot of problems.
Without question we need to replace our old telephone systems. ...
One office has been waiting 5 weeks to get names changed on two instruments. Two new employees have replaced two employees who left the office -- same position -- no change to the telephone system is needed except the name. A third employee who was promoted in January has been waiting to have his instrument properly updated since that time. These are easy actions....
We are concerned about the reported poor quality of VOIP calls, especially a call that is made to a non-VOIP phone. There are many echoes on the call, excess static, and low voice quality....
We are quite concerned about the extent of the problems with VOIP and the ability to support it as it expands. With only about a sixth of the Field Offices in the country installed, we are concerned that Headquarters and Nortel may not have the capacity to handle such an expansion. This is why we have suggested a moratorium on expansion until the necessary organization and contract issues are fully addressed.
May 10, 2009
May 9, 2009
...[Social Security's] eight-story Southeastern Program Service Center in Birmingham, Ala., boasts the largest green roof on any General Services Administration-leased building. The roof reduces the building's carbon footprint with oxygen-producing plants and vegetables. The building also features a raised floor system that provides better ventilation for improved air quality; a "natural light harvesting" system is designed to capture as much natural sunlight as possible; and accessible public transit allows more employees to use public transportation.
May 8, 2009
|Boys:||1) Jacob||Girls:||1) Emma|
|2) Michael||2) Isabella|
|3) Ethan||3) Emily|
|4) Joshua||4) Madison|
|5) Daniel||5) Ava|
|6) Alexander||6) Olivia|
|7) Anthony||7) Sophia|
|8) William||8) Abigail|
|9) Christopher||9) Elizabeth|
|10) Matthew||10) Chloe|
From "The Editors":Nice debate. "The Editors" know little, Gary Burtless knows nothing, Professor Erkulwater presents an argument that ignores the clear evidence that disability policy during the Reagan years was an aberrational nightmare rather than a Golden Age and Judge White, who actually has good knowledge about Social Security disability, decides to use his space to promote a hopeless cause that has little to do with the subject at hand.
The 2010 budget unveiled on Thursday by the Obama administration estimates that the government can generate huge savings if it devotes more resources to eliminating fraud, abuse and waste in Medicare, Medicaid and the Social Security disability insurance program. ...
In the Social Security program alone, the White House proposes to spend $4.3 billion over five years to fight fraud associated with disability claims — a problem, officials say, that stems from lack of oversight. Federal spending on disability insurance leaped 65 percent from 2001 to 2007, “yet the number of full medical reviews, one type of review for evaluating claims for eligibility for continuing disability payments, fell from 840,000 in 2001 to 190,000 in 2007, according to the Social Security Administration,” as The Wall Street Journal reported this week.
From Jennifer L. Erkulwater, an associate professor of political science at the University of Richmond, and the author of “Disability Rights and the American Social Safety Net”:
Before we go looking for miscreants cheating the disability programs, it is important to realize that the growth in the Supplemental Security Income and Disability Insurance programs is perfectly understandable given bipartisan policy changes made two decades ago and current limits on what the Social Security Administration can do to ferret out fraud.Between 1984 and 1990, Congress and the S.S.A. loosened the disability requirements, especially for children and people suffering from mental disorders. The agency also agreed that it would no longer cut off recipients it thought were “no longer disabled” unless it could show that their medical condition had improved, something that is exceedingly difficult to do. As part of welfare reform in 1996, Republicans in Congress did manage to tighten disability standards somewhat.
From Gary Burtless, a former Labor Department economist who now works at the Brookings Institution:
The federal government can certainly reduce the disability rolls and the cost of the disability program by conducting more frequent and tough-minded reviews of recipients’ disability status. There will be collateral damage, however. The reviews will impose real hardship on some disabled workers whose cases are reviewed.It makes sense to conduct the reviews, but it would be sensible to focus reviews on workers with medical conditions that are most likely to improve. Resources should also be concentrated in parts of the country where statistics suggest that error rates are highest.
From Morley White, an Administrative Law Judge in Cleveland:
... I do not believe that there is as much fraud as the press and the public believe ...
I have advocated for a long time that the government needs to have its own representative in these hearings. I do not advocate making the hearings adversarial, but that government attorneys act as an ombudsman, charged with the duty of getting the pertinent facts.
