Jun 30, 2012

Social Security Saved IBM

     Wired Enterprise has a fascinating piece on Social Security's crucial role in IBM's history. In short, the story is that IBM management thought that the Great Depression would be a short term event. They kept expanding staff and building inventory. This mistake might have caused IBM to go under but for the creation of Social Security. The new agency needed data processing machinery -- at that time card reading collators -- in a big way to keep track of F.I.C.A. contributions. IBM was the only company ready to do the job. The Social Security contract saved IBM. The 80 column punch cards developed by IBM for Social Security became an industry standard for 45 years. Those collators that were essential for Social Security and which allowed IBM to survive and eventually thrive were first shipped 75 years ago this month.

Jun 29, 2012

Philippines Ahead Of U.S. In Internet Access To Social Security Records

    The Republic of the Philippines appears to be ahead of the U.S. Social Security Administration in allowing internet access to Social Security records. Sign-on is easy. Security may not be up to U.S. standards but their system allows anyone with an account access to information about their contributions, work history and claim status.

Jun 28, 2012

A Minor Question

     I know that there is a ticker running across the top or bottom of the screens of computers on the Social Security newwork giving in-house information -- usually something like news that some data functionality is down or some field office is temporarily closed due to a water main break. Did news of today's Supreme Court action on Obamacare run across this ticker?

Obamacare Constitutional

     Those who predicted that the Supreme Court would hold the Affordable Care Act (AKA Obamacare) constitutional have been proved correct. This dramatic expansion of health care coverage -- most of it coming in about two years -- will be of dramatic benefit to Social Security disability claimants.

     Update: Because of Chief Justice Roberts' opinion, it may be possible for states to opt out of providing the additional Medicaid coverage to millions of people provided for in the Affordable Care Act. Would they? My guess is that after sober reflection Republican governors and legislators will decide not to opt out since opting out would cause states to lose billions of dollars of health care funding. I think that doctors and hospitals will lobby hard for states to accept the additional Medicaid coverage. We'll see.
     Better medical care cuts both ways for the Social Security disability programs. People who receive adequate medical care are less likely to become disabled. Those who are disabled despite adequate medical care will have better proof of their disability.

Yesterday's Social Security Subcommittee Hearing

     The written statements of the witnesses at yesterday's hearing before the House Social Security Subcommittee are now available online. In some cases I summarize what I found interesting in the written testimony. In other cases, I just quote. In one case, I express disagreement and dismay.

Commissioner Astrue:
     Sets forth interesting historical information about Social Security's involvement in providing hearings for disability claimants and especially about "well-intentioned initiatives" to meet the demands for hearings. A footnote mentions that the Senate Appropriations Committee's bill to fund the agency for Fiscal Year 2013 would require the agency to submit a report by November 1, 2012 on withholding the identity of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) until the day of a hearing. However, there is almost no chance that a full year appropriations bill covering Social Security will be passed by November 1, 2012. 
     According to the Wall Street Journal, Astrue told the Subcommittee orally that without agreement in Congress to protect Social Security's operating budget from the sequestration required by the budget deal the agency will have to lay off 1,000 of its employees.

Panel 2:

Ethel Zelenske , Director of Government Affairs, National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives, on behalf of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities Social Security Task Force

ALJ D. Randall Frye, President, Association of Administrative Law Judges:
For many reasons, Americans are living longer and healthier lives. The nature and scope of work performed by the American people is significantly different than 40 years ago. There are far fewer unskilled jobs in the market place and few jobs that require significant physical activity. As a result, application of the Agency’s Medical Vocational Guidelines (grid rules) oftentimes forces the ALJ to award benefits when jobs are available that claimants could perform. In our view, this approach to evaluating disability is out of date and should be eliminated. Rather than using these outdated guidelines, judges should rely on vocational testimony. At a minimum, the grid rules should be revised to reflect the increased life span of Americans
     This is self-contradictory as well as contrary to the experience of anyone involved in Social Security disability adjudication. If there are fewer unskilled jobs, wouldn't that be a reason to make it less difficult to get Social Security disability benefits instead of more difficult as Frye says? Few jobs that require significant physical activity? What about people who work in nursing homes, people who clean offices and hotels, salesclerks and cashiers, truckers, people who mow and blow, mechanics, people engaged in building trades, etc.? Don't these require significant physical activity? Aren't there more than a few of them? I sure see a lot of these people in my office. I would think that Frye would see a lot of them appearing before him.

