May 31, 2011

I Thought That Conversation Had Been Underway For Some Time

From a press release:
U.S. Congressman Sam Johnson (R-TX), Chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security announced today that the Subcommittee will hold an oversight hearing on the findings in the 2011 Annual Report of the Social Security Board of Trustees.  The hearing will take place on Friday, June 3, 2011 in B-318 Rayburn House Office Building, beginning at 9:00 a.m. ...
In announcing the hearing, Chairman Sam Johnson (R-TX) stated, “This year’s annual report again sounds the alarm that Social Security will be unable to keep its promises to the hard-working Americans who pay into the system.  Americans want, need and deserve a Social Security program they can count on and a fact-based conservation about how to get there.  This hearing will begin that conversation. 

New Hearing Office In North Carolina

From the Fayetteville [NC] Observer:
The average wait to appeal for disability benefits in Fayetteville has been reduced by more than half in the past four years, the head of the Social Security Administration said today.
The wait was more than 700 days when the administration four years ago embarked on an ambitious plan to beef up its staff, open several hearing centers around the U.S., modernize its operations and fast-track some disability cases.
Fayetteville was a top priority in the country for a hearing center, said Michael Astrue, the commissioner of the Social Security Administration. The wait here to appeal a denial of benefits has since been reduced to under 300 days, he said.
Astrue joined others snipping a ribbon today celebrating this month's opening of a permanent Social Security appeals hearing center in downtown.
The center, which has 48 employees and six administrative law judges, opened last year in temporary quarters until its new home could be remodeled at 150 Rowan St.

COLA Coming -- But Will Medicare Premium Increase Gobble It Up?

 From the Baltimore Sun:
After two years without seeing an increase in their Social Security checks, more than 59 million retirees and other beneficiaries can expect a bump up in benefits next year.
The Social Security trustees' annual report released this month estimates that the cost-of-living adjustment in next year's checks will be 0.7 percent. The increase, which will be announced in October, could be higher, depending on where prices head in the coming months.
Still, experts say, retirees could see all or some of that raise eaten up by higher Medicare premiums.

What's Going On In West Virginia?

If you wondered where the recent Wall Street Journal articles came from, well, here is your answer. Is this person on to a huge scandal or just someone with a huge axe to grind? Why were the local papers not interested in this story? Why was Social Security's Office of Inspector General apparently not interested in this story until part of it appeared in the Wall Street Journal? Why was only the Rupert Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal interested in the story? Why, for that matter, is the Wall Street Journal staying away from some of the elements of this alleged scandal?

New Plan

From the Borowitz Report:
Presenting what he called a revolutionary plan to slash the nation’s mountain of debt, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) today proposed eliminating the Social Security program in its entirety and replacing it with Groupons.
“Instead of waiting each month for a check from Social Security, America’s elderly will receive valuable Groupons for everything they need, from Ramen noodles to cat food to caskets,” Mr. Ryan said in an appearance on Fox News.
Adding that Groupons would also help provide for elders’ medical needs, the congressman illustrated his point by holding up a Groupon offering 30 percent off on open-heart surgery in Cincinnati.
Moving on from Social Security, Mr. Ryan also proposed replacing Medicare with a new program in which seniors are shot at by Predator drones.

May 30, 2011

Was It A Bad Thing That The Muskogee Man Was Trying To Work?

From The Oklahoman newspaper:
Sen. Tom Coburn wants a meeting with the top Social Security Administration investigator to discuss the increase in people receiving disability payments, saying he's concerned that some may be using the program as “an extension of unemployment benefits.” ...

Coburn, R-Muskogee, said in an interview the fund may go broke before that because “growth in this program has been horrendous.” ...

Coburn said he has some personal experience: A man he hired in Muskogee to do some yard work told him that he was collecting Social Security disability payments. Coburn said Social Security workers from around the country have contacted him to tell of abuses in the program. ...

Coburn and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, sent a letter to the inspector general of the Social Security Administration saying they were concerned that some judges were approving appeals at unrealistic rates.

“Given the looming collapse of (the Social Security Disability Income program), it is imperative that disability claims are properly examined to ensure that only those who are lawfully entitled to benefits receive them,” the senators wrote.

“Individuals cannot be allowed to exploit SSDI, transforming it into a supplemental source of unemployment income with enormous and crippling costs to taxpayers.”

The senators' request followed a story in The Wall Street Journal about a judge in West Virginia who approves nearly every one of the appeals he hears from people who were first denied disability benefits.

Memorial Day

May 29, 2011

I Don't Understand

Can anyone explain to me what this is?

May 28, 2011

"Sheer Panic"

Social Security's reaction to its budget situation? "Sheer panic", according to Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue.

What An Idea!

Jagadeesh Gokhale of the right wing Cato Institute makes what is, for him, a very reasonable plea -- "simply wipe out the [Social Security] Trust Funds entirely." Who could object to that?

Remember Russell Rowell?

You have to contrast the speed with which Social Security took action against Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Daugherty to their foot-dragging in the case of ALJ Russell Rowell. Daugherty may have exercised his discretion as an Administrative Law Judge in a questionable way but at least he did not combine that with abusing and humiliating vulnerable American citizens

May 27, 2011

Action Taken Against West Virginia ALJ

From the Wall Street Journal:
The Social Security Administration placed on leave an administrative law judge who has approved an unusually high number of applications for disability benefits, one week after a page one article in The Wall Street Journal detailed his decisions.

David B. Daugherty, based in Huntington, W. Va., awarded benefits in each of the 729 disability cases he decided in the first six months of fiscal 2011, according to government data. In fiscal 2010, Mr. Daugherty denied benefits in just four of the 1,284 cases he decided.

On May 19, the day the Journal story ran, a team from the agency's inspector general's office seized computers and interviewed employees from the West Virginia office....

Mr. Daugherty, who joined the agency as a judge in 1990, was escorted out of his office Thursday.
I regard the Wall Street Journal's articles on Judge Daugherty to be a hatchet job, unworthy of what was once a great newspaper. Certainly, there is reason to question how Judge Daugherty exercised his discretion but the Journal's articles strongly suggest corruption without producing the slightest proof of it. Implying collusion between Judge Daugherty and a local attorney without presenting proof is out of bounds in my book. All that was presented was proof that one local attorney's clients benefited greatly from Judge Daugherty's largess but the only apparent reason for that was that the attorney in question had more clients with cases before that hearing office than any other attorney. Undoubtedly, that attorney also had more hearings before each of the other judges in that office and received more decisions, both favorable and unfavorable, from that office than any other local attorney. Where is the corruption? Has the Wall Street Journal become nothing more than Fox News in print?

May 26, 2011

What Is Going On At The SSAB?

