Nov 30, 2013

Another Old Overpayment Story

     Another day, another story about Social Security trying to collect on an ancient overpayment. The claimant involved says he was told years ago that it had been taken care of but the computer says he owes $14,000 so Social Security is planning to just seize his benefits for the next year and a half to make it up. It's up to a very sick claimant to sort it out.
     Yes, I know he can ask for waiver -- possibly for the second time since the first waiver may have been lost -- but the claimant involved doesn't know which way to turn. Shouldn't there be a statute of limitations on overpayment collections? How long is too long for the agency to wait to try to collect? And why do we have this run of stories about very old overpayments? Is Social Security using some new computer program to dredge up these old overpayments out of its records in order to please Congressional Republicans? Does this really please Congressional Republicans?

Nov 29, 2013

Was It What You Expected?

     FedSmith visits a Social Security field office.

Nov 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

Nov 27, 2013

Social Security Offices To Be Closed To Public On Friday

     Social Security has just announced via its Twitter feed that its offices will be closed to the public on Friday. I'm not aware of any prior announcement. In recent years, Social Security has completely closed its offices on the Friday after Thanksgiving. That wasn't done this year, probably because of the government shutdown in October.

Social Security Gets A/A For Plain Writing

     The Center for Plain Writing is giving the Social Security Administration a grade of A/A for plain writing, higher than any other agency. The first A is for following the requirements of the Plain Writing Act and the second A is for following its spirit.

Nov 26, 2013

Nov 25, 2013

Gotta Collect Those Overpayments

     From The Missoulian:
A Corvallis man was floored last week when he received a letter from the Social Security Administration saying he has to pay nearly $2,000 by Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, due to a clerical error nearly 40 years ago.
Rudolph Weiglein said he was notified by the SSA that the agency had overpaid him on a claim, and he needs to pay back $1,995 to the government.
“At first, I thought for sure somebody stole my ID or my Social Security number or something,” he explained. “Because I didn’t have any claims with Social Security. So I called them and it turns out it was from when my father died in 1965 and my mother received survivor benefits.”
Weiglein said he was 11 years old when his father passed away, and he didn’t have any recollection of getting survivor benefits.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I talked to a guy at the SSA and I said, ‘Is this a joke?’ And he said, ‘No, it stays with you.’ He didn’t break it down or nothing. I can’t believe they are trying to collect an overpayment from almost 40 years ago. I don’t have any records from back then.” ...
     If you think it is a good idea that there is no statute of limitations on Social Security overpayments, how do you expect Mr. Weiglein to defend himself, to argue that he wasn't overpaid 40 years ago? It's more than possible that there wasn't really an overpayment back then. If there was an overpayment, Social Security probably can't explain how it happened. Is it fair to seize a person's benefits today to collect a 40 year old overpayment when neither the Social Security Administration nor the claimant involved has any idea how the overpayment got recorded in Social Security's records so long ago?

Interim Assistance Reimbursement NPRM

     From a Notice of Proposed Rule-Making (NPRM) posted in the Federal Register today:
We reimburse States that provide interim assistance to Supplemental Security Income (SSI) claimants under our interim assistance reimbursement (IAR) program. We provide this reimbursement from the SSI recipient's initial retroactive SSI payment. On November 20, 2010, we began using an electronic Interim Assistance Reimbursement system (eIAR) to streamline the way we process reimbursements to the States. The eIAR process replaced our prior paper-based process with an electronic one, and greatly reduced our and the State's involvement in manually processing IAR cases. This electronic system did not change the amount of payments we make to States and SSI recipients. We propose to revise our rules about how we administer the IAR process to reflect the electronic process. We also made minor language changes and reorganized the sections for clarity.


     From a notice to appear in the Federal Register tomorrow:
Under our current, long-standing policy, we do not purchase genetic testing to evaluate disability. However, we do consider all evidence in the record, including genetic testing and other genetic medical evidence, when we make a determination or decision of whether you are disabled. We are requesting information regarding how we should consider genetic information in the disability decision process and what issues we should consider. ... 
To submit your ideas and comments, please go to http://www.ssa- and go to the Campaign entitled "Genetic Information".
     The link given in the notice isn't working.
     Obviously, if there is genetic testing that shows that a disability claimant has a genetic disorder, that evidence should be considered. Genetic testing may be able to show that a person has a propensity to develop some disorder in the future but that's in the future and isn't too relevant to a disability claim today. Is there something else they're getting at here?

