Oct 31, 2013

The Need For Children's SSI Benefits

     Three professors have produced a paper for the Heller School for Social Policy and Management of Brandeis University documenting the hardships faced by families receiving children's Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Even with the children's SSI benefits 45% of the families are unable to meet all their essential expenses, 21% are unable to pay rent, 42% are unable to pay all their utility bills and 24% are unable to receive needed medical care.

Oct 30, 2013

Banned By SSA!

     It appears that starting this week Social Security's computer network is blocking access to this blog. I strongly doubt that it's just this blog. Probably, everything on blogger is being blocked.

     Update: I don't know what's going on. I'm getting people reporting accessing Social Security News from Social Security computers but Google Analytics shows access to Social Security News way down this week. More importantly, Google Analytics also shows that access from ssa.gov flatlined on October 26. If you're accessing this blog from ssa.gov, were you able to access it yesterday?

    Further update: I'm seeing some things on the Google Analytics product forum suggesting that this may be a Google Analytics problem rather than something that Social Security has done.

1.5% COLA

     As expected, Social Security's Cost Of Living Adjustment (COLA) will be 1.5% this year.
     Update: Here are all the numbers released today:
Social Security (OASDI) Program Rates & Limits 2014
Tax Rates (percent)  
Social Security (Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance)  
Employers and Employees, each a 6.20
Medicare (Hospital Insurance)  
Employers and Employees, each a,b 1.45
Maximum Taxable Earnings (dollars)  
Social Security 117,000
Medicare (Hospital Insurance) No limit
Earnings Required for Work Credits (dollars)  
One Work Credit (One Quarter of Coverage) 1,200
Maximum of Four Credits a Year 4,800
Earnings Test Annual Exempt Amount (dollars)  
Under Full Retirement Age for Entire Year 15,480
For Months Before Reaching Full Retirement Age in Given Year 41,400
Beginning with Month Reaching Full Retirement Age No limit
Maximum Monthly Social Security Benefit for Workers Retiring at Full Retirement Age (dollars) 2,642
Full Retirement Age 66
Cost-of-Living Adjustment (percent) 1.5
a. Self-employed persons pay a total of 15.3 percent—12.4 percent for OASDI and 2.9 percent for Medicare.
b. This rate does not reflect the additional 0.9 percent in Medicare taxes certain high-income taxpayers are required to pay. See IRS information on this topic.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Program Rates & Limits 2014
Monthly Federal Payment Standard (dollars)  
Individual 721
Couple 1,082
Cost-of-Living Adjustment (percent) 1.5
Resource Limits (dollars)  
Individual 2,000
Couple 3,000
Monthly Income Exclusions (dollars)  
Earned Income a 65
Unearned Income 20
Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) Level for the Nonblind Disabled (dollars) 1,070
a. The earned income exclusion consists of the first $65 of monthly earnings, plus one-half of remaining earnings.

Charlie Binder Has More To Say In Response To Sixty Minutes

     Charlie Binder has more to say in response to the Sixty Minutes piece although that may not be apparent until the last paragraph.

Oct 29, 2013

Astrue Called "Hack" By Candidate For Governor

     From the Boston Globe:
[F]issures between Michael Astrue and Donald Berwick, a Democratic candidate for governor, opened in early 2011 when Berwick, then administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, summoned Astrue, then Social Security Administration commissioner, to his office.
Berwick wanted Social Security to help pay for a piece of the health care insurance marketplace, which was in the planning stages and due to go online almost three years later in October 2013.
Astrue said he felt bullied by Berwick and rebuffed him.
Now they have brought the fallout from their Washington dispute back to Cambridge, where, in new roles, they are locked in an increasingly fierce feud with implications for the 2014 campaign for governor.
Astrue, a Republican biotechnology chief executive and supporter of GOP gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker, said in news media appearances in recent weeks and in an interview with the Globe that Berwick’s weak leadership and “dawdling’’ during his tenure at CMS in 2010 and 2011 were the root cause of the embarrassing failures this month of Obama’s insurance marketplace.
Berwick, asked by the Globe to respond, vigorously denied Astrue’s accusations. The former Social Security commissioner, he said, is a “hack’’ and a “right-wing pundit’’ who is “just not credible.’’
“His comments are basically ridiculous,” said Berwick, who is seeking his party’s nomination for governor while serving as a fellow at the nonprofit health care think tank he founded in Cambridge. “He’s uninformed, and he’s politically motivated. I met with that guy probably twice in my life.” ...

SSA Making Cat Videos

     This isn't the only one. There's more.

More On Social Security Overpayments

     Another CNN Money piece on Social Security overpayments:
The Social Security Administration is overpaying big sums of money to disability beneficiaries -- and lawyers, consumer advocates and watchdogs say the agency's own missteps are to blame.
Long after notifying Social Security that they have either started working again or earn too much income to qualify for benefits, some disability recipients continue to receive payments for months or even years. It's not until a notice from Social Security shows up that they discover they now owe tens of thousands of dollars to the agency due to these overpayments.  ...
The Government Accountability Office [GAO], which oversees the Social Security Administration, says that budget constraints and huge backlogs of people applying for disability have delayed the reviews of income information that alert the agency to remove beneficiaries who no longer qualify. As a result, the Social Security Administration has made $1.3 billion in overpayments in just two years, according to a recent GAO audit....
We think that they need to devote more resources to this," said Steve Lord, director of forensic audits and investigative services at the GAO. "Right now getting people off the [disability] rolls is secondary -- they have to balance their resources between getting people off the rolls and getting people on the rolls." 

While the Social Security Administration said its accuracy rate is nearly perfect, it acknowledges that funding has been an issue. The agency said it has lost more than 11,000 employees since 2011. At the same time, its workload has been increasing as baby boomers near retirement and enter "their disability prone years," a spokeswoman said.
"[O]ur administrative budget has been significantly reduced, resulting in three straight years of funding levels nearly a billion dollars below the President's budget requests," a spokeswoman said. "We have had to prioritize our workloads given our limited budget and resources."

Oct 28, 2013

Is Social Security Sending Out $75,000 Checks To Random Claimants?

     From CNN Money:
Americans dealing with injuries, mental illnesses and other impairments are being notified out of the blue that they’ve been overpaid by the Social Security Administration and now owe thousands of dollars.