Here is the agenda for a recent meeting of the Social Security Advisory Board:
Social Security Advisory Board
Meeting Agenda
Wednesday, April 13, 2011

9:45 a.m. - 11:30 p.m. (sic) The Declining Work and Welfare of People with Disabilities: What Went Wrong and a Strategy for Change
Richard V. Burkhauser
Sarah Gibson Blanding Professor
Cornell University

1:30 p.m. - 2:15 p.m. Meeting with the National Association of Disability Examiners
Andrew Martinez, President (California)
Tom Ward, President-elect (Michigan)
Susan Smith, Immediate Past President (Ohio)
Jeff Price, Legislative Director; Past President
(North Carolina

2:14 - 3:45 p.m. Third Parties Providing Tailored Eligibility Services
Ulrich Brechbuhl, President and CEO
Suzy Perlman, SSA Liaison
Chamberlin Edmonds
Atlanta GA
Here is the abstract of one of Professor Burkhart's recent papers:
In the 1990s, the United States reformed welfare programs targeted on single mothers and dramatically reduced their benefit receipt while increasing their employment and economic wellbeing. Despite increasing calls to do the same for working age people with disabilities in the U.S., disability cash transfer program rolls continue to grow as their employment rates fall and their economic well-being stagnates. In contrast to the failure to reform United States disability policy, the Netherlands, once considered to have the most out of control disability program among OECD [Organizaton for Economic Cooperation and Development] nations, initiated reforms in 2002 that have dramatically reduced their disability cash transfer rolls, while maintaining a strong but less generous social minimum safety net for all those who do not work.

Here we review disability program growth in the United States and the Netherlands, link it to changes in their disability policies and show that while difficult to achieve, fundamental disability reform is possible. We argue that shifts in SSI policies that focus on better integrating working age men and women with disabilities into the work force along the lines of those implemented for single mothers in the 1990s, together with SSDI program changes that better integrate private and public disability insurance programs along the lines and economic well-being as well as reducing SSDI/SSI program growth.
All I can say is best wishes if the United States adopts a rehabilitation fantasy that ignores the facts that manufacturing jobs have declined dramatically and that the cognitive requirements of the remaining jobs have increased significantly. I really want to see a rehabilitation program that will return to work my client who is a 52 year old, 10th grade dropout who was working as a Certified Nurse Assistant at a nursing home until the facts that she is 5'2", weighs 245 pounds and has bad knees and a bad back caught up with her.
To an attorney the conflict of interest involved in representing Social Security claimants on disability claims while seeking enormous contracts from Social Security as Chamberlin Edmonds is doing is just mind-boggling. Did they really start out as a law firm? How do you go from being a law firm to whatever they are now?

May 25, 2011

Videoconferencing To Be Added To SSA Website?

 From the blog of the law firm of Fleschner, Stark, Tanoos & Newlin:
The Social Security Administration is considering adding videoconferencing to its website to assist seniors who have inquiries about their Social Security or Social Security Disability benefits, said an official at Tuesday’s meeting of the agency’s Future Systems Technology Advisory Panel. ...
Last week, the Social Security Administration even introduced an iPhone app called Baby Name Playroom that identifies the most popular baby names from years past.
Chief Information Officer Frank Baitman said that the agency is already creating another app, but that the next one will be more functional than fun–designed to help seniors with their disability benefits.

It's A Wonder Anybody Wants To Do Business With GSA

 From the Journal & Topics Newspapers in Chicago:
Building delays on a new Social Security Administration (SSA) office moving to Mt. Prospect are entering their 16th month. ...

"When we received the lease in January 2010, the initial desire was for them to move in by the first of 2011," said Nick Papanicholas, Jr., of Nicholas & Associates. "But the review process is taking longer on their end and they are going through numerous stages."
The General Services Administration (GSA) is the SSA's real estate manager. Papanicholas said there are numerous governmental departments that need to review building drawings before anything is constructed. He is hoping to begin construction this summer and said it would take three months to complete. ...
The new office is currently just a shell on the inside. Partitions still need to be built inside the office, as well as the ceiling, flooring and plumbing. ...

The new facility will total approximately 16,000 sq. ft. in a vacant strip mall at Kensington and Wheeling.
The lease will be for 15 years with an option to leave after 10 years at an annual rent of $483,870. Current rent at the Prospect Hts. facility is $526,243.

May 24, 2011

Commissioner Wants Child SSI Study

From the Boston Globe:
The commissioner of the Social Security Administration for the first time publicly acknowledged yesterday that there are major flaws with the $10 billion children’s disability program his agency oversees and said he was aggressively seeking congressional approval to conduct an independent scientific study of the program’s weaknesses.

In an extensive interview at the Globe, Michael Astrue said that such a study, which would cost about $10 million, could provide a dispassionate, scientific basis for changing aspects of the children’s Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, which can be overhauled only by congressional decree.

The best organization to identify problems within the swiftly growing program, he said, is the Institute of Medicine, the nonprofit health research wing of the National Academy of Sciences. ...

“Too much of legislation happens by sound bite and anecdote,’’ Astrue said. “It’s one of the things I worry about in this area. When you see how shrill the advocates are, and then you see what we are getting from the other side of the fence, too, what kind of legislation is this going to look like if we’re not careful?’’ ...

The commissioner was careful not to say that parents were deliberately cheating the system. Rather, he said the law makes the SSI program, by statute, vulnerable to being manipulated by families, lawyers, and others with financial incentives to gain SSI benefits. ...

He said he has a strong suspicion that many children who are deemed troubled do not warrant a disability label, as given by the SSI program. In many instances, he said, the children do not qualify under stricter adult SSI standards once they turn 18.

“I think that’s a sign that there’s a certain percentage of them there that shouldn’t have been there in the first place,’’ he said.
Let me say that in the area where we practice, most attorneys avoid the SSI child's cases. My firm takes a few of them but many attorneys, perhaps most, avoid them altogether. We mostly avoid ADHD, seizures and asthma as the primary basis for a child's disability claim since these types of SSI child's cases are particularly problematic. My guess is that most Social Security attorneys across the country either do not take the SSI children's cases or take only a select few. In general, the SSI child's cases are just tough to win at the hearing level. Everybody who deals with them says the same thing -- often the mother has more serious problems than the child. It can be tough to separate how how much of the child's problems are due to the mother's own psychiatric problems and how much is innate to the child. This is not every case but  there are enough cases like this to be very noticeable. 

Still, there are cases that cry out for SSI child's benefits. I remember one  case I had where the child had severe hearing problems from birth. Tragically, even though the child had good parents, the problem was not recognized until too late. There is a time period in a child's life during which it must be able to hear spoken speech. If the child is not able to hear speech during this time period, the child will never be able to understand spoken speech or be able to speak effectively. Social Security denied the child since by the time the claim was filed the child had a hearing aid and could hear sound but the sound was meaningless to the child and would remain so. The child was approved by an Administrative Law Judge.

