Aug 31, 2013

IG Catches Alleged Murderer

     From the Albuquerque Journal:
The son of an 88-year-old New Mexico man has admitted killing his father and dismembering the body on the floor of his bedroom with an electric tree trimming chain saw, authorities said.
Carlsbad police said Steven Michael Allumbaugh, 62, recently told investigators that he struck his father, Thomas Luther Allumbaugh, during an argument in January 2012 and he fell against a metal chair in a shower.
According to a criminal complaint, Allumbaugh then dismembered the body and buried it in his backyard to conceal the death. The complaint also says he hid the death for a year so that he could continue withdrawing his father’s Social Security retirement funds.
The younger Allumbaugh, was arrested Aug. 7 following an investigation by the Social Security Administration, the Office of the Inspector General said. ...

Aug 30, 2013

Advance Notice On Hearing Listings

     Social Security is giving advance notice that it is reviewing its Listings for hearing loss and disturbances of labyrinthine-lestibular function. No change is announced, just the opportunity to comment on whether and how the listings should be changed. If any change is to be made, Social Security would first publish the proposed changes and allow comments on them. 
     My experience is that anyone even approaching meeting the listing for hearing loss is just about stone deaf. Interviewing a claimant who is that deaf is quite difficult. I've had employees in my office wonder why I was in my office yelling at a client. By the way, hearing aids help only so much. If a person has nerve deafness, a hearing aid helps little. It just increases the volume of unintelligible sound.

Aug 29, 2013

Batting Next, Social Security

     The I.R.S has announced that same sex couples who were married in a jurisdiction that recognizes same sex marriages may file joint returns even if they live in a state that refuses to recognize same sex marriages solemnized in other states. This leaves Social Security as, by far, the most important agency where this issue remains unresolved.

Getting Harder, Not Easier

     From Disabled Worker Allowance Rates: Variation Under Changing Economic Conditions, Actuarial Note 153 issued by the Office of Chief Actuary, Social Security Administration.
     You can make of this what you will but anyone who says it's been getting easier to get Social Security disability benefits doesn't know what he or she is talking about. In truth, it's become significantly more difficult over the last decade.

Aug 28, 2013

Don't Even Think About It

     From the Atlanta Business Chronicle:
Federal employee and Conyers, Ga., resident Cordell Fleming pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court to extorting money from people due Social Security benefits. ...
Fleming offered to “expedite” the processing time of SSI payments to SSI beneficiaries and SSI beneficiary payees in exchange for a fee. In an attempt to make the expedited SSI payments appear legitimate, Fleming frequently created false documents that purportedly justified the expedited disbursement of SSI payments.
During the course of the scheme from October 2012 to April 2013, Fleming extorted and attempted to extort money (in amounts ranging from $500 to $1,800) from at least nine SSI beneficiaries or their representative payees. ...

Aug 27, 2013

Nine Meters Of Croissants A Minute And The DOT

     I recently interviewed a new client whose last job was with a commercial bakery. He only worked there for about three months. It was the first time in his life that he had worked in baking. He made croissants. I expressed surprise because I thought that making croissants required great skill. His response was basically, "No, they have a machine that makes the croissants. All I had to do was to put the dough in the machine." He's right. Croissant-making machines do exist. The Croissmat SCM is pictured to the left. It churns out croissants at nine meters a minute. That has to be a lot of croissants.
     Once I thought about it, the existence of croissant making machines fits in with my lifetime experience with croissants. They used to be hard to come by but when you got one it was a flaky, buttery delight. That was when croissants were made by artisans. Now you can buy croissants in bags of six at your local supermarket or get your chicken salad sandwich on a croissant in a restaurant but those croissants are but a pale reflection of the artisanal croissants of old.
     There is a more direct Social Security connection to this story. Social Security is relying upon the decades old Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) for vocational information in making disability determinations even though everyone acknowledges that it is ridiculously out of date. I strongly doubt that croissant-making machines existed at the time the DOT was created.  Machinery has dramatically decreased the level of skill required to make croissants at the price of decreasing the quality of the product but in many, perhaps most, other cases, machinery has had the opposite effect of increasing the level of training required of employees while improving the quality of products produced. However, no one has a good handle on what the end result is for the number of jobs available for those at the lower end of the cognitive scale. People are being approved and denied for disability benefits based upon data that everyone knows is unreliable. We need a credible replacement for the DOT and we need it now. The replacement for the DOT has to deal honestly with the cognitive requirements of employment. My opinion is that Social Security is not doing right by people at the lower end of the cognitive scale. Social Security is acting as if there was no question about the existence of jobs in a wide range of exertional levels that can be performed by people who test out with an I.Q. between 60 and 80. I doubt it. Maybe a bakery could have a new employee operating that croissant making machine pictured above but could you trust an employee with an I.Q. of 65 to make nine meters of croissants a minute? Maybe, maybe not.

