May 31, 2013

Trustees Report No Changes

     From a press release issued by the Social Security Administration:
The Social Security Board of Trustees today released its annual report on the long-term financial status of the Social Security Trust Funds.  The combined assets of the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) Trust Funds are projected to become depleted in 2033, unchanged from last year, with 77 percent of benefits still payable at that time.  The DI [Disability Insurance] Trust Fund will become depleted in 2016, also unchanged from last year’s estimate, with 80 percent of benefits still payable.

Why Do People Retire Earlier Or Later Than They Planned?

From a MetLife study

May 30, 2013

Unemployment And Disability Claims

     The abstract of  Characteristics and Employment of Applicants for Social Security Disability Insurance Over the Business Cycle, a study by Stephan Lindner and Clark Burdick for the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College:
This study investigates the relationship between fluctuations in the short-term unemployment rate and characteristics of applicants for Social Security Disability Insurance. Using administrative records of the universe of applicants between 1991 and 2008, we find that almost all of the increase in applications and allowances during recession periods is due to increasing applications and allowances of people whose applications are either rejected or determined by vocational factors. People who apply during economic downturns also have lower income and assets at the time of application and lower earnings several years after application. Further decomposition results suggest that difficult macroeconomic conditions during the time of application account for the negative relationship between the unemployment rate and post-application earnings and employment.
     And in the body of the report, these statements:
The results so far suggest that more people with moderate disabilities apply when the unemployment rate is high. Therefore, one would also expect that the fraction of applicants with musculoskeletal impairments or mental disorder increases with the unemployment rate. However, we do not [fi]nd supportive evidence for such a compositional change. ...
[W]e [fi]nd no evidence that younger workers apply more frequently during recessions and that the work capacity of applications during economic downturns is higher.

May 29, 2013

The New Meme

     This just in: The number of people living in the United States who have ever been diagnosed with "cancer" is 19 million which would be the 5th most populous state, well ahead of the "Social Security disability state."

Final Rule On Garnishment Of Federal Benefits

     From today's Federal Register:
[Social Security and several other agencies] are adopting as final an interim rule to amend their regulation governing the garnishment of certain Federal benefit payments that are directly deposited to accounts at financial institutions. The rule establishes procedures that financial institutions must follow when they receive a garnishment order against an account holder who receives certain types of Federal benefit payments by direct deposit. The rule requires financial institutions that receive such a garnishment order to determine the sum of such Federal benefit payments deposited to the account during a two month period, and to ensure that the account holder has access to an amount equal to that sum or to the current balance of the account, whichever is lower.
     But Social Security, itself, can garnish these benefits before they're ever paid to collect a 40 year old debt.

Every Little Way

     From EM-13017 issued last week:
SSA [Social Security Administration] is implementing changes to reduce the agency’s printing and mailing costs. We will stop enclosing appeal pamphlets with initial award and denial notices. The body of the notice includes a detailed explanation of the claimant’s appeal rights. We will make appeal pamphlets available upon request. We will no long include return envelopes and pamphlets with any copies of notices to appointed representatives.

May 28, 2013

What Will They Do With The Report?

     From a presolicitation notice posted by Social Security at FedBizOpps.Gov:
Investigative services to be performed under contract to verify claimants? (sic) U.S. residency to establish eligibility for receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for (sic) the Social Security Administration (SSA). It is anticipated that one award will be made. The service area zones are located along the Mexico-U.S. border in Texas and New Mexico. ... Upon written request, the! contractor shall perform an unannounced onsite visit to the claimant's reported address to verify residency, contact one non-relative neighbor who has first-hand knowledge of individual's residence and submit a written report documenting results.

Political Patronage Jobs On Social Security Tribunal

     From The Canadian Press:
Up to a third of the people who landed cushy patronage jobs on the new Social Security Tribunal gave money to the Conservative party, public records show.
As many as 16 of the 48 people so far appointed to the tribunal donated money to the party, riding associations or candidates, according to Elections Canada records. None of the appointees appear to have given money to any other political party. ...
The new tribunal will also hear appeals from Canada Pension Plan and old-age security claimants.
The Social Security Tribunal appointments are full-time jobs that come with hefty salaries.
Most full-time members of the new tribunal earn between $91,800 and $107,900, while some earn between $105,900 and $124,500. Vice-chairs earn up to $164,600, while the chair makes up to $231,500.

Senator Says That Social Security Is Candy And It's Going To Kill Us If We Don't Do Something

     From a speech given in February by Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) (emphasis added):
... The left is giving away candy.  You don’t have to buy it; they’re giving it away and it’s tasty stuff.  And what are we faced with as conservatives?  We’re the folks sitting on the sidelines going “Yes, I know you like that candy, but here’s the problem; it’s caused a cavity.  No, it’s even worse than that.  That cavity has abscessed and it’s worse than that.  That abscess has now caused an infection and it’s in the body and if we don’t cure it, you’re going to die.”
And so the left is still saying “No, no, no, don’t worry about that.  Social Security is still solvent.”  The left is saying “No, keep eating that candy, it’s really good for you,” and we’re the ones sitting there going “No, we got the shot of Novocain and we’ve got the drill.”  Do you understand the challenge?  ...