One 33-year-old veteran began receiving Social Security disability payments after his left foot was amputated following an explosion in Iraq in 2007. After going through rehab for his prosthetic leg, he began working full-time for a defense contractor in 2009. As soon as he started collecting a paycheck, the veteran, who asked to remain anonymous, reported his roughly $100,000 annual salary to the Social Security Administration.
When recipients of disability benefits reenter the workforce, they have a nine-month trial period in which they continue to receive benefits. Once the trial period ends and their earnings exceed a certain level — currently $1,040 a month — the payments are supposed to stop. And that’s exactly what happened in his case.
But then, last July, he noticed a $75,000 deposit in his checking account. Three days later, a letter arrived from the Social Security Administration saying it had reinstated his benefits because he had not been “gainfully employed” during the past three years. ...
It turns out Social Security overpayments like these are surprisingly common.
A recent audit conducted by the Government Accountability Office found that Social Security made $1.3 billion in potential overpayments to disability recipients in just two years. While some of that amount can be attributed to fraudsters who game the system, many innocent people are also receiving overpayments and then being asked to pay the agency back. Some continue being paid even after they notify the administration that they are no longer eligible for benefits, while others have no idea they are being overpaid.
     I can't say what happened in the vet's case. I can say that the work incentives that Congress has provided for recipients of Social Security disability benefits are so complicated that mistakes are inevitable but not a $75,000 mistake of this sort. That's unusual.
     The Government Accountability Office (GAO) report referenced by this article is seriously misleading. It assumed that any work performed by a person who had applied for Social Security disability benefits made that person permanently ineligible for Social Security disability benefits. That's just wrong. That's not the way the law is written. For instance, many people who have applied for Social Security disability benefits attempt to return to work but are only able to last a short time on a job. This is what Social Security calls an Unsuccessful Work Attempt (UWA) and has no effect upon the person's entitlement to benefits. If anything, a UWA makes a Social Security disability claimant look more credible. GAO would have a person who has engaged in a UWA ineligible for Social Security disability benefits for the rest of their life! You probably didn't notice it but there was no Congressional hearing on the GAO report. Even Republicans figured out that the GAO report was a crock.
     If you're of a mind to believe that all government benefits programs do nothing but waste money you may want to believe that Social Security wastes billions of dollars just sending large checks to people at random but that's not the way the program works. Mistakes happen. Usually the mistakes take away money rather than bestowing it. Usually, the mistakes don't involve much money. Most of the mistakes are just the inevitable result of overworked human beings making mistakes running a complicated program. There's only so much you can expect Social Security to do about that especially when you the size of the agency's workforce is declining while its workforce is increasing.

Oct 27, 2013

Oct 26, 2013

Alabama Sheriff Acquitted On Social Security Fraud Charge

     I had reported in August that Washington County, Alabama Sheriff Richard Stringer had pleaded not guilty to Social Security fraud. It was alleged that Stringer had conspired with others to get Social Security benefits for a friend.
     The case went to trial. Mr. Stringer was acquitted.

Oct 25, 2013

Democrats And Republicans Support Positions At Odds With Their Bases

     From Ronald Brownstein writing for the National Journal:
One reason a serious budget negotiation seems unlikely this fall is that any meaningful assault on the federal deficit would require each party to confront the contradictions between its fiscal agenda and its electoral coalition. ...
The GOP presidential nominee has carried most white seniors in four consecutive presidential elections, and by greater margins each time....
These older whites deeply resist any changes in Social Security and Medicare, which most consider insurance they have paid for, not a government benefit ...
But the demands from GOP leaders to squeeze middle-class entitlements such as Medicare in any budget deal still collide with the preferences of both older and blue-collar whites ...
Democrats face the opposite dilemma. For decades, they have watched expanding entitlements tilt federal spending toward the elderly. In 1960, children and seniors each consumed around one-fifth of federal domestic spending, the Urban Institute calculates. Today, children receive less than one-third as much as seniors, a trend reinforced by the sequester ...
Entering negotiations, many Democrats have made opposition to entitlement cuts a litmus test. But with the senior population projected to double through 2040, rejecting all entitlement reductions ensures both more pressure on discretionary investments like education that help young people and unsustainable tax burdens on future workers. That leaves Democrats confronting their own contradiction: They are now favoring programs that benefit predominantly white seniors who lopsidedly vote against them over policies that benefit the heavily diverse young people who strongly support them. Even a near-term trade of trimming entitlements to restore sequester-starved domestic investment could make sense for Democrats.

Quite A Comedown

     The House Ways and Means Committee has traditionally been of key importance to Social Security and to the nation. However, at the moment, according to Stacy Kaper at the National Journal, Ways and Means is barely functioning.

Oct 24, 2013

Charlie Binder Responds To Sixty Minutes

     Charlie Binder has posted something of a response to the Sixty Minutes piece on Social Security disability.

Getting A New Government Program Off The Ground Is Tough

     The start-up problems that the Health Care Exchanges are experiencing are not without precedent. As Arthur Delaney writing for the Huffington Report notes there were serious start-up problems with Social Security. Early on, a management expert told the nascent Social Security Board that it should notify Congress that it couldn't run the program! The management expert was told to get back to work. I think you can guess the rest of the story.

Big Return From Social Security

     From a study by Gary Koenig of the AARP Public Policy Institute and Al Myles of Mississippi State University:
Social Security’s economic impact starts when its recipients spend their benefits on goods and services.The businesses that receive these dollars use them to pay their owners and employees, purchase additional items to sell, and pay rent, taxes, and the other normal costs of doing business. Their suppliers in turn use the revenue they receive to pay their employees, suppliers, and so forth....
 Every dollar of Social Security benefits generates about $2 of economic output. ...
Social Security benefit payments in 2012 supported:
  • About $1.4 trillion in economic output (goods and services)
  • Just over 9.2 million jobs
  • About $774 billion in value added (gross domestic product)
  • More than $370 billion in salaries, wages, and other compensation
  • Tax revenues for local, state, and federal governments exceeding $222 billion, including $78.9 billion in local and state taxes and $143.3 billion in federal taxes

Oct 23, 2013

OIG To Focus On Widespread Fraud Investigations; ALJ Lillios Detailed To Help

     From Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG):
Our new pilot ... will focus on allegations involving third-party facilitators [of disability fraud], particularly those that may indicate widespread fraud schemes or conspiracies.  The pilot will focus on allegations involving:
  • SSA senior executives, administrative law judges, administrative appeals judges, and other employees;
  • attorneys and non-attorney claimant representatives; and
  • medical evidence providers, consultative examiners, vocational and medical experts, and other disability contractors.
The Inspector General has asked SSA [Social Security Administration] Associate Chief Administrative Law Judge Paul Lillios to manage this new pilot program.  Judge Lillios has been detailed from SSA to the OIG as a Senior Advisor, reporting to our Assistant Inspector General for Investigations, Rich Rohde.

Why Social Security Is Essential

     Alicia Munnell of the Center for Retirement Research explains in simple terms why Social Security is absolutely essential and why replacing it with a defined contribution plan would be a horrible idea: People are so financially illiterate that they cannot be counted upon to make rational retirement decisions and more financial education won't solve the problem.
     And, by the way, to prove her point do you, gentle reader, even know what a defined contribution plan is?

Oct 22, 2013

Representative Ryan Asking About Raising Retirement Age

     No big surprise here, but Representative Paul Ryan, the Chairman of the House Budget Committee, seems to be interested in the effects of raising Social Security's normal retirement age. He recently asked Social Security's Chief Actuary to give him information about the effects of the last increase in the normal retirement age.