Not Your Usual CE

From WKRG in Mobile, AL:
Police in Summerdale say a man who sexually assaulted a woman while claiming to be an officer with the Social Security Administration has targeted at least three other women in Baldwin County.
Last week, Pamela Thrailkill told police a heavy-set man weighing 300 pounds, called her and said he was with the Social Security Administration. The man said he needed to come over and take "measurements" for Thrailkill's pending disability case. When he got to her mobile home, Thrailkill say the man fondled her breasts.

People Don't Think Social Security Has To Be Cut To Balance Budget

From an Associated Press poll of 1,001 people taken from May 5-11, 2011:
Do you think it is possible for the federal government to balance its budget without cutting spending on Social Security, or do you think spending on Social Security will have to be cut?

Possible to balance budget without cutting spending on Social Security   59%
Spending on Social Security will have to be cut                                         39%
Don’t know                                                                                                  2%

May 23, 2011

OIDAP Documents Released -- What's The Plan?

The Occupational Information Development Advisory Panel (OIDAP), Social Security's effort to develop an alternative to the antiquated Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT), a key element in disability determination, has released some documents from its May 4, 2011 public meeting

Many of the speakers the Panel heard were from the Department of Labor, which had prepared the DOT and its successor, the O*NET, and from the Department of the Census, which has its own very limited occupational information system. Maybe these presentations helped the Panel. My possibly jaundiced view is that this was nothing more than window dressing to give an appearance that whatever the Panel produces reflects a scientific consensus.My view may also be influenced by the fact that many of the presentations were in Powerpoint. I agree with those who blame Powerpoint "for everything from corporate [and governmental] stupidification to burying Western civilization in a hailstorm of bullet points."

The more important presentations were from the Panel Chair, Mary Barros-Bailey, and Social Security's Director of Occupational Information System development, Sylvia Karman. What has been posted is not complete enough to give one a clear idea of the plans of Barros-Bailey and Karman but it is clear that Social Security is charging ahead with a major endeavor.

I wish I could get answers to two questions from Barros-Bailey and Karman:
  • Let us suppose that you collect data on a job, such as office assistant, and this data shows that it to have been performed at the sedentary level at 20% of employers, at the light level at 70% of employers and at the medium level at 10% of employers. How would this job be categorized in the occupational information system you are developing -- as sedentary, as light or as medium -- or would it be categorized as all three -- or would it would be broken down into three new job titles of Office Assistant I, II and III? A similar question could also be asked about the length of time it takes to learn the job of office assistant or many other criteria.
  • When will the decision be made on how to categorize jobs? Before or after the data is collected?
You might think that categorizing a job at all levels at which it is performed would be more accurate, and in a sense it is, but it also produces such muddy results that this approach has always been rejected in the past when occupational information systems were compiled. An occupational information system that does not try to categorize jobs by how they are typically performed could be used to justify denying virtually any disability claim. All you would have to do is to find a few people performing a job at the same limited level as the claimant and you have justification for denial. This is a big country. There are millions of employers. There are many ways that most job can be performed. Employers often regard employees as their friends. Employers make many concessions to the circumstances of individual valued employees, especially those they regard as their friends, concessions that are not available to the general public. Go down this route and vocational information becomes almost irrelevant since you would always be able to find work that a claimant could perform no matter what his or her limitations might be.

I think my concern with OIDAP's work is best summarized with a sports quote whose origins are probably apocryphal : "The problem with referees is that they just don't care which side wins." I would like OIDAP to be that referee who does not care which side wins but I am pretty sure that they do.

May 22, 2011

Disability Booming In Rhode Island

The number of Rhode Islanders collecting disability benefits from the Social Security Administration has grown by 38 percent in the last 10 years — six times the rate of increase for Social Security beneficiaries overall, a Providence Journal analysis of Social Security Administration figures shows. ...
Rhode Island’s experience reflects a broader trend.

At the end of 2001, Social Security paid disability benefits to about 6.9 million disabled workers and dependents of disabled workers. By the end of 2010, that number had ballooned to about 10.2 million, an increase of about 47 percent.

Largely because of the increases, Social Security’s disability insurance trust fund is running a deficit, and the fund itself is projected to reach exhaustion in seven years. ...
There are two main reasons for the jump in SSDI beneficiaries, said Social Security expert
For one thing, baby boomers are getting older, reaching the age at which people are more likely to suffer from disabilities, he said. “The body starts to break down,” he said. “So you’ve got a bigger chunk of people more likely to be disabled.”

Another factor is the economy. Because of high unemployment, more people are turning to Social Security disability as a source of income, said [Kurt] Czarnowski, a retired Social Security official who runs Czarnowski Consulting, a Social Security consulting firm in Norfolk, Mass. ...

“Most people would prefer to work because it pays them better than what they could collect in Social Security disability,” Czarnowski said. “But when jobs disappear, they need income, so they’re turning to any possible source of income that’s out there,” Czarnowski said. “Historically, when the economy has dipped, disability applications have increased,” he said. ...
Aging baby boomers and the economy are not the only factors contributing to the jump in the SSDI rolls. For example:
• Because of an increase in advertising by lawyers and others about SSDI benefits, some people who might not otherwise file for benefits wind up applying, said Steve Colella, a vocational rehabilitation counselor who serves as an expert witness in SSDI appeals cases. Such advertisements “reinforce [the notion of] disability; they don’t reinforce [the notion of] work,” Colella said.
• A set of congressional reforms in 1984 involving SSDI screening led to rapid growth in the share of recipients suffering from back pain and mental illness, according to a 2006 study in the Journal of Economic Perspectives. Among the maladies that applicants cite nowadays in applying for benefits are anxiety, depression and back problems, Colella said.
• The standard definition of disability has not changed, Czarnowski said. But recent developments have had an impact on how the system works, such as new diagnostic tests and new diseases that have emerged, according to Social Security’s Office of the Inspector General.
Kurt Czarnowski was Regional Communications Director for Social Security, a position which would give him no hands on experience with disability determination at Social Security.

May 21, 2011

Social Security Bulletin Released

The May 2011 issue of the Social Security Bulletin, the agency's scholarly journal, is out.

May 20, 2011

Government Waste -- New Call Center Delayed

From the Jackson, TN Sun:
The U.S. government has no intention of completing the Social Security call center in Jackson.
Government officials said Thursday that the project "is done" for at least the next decade because of the nation's current economic problems.
"Due to severe cuts by Congress in the agency's administrative budget, Social Security is no longer moving ahead with its plans to open a teleservice center in Jackson, TN," Mark Lassiter, of the Social Security Administration's National Press Office, wrote in an e-mail to The Jackson Sun. ..
The call center was expected to employ 150 to 200 people in federal jobs that paid annual salaries ranging from $27,990 to $55,844.
Reddy said the federal government will pay the building's owner, Gary Taylor, to complete construction of the building's shell. It will not pay for the installation of floors, ceilings, duct work, electrical or any interior infrastructure. The government currently is working with Taylor to discuss a buyout contract. Terms of the contract had not been established on Thursday, Reddy said. ...
The Social Security Administration broke ground on the call center in October. The agency had a 20-year, $64 million lease
This call center is in the Congressional District that was represented by John Tanner before his retirement. Tanner was chairman of the House Social Security Subcommittee at the time the call center was being planned.