Aug 26, 2013

Appeals Council Status Report Now Available Online

     Over the weekend Social Security added an Appeals Council Status Report feature to its online system. This allows attorneys and others representing Social Security claimants to go online and obtain a report on the status of their cases pending at the Appeals Council. Much time has been wasted over the decades as attorneys called the Appeals Council to ask about the status of their cases. Why would attorneys call to ask the status so much? When you have a case that sits at the Appeals Council for a year and a half your client gets antsy and wants to know what's going on. Can you blame them? There's been nothing an attorney could do other than call the Appeals Council to ask what's going on. They never told you anything much but, at least, you could determine that the case was still pending.
     I hate to be ungrateful for the electronic help we're getting but when will we be able to get information on our cases pending at the initial and reconsideration levels and, for that matter, on cases that have been approved and are pending payment? I'm not telling people at Social Security anything they don't already know but extending the system to the initial, reconsideration and payment center levels would save everyone, particularly Social Security, a lot of time.

Aug 24, 2013

President's Management Agenda Website

    There is a "President's Management Agenda" website for Social Security that allows anyone to share ideas on management initiatives for Social Security. Anyone can vote on whether they think an idea has merit. The top ideas will submitted to the President's Management Council. This website is sponsored by the Social Security Administration even though it's not on

Aug 23, 2013

Astrue Takes Another Biotech Position

     About a month ago former Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue took a job as non-executive chairman of the board of Vivus, a biotechnology company. Astrue has now taken a position as interim CEO of InVivo Therapeutics, another biotechnology company. There is no sign that Astrue is resigning the Vivus position, which, being "non-executive", is presumably part time.

Aug 22, 2013

Watch Out For Walmart Debit Cards!

     My client wanted her Social Security benefits deposited to her Walmart debit card. After her disability claim was approved by Social Security, the U.S. Treasury tried to direct deposit her back benefits to the Walmart debit card. Unfortunately, Walmart limits each individual direct deposit to one of its debit cards to $7,000. My client's back benefits were more than $7,000 so the money bounced back to the U.S. Treasury delaying her receipt of the back benefits. Watch out on Walmart debit cards. They can cause problems for many people applying for Social Security disability benefits.

Aug 21, 2013

68 Arrests In Alleged Disability Fraud In Puerto Rico

     From the Wall Street Journal:
Federal agents arrested 68 people in Puerto Rico on Wednesday morning as part of an investigation into alleged abuse of the Social Security Disability Insurance program, two people familiar with the operation said. 
More arrests are expected. The bust appears to be one of the largest disability fraud cases ever assembled by federal investigators. 
The identity of those arrested couldn't be learned immediately. One person familiar with the arrests said it included two psychiatrists, one physiatrist, a secretary, and a person who works to help people win disability benefits. The person said the probe centers on alleged abuse of the federal program over several years that could have helped scores of people obtain benefits who should not have qualified.
     Update: From an Associated Press article:
Those charged include three doctors and 71 Social Security claimants accused of receiving more than $2 million in disability benefit payments. But the biggest haul allegedly went to a former Social Security worker accused of taking $2.5 million while directing claimants to doctors who would file false claims. ...
The former Social Security worker claimed to help clients seeking benefits and directed them to doctors who would earn up to $500 for each fake claim, said Ed Ryan, New York-based special agent in charge of the Inspector General's office of the Social Security Administration's investigations office.
Rodriguez said agents took videos of people that belied their claimed ailments. She said one who claimed back problems was a gym owner who posted a picture of himself on Facebook lifting a girl above his head. ...
Rep. Sam Johnson, a Texas Republican and the Social Security chairman of the Ways and Means Subcommittee, said he will discuss the Puerto Rican case during a September hearing.
"Clearly this isn't a case of just a few bad apples," he said in a statement. "That such fraud could occur in the first place raises serious and troubling questions regarding Social Security's management of the disability program."

AFGE Newsletter

     The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) union local that represents most Social Security employees has gotten around to issuing its first newsletter of the year. The tone of the newsletter could be a bit less antagonistic toward the agency than prior newsletters. If so, that might be related to the departure of Michael Astrue as Commissioner of Social Security.

The Universal Identifier

     From WHEC in Rochester, NY:
I-Team 10 has a warning of how important it is to protect your identity. The problem happens to millions of Americans.

In this case, the woman didn't do anything wrong. It was the federal government that gave her social security number away and since then, it's been a nightmare.