SSA Has No Idea Whether The Billions It's Spent On IT Have Done Any Good

     From a report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG) (footnotes omitted):
Our objective was to determine whether the Social Security Administration (SSA) had achieved the planned cost savingsfor its information technology (IT) initiatives....
In Fiscal Year (FY) 2012, SSA spent approximately$1.5 billion on IT investments. SSA has stated its IT investments have been critical to increasing its average annual employee productivity. For example, the Agency indicated that IT investments in online services and the disability process have allowed it to keep pace with recent workload increases. ...
In an April 2009 report, we noted that SSA’s 7-year projected savings for new and continued IT projects in FYs 2007 through 2009 were $10 to $20 billion. ...
In a 2007 review, we determined that although SSA had established a PIR [Post-Implementation Review] policy, it had not established a process to determine whether its IT projects actually achieved their planned cost savings....
We could not determine whether SSA had realized the planned cost savings for its IT initiatives because SSA had not calculated actual savings after project implementation. Additionally, SSA did not have a process to assess the overall effectiveness of its IT capital planning and investment control process. As a result, SSA did not know whether the IT investments achieved the planned FTE savings or any productivity improvements.
     For years, I have been asking the question: If the enormous IT investment required to implement electronic files at Social Security was cost effective, why didn't Social Security release a report crowing about its success? Now we have the answer. Social Security couldn't release a report crowing about its success because it had no idea whether its electronic files project was a success. It wasn't even trying to find out. I wonder if they weren't trying to find out because they were afraid to find out what the answer would be.
     I'm going to get some responses saying that electronic files are wonderful and asking why I would want to go back to paper files. I don't want to go back to paper files. Doing so would cost even more money. We may as well use the poorly designed system we have. However, I'm pretty sure that if former Commissioner Barnhart had put all that money that went into the switch to electronic files into more personnel to review paper files that the agency's backlogs would be far lower now. I don't care in the least whether some Social Security employee finds electronic files more to their liking. It doesn't matter a bit what Social Security employees like or don't like. It doesn't matter what I like or don't like. The important thing is delivering service to the public. I'm confident that throwing more people at the backlog problem would have worked. It's obvious that throwing IT money at contractors didn't work. We still have enormous backlogs. Everyone is now accustomed to these backlogs, except for the claimants. Huge contractors get rich while claimants die waiting for an answer.

Oct 21, 2013

WSJ Fantasizes About Cuts To Social Security

     The Wall Street Journal is fantasizing about cuts to Social Security. It will happen -- just as soon as the Wall Street Journal supports higher taxes on those with high incomes. Anyone want to predict when that will happen?

Attack On Social Security From Children's Advocate

     From WNYC:
The president of the Harlem Children Zone said he's on the college campus circuit to gin up student activism around entitlement spending. As it is, Geoffrey Canada said, seniors are erasing any chance for the next generation to have the safety net they will need and deserve.
"There are a lot of folk who have a lot of money who simply don't need social security. And we can't even begin to have a conversation around means testing for that group," he said. "It's unfair to the next generation." 

Oct 20, 2013

Partial Shutdown At Social Security Threatned Life Of SC Man

     From The State of Columbia, SC:
Saturday almost ushered in David White’s last dose of Tasigna, a pill he was receiving free of charge to treat his chronic myeloid leukemia.
The 31-year-old Beaufort resident was participating in a clinical trial with drug maker Novartis, and he qualified for more of the $2,300-per-month drug — if he could prove his date of eligibility for Medicare. That day falls in August 2014, two years after White’s illness forced him to file for disability.
As proof, Novartis required an official document from the Social Security Administration, at a time when the agency was severely slowed by a 16-day, partial government shutdown.
It was only once the shutdown ended, following Congress’ vote to fund the government through Jan. 15, that White got what he needed to secure his lifesaving treatments.

Read more here: http://www.thestate.com/2013/10/18/3046085/shutdown-threatened-lifesaving.html#storylink=cpy

Former ALJ, Under Investigation, Attempts Suicide

     From the Huntington, WV Herald-Dispatch:
Police are investigating what they called a possible suicide attempt by a former judge under investigation by a U.S. Senate Committee for possible fraud in awarding government disability benefits.
David B. Daugherty was found sitting unconcious in his car in a Barboursville church parking lot about 3:20 p.m. Monday, Barboursville Police Chief Mike Coffey said on Friday.
Coffey said a church worker found Daugherty and called police. When officers arrived at the lot, investigators found a garden hose duct-taped to the exhaust pipe of the car and leading into the passenger compartment through a rear side window. The garden hose was pinched on one end and melted on the other end by the exhaust pipe. Coffey said police also found an empty liquor bottle and empty pill container near the car.
Before an emergency squad arrived, Coffey said police were unsure if Daugherty was alive and used the church's difibrillator to check for a heartbeat, which he had. He was then taken to St. Mary's Medical Center and was breathing on his own shortly thereafter, Coffey said. As of 5 p.m. Friday, he was no longer a patient at St. Mary's. ...

Oct 19, 2013

NADE Newsletter

     The National Association of Disability Examiners (NADE) has issued its Fall 2013 newsletter, which includes summaries of presentations made at NADE's National Training Conference by two Social Security officials.

Oct 18, 2013

COLA Announcement Probably Coming On October 30

     Looks like Social Security will be announcing its Cost Of Living Adjustment (COLA) on October 30. It is likely to be 1.5%.

Breaking Bad In Rhode Island

     The Associated Press reports that Randolph Hurst of Wesh Warwick, RI has pleaded guilty to various state charges related to identity theft. Hurst was an Assistant District Manager for Social Security. He used his position to obtain personal information which he then used to gain control of a man's stock investments and steal $160,000. Hurst is facing up to 45 years in prison.

Maybe The Right Wing Should Just Lie Low For A Bit

     From Michael Hiltzik writing for the Los Angeles Times:
The anti-deficit lobbying organization "Fix the Debt" staged a question-and-answer chat on Twitter Thursday. Its goal presumably was to reach America's smartphone-savvy youth with its message that Social Security and Medicare payments to their grandparents are going to land them in the poorhouse a few decades from now. 
It's fair to say that "Fix the Debt" got more than it bargained for. Twitterers from all over responded to the invitation with pointed, tactless and downright impolite questions. Many of them aimed to discern how paring social insurance benefits for the elderly and infirm will make society stronger, which is the core of the organization's worldview. Those so inclined can still post their thoughts at #fixthedebtqa.
Among the choicer comments: "Can you explain why anyone chooses to be born poor? Why should the rest of us be responsible for their flawed decision-making?" (That's from Twitter user @jefftiedrich.)
A couple of good roundups of the dialogue thus far can be found at the Washington Post's knowmore site and at Liberaland.
     The tweets at knowmore site and  Liberaland really are funny.

