Dec 31, 2012

Over The Cliff

     The House of Representatives is shutting down for the day without taking action on a fiscal cliff deal meaning we're going over the cliff at least for a day. There is no fiscal cliff deal at this point anyway. Will there be one before January 2? Stay tuned.

FICA Cut To End; No Sign Of Stimulus Funds

     Reportedly, the reduction in the F.I.C.A. will not be continued as a result of the fiscal cliff negotiations. Also, there is no sign that the agreement will include any stimulus funds although that could be in the details yet to be released. If there is any stimulus spending, Social Security could get some of it.

I Don't Know Where This Is Headed

     From a notice that Social Security is having published in the Federal Register on January 2:
We are seeking information and comments from other Federal agencies' regarding their intention to use the WHO ICF[World Health Organization International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health] as a standard for coding functional capacity with broad potential for application to the business processes of other Federal agencies and researchers throughout the world. We invite other interested Federal agencies involved in disability monitoring to collaborate with us to evaluate an ICF-based standard for coding functional capacity in Federal disability programs. We also invite interested public and private parties to comment on appropriate Federal direction on capturing data on functioning. ...
The WHO ICF is a classification of health and health-related domains, including a list of body functions and a list of domains of activity and participation (see The ICF for Children and Youth (ICF-CY) is a derived version of the ICF designed to record characteristics of the developing child and the influence of environments surrounding the child. The ICF and the ICF-CY reflect WHO’s framework for measuring health and disability at both individual and population levels. ...
We are studying several uses for ICF coding. We could use it, for example, to describe function in activities of daily living, to describe residual functional capacity (to satisfy a specific set of disability criteria), or to develop a compendium of job descriptions that includes mental and physical functional requirements.
     You can order your copy of the ICF for $50.


     The fiscal cliff negotiations drag on. At this point, preventing the sequester is on the table and the chained CPI change for Social Security's Cost Of Living Adjustment (COLA) is off the table. Republicans are even denying that they want chained CPI! 
     If this is not resolved, Social Security employees should soon expect to receive a furlough warning. As an example of what's coming, the Department of Defense is preparing to notify 800,000 civilian employees that they can expect several weeks of unpaid leave. However, the White House has not informed agencies of exactly how sequestration will be administered. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) was not even returning phone calls on the subject last week!

No Surprise

     The user fee that attorneys pay for Social Security to withhold their fees from their clients' past due benefits will remain at 6.3% in 2013.

Dec 30, 2012

Sequestration Nearly Inevitable

     The Washington Post reports that sequestration seems all but certain to take effect on January 1. Most likely, it will last a couple of months. Social Security could avoid furloughs if sequestration were only to last a few days but it's hard to imagine such a huge cut in the agency's operating budget over a couple of months not resulting in furloughs.
     I was once a federal employee. I know many federal employees. I know that job security is an extraordinarily important consideration for most federal employees. I feel for the federal employees who may suffer partial or total furlough as a result of sequestration but I feel more for the members of the public who will suffer as a result of sequestration. This is a big deal.
     This shouldn't have happened.

Dec 29, 2012

No Chained CPI In Fiscal Cliff Deal But No Sequestration Fix Either

     In Social Security terms, the reports about the deal currently being worked out by Senate leaders to avoid the fiscal cliff are remarkable for what's not being discussed -- the chained CPI method of computing Social Security's cost of living adjustment (COLA) and any solution for the sequestration that will dramatically cut Social Security's operating budget on January. Also, the expected deal would do nothing about the debt ceiling problem.

Dec 28, 2012

Union Not A Big Fan Of Commissioner Astrue

     Council 220 of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the union that represents most Social Security employees is not a big fan of lame duck Commissioner Astrue. The Council's current newsletter includes a piece sharply criticizing Astrue. According to the union, Astrue promised during the confirmation process that he would have an "open door" for the AFGE but held only a couple of meetings with union representatives before breaking off all contacts. According to the union, Astrue seemed to be mad that the union had publicly criticized him. The union says that no only would Astrue not meet with its leaders, he would not respond to letters or acknowledge invitations to speak. The piece also criticizes Astrue for doing less than he could have to obtain an adequate budget for his agency:
Although the Commissioner testified before Congress regarding the impact of reduced resources on the ability of SSA to provide adequate services to the public, he has not aggressively addressed this issue with the public. The person in charge of SSA [Social Security Administration] should maintain a highly visible profile, demanding Congress provide the agency with sufficient dollars to provide the services the American public demands and deserves.
Since SSA is an Independent Agency, the Commissioner has a unique opportunity to communicate with the public the need for more resources to prevent office closings, to allow the public more face-to-face access to SSA employees and to provide assistance to the public for all their SSA/SSI issues.

Dec 27, 2012

Social Security News Retrospective For 2012

     Here are my picks for the most interesting news reported here in 2012:
  • January 2 -- Carolyn Colvin, Social Security's Deputy Commissioner, speaking to the National Council of Social Security Management Associations (NCSSMA), says "We can no longer do more with less. We will do less with less ..."
  • January 11 -- Insurers benefit from changes in Social Security death master files since they will not be forced to pay on many life insurance contracts where the beneficiaries are unaware of the insurance contract.
  • January 14 -- Social Security lets contract for construction of new national data center.
  • February 17 -- Social Security's Office Of Inspector General (OIG) issues report on "outlier" Administrative Law Judges (ALJs)
  • February 20 -- A Rupert Murdock controlled media outlet starts the meme that the cause of the increase in the number of people filing claims for Social Security disability benefits is high unemployment rather than the aging of the baby boomer population. This new meme rapidly becomes the accepted wisdom of the political right if not the entire country.
  • March 1 -- Social Security and the AFGE reach conceptual agreement on a new union contract.
  • March 5 -- A Harris poll shows that only 12% of the population wants to cut Social Security benefits. All Republican candidates for President at the time wanted to cut Social Security benefits.
  • March 16 -- Wanting to seem "serious" and apparently believing that Republicans were going to win the election, AARP signals its openness to cutting Social Security benefits. AARP must not have read the Harris poll.
  • April 23 -- Social Security trustees report shows that the Disability Insurance trust fund is likely to run out of funds in 2016.
  • May 9 -- Withholding the identity of the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) holding a Social Security disability hearing isn't enough. The National Hearing Center ALJs will have to travel to hold hearings.
  • May 14 -- Jacob and Sophia top the lists of most popular baby names.
  • May 23 -- At a Congressional hearing, Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue says that attorneys representing Social Security disability claimants have no duty to submit adverse evidence on their clients.
  • May 31 -- Social Security announces that because of lack of funding the Work Incentives Planning and Assistance (WIPA) and Protection and Advocacy for Beneficiaries of Social Security (PABSS) programs will be terminated at the end of September
  • June 14 -- Social Security awards $233 million contract to CenturyLink, Inc. for data networking services, the largest such contract ever awarded by the federal government.
  • July 17 -- Women protest outside Social Security field office in Napa, California after woman was told she could not breastfeed at the office.
  • July 27 -- Study shows that the majority of women retire on Social Security benefits at age 62. Only 18% of women wait until full retirement age of 66 or after to retire.
  • August 2 -- National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR) issues its first-ever press release.
  • August 17 -- Ammunition purchases by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG) draw public attention.
  • September 13 -- Senator Tom Coburn issues report criticizing allowance of Social Security disability claims. The report expresses outrage that disability claims are approved even though some evidence contradicts approval of the claims.
  • October 31 -- The ARC (Association for Retarded Citizens) gives Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue its 2012 President's award for demonstrating a steadfast commitment to addressing the needs of disabled people, an award which astonishes some.
  • November 1 -- Many Social Security field offices in the Northeast are closed due to the effects of Hurricane Sandy.
  • November 8 -- Social Security announces that because of funding cuts its field offices will start closing at noon on Wednesdays beginning in January.
  • November 30 -- Explosion at Arizona Social Security field office. No one is injured.
  • December 12 -- Salvatore Petti, who was Treasurer of Social Security's central office Employees Activities Association for 40 years, is arrested for diverting large sums of money from the Association to support his lavish lifestyle.
  • December 18 -- Two of Commissioner Michael Astrue's initiatives, the secret ALJ policy and the go-it-alone approach to a new occupational information system, collapse as his term draws to a close.
  • December 22 -- Social Security employee reprimanded for excessive flatulence.