Her name is Jennifer Lavigne and her nightmare started when she was 10-years-old. That's when the Social Security Administration mistakenly gave her social security number to a woman in Florida with the exact same name. To this day, the Rochester Jennifer is getting hounded for debts racked up by Florida Jennifer.

Jennifer Lavigne said, “I did not like to open the mail because I'd get summons for, you owe this amount and we need to get it by this date.”

The problems started when Jennifer Lavigne got to college. Suddenly, her student loan got canceled and her credit was so bad she couldn't get a new one. She couldn't get a credit card or a car.

Treasury Agrees To Scale Back Paper Check Threats

     From the Columbus Dispatch:
Seniors who were threatened with the loss of their benefits if they did not trade in their paper checks for Social Security benefits paid through a debit card or electronic deposit might be getting a reprieve.
The Treasury Department has agreed to make it easier for them to request a waiver to the electronic requirement, after a hearing held by Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., chairman of the Senate’s Special Committee on Aging. ...
The Treasury Department already had said it would waive the electronic conversion for seniors who were 90 years old as of May 1, 2011. But in a letter to Nelson last week, the department said it will stop using threatening language in letters to beneficiaries who have not embraced electronic access. ...
Treasury reported granting roughly 3,000 automatic waivers based on age as of June, said Rebecca Vallas, representing the National Consumer Law Center, National Senior Citizens Law Center and the Senior Law Center. Yet, more than 300,000 Social Security beneficiaries are 92 or older, she said.
The department also is supposed to grant waivers to people with a mental impairment or who live in an area so remote that an electronic payment would hinder their access to benefits.

Aug 20, 2013

New POMS Transmittal On Suspension Or Disqualification Of Representatives

     Social Security has issued a transmittal to its Program Operations Manual Series (POMS) dealing with "Suspension or Disqualification of Representatives." The changes mostly concern the new requirement that those who represent claimants deal with the agency electronically as much as possible. Agency employees can share their experiences but I haven't heard anything suggesting that there have been serious problems getting compliance with this new requirement. The biggest problem I've seen has been that Social Security's systems often make it impossible to file an appeal electronically.

SDM Works Great But It Must Die?

     From a report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG):
Our review of 3,900 sample cases from the SDM [Single Decision Maker] prototype, SDM II and Non-SDM sites showed initial claim processing times were shorter in SDM sites than in the Non-SDM sites.
The 20 pilot sites, as well as the National Association of Disability Examiners and the National Council of Disability Determination Directors, provided feedback on the SDM model. These entities noted improved public service, DDS case processing times, and employee morale.
We noted evidence of SDM-user positive feedback and decreased case processing times for initial disability claims with the use of SDM. However, based on SSA studies showing higher initial and overall (after all appeals) disability allowance rates with the use of SDM, the Office of the Chief Actuary (OCACT) estimated significant program benefit savings to the Trust and General Funds with the gradual termination of the SDM pilot.
     I guess it makes sense to eliminate SDM if reducing benefit payments is your main goal but I thought that making fair decisions promptly was supposed to be the main goal.

Aug 19, 2013

No Punishment For Aiding And Abetting Illegal Aliens

     From an audit report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG) (footnotes omitted, emphasis added):
Because the Social Security Administration (SSA) calculates future benefit payments based on the earnings an individual has accumulated over his/her lifetime, it is critical that the Agency accurately record those earnings. SSA’s ability to do so, however, depends, in part, on employers and employees correctly reporting names and Social Security numbers (SSN) on Forms W-2, Wage and Tax Statement. SSA uses automated edits to match employees’ names and SSNs with Agency records to ensure it properly credits earnings to the Master Earnings File. SSA places wage items that fail to match name and SSN records in its Earnings Suspense File (ESF). ...
[W]e obtained ESF data for TYs [Tax Years] 2007 through 2009. These data represented the most complete tax data available at the start of our audit, given the inherent lag in posting annual wage information. We then identified the 100 employers who contributed the most wage items to the ESF for the 3-year period. We also identified the 100 employers (with a minimum of 100 employees)who had the highest percentage of suspended wage items for TYs 2007 through 2009. For the 200 employers selected, we analyzed ESF data to identify reporting irregularities, such as SSNs that SSA either had never issued or assigned to another individual. We also contacted Employer Service Liaison Officers (ESLO) to obtain information on their experiences with employers who provided names and/or SSNs that did not match SSA’s records. ...
For TYs 2007 through 2009, the 100 employers who had the most suspended wage items had submitted over 2.3 million wage items for which the employees’ names and/or SSNs did not match SSA’s records. These wage items represented $15.7 billion in suspended earnings over the 3-year period. In total, 18 percent of the wage items these employers submitted did not match names/SSNs in SSA’s files. ...
In previous reports, SSA acknowledged unauthorized noncitizens’ intentional misuse of SSNs has been a major contributor to the ESF’s growth. SSA staff told us employers hired unauthorized workers because nothing prevented them from doing so. That is, employers know SSA had no legal authority to levy fines and penalties, and they were not concerned about potential IRS sanctions. Several of the employers and industry associations we contacted acknowledged that unauthorized noncitizens contributed to SSN misuse. For example, one employer told us his and many restaurants would close if they did not hire unauthorized noncitizens. A temporary labor service employer acknowledged that some of his former employees were unauthorized noncitizens who used invalid, unassigned, and deceased individuals’ SSNs. Furthermore, the president of a large growers’ association stated that farm labor contractors employed a large number of unauthorized noncitizens.
     The offending employers are not named in the audit report.