Hatch Plans To Investigate

From the Wall Street Journal:
Sen. Orrin Hatch, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, said he planned to investigate high award rates by some Social Security administrative law judges following a front-page article on government disability benefits in Thursday’s Wall Street Journal.

“An already broke Social Security disability program is being further threatened by a system that appears to be overly generous in giving out benefits to those who might not deserve them,” Mr. Hatch said in a statement. “This is a serious problem that needs to be examined.  I will be investigating this matter to determine the scope and cause of these improper payments.”
As a minority member of the Committee Hatch cannot schedule a hearing on his own. An actual hearing might not be so easy to do even if he were the Committee chair. What do you do, subpoena the offending Administrative Law Judge and try to beat up on him? That might not come across quite that well.

May 19, 2011

Office Closing In New York

From the Forest Hills, NY Patch:

Starting this summer, residents looking for help from the Rego Park social security office may have to wait in longer lines than they are used to.
The Social Security Administration is proposing to close its Glendale office, sending the people who patronize the office to other locations in the city — most likely Rego Park or Cypress Hills in Brooklyn. ...
“We have had to make this difficult decision because Congress significantly cut our administrative budget,” said John Shallman, spokesman for the SSA. “The consolidation of these two offices and all their employees into existing leased office space near public transportation will have a projected cost savings of nearly $3 million over the next ten years.”

High Reversing ALJ Draws WSJ Attention

From the Wall Street Journal:
Americans seeking Social Security disability benefits will often appeal to one of 1,500 judges who help administer the program, where the odds of winning are slightly better than even. Unless, that is, they come in front of David B. Daugherty.
In the fiscal year that ended in September, the administrative law judge, who sits in the impoverished intersection of West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio, decided 1,284 cases and awarded benefits in all but four. For the first six months of fiscal 2011, Mr. Daugherty approved payments in every one of his 729 decisions, according to the Social Security Administration. ...
Mr. Daugherty is a standout in a judicial system that has lost its way, say numerous current and former judges. Judges say their jobs can be arduous, protecting the sometimes divergent interests of the applicant and the taxpayer. Critics blame the Social Security Administration, which oversees the disability program, charging that it is more interested in clearing a giant backlog than ensuring deserving candidates get benefits. Under pressure to meet monthly goals, some judges decide cases without a hearing. Some rely on medical testimony provided by the claimant's attorney.
This breakdown is one reason why Social Security Disability Insurance—one of the federal government's two disability programs—is under severe financial strain. It paid a record $124 billion in benefits in 2010 and is on track to become the first major entitlement program to go bust. Government officials said last week it is expected to run out of money in 2018. ...
Judges and local attorneys have complained about the volume of disability cases brought before Judge Daugherty by one lawyer, Eric C. Conn. ...
When asked about Mr. Daugherty, Social Security Administration Commissioner Michael Astrue said in an interview there were several "outliers" among administrative law judges, but that he has no power to intervene because their independence is protected by federal law. ...
Following inquiries from The Wall Street Journal, the Social Security Administration's inspector general's office launched an investigation into Mr. Daugherty's approval rate, according to several people briefed on the matter.  ...
Judges and staff in the Huntington office have complained to supervisors that Mr. Daugherty assigns himself Mr. Conn's cases, including some that were assigned to other judges, two former judges and several staff said. Cases are supposed to be assigned randomly.
According to a court schedule of Mr. Daugherty's day reviewed by The Wall Street Journal dated Feb. 22, 2006, Mr. Daugherty held 20 hearings spaced 15 minutes apart for Mr. Conn and his clients in a Prestonsburg, Ky., field office.

Port Jervis Loses Service

 From the Times Herald-Record of the Hudson Valley in New York:
Port Jervis seniors who need to speak with a Social Security representative are now going to have to travel to another location or become computer savvy.
Regular visits on the third Tuesday of each month by a Social Security rep to the Port Jervis Municipal Building — which has for years given folks a convenient way to get help — has been suspended indefinitely because of federal budget cuts, city officials say.
Update: Port Jervis is getting its service restored.

May 18, 2011

Actually, I Think He May Have A Few Loose Screws

From the Washington Times:
A key senator has asked the Social Security Administration to investigate how people who live their lives role-playing as “adult babies” are able to get taxpayer-funded disability payments - after one of them was featured on a recent reality TV episode wearing diapers, feeding from a bottle and using an adult-sized crib he built.
Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican and the Senate’s top waste-watcher, asked the agency’s inspector general to look into 30-year-old Stanley Thornton Jr. and his roommate, Sandra Dias, who acts as his “mother,” saying it’s not clear why they are collecting Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits instead of working.
“Given that Mr. Thornton is able to determine what is appropriate attire and actions in public, drive himself to complete errands, design and custom-make baby furniture to support a 350-pound adult and run an Internet support group, it is possible that he has been improperly collecting disability benefits for a period of time,” Mr. Coburn wrote in a letter Monday to Inspector General Patrick P. O'Carroll Jr. ...
Mr. Thornton was featured in early May on National Geographic Channel’s “Taboo” program along with Miss Dias, a former nurse who feeds him a bottle and otherwise attends to his needs when he is dressed in diapers.
In the episode, he shows off the adult-sized crib he built and sleeps in, and the cameras follow him to the hardware store where he buys wood for his latest do-it-yourself project - an elevated high chair that is capable of holding his ample frame. ...
Mr. Coburn also questions why Miss Dias, as a former nurse, collects SSI benefits, “since she is able to provide childcare” to Mr. Thornton.

May 17, 2011

Rep Payee Problem In Arizona

Two Tucson brothers who operated a service that managed Social Security checks for the elderly and disabled pleaded guilty for their roles in a $1.3 million embezzlement case.

Robert Lee Skaggs, 57, and Ray T. Skaggs, 42, pleaded guilty Monday to conspiracy, mail fraud and conversion of security payee funds, according to a U.S. Attorney's Office news release.

The brothers, along with their sister Jo Ann Skaggs, operated SCOPE payee services, which paid bills and distributed social security money for recipients not able to manage their own expenses.