Jeffrey Lubbers, Professor, American University Washington College of Law

Musty ideas. Still bringing up his plan for a "non-adversary Counselor." Still thinks former Commissioner Barnhart's Disability Service Improvement was a great idea. I don't know if there is anyone else on the planet who would agree with him on either point. Still wants to establish a Social Security Court. I suppose there are others who agree with him on this but not many.

Richard J. Pierce, Jr. , Professor, The George Washington University Law School
There are two major problems with the social security disability decision making process. First, the SSA disability program has become increasingly and unsustainably generous. ...

Second, there is a large disparity in the rates at which benefits are granted by the Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) who have the final say in the SSA decision making process in the vast majority of cases. ...

I recommend that Congress eliminate the role of ALJs in the disability decision making process. ...

I recommend that Congress limit the fees that can be earned by lawyers and other professional advocates for SSA disability advocates. The Supreme Court has upheld a fee limit of $10 for advocates for VA disability benefits, so Congress has broad discretion to limit the fees of advocates for SSA disability benefits.

Jun 27, 2012


Don't Blame The Disabled

     From an op ed piece by Marc Whitehead in the Houston Chronicle:
Naysayers try to correlate the rising unemployment rate with the rising rate of disability claimants and come to the erroneous conclusion that people are using the SSDI system instead of looking for work. The reality is that many elderly workers have received special accommodations from their employers that allow them to work with their disabilities because they have been loyal, hardworking employees for decades. But when the economy turns down and these workers are laid off, they are not capable of working in a competitive job market. Americans with disabilities already face growing challenges in their efforts to gain disability benefits. Filing a claim can prove to be a daunting, complex bureaucratic struggle that can sometimes take months and even years to navigate....
It is not fair to attempt to balance our federal budget on the backs of the disabled. We all have a stake in seeing deserving people with disabilities get the benefits they need and have earned.

GAO Critical Of Social Security On Child's SSI

     From a report of the Government Accountability Office:
The number of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) child applicants and recipients with mental impairments has increased substantially for more than a decade, even though the Social Security Administration (SSA) denied, on average, 54 percent of such claims from fiscal years 2000 to 2011. ...
[Disability] Examiners also do not routinely receive information from SSA [Social Security Administration] field offices on multiple children who receive benefits in the same household, which SSA’s fraud investigations unit has noted as an indicator of possible fraud or abuse. Without such information, examiners may be limited in their ability to identify threats to program integrity. ...

SSA has conducted fewer continuing disability reviews (CDR) for children since 2000, even though it is generally required by law to review the medical eligibility of certain children at least every 3 years. ... SSA acknowledged the importance of conducting such reviews, but said that due to resource constraints and other workloads, such as initial claims, most childhood CDRs are a lower priority.

Jun 26, 2012

The National Committee To Preserve Social Security and Medicare Goes Over The Top With Its Hype

     The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM) is putting out press releases about the White House Senior Community Leaders Summit today. The press releases have gotten into a number of newspapers. However, the White House isn't involved in this "summit" unless you want to count a tour of the White House as involvement. I think a lot of groups visiting Washington for a conference manage to wangle a White House tour. I don't think that many of them try to imply that this makes their Washington conference an official White House event.
     I have written before about the NCPSSM's somewhat checkered past. If they wanted to be taken seriously, you'd think they'd avoid anything as questionable as this.

     Update: I am told that this NCPSSM event included a meeting with White House officials at the White House. In my opinion, it is misleading for NCPSSM to label this as a White House "summit." NCPSSM implied that this was a major event set up by the White House. It wasn't. The White House website makes no mention of this event.
     The truly major national organization formed to lobby for Social Security is Strengthen Social Security. NCPSSM is one of dozens of members of Strengthen Social Security.

Social Security Enters Into Agreement With Kaiser Permanente

     From a Social Security press release:
The Social Security Administration announced today that Kaiser Permanente, one of the nation’s largest healthcare providers, will electronically transmit complete medical records for its patients to the agency with the appropriate consent.  Social Security requests about 70,000 patient files from Kaiser Permanente each year so this seamless new system will save time and money for both partners as well as allow Social Security to make faster and more accurate decisions.
Over the last few years, Social Security had entered into similar agreements with several smaller providers to exchange medical records electronically over the Nationwide Health Information Network.  Today’s agreement marks the agency’s first move into using health information technology on a large-scale basis.