May 27, 2013

Memorial Day

May 26, 2013

Reallocation Is The Way To Go

     The National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI) has issued a news brief discussing the issues concerning the looming shortfall in the Disability Insurance Trust Fund in 2016. The obvious solution is a temporary reallocation of more of the FICA tax to the Disability Insurance Trust Fund. Reallocations have been made -- in both directions -- eleven times in the past. What is unclear is whether Republicans will try to hold Social Security disability hostage this time. If they do hold it hostage, what ransom will they demand?

May 25, 2013

Anyone Have A Theory About What Happened Here?

     From WLTV:
Gene Mathis 75, said he looks for strength and comfort in a place where many find them, his bible. ...
Mathis, now retired, said he needs the encouragement to face his problems with Social Security, a problem that is two years old. 
"They said I owe them 30-thousand dollars," he said. 
Mathis was born 1938, but his Panama City school records show he was born 1942. Mathis said the discrepancy has created a problem with his social security benefits. 
 "I can't get no understanding from them," he said, "all these years I have been fighting with them." ... 
He said a few years ago Social Security accused of him of being overpaid; now SSA deducts $100 a month from his benefits to reimburse the government. 
"They get it before I get mines," he said. ... 
"I thought in America a birth certificate meant everything," said Mathis. 
"I guess not in my case, I must be related to Obama." 
 Privacy laws prevents social security from discuss the specifics of the problems with Mathis. But they're taking his concerns seriously. 
"We are contacting Mr. Mathis today and will provide assistance," said Patti Patterson.
     I'll take a wild guess at what may have happened. Mr. Mathis may be one of those rare people who were born in the U.S. but whose birth was not recorded at the time they were born. Later, he or his family later got a delayed birth certificate but Social Security decided at some point to ask for his school records to confirm the date of birth shown on the delayed birth certificate. The school records pointed at a later date of birth and Social Security decided to go by the school records.
     It wasn't that rare to see delayed birth certificates thirty years ago but they have to be quite rare these days. It's been decades since I saw one.
     Anybody have a better theory?

A CR's Lament

     An op ed piece in the Hudson, NY Register-Star:

On May 7, 2013 an e-mail with the subject, “A Plea For Help” was sent to the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Ms. Carolyn Colvin by Douglas Ottomanelli, claims representative and union representative for the Hudson, NY field office. This e-mail briefly outlined some of the issues and frustrations facing SSA office workers across the nation.
Over a week has passed and no still no response.
My name is Douglas and I am a claims representative (CR) and the union representative for the Hudson, NY Social Security office.
The reason for my communication today is in part a plea for help. Like most offices throughout the nation we are severely understaffed. As an office we are unable to keep up with the workloads and just last week two more CRs handed in their retirement papers because they were so stressed and frustrated.
We are overwhelmed as an agency. The quality of the work we produce has decreased significantly. The errors have increased and will continue to increase in direct proportion to the increasing workloads and shrinking staff. Most importantly the public is suffering from the lack of a quality product/service and consistency and their frustration level is increasing with each passing day.
As an agency we are so very fortunate to have so many individuals who care about their work, want to do a good, and give excellent customer service. Please help us to help the citizens and residents of this great country we serve.
We need more bodies in the office to take claims, work the window, answer the phones, and work our breakdown. This is a national issue but I will talk about my office because we are a perfect example of some of the challenges facing this agency. As of July first of this year, we will be down to eight people in our office (5 CRs, 1 service representative (SR), 1 supervisor and 1 manager). Twenty-five percent of our staff is management and we are told they cannot answer the phones, work the window, take interviews, or have a breakdown. Twenty-five percent of our staff is not in production putting a tremendous burden on the remaining staff members.
We are constantly receiving e-mails for vacancy announcements for supervisors, managers and district managers, yet we never see a vacancy announcement for CRs or SRs. This is a very sore point with many staff members throughout the agency because we are the face of the agency. We are the people that the public sees and interacts with on a daily basis yet our numbers have been steadily decreasing and our anxiety and stress has been steadily increasing. As a result the public is not seeing the best SSA has to offer and their experience and confidence with the agency is diminishing.
This communication is in part a plea for help. We need more bodies and we need to adjust the system to fit the realities we are now facing.
Please help us help the public we serve.

May 24, 2013


Could It Happen Here?

      From the Daily Mail:
A couple have spoken of their disbelief after just one of their disabled identical twin sons, who both have Downs Syndrome, was granted vital disability benefits while the other was refused.
Little Arthur and Alfie, both 10 months old, share the exact same medical conditions and need the same round-the-clock care. But a government ruling has found that only Arthur was entitled to Disability Living Allowance of £76 per week.
Mum Emma Banks-Lowe, 33, said the decision had left her 'gobsmacked' because the boys, born just one minute apart, share exactly the same medical issues and require round-the-clock care.
     With the effort to draw a distinction between mosaic and non-mosaic Down Syndrome in the SSI program here in the U.S., I could see something like this happening here.