Oct 16, 2013

More Money For Social Security's Administrative Budget? No ACA Role For SSA Is Certain

     Below is language from the bill set to be passed tonight (yes, it's certain to pass) to resolve the government shutdown-debt ceiling crisis:
Of the amounts made available by section 101 for ‘‘Social Security Administration, Limitation on  Expenses’’ for the cost associated with continuing disability reviews under titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act and for the cost associated with conducting redeterminations of eligibility under title XVI of the Social Security Act, $273,000,000 is provided to meet the terms of section 251(b)(2)(B)(ii)(III) of the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985, as amended, and $469,639,000 is additional new budget authority specified for purposes of section 251(b)(2)(B) of such Act.
     So what does this mean? I won't pretend to know but I like the sound of "additional new budget authority." However, interpreting this is difficult. Generally, an "authorization" doesn't actually give an agency money. It just allows a later "appropriation" which actually gives the agency the money. Social Security, however, is a special case. Social Security technically never receives an appropriation since the money comes out of the trust funds. Social Security has a "limitation on administrative expenditures" -- the LAE. I don't know what the language means but I just can't see a point in giving Social Security a meaningless "authorization" in this bill.
     By the way, I had speculated earlier that the media reports that this bill would include a new income verification requirement for insurance premium subsidies under the Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare, if you insist) might mean a role for Social Security in administering the ACA. A stringent income verification requirement might require Social Security's resources but Social Security won't have a role since the income verification requirement in the bill to be passed tonight is essentially meaningless. The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) plans to use commercial databases for income verification. That doesn't sound too workable to me. We've seen the problems with Social Security's Death Master File, for instance, which is about as accurate as a big database can be, but which still contains enough errors to cause serious problems for those wrongly declared dead. However, for better or worse, the income verification process under the ACA is DHHS' baby. Social Security isn't involved, at least not so far.

     Update: The bill has now passed the House and will shortly be signed by the President.

Who Is Most To Blame For The Government Shutdown?

OGC Employees Recalled To Work

     I'm hearing that most of Social Security's Office of General Counsel (OGC) has been recalled to work. There's every reason to expect that the government shutdown will be completely over by midnight.

One Social Security Employee's Shutdown Story

     CNN reports an a Social Security employee affected by the government shutdown. Dramatic? No, but multiply it by tens of thousands and it's a big deal.

Shutdown Will Soon Be Over

     In case you haven't heard the news, the Republicans lost the government shutdown, big time. I don't want to say the Democrats won but the Democrats won. All federal employees should plan on being back at work Thursday. Republicans should put the idea of using a government shutdown or debt ceiling crisis out of their minds FOREVER.
     Update: For those who don't understand why I'm saying the shutdown will be over after today, read Jonathan Chait. This is a done deal. Everyone but two Senators and 30 or so House Republicans want this over pronto. The few who want this crisis to continue can't prevail or even delay the inevitable much longer.

ICU Stays Associated With Cognitive Impairment

    From the New England Journal of Medicine:
Patients in medical and surgical ICUs are at high risk for long-term cognitive impairment. A longer duration of delirium in the hospital was associated with worse global cognition and executive function scores at 3 and 12 months.

Oct 15, 2013

An ALJ With A Plan

     Social Security Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Paul Armstrong has a plan to save Social Security's disability programs that the Washington Examiner has seen fit to publish. Here are the highlights:
  • Time limited benefits for some people found disabled.
  • Have someone representing the government at Social Security hearings on disability claims.
  • More continuing disability reviews.
  • " Raise the retirement age used in determining disability payments in tandem with the rest of America."
  • Move SSI to the states.
     By the way, ALJ Armstrong has a history of approving Social Security disability claims at a low rate.

SSA To Have Role In "Obamacare" Income Verification??

     News reports say that one element of an agreement to resolve the government shutdown will be a more extensive income verification process for the insurance subsidies that are a key part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). To this point, the plan has been to rely upon "available electronic data sources" to verify income. The plan has been that Social Security would not have a role in this process. There are no details at this point on the more extensive income verification process planned for the ACA. I would guess that those states that have established their own health insurance exchanges under the ACA will be asked to do this but they may balk. More importantly, most states have not established their own health care exchanges.
     If we're not going to rely just upon "available electronic data sources" to verify income and if the federal government is going to do it in most states, how will the federal government do it? It seems to me that you would need an agency that has extensive experience in income verification and which has an extensive network of field offices. It's just rank speculation on my part but that description seems to fit the Social Security Administration and no one else.

In Fairness To Eric Conn

     This wouldn't excuse Eric Conn, if the allegations against him are true, but does this sound familiar?
  • Non-physician disability examiner whose salary is paid by Social Security completes a residual functional capacity (RFC) form. The disability examiner knows that if the claim is denied, whether rightly or wrongly that it is unlikely to be reviewed any further but that if it's allowed, it's going to be reviewed at two different levels. If the reviewers disagree with the allowance, the case is returned to the examiner. Too many returns and the examiner's job is at risk.
  • Disability examiner gives the RFC form to a physician whose salary is paid by Social Security.
  • The physician receives so many completed RFC forms from disability examiners that he or she has no realistic way of actually reviewing all the medical evidence in each of the cases.
  • The physician signs the RFC form after a cursory review of the medical evidence or no review.
  • Under Social Security Ruling 96-6p, Social Security's Administrative Law Judges (ALJ) are required to consider the RFC forms generated in this manner because they come from "highly qualified physicians and psychologists who are experts in the evaluation of the medical issues in disability claims."
     What is described above is pretty much the norm. I don't think there's any excuse for what Conn is alleged to have done, but how different is it from what Social Security does regularly? And Social Security demands that the "medical opinions" produced in this way be carefully considered. Does Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG) want to investigate? Does anyone in Congress want to hold a hearing?

Oct 14, 2013

Scare Tactics Work -- To Some Extent

     From a press release:
Only 31 percent of American adults believe that Social Security will still be around when they retire, according to a new survey from FindLaw.com. ...
Not surprisingly, faith in Social Security rises as people get older. Only 11 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 24 expect Social Security to still be around when they retire, But even among middle-aged people, less than one-third expect to receive Social Security checks.
18-24 yrs.
25-34 yrs.
35-44 yrs.
45-54 yrs.
55+ yrs.
     This shows that right wing efforts to scare people about the future of Social Security work, to some extent, but Social Security isn't going away. It won't even be changed in any significant way.

New Condition For Raising Debt Limit: Raise Social Security Retirement Age?

     I have a hard time believing this but BuzzFeed reports that Senator Rand Paul is saying that the retirement age for Social Security should be raised and that Republicans will make this a condition for raising the debt ceiling. Paul is thought to be a candidate for President in 2016. This sounds more like a report from The Onion.