Jun 25, 2012

Don't Have Much Choice But To Use Webinars

     From an e-mail I received from Social Security:
Social Security’s National Work Incentives Seminar Event (WISE) Webinar is this Wednesday, June 27, 2012, 3:00 p.m., EDT
Register online or call 1-866-968-7842 (V) or 1-866-833-2967 (TTY/TDD).
You will receive a registration confirmation letter with instructions on how to log in to the webinar. Please be sure to check your spam folder. Registration information will also be available online the day of the webinar.

If you plan to attend Wednesday’s national WISE webinar at 3:00 p.m., EDT, you can download the presentation in an accessible PDF via the link below:
Link to Presentation Materials: http://cl.ly/3u2U3g0l2W2a0M183C3z 

     Social Security recently sent out Emergency Message EM-12029 to its staff reminding them that "Current funding for the Work Incentive Planning and Assistance (WIPA) program grantees, provided from SSA’s FY [Fiscal Year] 2011 appropriation, is coming to a close." Apart from telling its employees that they may refer callers to Ticket to Work, which would be useless for most of them, Social Security management has no help to offer its beleaguered field offices who are now saddled with an increased workload for which they are ill-prepared. 
     The work incentives in the Social Security Act are byzantine in their complexity. Few Social Security employees understand them. No webinar is going to be enough help for the average disability recipient contemplating a return to work. Ticket to Work is virtually worthless.

Jun 24, 2012

Republicans Don't Want To Cut Social Security To Balance The Budget -- Actually, They're Not Interested In Doing Anything To Balance The Budget

     From a YouGov poll taken in late April and early May:
     Note that only 13.5% of Republicans are willing to accept major cuts in Social Security to reduce the budget deficit. Twice as many Republicans are willing to accept increases in taxes on higher-income Americans. Note also that 53.3% of Republicans are unwilling to accept either tax increases or major cuts in spending in order to balance the budget.

Jun 23, 2012

Evidence Of Early Problems With Misidentification Of Social Security Numberholders

 "Baltimore, MD. Strange as it may seem, many persons misspell or change the spelling of their names, from time to time. To forestall the difficulties which would ensue when Baer subsequently spelled his name Bear, the Social Security Board Records Office has set up several varieties of indexes for reference and to insure accuracy. One of these is the alphabetic code index. This is printed on flexible strips, each just wide enough for one line of type. They are printed automatically from the employee master card. The strips are in partially perforated rolls when they first are printed, as shown in the above photograph taken in the Records Office. The perforations allow strips to be separated at any point so that, for example, Abraham Abel's name may be inserted in proper alphabetic sequence between Aaron Abel and Adam Abel"

Jun 22, 2012

Do You Blame Him?

     From the Los Angeles Times:
Ron Paul, a staunch opponent of federal welfare programs, acknowledged Wednesday that he receives Social Security checks, shortly after advocating that younger generations opt out of the program. ...
“Just as I use the post office, I use government highways, I use the banks, I use the federal reserve system, but that doesn’t mean you can’t work to remove this in the same way on Social Security,” the Texas congressman said. “In the same way with Social Security, I am trying to make a transition.

Jun 21, 2012

Congressional Hearing Scheduled

     From a press release:
U.S. Congressman Sam Johnson (R-TX), Chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security today announced the fourth hearing in the series entitled, “Securing the Future of the Disability Insurance Program.”  This hearing will focus on the disability appeals process. The hearing will take place on Wednesday, June 27, 2012, in room B-318 Rayburn House Office Building, beginning at 2:00 p.m. ...
Applications for disability benefits have reached historic levels resulting from more women in the workforce, the recession and slow recovery, and baby boomers reaching their disability-prone years.  The 2012 Annual Report of the Board of Trustees projects that the Disability Insurance (DI) program will be unable to pay full benefits beginning in 2016. ...
In announcing the hearing, Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson (R-TX) said, “Those sidelined from working because of a disability must be able to count on a fair and timely hearing by a Social Security judge.  Americans need to know that the same rules apply to everyone.  This hearing will tell us whether the appeals process we have today works and if not, what changes ought to be made.” 

Creating Two, Three, Many Katrinas?