Nov 24, 2013

No Statute Of Limitations On Overpayments

     From the Contra Costa Times:

For Vietnam War veteran Thomas Testerman, a letter he recently received from the Defense Department was a reminder of the mistreatment his generation of soldiers faced.
Landing in his mailbox two days before Veterans Day, the letter informed him that he owes nearly $500 because of checks the Social Security Administration mistakenly sent him in 1972. If Testerman does not pay or dispute the bill, the letter stated, deductions from his monthly military retirement checks will begin just days before Christmas.
     I have posted this sort of story before. Every time I do, I get comments which say, in effect, "Death to all who defraud Social Security!"  I find this bloodthirstyness shocking. Do they really believe the government should be vengeful? I wonder if these people know that many Social Security overpayments are due to mistakes made by the Social Security Administration itself. That was almost certainly the case here as the rest of the article makes clear.
     I know this man can almost certainly get his overpayment waived but he doesn't know where to turn.
     Isn't it time for a reasonable statute of limitations on non-fraudulent Social Security overpayments? Five years? Ten years? Twenty years? Thirty years?

Nov 23, 2013

Getting Hosed By COLA

     Danny Vinik at Business Insider argues that Social Security recipients are getting hosed by the Cost Of Living Adjustment (COLA) even without chained CPI. He thinks Congress should require the use of the CPI-E (with E standing for Elderly) for the COLA instead of the measure being used now, CPI-W. The CPI-E would result in significantly higher benefits for those staying on Social Security benefits for an extended period of time.

Nov 21, 2013

Will President Nominate New Commissioner Now That Filibuster Is Off The Table?

     The Senate has voted to end filibusters on executive branch nominations.
     The Social Security Administration has had an Acting Commissioner since February of this year. So far there has been no nomination to the position.
     The Senate's action has to make it more likely that the President will nominate a new Commissioner and that the Senate will act promptly on that nomination. For that matter, it is also more likely that the President will nominate a new Deputy Commissioner for Social Security.
     The Senate confirmation process had degenerated to the point that all of the President's nominations were being delayed for months and large numbers of them were being filibustered. Often, the filibusters had nothing to do with the qualifications of the nominee. The President was forced to be obsessive about the qualifications of nominees.
     I cannot say whether a nominee can be expected in the near future but I hope so. It is certainly less difficult for the President to make a nomination now and to expect that nominee to be confirmed within a reasonable time.
     I have wondered whether the delay at Social Security had to do with same sex marriage. There is a very big question about whether Social Security will recognize same sex marriages for claimants who live in states that refuse to recognize same sex marriages. Today's action in the Senate would prevent Republicans from filibustering a nomination over this or any other issue. Majority rule will prevail. What a concept!

Privacy At Social Security Offices

     One person writing a letter to the editor of The Post Standard in Syracuse, NY thinks there's no privacy in the Hillside Commons Social Security field office.
     I'm aware of a not dissimilar situation at the Roanoke Rapids, NC remote hearing site. The walls are so thin there that anyone in the waiting room could hear anything said in the hearing room. The solution has been to play a radio in the waiting room.

