Jun 30, 2011

SSI Is Not Enough To Live On

From a fact sheet prepared by the Technical Assistance Collaborative:
People with disabilities who receive SSI [Supplemental Security Income] payments continue to be the nation’s poorest citizens. In 2010, the annual income of a single individual receiving SSI payments was $8,436 – equal to only 18.7% of the national median income for a one-person household and over 20% below the 2010 federal poverty level of $10,830. Since the first Priced Out study was published in 1998, the value of SSI payments compared to median income has declined precipitously – from 24.4% of median income in 1998 to 18.7% in 2010 – while national average rents have risen over 50% during the same time period. 
In 2010, as a national average, a person receiving SSI needed to pay 112% of their monthly income to rent a modest one-bedroom unit. In the 12 years since the first Priced Out was published, the amount of monthly SSI income needed to rent a modest one-bedroom unit has increased an astonishing 62 percent. People with disabilities were also priced out of smaller studio/efficiency units, which averaged 99% of monthly SSI.

A Little Binder And Binder Info

I had posted earlier on the decision in the case of Binder v. Disability Group. That case was a trademark infringement action based upon the Defendant's use of the name "Binder and Binder" in Google search engine advertising. Binder and Binder won. That decision is now available online. The part of the decision concerning computation of damages sheds a small amount of light on Binder and Binder's operations. Here is an excerpt (footnotes and exhibit numbers omitted):
We conclude that Plaintiffs' are entitled to an award for lost profits. Plaintiffs earned an average revenue of $3,576.93 per case in California from December 1,2005 through November 30,2006.  Plaintiffs retained 18.78% of cases for which submission forms were entered on their site.
One footnote indicates that Binder and Binder's average fee per case in California was slightly lower than  its nationwide average of $3,606.69.

What is unclear to me is why the Court made no adjustment, as best I can tell, for the fact that Binder and Binder would not have won all the cases it might have lost due to the trademark infringement. It seems odd to me to assume a 100% success rate for cases taken on a contingent fee basis.  Surely, the Defendant's attorney argued this point. Since the Court ordered treble damages and awarded attorney fees, it would appear that the Court was not impressed with any of the Defendant's arguments.

Jun 29, 2011

Social Security Checks At Risk In Debt Limit Impasse

From USA Today:
Social Security payments to millions of retirees and people with disabilities could be threatened if President Obama and Congress can't agree to increase the government's debt limit by Aug. 2, a new analysis shows.
Although the Treasury Department likely could avoid delaying Social Security checks, the analysis by the Bipartisan Policy Center points up the depth of the cuts that would be needed if the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling isn't raised.
It shows that in August, the government could not afford to meet 44% of its obligations. Since the $134 billion deficit for that month couldn't be covered with more borrowing, programs would have to be cut.

If Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment benefits, payments to defense contractors and interest payments on Treasury bonds were exempt, that would be all the government could afford for the month. No money for troops or veterans. No tax refunds. No food stamps or welfare. No federal salaries or benefits.
 If the threat seems abstract to you, consider this from Ezra Kline:
The best advice I’ve gotten for assessing the debt-ceiling negotiations was to “watch for the day when the White House goes public.” As long as the Obama administration was refusing to attack Republicans publicly, my source said, they believed they could cut a deal. And that held true. ...  But today they went public. The negotiations have failed.

New ALJ Training

Could anyone provide me with a list of the recent trainers of new Administrative Law Judges? I wonder who they are. Note the "Feedback" button to the right.

NADE Newsletter

The National Association of Disability Examiners (NADE), an organization of the personnel who make initial and reconsideration determinations on Social Security disability claims, has issued its Summer 2011 newsletter. Here are a few excerpt from NADE's summary of Commissioner Astrue's remarks at a NADE regional training conference in April:
The DDS accuracy rate has increased from 94% to 98% over the last decade. ...
SSA continues to try to make the work process easier, such as eliminating step 4 ...
Commissioner Astrue acknowledged the mounting concerns regarding the disability process and, in particular, fraud involving treating physicians, abuse of the childhood disability program, and issues involving Medical Improvement process for CDRs. [Continuing Disability Reviews] Due to the differences in rules at the DDS [Disability Determination Services, where NADE members work] level and those at the hearing level, it is often impossible to remove some beneficiaries from the rolls when they are reviewed for medical improvement. These are all issues to hopefully be addressed in the future of this program.
By the way, as a survivor of the 60s, I love their ad for their training conference coming up in Los Angeles. I think I had something like this on the wall of my dorm room 40 or so years ago.

Social Security's IT Changes Run Counter To General Trend

From Information Week Government:
While a number of federal agencies are moving toward more centralized lines of IT  [Information Technology] authority under the CIO [Chief Information Officer], the Social Security Administration appears to be headed in the other direction. Last Friday it broke up much of the CIO organization and scattered its authority across several offices. ...
 While Social Security CIO Frank Baitman and the CIO's organization will remain, they will do so with a significantly trimmed role, and without a series of key deputies who have moved to other organizations or have left the agency....
While Social Security has just moved much of the CIO's authority elsewhere, to the Office of Systems, numerous agencies are headed in the other direction. Several agencies, including the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of the Interior, have consolidated CIO authority in recent years. 


Binder and Binder, the largest entity representing Social Security claimants, is now owned, at least in part, by a private equity company, HIG, headquartered in Miami. They were acquired in a leveraged buyout last August.

Jun 28, 2011

The Koch Brothers Echo Chamber

I am told this video is blocked for those on Social Security's network. This is the first time I have heard of this happening. Are they blocking all videos or just this one?

By the way, notice that octopus image. Anybody know who that image was used for many decades ago?

Media Picks Up On Social Security Reorganization And Personnel Changes

Federal Computer Week, Federal News Radio and Executive Government have picked up on the Social Security reorganization and personnel changes reported here yesterday.

Jun 27, 2011

Former Social Security Commissioner Hardy Still Active

From a press release:
Dorcas R. Hardy, former Commissioner of Social Security, has been named Chair of the National Advisory Board for Early Bird Alert Inc. (EBA), the company dedicated to improving health and connectivity for seniors and the chronically ill, it was announced today.

Ms. Hardy, who served under President Ronald Reagan and is president of DRHardy & Associates, a public policy firm in Washington, D.C., will lead experts in the fields of aging and disability services to advise EBA in the development and implementation of EasyConnect™, its new in-home communications device and service designed to help seniors and patients with chronic medical conditions take better care of their health. 