May 16, 2011

Putting It In Context

From Dean Baker, Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, writing at the Huffington Post:
There was both good news and bad news in the Social Security trustees' report released last week. The bad news is that the program is projected to cost somewhat more in the latest report than in the 2010 report. ...
This bad news about the program is also the good news. The main reason that the program's finances deteriorated between the 2010 report and the 2011 report is that in the 2011 report the trustees assumed that we would enjoy substantially longer life expectancies than they did in the 2010 report.
They increased their projected life expectancy for men turning age 65 in 2010 from 18.1 years to 18.6 years, a gain of 0.5 years. The trustees increased their projected life expectancy for women turning age 65 by 0.3 years. ...
Even accepting the 2011 report at face value the picture is hardly as dire as many politicians in Washington are claiming. We have seen much worse before. For example in 1997, the trustees projected a shortfall that was equal to 2.23 percent of payroll. At that time, their projections showed the trust fund first being depleted in 2029. ...
It is also important to keep the Social Security numbers in context. Proponents of cuts to Social Security have spent fortunes on pollsters and focus groups trying to put the program's finances in the most dire possible light. They are fond of reporting things like the program's $17.9 trillion shortfall over the infinite horizon. ...
The vast majority of this $17.9 trillion shortfall comes in years after 2200. Social Security does have a long planning period, but if anyone thinks that we are actually making policy for the 24th century then we should keep this person far removed from the levers of power. ...
The best way to make the size of the projected Social Security shortfall understandable is to put it in context. Relative to the size of the economy, the projected Social Security shortfall is equal to 0.7 percent of GDP. By comparison, annual spending on the military increased by more than 1.6 percentage points of GDP between 2000 and 2011. So the burden imposed by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are almost 2.5 times larger than the money that would be needed to eliminate the Social Security shortfall. ...
To take another point of reference, the Congressional Budget Office's analysis of the Ryan Medicare privatization plan implied that it would increase the cost of buying Medicare-equivalent policies by more than $34 trillion, a sum that is almost five times as large as the projected Social Security shortfall.

Schizophrenia And Social Security

I have been seeing more and more people contacting me who have been denied Social Security disability benefits even though they are schizophrenic. I have talked with other attorneys in North Carolina who tell me that they have seen the same thing. I have not seen disability claims based upon schizophrenia denied in a long time, more than 25 years. Social Security for many years that schizophrenia is such a devastating illness that any virtually every schizophrenic ought to be approved.

So what has changed? It's not been a change in the treatment of schizophrenia. There's no cure. Schizophrenia cannot be managed in the way that bipolar disorder can be managed for many people. The best that can be achieved with schizophrenia is to control the positive symptoms, the hallucinations and delusions, but treatment hardly touches the negative symptoms of schizophrenia, such as "inexpressive faces, blank looks, monotone and monosyllabic speech, few gestures, seeming lack of interest in the world and other people, inability to feel pleasure or act spontaneously." That may sound a little vague but it is very real and very disabling.

If something has changed in disability claims based upon schizophrenia, it is at Social Security. Social Security never announces these things. In fact, they always deny that they have made any change. They "announce" the change secretly using their quality assurance program. Disability Determination Services (DDS) tries to approve someone at the initial or reconsideration level, the case is subjected to quality assurance review and gets sent back because the quality assurance people did not like paying that person. Once DDS gets several returns on the same issue, they gets the picture and cut back on approving people who present that particular situation without Social Security every acknowledging that anything has changed.

Take a look below at a quality assurance return that I have seen in a client's file recently. I have redacted the identifying information. Don't try to blame it on the diagnosis of "schizophreniform disorder" instead of schizophrenia? That's technical, because the young woman in question hadn't demonstrated her symptoms for six months. Since that time, predictably, her symptoms have continued unabated. DDS got the message from this return. They got updated clinic records which showed the continuation of the same problems and they turned her down. That's why her mother called me.

I find this depressing. What do you think?

May 15, 2011

Ezra Klein On Social Security

 From Ezra Klein writing in the Washington Post:
  1. Over the next 75 years, Social Security’s shortfall is equal to about 0.7 percent of GDP. Source (PDF).
  2. For the average 65-year-old retiring in 2010, Social Security replaced about 40 percent of working-age earnings. That “replacement rate” is scheduled to fall to 31 percent in the coming decades. Source.
  3. Social Security’s replacement rate puts it 26th among 30 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development nations for workers with average earnings. Source.
  4. Without Social Security, 45 percent of seniors would be under the poverty line. With Social Security, 10 percent of seniors are under the poverty line. Source.
  5. People can start receiving Social Security benefits at age 62. But the longer they wait, up until age 70, the larger their checks. Waiting to 66 means checks that are 33 percent larger. Waiting to 70 means checks that are 76 percent larger. But most people start claiming benefits at 62, and 95 percent start by 66. Source.
  6. Raising the retirement age by one year amounts to roughly a 6.66 percent cut in benefits. Source.
  7. In 1935, a white male at age 60 could expect to live to 75. Today, a white male at age 60 can expect to live to 80. Source.
  8. In 1972, a 60-year-old male worker in the bottom half of the income distribution had a life expectancy of 78 years. Today, it’s around 80 years. Male workers in the top half of the income distribution, by contrast, have gone from 79 years to 85 years. Source.

May 14, 2011

Speakers At NOSSCCR Conference

 I am bumping this up since Blogger's problems had it hidden for so long.