May 23, 2013

I Wish I Could Be Optimistic That This Will Work

Acting Commissioner Colvin is in a green top at the far end on the near side
     From a press release issued by the Senate Appropriations Committee:
Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), joined by Senator Tim Johnson (D. S.D.), Chairman of the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee, today announced the initial results of a roundtable discussion with senior Administration officials, including Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, Social Security Administration Acting Commissioner Carolyn Colvin, and Internal Revenue Service Deputy Commissioner for Operations Support Beth Tucker, to seek to finally put an end to the claims backlog that has troubled the Department of Veterans Affairs for years.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the Department of Defense, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Social Security Administration agreed to work together to break down the barriers between the Departments in order to end the gridlock. Specifically, the participants agreed:
1. Each agency will identify a single high level person whose sole focus is fixing problems, and who reports directly to the Secretary or Administrator.
2. Secretaries Hagel and Shinseki agreed to meet every 60 days as we progress toward ending the claims backlog.
3. A method of accountability to the Chairwoman and to the Committee, including a coordinated progress report to the Committee every 60 days.

Boom In Training For Social Security Consulting

     From a press release:
Premier Social Security Consulting, LLC of Cincinnati has experienced explosive growth since implementing its National Social Security Advisors (NSSA) training certification program nationwide in January. ...
The company provides two-day, Social Security advisor training class for CPAs, financial advisors, insurance agents, Enrolled Agents and other professional advisors so they can in turn counsel clients on the best way to access Social Security benefits in order to optimize lifetime income.
The number of Premier's NSSA presentations nationwide have increased rapidly and revenue for individual Social Security consulting, as well as NSSA training courses, is up 325 percent year to date compared to 2012.          
"Other former Social Security administrators are out there, but I believe we are the only one determined to set industry standards for consultation and education," said Premier partner Marc Kiner. ...
The NSSA course is being offered for $295 for training through May. Afterward, the course costs $995 for the two-day session. Both prices include a year of continuing support and monthly webinars with Premier on Social Security issues.
The National Underwriter Company (NUCO) will prepare and administer the NSSA exam. Certification is provided by the National Social Security Association.
     Two days of training? That's about enough time to learn how to be a positive menace to the people you're trying to advise.

Videos To Prove That Social Security Disability Fraud Exists -- But The Question Is How Much?

     From KMOV in St. Louis:
People who fake disabilities to get paid are part of an exploding entitlement program.
Here in St. Louis, the fakers contribute to the backlog, which forces people with real disabilities to wait up to two years to get approved.
In fact, the downtown St. Louis Social Security Administration office has the longest wait time for a disability ruling appeal in the country.
So the SSA is increasing efforts to bust the phonies. ...
Meanwhile the St. Louis CDI unit, of Cooperative Disability Investigations unit, is busting people like one man who applied for disability claiming constant pain, problems with sitting, standing and walking.
But he was caught on video walking his dogs, carrying an amplifier and guitar, and helping to push a woman into a truck.
Another man applied for disability claiming severe back and shoulder pain.
But later he was caught on video at football practice where he’s seen stretching, and throwing around the pigskin.
Online the SSA posts these videos and others showing the fraud.
People who applied for disability, like a man spotted wrestling in the ring, or a man who uses a cane inside the Social Security office lobby, but then seems fine when he’s loading furniture in a dumpster, or sweeping leaves off his roof.
     Those who actually adjudicate these claims or who represent these claimants know that fraud is a tiny part of the Social Security disability programs but those who want to believe otherwise will never listen.

May 22, 2013

New Children's Listings Proposed

     From today's Federal Register:
Several body systems in our Listing of Impairments (listings) contain listings for children based on impairment of linear growth or weight loss. We propose to replace those listings with new listings, add a listing to the genitourinary body system for children, and provide new introductory text for each listing explaining how to apply the new criteria.

Witness List For Social Security Subcommittee Hearing

     Here's the witness list for tomorrow's hearing before the House Social Security Subcommittee on "Bipartisan Entitlement Reform Proposals":
  • Ed Lorenzen
    Executive Director, The Moment of Truth Project, Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget
  • G. William Hoagland
    Senior Vice President, Bipartisan Policy Center
  • Jason Fichtner, Ph.D.
    Senior Research Fellow, Mercatus Center
  • Leticia Miranda
    Senior Policy Advisor, Economic Security Policy, National Council of La Raza
  • Donald Fuerst
    Senior Pension Fellow, American Academy of Actuaries
  • C. Eugene Steuerle, Ph.D.
    Institute Fellow, Urban Institute
    The "Moment of Truth Project" is basically Simpson-Bowles. It's a shame that Alan Simpson won't be testifying. The Bipartisan Policy Center is on record favoring "entitlement" cuts.   Mercatus is a Koch brothers front organization. La Raza and the Urban Institute can be expected to have a liberal attitude toward the budget. The Actuaries may be neutral, as in laying out the options. The Actuaries "Social Security Game" is still the best thing out there on Social Security's long term financing issues. Try it. You'll like it and probably learn from it.

May 21, 2013

It's Not A Good Idea To Mess With Social Security

     A false rumor about the demise of Social Security in Brazil led to a run on banks in that country.