Conn's Troubles Not Playing Well In Kentucky

     The Lexington Herald-Leader is calling for the Kentucky Bar Association to take action against embattled attorney Eric Conn, arguing that the recent accusation that he colluded with a Social Security Administrative Law Judge is not the first time that Conn has been in trouble. He had already agreed to stop practicing before the Court of Veterans Appeals because of professional misconduct charge. Also, Conn was recently convicted of illegal campaign finance contributions.
     What I don't understand is why Social Security hasn't already suspended Conn from representing Social Security claimants -- if there is the substantial evidence against Conn indicated by at the Senate hearing last week. There is a process to take away Conn's ability to represent Social Security claimants. It can be done in a few months. Social Security wouldn't have to prove bribery. Even if it the bribery happened, it probably won't be proven unless one of the parties decides to confess. The charge of manufacturing physician opinions would be enough to stop Conn from representing Social Security claimants -- if it can be proven. Charges don't have to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Has Social Security just been slow to act? Has the evidence of manufacturing physician opinions just come forward? Is the evidence not as strong as it was made to appear at the Senate hearing?

Oct 13, 2013

Sequestration At Issue

     From Jonathan Karl at ABC:
Democrats are still willing to accept a short-term deal to reopen the government at sequester spending levels (the Senate, of course, passed a 6-week extension on those terms), but now that talks are centered on funding the government into 2014, they are insisting on undoing some of sequester cuts. To Republicans, this is a non-starter, unless the sequester spending cuts are replaced with cuts to entitlement programs — and that is a non-starter for Democrats.   
     Note that a likely result at this time is a short term continuing resolution that would fund the government for a few weeks leading to a threat of a later shutdown over sequestration.  A Huffington Post article quotes a Democratic aide as saying that Democrats are trying to "break the will" of Congressional Republicans so that the Republicans would have no leverage in future negotiations over sequestration.
     Social Security desperately needs to get out from under sequestration.

COLA Likely To Be 1.5%

     The Cost Of Living Adjustment (COLA) for Social Security is likely to be 1.5% this year.

Oct 12, 2013

Status Of The Shutdown And What It Portends For The Future

     Here are a couple of excerpts from pundits, suggesting that we're nearing a solution to the current impasse but that even though Social Security and Medicare are safe, any government benefit that older white voters perceive as going to the undeserving will continue to draw fevered opposition from the GOP:
     Jonathan Bernstein writing for the Washington Post:
Republicans do seem to be getting ready to surrender (although they seem to have only reached the stage at which they’re asking for rewards for surrendering; it may take a while longer for them to fully understand the concept). A true economic disaster may yet be avoided. But everyone should remember just how irresponsible they’ve been on this one.
     Ronald Bernstein writing for the National Journal:
Veteran Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg, who has studied the two parties' coalitions since the 1980s, recently conducted several focus groups with GOP voters that probed this passion. He concluded that the roaring sense of embattlement among the almost all-white tea party and evangelical Christian voters central to the GOP base draws on intertwined ideological, electoral, and racial fears. ... 
Greenberg's analysis echoes the findings of other scholars, such as Harvard sociologist Theda Skocpol, whose studies have concluded that the tea party's most ardent priority is reducing government transfer payments to those it considers undeserving....
House GOP leaders flailing for an exit strategy this week are again suggesting broad negotiations that will constrain entitlement programs such as Medicare. But our latest polling shows older and downscale whites overwhelmingly resist changes in Medicare or Social Security, which they consider benefits they have earned—and pointedly distinguish from transfer programs.
Those findings suggest that the real fight under way isn't primarily about the size of government but rather who benefits from it. The frenzied push from House Republicans to derail Obamacare, shelve immigration reform, and slash food stamps all point toward a steadily escalating confrontation between a Republican coalition revolving around older whites and a Democratic coalition anchored on the burgeoning population of younger nonwhites.

Oct 11, 2013

Republicans Proposing Benefits Cuts

    The Associated Press reports that House Republicans are proposing benefits cuts as a price for reopening the government. The article does not specify Social Security cuts but it's hard to imagine this proposal not including the chained CPI proposal to cut Social Security's Cost Of Living Adjustments (COLA).

NOSSCR Responds To Sixty Minutes

     Rebecca Vallas, the Deputy Director of Government Affairs at the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR), spoke on Counterspin, a project of  Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR), today to speak about the recent Sixty Minutes story. Vallas details how misleading the Sixty Minutes piece was and argues against legislating by anecdote. Vallas' part of the program begins at the 9:45 mark.

Arizona DDS Closes Due To Lack Of Federal Money

     I don't know how this happened so quietly but the Arizona Disability Determination Service (DDS) was closed on Monday due to the federal government shutdown. We had already heard that the Maine DDS had closed for the same reason. I wonder if there are others we haven't heard about.

Oct 10, 2013

Federal Courts To Shutdown After Next Friday Due To Funding Problems

     The Associated Press is reporting that the federal courts will stop all "non-essential work" after October 17 if there is no resolution by then of the government shutdown. Many thousands of Social Security appeals are heard by the federal courts each year. This threatens to put a halt to these reviews.

A Bit Much

     I think someone at Social Security's Office of Inspector General got a little carried away, before the shutdown, in writing a press release on the conviction of a Florida woman on fraud charges.

Oct 9, 2013

COLA Announcement Delayed Due To Government Shutdown

     Because of the government shutdown, Social Security will be forced to delay an announcement of the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for this year.

Maine DDS Closes Due To Federal Shutdown

     The Maine Disability Determination Service (DDS) has closed because of the federal shutdown. Each state has a DDS. The DDS is a state agency which works under contract with the Social Security Administration (SSA) to do disability determinations at the initial and reconsideration levels. Because of the federal shutdown, SSA no longer has any money to pay for DDS operations. While SSA can order some of its employees to work during the shutdown, it cannot order a DDS to remain in operation. Many, perhaps most, states are in financial distress making it difficult for them to keep their DDS operating without reimbursement. It would be hard for a state to not meet its payroll for DDS employees while continuing to pay other state employees and there are other expenses, such as for consultative examinations. My state, North Carolina, has already stopped ordering consultative medical examinations and has suspended the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program. Probably, the only reason that North Carolina DDS hasn't already been shut down is that its payroll isn't due until the end of the month. I'm afraid that Maine may just be the first in a stream of DDS closures.
     By the way, Maine DDS was already way behind and was getting help from the Vermont DDS.