Nov 20, 2013

Yesterday's Oversight Hearing

     I had a chance today to listen to the recording of yesterday's House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on Social Security disability while I ate lunch and did some other things. I'd like to compliment the chairman of the Subcommittee, James Lankford, and the Subcommittee members for holding a hearing without partisan rancor, a hearing directed at informing the Subcommitte members. I'm tired of listening to Congressional hearings where the members are just trying to score meaningless political points or attacking career federal employees who have done nothing wrong. It's good to see that a Congressional hearing can still be done in an appropriate manner. 
     Marianna LaConfora testified that Social Security hoped to design a new occupational information system in such a way that no changes in the agency's regulations would be required. That's exactly what I expected and exactly the problem. I don't want the agency to massage the data so that it justifies what they're already doing. Follow the data where it goes. Amend the regulations if need be. If you're wondering why an attorney who represents Social Security disability claimants would be insistent on this, it's because I'm pretty sure that the data is going to show that the cognitive demands of employment have increased significantly over the years putting claimants with low cognitive abilities at a huge disadvantage. That's a lot of my clients. Add significant health problems on top of low cognitive abilities and you've got disability in my book. The United States is not Lake Woebegone. Not all the children or adults have even average cognitive abilities. That portion of the population in the lowest 20% of cognitive abilities account for a outsized portion of the disability claims filed. All those new computer jobs that have been created in the last thirty years are useless to those with low cognitive abilities. I don't think we're doing justice to people with lower cognitive abilities now. I don't like hearing a suggestion that Social Security will try to find a way to avoid following the data which should result in more of these claims being approved.
     I did hear references during the hearing to the "truly disabled." Let me repeat a point I've made many times before. There is no gold standard for determining who is disabled, truly disabled or truly, truly disabled. There is no way to say with certainty that an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) who is approving 80% of the claims he or she hears is any more or less accurate in determining disability than an Administrative Law Judge who is approving 40% of the claims. You can call an ALJ who approves 80% of the cases he or she hears an outlier if you want but it's completely inappropriate to say that that ALJ is doing anything wrong and it would be wildly inappropriate to suggest that there is anything criminal or abusive going on when an ALJ is approving 80% of the cases he or she hears. A 99% reversal rate looks fishy but not an 80% reversal rate or even a 90% reversal rate. 
     By the way, I think that almost everyone agrees that ALJs who issue huge numbers of decisions are worrisome, regardless of their reversal rate. That sort of outlier worries everyone involved in the process, not because those ALJs have done anything criminal but because there's only so many hearings you can hold and so many hearing files you can review and do justice to the interests involved. Social Security could have reined in the handful of ALJs issuing well over 1,000 decisions a year but didn't do so until recently. They should have.
     Also, just in case any Subcommittee member or staffer reads this blog, they should be aware that the proposal pending at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to require attorneys representing Social Security claimants to obtain and submit all medical records on their clients is almost certainly unworkable. Scroll down and read my posts on this subject and the comments that others have posted. The proposal sounds great but I'd be very surprised to see it become a final rule.

The Growth In The Number Of People Receiving Disability Benefits Is Almost All Demographics

     The abstract of a study by Social Security's Office of Retirement and Disability Policy:
We find that three factors—(1) population growth, (2) the growth in the proportion of women insured for disability, and (3) the movement of the large baby boom generation into disability-prone ages—explain 90 percent of the growth in new disabled-worker entitlements over the 36-year subperiod (1972–2008). The remaining 10 percent is the part attributable to the disability “incidence rate.” Looking at the two subperiods (1972–1990 and 1990–2008), unadjusted measures appear to show faster growth in the incidence rate in the later period than in the earlier one. This apparent speedup disappears once we account for the changing demographic structure of the insured population. Although the adjusted growth in the incidence rate accounts for 17 percent of the growth in disability entitlements in the earlier subperiod, it accounts for only 6 percent of the growth in the more recent half. Demographic factors explain the remaining 94 percent of growth over the 1990–2008 period.

Nov 19, 2013

Today's Congressional Hearing

     I was unable to watch today's hearing before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Committee because I'm a practicing attorney with clients to represent. Here are some excerpts from the written remarks of Patrick O'Carroll, Jr. Social Security's Inspector General, listing some ongoing reviews:
  • Trends Associated with Cases Decided by High-Denial Outlier ALJs , in which we are analyzing subsequent actions on high-denial ALJ decisions, as well as subsequent actions on denials made by other ALJs in the high-denial ALJ’s hearing office.
  • Quality Review of On-the-Record Decisions: OTR decisions — where no hearing was necessary because the documentary evidence alone supported a fully favorable decision —
  • accounted for about 1 of every 5 allowances in FY2012. We will assess the reasons OTR cases were decided upon receipt at the hearing office but not approved earlier at the DDS level.
  • Relationships Between Medical Providers and Represented Claimants: We will look at trends in medical source in formation provided by claimants and their representatives at the hearing level to identify any question able relationships that may merit additional Agency attention.
     Also, I have seen tweets from a reporter who watched the hearing indicating that there was testimony that the rate of people being approved for Social Security disability is at a 40 year low and that Social Security has a target date of 2016 for a new occupational information system. Of course, target dates aren't always met.