May 20, 2013

Social Security Subcommittee Announces Hearing

     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 third in a series of hearings on the President’s and other bipartisan entitlement reform proposals.  This hearing will focus on proposed adjustments to Social Security benefits, as included in the President’s Fiscal Year 2014 Budget, the report by the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, and the report of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Debt Reduction Task Force.  The hearing will take place on Thursday, May 23, 2013, in B-318 Rayburn House Office Building, beginning at 9:30 a.m.

Call Me Maybe?

     From a notice of final rule-making set to appear in the Federal Register tomorrow:
To address recent court cases, we are making final the rules that allow the ALJ to determine that a person other than the claimant or any other party to the hearing may appear at the hearing by telephone. In a recent Federal case, a District Court Judge held that we could not take a medical expert’s testimony by telephone without prior notice to the claimant, and over the claimant’s objections, unless we amended our regulations to allow witnesses to appear by telephone. Edwards v. Astrue, No. 3:10cv1017, 2011 WL 3490024 (D. Conn. Aug. 10, 2011). Other courts have made similar rulings. These final rules address concerns raised in Edwards and other cases.... 
Our final rules provide that the ALJ will determine how any person other than the claimant or any other party to the hearing will appear at the hearing, whether in person, by video teleconferencing, or by telephone. If the ALJ determines that any person will appear at the hearing by telephone, the ALJ will notify the claimant and any other party to the hearing in advance of the hearing. If th e claimant or any other party to the hearing objects to any other person appearing by video teleconferencing or by telephone, the ALJ will decide how that person will appear. Our final rules also clarify that the claimant or any other party to the hearing may request to appear at the hearing by telephone. The ALJ will allow the claimant or other party to appear by telephone if the ALJ determines that extraordinary circumstances exist which prevent the claimant or other party from appearing in person or by video teleconferencing.

May 19, 2013

Yelp Reviews A Field Office

     Yelp allows anyone to post a review of just about any entity dealing with the public and that includes Social Security field offices. Most field offices have not been reviewed but the field office in San Francisco's Chinatown has received quite some interesting reviews. Members of the public should expect lines and delays at that office but the Social Security employees do speak Chinese!

May 18, 2013

Transition Report For The New Commissioner Of Social Security

     The Strengthen Social Security Coalition has produced a "Transition Report for the New Commissioner of Social Security", not that there is any sign that President will soon nominate a new Commissioner.
     Below is the press conference at which the report was introduced.      A bit more could have been done to promote this report and press conference.

May 17, 2013

News From NOSSCR Conference

     Here are a few items from yesterday's National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR) Conference in Washington:
  • David Camp received the Eileen Sweeney Distinguised Service Award. Camp spearheaded the legal assault on the "secret ALJ" policy.
  • Acting Commissioner Carolyn Colvin said that Social Security is now 60 days out in scheduling appointments with its field offices, that is, that if you call in wanting to make an appointment to transact business with the agency, expect a 60 day wait. She also related that she had recently visited the agency's field office in Alexandria, VA. She was told that customers were lining up starting at 7:30 in the morning. The office opens at 9:00.
  • Glenn Sklar, Social Security's Deputy Commissioner for Disability Adjudication and Review, said that his agency expects to introduce an Appeals Council status report in August 2013 as part of its appointed representative services package. He also showed a chart demonstrating that more than 25% of claimants now receive their hearings by video.
  • Nancy Shor, NOSSCR's retiring Executive Director, received two well deserved standing ovations. She said that she was hearing the idea of time limited disability benefits more and more often.

May 16, 2013

Charlotte ALJ Harper Passes

     Charlotte Administrative Law Judge Richard Harper has passed away. He was the Administrative Law Judge in Charge (ALJIC) of that office until the name of the job changed to Hearing Office Chief Administrative Law Judge (HOCALJ). He remained in that position until quite recently. It will give readers some idea of how long he managed that office that I interviewed with him for a staff attorney position in 1978!

May 15, 2013

CRS Report On Proposals To Cut Social Security Disability

     William R. Morton has done a report for the Congressional Research Service (CRS) on "An Overview of Proposals to Reduce the Growth in SSDI [Social Security Disability Insurance] Rolls."  The report is impressively footnoted but to say it breaks no new ground would be an understatement. I keep thinking I must have read this before even though it's brand new. 
     Morton accepts the premise that the Social Security Disability Reform Act of 1984 relaxed the criteria for approval based upon mental illness or musculoskeletal ailments even though a simple reading of that Act shows that it did nothing of the sort. Apparently, Morton never bothered with simple reading the Act. 
     Morton also has a poor understanding of the proposals that have been on the table since forever. For instance, Morton examines the possibility of making Social Security hearings before Administrative Law Judges adversarial. He thinks an experiment with adversarial hearings might be a good idea. Morton is aware that an experiment was tried previously but he is clearly unaware of the results -- a lot of expense but no effect upon the rate at which disability claims were approved -- a point made recently by former Commissioner Astrue. Why didn't Morton ask someone at Social Security what happened when this was tried previously? Morton is also unaware that since the time of that prior experiment the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) has been passed. Because of EAJA, if Social Security went to adversarial hearings, the agency would end up paying the attorney fees for most claimants who got approved. In my view, bring on the adversarial hearings. They wouldn't hurt my clients but they would sure help my bottom line!
     The biggest thing reassuring me about the future of the Social Security disability programs is the unsophisticated nature of its opposition. There's a good chance that even though Republicans want to make it harder to get Social Security disability benefits, unsophisticated reports like this one will cause them to stumble into unworkable proposals or even into proposals that are contrary to their goals. I have yet to read a study or proposal that worries me. They're all stale rehashings of ideas which have already failed or ideas which haven't been tried because they're so obviously unworkable.