The National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR) is having a conference this week in Baltimore. I am unable to attend. Eric Schanufer has been kind enough to take some notes on the speakers at this morning's general session. Here are Eric's notes with some light editing by me:
Carolyn Colvin, Deputy Commissioner of Social Security
  • Nine States under Disability Determination Services (DDS) furloughs
  • About 4,700 representatives are registered for electronic access
  • Through second quarter of 2011, 386,000 requests for hearings precessed
  • Anticipate processing 814,000 requests for hearings in fiscal year (FY) 2011
  • Average processing time is less than one year as of March 2011
  • FY 2009 36,000+ attorney advisory fully favorable decisions, FY 2010 54,000+, FY 2011 at present 32,000+
  • There is a virtual screening unit. It now has 72 attorney advisors. In FY 2011, it has screened 22,000 requests for hearings and rendered 6,000 fully favorable decisions
  • In FY 2011, about 130 Administrative Law Judges ALJs will be hired with support staff. There is a hiring freeze except for Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR). The Agency will lose 2,500 employees through attrition.
  • In 2011, eight new hearing offices will be opened, including August, GA, Columbus, MO, Franklin, TN, Reno, NV, and Tacoma, WA. Eight offices that were planned will not be opened, including El Paso, TX, Marquette, MI, Muncie, IN, and St. Paul, MN.
  • About 4.5% of initial claims will be paid either through Quick Disability Determination and Compassionate Allowance.
  • The Tallahassee Teleservice Center is on hold.
  • There is limited overtime.
  • Information technology investments are on hold.
  • About 50,000 DDS denials will be reviewed by Quality Review.
  • There are 538 certified non-attorney representatives. There will be an examination in 2011. The Agency is looking for a contractor. The Agency is working on regulations for certifying non-attorney representatives.
Judge Thomas I. Vanaskie, Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. 
  • District Judge Robert W. Pratt introduced Judge Vanaskie 
  • Judge Vanaskie discussed the Third Circuit's case of Capato ex rel. B.N.C. v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 626 (3d Cir. 2011).
  • Stated that he knew of four cases involving videoconference. He provided citations for two. Below are quotes from them:
  • Kirby v. Astrue, 731  F. Supp. 2d 453, 457 (E.D. N.C. 2010) (“This Court finds as a matter of law that an ALJ cannot impeach the credibility of a claimant, nothing else appearing, based on his or her personal impressions, such as how often a claimant shifts positions, or moves around during a hearing conducted via video conference. There could be any number of reasons for such movement by a claimant and there is no one valid interpretation as to why a claimant was sitting in a certain manner or continuously standing up that an ALJ can use to impeach the claimants credibility.”).
  • Holliday v. Astrue, No. 05-CV-1826 (DLI)(VVP), 2009 WL 1292707, at *11 (E.D. N.Y. May 5, 2009) (“The transcript hearing indicates that Plaintiff appeared via video teleconferencing equipment before an ALJ who presided from Virginia. (R. 35, 156-57.) The Court notes that Plaintiff was notified in advance of the hearing that video teleconferencing equipment would be used, and apprised of her right to object to the use of such equipment, as required by 20 C.F.R. § 404.938(b). (R. 35.) Even so, construing Plaintiff's pro se pleadings and papers `to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest,’ Triestman, 470 F.3d at 474, the Court finds that the use of teleconferencing equipment here may have been especially prejudicial, since it may have impaired the ALJ's ability to (1) observe the existence and severity of Plaintiff's lesions; (2) make proper credibility determinations; and (3) evaluate whether Plaintiff was intoxicated at the hearing, thus rendering her unable to knowingly waive her right to an attorney. On remand, in determining whether Plaintiff will be appearing at the hearing in person or via teleconferencing equipment, the ALJ should consider whether the need to assess these factors prevents the use of teleconferencing equipment in this case.”).
Eileen Sweeney Award
NOSSCR gave the Eileen Sweeney Award for public service to:
  • Daniel Devine
  • Richard Morris
  • There is a fifth National Hearing Center in St. Lous.
  • There are now 1,400 ALJs. There is a historically high attrition rate for ALJs. Fifty have left this year.
  • ODAR wants ALJs to meet “pace,” i.e., dispose of 500-700 cases per year. At present, three quarters of ALJs on “pace.”
  • There is a 5-2 ratio of “new” cases to “old” cases.
  • No Hearing Office has an average processing time of greater than 500 days.
  • Less than a dozen Hearing Offices have average processing times of greater than 450 days.
    8,000 invitations have been sent to representatives for eFolder access. 4,700+ representatives have eFolder access.
  • There will be access to the eFolder at the Appeals Council in the summer of 2011.
  • There will be case status summary access in eight to nine months (winter 2012).
  • In FY 2011, there will be 130,000 video hearings.
  • There are 841 hearing rooms with video equipment, and 317 desktop video units.
    There have been 5,300 RVP hearings (hearings in the representative’s office) to date. There are 28 certified representatives. At present, a DSL line is used. There will be a national rollout this year for IP-based RVP.
  • $300 million has been cut from information technology.
  • The Agency is on the “cusp” of furloughs.
  • ODAR is in a slightly better position than the Agency generally.
  • All temporary remote sites will be closed after scheduled hearings are held. Some temporary remote sites will be made permanent remote sites.
  • There is a “full freeze” in the field offices. There will be no information technology innovation for representative fee payment.
  • There is no routine provision of CDs to representatives who have electronic access.
  • It is OK to use a stamp to complete Form 1696s. 
    Nancy Shor, Executive Director NOSSCR
    • The Disability Insurance Trust Fund will not run out of money in 2018. Money will be reallocated from the Retirement Trust Fund to the DI Trust Fund.
    • It appears that where a representative signed up for electronic access matters. If a representative signed up for electronic access at a Hearing Office, CDs are not sent to the representative. If a representative signed up for electronic access at an SSA "event," e.g., a NOSSCR conference, CDs are sent. CDs should be provided upon request to all representatives.
    • NOSSCR wants to know about problems with encyrpted CDs and using Electronic Records Express.
    • NOSSCR is aware that an entire representative's staff wants to use electronic access, but the agreement for such access restricts access to the representative him- or herself.
    • The Senior Attorney Advisor program will be extended to August 9, 2013.
    • The disability program will not go away. See what the response was to Rep. Ryan's plan for Medicare. A "knife cannot successfully be put" into the "heart" of the disability program.
    • NOSSCR has asked Social Security's Office of General Counsel to consider using a standard language for addressing debt collection issues after Ratliff.

    May 13, 2011

    The Sky Is Falling

     A press release from Social Security:
    The Social Security Board of Trustees today released its annual report on the financial health of the Social Security Trust Funds. The combined assets of the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) Trust Funds will be exhausted in 2036, one year sooner than projected last year. The DI Trust Fund, while unchanged from last year, will be exhausted in 2018 and legislative action will be needed soon. At a minimum, a reallocation of the payroll tax rate between OASI and DI would be necessary, as was done in 1994. The Trustees also project that OASDI program costs will exceed non-interest income in 2011 and will remain higher throughout the remainder of the 75-year period.

    In the 2011 Annual Report to Congress, the Trustees announced:

    The projected point at which the combined Trust Funds will be exhausted comes in 2036 -- one year sooner than projected last year. At that time, there will be sufficient non-interest income coming in to pay about 77 percent of scheduled benefits.

    The point at which non-interest income fell below program costs was 2010. Program costs are projected to exceed non-interest income throughout the remainder of the 75-year period.

    The projected actuarial deficit over the 75-year long-range period is 2.22 percent of taxable payroll -- 0.30 percentage point larger than in last year’s report.

    Over the 75-year period, the Trust Funds would require additional revenue equivalent to $6.5 trillion in present value dollars to pay all scheduled benefits.

    “The current Trustees Report again reflects what we have long known to be true -- we need changes to ensure the long-term solvency of Social Security and to restore younger workers' confidence in the program,” said Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security. “The report also highlights the more near-term shortfall in the Disability Insurance Trust Fund. Our disability programs are complex, and there is a long history of well intended ‘reforms’ causing unintended consequences. The President sent to Congress our Work Incentive Simplification Proposal, which would be a good start for bipartisan debate. I urge the House and Senate to review this proposed legislation carefully and schedule hearings this year.”

    Other highlights of the Trustees Report include:

    Income including interest to the combined OASDI Trust Funds amounted to $781 billion ($637 billion in net contributions, $24 billion from taxation of benefits, $117 billion in interest, and $2 billion in reimbursements from the General Fund of the Treasury) in 2010.

    Total expenditures from the combined OASDI Trust Funds amounted to $713 billion in 2010.