NPRM On Hematological Disorders

     The Social Security Administration has posted a Notice of Proposed Rule-Making (NPRM) in the Federal Register to revise the hematological Listings. This is only a proposal. The public is allowed to comment on the proposal and Social Security must consider those comments before adopting a final rule. 
     I have not had time to study the NPRM but I can quickly tell that it follows what has become the usual mode of dramatically increasing the preambles to the Listings. Usually, these long preambles add restrictions and qualifications to the Listings themselves. I am sure that Social Security will say that this is to make the Listings clearer but it seems to me that these long preambles are intended to make it harder for claimants to meet a Listing. It certainly makes the Listings more complex.

Preparing For Today's Congressional Hearing

     Apparently, Social Security is preparing for today's hearing before the Energy, Health Care and Entitlements Subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform by publicly announcing via an "Emergency Message" goals for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) redeterminations.
     I wonder if the proposal sent over to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to require attorneys to obtain and submit all relevant evidence on claimants they represent before the agency is also related to this hearing. We'll have to see the actual language of that proposal but I have to think that Social Security knows that they can't go forward with this unless they water it down so much as to make it meaningless. There's a reason this sort of thing has never been proposed before. Social Security officials know that the basic concept is unworkable.

Wedge Issue?

     The idea of raising Social Security benefits is increasingly becoming a favorite among more liberal Democrats. Senator Warren just came out in favor of the idea. This is not going to happen while Republicans control the House of Representatives. Theoretically, control of the House could change next year but it would take a Democratic landslide. More realistically, raising Social Security benefits could be in the Democratic platform in 2016. It would make a nice wedge issue. Republicans skew older.  More than half of Republican voters are over 50. One major problem for Democrats has been that the public doesn't understand the Affordable Care Act. They will eventually and I'm convinced they'll like it a lot but a 10% rise in Social Security benefits is easy to understand and easy for many who now vote Republican to like.
     By the way, I'm not terribly interested in hearing Republicans argue that raising Social Security benefits is bad because that money should go to younger people. A party doing everything possible to hurt public education ought to be ashamed to make that argument.

Nov 18, 2013

Congressional Hearing Tomorrow

     The Energy, Health Care and Entitlements Subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will hold a hearing tomorrow, November 19, at 10:00 on "Mismanagement of Federal Disability Programs." That title might be a tipoff to what to expect. Social Security's Inspector General will testify.

Washington Post Doesn't Like Idea Of Increasing Social Security Benefits

     The Washington Post editorial board doesn't think that raising Social Security benefits would be a good idea because the money should be spent on younger people. The Post doesn't explain exactly how the money should be spent on younger people. Maybe someone can help me out by telling me how the Post wants to spend more money on younger people.
     .I wonder if the bigger problem for the Post is that, as the editorial board puts it, raising taxes to pay more Social Security benefits would be "a massive transfer of income from upper-income Americans to the retired." I doubt that Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and the new owner of the Post, likes the idea of transferring income from the wealthy to the retired.

Nov 17, 2013

Most SSA Employees Satisfied With Their Jobs

     According to a new Office of Personnel Management survey, 65% of Social Security employees express satisfaction with their jobs. While this is down considerably from 2010 when 74% of Social Security employees expressed job satisfaction, it is still higher than the government wide employee satisfaction rate of 59%.

Nov 16, 2013

Try Collecting 700,000 Signatures On A Petition To Address The Real Social Security Issues

     The McClatchy newspaper chain's Washington bureau reports that "chained CPI is on the table" in budget negotiations. Sure, it's on the table, as long as Republicans allow tax increases to be "on the table" which means chained CPI isn't on the table and won't be on the table.
     There's a lot of silly huffing and puffing about chained CPI that I don't understand. Current political conditions make any agreement by political leaders to adopt chained CPI impossible. Even if political leaders agreed to chained CPI, it's hard for me to believe it would pass Congress. There's zero public support for cutting Social Security and chained CPI is a cut.
     There are two real threats to Social Security at the moment, the probability that the Disability Trust Fund will run out of money in 2016 or 2017 and the immediate problem of the lack of administrative funding making it difficult for the Social Security Administration to operate. These are vastly more urgent than chained CPI yet Social Security advocacy groups seem obsessed with chained CPI while remaining almost oblivious to the threats to the Disability Trust Fund and the continued operation of the Social Security Administration. Oh yes, they put out press releases on these subjects but they don't spend their time collecting 700,000 signatures on a petition to address the real issues affecting Social Security.