     From the Federal Times:
The Social Security Administration — which saw its staff shrink 6 percent last year — warned Congress last month it cannot keep up with swelling workloads as baby boomers retire and more Americans file for benefits. ...
With the White House and Congress facing increasing pressure to cut the deficit — and steep cuts looming in January as part of the sequestration process — budgets are certain to get even tighter. And some experts fear Congress will continue cutting budgets without scaling back agencies’ missions, which will force some agencies to cut staffing to dangerous levels. ...
“If you keep ratcheting down, at some point something breaks,” said John Palguta, vice president for policy at the Partnership for Public Service....
“Unfortunately, it keeps going until we run into a [Federal Emergency Management Agency] that can’t respond to [Hurricane] Katrina, or the 9/11 Commission says part of the problem was that we didn’t have enough people in intelligence agencies to pick up on the 9/11 threat,” Palguta said. ...
SSA Commissioner Michael Astrue told the Senate Finance Committee on May 17 that staffing cuts are already hurting his agency’s ability to serve the public. To deal with a nearly 4,500-employee decline in 2011, SSA had been relying on overtime and having employees stay late to interview and help members of the public.
But budget cuts have forced SSA to cut out most overtime. SSA’s $11.5 billion fiscal 2012 budget is about $1 billion less than Obama requested, and about $400 million less than the agency had in fiscal 2010. As a result, Astrue said, SSA began closing field offices to the public a half-hour early each day to make sure employees finish up their interviews during their regular work hours.
And Astrue fears he may be forced to cut staffing even further — between 2,500 and 3,000 employees this year and another 2,000 or more in fiscal 2013. That would force SSA to close its offices even earlier next year, he said.
“I recently visited our Springfield, Mass., office, and the waiting room was filled to capacity,” Astrue said. “The office has lost 11 employees, 19 percent of its staff, in the last few years. We are doing what we can to assist this office, including implementing a video connection with another office, but few offices have excess capacity to help.”

How Much Would It Cost Social Security To Give All Disability Claimants The Assistance They Need?

      From the San Francisco Chronicle:
In a legal settlement that advocates described as the first of its kind, Social Security has agreed to provide staff training and assistance to two mentally disabled San Francisco men who said they lost benefits because they couldn't understand the rules.
The settlement, approved Tuesday by a federal judge, requires the Social Security Administration to assign a staff expert to meet regularly with each man, explain the agency's forms and requirements, and help them respond in ways that protect their rights.
The agency also agreed to pay $900,000 in fees for the two men's lawyers, who have worked on the case for five years. ...
The agency offers no such assistance to at least 2 million Social Security recipients, and an undetermined number of applicants, who have mental or learning disabilities and have to decipher the complex eligibility requirements on their own, Bruce [the attorney for the plaintiffs] said.

The Older You Get, The More Likely You Are To Be Disabled

     This is from the Social Security Advisory Board's Aspects of Disability: Decision Making: Data and Materials. A person's chances of becoming disabled soars as he or she ages. This is the sort of thing that is obvious if you are at ground level but perhaps not so obvious if you're at 30,000 feet. This has little to do with Social Security policies. It is the unavoidable effects of aging. Any analysis of Social Security's disability programs which fails to take into account the aging of the population is inherently misleading. 
     This graph only goes up to age 64. Notice how steep the curve gets as it approaches the 60-64 age group. What do you think it would show if it went up to 70? Is increasing full retirement age really feasible?

Jun 20, 2012

OIG All Over The Place

An e-mail I received from Social Security's Office of Inspector General (I had signed up to receive notification of newly posted audit reports.):
Like us. Follow us. Watch us.
The SSA Office of the Inspector General recently launched its Facebook and Twitter pages and its YouTube channel. 
We’ll regularly update the Facebook page with OIG happenings and activities, and we plan to post daily Twitter updates as audit reports, investigation summaries, fraud alerts, new releases, and other reviews roll through the office. Inspector General Patrick P. O’Carroll, Jr., even sent his first tweet last week. Let us know what you think of the accounts, and please recommend the pages to any interested friends.
We’ve also stocked the YouTube channel with a collection of OIG-related videos, including a brand-new, OIG-produced public service announcement, “Protecting Personal Information.”
Connect with the OIG through the following links: 
The SSA Office of the Inspector General Facebook Page
@TheSSAOIG on Twitter
The SSA Office of the Inspector General YouTube Channel

Jun 19, 2012

Going Beyond "Greedy Geezer"

     The right wing rhetoric on Social Security becomes angrier and angrier.  A right-wing columnist now likens Social Security recipients to thieves.