    The assets of the combined OASDI Trust Funds increased by $69 billion in 2010 to a total of $2.6 trillion.

    During 2010, an estimated 157 million people had earnings covered by Social Security and paid payroll taxes.

    Social Security paid benefits of $702 billion in calendar year 2010. There were about 54 million beneficiaries at the end of the calendar year.

    The cost of $6.5 billion to administer the program in 2010 was a very low 0.9 percent of total expenditures.

    The combined Trust Fund assets earned interest at an effective annual rate of 4.6 percent in 2010.

    The Board of Trustees is comprised of six members. Four serve by virtue of their positions with the federal government: Timothy F. Geithner, Secretary of the Treasury and Managing Trustee; Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security; Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services; and Hilda L. Solis, Secretary of Labor. The two public trustees are Charles P. Blahous, III and Robert D. Reischauer.

    The 2011 Trustees Report will be posted at by Friday afternoon.

    Inspector General Gives Good Report On iClaims

    At an April 15, 2010 hearing before the House of Representatives’ Committee on Ways and Means, Subcommittee on Social Security, Congressman Xavier Becerra asked the Office of the Inspector General to review the iClaim application to ensure individuals filing for benefits using the iClaim application were receiving an appropriate level of service from SSA [Social Security Administration]. ...
    During our review of DIB [Disability Insurance Benefits] iClaim applications, there were no indications that individuals filing for DIB using the iClaim application did not receive an appropriate level of service from SSA. In fact, SSA employees re-contacted 70 percent of the individuals in our sample to obtain additional information or clarification. While employees raised concerns regarding re-contacting individuals about the Form SSA-827 and the Adult Disability Report, they also recognized that iClaim applications were typically faster to process than in-person or telephone applications. In addition, we found that the information individuals provide on their iClaim applications corresponded with the information in SSA’s system used to determine benefit eligibility and amount.

    Blogger Problems

    Blogger was down altogether for many hours. It is now back up but everything posted since sometime Wednesday has disappeared for the time being. I expect it will be back eventually.

    May 12, 2011

    12% Reduction In Social Security Appropriations?

    The House Appropriations Committee has announced a schedule for markup of spending bills for fiscal year (FY) 2012, which begins on October 1, 2011. The Labor-HHS appropriations bill, which includes the Social Security Administration, is set for subcommittee markup on July 26 and for full committee markup on August 2.

    More importantly, the House Appropriations Committee has announced subcommittee allocations, that is the total amount of each subcommittee appropriation. The Labor-HHS Subcommittee has been told to cut appropriations by 12% from FY 2011 and by 26% from the President's budget. This would render the agency just about non-functional. You can fantasize all you want from whatever cost savings scheme you can imagine but you cannot come up with any way to reduce Social Security's operating budget by 12% and leave the agency able to do its mission. The only way to accomplish this would be with massive personnel reductions, either by a huge reduction in force or by regular, frequent furloughs of all of Social Security's personnel or by a combination of the two.

    You almost want to see what would happen if this were enacted. Would we then have a truly "grown-up" discussion about government spending?

    May 11, 2011

    Galveston Office To Move

     From The Galveston County Daily News:
    GALVESTON — Despite worries that a move could pose problems for some Social Security beneficiaries, the island’s Social Security office is planning a move to League City next year. ...

    “After repeated efforts to find space which met the requirements of the Social Security Administration, none could be located on Galveston Island,” Deborah Ruiz, of General Services Administration, said.

    Discussion about moving the main county office to the mainland started in May 2008, prompting concern from island residents. Three years later, Social Security Administration staff still is working in a cramped office at 4918 Seawall Blvd.

    Critics of the move have said elderly and disabled residents in Galveston could have trouble getting to the office in League City.

    Public transportation for the roughly 25 miles between the island and League City doesn’t exist, and a taxi trip to and from could cost about $150, a local taxi cab company said.

    May 10, 2011

    Commissioner's Broadcast E-Mail

    A Message To All SSA And DDS Employees

    Subject:  The FY 2011 Budget

    It is a relief to finally know what our fiscal year (FY) 2011 budget is, although I am frustrated that it is very late and very short of our expectations and needs.  Congress passed an appropriation that is nearly one billion dollars less than the President’s budget. 

    While all of your work is important, we are not making cuts evenly across the board.  We need to do what we can to preserve the most critical activities.  Cutting all areas evenly is an easier approach, but it’s not the right way if we are going to continue to provide the best possible service.  Most of the cuts already in place will have to stay because easing up on them increases the likelihood of furloughs, especially next year, and I am doing what I can to avoid them.

    As I have mentioned before, operating under a continuing resolution (CR) at last year’s budget level actually gives us less money than we had last year because our fixed costs like rent and guards continue to increase.  Regrettably, not only are we not operating at CR levels, but Congress also cut our budget below the CR level. 

    Given the Nation’s fiscal climate, we anticipated the possibility of reduced funding, which is why we took action months ago to make cuts and stop hiring.  When I talk with you, you invariably ask for more people to help you handle the work.  Unfortunately, we simply don’t have the resources to lift the hiring freeze.  Hiring freezes make it hard to serve the public and manage work in offices that lose staff, but when we decide whether to hire new staff, we must consider if we can afford to pay them for as long as they stay with us.   Regrettably, even our strongest advocates in Congress are warning us that the best we should expect next year—just five months away—is funding at our current level.  Hiring staff now would increase the likelihood of furloughs next year.

    I have authorized a small amount of overtime to support some of our most critical activities, including completing late day interviews instead of turning people away.  In this new, tough fiscal environment, you should not count on the availability of overtime when you make your personal budget decisions. 

    Even technology, which has been instrumental in handling our increasing workloads, has taken a hit.  In spite of the proven success of our popular online applications—we took the top three spots for iClaim, Retirement Estimator, and Extra Help in the most recent ACSI report and outdid companies like Amazon and Netflix—Congress also reduced our information technology fund by $275 million, which will limit new technology that is the best way for us to manage our growing workloads.

    Budget cuts of this magnitude have very real implications.  We are working creatively to come up with ideas that help us move forward, like suspending the mailing of the Social Security Statement, which will save us about $30 million this year.  With the support of the Office of Management and Budget, I expect that you will see a series of small but significant initiatives to reduce workloads that will also help us weather this difficult fiscal climate.

    The choices we make going forward remain difficult.  I share your regret at watching the progress we have made, especially over the last two years, start to slip away.  One goal that we are doing our best to meet is our commitment to eliminating the hearings backlog by 2013.  When I became Commissioner, Congress made it clear that it had to be our number one priority, and that mandate has not changed.  We are on track to meet that goal, and I am giving ODAR resources to deliver on this imperative. 

    Please know that we will continue to fight for the budget our work deserves.  Thank you for staying focused on what is most important during all of the distractions.  You should be very proud of all that you are accomplishing.