Nov 15, 2013

All Relevant Evidence From Any Source In Its Entirety

     You may have noticed the extensive comments on my post about Social Security's plan to make attorneys responsible for obtaining "all relevant evidence obtained from any source in its entirety" concerning a disability claim. I had posed the hypothetical of a claimant who had received treatment for infertility. Some people thought that was irrelevant to a disability claim. Others felt it was relevant. People had strong opinions of the subject. Let me lay out a few more common situations for people to comment on:
  • Claimant had an admission to a detox facility to help him stop drinking. This was two years before his alleged onset date. Claimant denies he is drinking now.
  • Claimant has a Functional Capacity Evaluation (FCE) as part of her workers compensation claim. Claimant was represented by a different attorney on the workers compensation claim. Remember, Social Security, itself, says that FCEs are unreliable.
  • Claimant claims that he is disabled by arthritis in his knees and back. He is also seeing a dermatologist for eczema which he says is an annoying but not a disabling problem.
  • Claimant was hospitalized. Her entire hospital record runs to over a thousand pages. Which of the following should the attorney obtain? 1) Admission summary 2) Discharge summary, 3) Nurses notes, 4) Physician notes, 5) TPR records (that's temperature, pulse, respiration), 6) Lab reports, 7) Imaging reports, 8) Consultant physician notes, 9) Other test reports such as pulmonary function reports, EEG reports, cath reports, etc., 10) Surgery notes, 11) Pathology reports. Does it matter why the claimant was hospitalized? If the obligation on the attorney is to obtain the record "in its entirety", how do you rationalize making exceptions?
  • Claimant sees a chiropractor for a few months for treatment for back pain.
  • Claimant was in physical therapy for his shoulder pain for three months. He then decided to have shoulder surgery but it didn't help. The alleged onset date is the date of the surgery.
     What I'm suggesting is that this proposal may sound good but it's going to be impossible to draft it so that it's enforceable. Taken literally, the "in its entirety" language is unworkable. There is also no way to adequately define "relevant evidence."

Astrue Trashes Democratic Candidate At House Hearing

     Former Commissioner of Social Security, Michael Astrue, testified before some House subcommittee yesterday. The article I'm getting this from says it was the "Health Subcommittee" but the House Ways and Means Committee site doesn't show its Health Subcommittee having a hearing this week. Anyway, Astrue was there to trash Donald Berwick, who is running for governor of Massachusetts. Berwick used to be head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Astrue was blaming Berwick for the terrible rollout of the Affordable Care Act.
     The big problem with Astrue's criticism of Berwick is that Berwick left his position as head of CMS twenty-three months ago. Maybe the early planning for the Affordable Care Act rollout was lacking but most of the rollout preparation happened after Berwick left office. How much of the responsibility can one legitimately lay on Berwick? It's also clear from the description of Astrue's testimony that Astrue simply has a personal distaste for Berwick. I don't know whether Astrue's feelings are justified but they are irrelevant to the question of responsibility for the rollout of the Affordable Care Act or Berwick's qualifications for governor of Massachusetts.

Nov 14, 2013

NPRM On Obtaining And Submitting Evidence Coming

     From the description -- and a short description is all that's available now -- of a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) that Social Security has sent to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for approval:
We propose to require claimants to inform us about or submit all evidence known to them that relates to their disability claim, subject to two exceptions for privileged communications and work product. This requirement would include the duty to submit all relevant evidence obtained from any source in its entirety, unless subject to an exception. We also propose to require a representative to help the claimant obtain the information or evidence that the claimant must submit under our regulations. 
     This NPRM may be changed as a result as a result of OMB concerns. At best, it will take some months to get this through OMB. OMB has slowed down greatly as a result of the government shutdown and sequestration. If this gets through OMB, it is still just a proposed rule. It would have to be published in the Federal Register. Social Security would have to allow comments on the NPRM and then consider them. My gut feeling is that this proposal will prove to be problematic. Let me list a few concerns that occur to me off the top of my head which may indicate why this is more complicated than it may seem at first:
  • What does "all evidence known to them" mean? How far does this extend? A single hospital admission can generate more than a thousand pages of medical records. Does Social Security really want all of these? If Social Security doesn't really mean "all", how are attorneys supposed to decide what to obtain without using their judgment? Once attorneys start using their judgment, is this going to mean anything?
  • What does "relate to their disability claim" mean? What if a client has had treatment for infertility or something else probably unrelated to their disabling impairment or impairment that the client may reasonably feel is none of Social Security's business? How does one determine what is "related" to the disability claim?
  • How far does the duty to assist a claimant to obtain medical records extend? Medical records can be expensive to obtain. Are attorneys obliged to spend $500 to get medical records that Social Security, itself, declined to obtain? Does the Social Security Act even allow the imposition of this sort of financial burden on attorneys?
  • When does an attorney have this obligation? If attorneys have this obligation at the initial level, they're going to be duplicating Disability Determination Services efforts. If attorneys do have this obligation at the initial level, maybe they just won't take on cases at the initial level anymore since the effort and expense will be disproportionate to the potential fees. Does Social Security wants attorneys to withdraw from initial and reconsideration representation?
     If Social Security goes ahead with this and it has teeth, expect endless controversies and unintended consequences. I know the Republicans in Congress are howling about Binder and Binder but be careful. This isn't simple. Those Republicans are going to be howling about something no matter what Social Security does.