May 14, 2013

Rockaways Office Reopens

     From the New York Daily News:
The Rockaway Social Security office, another casualty of Superstorm Sandy, re-opened Monday.
Staffers from the location had been temporarily working out of Assemblywoman Michelle Titus' office while the facility at 113-06 Rockaway Beach Blvd. was repaired.
"The return of the Social Security office to the Rockaways represents the federal government's ongoing commitment to our communities," said Carolyn Colvin, the acting commissioner of the Social Security Administration.

May 13, 2013

Meet The New Judge, Same As The Old Judge

     Let's say a claimant has a hearing before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) X and is denied. The claimant decides not to appeal the decision but to file a new claim. That new claim is denied at the initial and reconsideration levels. The claimant then requests a new hearing. Are there some hearing offices that automatically assign the claimant's case to ALJ X again instead of assigning the case in rotation to whichever ALJ's name comes up? Is this in accordance with Social Security policy? Does it comply with the provisions of the Administrative Procedure Act that requires that cases be assigned in rotation? I'm not talking about remands here but new requests for hearing.
      I thought that a new request for hearing was supposed to be assigned in rotation just like any request for hearing but I am hearing rumors that some hearing offices may take a different approach. Is this actually happening? If so, are these hearing offices supposed to be doing this?

May 12, 2013

You Can Scare People But They Still Want Their Social Security

     From a poll conducted for the National Academy of Social Insurance:
Percent who agree strongly or somewhat:
Don't mind paying Social Security because it provides security and stability to millions -- 84%
It is critical that we preserve Social Security even if it means raising taxes -- Working Americans 82%, Wealthy Americans 87%
Percent who favor increasing Social Security's Cost of Living Adjust (COLA) beyond what it is now -- 64% Percent who oppose -- 10%
Percent who are very/somewhat confident in the future of Social Security -- 43% Percent who are not very/not at all confident 57%
Percent who are very/somewhat confident they will receive all of the Social Security benefits they are supposed to receive -- 31% Percent who ore not very/not at all confident -- 69%

May 11, 2013

ALJ Positions Popular

     There's a report that there were more than 5,000 applications filed when the government recently took applications for positions as Social Security Administrative Law Judges (ALJs).

May 10, 2013

Return To Benefits After Disability Termination

     From a study published in the Social Security Buletin:
The Social Security Administration (SSA) periodically reviews the disabilities of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients and Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) beneficiaries to determine if their impairments still meet the requirements for program eligibility. For individuals whose eligibility was ceased after a full medical review from 2003 to 2008, we track subsequent program participation for up to 8 years. We use survival analyses to estimate the time until first return to SSI and DI and explore the differences in returns by various personal and programmatic characteristics such as age, disability type, time on program, and SSA expectations regarding medical improvement. Overall, we estimate that about 30 percent of SSI-only recipients whose eligibility ceases because of medical improvement return to the SSI program within 8 years. For DI-only worker beneficiaries whose eligibility ceases, we estimate that 20 percent will return to the DI program within 8 years.
     The study's authors note that SSA has been able to do relatively few full continuing disability reviews (CDRs) and has targeted those most likely to have substantial medical improvement. If more CDRs were done, the additional people terminated would be even more likely to return to disability benefits.

May 9, 2013

Most Popular Baby Names

     Social Security has released its list of most popular baby names for 2012:

  1. Jacob
  2. Mason
  3. Ethan
  4. Noah
  5. William
  6. Liam
  7. Jayden
  8. Michael
  9. Alexander
  10. Aiden
  1. Sophia
  2. Emma
  3. Isabella
  4. Olivia
  5. Ava
  6. Emily
  7. Abigail
  8. Mia
  9. Madison
  10. Elizabeth

"There Must Have Been A Thousand People Just Sitting There Waiting"

     From the Philadelphia Inquirer:
Robin Blount walked up to what used to be a Social Security Administration field office in North Philadelphia this week and was shocked and angry.  ...
A sign inside the gates read: "The Social Security Administration field office previously operating at this location IS NOW CLOSED."
People were advised to visit the Social Security office in Center City at 15th Street and JFK Boulevard, 2 Penn Center, for service.
"I just went down there," Blount, 52, cried out in frustration. "It was so crowded downtown - there must have been a thousand people just sitting there waiting.