Dec 26, 2012

Is Chained CPI More Accurate?

     The "chained CPI" method of computing Social Security's Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs) is being touted on two grounds. First, it saves money. Second, it's more accurate. Undoubtedly, it would save money but the second point is debatable. The chained CPI method is based upon the observation that if green beans get more expensive, consumers are more likely to substitute broccoli. A COLA based in small part on the price of green beans may be inaccurate because consumers will substitute an equivalent lower priced item. However, as Dean Baker at FDL argues, there is no proof that the chained CPI method is more accurate when applied to the elderly. The Bureau of Labor Statistics computes the CPI-E, the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly, that takes into account the increased health care expenses of the elderly among other age related spending differences. The CPI-E has been running higher than the chained CPI but has not been used in the computation of the Social Security COLA. There is no chained CPI-E, that is a chained CPI computed for the elderly. No one knows what it would show but the odds are high that a chained CPI-E would not be so unfavorable for the elderly as the plain chained CPI. It might be even more favorable for the elderly than what is being used currently to compute the Social Security COLA.
     In the end, the chained CPI has one real advantage -- it would save money. There's no proof that the chained CPI method of computing the COLA would be more accurate. Of course, I should mention that the chained CPI method has one big political advantage. It's so abstruse that few Social Security recipients understand it. However, they could probably understand a television ad criticizing a politician for "cutting" Social Security and that ad would have the advantage of being accurate.

Dec 25, 2012

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas

Dec 24, 2012

There's Your Problem

     From Mark McKinnon writing for The Daily Beast:
Increasingly, it is becoming clear that the [Republican] party is against everything and for nothing.
Nothing on taxes. Nothing on gun control. Nothing on climate change. Nothing on gay marriage. Nothing on immigration reform (or an incremental, piece-by-piece approach, which will result in nothing). It’s a very odd situation when the losing party is the party refusing to negotiate. It may be how you disrupt, but it is not how you govern, or how you ever hope to regain a majority.
And so, we have a Republican Party today willing to eliminate any prospect for a decent future for anyone, including itself, if it cannot be a future that is 100 percent in accordance with its core beliefs and principles. That’s not governing. That’s just lobbing hand grenades. If you’re only standing on principle to appear taller, then you appear smaller. And the GOP is shrinking daily before our eyes.

Merry Christmas

Dec 23, 2012

Merry Christmas

Dec 22, 2012

"Conduct Unbecoming A Federal Officer"

     From the Smoking Gun:
A federal employee was formally reprimanded this month for excessive workplace flatulence, a sanction that was delivered to him in a five-page letter that actually included a log of representative dates and times when he was recorded “releasing the awful and unpleasant odor” in his Baltimore office.
In a December 10 letter accusing him of “conduct unbecoming a federal officer,” the Social Security Administration employee was informed that his “uncontrollable flatulence” had created an “intolerable” and “hostile” environment for coworkers, several of whom have lodged complaints with supervisors. ...
A redacted copy of the letter was recently circulated among officers of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the union that represents the SSA worker. Contacted today at his office, the employee said, “I can’t talk to you about this, I’m sorry.” The employee is being represented in connection with the reprimand by a lawyer for his union, AFGE Local 1923. Cynthia Ennis, president of the Baltimore-based local, did not respond to e-mail and phone messages about the matter.  ...
The employee is a claims authorizer at the SSA center that handles disability cases for the entire country.

Merry Christmas

Dec 21, 2012

What Follows Plan B?

     When House Speaker's Boehner decided to go ahead with his "Plan B", we started down a track that seems to lead directly over the "fiscal cliff." I'm not sure that the failure of "Plan B" in and of itself made the jump into the abyss more likely but the lack of progress over the past few days and the fact that the House of Representatives is adjourning until after Christmas makes that terrible outcome seem nearly inevitable.
     At this point, I think the "chained CPI", which would reduce the Social Security Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA), is less likely to come to pass than it was last week. It appears that nothing can be passed in the House of Representatives without Democratic votes and the price of those votes is the end of the chained CPI. The current 2% reduction in the F.I.C.A. tax is almost certain to end on December 31. That might be revived later but I wouldn't bet on it. Social Security and other agencies will almost certainly get hit by sequestration on January 1. Sequestration dramatically lowers the agency's budget and will eventually bring about employee furloughs. However, the Office of Management and Budget is telling agencies to send out messages to their employees that do not mention furloughs. I take that to mean that there is enough leeway for Social Security and other agencies to delay furloughs in the expectation that sequestration will not last long.
     Also, I hate to mention it, but we're approaching the statutory cap on the federal debt. Even with everything that happens with the fiscal cliff, we'll still get to that cap sometime in January or early February. The consequences of getting to that cap are almost incalculable. Even shutting down the federal government will probably be inadequate to prevent the country defaulting on its debts. It may take significant reductions in everything including Social Security payments, which, in its own way, would be a default on a federal debt.