Major Reorganization And Personnel Changes

Social Security
Date:   June 24, 2011  
To:     Senior Staff
From:   Michael J. Astrue  /s/
Subject:        Organizational Realignments and Executive Personnel Assignments - INFORMATION

To maximize our efficiency during these lean budget times, I am implementing several functional and organizational realignments now and in the coming weeks.   Below is a high-level overview of some of those changes along with some executive personnel announcements.  
Effective immediately, the Offices of Innovation and Investment Management will move from the Office of the Chief Information Officer (CIO) to the Office of Systems (OS).  Karen Palm and Lester Diamond will move to OS with their respective functions.  Deputy Commissioner Carolyn Colvin will take the lead for the Future Systems Technology Advisory Panel.  Functional responsibility for Health IT will also move to OS.
Ephraim Feig, former Associate CIO for Vision and Strategy, is no longer with the agency.  From the Office of Vision and Strategy, the Division of Strategic Services will move to the Office of Quality Performance (OQP), and the Division of IT Strategy will move to OS.

From the Office of Open Government, the Notice Improvement Staff and the Transparency and Citizen Engagement Staff will move to the Office of Communications under the continuing leadership of Alan Lane, and the Division of Authentication will move to the Office of Electronic Services in Operations.  

Greg Pace, Deputy CIO, has accepted a Senior Advisor position with Deputy Commissioner Colvin.

I am taking the first steps to reorganize functions in the Office of Budget, Finance and Management.  The security and emergency preparedness functions currently in the Office of Facilities Management (OFM) will move to the newly created Associate Commissioner-level Office of Security and Emergency Preparedness.  Jim Bentley, currently Associate Commissioner (AC) for Budget, Facilities and Security (OBFS) in the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR), will be Associate Commissioner and Mike Kramer, currently Deputy AC for Facilities Management, will be Deputy AC for this new Office.   

I am eliminating the Office of Publications and Logistics Management to consolidate the logistics functions in a new Office titled the Office of Facilities and Supply Management (OFSM).  OPLM’s publications programs will transfer to the Office of Communications (OCOMM).  

Gary Arnold will be the AC for OFSM and Lydia Marshall will be the Deputy AC.    

I am moving responsibility for White House and congressional correspondence from OCOMM’s Office of Public Inquiries (OPI) to the Office of Legislation and Congressional Affairs.   

Betsy Bake, currently the AC for the Office of Facilities Management, will become the AC for Public Inquiries in the OCOMM.

Joanne Gasparini, currently the Deputy AC in the Office of Financial Policy and Operations, will move to OQP along with the program integrity/improper payments function.  Chris Molander will be Deputy AC, OFPO.   Teresa Rojas (SES Candidate Development Program (CDP) Class IV) will be Acting Senior Advisor for Audits.

In the Office of Budget (OB), Deputy AC Don Hartline will move to ODAR as Deputy AC for OBFS and Eric Jones, the current Deputy AC for OBFS, will move to Deputy AC, OB.

In ODAR, Frank Biro (SES CDP Class IV) will be the Acting AC for OBFS.  

Debra Bice is Chief Administrative Law Judge.  Judge Bice has been Acting in this position since January 2011.  

In OS, Steve Kautsch, AC for Enterprise Support, Architecture and Engineering (OESAE), announced his retirement effective July 2.  Ron Burdinski, currently AC for Applications and Supplemental Security Income Systems (OASSIS) will be AC for OESAE when Steve retires.  Debby Ellis, currently Deputy AC for Disability Systems (ODS), will be AC for OASSIS.  Sonia Miles (SES CDP Class V) will be Acting Deputy AC for ODS. 

In the Office of Operations, Michelle King, currently AC for Public Service and Operations Support (OPSOS), will be the AC for Income Security Programs.  Marianna LaCanfora, currently Assistant Deputy Commissioner for Retirement and Disability Policy (ORDP), will be the AC, OPSOS.  LaTina Greene, currently Deputy AC for Central Operations, will be the Assistant Deputy Commissioner, ORDP.

Ruth Lacey, Deputy AC for Disability Determinations (ODD), announced her retirement July 29.  Linda Kerr-Davis (SES CDP Class V) will be Acting Deputy AC, ODD when Ruth retires.

In the Office of the Commissioner, Robin Kaplan, currently the Executive Secretary, will be the Executive Counselor to the Commissioner.  Tiffany Flick, currently the Senior Advisor to the Chief of Staff (CoS), is Acting Executive Secretary.  Aviva Sufian, currently AC for External Affairs (OEA) in the Office of Communications, will be Senior Advisor to the CoS.  Kojuan Almond (SES CDP Class V) will be Acting AC, OEA. 

Jun 26, 2011

Death Of Retired ALJ David Hubbard

Retired Social Security Administrative Law Judge David Hubbard of Forth Smith, Arkansas has passed away.

They Say We’re Young And We Don’t Know; We Won’t Find Out Until We Grow

From Starplus.com:
Millionaire pop legend Cher is eager to hand back her social security when she hits retirement age next year in a bid to help Americans struggling to pay their bills.

Believe hit-maker will be eligible for pension payments from the U.S. government when she hits 66 next May ...

However, Cher is adamant she's too wealthy to accept the payments, and has taken to her Twitter.com page to ask how she can give the money back - and calls on other rich stars to follow suit.

She writes, "It's just my heart breaks 4 (for) the people of my country! Rich people should give their Social Security back 4 the 1's (ones) who need it. Someone said I should announce I want to give back my Social Security cause I don't need it! Great! I'm Down! But where? 

Still Negotiating Totalization Agreement With India

You may think this is a minor issue but I get a ton of hits whenever I post anything about it. It's a really big deal in India. This totalization agreement negotiation with India has been going on forever. From Rediff.com:
India on Friday asked the United States to move ahead with an agreement which would exempt professionals from payment of [Social] security taxes to mitigate the impact of a visa fee hike last year.
Both the sides are negotiating Bilateral Totalisation Agreement (BTA), which once signed, would benefit lakhs of Indians who are working in America and paying social security but are unable to get any benefit out of it.
By the way, lakhs means hundreds of thousands in the Indian dialect of English. India has the second largest population of English speakers on the planet. I think they're entitled to add a few words of their own to the English language.