Unauthorized Immigrants Help Social Security

     From a report issued by Social Security's Office of Chief Actuary, issued in response to a request from Senator Marco Rubio:
Beyond the taxes paid and benefits received by unauthorized workers, the larger effect on the long-term actuarial status of the OASDI [Old Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance] Trust Funds derives from the children born in the U.S. to these immigrants. These children are natural born citizens and add to the growth in the overall U.S. population. This contribution to future generations of workers is the largest part of the effect on the actuarial status both for legal and other immigrants. ...
While unauthorized immigrants worked and contributed as much as $13 billion in payroll taxes to the OASDI  program in 2010, only about $1 billion in benefit payments during 2010 are attributable to unauthorized work. Thus, we estimate that earnings by unauthorized immigrants result in a net positive effect on Social Security financial status generally, and that this effect contributed roughly $12 billion to the cash flow of the program for 2010. We estimate that future years will experience a continuation of this positive impact on the trust funds.... 
Individuals who enter the country as unauthorized immigrants and remain in that status for life are relatively unlikely to receive benefits from the OASDI program. Those who work in the underground economy have no basis for expecting to be entitled for benefits. Those who have worked and paid payroll taxes without a matched SSN [Social Security Number] will have had their earnings placed in the suspense file and will have only a relatively remote possibility of obtaining credit for these earnings for the purpose of becoming entitled to a benefit. The relatively small and declining number of unauthorized immigrants who have an SSN with earnings credited in their name, may receive benefits in the uture. However, to receive benefits they must meet the following three conditions: (1) work long enough to acquire insured status under the program; (2) receive legal work authorization at some time; and (3) receive legal resident status for the time of their benefit entitlement or, if not, are willing to leave the U.S. to receive a benefit.

May 8, 2013

It's A Big Country

     I live in Raleigh. It's a prosperous, urban place. People here are mostly well educated and mostly work in white collar jobs. Raleigh produces disability claims but many of my firm's clients live in places like Roanoke Rapids, where I took this picture on May 2. Roanoke Rapids has a population of about 17,000. The town's name comes from the extensive rapids on the Roanoke River which lie just North of town. The shop shown above is on the main street of Roanoke Rapids.
     Social Security is a national program. It must serve this country's entire population and that includes cities like Raleigh and towns like Roanoke Rapids but it also includes many other types of communities, big and small, rich and poor. When thinking about policies that Social Security should apply and the mechanisms by which the agency delivers service to this country's population, everyone should keep this wide diversity in mind.

May 7, 2013

I Think This Problem Is Just Going To Get Worse And Worse

     From a TV station that wants to be known as "6 South Florida":
As Maria Elena Ruiz was getting ready to pay her father's medical bills for the month, she realized there was a big problem.
"There was no money!" she said.
Federico Ruiz's monthly Social Security check should have been deposited directly into his bank account. But it looks like a payday came for a crook instead.
"Somebody just went on the Internet, and it just got paid," Maria Elena Ruiz remarked.
With some key pieces of the senior citizen's personal information and a few clicks on, the thief was able to create an online account. It redirected Mr. Ruiz's benefits to a bank account controlled by the thief. ...
According to the agency’s inspector general, there have been just over 600 such allegations made nationwide between February and April 29.
     Social Security has to do something about this. It's just irresponsible to leave this gap. It's hundreds of cases now but it may be tens of thousands in a few months.

May 6, 2013

New SSA Mobile Optimized Website

     From a Social Security press release:
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, today announced the agency is offering a new mobile optimized website, specifically aimed at smartphone users across the country.  People visiting the agency’s website,, via smartphone (Android, Blackberry, iPhone, and Windows devices) will be redirected to the agency’s new mobile-friendly site. Once there, visitors can access a mobile version of Social Security’s Frequently Asked Questions, an interactive Social Security number (SSN) decision tree to help people identify documents needed for a new/replacement SSN card, and mobile publications which they can listen to in both English and Spanish right on their phone. ...

In addition, visitors to the new mobile site can learn how to create a personal my Social Security account to get an online Social Security Statement, learn more about Social Security’s award-winning online services, and connect with Social Security on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Pinterest. For people unable to complete their Social Security business online or over the telephone, the agency also unveiled a new mobile field office locator. The new mobile office locator has the capability to provide turn-by-turn directions to the nearest Social Security office based on information entered by the person.
“With significant budget cuts of nearly a billion dollars each year over the last few years, we must continue to leverage technology and find more innovative ways to meet the evolving needs of the American public without compromising service,” said Acting Commissioner Colvin.
Each year, more than 35 million Social Security web page views come via smartphones.

Is This A Good Idea?

     From the Montgomery Advertiser:
Michelle Clampit expected financial relief to arrive soon in the form of an income tax refund check. She was counting on it, in fact. ...

But no deposit was made, and when she checked the IRS website to find out what happened, she was referred to the Social Security Administration.

The Wetumpka resident said she had no idea she possibly could have owed money to the SSA. After all, she had never received a single Social Security check in her life. ...

Eventually, however, the actual reason for the debt became clear: Social Security payments made to her now-deceased mother 29 years ago. ...
The tax refund was diverted by way of the Treasury Offset Program, which until recently was not authorized to collect on debts that were more than 10 years old, SSA spokesman BJ Jarrett said.