The State Of The Shutdown-Debt Ceiling Crisis

     Jonathan Chait has posted a new and insightful piece on the government shutdown-debt ceiling crisis. You should read the whole piece but here's an excerpt:
One way to understand the dysfunction within the Republican Party is to think of it as a hostage scheme that spun out of control. The plan, originally formulated by Paul Ryan and other party leaders, involved a more aggressive reprise of the 2011 negotiations, where Republicans would use the threat of default, along with sequestration, to force President Obama to accept unfavorable budget terms. The plan was hijacked by Ted Cruz and transformed into a scheme using a less effective hostage threat (shutting down the government rather than defaulting) but tethered to the much more grandiose ransom of repealing Obamacare. As the Cruz scheme disintegrates around the Republicans, the original leaders are attempting to reassert control and revert to the original plan.
The subtext of op-eds today by Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan is a promise to ratchet down their ransom terms. Neither op-ed mentions any demands related to Obamacare. Ryan proposes to trade higher short-term discretionary government spending for permanent cuts to tax rates and retirement programs. “We can work together,” he writes. “We can do some good.”
The policy demands in Ryan’s op-ed are sufficiently vague that, if viewed as an opening bid, they would not completely preclude some kind of deal if he actually wants to bargain. The trouble is that Ryan’s entire history strongly suggests he does not want to deal. Every major attempt to create bipartisan budget negotiations has been quashed by Ryan....
The single most implausible element of the House leadership’s "let’s negotiate" gambit is the premise that a bipartisan budget deal would satisfy the Republican base. Any bipartisan deal, even one heavily slanted to the Republican side, would enrage conservatives. Even the tiniest concession — easing sequestration, closing a couple of token tax loopholes — would be received on the right as a betrayal. Loss aversion is a strong human emotion, and especially strong among movement conservatives. Concessions given away will dwarf any winnings in their mind. Boehner, Ryan, and Cantor have spent months regaling conservatives with promises of rich ransoms to come. Coming back with an actual negotiated settlement would enrage the right.

Karl Rove Chimes In

     There is little continued media attention to the allegations of serious wrongdoing at a Social Security hearing office in Kentucky. However, Karl Rove was on the Bill O'Reilly show to allege that this case demonstrated that there is no protection against fraudulent Social Security disability claims.

More On Eric Conn

     The Lexington, KY Herald-Leader reports that Kentucky Bar Association is investigating attorney Eric Conn, who was one of the subjects of a Senate hearing into allegations of wrongdoing at a Social Security hearing office. The local U.S. attorney is not commenting upon whether criminal charges will be brought against Conn. The Herald-Leader also reports that a Kentucky Supreme Court justice drove to Conn's office on several occasions to ask for help with his campaign for election in 2012 and then received it in the form of illegal campaign contributions.

Oct 8, 2013

Senate Hearing Getting Little Media Attention

     Yesterday's Senate hearing on the allegations of fraud at a hearing office in Kentucky has had surprisingly little resonance in the media. Of course, there have been some stories. Here are the links I've found:
  The government shutdown-debt ceiling mess has crowded out a lot of news. Perhaps, the fact that the hearing ran ridiculously late contributed to the lack of coverage. Perhaps the fact that Tom Coburn, a highly partisan and idiosyncratic Senator, has been championing this led some to be skeptical. It certainly led me to be skeptical and, to a large extent, I remain skeptical until I can hear the other side, both from the parties alleged to have been illegally colluding and from the Social Security Administration which is alleged to have drug its feet in dealing with the allegations. Maybe the story hasn't drawn much attention simply because no one, not even Fox News, can tie it to the President.

Most ODAR Workers To Return To Work

     I have heard from multiple sources that most employees of the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) will be returning to work tomorrow. To this point during the shutdown almost all ODAR employees other than the Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) have been furloughed. This meant that hearings were going forward but few decisions could be issued. Also, there was no way to prepare cases for future scheduling. The Appeals Council, which has been completely shut down, is also reopening for business tomorrow.
     There are still problems with federal court work on Social Security cases. While the federal courts are open, Social Security's attorneys and other employees who work on these cases are furloughed. This will cause delays but, at least, it affects a much smaller number of people.

Oct 7, 2013

What Is Alleged

     Here is a brief summary of the allegations made at the Senate Homeland Security and Government Operations Committee hearing today with some comments from me in brackets on how these allegations fit into the Social Security Act, regulations and practices:
  • Eric Conn represented claimants over an area covering the territories of several hearing offices. Conn's clients routinely waived a hearing with the hearing office where they lived and asked for a hearing near Conn's office. [Nothing improper here or ever unusual in an occasional case but accommodating Conn to this extent was unusual.]
  • Conn's cases were routinely assigned to different Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) in the hearing office but one ALJ, Judge Daugherty, went into the computer system and reassigned all of Conn's cases to himself. [If true, this was highly improper. It shouldn't have happened. Hearing office management should have stopped this immediately. If true, this should have brought about Daugherty's removal from his position as an ALJ. Anyone in a supervisory position at Social Security who was aware of this but failed to act should also be in serious trouble.]
  • Daugherty had regular telephone conversations with Conn during which he would tell Conn what sort of medical evidence he needed to see before approving each of the claimants Conn represented. [An occasional telephone conversation of this sort about a specific claimant isn't unusual. An ALJ might say something such as "I think that Mr. Jones has a strong case that I could approve without a hearing but I'd like to see some updated medical evidence. Can you get me updated records from Dr. Smith?" There's nothing wrong with that. However, I have never previously heard of something like what is alleged here. If true, it is clearly unprofessional behavior that should have brought about Daugherty's removal from office and Conn's suspension from Social Security practice. Anyone in a supervisory position who was aware of this but failed to act should be in serious trouble.]
  • Conn would schedule medical examinations with physicians he selected in order to meet Daugherty's requests. Conn would use physicians with seriously checkered pasts. Conn would give the physician a form to sign that Conn had already filled out. Conn used the previously completed forms in rotation. [If true, this is criminal, both on Conn's part and on the part of the physicians. Anyone in a supervisory position at Social Security who was aware of this but who failed to act should be in serious trouble.]
  • Daugherty would approve all of Conn's cases. 
  • Almost $100,000 was deposited in Daugherty's bank accounts that he could not explain. No allegation was made that the money came from Conn but this was suggested. [Obviously, if the money came from Conn, this is criminal behavior on the part of Conn and Daugherty.]
     Update: There are allegations that Social Security employees who made the allegations suffered reprisals from Social Security management and that Conn arranged for surveillance of one or more of them.
     AP article on hearing.

Senate Hearing At 3:00

     The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs hearing on Social Security disability benefits is to start at 3:00 EDT. It will be televised on C-SPAN 3. That will be both a cable and a streaming video feed.

    Update: It's not on C-SPAN -- they changed their minds about broadcasting it --  but it can be watched on the Committee website.

Vigorous Response To Sixty Minutes

     Media Matters has a blog post up concerning the criticism that the Sixty Minutes piece on the Social Security disability programs has received from national disability organizations.
     Michael Hiltzik at the Los Angeles Times calls the Sixty Minutes story "shameful." He notes that the Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) who told Sixty Minutes how easy it is to get Social Security disability benefits were singing a different tune in 2009. At that time, they said that the standards were too tight!
    The Center for Economic and Policy Research has posted a criticism of the Sixty Minutes story on its blog.

Journalistic Ethics?

     Sixty Minutes had Jennifer Griffith and Sarah Carver speaking on camera about the alleged criminal behavior of Eric Conn without mentioning that Griffith and Carver are suing Conn in federal court seeking massive qui tam damages. Shouldn't that detail have been mentioned? Shouldn't Sixty Minutes have also mentioned that the federal government usually takes over meritorious qui tam actions but decided not to take over this qui tam action, which basically means that the federal government thinks that the charges made by Griffith and Carver can't be proven?