Aug 18, 2013

"It Is A Frustrating Bureaucracy"

     From some Arizona newspaper that hides its name on its website:
Gaye Kelley spent 50 years in the workforce, doing many jobs: teacher, flight attendant and, eventually, Salt River Project customer-service representative for 30 years.
When the Mesa resident retired in 2011, she had accrued a full two years of vacation pay and sick days from SRP. She looked forward to retirement. But instead of fully enjoying it, Kelley was forced to do battle with a big government agency, the Social Security Administration.
“It is a frustrating bureaucracy is what it is,” she said.
When Kelley retired in April 2011, she started receiving Social Security benefit checks totaling $1,352 a month. But the following year, she began receiving notices that she owed the agency $10,857 in overpayment of benefits.
Social Security demanded the money back immediately. Kelley was flabbergasted.
In their notices, Social Security asserted that Kelley was working and collecting benefits at the same time, which is against the law. The truth is she was retired and receiving accrued vacation and sick pay from SRP.
Her former employer apparently had lumped the vacation and sick pay together and reported it to the Internal Revenue Service as income. This set off months of back-and-forth communications between Social Security Administration representatives and Kelley.
“It was eight months of insanity,” Kelley said. ...
“I have found that the people in the phone center (Social Security reps), as polite as they are, are empowered to do nothing for you. What boggles my mind in this whole thing is that I had to come to you!” Kelley said.

Aug 17, 2013

Investigation In Puerto Rico

     From the Wall Street Journal:
Federal investigators on Wednesday searched six facilities in Puerto Rico as part of a broadening probe into potential widespread disability fraud.
Investigators from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Social Security inspector general’s office, among others, searched five doctors’ offices and one other location as part of their sweep, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney in Puerto Rico said. The spokeswoman wouldn’t comment further, saying it was part of a continuing investigation and that the six search warrants were sealed. ...
In 2006, just 36% of initial applicants in Puerto Rico were awarded benefits. In December 2010, the award rate had jumped to 69%. By 2010, nine of the top 10 U.S. ZIP Codes for workers receiving disability benefits were on the island. ...
The characteristics of Puerto Rico’s beneficiaries differed from other areas. In addition to the large clusters in certain zip codes, federal data showed that 33.3% of Puerto Rican beneficiaries qualified because of “mood disorders,” a rate that is at least 10 percentage points higher than any U.S. state.

Silverstone Named As New Executive Director Of NOSSCR

     Barbara Silverstone has been named as the new Executive Director of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR). NOSSCR's 3,000 plus members, most of them attorneys, represent claimants for Social Security benefits. Barbara had been a staff attorney for NOSSCR.

Aug 16, 2013

Doing Less With Less

     From Federal News Radio:
Social Security managed to escape most of the impacts of sequestration. Other agencies, like the Defense Department, the Internal Revenue Service, the Housing and Urban Development Department, the Environmental Protection Agency and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have furloughed people. Social Security cut back office hours and is doing more with fewer people. It's had two budget cuts in the last two years, and Congress — when it gets back from its latest extended vacation — may or may not approve a new budget. 
In the meantime, Acting Commissioner Carolyn W. Colvin has sent an all-hands message to staffers asking them to hang in there. Effective now, she said, "We are facing our toughest fiscal challenge in 30 years...we anticipate lengthy debates over our budget...Congress may not reach agreement before Sept. 30, which means we may enter a new fiscal year under a continuing resolution and under the continued effects of sequestration." 
Colvin, a veteran fed with four decades of service, noted that SSA has lost 10,000 employees in the last three years, and this has resulted in imbalances in different offices.

She said she is telling SSA bosses to "provide for broader empowerment at the staff level," greater delegation of both "accountability and responsibility" — while asking each employee to come up with "game-changer" processes, rules, procedures or systems that make it easier to do more with less.

AARP Calls For New Commissioner

     The AARP has issued a press release calling for the President to nominate a new Commissioner of Social Security.