    Michael J. Astrue

    Here's To Keeping Alan Simpson Front And Center On The Social Security "Reform" Issue!

    Alan Simpson  to AARP
     From Huffington Post:
    Alan Simpson’s cold relationship with AARP is no secret, but the former Republican Senator from Wyoming took it to a new level Friday. At an event hosted by the Investment Company Institute, Simpson delighted the finance industry audience members by aiming a rude gesture at the leading lobby for senior citizens.
    Financial and investment interests have long been supportive of Simpson’s broad critique of Social Security, since privatizing the old-age and disability support program would be a tremendous boon for Wall Street’s financial managers. ICI represents mutual funds and other money managers who control more than $13 trillion in assets.
    Simpson’s forceful gesture came after an extended diatribe against Social Security, which he said is a "Ponzi" scheme, "not a retirement program.”

    Means Testing Social Security?

    From TPM:
    House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) offered cautious support Tuesday for the idea of adopting further means-testing of Medicare and Social Security to help shore up the finances of both programs. But the devil, he said, will be in the details.
    "I don't want to get into means testing until we look at specific proposals," Hoyer said at his weekly Capitol briefing in response to a question from TPM. "Generally speaking, we do, as you know, have certain means testing in both Medicare and SS at this point in time. ... I think clearly we're going to have to make both of those programs sustainable over the long run, and I think to some degree it would be clearly appropriate to look at -- without endorsing any specific proposal -- the insuring that the least well off are protected and to do that look at the best off ... in terms of what level of support they get."

    Fugitive Felon Policies Continue To Unravel

     From an Emergency Message that Social Security sent out to its field offices yesterday:
    We previously informed you in EM-10061-SEN, that on 3/19/2010, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals rendered a decision in Clark v. Astrue, finding that SSA’s practice of relying solely on outstanding probation or parole violation arrest warrants to suspend or deny benefits conflicted with the plain meaning of the Social Security Act. Because of that decision, we stopped suspending or denying title II benefits and title XVI payments based solely on an outstanding probation or parole violation warrant for individuals who resided in New York, Connecticut, or Vermont.
    Upon remand from the Second Circuit on 3/18/2011, the District Court for the Southern District of New York certified a nationwide class in Clark v. Astrue that includes all individuals whose benefits or payments were suspended or denied on or after October 29, 2006 (If this class definition changes, we will issue another instruction). Based on this class certification, we are no longer suspending or denying benefits or payments based solely on a probation or parole violation warrant. However, at this time do not take any action to remedy prior suspensions or denials based solely on a probation or parole violation warrant.
    Action to take on probation and parole violation warrants
    Effective immediately, do not suspend or deny title II benefits or title XVI payments to an individual based solely on an outstanding probation or parole violation warrant with any of the following offense codes:
    · 5011 – Parole violation
    5012 – Probation violation
    8101 – Juvenile offenders – abscond while on parole
    8102 – Juvenile offenders – abscond while on probation
    9999 -- with an offense charge symbol of “probation or parole violation.”
    “Blank”-- with an offense charge symbol of “probation or parole violation.”

    Press Release On Help America Vote Act

    A press release from Social Security:
    Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, today announced the agency is publishing data on its Open Government website about verifications the agency conducts for States under the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002.  Under HAVA, most States are required to verify the last four digits of the Social Security number of people newly registering to vote who do not possess a valid State driver's license.
    “I strongly support President Obama’s commitment to creating an open and transparent government,” Commissioner Astrue said.  “As we approach another federal election year, it remains absolutely critical that Americans are able to register to vote without undue obstacles.  Making this data publicly available will allow the media and the public on a timely basis to raise questions about unexpected patterns with the appropriate State officials.”
    The data available at represents the summary results for each State of the four-digit match performed by Social Security under HAVA.

    May 9, 2011

    Non-Disability Cases Transferred -- Why?

    From the website of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR):
    NOSSCR has learned in recent meetings with ODAR [Office of Disability Adjudication and Review] officials that some 10,000 appeals are pending at the hearing level with no medical issue, including overpayments (Title II and SSI) and SSI income/resource appeals. These claims are being documented with the help of new software tools and DDS [Disability Determination Services] training, and then transferred to the National Hearing Centers (NHCs) for a "limited" time to work down this large backlog. The agency plans to return jurisdiction to the local ODAR offices by the end of the calendar year. Non-disability cases already "scheduled" will not be transferred.
    Advocates first reported one year ago that non-medical appeals were being transferred from the local hearing offices to a cadre of field ALJs [Administrative Law Judges] serving as specialists. The ALJ union objected – and has renewed its concerns about the new NHC version of the same plan – contending that the normal rotational policy is necessary to ensure the reality and appearance of fairness. Assigning claims based on ALJ specialization has significant APA implications.
    Non-disability cases apart from overpayment cases are so diverse that the idea of special software tools for them seems bizarre. What would DDS training have to do with non-disability cases? Why would anyone train DDS employees on SSI income and resources or determination of age or paternity? How would that help the ALJs? DDS employees are certainly not capable of training ALJs in these fields. This explanation makes no sense to me. If anything, this sounds more like someone was trying to think of a justification for keeping the NHCs in the event that backlogs go down to low numbers -- a possibility that looked more likely before the last election than it looks today.

    May 8, 2011

    "More Efficient Delivery Of Service To The Public"

     From the South Whidbey, WA Record:
    The Social Security Administration will make its last visit to the Langley contact station at the Bayview Senior Center on May 12, the agency has announced.

    The reduction in service is part of agency-wide changes that officials said would provide more efficient delivery of service to the public.

    Updated Fee Payment Numbers

    Updated numbers on payments of fees to attorneys and others for representing Social Security claimants:

    Fee Payments

    Month/Year Volume Amount

    May 7, 2011

    Service Reductions In Michigan

     From the Midland, MI Daily News:
    Social Security has cut the number of monthly visitations to the Midland County Contact Station in half.

    Midland residents will only be able to meet with a Social Security Administration representative twice a month on the second and fourth Tuesdays ...

    The move was made April 19, according to Cynthia Edwards, Social Security public affairs specialist in Flint.

    “With more people utilizing Social Security online and our automated telephone services, and visiting the local Social Security offices in both Saginaw and Bay City, there have been fewer visitors to the Midland contact station,” said Edwards, explaining the reduction. “And due to the options provided to the public and the reduction in Midland visitors, the decision to cut back in Midland was made.” ...
    Edwards said Midland is not the only city effected by the current budget situation. There have been other Social Security offices in Michigan that have reduced their hours of operation or the days of service to their contact stations.
    “It is anticipated this will have little impact on the Midland community,” Edwards said.
     Maybe there's been a decrease in demand in Midland but I'm pretty sure the real reason for this cut was lack of an adequate operating  budget at Social Security. And that crack about "little impact"! I doubt that the good citizens of Midland appreciate that.