Oct 31, 2009

Happy Halloween

Congressman Criticizes Fugitive Felon Settlement

From the American Chronicle:
Congressman Wally Herger (R-CA) released a copy of a letter he and two other Representatives sent to the Social Security Inspector General on the issue of fugitive felons receiving Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. Herger believes it to be an irresponsible waste of taxpayer dollars to subsidize felons on the run from the law. Congressman Herger was the author of provisions in the 1996 welfare reform law that sought to deny fugitive felons, along with probation and parole violators, SSI checks. Subsequent legislation expanded that ban to include Social Security checks.

Herger´s letter is in response to a recent report by the Inspector General of the Social Security Administration (SSA) regarding a court settlement (Martinez, et al. v. Astrue) that will alter the Social Security Administration´s implementation of the ban on benefits for fugitive felons. The settlement stipulated that SSA could suspend Social Security and SSI payments only after fugitive felons are issued a warrant for trying to escape arrest, overturning SSA´s interpretation that payment suspensions are based solely on any outstanding felony arrest warrant. The Inspector General´s (IG) Report found that, under Martinez, taxpayer savings from the program would be reduced dramatically. ...

[Herger wrote] "While the court cases have shed light on problems with the implementation of the program, the Martinez settlement is too broad and would unnecessarily neuter this successful program. I believe the correct solution is for Congress to clarify that the Social Security Administration should suspend payments for those wanted based on the most heinous crimes, while permitting lenience in cases where good cause exemptions make sense.

Oct 30, 2009

Flu As A Reason To Do Business With Social Security Online

A press release from Social Security:

Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, today announced that Academy Award winner Patty Duke and David Kessler, M.D., former head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, have teamed with Social Security to launch a flu prevention public service campaign. Ms. Duke and Dr. Kessler are featured in a new public service announcement letting people know some simple steps they can take to prevent the spread of the flu, as well as the fact that most business with Social Security can be done online by visiting www.socialsecurity.gov.

“President Obama recently declared a flu emergency and we want to be sure that Americans looking to Social Security for critical services don’t underestimate the value of the simple but important steps they can take to help protect themselves and others from the flu,” Commissioner Astrue said. “They should also know if they need to do business with Social Security but don’t want to visit an office, they can always go online to www.socialsecurity.gov.”

Social Security’s online services, led by the agency’s Retirement Estimator, online retirement application, and Medicare Extra Help application, have consistently ranked at the top of all government electronic services in the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) E-Government Satisfaction Index. The most recent ACSI report released on October 27, 2009 notes that citizen satisfaction with federal government websites surged to a new all-time high in the third quarter of 2009 and some of Social Security’s online services surpass those of private sector stalwarts like Netflix and Amazon.

“Patty Duke and Dr. Kessler are doing a great service to the country by volunteering their services to help us get the word out about flu prevention and our online services,” said Commissioner Astrue. “I encourage all Americans to do everything they can during this flu season to keep themselves, their families, and their neighbors healthy.”

For more information about Social Security’s online services and to view the new public service announcement featuring Patty Duke and Dr. David Kessler, go to www.socialsecurity.gov.

I'm Not Sure What This Means

Social Security's Chief Administrative Law Judge has issued a bulletin concerning reports of suspected misconduct by claimant representatives. The new instructions replace material in the HALLEX Manual. The bulletin says that the misconduct reports are to go to the "Hearing Office Management Team," which, I assume, means those in charge at the local hearing office. According to the instructions, no report is supposed to be filed with state bar licensing authorities. That sounds a bit odd since bar ethics rules place an affirmative duty upon attorneys to report the misconduct of other attorneys as long as that misconduct "raises a substantial question as to that lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer." The "Hearing Office Management Team" is supposed to forward the report on to the Regional Chief Administrative Law Judge who is supposed to forward the matter on to the Regional Chief Counsel.

I am pretty sure that the Regional Chief Counsels have not previously been involved in these matters. I think this would be a low priority matter for them. In fact, there seem to be a lot of layers here, a lot of places where misconduct reports could get sidetracked.

Public Hearing On "Compassionate Allowances For Schizophrenia"

Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue will hold a public hearing on November 18 in San Francisco on his "compassionate allowance" project. The topic for this hearing is young adults with schizophrenia. Only invited witnesses will be allowed to speak.

Oct 29, 2009

Attacks On AARP

From Talking Points Memo:
Fresh off what can only be called big success going after Acorn, a bunch of folks on the right are figuring, 'Hey, maybe we can do the same thing to AARP because they're not doing our cause any favors either.' There are already a bunch of examples of attacks, not just alleging that AARP is supporting Dems on key health care and social insurance issues, but that it's a corrupt, shady, nefarious organization. These things often start under the radar.
The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) is the almost completely silent 800 pound gorilla in the room when it comes to Social Security. One problem I have is that I am afraid some of the criticism of AARP may be justified. It may not be nefarious, but it is mostly an insurance company masquerading as a grass roots membership organization.

Appointed Representative Suite Of Services Rolling Out Tomorrow

From the Social Security Administration (the link only works if you are on Social Security's network). -- please note that this is to be implemented in stages:

Identification Number AM-09143 Effective Date: 10/28/2009
Intended Audience: All RCs/ARCs/ADs/FOs/TSCs/PSCs/OCO/ODARHQ
Originating Office: DCO OPSOS
Title: Phase I Appointed Representative Suite of Services (ARSS)
Software Enhancements October 31, 2009
Type: AM - Admin Messages

Program: Title II (RSI); Title XVI (SSI); Disability
Link To Reference: EM-09073

Retention Date: April 28, 2010

This message describes enhancements and changes that are effective with Phase I of the Appointed Representative Suite of Services (ARSS) scheduled for implementation on October 30, 2009.

Appointed Representative Suite of Services (ARSS) Background
The ARRS project represents SSA’s vision for managing the appointed representative workload. The vision is to create a comprehensive suite of services for representatives to conduct business online, and streamline the appointed representative workload for all services delivery channels.

Planned services include:
Viewing the electronic folder,
Uploading medical evidence,
Seamless completion of initial claims and appeals with appointment questions as one service (e.g. iAppeals and 1696 questions combined),

Online completion and submission of the appointed representative SSA-1696,
Withdrawal of appointment using the online SSA-1696,
Online completion and submission of information for direct payment, receipt of 1099s, acknowledgements and fee arrangements, and

Online responses to requests for claim status and fee payment status.