Taitz Not Going Away

     Orly Taitz is still going strong at the "World's Leading Obama Eligibility Challenge Web Site." She's now mostly making Freedom of Information Act requests to the Social Security Administration for documents concerning the President's mother!  Among Taitz' findings are these gems:
It is not clear, why did Ann Dunham [the President's mother] apply for a change from Dunham to Dunham Obama in 1963, when she divorced Barack Obama senior. One would expect her to change her name in February 1961, when she reportedly married Obama, not in 1963, when she divorced him. This application for SSN change for Ann Dunham was released for the first time today. 
It is not clear, why did Ann Dunham apply for yet another change of her SSN card in June of 1995. This June 1995 application for a change of the SSA card was released for the first time in SSA July 29 2013 letter to Taitz and was received today. This change was made only a few months before Ann Dunham passed away on November 7, 1995. Incidentally, November 7 happens to be the day when the Communist revolution in celebrated in Russia. Ann Dunham passed away at home with only her two children present. There was no attending physician at the time of her death, no autopsy by a coroner. Her remains were cremated and buried at sea. Typically there is a requirement for a permit for a burial at sea. There is no record of such permit ever being granted or requested.

Aug 15, 2013

Not Necessarily Social Security Disability But Still ...

     From KGW in Portland, OR:
Several Portland neighborhoods were outraged after fliers were left on doorsteps in the middle of the night targeting people with disabilities.
The fliers accuse people who receive disability benefits of destroying democracy, and the person behind the fliers is now promising to post the names of all people in specific neighborhoods that receive disability benefits.

Just In Britain?

     From a press release issued by Kent University in England:
Misleading news coverage, driven mostly by the policy process, is preventing thousands of people in need from claiming vital welfare benefits, according to a new report by University researchers on behalf of the charity Turn2us.
The report, titled Benefits Stigma in Britain, reveals that one in four eligible people had either delayed claiming or refused to do so completely due to the perceived stigma attached to applying for state support. ...
The research, which included an analysis of media coverage since 1995, shows that disproportionate coverage of fraud and misleading news stories are linked to rising stigma, with people who read more stigmatising newspapers perceiving higher levels of deception and demonstrating more reluctance to claim, even when they are experiencing abject need.
Dr Baumberg said: ‘The study also highlights a discernible shift in public attitudes, with claimants seen as less deserving than they were 20 years ago, when the fraud and scrounger rhetoric really started to take hold in media discourse. Looking at trends over time, non-take-up of benefits has risen concurrently with stigma. ...
Rob Tolan, Head of Policy at Turn2us, said: ‘At a human level, stigma is resulting in thousands of elderly, sick and disabled people skipping meals or keeping the heating off, lest they be tarred with the “scrounger” brush. One lady we helped, who was left disabled by a brain tumour, ate porridge five nights a week, rather than ask for help. ...
The research found that only 15% of people think that they would be treated with respect when making a claim for benefits. ...

Aug 14, 2013

Broomell A Special Employee

     From the Washington Post
David Broomell, a longtime Social Security programmer and project manager, has been instrumental in creating new ways to make visits to Social Security offices more customer-friendly through innovative information technology solutions. At the same time, he has developed new computer tools for employees, allowing them to offer more timely and efficient assistance to beneficiaries. ... 
Going back more than a decade, Broomell helped transform an inefficient manual system used to check in and process visitors at Social Security offices nationwide by creating an automated intake process. He continually upgraded the system to include touch screen monitors, TV wait-time displays and real-time management of information. ... 
Broomell, who works near Minneapolis, currently is collaborating with IT colleagues at the Social Security headquarters in Baltimore on a nationwide rollout of a new centralized web-based customer-intake process. This will replace Broomell’s visitor process system, which has operated through separate computer servers housed at each individual Social Security office around the country. ... 
He created a web-based application to identify administrative appeals involving Social Security disability claims that had been decided but were not fully processed and therefore delayed the reporting of the judicial rulings. Broomell’s system replaced a labor-intensive, manual process fraught with errors that enabled the agency to clean up its records and report the appeal decisions in a fraction of the time.

Glad We Got Solutions To Those Problems!

     The Cato Institute, a right wing "think tank", has issued a set of what it calls "essays" on "downsizing" Social Security (lots of quotation marks here but they're all merited):
Social Security Retirement: Social Security faces a huge financing gap because of its pay-as-you-go structure and the aging of the U.S. population. It should be transitioned to a system of personal savings accounts, which would increase individual financial security and help to avert future tax increases.   
Social Security Disability Insurance: Growing numbers of Americans are receiving disability benefits, and the system is subject to major abuses. Policymakers should tighten eligibility for the program and explore ways to move it to the private sector.   
Supplemental Security Income: This program for low-income and disabled individuals suffers from similar abuses and overspending problems as Social Security Disability Insurance. The financing and administration of Supplemental Security Income should be devolved to the states.