Jun 25, 2011

Disability Fraud Ring In Seattle

From KING:
Nine members of one Seattle area family who allegedly collected over $700,000 by filing false mental disability claims and using fake identities were indicted on federal fraud charges Friday.
The defendants "claimed mental impairments prohibited them from working, when in fact they were working in various car sales businesses," according to a Department of Justice press release. ...
The defendants allegedly manipulated the Social Security disability program, also known as Supplemental Security Income, by faking disabilities at interviews, misrepresenting their work history and assets and using multiple social security numbers and numerous drivers licenses.

Jun 24, 2011

Early Reports On E-File Access At The Appeals Counci -- It's Not Working

I have heard from several attorneys who have tried to access e-file at the Appeals Council. No one seems to be able to access e-files there.

Congressional Hearing On Social Security Funding

 The House Social Security Subcommittee held a hearing yesterday on Social Security's finances. 
Stephen Goss, Social Security's long time Chief Actuary, testified about the underlying cause of Social Security's long term financing problem:
... [T]he real reason for the rising cost of Social Security over the next 25 years is the aging of the population, not principally because we are living longer or because of the post-World War II baby boom, but because of the drop in birth rates since the baby boom. ...
The fact that overall birth rates dropped from 3 to 2 children per woman in the United States has led directly to the change in the age distribution of our population that presents a financial challenge not only to Social Security and Medicare in the future, but also to every aspect of our economy. ...
Goss also addressed the question of whether the Social Security trust funds have any real significance:
Perhaps the strongest evidence of the importance of the trust funds is constraint they provide on program financing. History clearly shows that Congress is moved, even forced into action anytime a trust fund approaches exhaustion.
Thus, while Social Security has run a cumulative surplus of $2.6 trillion since it started collecting taxes in 1937, the rest of government has run up a debt now over $14 trillion and rising.
 Will this argument convince those who believe that the Social Security trust funds are a meaningless abstraction? Of course, not. They would be arguing that it's a meaningless abstraction even if the trust funds were completely invested in gold ingots.

The Subcommittee also heard from: 
  • The Chief of Staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation, whose written remarks are about as tedious as one would expect from someone in his position.
  • Someone representing a group of state and local employees who don't want to be covered by Social Security. Are you really sure given what's happening to public employee pensions?
  • Alex Brill (who testified that if we raise the FICA tax, we should do it by extending it to employee benefits, which means that he's arguing for a middle class tax increase instead of an increase in taxes just on the wealthy) and Andrew Biggs (who recommended lowering benefits -- but not on poor people), both of whom work for the American Enterprise Institute and are thereby indirectly on the payroll of the Koch brothers.
  • Mark Warshawsky, formerly a Bush Treasury appointee whose main job at the time seemed to be promoting Social Security privatization. He is now on the Social Security Advisory Board. He almost literally pleads in his written remarks that we not increase Social Security taxes on the wealthy. The first reason he gives is that this group has not "seen particularly large gains in earnings." His argument is that those earning between about $100,000 and $215,000 haven't had big earnings gains. It's those earning above $215,000 who have had the big gains! That's your best argument?

Randomization Of SSNs

A notice from Social Security:
Effective June 25, 2011, SSA [Social Security Administration] is changing the way Social Security Numbers (SSNs) are issued. This change is referred to as "randomization." The SSA is developing this new method to help protect the integrity of the SSN. SSN Randomization will also extend the longevity of the nine-digit SSN nationwide.
If you are a conspiracy theorist, you already know the dastardly reasons for this change.

Jun 23, 2011

You Want A Fight?

“You want a fight? ... If anybody in this building wants to take on Social Security — privatize it, change the benefits by altering the consumer price index or by any other method — know this: You’ve got a fight on your hands.”

Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) quoted in The Hill

Why Am I Not Surprised?

From Bloomberg News:
Cutting U.S. Social Security benefits for seniors and the disabled may cause steeper spending declines in House districts controlled by Republicans, hurting local businesses, a Bloomberg Government study found. 

Republicans are likely to represent districts with more residents collecting Social Security checks for retirees or benefits for the disabled, compared with Democrats, according to the study. Curtailing the federal aid would give recipients less spending money, said Jason Arvelo, the Bloomberg Government labor analyst who wrote the report released today. ...

Republicans control eight of 10 House districts -- in Florida, Michigan, New Jersey and Pennsylvania -- with the most Social Security retirement benefits to seniors and survivors per resident. Democrats hold the 10 districts in Illinois, California, New York, Texas and Arizona with the lowest average benefits....

Reducing benefits would cause the biggest economic impact in West Virginia, Florida, Pennsylvania and Michigan, according to the report by Arvelo, formerly a senior analyst at economic consulting firm Compass Lexecon LLC, a subsidiary of FTI Consulting Inc. based in West Palm Beach, Florida. 

West Virginia, Kentucky, Arkansas and Alabama top the list of states that would be likely to be hurt by bills curtailing disability benefits.

Jun 22, 2011

Passing Of Mark Lassiter

From: ^Commissioner Broadcast
Sent: Wednesday, June 22, 2011 5:28 PM
To: Undisclosed recipients

A Message To All SSA And DDS Employees

Subject:  The Passing of Mark Lassiter

It continues to be a tough week as we deal with the sudden loss of our Press Officer, Mark Lassiter, who passed away on Monday, June 20 at the age of 57.

Mark began his career with Social Security in 1976 as a claims representative in the Portsmouth, Virginia field office, near his childhood home of Hampton.  Over his 35 years with the agency, Mark’s talent and ability enabled him to rise through the ranks, assuming jobs of increasing responsibility in the Philadelphia Region, including five years as the District Manager in Petersburg, Virginia.  Mark’s distinguished career brought him to Social Security Headquarters twice – working in the Office of the Commissioner from 1992 to 1995 and in the Press Office from 2003 until his death. 

Mark’s untimely passing reminds us of just how precious life is.  He spent Father’s Day weekend with those he loved most – Nancy, his wife of 35 years; his son Tyler and his daughter Brooke, who is also an ODAR employee.  Please keep them in your prayers as they join with family and friends for a memorial service in Hampton tomorrow.  At the request of his family, memorial contributions in Mark’s honor may be made to the American Heart Association , P.O. Box 5216, Glen Allen, Va. 23058. 

Michael J. Astrue
The Baltimore Sun also has a piece on Lassiter's death.

Personal Income Growth Mostly Due To FICA Cut

From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
Rising personal income in the first quarter of the year was mostly due to lowered Social Security taxes, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported this morning. 
The bureau credited the high rate of growth nationally to the 2 percent reduction in what workers pay into the Social Security system.