How Is This Witness Tampering?

     From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
A security guard has been indicted in federal court here for allegedly outing a federal investigation by the Social Security Administration, charging documents claim.
The indictment says that Mamie Wills, 66, was working as a security guard at an unidentified St. Louis County office building when on April 4, she spotted an officer of the Social Security Administration's Cooperative Disability Investigations Unit tailing a man who was claiming to be disabled. The man was going to a medical appointment in the building.
Wills apparently became suspicious and wrote down the license plate number of one officer's car, causing another officer to “intervene” and tell her who they were and that they were conducting an investigation, the indictment says.
When their target left, Wills told him that he was being followed and videotaped by investigators, the indictment claims.
Wills was indicted on a witness tampering charge Dec. 13 and appeared in U.S. District Court here Wednesday to plead not guilty to the charge.

Merry Christmas

Dec 20, 2012

Article On Backlogs In Disability Determination

     Gannett is running a piece on backlogs in Social Security disability determinations. It is one of the most uninformative piece of its type I've seen with a mention of the possibility of claimants "gaming" the system and a discussion of the impending shortfall in the disability trust fund that mentions three possibilities for fixing the problem without mentioning the inevitable solution, interfund borrowing!

Merry Christmas

Dec 19, 2012

Can't Issue Decisions Until After January 1?

     I don't know what to make of this e-mail I received from a legal assistant at my firm: "I just spoke with an examiner [disability examiner at North Carolina Disability Determination Services] who stated they are unable to close any cases right now, other than Medicaid [eligibility determinations]. She stated that they hope they will be able to resume soon after the 1st." 
     This does seem to track with what we're seeing at my firm -- no initial or reconsideration determinations in December. Can anyone explain what might be going on? I hope this is limited to North Carolina.

Merry Christmas

Dec 18, 2012

Occupational Information System Plan And Secret ALJ Policy Both Crumbling As End Of Astrue's Term Approaches

     Even though the statute allows Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue to stay in his position until a successor is confirmed, my understanding is that he intends to leave on January 19, 2013, the official end date to his term of office.  While he can look back on accomplishments as Commissioner, a couple of his initiatives have been falling apart as his term draws to an end.
     First, Astrue had a grand plan for an occupational information system (OIS) developed completely by Social Security to replace the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT). A replacement for the DOT is badly needed. It's so outdated that its continued use in disability determination is indefensible.  The OIS project has been Astrue's single most important initiative. His go it alone plan had a couple of serious problems. It was very expensive. Tens, probably hundreds, of millions of dollars expensive. Getting that kind of money would be difficult in any budgetary environment and this is a terrible budget environment. Those who advocate for claimants were completely opposed to an OIS controlled by the Social Security Administration, feeling that it would be manipulated to the detriment of Social Security disability claimants. This opposition would have been a further obstacle to funding this project. Litigation could have blown up an OIS created by Social Security alone. Eventually, these two problems became too much. Social Security has abandoned its go it alone OIS project and signed an interagency agreement with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) that will build on the Department of Labor's existing O*NET system to meet Social Security's needs. I know that Social Security employees cannot access this document from their office computers since it's on Scribd and Social Security computers can't access Scribd. I'm sorry but I don't know where else I can upload it to. Access it from home or get it uploaded to your intranet.
     Second, Astrue took a swipe at attorneys and others who represent Social Security claimants by ordering that the identity of the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) remain a secret until the day of a claimant's hearing. The secret ALJ policy has been a major annoyance for people like me who represent Social Security claimants. The response to the secret ALJ policy has been to make requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to learn the identity of the ALJ. Once Social Security finally declined the FOIA requests, litigation followed. I don't have a link but Social Security has recently settled one of these FOIA lawsuits (Hoaglund v. Social Security Administration, Western District of Washington) by revealing the name of the ALJ and paying attorney fees. It looks like things worked out about as I had predicted. The justification for refusing the FOIA requests was weak and the Department of Justice had little appetite for defending the lawsuit. The secret ALJ policy is at odds with White House information policies. I suppose that Social Security can wait until after Astrue has left office to officially abandon the secret ALJ policy but I don't see how they can continue it much longer.

Service Reduced In California

     Social Security is closing its contact station in Red Bluff, California.

Dec 17, 2012

Progress On Fiscal Cliff Negotiations And Social Security May Be Greatly Affected

     There is progress in the fiscal cliff negotiations. If the reports are accurate, Social Security will be greatly affected. Ezra Klein (who is about as well plugged into the Obama Administration as it is possible for an outsider to be) reports that the deal would include:
  • A shift to the chained CPI method of computing Social Security's Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA). The chained CPI method is a sneaky way of cutting Social Security benefits. Few people understand it but it reduces the COLA. Its effects on a Social Security recipient compound as the years pass. 
  • An end for the sequester, which would dramatically cut operating budgets for Social Security and all other agencies on January 1 if it takes effect but there would be another sequester-like device to take effect at some later date.
  • There might be "some amount of infrastructure spending" in the deal. Klein does not say how this spending might be directed. The Social Security Administration would be a great place for this spending. The money could be spent quickly and to great effect, both in terms of backlogs at Social Security and program integrity.
  • The 2% reduction in the F.I.C.A. tax would end.
     A Washington Post article says that the infrastructure spending could be $50 billion! I would be extremely disappointed if Social Security were not included in infrastructure spending that high. 
     The article relates that"[S]enior Democratic aides said they could probably muster the votes for the [chained CPI] change if it was not applied to disability payments, known as SSI, and if very old seniors were protected through a bump-up in benefits at age 85." I hope this is just confused, that the chained CPI would not be applied to Title II Social Security disability benefits as well as SSI disability benefits. This would make sense because applying the chained CPI to someone who would draw disability benefits and then retirement benefits for 50 years or more would be devastating because of the compounding effect.