Update: The Times has added two additional pieces to this "debate." One is from a disability examiner in North Carolina. His piece seems to have been edited into near complete incoherence. I am sorry for the author, because he might have had something useful to contribute. The other piece is from what I will refer to as a "disability denier," that is someone who feels that everyone can work. "Disability deniers" believe that the only reason that people are "disabled" is because of societal discrimination. With enough government funds, especially funds given to people like the "disability deniers", almost everyone on Social Security could be returned to productive employment. "Disability deniers" seem to believe that almost everyone who is disabled is in a wheelchair. Hey, a wheelchair is used as a symbol for disability, isn't it? Yes, I exaggerate the man's position, but not by much. The "disability deniers" are responsible for the Ticket to Work fiasco. Of course, their position would be that Ticket to Work failed because it was not given an adequate test, that more money for research is desperately needed. Baloney. The credulous usually believe that the "disability deniers" are important experts. I would really like to sit some of these "disability deniers" down with a roomful of Social Security disability recipients so that they could hear about the effects of chronic pain, chronic fatigue and chronic mental instability on ability to work. They might learn that people in wheelchairs are only a small fraction of the disabled population and that issues affecting them have little to do with the lives of most disabled people.
|No increase needed (5)||4%|
|More than 30% (39)||34%|
By the way, the budget proposal calls for "research" at Social Security to go up from $35 million to $49 million. That is a much more dramatic increase than for anything else. Why?
May 7, 2009
By requesting $11.6 billion for Social Security’s administrative expenses, a ten percent increase over the previous year, the President has demonstrated his commitment to help us reduce longstanding backlogs as well as handle the recession-related work that is flooding the agency. With this support, we can continue to drive down the hearings backlog, process increasing numbers of retirement and disability claims, modernize our information technology, and improve service in our field offices and teleservice centers.
It is critically important that Congress enact President Obama's budget proposal in a timely manner so that we can make the changes that will provide the American public with better and more timely service.
As directed by Section 104 of P.L. 103-296, the Social Security Independence and Program Improvements Act of 1994, the Commissioner of Social Security shall prepare an annual budgetfor SSA, which shall be submitted by the President to the Congress without revision, together with the President's request for SSA.The Commissioner's budget includes $11,949 million for total administrative discretionary resources in 2010. This represents $11,842 million for SSA administrative expenses and $107 million for the Office of the Inspector General. In addition, the Commissioner requested $750 million for replacement of the National Computer Center.
The Obama budget for Social Security's operating budget (the Limitation on Administrative Expenditures or LAE) is $12.081 billion which is slightly higher than Astrue had requested. I should say that I find these budget proposals are confusing, so it is possible that I have misinterpreted something. It had been previously reported that the Obama budget for Social Security's LAE would be $11.6 billion. As I read the budget proposal, the difference between what had been reported previously and what this document says is additional allocations for improving program compliance. These additional allocations are expected to save money, so they will not really cost what they seem to cost. Again, I would appreciate any help that any real budget expert can give me.
The budget proposal says that Social Security's Full Time Equivalent (FTE) employee total was 60,744 in FY 2008, 63,469 in FY 2009 and projects it as 65,114 in FY 2010 under this budget proposal, which is about what we had heard. This is not nearly enough to significantly reduce the backlogs at Social Security or to significantly improve service. I am quite sure of that.
- Front Line Conference
- Front Line Conference
- Conference Support Services and Space
- Front Line Conference
- Regional Award Ceremony and Management Conference
- Workers Compensation Seminar
- Training for SSA Disability Hearing Officers
- Hotel Services - Meeting Space/ Food/ AV Rental
- Conference Room Space
- Conference Space and Support Services for SSA Leadership Conference
Meetings like these are quite useful for purposes of training and morale. Under normal circumstances, I support them.
You know that a "but" is coming.
If one works at Social Security's central or regional offices, it may be easy to temporarily forget that Social Security is an agency in crisis. Social Security cannot answer its telephones or process its workloads. There are backlogs both visible and hidden all over the agency. The budget situation has improved since Barack Obama became President, but the crisis will not be over until Social Security hires something like 10,000 to 20,000 more employees. We are a long way from that.
Can an agency in crisis afford these meetings? Does scheduling these meetings suggest that some at Social Security think that we are back to business as usual? Some of this money being spent on meetings might be better spent on travel for Social Security brass to get out in the field more.
We will finally know that the crisis is over when Social Security field offices no longer have "private" telephone numbers not given out to claimants. Those "private" numbers are essential now because it is almost impossible to get through to these field offices if you use the phone number in the telephone book. Without the "private" numbers, a school nurse calling to report that the child of a field office employee is sick could never get through. Without the "private" numbers, Social Security management could never get through to the field offices. Discontinue the "private" numbers and I have no problem with these meetings.