Playing Rope-A-Dope?

From Josh Marshall at TPM:
It's astonishing to me that there's actually a growing number of Republicans pushing to make major cuts to Social Security as part of the bum's rush push for spending cuts this summer and fall. The idea has zero public support. And it doesn't make much sense from a policy standpoint since Social Security isn't what's driving the country's structural deficits. What's most surprising though is that many Democrats are along for the ride.

Jun 21, 2011

That's Rich

It was just last Friday that AARP let out that it might not be totally opposed to any cut in Social Security. You would think that Republicans might be feeling a little love for AARP right now. Not at the Social Security Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee. They are blasting AARP for what they say are fibs about the budget and entitlements. They are even criticizing the AARP for suggesting that the budget can be balanced simply by eliminating waste, fraud and abuse. 
I don't think it's the AARP's fault that most people believe that the budget can be painlessly balanced by the elimination of "waste, fraud and abuse." Republicans have been making a living off the "waste, fraud and abuse" myth since Ronald Reagan was President. Look in the mirror, Republicans. You're the ones responsible for the public believing this myth, not AARP. And while you're at it, remember who is to blame for the myth that cutting taxes increases revenue.

E-Folder Access At Appeals Council

The National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR) has sent out a notice to its members that Social Security has extended E-folder access to the Appeals Council. Attorneys who have E-folder access can now access their clients' files online when they are at the Appeals Council level.
I have not used this yet. I wonder if it will be possible to access the recordings of Administrative Law Judge hearings through the E-folder.

Jun 20, 2011

Thin Skin?

A press release from Social Security:

Statement of Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, on Flawed Syracuse University Report

The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) “analysis” of our hearing backlog reduction efforts is sloppy and irresponsible. It focuses on the wrong measures, ignores the tremendous progress we have made in addressing the disability hearing backlog, and reaches the incorrect conclusion that we are “faltering.”
What matters most to someone waiting for a decision is how quickly we decide their case, not how many other people are waiting for a hearing. We have made significant progress in reducing that time. In August 2008, the average wait time for a decision peaked at 532 days. In May 2011, the average processing time for a hearing decision was less than a year at 354 days -- the lowest monthly figure since October 2003.

The agency’s published benchmark for processing hearing cases is 270 days, and we established it in consultation with Congress and the disability advocacy community. In 2008, nearly half of the people waiting for a decision waited more than 270 days. As of May 2011, only 29 percent of pending hearings were over 270 days. TRAC misrepresents the facts by failing to note this standard and the data that relate to it.
Change in Distribution Pending chart
TRAC’s focus on the number of pending hearings is a flawed measurement of our improving service and bears little relevance to the public’s experience. Due to the economic downturn and the aging of the baby boomers, our workloads have been skyrocketing. We received 130,000 more hearing requests in 2010 than we received in 2008. Despite this increase, we have steadily improved service. We are deciding more cases, and deciding them accurately and quickly.
Our backlog reduction plan is working and has made a difference to the hundreds of thousands of people waiting on a hearing decision. Without it, the average processing time would be approaching 600 days, and we would be well on our way to 1 million people waiting on a decision. The TRAC report is clearly wrong in its conclusion that our backlog reduction efforts have been unsuccessful, and I call on Syracuse University to separate itself from this report and its authors.

Social Security Inspector General Asked To Investigate Outlier ALJs

A press release from the Social Security Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee:
Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee Members, led by Chairman Sam Johnson (R-TX) and Ranking Member Xavier Becerra (D-CA), sent a letter to Social Security Administration (SSA) Inspector General Patrick O’Carroll inquiring into recent press reports which have raised concerns about decisions made by a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ).
In the letter the Members stated: “We are very concerned about the particulars of this story as well as any potentially similar occurrences that may be taking place elsewhere in the Nation. Over the years, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has made great strides in tackling the hearings backlog, but it is essential that this progress adhere to the Agency’s policies and procedures while also demonstrating good stewardship of precious taxpayer dollars.”
The Members asked that SSA:

1. Revew ALJ workloads, adherence to Agency policies and procedures, and related monitoring.
2. Provide information on those ALJs who differ very significantly from their peers in their productivity or decisional outcomes.
3. Assess what factors may account for any variances in these rates, as well as how the ALJs obtained the cases they worked and whether they held hearings.
4. Describe and assess the use and effectiveness of management controls regarding ALJ adherence to SSA policies and procedures and any constraints, including statutory limitations, which make it difficult to ensure ALJs’ adherence to those policies and procedures.
5. Describe and assess the effectiveness of SSA’s quality review system for ALJ decisions, including reviews by the Appeals Council and the Office of Quality Performance.

The full letter can be read here.

Research Fraud?

From the Washington Post:
Four-and-a-half years ago, the Social Security Administration set out to reduce a growing backlog in appeals from sick and disabled Americans who could no longer work but were denied disability benefits.
A study due out Monday concludes that despite these efforts and assertions by top agency officials that things have improved, the backlog has only grown in the last year — and a spike in new applications is threatening to swamp the system.
The review by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), an independent research organization at Syracuse University, found that 735,660 appeals will be pending in the current fiscal year, up from 705,367 in fiscal 2010. Applicants waiting for their appeals to be heard will wait 369 days on average, a big improvement from the peak of 514 days in 2008 but still more than a year, the report found.  ...
Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue assailed the report as a “real disservice to disabled Americans” and Congress, whom he said will be misled by its conclusions. In the past two years, the agency has indeed struggled with a wave of new applications for disability benefits from about 200,000 people each year, he said. 
But that growth should not be considered part of a backlog in processing appeals, which have edged closer to Social Security’s goal of 270 days to resolve, Astrue said. 
“No matter what we do, we’re always going to have a certain number of cases in the queue,” he said. “We’ve made nothing but steady progress for four straight years.” He called the report “research fraud” for implying that new applicants become part of the backlog.  ... 
With budget cuts this year and more expected in the next fiscal year, Astrue said he does not expect to hire more administrative judges to handle appeals.