Due to the complexity of the appointed representative workload, and the changes needed to support the services above, the ARRS project will be implemented in three phases between October 2009 and summer 2010.

Phase I Main Features:
Effective October 31, 2009, a new form SSA-1699 is required for all representatives. The new form includes information required for online registration, and access to appointed representative services, including Direct Payment.

Invitations will be mailed to a limited number of representatives to register for online services. SSA will authorize, authenticate, and assign these representatives a unique User and Rep ID.

An automated sanctions check will prevent sanctioned representatives from accessing appointed representative services online.

Representatives who are registered, authorized, and authenticated, may view the electronic folder for their claimants represented at the hearings level.

Phase I - Rollout Strategy:
Beginning Monday, November 2, 2009, nine representatives will test the new registration process, and access to electronic folders for their claimants at the hearing level.

SSA will monitor the activity of the first nine representatives for approximately three weeks. Barring unforeseen issues, 50 additional invitations will be mailed around November 30, 2009.

Between December 2009 and mid-March 2010, SSA will mail invitations to 3,100 representatives, inviting them to register online and use our appointed representative services. A list of representatives selected to receive invitations for Phase I can be found on the Front Line Resource Kit at: http://eis.ba.ssa.gov/oesweb/frontline/resource_kits/Disability%20Direct_Resource_Kit.html

Field employees will have the ability to assist appointed representatives registering for services the agency’s Intranet Customer Support Application (CSA) application that mirrors the Internet functionality. This is not an option for those representatives who want access to the electronic folder. Representatives who want electronic folder access must register online.

The Internet 1699 application includes a dedicated line for Internet users to call if they have questions related to the registration process. SSA representatives in the Office of Earnings Operations (OEO) will handle these inquiries.

Phase I - Training:
Training for Phase I will be broadcast following normal monthly transmittal training on Thursday, October 29, 2009. The 15-minute broadcast will be available on Video On Demand (VOD) beginning the week of November 2, 2009 at http://training.ba.ssa.gov/ot/.

Effective October 31, 2009, a new version of the SSA-1699 will be available online to register appointed representatives who request direct payment of fees. As of that date, technicians can no longer process the current version of the SSA-1699.

SSA-1699 forms that have not been processed by 3:00 PM on Friday, October 30, must be returned to the representative with a cover letter generated from the Document Processing System (DPS), along with a copy of the new SSA-1699 for completion.

The new SSA-1699 will be accessed from http://www.ssa.gov/online/ssa-1699.pdf and from Forms Information and Control System (FICS).

Weekend Systems Availability:
Weekend systems availability will be updated regularly on Info Cast. This release affects the Business Services Online (BSO), Integrated Registration Services (IRES), Electronic Records Express (ERE) and other applications used for appointed representative workloads and accessing the electronic folder. Please check Info Cast periodically for weekend systems availability.

If you have questions about the information in this message, please contact your regional office systems support staff or your processing center operations analysis staff.

Direct all programrelated and technical questions to your RO support staff or PSC OA staff. RO support staff or PSC OA staff may refer questions or problems to their Central Office contacts.

AM-09143 - Phase I Appointed Representative Suite of Services (ARSS) Software Enhancements October 31, 2009 - 10/28/2009

Furlough Of DDS Employees Costing California $849,000 A Day

From the Capitol Weekly, which labels itself as the newspaper of California Government and Politics:
The Social Security Administration, in a filing in Alameda County Superior Court, said the furloughs of personnel in the state Disability Determination Services Division, or DDSD, “does not save the state a single penny and actually costs the state money.” The Social Security Administration estimated the furloughs in the DDSD cost the state about $849,000 a day. The federal government covers the cost and overhead of the furloughed employees. The Social Security filing was submitted as a “statement of interest” in connection with a lawsuit filed against the Schwarzenegger administration by the Union of American Physicians and Doctors. A hearing in that case is scheduled Nov. 16.
The article says that there are at least six other similar lawsuits in California.

Social Security Uses Stimulus Money To Hire Deaf Man As Claims Representative

From the Tallahassee Democrat:
In the case of one area resident, federal stimulus money directed toward reducing the unemployment rate in Florida has made a big difference.

Through a pilot program of the Social Security Administration and the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, Lee Lefkowitz was recently hired as a claims representative with the Gainesville Social Security office.

Lefkowitz has profound hearing loss and relies heavily on reading lips to communicate.

Government Mistakes Have Consequences

From the Baltimore Sun:
Eschol Amelia Studnitz lost her $58,000 accounting job July 31 because a government background check deemed her "unsuitable" for a low-level security clearance. She was stunned. She had no criminal record. ...

Her shock was warranted: Her firing was based on a mistake. And within days, her employer, Corporate Mailing Services of Arbutus, heard from the Social Security Administration that she could, in fact, work on a new contract handling mail for the agency.

But three bewildering months after her dismissal, Studnitz has not been rehired or found other work in this tight job market. ...

"This is a horrible injustice to her," said Lillie Coney, associate director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington. But Coney said she was not surprised the error involved the FBI's National Crime Information Center database.

Oct 28, 2009

ALJ Register To Reopen

An announcement from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM):
The U.S. Office of Personnel Management today announced it will open the Administrative Law Judge Examination to interested applicants in the near future by posting a notice on USAJOBS (www.usajobs.gov).

Due to the overwhelming volume of applications OPM expects to receive, the number of applications the agency will accept for processing will be determined on the basis of projected government-wide hiring needs. OPM will announce the limit at the time the examination opens to applicants. Completed applications will be accepted in the order they are received until 11:59 p.m. (EST) the day in which the limit has been reached.

Individuals who are interested in applying are urged to closely monitor the USAJOBS web site in the coming weeks. When OPM last opened the ALJ Examination in July 2008, it received its target of 600 completed applications within two days.

I urge those who want to become Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) to study this notice carefully and to monitor the OPM website closely. The last time the register was opened, it only stayed open for a few days. Many who were interested in becoming ALJs failed to apply in time. Many people were bitter because they thought the system was set up to exclude them since they did not hear about the register opening in time to apply.

Mentally Ill Rally Against Furloughs Of DDS Employees In Massachusetts

From the Boston Herald:
Disabled Bay State residents may now face even more cuts to the services they urgently need, advocates said.