Congressional Hearing Scheduled

     The House Social Security Subcommittee has scheduled a hearing for June 21 on "the recently released 2012 Annual Report of the Board of Trustees of the OASDI [Old Age Survivors and Disability Insurance] Trust Funds, the effect of the trust funds’ current cash flow deficit status and future exhaustion, and the cost of delaying actions to address Social Security’s fiscal challenges for workers and beneficiaries."

Jun 18, 2012

Changes In Causes Of Disability

     This is from the Social Security Advisory Board's Aspects of Disability: Decision Making: Data and Materials.As with many of these charts, it can be read in different ways. One can certainly note the dramatic increase in disability based upon mental illness. However, I would submit that this has far more to do with the dramatic changes wrought in psychiatry by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) than by anything intrinsic to Social Security. If you're not familiar with the DSM, it's probably the biggest development in the history of psychiatry. It's the Bible of psychiatry. While there are plenty of critics of individual portions of the DSM, I think that few people deny that it has been a dramatically positive development. If you are outraged by this increase in the number of people found disabled due to psychiatric illness, be careful to note the dramatic drop in disability benefits awarded due to circulatory disorders -- mostly heart disease. This is also due to developments in medicine, in this case cardiology. You can't take one type of improvement in medicine without taking the other types of improvement in medicine. 
     My best guesses are that the increase in musculoskeletal approvals has to do with the aging of the population and, perhaps, to different coding at Social Security. I don't think there has actually been much change in Social Security policies or practices in evaluating musculoskeletal disorders. 

Jun 17, 2012

News You Need To Know

    The Zombielaw blog discovers the connection between Social Security and zombies.

Jun 15, 2012

Wild Inconsistency At Appeals Council

     This is from the Social Security Advisory Board's Aspects of Disability: Decision Making: Data and Materials.Notice the wild inconsistency at the Appeals Council.
     I think there are those at Social Security who believe that if upper level management at the agency had better control over the state agencies and the Administrative Law Judges, that they could make the entire disability rational and consistent. Upper level management has the Appeals Council under near complete control and look at the results.

Senate Appropriations Committee Reports Out Bill To Fund Social Security's Administrative Expenses

     The full Senate Appropriations Committee has reported out the Labor-HHS appropriations bill for fiscal year 2013, which begins on October 1, 2012. The bill provides $11.736 billion for Social Security's administrative budget, a $290 million increase. I have not yet seen anything other than the summary of the bill, which may not tell the whole story. The bills themselves are complex and confusing. Sometimes I think the bills are deliberately made confusing.
     The House Appropriations Committee has yet to take up its version of the Labor-HHS appropriations bill.

Jun 14, 2012

Social Security Awards $233 Million Telecommunications Order To Century Link -- Largest Such Order Ever Awarded By The Federal Government

From a press release:
CenturyLink, Inc. (CTL) recently won a $233 million task order to provide primary managed data networking services over the next five years to the Social Security Administration (SSA) under the Networx Universal contract. The General Services Administration's Networx program is the largest telecommunications contract vehicle ever awarded by the federal government. 

CenturyLink will provide network infrastructure for data, video and voice services to the SSA, which has more than 62,000 employees worldwide.  As the primary service provider, CenturyLink will help SSA drive the pace for the transition from the current providers to the new service providers.
In this capacity, CenturyLink will serve all SSA data centers, regional offices, program service centers, remote operations communications centers and more than 1,500 field office locations around the world. Under the task order, CenturyLink will also provide management and implementation support and lifecycle engineering. 
SSA had previously awarded a broad voice services task order to Qwest, which was acquired by CenturyLink, in 2008. The services that CenturyLink provides under the 2008 award help SSA with everything from internal communications and collaboration via audio conferencing to lowering its disability case hearing backlog via video conferencing.

Appropriations Process Begins In Earnest

     The Labor-HHS Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee has marked up the Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 appropriations bill that covers the Social Security Administration. This is from the Subcommittee's summary of the bill as marked up:
Social Security Program Integrity.—The bill includes $1.024 billion, an increase of $268 million for the Social Security Administration (SSA) to conduct continuing disability reviews and redeterminations of nonmedical eligibility under the Supplemental Security Income program. This investment will save approximately $8.1 billion over 10 years for the Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid programs, a return on investment of $8 for every $1 spent.
     The rest of the summary is unclear on Social Security's overall budget.