Jun 19, 2011

ODAR Average Processing Time Report

From the newsletter of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR)(click on each page to view full size and see below for a list indicating the recent trend line):

  • January 25, 2007 -- 508 days
  • February 29, 2008 -- 511 days
  • March 8, 2009 -- 499 days
  • July 5, 2010 -- 415 days
  • February 1, 2011 -- 371 days
  • April 29, 2011 -- 357 days

Jun 18, 2011

What Exactly Is The AARP? An Answer In Four Parts

From the New York Times:
AARP, the powerful lobby for older Americans that has been seen as one of the leading opponents of Social Security benefit cuts, said on Friday that it was open to modest reductions in benefits for future recipients.... 
“Our goal is to limit any changes in benefits,” John Rother, AARP’s policy chief, said in a telephone interview, “but we also want to see the system made solvent.” 
Mr. Rother said the group’s stance on possible cuts, which was first reported in The Wall Street Journal in Friday’s editions, should be seen less as a major change in position than as a reflection of the political and financial realities facing the Social Security system and the country as a whole. 
“You have to look at all the tradeoffs,” Mr. Rother said, “and what we’re trying to do is engage the American public in that debate.”... 
But other advocacy groups that are pushing to preserve Social Security benefits accused AARP of effectively abandoning its core constituency.  ... 
As word of AARP’s position set off debate in Washington on Friday, the group’s chief executive, Barry Rand, issued a formal statement saying that the group’s position had not changed in any substantive way and refuting what he described as “misleading” media reports.
Many years ago, I joined AARP. Even though I had opted out of receiving special offers from their partners, a virtual rainforest flooded my mailbox, with offers for everything from Depends to senior vacation retreats. I am on the “do not call list”. Nevertheless I was harassed half to insanity with telephone solicitors that said they can call me, because they had a “business relationship” with me as “AARP partners”. I complained long and loud to AARP, but they were insensitive to my needs. It seemed apparent to me that AARP was far more interested in marketing to me than representing or informing me. AARP betrayed me by supporting the Bush Part D plan without demanding that US made drugs, imported from Canada, be allowed. I tore up my membership card and mailed them the pieces. Now they have betrayed senior citizens again.
Two days ago -- two days ago! -- AARP put out a press release promising "a new television ad campaign to urge Congress not to make any deal to pay the nation's bills that would result in harmful cuts to critical Medicare and Social Security benefits..." (emphasis added). This is to be a national multi-million dollar ad buy. Notice that key word "harmful" in AARP's press release. This ad buy appears to be an effort to convince the world that the AARP isn't selling out its membership. The ads will, in effect, be an effort to sell Social Security cuts since AARP is telling the world that it would never accept anything harmful.

By the way, AARP is also planning nation-wide town hall meetings to convince its members to accept Social Security cuts -- as long as AARP declares those cuts not to be harmful

These AARP town-hall meetings could get interesting. I hope they get media coverage.
Does anyone like or respect or trust the AARP? Not that I know of. The right wing finds it just about as obnoxious as the left.

Jun 17, 2011

Consider The Sources

From Fox News (just typing that name makes me feel dirty):
The AARP pushed back Friday on a report claiming the nation's most powerful seniors lobby was dropping its opposition to benefits cuts -- but at the same time acknowledged "benefit adjustments" would be necessary to make the system solvent. 
The flurry of reports and statements left unclear whether AARP was opening up to new concessions in the debate over Social Security, as several lawmakers place reform proposals on the table. 
The Wall Street Journal first reported Friday that the AARP, which opposed President George W. Bush's push to partially privatize Social Security, has decided to accept cuts -- though it would reportedly push for tax hikes to close most of the long-term Social Security shortfall.

At The End Of Her Rope

 From The Herald in Rock Hill, SC:
The only way Ora Williams can keep her front door closed is with a rope. A rope, just like the one this woman who just turned 62 says she is almost at the end of.
After a lifetime of work in factories, Williams says she is now physically unable to work - although the government says she can work, doing something, and has denied her application for disability payments.
That's why Williams is dead broke. A year ago this week was her last day on the job. She has spent all she had saved in her life to survive.
And some politicians want an even longer wait for disability payments for people such as Williams, along with a push to change Medicare eligibility that Williams knows is her only chance at medical care when she turns 65. ...
Last year after an aneurysm behind her left eye caused her to be unable to keep her balance - and therefore work doing the only thing she has done for 22 years, making air filters - Williams had to leave the factory.
She also has "sugar diabetes" and high blood pressure.
"I can't walk far," she said. "I can't keep my balance to work." ...
A spokesman for the Social Security regional office in Atlanta, Frank Viera, said the government does not discuss specific cases so he could not say specifically why Williams was denied disability benefits. ...
Viera said Tuesday after he was contacted by The Herald about Williams' situation that a field worker would contact Williams about her claim status. The disability claim remains pending, but Williams was able to arrange her Social Security retirement benefits.
"I was told I will get a check," Williams said. "They calculated I will receive $891 each month. Great news."

Congressional Hearing On Social Security Finances

From the Social Security Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee:
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 a hearing on Social Security’s current revenue streams, proposed changes to those structures and the impact they would have on the program, beneficiaries, workers and the economy.  The hearing will take place on Thursday, June 23, 2011 in B-318 Rayburn House Office Building, beginning at 1:30 p.m. ...

The Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010 reduced the OASDI payroll tax paid by the worker by 2 percentage points in calendar year 2011.  The law also required the Secretary of the Treasury to make general revenue transfers to replace revenues temporarily diverted from the trust funds.   ...

The Social Security actuaries have estimated a number of revenue generating proposals, including those proposed by the President’s Fiscal Commission which would require all newly hired state and local workers to participate in Social Security and increase the amount of earnings subject to Social Security payroll taxes by increasing the taxable wage base.

In announcing the hearing, Chairman Sam Johnson (R-TX) stated, “When Social Security first began, the payroll tax was only 2 percent – evenly split between employers and employees -- on the first $3,000 in wages.  Today the payroll tax is 12.4% on the first $106,800 in wages.  Yet despite the tax increases, Social Security is in trouble.  Clearly tax hikes have not been a panacea.  This hearing will provide an opportunity to learn more about Social Security revenues, options for change and their impacts.”

Jun 16, 2011

A Message From The Chair

 An e-mail I received recently:

On June 13, the Social Security Administration (SSA) posted a position for a lead scientist for the Office of Vocational Resources Development to provide technical guidance for the development of the occupational information system to replace the Dictionary of Occupational Titles in SSA's disability programs.  The OIDAP strongly supports SSA's effort in recruiting for this position.  Please disseminate the link below for the position to all parties who may be interested in applying.