Sequestration Would Be A Disaster For Social Security

     While there are reports of some progress in the fiscal cliff negotiations, the parties remain far apart and agreement is uncertain. One of the consequences of failure to reach agreement and the one that is of the most importance for the Social Security Administration is sequestration, a sudden, dramatic cut in the agency's operating budget effective January 1. Sequestration would be far worse for Social Security than a government shutdown. In a government shutdown, most of Social Security continues to operate. A Senate Finance Subcommittee report gives some idea of what sequestration would mean for Social Security:
In fiscal year 2012 SSA’s [Social Security Administration unnecessarily stated in the possessive form] had an administrative budget of $11.45 billion. This represents less than 1.5% of the over $800 billion it will pay in benefits. The sequester would cut SSA’s administrative budget by $890 million in fiscal year 2013. As a result, in fiscal year 2013 SSA would lose 5,000 staff through attrition and the loss of temporary hires. In addition, SSA’s approximately 65,000 employees and 15,000 State Disability Determinations Services employees would face approximately 6 weeks of furloughs.
Degradation of Basic Services
... The processing time for the 3.2 million Americans who will file disability claims would increase from 111 days in fiscal year 2012 to an estimated 180 days in fiscal year 2013. The number of pending disability claims would increase from 861,000 in fiscal year 2012 to almost 1.5 million by the end of fiscal year 2013. As field offices and telephone-service centers close their doors for 30 days throughout the year, the waiting time for the 45 million field office visitors and 63 million 1-800 number callers would increase dramatically.
Combating Waste, Fraud, and Abuse
This year the SSA will conduct 435,000 continuing disability reviews, to ensure individuals receiving disability benefits are still disabled, and 2.4 million SSI redeterminations, to ensure individuals receiving SSI still meet income and resources limitations. Combined, these two program integrity activities are expected to save $5.9 billion over 10 years, approximately $8 for each $1 spent. Under the sequester, SSA would be able to conduct 35,000 fewer continuing disability reviews and 500,000 fewer SSI redeterminations. This would cost the Federal government $500 million over 10 years from otherwise preventable waste, fraud, and abuse.

Updated Numbers On Numbers Of Social Security Employees

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has posted updated figures for the number of employees at Social Security. I would caution that these numbers are a bit misleading. Social Security has long relied heavily upon employee overtime to get much of its workload done. Reductions in overtime are not reflected in the OPM numbers. Overtime declined at Social Security during the 2012 fiscal year and has almost completely disappeared since the beginning of the 2013 fiscal year on October 1, 2012. I cannot see the big picture but all of the parts of Social Security that I deal with, apart from the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR), where the Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) work, seem to me to be falling apart, with the most dramatic changes happening at the payment centers, which put claimants on benefits after they approved, and the N.C. Disability Determination Service (DDS) which makes initial and reconsideration determinations on disability claims, being the most dramatically affected. Service at the field offices I am dealing with is also noticeably deteriorating. I could say that the current situation is one that cannot continue for the long term but that would understate the problem The current situation that I see is one that cannot survive for even a few more months without dramatic consequences which would be obvious to the public. I cannot even imagine the consequences if sequestration comes to pass for even a week or two.
  • September 2012 65,113
  • June 2012 65,282
  • March 2012 65,257
  • December 2011 65,911
  • September 2011 67,136
  • June 2011 67,773
  • March 2011 68,700
  • December 2010 70,270
  • June 2010 69,600
  • March 2010 66,863
  • December 2009 67,486
  • September 2009 67,632
  • December 2008 63,733
  • September 2008 63,990
  • September 2007 62,407
  • September 2006 63,647
  • September 2005 66,147
  • September 2004 65,258
  • September 2003 64,903
  • September 2002 64,648
  • September 2001 65,377
  • September 2000 64,521

Dec 16, 2012

Satellite Office Closes In Hawaii

     Social Security has announced the closing of its satellite office in Kona, Hawaii. The office had only been open four hours a month. Local residents now face a two hour drive each way to conduct business in person at a Social Security office. The satellite office in Kona had been well used. Locals had complained about long lines and limited places to sit. The local mayor said that closing the satellite office was "obviously a decision made by someone not from Hawaii Island.” The decision to close the satellite office affects not just those who are receiving or want to receive Social Security benefits. It affects those who need a replacement Social Security card so they can get a drivers license.

Dec 15, 2012

Dreams Die Hard

     From Paul Krugman writing for the New York Times:
... Since the 1970s, the Republican Party has fallen increasingly under the influence of radical ideologues, whose goal is nothing less than the elimination of the welfare state — that is, the whole legacy of the New Deal and the Great Society. From the beginning, however, these ideologues have had a big problem: The programs they want to kill are very popular. Americans may nod their heads when you attack big government in the abstract, but they strongly support Social Security, Medicare, and even Medicaid. So what’s a radical to do? 
The answer, for a long time, has involved two strategies. One is “starve the beast,” the idea of using tax cuts to reduce government revenue, then using the resulting lack of funds to force cuts in popular social programs. Whenever you see some Republican politician piously denouncing federal red ink, always remember that, for decades, the G.O.P. has seen budget deficits as a feature, not a bug.
Arguably more important in conservative thinking, however, was the notion that the G.O.P. could exploit other sources of strength — white resentment, working-class dislike of social change, tough talk on national security — to build overwhelming political dominance, at which point the dismantling of the welfare state could proceed freely....
O.K., you see the problem: Democrats didn’t go along with the program, and refused to give up. Worse, from the Republican point of view, all of their party’s sources of strength have turned into weaknesses. Democratic dominance among Hispanics has overshadowed Republican dominance among southern whites; women’s rights have trumped the politics of abortion and antigay sentiment; and guess who finally did get Osama bin Laden. 
And look at where we are now in terms of the welfare state: far from killing it, Republicans now have to watch as Mr. Obama implements the biggest expansion of social insurance since the creation of Medicare.
So Republicans have suffered more than an election defeat, they’ve seen the collapse of a decades-long project. And with their grandiose goals now out of reach, they literally have no idea what they want — hence their inability to make specific demands [in the fiscal cliff negotiations].
It’s a dangerous situation. The G.O.P. is lost and rudderless, bitter and angry, but it still controls the House and, therefore, retains the ability to do a lot of harm, as it lashes out in the death throes of the conservative dream. 

AFGE Statement On Arizona Bombing

     From a press release issued by the President of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the union that represents most Social Security employees:
A recent explosion outside the Social Security Administration office in Casa Grande, Ariz., should be a wakeup call for every agency head that the security and safety of our federal employees should be a top priority.
In this frightening event, a homemade bomb was detonated at the employee entrance to the Social Security office on the morning of Nov. 30. Luckily, no one was injured in the blast, although some employees have developed a cough and one is being examined for possible hearing loss as a result of the explosion.
Employees are understandably shaken and frightened and worried that they are putting their lives in danger simply by showing up for work. This incident is a stark reminder of the difficult and often dangerous environment in which federal employees work.
The office reopened Thursday for the first time following the incident, and employees have been gratified by the outpouring of support and encouragement from visitors.
I want to thank AFGE Local 3694 President Tony Thomas and Council 147 President Katrina Lopez for attending to the needs of the affected employees. I also extend my gratitude to SSA Administrator Michael Astrue and Region 9 Commissioner Bill Zielinski for personally visiting the office and pledging to review security enhancements at all Social Security offices.