Eliminating The F.I.C.A. Cap Would Solve Social Security's Long Term Financing Problems And Would Affect Few Americans

     One proposal to eliminate the long term financing problem for the Social Security trust funds is to eliminate the cap, currently $110,100, on earnings covered by the F.I.C.A.tax that supports the trust funds. The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) has done a study on who would be affected if this becomes law. CEPR also studied an alternate proposal to raise the F.I.C.A. cap to $250,000. The alternate proposal would not completely eliminate the long term financing problem but would dramatically reduce it. The CEPR gives figures for various demographic groups and for each state but the chart below shows the gist of what the study found -- only a small percentage of the population would be affected by increasing the cap to $250,000 and only a tiny additional percentage would be affected by lifting the cap altogether.

     The cap on the Medicare portion of the F.I.C.A. tax was eliminated years ago. It wasn't even particularly controversial then. Why should eliminating the F.I.C.A. cap be that big a problem now?

Jun 13, 2012

Many Listings Extended Without Change, Including Mental Disorders

     Social Security is extending without change the following listings of impairments:
  • Growth Impairment 100.00
  • Musculoskeletal System 1.00 and 101.00
  • Respiratory System 3.00 and 103.00
  • Cardiovascular System 4.00 and 104.00
  • Digestive System 5.00 and 105.00
  • Hematological Disorders 7.00 and 107.00
  • Skin Disorders 8.00 and 108.00
  • Neurological 11.00 and 111.00
  • Mental Disorders 12.00 and 112.00
     Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue has twice tried to amend the mental disorders listings. Not long before the 2008 election, Astrue received approval from the Bush Administration to publish a proposed new Listing. Astrue did not promptly send the proposal to the Federal Register for publication as is normally the case. I think it would have been published if McCain had won that election. With Obama winning, the 2008 proposal was shelved.  There is no way of knowing what was in the 2008 proposal but I doubt that I would have liked it. In 2010, Astrue received Obama Administration approval for new proposed mental impairment listings. The proposal was controversial and Social Security had to issue a "clarification." In theory, despite the notice in today's Federal Register, Social Security could attempt to get Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approval for the mental impairment listings proposal made in 2010. Due to the length of time that has passed and the proximity to the election, I doubt that will happen. If it were submitted to OMB today, it probably wouldn't be acted upon until September. It's just too late to do before the election, considering that it would be controversial.

Jun 12, 2012

Alan Simpson Can't Take The Heat

     Nancy Altman and Eric Kingson of Social Security Works have an open letter to Alan Simpson on Huffington Post. Responding in kind to Simpson's inflammatory rhetoric, Altman and Kingson talk of Simpson's "bigotry and bullying" and his "undermining of human dignity." They charge him with wanting to "begin pulling apart our Social Security system brick by brick."
     Simpson, by the way, has backed out of his earlier commitment to debate those who oppose his views on Social Security.

Jun 11, 2012

You Get What You Pay For

     This is from the Social Security Advisory Board's Aspects of Disability: Decision Making: Data and Materials. CDRs are Continuing Disability Reviews, reviews to determine whether a Social Security disability recipient is still disabled. These are required by statute. Most reviews are supposed to happen every three years. Even the most severely disabled are supposed to be reviewed every seven years (which is a waste of resources). A review by "mailer" is simply sending the disability benefits recipient a form to complete. Assuming the recipient completes the form and does not report that he or she has improved, which few do, it is almost certain that nothing will happen. Medical CDRs involve the collection of medical records to look to see how the recipient is actually doing. Note the dramatic decline in medical CDRs after George W. Bush was elected President. This was because of Social Security's severely restricted operating budget. After Democrats retook control of Congress in 2006 and Social Security's operating budget went up, the medical CDRs started going up and the nearly meaningless mailers went down, although not nearly enough to cross paths.
     This chart tells the story clearly. If you want real reviews to determine whether Social Security disability recipients remain disabled, you have to appropriate sufficient operating funds. This matters greatly since CDRs save about $10.50 for every dollar spent on them.

Jun 10, 2012

Fee Payment Numbers

     Below are the numbers on payments of fees to attorneys and others who represent Social Security claimants. While administered by Social Security, these payments come out of the back benefits of the claimants represented. Those who receive these fees pay a user fee to Social Security to cover the costs of administering the payments. Since the attorney or other representative receives his or her fee at about the same time as the claimant receives his or her benefits, these numbers are a good analogue to show how quickly or slowly Social Security is paying benefits to people after they are approved. As the numbers show, these payments vary dramatically from month to month.