Mary Barros-Bailey, Ph.D


Occupational Information Development Advisory Panel

Jun 15, 2011

Shot Down

From TPM:
Two leading Republicans say they do not support President Obama's plan to broaden, deepen, and extend a payroll tax cut to stimulate the economy in the short-term.
In a briefing with reporters in the Capitol Tuesday, the House and Senate GOP conference chairs said they're through with short-term stimulus measures, even if they take the form of tax cuts. 
"Well they've tried this once, and it hasn't seemed to be working," said Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX).
His Senate counterpart, Lamar Alexander (R-TN) echoed this view.

Will Disability Claims Start Declining Next Year?

Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG) has issued a report on Social Security's Strategy for Reducing The Initial Claims Backlog. Basically, the report says that the prospects for achieving the agency's goals are poor because the agency expects to be badly underfunded over the near two years at least. The poor prospects are despite the agency's projection that the number of disability claims filed is about to drop dramatically. Does that sound realistic?. See below for the agency's chart:

Jun 14, 2011

Congressional Panel Hearing About Overpayment Also Hears About Budget

From the prepared statements at today's hearing before the House Ways and Means Committee on overpayments at Social Security:
... Our hard-working, dedicated employees have done their utmost to maintain the level of service that the American people expect and deserve. ...  Inevitably though, as our workloads rose and our appropriated funds were less than our budget requests, our service delivery suffered. Despite a long string of increases in productivity, we could not keep up. Throughout most of the past decade, the amount of program integrity work we could handle dropped dramatically, even though we know that work saves the taxpayer about ten dollars for each dollar spent. The time a claimant waited for a disability hearing rose to an average of 800-900 days in many cities, and some claimants waited as long as 1,400 days. Waiting times for in-person and telephone service increased, as did the public’s and Congress’ frustration with us. ...

... For FY [fiscal year] 2009, SSA [Social Security Administration] reported improper payments totaling $8 billion, including underpayments and overpayments, the third-highest amount of improper payments in the year, behind the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) ($71.4 billion) and the Department of Labor ($17.5 billion). SSA’s Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program made $48.3 billion in total payments, including an estimated $4 billion in overpayments and an estimated $800 million in underpayments, resulting in a 10 percent improper payment rate; SSA projects it will reduce that rate to 9.2 percent in FY 2011 and to 8.7 percent by FY 2012. SSA’s Retirement, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (RSDI) program made $659.6 billion in total payments, including an estimated $2.5 billion in overpayments and an estimated $600 million in underpayments, for a 0.5 percent improper payment rate; SSA projects it will reduce that rate to 0.4 percent in FY 2011. Verification and local administration errors, such as a beneficiary’s unreported or undetected financial accounts and wages, cause the majority of SSA’s improper payments, according to the Agency. ...

In conclusion, the President has outlined an aggressive plan of action to reduce improper payments and improve payment accuracy throughout the Federal government. Thus far, agencies like SSA are working to improve their reporting of improper payments and identify overpayment and underpayment causes and solutions, even when budgets are limited and staff workloads are increasing.

... [W]e also found a limitation in SSA’s Recovery of Overpayments, Accounting and Reporting (ROAR) system. Used to track overpayments and collections, ROAR does not reflect debt due SSA past year 2049 so the total balance due the program is unknown, and likely larger than the agency is reporting....

The DDSs [Disability Determination Services] work in partnership with SSA to provide public service to individuals applying for disability benefits while also balancing stewardship commitments. ...The DDSs evaluate CDRs requiring medical review for SSA, ensuring that only those individuals who are eligible, continue to receive benefits. SSA estimates that every dollar spent on CDRs yields $10 in lifetime program savings. Unfortunately, budget constraints have forced a reduction in this integrity workload. The DDSs can also assist in curbing improper payments by identifying fraud in the disability application process. The detection and prevention of improper payments further enhances the integrity of the program. ...

DDS staffing is critical to the processing of all disability claims. Nationally, DDS examiner attrition fiscal year to date (FYTD) is 12.8%. SSA has imposed a hiring freeze on all DDSs due to funding limitations. The continued inability to hire in the DDSs will severely limit the ability to process initial and reconsideration cases and restrict any additional CDR work, resulting in significant backlogs nationally. ...

Eleven DDSs have an attrition rate for disability examiners over 20%.

Despite SSA’s enormous workloads and challenges, SSA’s FY 2011 appropriation for administrative funding through the Limitation on Administrative Expenses (LAE) account was below the FY 2010 enacted level and $275 million was rescinded from Carryover Information Technology (IT) funds. This funding level does not allow SSA to cover inflationary costs for fixed expenses, which has resulted in a hiring freeze, drastic reduction of overtime hours, and postponements of initiatives to improve efficiency – all of which will have major public service repercussions....

SSA already has an acute staff-to-workload imbalance and is over-extended in critical program areas as it struggles to keep up with rapidly increasing workloads and existing backlogs. Congress must give thoughtful consideration to future appropriations for SSA to ensure the preservation of this valued program. Properly funding SSA to process core workloads and invest in program integrity initiatives to improve payment accuracy will save taxpayer dollars and is fiscally prudent in reducing the federal budget and deficit.

Managers Worried About Administrative Budget

The National Council of Social Security Management Associations (NCSSMA), an organization of Social Security management personnel, has issued its June 2011 newsletter. NCSSMA is heavily focused upon Social Security's perilous administrative budget. One short quote from the newsletter describing the current budget situation: "We are 'walking on eggshells' now. It feels like we are being held together by tape and glue."

Jun 13, 2011

One Sentence

The Social Security Administration's "Update" contains this sentence: "The number of employees we have determines the amount of work we can complete."

Does that sound innocuous? Self-obvious? The last Commissioner of Social Security, Jo Anne Barnhart, would never have allowed such a sentence in a Social Security document. She promised that the magic fairy dust of her "plan" would make everything all better at Social Security regardless of the number of employees her agency had. She promised wonders from her "plan" but delayed and delayed announcing what her plan was. The delay was almost certainly because she had no more than vague ideas about a "plan." She probably also had an increasing realization that no "plan" would work without additional employees. She finally announced her "plan" shortly before she was to leave office, leaving it to her successor to make her "plan" work. Of course, her "plan" was unworkable and quickly abandoned. The whole thing  deceived the naive, of which there are many.