Aug 13, 2013

An Omission Noted

     From the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:
The House Ways and Means Committee has invited members of the public to comment on the Bowles-Simpson and Domenici-Rivlin plans to restore solvency to Social Security.
But there’s a glaring omission:  from reading the committee’s description of the two plans — and its draft bills — you’d never know that both Bowles-Simpson and Domenici-Rivlin urged significant increases in Social Security taxes.

Aug 12, 2013

Looking Good Through First Half Of Year

     Social Security's only urgent funding problems is the Disability Trust Fund. The projections are that it will run out of money in 2016. I had written last month about the fact that so far this year the Disability Insurance Trust Fund was doing much better than anyone had projected.
     We now have updated numbers on the income and outgo from the Disability Trust Fund through June of this year. I won't get too deep into the weeds here. The bottom line is that the Disability Trust Fund balance stood at $110.9 billion at the end of June, 2013. This is $11.8 billion below where it stood as of the end of 2012. That's a scary sounding drop but compare it to the projections for 2013. Note that I said projections. Social Security's Office of Chief Actuary makes three projections for each of the trust funds, an Intermediate projection, which is the one typically quoted in the media as well as a Low Cost or optimistic projection and a High Cost or pessimistic projection. Here are those projections for the entire year compared to the results halfway through the year:
  • Optimistic projection: Disability Trust Fund balance at end of 2013, $92.4 billion, down $30.3 billion from end of 2012
  • Intermediate projection: Disability Trust Fund balance at end of 2013, $89.2 billion, down $33.5 billion from end of 2012
  • Pessimistic projection: Disability Trust Fund balance at end of 2013, $85.8 billion, down $$36.8 billion from end of 2012
  • Actual results halfway through year: Disability Trust Fund balance, $110.8 billion, down $11.8 billion
     The actual results so far this year are considerably better than even the most optimistic projection. Does that mean that we're still going to hell in a hand basket but just not quite as fast? No, it may mean that we're not going to hell at all. The optimistic projection is that the Disability Trust Fund never runs out of money, that the draw down of its assets slows and eventually reverses in 2020, before the Disability Trust Fund ever runs out of money. So far this year we're doing much better than even this optimistic projection.
     This doesn't mean that next year's projections will all say that the Disability Trust Fund will never run out of money but barring a sudden reversal over the last six months of this year, it's clear that next year's projections are all going to look better, perhaps a lot better. We're going to start out with a higher trust fund balance at the end of 2013. The actuaries will also be applying projected percentage changes in income and outgo in future years to a better baseline. Finally,  there's a good chance that the actuaries will be projecting more favorable percentage changes in income and outgo for future years because of the favorable results this year.
     I think it's already possible to project that next year's Office of Chief Actuary's Intermediate projection will be that the Disability Trust Fund will have enough money to keep going at least until 2017. The intermediate projection may even be that the Disability Trust Fund keeps going until 2018, which would be an enormous change over the course of just one year. A change of even one year in the date that the Disability Trust Fund runs out of money is a big deal politically. Republicans probably control the House of Representatives in 2016 and may control the Senate (to the extent that anyone controls the Senate). It's not a good year to have to make changes in Social Security's disability programs. 2017 on the other hand, who knows? This probably means no significant legislative changes through the end of 2016. The realistic possibility that no change will be needed at any point in the foreseeable future is huge.

Aug 11, 2013

Social Security Bulletin Released

     The August 2013 issue of the Social Security Bulletin, the agency's scholarly publication, has been released

Aug 10, 2013

Sheriff Pleads Not Guilty

     From the Mobile Press-Register:
Washington County Sheriff Richard Stringer formally pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges that he helped an employee evade Social Security rules capping the amount of retirement money he could earn.
Authorities allege that Stringer agreed to put the employee’s wife on the payroll at the Sheriff’s Office and divert part of the man’s income to her.
Stinger has denied the allegations and vowed to remain in office.

Aug 9, 2013

"Some" Same Sex Marriage Claims Being Processed

    A press release from Acting Social Security Commissioner Carolyn Colvin:
“I am pleased to announce that Social Security is now processing some retirement spouse claims for same-sex couples and paying benefits where they are due.  The recent Supreme Court decision on Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, made just over a month ago, helps to ensure that all Americans are treated fairly and equally, with the dignity and respect they deserve.  
We continue to work closely with the Department of Justice.  In the coming weeks and months, we will develop and implement additional policy and processing instructions.  We appreciate the public’s patience as we work through the legal issues to ensure that our policy is legally sound and clear. 
I encourage individuals who believe they may be eligible for Social Security benefits to apply now, to protect against the loss of any potential benefits. We will process claims as soon as additional instructions become finalized.”
    Update: The staff instructions are to continue to hold claims in cases where the state in which the claimant is residing does not recognize same sex marriages. Social Security had to wait over a month to issue this! Deliberation is fine but this issue shouldn't have come as a surprise to anyone.
   Further update: This press release and these instructions appear to have been timed to come out on Friday afternoon, traditionally the time that public relations gurus say to release information you wish you didn't have to release. Also, this was released just before an Obama press conference.