As Gov. Deval Patrick prepares to narrow the $600 million budget shortfall, mentally ill residents and their advocates say they are bracing for slow processing of disability claims, as well as cuts that could eliminate services.

About 800 mental health advocates and mentally ill adults gathered in front of the State House yesterday, demanding the governor’s support to keep their clubhouses - facilities that provide job training, education and employment.

There are 32 Massachusetts clubhouse facilities across the state, which serve 15,000 adults.

The cuts come as the governor also looks at furloughs for employees at Massachusetts Disability Determination Services, a move that could stall processing for disability claims - worsening the services they provide - even as increasing numbers of people file for their Social Security disability payments.

Results Of Yesterday's Unscientific Poll

Which Team Do You Want To Win The World Series?

Philadelphia Phillies (37) 49%
New York Yankees (16) 21%
I Don't Care (22) 29%

Total Votes: 75
You can still vote in this poll.

Oct 27, 2009

Astrue Criticizes Massachusetts Governor

From the Boston Herald:

A top federal official rapped Gov. Deval Patrick yesterday for a belt-tightening move that could worsen a Social Security backlog, leaving tens of thousands of disabled citizens desperately waiting for benefits.

“We’ve got a rapidly increasing number of (disability) applicants. It tends to go up in bad economic times,” said Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue.

Astrue called Patrick’s plans to furlough workers and possibly cap staffing at the Massachusetts Disability Determination Services offices “inappropriate and counter-productive.”

This is ultimately an indefensible policy.”

Even though the DDS office is federally funded, employees are technically state workers subject to state Civil Service rules.

The governor’s press office had no comment on Astrue’s comments. ...


User Fee To Remain At $83 In 2010

Social Security will publish a notice in the Federal Register tomorrow saying, among other things, that the cap on the user fee charged to attorneys and others who receive direct payment of fees for representing Social Security claimants will remain at $83 in 2010.

New Hearing Offices

An anonymous poster at the ALJ Discussion Board gives a list of new hearing offices to be opened by Social Security with the projected dates for allowing Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) already working for the agency to opt to transfer in and the number of ALJs to be assigned to the office. This does not mean the offices will open as of the date given. I am sure it will take some time for ALJs transferring in to make the move. Perhaps, someone can tell us when the offices are actually projected to open.

Oct 26, 2009

Status Of Appropriations -- Not So Good

From the Capitol Insider put out by the Disability Policy Collaboration:

Congress continues to make slow progress on enacting FY 2010 appropriations bills. Conference reports on two appropriations bills are scheduled for floor votes in the House and Senate [but not the bill covering Social Security]. The Congress will also need to pass an extension on the Continuing Resolution (CR) that expires at the end of this week. A CR keeps those programs and agencies whose FY 2010 appropriations are still pending operating at FY 2009 levels. The next CR is expected to last through November and possibly December. An Omnibus Appropriations bill, which would combine all the FY 2010 appropriations not yet enacted into law, becomes increasingly likely before the end of the year.

One Sentence From An E-Mail I Received Today

"I called the Appeals Council today and was told by a clerk named ****** that the Appeals Council is 4 weeks behind in logging in faxes..."

Death Of John Schwartz

From the Baltimore Sun:
John Bernard Schwartz, a retired Social Security Administration personnel executive who also taught at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, died of pneumonia Oct. 14 at Howard County General Hospital. The Westview resident was 83. ...

He became a Social Security Administration field representative and held numerous posts in the agency. After moving to Baltimore in 1955 as a systems analyst, he became Social Security's personnel director. He also served under Arthur S. Flemming and Elliot L. Richardson, former Health, Education and Welfare secretaries.

Mr. Schwartz retired as the director of the agency's Office of Security and Program Integrity nearly 30 years ago.

Why Elections Matter

The Office of Personnel Management has released statistics showing the number of employees at Social Security as of June 2009. The numbers improved by 3,385 or 5.4%. Here is the latest number as well as earlier numbers for comparison.
  • June 2009 66,614
  • March 2009 63,229
  • December 2008 63,733
  • September 2008 63,990
  • June 2008 63,622
  • December 2007 61,822
  • September 2007 62,407
  • 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

US Not Alone In Seeing Increase In Disability Claims -- And What Does This Portend For The U.S.

From The Australian:
The government will crack down on eligibility for disability pensions in the wake of a 30 per cent spike in applications during the global financial crisis.

Families Minister Jenny Macklin has said the government was concerned that a change in work status rather than health was the main reason for the surge in applications for the welfare benefit. ...

Ms Macklin said the rate of people applying for the disability pension was very closely related to the rate applying for unemployment benefits. ...

Addressing a forum by the Labor-leaning think tank Per Capita in Canberra yesterday, she spelt out details of a new system for assessing claims for the disability pension that would place much greater weight on previous work history.

"From July next year, a new triage system will be introduced to cater for the different needs of new claimants for the disability pension."

People who were "manifestly eligible" because of catastrophic, congenital disability or cancer would be fast-tracked so they could get support more quickly.

Those who were clearly not eligible would be channelled out of the claim process earlier, while borderline claims would be subjected to an intensive work assessment. ...

Ms Macklin said the new system of assessment would place much greater emphasis on a person's work history.

"At the moment, there is no assessment of prior work history when determining whether an individual has the capacity to work in the future."

Fast tracking cases of the most clearly disabled -- where have I heard of that before?

The bigger issue here is that one response to an increase in the number of disability claims is to try to make it harder to get disability benefits. We have seen an increase in disability claims in the U.S. Will we, like Australia, see an attempt to make it harder to get disability benefits?

Oct 25, 2009

Webinar For Wounded Warriors

Disability.gov reports that Social Security is sponsoring a "webinar" for wounded warriors on November 4. "Participants will learn about benefit programs, and get answers to questions such as who is eligible, and when and how to apply for benefits."

Oct 24, 2009

Class Action Settled

From SeniorJournal.com:
A suit filed in 2007 by Medicare beneficiaries against the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the Social Security Administration has been settled. One of the legal teams that represented the beneficiaries, The Center for Medicare Advocacy, says the Machado case was brought by beneficiaries who experienced lengthy delays in having their Part D premiums accurately withheld, or not withheld, from their Social Security benefits. ...