Nov 12, 2013

Why Chained CPI Is Almost Pointless In One Chart

Effects of beginning chained CPI in December 2014.  From Office of Chief Actuary, SSA

Nov 11, 2013

Veterans Day

Nov 10, 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

Nov 9, 2013

NADE Issues Newsletter

     The National Association of Disability Examiners (NADE), a membership organization of state agency personnel responsible for making initial and reconsideration determinations on Social Security disability claims, has issued its Fall 2013 newsletter.

Nov 8, 2013

Bombarding This Blog

     If you read the comments posted on this blog you might come to the impression that everyone knows that:
  • Social Security employees do most of their "work" from at home but they don't really work because they're all lazy. The agency has way too many employees.
  • Social Security's Administrative Law Judges are particularly lazy. They approve Social Security disability claims because they're lazy. A lot of the judges are crooks in cahoots with crooked disability claimants and their crooked attorneys.
  • Most Social Security disability claimants are just crooks trying to scam the program.
  • It's way too easy to get on Social Security disability benefits, especially for "mental illness." Anyone can get on Social Security disability benefits for "mental illness" just by pretending to be crazy.
  • SSI child's benefits are the biggest scam. It's nothing but lazy, drug addicted mothers coaching their kids to act crazy. They get child after child on SSI child's benefits and then steal the money to support their drug habits.
  • Attorneys who represent Social Security claimants are lazy. They're paid huge sums of money by Social Security but they do nothing for their clients. If anything, they're just crooks who assist their crooked clients in perpetrating fraud.
  • There is no money in the Social Security trust funds. The money was all stolen by Democrats. The U.S. government bonds that are supposed to be in the trust funds are meaningless pieces of paper.
  • Social Security is going bankrupt.You'll never get back the money you paid in. It's all a scam.
     Some of this comes from individuals legitimately expressing their opinions. However, it's long been apparent to me that most of this is coming from people who have been paid to post online comments about Social Security. Often, these people pretend to be Social Security employees, Social Security claimants or Social Security attorneys. Often, their comments just don't ring true because they're pretending to be someone they're not.
     Does it seem outlandish, even paranoid to think that someone would be paid to post slanted comments online? Take a look at this article from the Baltimore Sun. Officials at the University of Maryland had a problem. They wanted to shift the University's athletic programs from the Atlantic Coast Conference to the Big Ten. They knew that many of the University's alumni would be furious with this move. Here's what they did:
Brian Ullmann, the university's assistant vice president for marketing and communications ... wrote that the school planned to "engage professional assistance in helping to drop positive messages into the blogs, comments and message board sites. I will arrange for this service today." ...
Lee Zeidman, the corporate communications consultant who helped Maryland draft letters and talking points, said Wednesday that it is "standard operating procedure" in the business world to weigh in directly on message boards. "There are special PR agencies who work in the digital space who bombard blogs and newspaper sites where no one puts their name," Zeidman said.
     Who would pay online shills to post on Social Security issues? Pete Peterson and the Koch brothers are the prime candidates. They're tossing around tens of millions of dollars in their fight against Social Security. They certainly wouldn't be going after just this blog. It's quite unlikely they know anything about it. They would mostly be going after message boards at news media sites. However, I don't know that there's any other web site quite like this one where there's an ongoing discussion on Social Security issues. If you're doing an online campaign to malign Social Security both as a social program and as an agency, you're going to come here.
    I wonder how someone who works as an online shill would feel about their job. Would it make them proud? Would they tell their children about what they do for a living?