Dec 14, 2012

We Should Double Social Security Benefits!

     Steven Hill writing in The Atlantic urges that we double Social Security benefits. I know and Hill knows that isn't going to happen but he makes a strong argument that Social Security benefits shouldn't be cut and, if anything, should be increased.
     Only about a third of seniors now have pension income. Defined benefit pensions -- the kind that pay a guaranteed benefit -- have been rapidly disappearing over the last thirty years. Only about 10% of workers are now covered by this type of pension. Sixty-five percent of workers are now covered by defined contribution pensions -- 401(k) type plans --  which have exploded in popularity with employers over the last thirty years. The problem is that:
401(k)s and other defined-contribution plans have turned out to be an unreliable pillar of retirement security, not only because they don't provide as secure a net but because many Americans are pretty lousy at managing their investments. A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that more than one-quarter of baby boomer households thought "hardly at all" about retirement and that financial literacy among boomers was "alarmingly low." Half could not do a simple math calculation (divide $2 million by five) and fewer than 20 percent could calculate compound interest.
     Seventy-five percent of Americans nearing retirement have less than $30,000 in their retirement accounts.
     Traditionally, home ownership has provided seniors with a cushion they can rely upon in retirement but during the Great Recession homeowners have lost $8 trillion in home equity. Twenty-eight percent of homeowners are underwater on their mortgages.
     The result is that about half of Americans are at risk of not having sufficient retirement income. 
     Still think the idea of increasing Social Security benefits is no outlandish? Are you really ready for retirement?

Dec 13, 2012

Merry Christmas

Dec 12, 2012

Merry Christmas?

     Yesterday a legal assistant at my firm made this note in our database "Faxed ______ DO [District Office] re: clt being paid. TC _______ DO. On hold 25 min; they just are not answering their phone." The Legal Assistant was trying to contact that DO regarding a client whose Supplemental Security Income claim was approved by an Administrative Law Judge on October 26. So far the client has received no money. If you're familiar with the way these things are supposed to work, this shouldn't be happening. The benefits should have been paid at least a couple of weeks ago. The client is upset. We're trying to get the District Office moving but we can't get them on the phone and they don't respond to faxes. Why is this happening? It's simple. Lack of an adequate staff at that District Office. People who work at Social Security field offices aren't perfect but they typically like to help people. They get frustrated when the best they can do is to give lousy service.
     If you aren't involved directly with Social Security field offices, the whole subject of Social Security's operating budget must seem so abstract.  A hiring freeze and no overtime at Social Security -- what's the big deal? No one's getting fired. It's a big deal to this lady. She's been approved. She can't get paid. Will her benefits get implemented before Christmas? I wouldn't bet on it. By the way, she's on home oxygen. How many more Christmases will she see?

Alleged Fraud At Social Security Employee Activities Association

     I missed this one earlier. From the Baltimore City Paper:
Sal­va­tore Petti, a 76-year-old Elli­cott City res­i­dent who has been at the cen­ter of a still-simmering dis­pute involv­ing the bocce courts in Baltimore’s Lit­tle Italy neigh­bor­hood (“Bocce Brawl,” Fea­ture, June 22, 2011), has been charged in U.S. Dis­trict Court with fraud for allegedly divert­ing funds from a Social Secu­rity Admin­is­tra­tion employ­ees’ association.
Accord­ing to the charg­ing doc­u­ments, Petti had been trea­surer of the non-profit Employ­ees Activ­i­ties Asso­ci­a­tion (EAA) for more than 40 years until 2010, and for about five years until Dec. 2009, “Petti diverted EAA funds for his own per­sonal use to sup­port his lifestyle, which included spend­ing approx­i­mately $430,000 at the Bor­gata Hotel, Casino, & Spa and $43,000 at the Trop­i­cana Hotel and Casino” in Atlantic City between about March 2005 and August 2010.