[U]nder the terms of the settlement, customer service representatives at 1(800)MEDICARE are now directed to advise people to call back, or to call their plan, if 90 days elapse after the "triggering date" without resolution of their problem. ...

Pursuant to the settlement agreement, CMS has also formally revised its operating procedures to prioritize and track the resolution of every Part D premium withholding complaint ...
It is not clear whether Social Security agreed to do anything as part of the settlement.

Qualified Tuition Program Funds Are Countable Resources For SSI

From a recent issuance of Social Security's Program Operations Manual Series (POMS):

Funds in a Qualified Tuition Program (QTP), also referred to as a Section 529 Plan, are a countable resource to the individual who owns the account (e.g. a parent or grandparent). Normally, the owner is the person who established the account. In most instances, the individual who establishes a QTP retains the ability to withdraw any or all of the funds in the account for his or her own benefit.

NOTE: In most cases, the designated beneficiary (i.e. the student or future student) is not the owner of the account and does not have any rights to the funds in the account.

Oct 23, 2009

Shooting At Social Security Parking Lot

From WFMZ-TV in Allentown, PA:
A man shot and killed his girlfriend in the parking lot of the Social Security office in Pottsville around noon today, according to authorities. They say police then followed the gunman, identified as Frank Manganiello, 51, of Schuylkill Haven, from the Social Security office in the 2200 block of West Market to the First United Methodist Church at West Market and 4th. The district attorney says Manganiello, who was recently released from prison, went inside the church and shot and killed himself on the altar. He said he's not aware of any connection between Manganiello and the church. The D.A. identified the girlfriend as Sandra Pucci, 49.

Contract For Jacobs Engineering

The Associated Press reports that Jacobs Engineering Group, Inc. has been awarded a contract to manage construction of a new $300 million data center for Social Security.

Oct 22, 2009

Some Clarifications

I had posted that Nancy Shor, the executive director of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR), had mentioned an upcoming hearing of the Social Security Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee during the first week of November. I was not at the NOSSCR meeting last week and had to rely upon someone who was. I am now told that she had only talked about a possible Subcommittee hearing. She said that she assumed the hearing would be about Social Security's backlog. She said that NOSSCR would be able to submit a written statement, indicating support for the continuation of the fee provisions in the Social Security Protection Act.

I had also posted about the Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on data exchanges at Social Security. I was a bit confused in my terminology. I thought that E-Verify was a generic term that covered most of Social Security's data exchanges. The GAO report was not about E-Verify, which involves exchanges with private employers. Instead, it focused on Social Security’s systems for data exchanges with other federal, state, and local agencies, such as Departments of Motor Vehicles data exchanges for purposes of voter registration.

OIG Report On Fugitive Felons

We estimate that about 60.7 percent of individuals with outstanding warrants will be paid Title II and XVI benefits as a result of the Martinez settlement agreement. The remaining 39.3 percent will continue to have their benefits stopped....

The settlement agreement, however, does not restrict SSA or the Office of the Inspector General’s (OIG) data sharing activities with law enforcement. Therefore, the OIG will continue to obtain data from law enforcement agencies on fugitive felons wanted for all offense codes and match that data with SSA’s records. Additionally, the OIG will share information in SSA’s records regarding the fugitive’s location (that is, address information) with law enforcement so that they can potentially arrest the fugitive. ...

SSA identified fugitive felons and probation or parole violators through data matches between the Agency’s beneficiary rolls and Federal and State warrant databases. Since the program’s inception in August 1996 through July 2009, it has contributed to a total of 86,309 arrests. ...

Are there any other legislative changes/additions you would recommend to this language to ensure the future success of the fugitive felon program? ...

Removing the word “fleeing” from the language of the law and incorporating language prohibiting payment to individuals with an outstanding felony warrant would enable SSA to not pay benefits to these individuals and prohibit them from being representative payees. Another option would be to define what is meant by the word “fleeing” in the context of this legislation.
The report was requested by Congress. One question asked of OIG concerned the "challenges" of implementing the fugitive felon program. In its response, OIG somehow failed to mention the fact that many, perhaps most, of the people whose benefits were cut off were not truly fugitives, a fact which led to the class action. I would say that OIG is having trouble accepting responsibility for its own role in this fiasco.

Oct 21, 2009

GAO Finds Data Exchange Program Working Well

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has posted a report on Social Security's "data exchange" program. They are referring to E-Verify, which allows the verification of Social Security numbers. GAO reports that E-Verify is working well, but that Social Security has work ahead of it to meet future needs.

Social Security Loses Blind Suit

From the San Francisco Chronicle:
The Social Security Administration must give the nation's 3 million blind or visually impaired recipients the option of receiving benefit notices in braille or by audio computer disc, a federal judge in San Francisco said Tuesday.

Ruling in a nationwide class-action suit, U.S. District Judge William Alsup said that by sending notices only by mail and phone calls, the agency is violating a law that guarantees the disabled equal access to its programs. He ordered the government to make the additional choices available by April 15.

Cost Of Living Changes

Since there will be no cost of living adjustment (COLA) in Social Security benefits this year I had not paid that much attention to Social Security's COLA announcement. However, even though there was no change in the overall COLA, some important numbers have been adjusted. Here is Social Security's announcement:

Monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits will not automatically increase in 2010 as there was no increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI-W) from the third quarter of 2008 to the third quarter of 2009. Other important 2010 Social Security information is as follows:

Maximum Taxable Earnings:
Social Security (OASDI only)
Medicare (HI only)
No Limit

Quarter of Coverage:
Earnings needed to earn one Social Security credit

Retirement Earnings Test Exempt Amounts:
Under full retirement age
NOTE: One dollar in benefits will be withheld for every $2 in earnings above the limit.
The year an individual reaches full retirement age
NOTE: Applies only to earnings for months prior to attaining full retirement age. One dollar in benefits will be withheld for every $3 in earnings above the limit.
There is no limit on earnings beginning the month an individual attains full retirement age.

Social Security Disability Thresholds:
$ 980/mo.
$ 700/mo.
$ 720/mo.

SSI Federal Payment Standard:
$ 674/mo.
$ 674/mo.*

SSI Student Exclusion:
Monthly Limit
Annual Limit

* Because there is no COLA, by statute these amounts remain unchanged in 2010.