Anybody Can Make A Mistake

     The House Ways and Means Committee staff', controlled by Republicans, sent out a press release claiming that the chained CPI method of computing Social Security's Cost Of Living Adjustment (COLA) would have resulted in a 1.7% COLA this year instead of the 1.5% COLA that beneficiaries actually received. Wow, who says chained CPI would hurt Social Security recipients? There's just one little problem. The Ways and Means Committee press release was plain wrong and completely misleading.

Nov 7, 2013

Is Social Security Regressive

For Social Security
     Eduardo Porter writes in the Economix column at the New York Times that this chart shows that Social Security is regressive, that instead of helping poor people it hurts them because wealthier people live longer. The problem with Porter's argument is that he's basing it on race-ethnicity. The average age of whites is 41, African-Americans 30 and Hispanics is 27. What this chart does show is that the Republican party, which has become the de facto "white people's party", isn't likely to support changes that would cut Social Security. Only in theory and then they have to refer to "entitlements" rather than Social Security. People tend to think that "entitlements" are government benefits that go to someone else. They know that Social Security goes to everybody.

Senate Hearing Postponed Due To Coburn Cancer

     From the Huntington, WV Herald-Dispatch:
Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn has had a recurrence of prostate cancer and is undergoing further evaluation and treatment, according to spokesmen for the conservative Republican.
Spokesman John Hart said in a brief statement to The Associated Press that the 65-year-old lawmaker will be out for the rest of the week but will be back "as soon as he's able, hopefully next week."
This week's treatments, in Oklahoma, forced postponement of another hearing as to findings of a two-year probe into alleged abuses in how Social Security disability benefits were approved at Huntington's federal Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, said spokesman Aaron Fobes to The Herald-Dispatch.

There Goes The Old Profit Margin

     John Uptain, an Alabama non-attorney who wants to represent Social Security disability claimants, is offering his services for 20% of the claimants past due benefits instead of the usual 25%. Uptain had previously worked for Social Security for 25 years. He attributes his ability to offer reduced fees to low overhead and not having to pay off student loans.
     Over the years I have often talked with Social Security employees who had serious misconceptions about the realities of representing Social Security disability claimants, particularly about the expenses involved in obtaining clients. You can operate out of your house with zero overhead expenses but you're still not going to make any money until you get a client. You don't get many Social Security disability clients just by networking. Anything beyond networking is expensive. People like discounts but they also wonder if you're for real if you're offering a cut rate price and you're operating out of your home. Shade tree mechanics work cheap but would you trust your car to one you didn't know?

Nov 6, 2013

A Blogger Writes About His Father's Experience With Social Security Disability

Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest 
     A blogger writes about his experience when helping his severely depressed father apply for Social Security disability benefits. He was surprised to find that "We could actually get people on the phone when we called, and when we arrived, we didn't have to wait long to be set up with a caseworker, who was respectful, and very businesslike about it." The blogger was pleasantly surprised to find that the disability claim was quickly approved. 
     I'm happy for this blogger. I wish prompt approval was the norm for people suffering from severe depression but it isn't. At any given time I almost always have a client who Social Security disability claim has been denied even though is undergoing or has undergone Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) for profound depression. (I don't think that the blogger's father had ECT). You thought that ECT went away after One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest? You are younger and have never heard of ECT or One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest? Trust me. In extreme cases, doctors hook up electrodes to a person's head and run electric current through their brain in a desperate attempt to alleviate their depression. Sounds gruesome but fifty years ago it was a common treatment for many types of mental illness. Today it's still used but only for extreme cases of depression that don't respond to other treatments. It's now done under anesthesia. It's hardly a cure-all. I don't think I have to tell readers that there are potential side effects. Wouldn't you think that individuals who consent to go through this sort of thing have to be desperate for relief?  Nevertheless, Social Security still denies their disability claims.