Dec 11, 2012

Merry Christmas

Dec 10, 2012

The Definition Of Disability

     The Social Security disability programs receive much public and press attention but few people who talk about these programs have ever actually read the definition of disability that Congress has passed and that the Social Security Administration must apply. Let's look at the definition of disability that Social Security must apply to adult claims. I'll alternate portions of the definition of disability in bold with my comments. 
 The term “disability” means inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months ... 
     Many things to note here. 
     First, it says "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity ..." It's not enough to be unable to obtain employment due to illness. You have to be unable to do it whether or not you can get it. 
     It says "any" substantial gainful activity. Generally, it's not enough just to be unable to do what you used to do. 
     That term "substantial gainful activity" is what lawyers call a term of art -- something whose definition takes some spelling out. Social Security has lengthy regulations defining the term.
    What does that term "medically determinable" mean? It's never been clear to Social Security or anyone else but it's always been clear that it takes more than just a claimant saying he or she is disabled. An important example of the problem is pain. How does one determine medically how much pain an individual is in? There is no meter that measures pain. Does that mean that pain cannot be considered because it's not "medically determinable"? It's hard to imagine that Congress intended for Social Security to completely ignore pain. There must be medical proof although exactly how much and of what kind is unclear. You will note as we go along that the subject of pain keeps coming up.
      It says "physical or mental impairment" meaning that psychiatric illness must be considered. If you think that mental illness isn't really real, take it up with Congress but first look around at you own family and friends. Don't you know someone who suffers from serious mental illness. If you don't, count your blessings because you're unusually lucky. Also, be honest with yourself. You don't have any mental problems at all? Seriously? Ever been a bit off your game at work because of an argument with your spouse or because a loved one died or because you were mad about something or nervous about something? Ever had to take a day off work because of something like this? How many more mental problems would it take before you have a persistent problem with working? Are you still completely sure that mental disability could never happen to you? 
     Unless the impairment is expected to result in death, it must be "expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months."  Injuries or illnesses that don't take you out of work for at least a year don't count. Twelve months is a long time to be out of work with no income.
An individual shall be determined to be under a disability only if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work. For purposes of the preceding sentence (with respect to any individual), “work which exists in the national economy” means work which exists in significant numbers either in the region where such individual lives or in several regions of the country. 
      This really nails it down. It specifically says that being unable to do your former work isn't enough. You have to be unable to do just about any other job, even if that job isn't anywhere near you and regardless of whether there is any job vacancy and regardless of whether you would be hired. There's also no point in saying you're disabled because you lack transportation to work. That isn't going to cut it. 
     Social Security must consider your age, education and work experience in determining whether other work exists which you can do. Young people often wonder why age should be considered. The reason is that people become less adaptable as they age. A transition to an entirely different line of work isn't so hard when you're in your 30s but few people in their 60s can manage it. Still don't agree with the consideration of age? Just wait until you're older. You'll understand then. 
     Note one thing the definition of disability doesn't say. It says nothing about the status of the job you used to perform. Let's say you worked in a high status, high wage job in the past but all you can do now is a menial, low-paying job. You're not disabled under the definition of disability in the Social Security Act. Most European countries define disability differently and would say that a person in that situation is disabled. This difference tells you something important about both Europe and the United States.
In determining whether an individual’s physical or mental impairment or impairments are of a sufficient medical severity that such impairment or impairments could be the basis of eligibility under this section, the Commissioner of Social Security shall consider the combined effect of all of the individual’s impairments without regard to whether any such impairment, if considered separately, would be of such severity. If the Commissioner of Social Security does find a medically severe combination of impairments, the combined impact of the impairments shall be considered throughout the disability determination process. 
    This entered the statutes because Social Security was at one time trying to evaluate a claimant's problems one by one without considering how they added up. For instance, if the claimant had a bad right hip and a bad left knee, if neither one was all that severe, then to Social Security they added up to nothing but if you have problems in both legs, you have real problems walking. I know. I'm oversimplifying what Social Security was doing at the time but no one, including Social Security, wanted to defend what the agency was doing at that time. This should tell you that at times Social Security has been extraordinarily callus in applying the definition of disability. 
An individual shall not be considered to be disabled ... if alcoholism or drug addiction would (but for this subparagraph) be a contributing factor material to the Commissioner’s determination that the individual is disabled 
     You still think that Social Security is awarding benefits to people because they are alcoholics or drug addicts? It's very clear in the statute that they aren't supposed to do this and they don't. However, note that this doesn't forbid paying disability benefits to alcoholics or drug addicts as long as their substance abuse isn't "a contributing factor material" to finding the person disabled. Do you want to deny disability benefits to someone who is dying of cancer because they drink too much? Something like 20-25% of the adult population of this country has a substance abuse problem. You can't just deny all their disability claims automatically. Well, I guess you could take a "go die in the gutter" approach to substance abusers. Some people might wish that the statute said that, but it doesn't. If it did, it would be extremely harsh and punitive.
For purposes of this subsection, a “physical or mental impairment” is an impairment that results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques. 
     Again, there is the emphasis on medical evidence of disability. The problem is that there are no "medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques" that measure pain or fatigue much less the severity of symptoms associated with mental illness. Congress thought that physicians could tell how sick a person is apart from anything the patient says. Most of the time, though, it's just not possible. A physician has to ask a patient about their symptoms and make informed judgments. There is a tension in the definition of disability that comes from the inability of Congress to accept the obvious -- physicians have a luxury that veterinarians do not have -- talking with their patients. It's just part of medicine. 
An individual shall not be considered to be under a disability unless he furnishes such medical and other evidence of the existence thereof as the Commissioner of Social Security may require. An individual’s statement as to pain or other symptoms shall not alone be conclusive evidence of disability as defined in this section; there must be medical signs and findings, established by medically acceptable clinical or laboratory diagnostic techniques, which show the existence of a medical impairment that results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which could reasonably be expected to produce the pain or other symptoms alleged and which, when considered with all evidence required to be furnished under this paragraph (including statements of the individual or his physician as to the intensity and persistence of such pain or other symptoms which may reasonably be accepted as consistent with the medical signs and findings), would lead to a conclusion that the individual is under a disability. Objective medical evidence of pain or other symptoms established by medically acceptable clinical or laboratory techniques (for example, deteriorating nerve or muscle tissue) must be considered in reaching a conclusion as to whether the individual is under a disability. 
      This is the same thing as above at greater length. Congress wants Social Security to consider pain but Congress wants Social Security to do the impossible -- use an objective medical test to measure pain. Saying the same thing at greater length doesn't resolve the tension in the definition of disability.

Dec 9, 2012

Fee Payment Numbers

     Social Security has released updated numbers on payments of fees to attorneys and others for representing Social Security claimants. These payments come out of the past due benefits of the claimants involved. A portion of the fees is withheld as a user fee to reimburse Social Security for the paperwork involved. Generally, the attorney is paid at the same time as the claimant involved. These numbers give some idea of how quickly or slowly that Social Security is able to pay claimants after a favorable decision.
Month/Year Volume Amount

Dec 8, 2012

More Info On Arizona Bombing

     There seems to be a fair amount of interest on the right about the bombing at a Social Security office in Arizona. has a good roundup of what is known. At this time, there's no way of knowing the intentions of the alleged bomber, Abdullatif Ali Aldosary, but, apparently, he had considerable interest in explosives. There is a report that Aldosary had worked as a day laborer (for a contractor?) at the Social Security office where the bombing occurred. If true, this raises the possibility that Aldosary's grievance arose from an employment situation rather than from a more generalized desire to attack a U.S. government office.
     I hope that all would-be bombers are as incompetent as this one seems to have been.There was no injury to any person and only minimal damage to a building. A suspect was quickly apprehended.

Dec 7, 2012

Supreme Court To Decide On DOMA

     The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case concerning the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which prevents Social Security from recognizing same sex marriages sanctioned by state law.

Good Lord!

     The nurse who was attending to Kate Middeton, the one who got pranked by some idiot who called in pretending to be Queen Elizabeth, has been found dead.

"Two Days Of 'Intense' Training"

     From "Premier Living":
Jim and I are pleased to announce details regarding the National Social Security Advisor program.  Education and training will be provided by the National Social Security Association.  National Social Security Association is a nonprofit organization.  The program includes two days of “intense” training in our Cincinnati office.  Topics include, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and more. In addition to SS retirement benefits, we will also discuss disability and SSI.  After completion of the course and passing of a ”rigorous” test, advisors will receive the National Social Security Advisor, (NSSA), certification.  Advisors may indicate “NSSA” and symbol on business cards and other marketing materials to promote their Social Security expertise.


     Unlike most appointees, the Commissioner of Social Security can remain in office after his or her official term ends until a replacement is nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. Michael Astrue's predecessor did not stay in her job once her official term ended. There's been no announcement but Michael Astrue may do so. By the way, the Deputy Commissioner can also remain in office until a successor is confirmed if she chooses.