When Might Social Security Have A New Commissioner?

     The Baltimore Sun has noticed that six months after Michael Astrue completed his term as Commissioner of Social Security the President has yet to make a nomination for a new Commissioner:
Advocates have praised acting Commissioner Carolyn W. Colvin, a former Maryland state official, for managing this year's budget cuts and being more communicative than Astrue. But they say anyone leading an agency the size of the Social Security Administration without Senate confirmation has limited power to advocate for resources and make controversial decisions.
"They should try to get a name up here as quickly as possible," Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland said. "Clearly, Social Security has professional leadership. But it does not help the agency to go that period without a confirmed leader."
     No word yet on who might be nominated or when the nomination might come.

Aug 8, 2013

Reporter Didn't Enjoy Visit To Field Office

     Rick Tosches has written a column for the Colorado Springs Independent that he's titled "A dispatch from Crazytown, aka the Social Security office." He claims there were no chairs in the waiting room and that he had to wait over two and a half hours to be "served". Also, he wasn't too impressed by the other people he saw in the waiting room.

Aug 7, 2013

Layoffs At Allsup

     From the Belleville, IL News Democrat:
Local Social Security disability claims company Allsup Inc. is cutting 65 jobs.
Rebecca Ray, director of corporate public relations for Allsup, said employees were being notified Tuesday. She said the cuts affect jobs within different departments at the Belleville-based company. ...

Ray said the layoffs are coming as a result of federal budget constraints and changes in the Social Security Administration. She said the company is adjusting and focusing on new business opportunities. ...
[A]fter the employee reduction, the company will have a total of about 700 employees.

Read more here:

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Aug 6, 2013

Cutting Processing Time In Half At VA With Just A Form?

     From the Columbus Dispatch:
... Starting today, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will offer veterans seeking disability benefits the chance to be eligible for one year of retroactive benefits by filling out comprehensive disability forms known as Fully Developed Claims [FDCs].
The retroactive program, approved last year by Congress, is an aggressive effort by the Obama administration to dramatically shorten the wait for disability benefits that tens of thousands of veterans have been forced to endure. ...
The VA says it can process the FDCs in half the time a more traditionally filed form takes. ...
     I would say that such a program would never work at Social Security but I have no idea how a more complete claim form would cut processing time in half at VA. My familiarity with the VA system is quite limited. Does this make sense to those who are familiar with VA?

Can You Get Good Advice From Social Security?

     Yahoo! Finance doesn't think much of the advice being given by Social Security employees.

Aug 5, 2013

SSAB Wants BOND Ended

     From the Social Security Advisory Board (SSAB) (footnote omitted):
This paper is an assessment of merits of the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Benefit Offset National Demonstration’s (BOND) ability to address the following: 1) will an offset incentivize more work in Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) beneficiaries, and 2) what will be the amount of induced entry from the change in work incentives? 
The Social Security Advisory Board finds that the BOND, as it has been implemented, is not adequate to answer these questions. In our view, BOND is a victim of both faulty conceptualization and implementation. Congress owes it to the taxpayers to call a halt to further spending on this project. The questions that were the basis for Congress originally requesting the demonstration should still be addressed, albeit more efficiently. ... 
While Congress requested a demonstration of variations in the benefit offset amount, the demonstration as implemented is testing the specific benefit reduction of $1 for every $2 earned. This demonstration, even if completed, will not yield results that have tested which ratio of benefit reduction will have the most work incentivizing results. The “2 for 1” amount would help align the SSDI and SSI work incentives but this demonstration will not further our knowledge of which particular ratio is most appropriate.... 
To be clear, we are advocating that this demonstration project be terminated because it is both without merit and costly. In our view, BOND is a victim of both faulty conceptualization and implementation - Congress owes it to the taxpayers to call a halt to further spending on this demonstration project

Aug 4, 2013

Fee Payment Update

     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

Aug 3, 2013

Seeking Child Support As Condition For SSI?