What's The Matter, Kansas? You Got What You Voted For

     The residents of Pittsburg, Kansas are up in arms that they're losing their local Social Security field office. Social Security management explains to them that they have to close offices because of lack of funding. Pittsburgers complain that they weren't consulted. Social Security management doesn't give the obvious answer so I'll give it. Kansas is a solidly Republican state, giving 60% of its vote to Romney over Obama and electing only Republicans to Congress. You were consulted on this and other cuts you don't like, Pittsburg, and you voted for them, so shut up.

Nov 5, 2013

Social Security Paid Dead People!

     Social Security paid out 0.006% of benefits to dead people. Does that sound like a big deal?

User Fee Capped At $89 In 2014

     The user fee cap will be $89 in 2014. This is the limit on the amount that Social Security can charge attorneys and some others for withholding their fee from and the past due benefits of clients that have represented before the Social Security Administration. It's the amount charged in most cases. It's a simple one-quarter computation. By contrast, payroll companies charge $.80 to $2.00 to perform the far more complicated calculations needed to issue a payroll check.

It's Tough To Get On SSI Child's Benefits

     The Philadelphia Inquirer has an article on the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) child's benefit program. Despite what you've heard, it's tough to get on benefits. How tough? So tough that most Social Security attorneys refuse to take on any SSI child case.

Nov 4, 2013

"You Can't Change The Rules"

     Older Americans really, really don't like the idea of changing Social Security. However, removing the cap on wages covered by the F.I.C.A. tax does appeal to them.
"I contributed to it. It's my money," said Joan McDonald, 65, of Annapolis, Md., who retired as an accountant this year and began collecting Social Security. "The plan was, 'Contribute this and you get this.' You can't change the rules."

Is Raising Social Security Benefits An Idea That Has Entered The Political Mainstream?

     The Pacific Standard reports on Duncan Black, who blogs under the name Atrios. According to the Pacific Standard, Atrios has introduced into the political marketplace the startling notion of increasing Social Security benefits.
     For obvious reasons, I like to think that bloggers can make a difference. However, I'm not sure that the notion of increasing Social Security benefits was ever a completely unknown idea or that Atrios has moved that idea closer to becoming reality. Over the years I've often heard those on the left saying that Social Security benefits should be increased, not cut. Those views were on the periphery. I'd say they remain on the periphery. Time will tell whether this idea really moves into the mainstream. 
     My gut feeling is that Atrios is simply responding to the larger theme that long term demographic trends strongly favor the Democratic party and liberal policies in general. If events unfold as this theory holds, the Republican party, as currently constituted, would lose almost all of its power over the next ten to fifteen years. Would Social Security be increased if this comes to pass? Maybe. It's just too far off to tell.

Nov 3, 2013

Save For Retirement -- Yeah, Right

     From a press release:
... [M]ore than half the middle class (59%) are very clear that their top day-to-day financial concern is “paying the monthly bills,” an increase from 52% in 2012. Saving for retirement ranks a distant second place, with 13% calling it a “priority,” as four in ten middle class Americans (42%) say saving and paying the bills is “not possible.” As a result, 48% are not confident they will be able to save enough for a comfortable retirement, and 34% of the middle class say they will work until they are “at least 80” because they will not have saved enough for retirement, up from 25% in 2011 and 30% in 2012. These results come from the latest annual Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC) Middle Class Retirement study(PDF*), a telephone survey conducted by Harris Interactive of 1,000 middle class Americans between the ages of 25 and 75 and interviewed July 24 to August 27, 2013. ...

Nov 2, 2013

Get Out Of The Bubble, Ina

     Proving that she lives in a bubble, Ina Jaffe reports on NPR, with amazement, that many older people rely almost exclusively on the income from their Social Security benefits, something that's hard to do. If you find this amazing, all I can do is recommend that you look around a bit. These days few people have defined benefit pensions or significant retirement savings.

Nov 1, 2013

Social Security Works Getting Weird

Fox News Wants To Correct The Record -- Republicans Did Too Vote For The Ponzi Scheme Known As Social Security

     Could this be a faint ray of light from the right? Fox News has a story about how Democratic Congressman Charles Rangel got it all wrong when he said that the Social Security Act passed in 1935 without any Republican votes. As Fox News correctly points out, there were lots of Republican votes for Social Security in 1935. Is Fox News proud that Republicans voted for creating a dole, welfare, massive dependence, a Ponzi scheme, the descent into socialism and communism and the destruction of traditional American values? Will Fox News tell us in the future that many Republicans voted for Medicare, Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) and Food Stamps?