A law passed in 2008 eliminated the 10-year statute of limitations, and in June 2012, the SSA began to inform people about its intention to collect those older debts, Jarrett said. ...

The agency has sent about 185,000 notices to people with debts that are more than 10 years old, Jarrett said.

May 5, 2013

Dilsability Recipients Fight Stigma

     From the Montgomery (AL) Advertiser:
When he looks in the mirror each morning, the man staring back at Steven Ladner looks healthy. There are no outward signs of disability, certainly nothing that would prevent the 42-year-old from heading off to a full-time job and normal life.But underneath the skin, it’s a different story. Ladner suffers from debilitating migraines and diabetes. The diabetes has caused neuropathy, resulting in his consistently losing feeling in his hands and feet. A brain scan a few years ago turned up a benign tumor. ...
Because of these problems, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has deemed Ladner to be disabled. This month he will begin receiving a check for about $1,300 per month, and his health care will be provided by the federal government through Medicaid.

He is not alone.

Over the past three decades, the number of people on disability across the nation, and especially in Alabama, has skyrocketed. Some counties in this state have more than 20 percent of their working-age citizens drawing disability payments. ...
Those high numbers, along with sometimes tall tales of scams and fraud — and a number of misconceptions and misinformation, some perpetuated by those NPR stories — have left recipients like Ladner and the workers who service the disability programs battling an increasingly bad perception.“I do know how people think of folks on disability, and it’s not good,” Ladner said. “I know some people look at me and think, ‘Why ain’t he at work? He looks fine to me.’ I’d probably think the same thing, because there are some people I know who shouldn’t be on it. It does affect you. But for someone like me, who really needs it, it’s really a blessing.” ...
For Ladner, it took nearly two years before he was approved for payments. And then came a five-month waiting period between that approval and receiving his first payment.“It really put me in a tough spot financially,” Ladner said. “We burned through our savings and cut back as much as possible. It put such a strain on us — this whole process — that me and my wife are separated right now. It’s just a really tough thing to go through.”

Payments Down Sharply In April

Social Security has issued updated numbers on payments of fees to attorneys and some others for representing Social Security claimants. These fees are withheld and paid by Social Security but come out of the back benefits of the claimants involved. The attorneys and others who have their fees withheld pay a user fee for this privilege. Since these fees are usually paid at the same time that the claimant is paid, these numbers show how quickly or slowly Social Security is able to get claimants paid after a favorable determination on their claims.
Month/Year Volume Amount

May 4, 2013

Who Is Behind Planet Money?

      The Citizens Journalists Exchange blog thinks that the critics of the NPR hit piece on Social Security disability need to take off the kid gloves:
Just over a week ago,  my Twitter feed started getting bombarded with links to the latest — and quite possibly the scummiest — Planet Money/This American Life propaganda piece on NPR for the financial industry, disguised as highbrow progressive journalism.
The piece was called “Unfit For Work: The Startling Rise of Disability in America” and it essentially argued — using wildly flawed research and straight-up lies — that our Social Security program is burdened by a glut of freeloader disability queens, faking their disabilities in order to live high on the Social Security disability insurance hog.
Why would NPR run such a flawed, biased story? The answer takes us right to the heart of Wall Street’s plans to privatize government benefits, which Wall Street bond holders want to slash for their own profits. This battle pits powerful Wall Street interests and their media and political lackeys on the one side, versus an overwhelming majority of Americans — Republicans and Democrats both — on the other. ... 
Planet Money has a serious conflict-of-interest problem when it reports on anything involving the banking sector. Planet Money’s sole sponsor, as of late last year, is Ally Bank (formerly GMAC), one of the world’s most toxic subprime lenders. Ally/GMAC preyed on Americans on the upside, then plundered taxpayers for over $17 billion in TARP bailout funds when their fraud schemes came crashing down. As we showed, the disturbing overlap between GMAC’s lobbying efforts against bank regulation bills, and Planet Money programs attacking that legislation and its promoters, means that Planet Money has essentially doubled as a sophisticated PR vessel targeting a key audience unaware of the Planet Money/NPR financial arrangement with the banking industry.
The corrupt arrangement caught the attention of the New York ObserverFairness and Accuracy in Media, and others. Planet Money, This American Life and NPR have all been party to journalistic fraud against their audience, and they’re laughing all the way to the bailed-out bank with the help of your NPR donation.
When you know that Planet Money’s sole sponsor is a predatory lender, this hit-piece on Social Security “disability queens” makes an appalling sort of sense. ...

May 3, 2013

Philadelphia Office Closed

     From KYW:
Some North Philadelphia residents were surprised today to find their local Social Security Administration office shuttered, the result of a tighter federal budget and sequestration.
Since October, the Social Security Administration has closed three of its offices in the Philadelphia region. ...
The office served about 100 people a day, roughly 26,000 a year ...
The Social Security Administration responded to KYW Newsradio‘s request for information today with a written statement saying, “Tighter budget, including cuts due to sequestration, have exacerbated our ability to serve members of the public who need our services, resulting in longer waiting times.” 