Why Is Eric Conn Operating Out Of Double Wides If He's Rolling In Dough?

     By the way, if Eric Conn has made such vast sums off representing Social Security disability claimants, why is he operating out of double wides? I know that Lincoln statue cost a fair amount of money and I know we're talking about an area where many, many people live in double wides but, still, why wouldn't he be operating out of decent office space if he's rolling in dough?

What The Debt Ceiling Showdown Is About

     From Jonathan Chait writing for New York Magazine:
[The Obama Administration sees] the debt-ceiling fight as being mainly about the long-term question of whether Congress will cement into place the practice of using the debt ceiling to extort concessions from the president. The price of buying off a debt-ceiling hike would surely be less than the risk of a default. But doing so would enshrine debt-ceiling extortion as a normal congressional practice. This both skews the Constitutional relationship between branches — allowing an unscrupulous Congress to demand unilateral concessions at gunpoint rather than having to compromise — and creates endless brinksmanship that would eventually lead to a default.

Didn't Know My Own Strength

     There's more at the CBS website on how brave they and Senator Coburn are to buck the powerful "disability industry."

SSA Tells Staff That Benefit Payments Not Assured In Case Debt Ceiling Reached

     An Emergency Message sent out by the Social Security Administration to its staff:
If a member of the public asks whether their Social Security payment will be affected if the federal debt ceiling is not raised, you may give the following response:
      “Unlike a federal shutdown which has no impact on the payment of Social Security benefits, failure to raise the debt ceiling puts Social Security benefits at risk.”

Direct all program–related and technical questions to your supervisor.

Washington Times On Alleged Fraud

     The Washington Times has a story on today's scheduled Senate hearing on alleged fraud in the Social Security disability programs. Eric Conn and former Administrative Law Judge David Daugherty are scheduled to testify. There is supposed to be a report released today alleging fraud by these two. Why haven't they been indicted?

Oct 6, 2013

Getting Thrown Under The Bus

    The Sixty Minutes piece on the Social Security disability programs has run. It didn't seem fair or balanced to me that what I do for a living was represented solely by Binder & Binder and Eric Conn. I don't think that anyone familiar with this field of legal practice thinks that Binder & Binder (which isn't a law firm anyway) or Eric Conn is representative of Social Security attorneys. 
     I've never had a physician examining claimants in my office. I don't know anyone who does. That arrangement presents obvious credibility problems that seem to me to make doing it worse than useless. Why was this presented as if it were a common practice?
     I was displeased to see two Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) trying to throw Social Security disability claimants and their attorneys under the bus -- and the ALJs didn't even get to promote their government representative plan. I hope that they realize that throwing other people under the bus didn't make ALJs look good in anyone's mind.
     The biggest problem with the show is that it relied heavily upon Senator Coburn's report saying that he found that many Social Security disability recipients weren't disabled. Coburn's report never revealed who made those determinations that Social Security got it wrong. I think it can be taken for granted that the people making this determination for Coburn had an ax to grind but beyond that is the question of whether they were even familiar with the definition of disability in the Social Security Act and regulations. Clearly, Coburn has only limited familiarity himself. He wanted to emphasize that a claimant should be denied as long as they could do any job. No, it's any job existing in significant numbers in the national economy considering age, education and work experience. This is far from a trivial distinction since consideration of "age, education and work experience" play heavily in most disability determinations. Social Security isn't supposed to deny the claim of a retired coal miner because he can still be a nuclear physicist.
     There will be a Senate hearing tomorrow. I hope some Democratic Senators bother to show up and challenge Senator Coburn. I also hope the witness list is balanced, unlike this Sixty Minutes piece.

60 Minutes Piece On Social Security Disability Tonight

     Sixty Minutes will do a piece tonight on Social Security disability, apparently focusing on allegations of wrongdoing in Puerto Rico and West Virginia, linking those situations to the possible exhaustion of the Disability Insurance Trust Fund in 2016. Expect a fair and balanced report.
     @ccd4pwd will do a live tweet fact check on the 60 Minutes story.

Shutdown Roundup

     Today's shutdown roundup:
  • The House of Representatives unanimously passed legislation that would assure furloughed federal workers that they will be paid once the shutdown ends.
  • The government shutdown didn't just "happen." It was planned. Edwin Meese, believe it or not, led the planning. The Koch brothers are providing lavish funding for the effort which includes threats to Repulicans who oppose the crusade.
  • Polling shows that if an election were held today Republicans might lose control of the House of Representatives. However, an election isn't being held today and voters have short memories.
  • The Department of Defense is recalling most of its furloughed workers. No sign of any recall at Social Security.
  • Dan Balz at the Washington Post writes about the cultural divide behind the shutdown and how that divide threatens to cause additional trouble in the future.
  • Jonathan Chait writes on the dangerous flaw in the U.S. Constitution that has led to the shutdown. My takeaway: This shutdown must be completely crushed at all costs. No ransom can be paid. There must be a cost to be paid by those politicians who voted to create this crisis.  Otherwise, there is a serious threat that the U.S. Constitution will ultimately fail.

Oct 5, 2013

Boehner Plan: Keep Party Unified A While Longer Before Its Position Collapses

     From the New York Times:
The overarching problem for the man at the center of the budget fight [Boehner], say allies and opponents, is that he and his leadership team have no real idea how to resolve the fiscal showdown.
They are only trying to survive another day, Republican strategists say, hoping to maintain unity as long as possible so that when the Republican position collapses, they can capitulate on two issues at once — financing the government and raising the debt ceiling — and head off any internal party backlash. Republican lawmakers say Mr. Boehner has assured them privately that he will not permit a default.
     Marc Thiessen at the Washington Post characterizes the current situation as a "shutdown about nothing." Paging Jerry Seinfeld.

Oct 4, 2013

Shutdown News Roundup

     A roundup of shutdown related news:
  • From The Hill: "Everybody's tried to envision [an endgame], but nobody has it yet," said Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), an ally of [House Speaker] Boehner. "Honestly, I don't know what we're going to do.”
  • North Carolina Disability Determination Services (DDS), which does disability determinations for Social Security, is cancelling consultative examinations because of the shutdowns. Also, a few North Carolina DDS employees are being furloughed, even though Social Security is encouraging DDS's to stay open. If the states aren't getting money from Social Security, how long can they keep the DDS's open? Can they not pay a state employee when other state employees are being paid?
  • At ground level, it's obvious that Social Security employees still on the job have received confusing instructions on what they can and cannot do during the shutdown. I'm not going to go into detail but it's a problem. You can see evidence of this in the responses to my blog post on the implementation of ALJ decisions. And, on that subject, despite what ALJs have been told, no one who implements decisions has been furloughed. Employees at ODAR offices who perform tasks associated with issuing decisions have been furloughed but not the people who actually implement those decisions.
  • KPCC has a piece on one of Social Security's furloughed attorneys. She's upset for herself. She's upset for the claimants whose lives are being affected. The letter pictured above is one that Social Security has told her to give to creditors.
  • The President warned yesterday that if we crash into the debt ceiling that Social Security payments will not go out on time. However, House Speaker Boehner says he's willing to buck his party to increase the debt ceiling.
  • Republicans aren't sure whether they want to give back pay to federal workers who have been furloughed. {Keep digging, guys. The hole you're in can get still get deeper.)
  • Liberals are worried about a grand bargain to settle this mess might include chained CPI.