Fee Payments

Month/Year Volume Amount

Jun 9, 2012

First Social Security Board

Left to right: (seated) Mary M. Dewson; Arthur J. Altmeyer, Chairman; and George E. Bigge. Standing are Jack B. Tate, Acting General Counsel and Frank Bane, (right) Executive Director

Jun 8, 2012

Warning: Witch Hunt Ahead

     Former Representative Charlie Melancon (D-La) warns that budget hawks have the Social Security disability programs in their sights as a target for a "witch hunt."

Jun 7, 2012

Ethics Complaint Concerning Attorneys Working For Non-Attorney Group

     I have received an anonymous report of an anonymous attorney ethics complaint filed with a state bar against some named attorneys who represent Social Security claimants in the employment of a non-attorney outfit. Representing clients as an attorney as an employee of a non-attorney is, in my understanding, itself a violation of attorney ethics rules. The complaint also alleges that the non-attorney group engages in practices which are considered unethical by attorneys. I will not give more details about an anonymous complaint.
     The complaint is interesting but I think it would be investigated more thoroughly if had not been filed anonymously. I know that Social Security has told its Administrative Law Judges not to file ethics complaints against attorneys which could explain why this is being filed anonymously but there is a detail, which I'm not to reveal here, concerning the material I received which suggests that it was not filed by any Social Security employee.
     There are many, many newly minted attorneys who are desperately seeking employment.  I feel for them but if you are representing Social Security claimants in the employment of a non-attorney group, you had better think about your situation from a legal ethics point of view. This is from the North Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct, which has its counterparts in every other state:
A lawyer shall not practice with or in the form of a professional corporation or association authorized to practice law for a profit, if:
     (1) a nonlawyer owns any interest therein, except that a fiduciary representative of the estate of a lawyer may hold the stock or interest of the lawyer for a reasonable time during administration; or
     (2) a nonlawyer has the right to direct or control the professional judgment of a lawyer.

Jun 6, 2012


      From an e-mail sent out by Mary Barros-Bailey, Chair of Social Security's Occupational Information Development Advisory Panel (OIDAP), which has been working on creating a successor to the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT):
After over three years serving as the Chair to the Occupational Information Development Advisory Panel (OIDAP), this will be my last Message from the Chair.  On 21 May 2012, the Social Security Administration (SSA) decided that because of fiscal issues associated with the current Federal financial crisis, they would not extend the OIDAP charter beyond its expiration in July.  We are the last Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) panel at SSA at this time.
     Occupational information is crucial in disability determination under the Social Security Act. Social Security's effort to create a new occupational information system is going forward full speed ahead. The only thing that is happening is that Social Security is dropping the pretense that there is anything independent about this. Abolishing OIDAP will make it even more difficult for the occupational information system it develops to be seen as credible by the courts, Congress and the public. It's hard for me to imagine Social Security submitting its occupational information system to independent review.

The Wealthy Get A Free Ride

     From a letter to the editor published in Sunday's New York Times:
In a nation that prides itself on fair play and equal opportunity, it seems incongruous that people with wealth-based income — interest, dividends, capital gains, rent — are excused from paying Social Security (traditionally 12.4 percent) and Medicare taxes (2.9 percent) on that income. Equally odd, they do not pay Social Security tax on wages above $110,100. Shouldn’t these taxes be paid on all income? Taxing the “earned” and not the “unearned” seems rather un-American, doesn’t it?
     Now wait for the sharp reaction from the paid shills who are the most ardent posters on this blog.

Most Social Security Representation By Attorneys

      From Aspects of Disability: Decision Making: Data and Materials issued by the Social Security Advisory Board.

Jun 5, 2012

SSAB Issues Report: Allowance Rates

     The Social Security Advisory Board has issued a 130 page document titled  Aspects of Disability: Decision Making: Data and Materials. It is filled with charts which one can use to make many different points. I'll post several but let's start out with this one. You can make a lot of different points based just upon this chart alone but one you cannot easily make is that it has become less difficult to get on Social Security disability benefits in recent years. Hearing allowance rates went up slightly but only because allowance rates went down at lower levels. Recently, all allowance rates have gone down a bit.

     The difference at the hearing level between dispositions and decisions is the cases dismissed for technical reasons such as filing the request for hearing too late or failing to appear for a hearing.