Social Security Subcommittee Hearing Coming

I was unable to make last week's conferences of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR) due to a case of H1N1 flu. I am told by someone who attended that Nancy Shor, NOSSCR's Executive Director, told the group that the Social Security Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee is planning to hold a hearing during the first week of November.

Many Personnel Changes

Executive Personnel Announcements

DATE: October 20, 2009

TO: Senior Staff

FROM: Michael J. Astrue /s/

SUBJECT: Executive Personnel Assignments - INFORMATION

Two of the pillars of our agency, Bill Gray and Linda McMahon, will be retiring in the coming months. I am going to reserve my comments about their many accomplishments for later discussion.

Linda McMahon will retire November 30. Mary Glenn-Croft will move from the Office of Budget, Finance and Management to be Deputy Commissioner for Operations following Linda’s retirement.

Mike Gallagher will return to the Office of Budget, Finance and Management from his current role as Acting Deputy Chief of Staff, to be the Deputy Commissioner for Budget, Finance and Management.

Stephanie Hall will be the permanent Assistant Deputy Commissioner for Budget, Finance and Management.

Bill Gray, Deputy Commissioner for Systems, will retire at the end of the year.

Kelly Croft, currently Deputy Commissioner for Quality Performance, will return to Systems as Deputy Commissioner following Bill’s retirement.

Ron Raborg, currently the Assistant Deputy Commissioner for Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR), will become the Deputy Commissioner for Quality Performance.

Judy Kautsch, currently the Acting Associate Commissioner for Electronic Services and Management Information in ODAR, will serve as Acting Assistant Deputy Commissioner.

I am also announcing the establishment of the Office of the Chief Economist in my immediate Office. Jason Fichtner will be the agency’s first Chief Economist. In this role, he will be the agency’s chief economic advisor with a coordinative role across all components in the planning and delivery of agency products that involve economic analysis and strategy at the agency level, serving as the agency’s economic liaison with the Social Security Advisory Board, the Social Security Trustees, and other technical panels, geospatial initiatives, and as an internal consultant across components on economic-related issues. Jason will also continue his involvement in the agency’s financial literacy efforts.

Linda Maxfield will serve as the Senior Advisor to the Chief Economist.

Please join me in wishing everyone success in their new assignments

Oct 20, 2009

Social Security Lags In Contracting With Small Firms

From Government Executive:
More than $1 out of every $4 spent on federal Recovery Act contracts has gone to small businesses, but several large spenders appear to be lagging behind in including small firms, administration officials told members of a Senate panel on Tuesday. ...

The Social Security Administration has awarded less than 2 percent of its contracts to small businesses ...

Attorneys To Get Electronic Access To Claimant Files

A case of swine flu kept me from attending the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR) conference in San Francisco last week. Geri Kahn reports in his California Social Security Lawyer Blog on a presentation at the conference on a new program to allow attorneys and others representing Social Security claimants to have electronic access to their clients' Social Security files. Kahn reports that open enrollment will begin in Spring 2010.

Blahous Gets Nomination As Social Security Trustee

According to the Wall Street Journal, Chuck Blahous has been nominated by President Obama for Social Security's Board of Trustees as a public trustee. His appointment comes courtesy of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. It appears that there was no public announcement of the nomination. Blahous has been described by Andrew Biggs as "the Bush Administration's main man on Social Security reform."

Update: Robert Reischauer was also nominated for the Board of Trustees at the same time.

Processing Time Report

Courtesy of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR). Click on each thumbnail to view it full size.

Compare the average processing time as it has changed over 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
  • June 27, 2008 -- 529 days
  • July 31, 2008 -- 530 days
  • September 3, 2008 -- 532 days
  • November 5, 2008 -- 476 days
  • December 3, 2008 -- 480 days
  • March 8, 2009 -- 499 days
  • April 24, 2009 -- 505 days
  • June 3, 2009 -- 505 days
  • September 29, 2009 -- 472 days

Oct 19, 2009

A Contradiction Left Unresolved?

Here are a quotes from two different Subcommittees of Social Security's Occupational Information Development Advisory Panel (emphasis added):
The Physical Demands Subcommittee strongly believes that data collection for the physical demands of work cannot be done by self-report. [See below. Another Subcommittee wants to give self-reporting a try.] There are numerous studies that demonstrate that self-reported physical demands are neither reliable nor valid ... (Physical Demands Subcommittee report, pages 34-35 of pdf)

Recommendation: The SSA should train existing Experts [Are we talking about Vocational Experts who testify at ALJ hearings or state agency vocational specialists or both?] in the new OIS [Occupational Information System] and use them as a source to provide job level data for the pilot study. The SSA should also provide job incumbents with the opportunity to provide job level data in the pilot study and compare the quality of results from the two sources. (Work Taxonomy and Classification Subcommittee report, page 282 of PDF )
The references are to the PDF of the entire Panel report. It looks to me as if there is a serious contradiction about a key matter. I do not see that this contradiction was ever resolved by the entire Panel.

I do not understand why the idea of surveying workers about their job duties should even come up. If you spend any time interviewing people about their job duties you quickly discover that when you ask people detailed questions you get confused answers that run along the lines of "I never weighed what I was lifting" and "I never timed how long I was on my feet" and "I never measured how far I had to walk." When pressed, people just give wild guesses. Surveying workers about their job duties may sound plausible, but it would yield only confusing, inconsistent, meaningless data.

Oct 18, 2009

Oct 17, 2009

GAO Reports On Wounded Warrior Project -- SSA To Propose Legislative Changes In Retroactive Effect Of Disability Claims?

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has issued Additional Outreach and Collaboration on Sharing Medical Records Would Improve Wounded Warriors’ Access to Benefits, a report on Social Security's Wounded Warrior program which accelerates the disability process for those injured in military service. Some findings:
As of December 2008, about 7,600 of the16,000 wounded warriors who have applied for SSA disability benefits since 2001 have been approved. ... [A] sizable minority of approved claimants filed long enough after injury that they lost some retroactive benefits; SSA is considering a legislative proposal to change the retroactive period for wounded warriors. Among wounded warriors receiving DOD or VA disability benefits, 4 percent were receiving SSA benefits. In addition, more than 6 percent had applied but were not receiving SSA benefits; some still had claims pending. Those with higher disability ratings from DOD or VA were more likely to receive SSA benefits. ...