     From a recent report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG):
SSA [Social Security Administration] could save approximately $151.2 million, annually, if the number of individuals receiving and/or reporting child support increases by 100,000. Alternatively, SSA could save approximately $302. million, annually, if the number of recipients receiving and/or reporting child support increases by 200,000. These dollar figures are conservative and are greatly reduced from figures we calculated assuming the results from 1999 SSA and Government Accountability Office studies are similar today
     I think there are at least a couple of questions here. What would be the offsetting costs to state child support enforcement agencies? How willing would state child support enforcement agencies be to cooperate when cooperating won't necessarily save the states any money?

Aug 2, 2013

Man Arrested For Threatening Ann Arbor Office

     From a WDIV in Detroit:
Federal investigators say Daniel Norton is a dangerous man who may have been planning a mass murder and escape into the wilderness.
The Ypsilanti man was out on bond for making violent threats against workers at an Ann Arbor Social Security office. Then, on Wednesday, Homeland Protective Services looked in the trunk of his car and found an arsenal of weapons similar to an AR-15 assault rifle, body armor, ammunition, a generator and meals ready to eat like the ones used by the military....
Norton allegedly called into the Ann Arbor office saying if he did not receive benefits for heart medicine he would have a tactical response. He faxed the office an extensive litany of alleged expert certificates in weaponry and combat. ...

Information Sharing Missions Which Support Homeland Security?

     Social Security is advertising two Intelligence Operations Specialist jobs in Woodlawn, MD. According to USAJobs:
This position [actually positions] is located in the Office of the Deputy Commissioner, Budget, Finance and Management (DCBFM), Office of Security and Emergency Preparedness (OSEP), Office of Emergency Preparedness (OEP). Once selected for this important position at SSA, the incumbent will serve as an Intelligent Operations Specialist responsible for complex assignments involving defensive counterintelligence (CI) and information coordination with a broad set of Communities of Interest (COIs) to establish and maintain SSA's defensive CI operations, collaboration, and intelligence and information sharing missions which support homeland security.
     Social Security certainly needs defensive counterintelligence to protect its data but the "information sharing missions which support homeland security" part concerns me. Just how much data is Social Security sharing with homeland security? For that matter, is anything being shared with NSA?

Aug 1, 2013

Anonymous Contact Form Functioning Again

     The anonymous contact form for this blog is functioning again. It had gone down when the service I had used previously suddenly went belly up. It's working again with a new service.

Allegation Of SSI Fraud Involved In Cleveland Kidnapping

     From some television station in Cleveland that doesn't post its call letters on its website:
Sources confirm a federal probe is underway into thousands of dollars in social security income that may have been illegally obtained while Cleveland kidnapping victim Michelle Knight was held hostage.
The social security income is  most likely in the form of supplemental security income provided for adults and children with low income and who have disabilities.
Sources said the Office of Inspector General at the Social Security Administration has been conducting an "open investigation." If there is sufficient proof of a crime, the findings will be turned over to the U.S. Attorneys Office for prosecution.
Knight was described by family members as having a mild disability and was the mother of a young son at the time of her disappearance.
It's not know who was behind allegedly profiting from the social security income during the 10-year period when Knight was held at Ariel Castro's Seymour Avenue house.

Replace "Mental Retardation" With "Intellectual Disability"

     From a notice in the Federal Register posted today by the Social Security Administration:
We are replacing the term ``mental retardation'' with ``intellectual disability'' in our Listing of Impairments (listings) ... This change reflects the widespread adoption of the term ``intellectual disability'' by Congress, government agencies, and various public and private organizations.

Op Ed Says Social Security Disability Is A "Monster"

     From an op ed in the East Valley Tribune:
Social Security Disability Insurance is turning into a monster. It has experienced exponential growth, much like other big government entitlement programs. As a consequence, it threatens to run out of money by 2016. Worse, it weakens our economy and has become yet another dark cloud over our financial future. ...

Some of the growth can be explained by the aging of the working population and an increase in women with sufficient work history to become eligible. But the real culprit is the design of the program itself.
In 1984, Congress significantly broadened eligibility and included coverage for more subjective problems like back pain and mood disorders. The rolls begin to fill with sufferers from these hard-to-disprove maladies which now draw more payments than diseases like cancer, heart disease and provable musculoskeletal disorders. ...
SSDI is yet one more iteration of the same old story — a government social welfare program, founded on the best intentions, that in the hands of politicians and bureaucrats morphs into a wasteful blob. The administration of SSDI over the years has worked harder at getting workers into the program in than in getting them back to work. ...
As Ronald Reagan would say, there is a solution that is simple, but not easy. If we privatized SSDI, we could reduce costs sharply.
Private disability insurers, needless to say, don’t just shovel money out the door. They’re highly motivated first to determine if claimants are truly injured or just wish they were. They also put great emphasis on programs helping people return to work. As a result, they typically return about 20 percent of claimants to work each year, a rate 40 times that achieved by government.