Threats In Tennessee

     From WKRN:
Police arrested a man after he made threats against workers at the Murfreesboro [Tennessee] social security office on Monday. 
Suspect Brian Bottoms is accused of telling an employee "He might just have to do something destructive" after he learned he could not get money he thought he was owed to pay child support....
In 1995, Bottoms and his brother were arrested after they threatened to kidnap the former publisher of The Tennessean John Seigenthaler and WLAC radio talk show host Les Jameson. 
Officers raided the brothers' home and located three pipe bombs. ...
Agents searched his car [yesterday] and found cleaning supplies, a cinder block and a guitar.

Jun 4, 2012

Alan Simpson Doesn't Listen And Doesn't Know When To Shut Up

     From Michael Hiltzik at the L.A. Times:
Former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyoming), perhaps our leading avatar of misinformation about Social Security, sent us a lengthy email on Friday responding to our series of posts criticizing his error-rich take on the nation’s preeminent social insurance program.

You can read his entire email
here. Be forewarned: It’s a dizzying compendium of ignorance, myths, irrelevancies, and historical revisionism, leavened with a healthy dollop of defensiveness.
      Hiltzik goes on to completely demolish Simpson's absurd arguments that Social Security was never intended as a retirement program and that the lower life expectancy at the time of adoption of the Social Security Act is some crucial fact.

Trying To Screen Rep Payees

     The Social Security Administration is starting a three to six month project to screen new representative payees, that is people who handle Social Security benefits for those who are unable to handle their own money. The project will try to screen out those with a history of criminal offenses in categories such as human trafficking, sex offenses, fraud, theft, abuse, forgery and homicide. This is in response to publicity given to a horrible case of representative payee abuse in Philadelphia last year.
     Lack of manpower caused by low appropriations may limit Social Security's ability to take this project national.

Jun 2, 2012

District Office Manager Retires

     From the Corsicana, Texas Daily Sun:
Polly Winn is retiring as the district manager of the Corsicana Social Security office Friday after 38 years with the administration.
When she graduated from Blooming Grove High School, Winn said her plans were to become a special education teacher. She was already fluent in American Sign Language because both her parents were deaf.
Instead, she ended up working for Social Security ...
Throughout [her career at Social Security], her skills with sign language have been helpful, since so few people in the administration know it. People from around Texas have come to Corsicana to meet with Winn and get help with their Social Security claims. She’s even had people come from as far away as Kansas. ...

Jun 1, 2012

Yes, We Really Do Need All Those Levels Of Review

     From Ludwig v. Astrue, an opinion of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued today, quoting from a letter sent by a Social Security Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) to an attorney who was representing Mr. Ludwig:
Shortly after your client’s hearing . . . a special agent with the F.B.I.  informed me that, earlier, he had observed Mr. Ludwig in the parking lot walking with normal gait and station; and when he observed Mr. Ludwig walking inside of the Federal Courthouse (where our hearing was held) he was walking with an exaggerated limp (which I also observed as he left the hearing room).

Should you wish to inquire further, [the special agent] can be reached at the F.B.I. office at:
101 12th Ave
Fairbanks, AK, 99701
     The attorney asked either that no weight be given to this ex parte statement or that a new hearing be held. The ALJ did not schedule a new hearing and issued a decision denying the claim, saying that he had not assigned "significant weight" to the ex parte statement of the FBI agent.
     The Court of Appeals remanded the case for a new hearing, saying that "The judge should have refused to hear the ex parte communication. Ordinarily, if someone says to a judge, 'Judge, you know that case you heard this morning?', a judge responds, 'Don’t tell me anything about it. I can’t listen to evidence out of court.'" I thought that was well understood even by non-lawyers.
     I've got three questions:
  1. How did this case get to the Court of Appeals? The Appeals Council or the District Court should have remanded the case in a heartbeat.
  2. Why was Social Security defending this at the District Court level much less at the Court of Appeals?
  3. Does that FBI agent's supervisor know that he made an ex parte contact with an ALJ? I was under the impression that most FBI agents were attorneys. Don't they know better than to do something like this?
     People wonder about why we need so many levels of review of Social Security cases and then you see something like this.

     Update: I should have read to the end. The Court of Appeals affirmed this travesty as harmless error. I cannot believe it. This is wrong. There is no reason for anyone at Social Security to feel anything but shame over this win.


     That Emergency Message announcing the end of the Work Incentives Planning and Assistance (WIPA) and Protection and Advocacy for Beneficiaries of Social Security (PABSS) programs that I posted about yesterday has now been taken down from Social Security's Emergency Message site. WIPA and PABSS are both directed at helping Social Security disability recipients navigate Social Security's incredibly complex work incentives.
     How did this happen? What does it mean?