With help from DOD [Department of Defense] and VA, SSA has been able to expedite processing of wounded warrior claims. SSA has established a nationwide policy requiring its offices to give priority to wounded warrior claims. ...DOD’s paper-based transfer of medical records to SSA is slow, which can prolong the process by weeks or months, according to claims processing staff.
I wish the wounded warriors all the best but I can think of no reason why their disability claims should get a longer retroactive effect than those of other claimants.

Oct 16, 2009

Social Security Gets Involved In California Budget Lawsuit

A press release issued by Social Security:

Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, today announced that the Department of Justice, on behalf of the Social Security Administration, has filed a “Statement of Interest” in Union of American Physicians and Dentists v. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Governor of California, which is currently pending in a state trial court in California. The Union of American Physicians and Dentists includes employees of the California Disability Determination Services Division (DDSD), Department of Social Services, who evaluate Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income claims. The Federal government fully pays for the salaries and overhead costs for these employees.

“For many months we have been trying to convince California officials that furloughing DDSD employees does not save the state a single penny, and actually costs the state money. It also unnecessarily harms their citizens with disabilities and their civil servants,” said Commissioner Astrue. “Unfortunately, our arguments have fallen on deaf ears. We hope our Statement of Interest will awaken state officials to the irreparable damage their furlough policy is causing.”

California’s furlough of DDSD employees costs the state $849,000 per furlough day in administrative funding. More importantly, each furlough day results in a delay costing California’s disabled citizens over $420,000 in much-needed Social Security benefits.

The Statement of Interest notes that California’s furloughs of DDSD employees are inconsistent with the state’s obligations and responsibilities under the Social Security Act. Specifically, implementing regulations obligate California to provide adequate facilities and qualified personnel to carry out the disability determination function and, “to the best of its ability, facilitate the processing of disability claims by avoiding personnel freezes, restrictions against overtime work, or curtailment of facilities or activities.”

“As Vice-President Biden noted in his recent letter to Governor Edward Rendell, Chair of the National Governor’s Association, ‘During these difficult economic times, it is critical that we all do what we can to ease the financial burdens on the American public,’” Commissioner Astrue said.

Is "Option" The New Term For "Accommodation"

Here are a couple of quotes from the report of the Occupational Information Development Advisory Panel (OIDAP):
There are some sedentary jobs where a sit-stand option is available. This identification borders on accommodation. (Physical Demands Subcommittee, page 30 of the PDF of the entire OIDAP Report.)
But a different emphasis later in the report.
We differentiate between accommodations and work options. Accommodations involve retooling of work space or interventions that an employer may provide for an individual worker for any reason, but most typically the accommodation is made to enable an individual with a physical or mental-cognitive impairment to perform a work activity(ies). We agree that the OIS should not include accommodation information as SSA cannot use this data for disability adjudication. However, we think that it would be helpful for SSA if the OIS included data regarding options for performing work activities that are typically found among a number of occupations as they are generally performed throughout the nation. The sit-stand option is a prime example, as is the use of tools such as a nail gun instead of hammer, etc. ... (User Needs and Relations Subcommittee, page 374 of the PDF of the entire OIDAP report.)
As a backdrop, Social Security decided long ago that it could not consider "accommodations" under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in determining disability. Here, one Subcommittee considers a sit-stand option to be bordering on accommodation, but another Subcommittee thinks that a sit-stand option is just a "prime example" of an "option" that should be considered in determining disability.

The consideration of "options" could easily be a subterfuge to allow the consideration of accommodations or even worse, to allow consideration of the fact that some employers put up with terrible employee performance. If one looks at a wide range of employees, one is going to find that a certain percentage are allowed to:
  1. Show up for work at whatever time they please on any given day.
  2. Leave work whenever they want if they are feeling poorly.
  3. Do poor quality work that the vast majority of employers would find unacceptable.
  4. Display productivity that the vast majority of employers would find unacceptable.
  5. Regularly behave rudely to co-workers and supervisors.
  6. Receive massive assistance from co-workers in completing job tasks.
  7. Be assisted in doing work by relatives or friends who are not even employees.
If all of this happens in the world of work -- and any comprehensive survey will show that this and a lot more does happen -- are these accommodations, poor employment practices or "options?" Where does one draw the line? Consideration of this sort of thing could make it almost impossible for anyone to be considered disabled, since Social Security could always say that someone, somewhere is working with all the limitations that a particular claimant may have.

Social Security is going to need a good deal of money to create this "Occupational Information System" (OIS). They may have trouble getting the money if a significant number of "stakeholders" (to use a term that Social Security is using more and more) find it threatening. I quality as a "stakeholder" and I find this threatening. I have talked with a few other stakeholders and they also find this threatening. Social Security ought to stay away from anything like this if it wants to avoid the sort of controversy that might derail this entire project. The new OIS should describe work as it typically exists and avoid trying to find "options" in jobs.

Oct 15, 2009

A 12 Minute Test For Mental Or Cognitive Disability?

Social Security's Occupational Information Development Advisory Panel (OIDAP) has been assigned the task of advising the agency on what to do about the fact that disability determination at Social Security is heavily dependent upon the Department of Labor's hopelessly out of date Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT).

Most, if not all, of OIDAP's report to the Commissioner of Social Security is now available. I have been going through it and will be posting about what I have found.

What I have seen consists of the reports of OIDAP's five subcommittees. I have not seen a report from the entire Panel. It is not clear to me that the entire Panel issued any final recommendations other than to endorse what its Subcommittees recommended.

I will start with the report of the Mental Cognitive Subcommittee since I find it extraordinarily jarring, but before I get to that let me give this quote from the report of the Transferable Skills Analysis Subcommittee as a backdrop:
At the inaugural meeting of the Panel, we were advised that the work of the Panel did not include recommending changes to SSA's [Social Security Administration's] disability policies; rather, we were instructed to treat SSA's disability policies as though they were "standing still." Through further conversations, it was learned that SSA intended that the focus of our recommendations be upon the OIS [Occupational Information System] itself rather than SSA policy or possible effects upon said policy. That is, the OIS we are helping to create must meet SSA's current adjudicative needs at a minimum. (page 223 of the OIDAP Report PDF)
Now, let me give a couple of excerpts from the Mental Cognitive Subcommittee Report:
The conceptual model of psychological abilities required to do work should be revised. The aims are to address shortcomings of the current model, base a revised model on scientific evidence, identify specific abilities that can be reliably assessed and tested for predictive validity, and retain elements of the current mental residual functional capacity (MRFC) that meet these criteria in order to maintain continuity where possible.