60 Minutes Piece On Social Security Disability Coming On Sunday

     From the newsletter of the Association of Administrative Law Judges (AALJ):
This Sunday evening, October 6, the television news show “60 minutes” will air a story regarding the SSA disability adjudication system. AALJ Vice-President, Marilyn Zahm and I were interviewed for over 2 ½ hours by Steve Kroft of “60 minutes”. The interview covered many of the problems judges have experienced with the disability adjudication system at SSA. Some of the subjects discussed include the need for government representation, procedural rules, closing the record and quotas. Senator Tom Coburn was also interviewed for the program. 
We believe the segment will run for approximately 15 minutes but could be longer. Hopefully, this type of exposure will benefit our continuous efforts to improve our system of justice
     Note that the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Operations will hold a hearing Monday on Social Security Disability Benefits: Did a Group of Judges, Doctors, and Lawyers Abuse Programs for the Country's Most Vulnerable?

Oct 3, 2013

ALJ Decisions Will Be Implemented During Shutdown

     I am seeing comments saying that no Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) decisions are going to be implemented during the government shutdown. That may be what people are hearing but I don't see how it would be true. Everyone at Social Security's payment centers is working during the shutdown. I don't know what these folks would be doing other than implementing decisions.
     This matters. If ALJs think that there's no reason to get out decisions because no one will implement them, they're not going to make the effort to issue those decisions. But those decisions are going to be implemented so there's every reason to get them out the door.

Senate Committee Schedules Hearing

     A hearing has been scheduled for October 7 at 3:00 before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on Social Security Disability Benefits: Did a Group of Judges, Doctors, and Lawyers Abuse Programs for the Country's Most Vulnerable?

ALJs Still Issuing Decisions For Pipeline Cases -- Also, ALJs May Be Able To Issue Bench Decisions Without Staff

     I'm hearing that Social Security Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) may be issuing a fair number of decisions this week but almost all of these are decisions that had been drafted before the government shutdown but not yet been finalized. Of course, that pipeline will soon run dry.
     I'm also hearing that even without staff, ALJs may be able to get out bench decisions. This could be a big help for claimants whose favorable decisions might be delayed because of the government shutdown.

That October 17 Deadline You're Hearing Isn't Exactly Accurate

     In the media coverage of the government shutdown-debt ceiling crisis one thing keeps bothering me. Reporters keep saying that the government may remain shutdown until we reach the debt ceiling on October 17 and Armageddon will follow. Armageddon will follow if we ever get to the debt ceiling but that's not going to happen while the government is shutdown or at least not on October 17. Because the government is shutdown, far less money is going out of the Treasury. This keeps pushing the debt ceiling deadline into the future. The Treasury Secretary's message to Congress that included the October 17 date is accurate "unless [a government shutdown] continues for an extended period of time."

Chained CPI Becomes Part Of Shutdown Discussions

     Some Republicans think they can get chained CPI which would cut the Cost Of Living Adjustment (COLA) for Social Security recipients as part of a grand bargain to settle the government shutdown and the debt ceiling. I'll believe there is some real chance of this happening when I hear Republicans talking about tax increases.

ESPN Hometown Takes A Hit

     Social Security's field office in Bristol, CT is to be closed in January. Local politicians will try to get the decision reversed. ESPN is headquartered in Bristol.

Oct 2, 2013

Twitter Feed For Social Security News

     I may regret this but you can now follow Social Security News on Twitter @SocSecBlog.

Your Government Shutdown News

     You can follow the government shutdown news minute by minute by going to the National Review's tweettracker but I can tell you that there's nothing of consequence going on. 
  • Republicans in the House of Representatives are going ahead with small appropriations bills covering a few agencies. The Senate will reject these. 
  • The polls look bad for the Republicans but those most committed to the confrontation over the Affordable Care Act believe that this will turn around. 
  • Democrats may insist that any solution to the government shutdown include a solution to the debt ceiling problem as well. 
  • There is much discussion about divisions within the Republican majority in the House of Representatives and divisions between House and Senate Republicans but no discussion about divisions among the Democrats.
  • Republican pundits seize upon minor details such as the closure of the World War II Memorial in Washington.
  • There is no sign of any significant discussions between Republicans and Democrats to resolve this crisis. Basically, each is waiting for the other to crack. Just about everyone, including most Republicans, believes the GOP will crack first.

Shutdown Questions

     Some questions about the shutdown, for anyone who can answer them:
  • What was it like in the office when employees came in Tuesday to be officially told they were furloughed?
  • Am I correct that the next scheduled payday for most federal employees is October 11? Whatever the date is, it's important. No federal civilian employee gets a paycheck until the shutdown ends, even if they've been working through the shutdown.
  • What's it like for Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) and others working in mostly deserted offices?
  • If you've been furloughed, how are you spending your time so far?
  • Is there some word on the street about when or if the employees furloughed at the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) will be called back to work despite the shutdown? Is there any risk that instead of calling the other ODAR employees back that the ALJs will be sent home instead? I think we can all agree that it's impractical to have the ALJs working without support staff for more than a short time.
  • Has there been a problem with claimants not showing up for hearings and appointments, thinking that Social Security is completely shut down?
  • The Appeals Council receives lots and lots of faxes. The fax machines I'm familiar with print out received faxes. If the fax machine runs of paper, the fax machine stores the fax in its memory but that memory is finite. Faxes can be lost if the machine runs out of paper and memory. The faxes coming into the Appeals Council won't stop. Will there be someone there to stock the fax machines with paper? Is there sufficient memory to cover days, maybe weeks, of faxes?
  • The Office of General Counsel (OGC) has to process lots of attorney fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA). I'm afraid I know the answer, but will OGC be able to process these during the shutdown? More generally, how will OGC discharge its core responsibilities with something like 90% of its staff furloughed? There must be scheduled hearings, trials, settlement conferences, oral arguments, etc. Is OGC just getting all of these continued?
  • For employees still at work, are there bottlenecks caused by the large number of furloughed employees?

Oct 1, 2013

New Republican Plan

     Roll Call is reporting that House Republican leaders are now planning to pass several separate bills to reopen a few government agencies. They have not yet decided which agencies but one would think that the Social Security Administration would get strong consideration.
    Update: Democrats seem uninterested in this Republican plan.
     Further Update: And now Eric Cantor, the Republican Majority Leader in the House, says that his party isn't planning to try to pass any new proposals.