Takes Too Long To Get Problems Resolved

     From some Tulsa TV station that only wants to be known as "2":
There's a lot to ponder, Charles says, during his daily walks.   
How do you recover, he wonders, after a drunk driver kills your adult son? ...
It only turned worse, when the emotional grief turned to financial turmoil. 
Since his son's first and last names were the same as Charles', social security mistakenly thought it was Charles, Sr who had passed away. ...
Then, the Social Security Administration took back the $1200 it had just deposited into Charles' bank account, causing checks to bounce.  .... 
Charles says he called at least ten times to get it resolved, without any luck. ...
After several phone calls and emails, we went to the social security administration's regional office and were able to help resolve Charles' problem, by getting his money back and his benefits reinstated. 
     Sadly, mistakes like this are inevitable. The key is getting them corrected quickly. They don't get corrected as quickly as they should not because Social Security's personnel are lazy or uncaring or incompetent. Sure there's some of that at Social Security and every other large entity in the U.S. but that's not the real reason these problems aren't corrected quickly. It's because there just aren't enough Social Security personnel to take care of problems quickly. It's obvious at ground level that mistakes take longer to correct now than they did before Republicans seized control of the House of Representatives in 2010 and began cutting the agency's budget. I cringe when I see a simple mistake such as misreading an Administrative Law Judge's decision and starting benefits later than they should have been started. I know it's going to take at least a few weeks and maybe a few months to correct this sort of simple mistake.

OIG Agents Testify

     From KOMU:
Social Security Administration agents said under oath Wednesday they requested a list of Missouri's concealed-carry permit holders on three occasions but ultimately never used the data. ...
Schilb and Troy Turk, Special Agent in Charge of the administration's Kansas City field office, told the committee they had planned to compare the list of Missouri's concealed-carry permit holders, of which there are more than 163,000, to a list of Missourians claiming mental disability for Social Security benefits. The intent was to detect fraud, but both men said the project was abandoned when they realized the large amount of data they would have to sift through. Turk said the agency never had any plans to share the list with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, but would have alerted the Missouri State Highway Patrol of any matches between the two lists.
     Interesting that Social Security had these agents testify. The agency certainly didn't have to allow this.
     I have trouble believing that high level officials at Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG) were unaware of this. What other explanation could there be for Social Security having a seat on the White House working group on reducing gun violence -- a working group which only has eight members?

May 2, 2013

How Well Does Social Security Use Plain Language?

     Social Security has recently issued its 2012 Plain Writing Act Compliance Report. You can send any comments on the state of plain writing at Social Security to

May 1, 2013

Online Fraud Attempt

     From KSDK:
The Social Security Administration says complaints of fraud linked to online social security accounts are isolated. 
NewsChannel 5 broke the story Monday that people had gotten letters about an online account they hadn't signed up for. 
Late Tuesday afternoon, the St. Louis Circuit Attorney's Office reached out to victims via Facebook, offering ways to protect themselves. 
The Social Security Administration sent a statement Tuesday saying its representatives have assisted customers to address their concerns about the issue. 
A viewer who got one of those letters told us Monday that between 20 and 40 people took their letters to the SSA office in Fenton Monday morning. Someone used their social security numbers to go online and try to steal their social security checks. 

Why Is It Acceptable For People Calling Social Security To Wait Eight Minutes For Someone To Answer The Phone?

     I thought it would be a good idea to take another look at the White House proposed budget for fiscal year (FY) 2014, which begins on October 1, 2013. Take a look at these numbers:
Average Speed of Answer (ASA) [on Social Security's 800 number] (seconds) 
FY 2012 294
FY 2013 455
FY 2014 482 [projected]
      It was taking an average of five minutes to get to a real person when you called Social Security last year. Of course, sometimes it didn't take nearly that long but other times it took longer. That average is up to seven and a half minutes this year and is supposed to go up to about eight minutes next year.
     The U.S. government requires cable television providers to provide an ASA (average speed of answer) of 30 seconds. Apparently, a 30 second ASA is a basic standard for adequate service in the call center business. Private business thinks 30 seconds is reasonable service. Social Security will be offering eight minutes. Why is this acceptable?
     The FY 2014 numbers are just what the White House proposes. It isn't a proposal that would make things better at Social Security. It's a proposal that accepts a significant degradation in service. Republicans termed the President's budget dead on arrival. Can they realistically propose a budget that would cause a greater degradation in call center service than the President's?
     There are many important Social Security matters that can't be handled over the internet now. Many people who need to deal with Social Security cannot use the internet. Thinking internet service delivery is going to take care of Social Security's service delivery problem is a "Let them eat cake" solution. I'd like for my firm to do most of its business with Social Security over the internet but it's just not possible. We have to spend a lot of time dealing with the agency over the telephone and it's hard. Unrepresented claimants are far less able to use Social Security's internet systems that people like myself and my firm's employees.
      And by the way, at last week's House Social Security Subcommittee hearing, one member was urging Social Security to emulate Disney World! I've never had occasion to call Disney World but I'll bet they answer their phones in a lot less than eight minutes. That's because they don't expect fairies or elves to do the work. Disney knows that service costs money and they pony up the money.