The Subcommittee recommends a series of studies to determine the reliability and predictive validity of any instruments developed to assess residual functional capacities and occupational demands as part of the OIS [Occupational Information System] Project. (page 56) ...

... [T]he Subcommittee recommends that the SSA conduct a study in which all of the revised physical and mental residual functional capacity measures are administered to a nationally representative sample of persons who have worked for at least six months ("successful incumbents") in one of the 150 to 200 most common occupations in the U.S. Economy. (page 82)
First, who told the Mental Cognitive Subcommittee that their job was to revise "conceptual models" or to come up with some test instrument to determine disability due to mental and cognitive problems? From what the Transferable Skills Subcommittee says, OIDAP was told the exact opposite, to stick to the issue of how to replace DOT.

You may well wonder what sort of test the Mental Cognitive Subcommittee thinks can be used to determine disability. You may not believe the answer. The Subcommittee was entranced with something called "g." G is a score derived from the Wonderlic employment aptitude test. That test consists of 50 questions and can be given in 12 minutes. The Subcommittee seemed to believe that g was close to being a perfect index for determining disability due to mental or cognitive problems. However, the Subcommittee thought that g was still not perfect enough for disability determination and that Social Security could and should build on g to create a test to be used to determine disability due to mental and cognitive problems. I told you that you might not believe this.

As best I can tell from reading the Subcommittee's report, they felt that any Occupational Information System (OIS) to replace the DOT would be irrelevant in determining disability due to mental and cognitive impairments. As the quote above says, they have in mind a new "conceptual model" for determining disability due to mental and cognitive impairments. Apparently, age, education and work experience are not included in their "conceptual model," even though the statutory definition of disability requires consideration of these elements.

My prediction is that someone will devise a test to simply and accurately determine mental or cognitive disability at about the same time as a machine is invented to accurately measure how much pain a person is suffering -- never.

The Mental Cognitive Subcommittee went completely out of bounds. My opinion is that their report is worthless and should be quickly repudiated by Social Security.

By the way, I have already heard an attorney who practices Social Security law say that he is considering having all his clients take the Wonderlic. I wonder what Social Security will make of it if that starts happening regularly.

Also, by the way, the Mental Cognitive Subcommittee report recommended that Social Security conduct a study of physical residual functional capacity measures as well as mental. None of the other Subcommittees recommended physical residual functional capacity measures. Does this mean that the Mental Cognitive Subcommittee was so far out of bounds that it was making a recommendation of physical residual functional capacity tests as well as a mental one? Does this mean the physical residual functional capacity measures were under consideration by other Subcommittees which decided not to recommend them? Is this a sign that OIDAP will recommend physical residual functional capacity tests at a later time?

Astrue Supports $250 Payments

A press release from Social Security:

With consumer prices down over the past year, monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income benefits for more than 57 million Americans will not automatically increase in 2010. This will be the first year without an automatic Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) since they went into effect in 1975.

“Social Security is doing its job helping Americans maintain their standard of living,” Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security said. “Last year when consumer prices spiked, largely as a result of higher gas prices, beneficiaries received a 5.8 percent COLA, the largest increase since 1982. This year, in light of the human need, we need to support President Obama’s call for us to make another $250 recovery payment for 57 million Americans.”

The Social Security Act provides that Social Security and Supplemental Security Income benefits increase automatically each year if there is an increase in the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W) from the third quarter of the last year to the third quarter of the current year. This year there was no increase in the CPI-W from the third quarter of 2008 to the third quarter of 2009. In addition, because there was no increase in the CPI-W this year, under the law the starting point for determinations regarding a possible 2011 COLA will remain the third quarter of 2008.

Some other changes that would normally take effect in January 2010 based on the increase in average wages also will not take effect, even though average wages did increase. Since there is no COLA, the statute prohibits an increase in the maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax as well as the retirement earnings test exempt amounts. These amounts will remain unchanged in 2010. The attached fact sheet provides more information on 2010 Social Security changes.

Information about Medicare changes for 2010, when available, will be found at www.Medicare.gov. The Department of Health and Human Services has not yet announced if there will be any Medicare premium changes for 2010. Should there be an increase in the Medicare Part B premium, the law contains a “hold harmless” provision that protects about 93 percent of Social Security beneficiaries from paying a higher Part B premium, in order to avoid reducing their net Social Security benefit. Those not protected include higher income beneficiaries subject to an income-adjusted Part B premium and beneficiaries newly entitled to Part B in 2010. On September 24th, the House passed legislation by 406-18 that would, on a fully paid-for basis, prevent abnormally large premium increases. The President is calling on the Senate to enact this legislation before it becomes too late for the Social Security Administration to update its computer systems to implement this needed change.

Update: And Max Baucus, the Chairman of the House Finance Committee, has signed onto this proposal.

Oct 14, 2009

President Signs On To $250 Proposal

The Hill reports that President Obama has announced his support for a proposal to give Social Security recipients a one time extra payment of $250 to make up for the lack of a cost of living adjustment (COLA) at the end of the year.

Proposed New Rule On Rep Payees

From today's Federal Register:
We propose to amend our regulations to allow a representative payee who will no longer be serving in that capacity to transfer accumulated benefit payments and interest directly to a beneficiary if we determine that it would be in the best interest of the beneficiary. This change would give us more flexibility in deciding how conserved funds should be handled in these circumstances. The change would also reduce or eliminate delays in the delivery of conserved funds to some beneficiaries.

Tanner Praises Social Security

From NWTN [Northwest Tennessee?] Today:
U.S. Rep. John Tanner, chairman of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security, praised the Social Security Administration for the success of its ongoing efforts to reduce the unprecedented backlog in disability appeals hearings.

The number of pending disability hearings declined during fiscal year 2009 for the first time since 1999. SSA projects that with adequate funding, it will eliminate the hearings backlog by the end of fiscal year 2013.

“Social Security’s disability hearings backlog has skyrocketed in recent years due to a lack of resources,” Tanner said in a press release. “This has caused untold hardship for many Tennesseans and Americans with severe disabilities who must often wait years to receive benefits for which they are eligible.