Dec 6, 2012

I Don't Understand

     The Associated Press has just put out a story saying that Social Security has expanded its compassionate allowance program to allow more disabled people to get on disability benefits with less delay. There's just one problem. As best I can tell, Social Security issued a press release to this effect in July but has done nothing since on compassionate allowances. Maybe, Social Security has done something recently and just told the AP but that seems unlikely. More likely the AP has gotten confused and thinks the July press release was just issued.

     Update: Social Security must have told the AP but forgot to issue the press release. It's hard to see Social Security intentionally giving the AP an "exclusive" on something like this. Social Security just issued the press release. Thirty-five conditions were added to the compassionate allowance list:

Adult Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma

Adult Onset Huntington Disease

Allan-Herndon-Dudley Syndrome

Alveolar Soft Part Sarcoma

Aplastic Anemia 

Beta Thalassemia Major

Bilateral Optic Atrophy- Infantile

Caudal Regression Syndrome - Types III and IV

Child T-Cell Lymphoblastic Lymphoma

DeSanctis Cacchione Syndrome

Dravet Syndrome

Congenital Lymphedema

Endometrial Stromal Sarcoma

Erdheim Chester Disease

Fryns Syndrome

Fulminant Giant Cell Myocarditis

Hepatopulmonary Syndrome

Hepatorenal Syndrome

Jervell and Lange-Nielsen Syndrome


Malignant Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor

Malignant Germ Cell Tumor

MECP2 Duplication Syndrome

Menkes Disease - Classic or Infantile Onset Form

NFU-1 Mitochondrial Disease

Nonketotic Hyperglycinemia

Peritoneal Mucinous Carcinomatosis

Phelan-McDermid Syndrome

Retinopathy of Prematurity - Stage V

Severe Combined Immunodeficiency - Childhood

Sinonasal Cancer

Transplant Coronary Artery Vasculopathy

Usher Syndrome - Type I

Frustrated Employees

     From the Federal Times:
The latest governmentwide employee satisfaction survey indicates that budget cuts, a continuing pay freeze and relentless attacks on federal employees are sapping morale and hampering some agencies’ performance, federal managers and experts say.
At some agencies, the falloff in satisfaction was particularly severe. At the Social Security Administration, 66.5 percent of respondents this year had a positive view of their organization, down sharply from 72.3 percent the previous year.
The results “confirm that you are dedicated hard-working employees who understand how your daily contributions affect our agency’s mission,” Reginald Wells, the agency’s chief human capital officer, said in an email to the SSA workforce.
“However, your responses also show that recent challenges such as increasing workloads, pay and hiring freezes and budget cuts, have affected your satisfaction with your jobs,” Wells added.
The Social Security Administration is in the third year of a partial hiring freeze, during which time its workload has grown.
In fiscal 2012, the agency lost more than 1,600 employees, and more reductions are in store under current funding levels, according to a recent inspector general’s report. As a result, the agency expects customer service on its toll-free 800 number “will deteriorate significantly because it will not have a sufficient number of employees to answer calls,” the report said. To save money, SSA officials last month began closing field offices to the public 30 minutes earlier; and starting in January, the agency’s approximately 1,230 offices will shut down to the public at noon on Wednesdays.
Steve Clifton, president of the National Council of Social Security Management Associations, which represents managers in SSA field offices and teleservice centers, said his members are less frustrated by the 2½-year pay freeze than they are by their day-to-day challenge of tackling a growing workload with less staff and budget resources.

Still Waiting

     Today is a month since President Obama was re-elected. He has not yet nominated anyone to replace Michael Astrue as Commissioner of Social Security. Astrue's term as Commissioner ends on January 19. Astrue does not continue in office until a successor is confirmed. Once his term ends, he's gone. His replacement is an Acting Commissioner.
     Obama has been careful about his appointees. There have been remarkably few bad Obama appointees. However, the pace of Obama's appointments has been slow. At the moment, he's still deciding on his nominees for State and Defense for his next term. There's no telling when he'll announce a nominee for Commissioner of Social Security. After he announces a nomination, it will probably be a few months before the Senate takes action on the nomination -- and that's assuming the nomination is uncontroversial.

Dec 5, 2012

AARP Opposes COLA Cut

     From the Huffington Post:
On Wednesday, AARP volunteers and staff will visit Capitol Hill to deliver a strong message to Congress on the fiscal cliff: leave Social Security and Medicare off the table. ...
"Americans have spoken and they don’t want Congress or the President to make changes to Social Security or Medicare in any last minute deficit deal,” AARP’s volunteer president Rob Romasco said in a statement....
Specifically, AARP opposes changes to Social Security's cost of living adjustments, or COLAs. The fiscal deal proposal offered by Republicans on Monday suggests changing the way inflation is calculated, which would reduce COLAs by over $100 billion over the next decade according to the Congressional Budget Office.
"Reducing Social Security benefits by moving to a chained consumer price index (CCPI) –- estimated to take $112 billion dollars out of the pockets of current and future Social Security beneficiaries in the next 10 years alone – is inappropriate and unwarranted," AARP CEO A. Barry Rand wrote in a letter to lawmakers earlier this month.

A Sad Story

     There is a long article in the Tampa Bay Times that deals in part with Social Security disability. I will not try to pick out excerpts. Here are some pertinent facts from the article to give you some idea of what it is about:
  • Gretchen Molannen files Social Security disability claim.
  • Ms. Molannen's disability claim is denied. She appeals and has a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).
  • The ALJ denies Ms. Molannen's disability claim.
  • Less than three months after receiving the ALJ decision, Ms. Molannen commits suicide.
  • Ms. Mollanen's alleged disabling impairment was persistent genital arousal disorder.

Couldn't They Afford A Freezer?

     From the Zachary Plainsman-News:
A woman who helped stuff a dead man into an ice chest in order to keep his Social Security checks coming will serve three years in prison.
Heidi Todd, 45, pleaded guilty to charges of unlawful disposal of human remains, mutilating or disinterring human remains and theft.
Police said about $34,000 collected by her and Debra Fisher, 58, in the two years after Debra’s father, Charles Fisher died of heart disease and their plot was discovered.
The roommates put Fisher, 83, into a 160-quart ice chest and kept it in the apartment they and the dead man shared.
Debra Fisher’s trial is scheduled Dec. 10.