This week is an opportunity to fully bury the Barnhart approach. We have a Congressional hearing coming up that will focus on the question of why Social Security keeps overpaying people. Undoubtedly, Social Security will be criticized. Social Security can respond by saying, in effect, "Thank you, Congress, for pointing out our errors. We will do better." Or Social Security can respond by saying, in effect, "Yes, we've known about these issues for years. We'd love to address them but we don't have enough personnel. We've been telling you this for years. We got a bigger budget in 2009 and 2010 but never enough to get these problems resolved. Now, our budget has gotten tighter. Get us a bigger budget and we'll take care of these problems. Otherwise, nothing's going to happen and it's not because we don't care." Which would be a more honest answer to the criticism? Which will Social Security give? I understand the need for diplomacy  in  dealing with Republican Congressmen who remain all too eager to believe that the amount of work which may be accomplished by a federal agency is independent of the number of employees that agency has but honesty is needed as well.

Jun 12, 2011

Updated Fee Payment Numbers

Social Security has issued updated numbers on payments of fees to attorneys and others for representation of Social Security claimants:

Fee Payments

Month/Year Volume Amount

This shows a 2% reduction from the same period last year, a reduction this is certainly due not to fewer claims being approved but to more claims being paid much slower. It is taking claimants longer to get paid after a favorable decision on a disability claim.

Jun 11, 2011

SSI Overpayments Due To Real Estate Ownership

From a recent report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (footnotes omitted):
SSI [Supplemental Security Income] is a needs-based program, and SSA [Social Security Administration] considers the applicant’s resources, including real property ownership, when determining program eligibility. Real property consists of land and buildings or immovable objects attached permanently to the land. ...

SSA staff can access the LexisNexis Risk Management Solutions database (LexisNexis) as an optional tool to obtain information about SSI applicants’ or recipients’ real property ownership, transfer of real property for less than fair market value, or recent sale of real property. ...

In a July 2009 report, Supplemental Security Income Recipients with Unreported Vehicles, we found that the Agency would have prevented about $551 million in improper payments had its staff used LexisNexis to identify unreported vehicle ownership. ...

While conducting the 2009 audit, we also found that many individuals who did not disclose their vehicle ownership also did not disclose their real property ownership. ...

[W]e used LexisNexis to determine whether there was any indication these individuals owned real property beyond their primary residences. We also reviewed LexisNexis for evidence of other ineligibility issues. In total, we referred 52 cases to SSA for further development since LexisNexis indicated the recipients owned real property that was not accounted for in SSA’s records. ...

SSA’s determinations of SSI recipients’ resources related to real property agreed with public property records in LexisNexis for 298 (85 percent) of the 350 records we reviewed. For the remaining 52 cases, the information in SSA’s records on real property ownership disagreed with information in LexisNexis. LexisNexis data indicated that the recipients owned one or more properties that were not recorded in SSA’s records. SSA reviewed these 52 cases. For 27 of the 52 cases, SSA determined that the information in LexisNexis was accurate; the recipients owned one or more real properties that they had not previously reported to the Agency....

Projecting our findings to the entire population, we estimate that about 541,580 recipients misreported real property ownership, and SSA improperly paid 320,940 of these recipients over $2.2 billion because of their unreported real property.
I would be a bit cautious about this projections. I have dealt with many SSI real property ownership situations where things turned out to be far more complicated than Social Security originally thought. The most common reason is something called "heir property," property in which an SSI recipient has an undivided interest in common with other heirs. Often, there is no practical way for the SSI recipient to demand that the property be divided or sold because land ownership is badly fractionated and there is no way to finance the  transactional expenses involved in dividing the property or forcing a sale. This sort of property usually ends up being sold for unpaid taxes. There are also many, many tracts of property not worth what county tax records show. This is especially the case when we are talking about undeveloped rural real estate which is often almost unmarketable. This is the type of real estate that SSI recipients are most likely to own in my part of the country. The real estate owned by SSI recipients is a can of worms, probably one that Social Security needs to open, but it is still a can of worms. In any case, Social Security can barely open this can of worms with its current staffing level. OIG can issue reports and the House of Representatives can hold hearings but without more personnel it just isn't going to happen.

Jun 10, 2011


From the Crooks and Liars blog:
Good grief, this nonsense is just exhausting. Nothing is ever settled with these people, they have been coming after Social Security for 75 years, and they just don't quit, no matter how many times they get chased down with walkers and eaten alive by gray panthers. It's like they are programmed or genetically manipulated, like one of those creepy super-soldiers from science fiction that can't stop fighting after the war is over, even though they recognize the reality. 
Nah, I give them too much credit in that scenario. They are just zombie-nihilists and Social Security is the brain they are driven to eat.

STD And LTD Coverage Plummets

From a press release:
According to new research1 from The Hartford, 49 percent of U.S. workers have short-term disability insurance [STD] and 44 percent have long-term disability insurance [LTD]. This represents a drop of 6 percent and 3 percent, respectively, over last year’s survey in the number of Americans with the coverage that provides an income if one cannot work due to an illness or non-work related injury.

Does Rehabilitating Disability Benefits Recipients Cost More Money Than It Saves?

Social Security has some very preliminary results from the Benefits Offset Pilot Demonstration (BOPD) (emphasis added):
We designed the four-State BOPD project to provide information about the implementation and the effect of a benefit offset for SSDI beneficiaries.  We used the information collected in BOPD to help design the BOND [Benefits Offset National Demonstration] project....
The pilot includes a targeted group of SSDI [Social Security Disability Insurance] beneficiaries who chose to volunteer for the project.  We gave them the opportunity to receive a $1 reduction in benefits for every $2 earned above the SGA [Substantial Gainful Activity] threshold amount during the extended period of eligibility (EPE), instead of losing their entire benefit, as they would have under our usual rules....
The State [by state] reports show that the benefit offset had a positive effect on the percentage of beneficiaries who have earnings above the SGA amount ($980 per month for the non-blind in 2009).  We conducted our own analysis using Internal Revenue Service earnings data and our benefit payment administrative records.  We found similar effects on earnings.  However, our analysis also showed an increase in benefit payments because we made partial benefit payments under the benefit offset to beneficiaries who would have had their benefits suspended due to SGA under the current program rules....
 No wonder Social Security wants to stretch out BOND over ten years.

Jun 9, 2011

Let's Just Abolish FICA And Be Done With It

From Bloomberg News:
President Barack Obama’s advisers have discussed seeking a temporary cut in the payroll taxes businesses pay on wages as they debate ways to spur hiring amid signs that the recovery is slowing, according to people familiar with the matter. 
The idea, which is in preliminary stages of discussion, is among several being talked about at the White House...
A hiring stimulus based on a tax break for employers may appeal to Republican lawmakers, many of whom have called for measures to help businesses....
A temporary break on employer payroll taxes would echo a centerpiece of the deal Obama and congressional Republicans reached in December 2010 to extend tax cuts enacted during the presidency of George W. Bush. That package included a two- percentage-point reduction in employee contributions to the payroll tax during 2011.
Update: Daniel Marans at FDL lays out the case against this sort of "temporary stimulus."