“Eliminating this backlog is a top priority of our subcommittee. We are very pleased that, due to the increased commitment from Congress and the concerted efforts of the Social Security Administration and its hard-working staff, we have finally turned the corner; the backlog is decreasing for the first time in nearly a decade.”

Social Security's First Field Office Opened Today In 1936 In Austin, Texas

Oct 13, 2009

OIG Report On Effects Of Backlogs

About a year ago the Chairman of the House Social Security Subcommittee asked someone at Social Security, apparently the Inspector General, about the effects of delay upon disability claimants. Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG) has finally produced a report in response to this inquiry. Here are some excerpts:
Of the 424 disability beneficiaries who participated in our review,
  • 340 said the wait for benefits impacted their finances,
  • 51 said the wait did not impact their finances, and
  • 33 did not mention the wait’s impact on their finances....
Measures Taken by Beneficiaries While Waiting for Benefits -- Number of Beneficiaries
  • Obtained assistance from friends, family, and charities 231
  • Accrued debt 141
  • Used savings 65
  • Continued or returned to work 13
  • Sold personal belongings (such as a car or boat) 11 ...
Difficult Experiences by Beneficiaries While Waiting for Benefits -- Number of Beneficiaries
  • Could no longer afford home or apartment 50
  • Lived in someone else’s household for free 36
  • Became homeless 8
  • Filed for bankruptcy 6
  • Had utilities turned off 4 ...

Of the 424 disability beneficiaries who participated in our review,

  • 127 said the wait for benefits impacted their access to medical care;
  • 282 said the wait did not impact their access to medical care; and
  • 15 did not mention the wait’s impact on their access to medical care....
A significant number of the beneficiaries we spoke with went out of their way to tell us the SSA staff provided good customer service. Specifically, 67 (16 percent) of the 424 beneficiaries we spoke with told us they had a good experience with SSA staff. ...

A portion of the beneficiaries we spoke with also mentioned that their wait for Medicare insurance had a significant impact on their lives. Specifically, 27 (6 percent) of the 424 beneficiaries told us they thought their wait for Medicare insurance was too long.

OIDAP Report

Update: I am bumping this up since I regard it as being of considerable importance.

A California attorney I know happened to receive -- by accident -- a copy of the draft final report of Social Security's Occupational Information Development Advisory Panel (OIDAP). I have uploaded it to Yousendit. It is available for downloading for the next week for the first 100 people. Update: Here is another link for downloading the draft final report for when the first link stops working. It is a 500 page plus PDF so expect it to take some time to download.

Although this may sound like a boring subject, it is, by far, the most important policy issue facing Social Security. An occupational information system is fundamental to Social Security disability determination. Millions of Social Security claims will be decided based upon any new occupational information system that comes out of OIDAP's work. This is the most important policy issue that Social Security has faced in about thirty years.

Oct 12, 2009

SSA Hiring Disabled

From an article by Reginald Wells, Social Security's Deputy Commissioner for Human Resources and Chief Human Capital Officer in Federal Times:
There is a clear business case for the federal workforce, charged with the responsibility of public service, to reflect the diverse tapestry of America. People with disabilities are part of that tapestry and arguably constitute one of the most diverse groups in our society. ...

The Social Security Administration currently has the third-highest percentage of employees with targeted disabilities among large agencies. ...

SSA Commissioner Michael Astrue established in March an initiative to formalize a continual process through which people with disabilities remain an integral part of our diversity mosaic. Branded “SSA AccessAbility: Recruiting Individuals with Disabilities,” this initiative capitalizes on opportunities for hiring as well as agencywide coordination through an established national recruitment structure. ...

As a result of increased fiscal 2009 budget appropriations as well as funds received through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, SSA had the opportunity to hire about 7,000 employees through August. Preliminary figures show the agency hired more than 650 people with disabilities, including more than 100 individuals receiving federal disability benefits.

Oct 11, 2009

Updated Fee Payment Stats

Fee Payments

Month/Year Volume Amount

Oct 10, 2009

Results Of Last Unscientific Poll

What Do You Think Of The Nomination Of Carolyn Colvin To Become Deputy Commissioner Of Social Security?
I think it was a good choice (27) 23%
I think it was a bad choice (24) 21%
I have mixed feelings about it (9) 8%
I don't know enough about her to have an opinion (55) 48%

Total Votes: 115

California Cuts SSI

First, let me give a little background. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) was created in the 1970s to give federal benefits to indigent aged, disabled and blind Americans. SSI replaced a prior system of federal grants given to the states which administered their own systems of benefits for the same population. The recipients of the state aid were grandfathered into SSI. Some state benefits were higher than the new SSI benefits. States were allowed to supplement SSI benefits in their states so that their residents would not be hurt by the change to SSI. Quite a number of states have done so ever since, but those states have always had the ability to decrease the supplementation or discontinue it. The state supplements are paid in the same check or direct deposit as the federal SSI benefit.

With that as a background, here is a report from KHSL-TV in Chico-Redding, California:
Denise Johnson and her husband have relied on their social security supplementary payments for two years now. But making ends meet this time around has been tough for the couple. lawmakers have already reduced their social security benefits twice this year, and just a couple days ago, the Johnsons received a letter in the mail stating their paychecks will get a third cut.

Johnson told Action News, "There was no warning or nothing. It was kind of like a slap in the face, here you go, it's gone," adding, "I thought it was wrong for them not to say anything at all and just make it a surprise. I think they should have just spoke up and been more honest."

The Johnsons will get another $41 deducted from each of their paychecks each month. All three cuts this year total to about $170 from the couple's combined paychecks every month. The third cut begins November. The Johnsons' paychecks are now down to a little more than $54 each. The Johnsons use the money for food, and because they are already receiving additional help from the state, they do not qualify for food stamps. Johnson says it is unfair. She said, "At least try to give us something back as far as getting food stamps from everybody that's getting the state supplementary."

Johnson says the cut this time around not only means less food on the table... it means less everything. She explained, "Just trying to really budget our money tight, and shop next to nothing."

A Social Security Administration public affairs official told me over the phone, they cannot explain the reason for the additional cuts and they are simply doing what state lawmakers tell them to do.

More than 1,000,000 people receive social security supplementary benefits in California
As you may have heard, the state of California is experiencing terrible budget shortfalls. The repeated cuts in SSI supplementation are one of the results of these budget shortfalls.

I am surprised that these cuts in SSI checks for Californians have not attracted more public attention.