Dec 4, 2012

Religious Leaders Speak Out In Support Of Social Security Disability Benefits

     From a press release:
The Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) and the Interfaith Disability Advocacy Coalition gathered on Capitol Hill today to speak out in support of the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits program. The program, an important lifeline for Americans unable to work due to illness or injury, has been under attack from critics. The two groups will dispel myths about the program being widely abused and wasteful and push to ensure that SSDI is not a victim of fiscal cliff negotiations. 
 The briefing featured presentations from two former SSDI recipients who were able to return to full-time employment after suffering tragic accidents that rendered them unable to work. ...
 Kathy Ruffing, a Senior Fellow, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, discussed her recent report: Social Security Disability Insurance is Vital to Workers With Severe Impairments. Additionally, Curtis Ramsey-Lucas, of the American Baptist Home Mission Societies, closed the event with an interfaith prayer. 
 "As a nation, we need to be committed to ensuring that when Americans become unable to work due to illness or accident, there is a safety net," said Rabbi Steve Gutow, President and CEO of JCPA. "SSDI is literally a lifeline for millions of Americans. People who collect disability insurance have paid into the system and therefore it is critical that the benefits they have earned are available in their time of need. Recent political attacks on SSDI are misguided at best. And now, as Congress and the President find ways to negotiate away from the fiscal cliff, we hope they will remember that SSDI is a critical program that must be protected."

Picketing At Social Security Office Scheduled For December 5

     From Federal Daily News:
A coalition of labor groups and public interest organizations plans to conduct informational pickets this week outside Social Security Administration offices in 22 states.
According to media alert from the American Federation of Government Employees, the effort will involve “thousands of Social Security employees at more than 100 Social Security offices across the country and representatives from a 200-plus member organization coalition…”
The event, labeled “an effort to save Social Security and Medicare from extinction,” is slated to occur Dec. 5 from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. ...
“Cutting Social Security’s budget or making modifications to Medicare and Medicaid should not be part of a grand bargain to reduce the deficit,” Witold Skwierczynski, president of AFGE’s National Council of Social Security Field Operations Locals (NCSSFOL), said in a statement.
AGFE said that an NCSSFOL study determined that sequestration, if implemented, would require SSA to reduce its budget by 5.5 percent, leading to a hiring freeze across most of the agency, and the loss of more than 3,500 SSA and Disability Determination Service state employees. ...
Members of the coalition include the Alliance for Retired Americans, Social Security Works,, Common Cause, Gray Panthers, American Federation of Teachers, National Council of Negro Women, NAACP, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare and other unions and groups. 
According to AFGE, the picketing will take place at SSA offices in Alaska, Alabama, California, Florida, Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, Nebraska, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.

Dec 3, 2012

A Good Summary Of The Fiscal Cliff Situation

     From Daniel Gross writing in The Daily Beast:
The reality should be seeping in to viewers of the Sunday shows that the Republicans don’t have a game plan. They don’t have a single, specific proposal to avoid the fiscal cliff. And even if they had one, they don’t have a roadmap to get there. They keep expecting Obama to come back with something more to their liking, which they’d also reject. Many Republicans literally don’t understand what is happening. Sen. Charles Grassley tweeted over the weekend that he was frustrated that President Obama hadn’t embraced the recommendation of the Bowles-Simpson Commission. Apparently, he is one of the many people in Washington who doesn’t understand that Bowles-Simpson recommended letting the Bush tax rates on the wealthy expire, while also proposing to cap or eliminate deductions primarily enjoyed by the wealthy.

Above all, the Republicans have yet to grasp that the field is tilted against them. Republicans have every reason to expect, based on their scouting of past Obama performances, that he will start moving toward them and then, essentially, bargain with himself. But now he doesn’t have to. Right now, the policy choice isn’t between an Obama proposal the Republicans abhor and a preferred Republican proposal. No, the choice is between an Obama proposal the Republicans abhor and the fiscal cliff, which Republicans would like even less and the Democrats could live with for a while.
The Republicans are losing, and time is running out. But instead of putting the quarterback on the field and rolling out an aggressive two-minute drill, they seem to be preparing to punt.
     Update: House Speaker Boehner has come up with a "proposal." It would take the sequestration that would cut funding so much that it would render the federal government, including the Social Security Administration, inoperable and increase it by 30%! To quote John McEnroe, "You cannot be serious!"

East Memphis Office To Close

     From the Memphis Flyer:
If all goes as planned, the Social Security office in East Memphis will close on December 28th, leaving 75,000 beneficiaries with the burden of traveling miles away to receive assistance.
 The East Memphis office, located on Players Club Parkway, is slated to close due to administrative budget cuts.
 The closure is estimated to save $300,000 annually....
On an average day, the office sees more than 150 walk-ins and receives more than 500 telephone calls.  ...
"Much of our administrative costs are to fund our employees and facilities across the country, and these cuts make it challenging to acquire and maintain adequate staffing," said Frank Viera, deputy regional communications director for the Social Security Administration. "Last fiscal year, we lost more than 4,000 federal and state employees, including more than 1,600 field office employees. We cannot afford to replace these employees, and we cannot continue to keep as many facilities operating as in prior years."

Dec 2, 2012

Disability Hearing Backlog Remains High

     From the Arizona Republic:
Adria Howard doesn't understand why her application for Social Security disability payments was denied without explanation.
The mother of two from Tolleson, Ariz., had worked until recently, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer that had spread to her back, and the pain made her job impossible. Now, she is preparing an appeal, and statistics show it could take nearly a year to get a hearing with an administrative-law judge. Meanwhile, her bills stack up. ...
In Arizona, about 8,900 people are waiting for a hearing to determine if they will receive benefits. Nationally, about 750,000 await a hearing. ...
"It seems the system is set up to require a lot of people to appeal," said Amina Kruck, vice president of advocacy programs at Arizona Bridge to Independent Living, a non-profit organization run by people with disabilities that assists other people with disabilities. ...
Financial struggles are common as the benefits application process drags on. Typically, those who are sick have lost all of their income, which can force them to rely on family help or other social services.

Suspect In Custody In Arizona Bombing

Abdul Latif Aldosary
     A suspect is in custody in connection with the bombing Friday at the Social Security field office in Casa Grande, AZ. He is Abdul Latif Aldosary, a 47 year old refugee from Iraq. A neighbor reports that he does not attend mosque and that "he hasn't any problems against America; he's very thankful he got to be a refuge somewhere." However, Aldosary has a history of imprisonment for communicating threats against an employer by mail and telephone.

A Counter-Offer -- Reduce The COLA

     From the Los Angeles Times:
Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, provided the first GOP counter-offer to President Obama’s push for higher taxes on the wealthy. McConnell said his party would like to increase the Medicare eligibility age and ask wealthier Americans to pay higher Medicare premiums. He also suggested paring back the cost-of-living increases given to Social Security beneficiaries ...
     And McConnelll is up for re-election in two years but he's more worried about re-nomination at the moment.