More Fallout In West Virginia

From the Wall Street Journal:
The chief Social Security Administration judge in Huntington, W.Va., has stepped down from his post, an agency official told employees Wednesday, broadening the fallout from a recent page-one Wall Street Journal article about the office.
The decision by Charlie Andrus, who became Huntington's chief judge in 1997, was voluntary, two people familiar with the matter said. Debra Bice, the acting national chief judge, told employees in Huntington he would remain with the agency as a judge, the people said.

Jun 8, 2011

"Revisions To Direct Fee Payment Rules"

Below is the notice of a regulatory package that the Social Security Administration has sent over to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB):

TITLE: Revisions to Direct Fee Payment Rules (3625I)

Social Security must have OMB approval before publishing this in the Federal Register. 

No, I don't know what this is. The "interim final" process that Social Security wants to use suggests that  the agency regards this, or at least wants OMB to regard it, as very minor. Could anyone enlighten us?

Update: I found this:
We are revising our rules to include changes made by the Social Security Disability Applicants’ Access to Professional Representation Act of 2010 (PRA). We are revising the requirements that an eligible non-attorney representative must meet to receive direct fee payment under titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (Act). We are also making permanent the direct fee payment rules for eligible non-attorney representatives under titles II and XVI of the Act and for attorney representatives under title XVI of the Act. 

It's Only Crazy People

From a recent report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (footnotes omitted):
Our objectives were to determine whether the California Disability Determination Services (CA-DDS) (1) incorrectly denied initial claims based on failure to cooperate (FTC) . ...

CA-DDS did not always comply with SSA’s policies and procedures for FTC denials. Based on our review of 150 FTC denials, we found that 37 (24.7 percent) did not comply with SSA’s policies and procedures ...

We also found that CA-DDS branch offices’ interpretations of the FTC policies resulted in an inconsistent level of service for disability applicants. ...

A DDS is required to assist claimants who allege a mental impairment.When this occurs, a DDS should consider contacting a third party, SSA field office, treating physician, or the claimant. We found that CA-DDS staff did not request assistance from third parties for 12 claimants, as required. These claimants had alleged mental impairments including depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia. The claimants had listed authorized representatives, family members, or friends who would provide assistance during the application process. However, CA-DDS did not contact these individuals before denying the claimants for FTC.

Congressional Hearing On Overpayments

From a press release:
House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Charles Boustany, Jr, MD (R-LA) and Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson (R-TX) today announced that the Subcommittees on Oversight and Social Security will hold a hearing on the accuracy of payments made by the Social Security Administration (SSA).  The hearing will take place on Tuesday, June 14, 2010, in 1100 Longworth House Office Building, beginning at 2:00 P.M. ...

According to the President’s fiscal year 2012 Budget request, next year the SSA is expected to distribute nearly $820 billion in benefits to over 60 million people. ...

[D]istribution of such significant sums of taxpayer dollars means that even a very low overpayment rate can result in a substantial loss to the taxpayer and the Social Security program.  According to the latest available data, in FY 2009 overpayments included $841 million in the OASI program, $1.7 billion in the DI program, and $4.0 billion in the means-tested SSI program. ...

For the five-year period ending fiscal year 2009, errors involving the determination of “substantial gainful activity,” essentially whether earnings are high enough to end eligibility for DI  benefits, account for the majority of overpayment errors, nearly $1 billion annually, or 36 percent of total retirement, survivors, and disability program error dollars.  Of these error dollars, 64 percent resulted from beneficiaries’ failure to report their work activity.  The other 36 percent were associated with the SSA’s failure to schedule a work continuing disability review (CDR) after the beneficiary notified the SSA that they returned to work.  Once a beneficiary notifies the SSA of their earnings, it may be months or years before the SSA sends an overpayment notice to the beneficiary, demanding repayment of sometimes tens of thousands of dollars of accrued overpayments. ...

Medical CDRs are periodic reviews conducted to ensure recipients are still disabled according to Agency rules.  In FY 2009, these reviews have generated $12.50 in savings for every dollar invested. Despite their substantial savings, the frequency of these reviews is declining.  The number of completed medical CDRs fell 65% between FY 2004 and FY 2008, with a backlog of more than 1.5 million medical CDRs at the end of FY 2010.  The SSA Office of Inspector General (OIG) estimates that this backlog may lead to as much as $1.1 billion in overpayments in 2011 alone.

SSI program integrity work has followed a similar pattern, with funding levels and redeterminations peaking in 2003, falling through 2007, and then beginning to rise again in 2008. ...

In announcing the hearing, Chairman Boustany said, “Whether through error or outright fraud, overpayments across the government are a substantial problem costing taxpayers tens of billions of dollars each year.  The Oversight Subcommittee is reviewing these overpayments in a series of hearings, taking a closer look to identify how overpayments occur and funding solutions to better protect taxpayer dollars and program beneficiaries.” 
In announcing the hearing, Chairman Johnson said,We are facing a debt crisis because Washington spends too much and wastes too much.  Payments that are wrong due to fraud or poor management at Social Security are unacceptable. Americans whose hard earned wages support these programs want, need and deserve better.”
It is hard to follow the numbers being given in this press release but the overpayment rate in Title II appears to be about 0.4% in Title II and 8% in Title XVI, Supplemental Security Income. This is real money but this is not going to get better without more operating funds for the Social Security Administration but the Republicans in control of the House of Representatives are determined to give Social Security far lower operating funds. In general, the attitude of Republicans to programs they dislike but cannot completely eliminate -- with Social Security being the prime example -- is to decry their mistakes and inefficiencies which gives justification in their minds for decreasing funding for those agencies which leads to more mistakes and inefficiencies which justify even lower funding, etc. They cannot make the Social Security Administration disappear but they can hobble it and hold it up to ridicule in the forlorn hope that this will help the American people see Social Security they way they see it, as the original sin that has led to what they regard as a welfare state that sucks away the country's hard earned wealth and gives it to a bunch of free loaders, albeit it freeloaders who mostly worked hard all their lives and paid the taxes based upon the promise that they would be taken care of in their old age.