Apr 30, 2014

A Bad Apple

     From WJLA:
A former specialist for the Social Security Administration pled guilty Tuesday to soliciting more than $50,000 in bribes from Social Security recipients in return for providing them with extra, unauthorized benefits.
Christopher Payton, 46, of Mount Rainier, Md., pled guilty in D.C. District Court Tuesday to one count of bribery. The plea agreement calls for him to pay $54,662 in restitution and an identical amount in a forfeiture money judgment.
According to a statement of offense, signed by the defendant and the government, Payton was a Social Insurance Specialist for the SSA's Anacostia Office in Southeast Washington. ...
Between January and May of 2013, Payton reportedly met with 13 people as part of his responsibilities at the agency. Upon meeting these individuals, Payton reportedly told them that if they gave him a tip, he would take care of them....
After the victims agreed Payton used his access to cause retroactive Supplemental Security Income benefits to go into the individuals' bank accounts....
The charge carries a statutory maximum of 15 years in prison and financial penalties. Under federal sentencing guidelines, Payton faces a likely range of 30 to 37 months in prison and a fine of up to $60,000.

Apr 29, 2014

Why Did Social Security Seize The Tax Refunds Of The Children Of People Who Had Been Overpaid Decades Earlier?

     I think that conflating overpayments with fraud had more than a little to do with this. Fraud usually creates an overpayment but most overpayments aren't the result of fraud.

Apr 28, 2014

Vision 2025: "A Society Where Most People Will Never Leave Their House Except To Be Entertained"

     Below is an e-mail from the head of the union that represents most Social Security employees. From what I hear, just about every Social Security employee who isn't a union member has also seen this e-mail.
From: Witold Skwierczynski
Sent: Friday, April 25, 2014 3:28 PM
To: All Bargaining Unit Employees
Subject: Vision 2025

SSA Bargaining Unit Employees:

On March 11, the union was given a copy of a draft plan produced by the National Academy of Public Administration (Academy) entitled "Long term Strategic Vision and Vision Elements for the Social Security Administration" .  The Academy was contracted by SSA to assist the Agency in developing Vision 2025.

SSA is now seeking your ideas for a Vision 2025 plan.  What SSA is not telling you is that they already have a draft plan that is a product of the Academy with the framework of that plan given to the Academy by SSA leadership.

The draft plan has certain principles that we cannot agree with.  First it states that the basis for a Vision for 2025 must be that online services are the primary means for delivering customer service.  This is a change from SSA's long time commitment to allow the customer to determine how they interact with SSA either by face-to-face contact, by phone, or by the Internet.  The entire basis of the field office structure and community based offices where the public can choose to receive face to face service is based on the concept of customer choice.

Another basis for their draft report is the following concept:

we (i.e.,SSA) automate processes to maximize operational efficiency, meet customer demand and diverse expectations, resulting in a smaller workforce and in reduced physical infrastructure.

The Academy's draft report is based on SSA 's desire to eliminate much, if not all, the field structure and to get rid of many employees.  That means closing field offices reducing staff, redeploying current staff and possibly laying off excess workers.   It also means the virtual elimination of face-to-face community based service.

The academy draft report proposes 29 elements under 5 categories: Direct Service Delivery to customers, Indirect service Support of Service delivery, Planning and management of information Resources, Workforce and Organizational Structure and Dynamics.

Item 1 of their 29 "vision elements" is "online self-service delivery is our primary service channel".  Thus, SSA clients will be expected to fend for themselves which is the real meaning of "self-service".

Item 2 states: "we provide direct service options (e.g., in-person, phone, on-line chat, video conference) in very limited circumstances, such as complex transactions and to meet the needs of vulnerable populations."  This means that no longer will a member of the public have a right to communicate with an SSA employee.  The future SSA requires a justification in limited circumstances before a member of the public can talk to an employee face-to-face, by phone, by video-conference or by chat.  The Agency will be staffed with a limited amount of interviewers to insure that only very few get this direct communication option.  My  belief is that  these limited number of interviewers will work in either centralized facilities like PSCs, Regional Offices and Baltimore Headquarters or they will work at home.

Item 3 calls for seamless and integrated customer service channels enabling customers to process transactions in one step start to finish.  That sounds nice but, unfortunately, there won't be any field offices providing seamless service.  When AFGE questioned the Academy about whether this could mean that DDS' would be federalized and SSA employees could be promoted to higher graded positions that adjudicate both the disability and non-disability portions of a claim, its clear that it was not their intention to disturb the current Federal and State relationship.

Item 4 proposes "integrated service delivery across SSA programs and with external partners to improve access to a broad suite of high quality government services ".  What's that about?   This proposal would increase the number of 3rd party claims takers that currently flood our offices with frequently substandard and incomplete claims.  It also looks like the plan is to provide that profit making 3rd party claims takers have more access to SSA's systems.  It's certainly cheaper to use 3rd parties to submit claims and charge either the public or a government agency (i.e. tax $$) for a service that is now provided by SSA employees. 
Item 5 recommends simplification which is a laudable goal but something that gives the union concern.  The simpler the work is, the employees who process it will be workers with lower grades.  The current grade structure is based on the complexity of work that we produce.  Significant legislative changes would be necessary to truly simplify the claims process.
Some of the high lights or, in my estimation, low lights, of the remaining of the recommendations follow:

  • "Our work processes are fully automated except for those decisions that require some human judgment."  This recommendation would potentially eliminate the current review of all i claims.  "Full automation" and "some human judgment"  means that most cases will be automated without any review process (i.e., judgment).
  • "Our work is "portable" (e.g. electronic case files enable matching workload with available workforce capacity, advancing telework)."  This proposal is consistent with the vision to eliminate face-to-face service and, therefor, dismantle the field office structure.  Remaining employees will work at home- not in offices.  Consequently, no more face to face service in 2025.
  • "All our support functions (e.g., Human Resources, Finance) are provided through a shared service model (e.g., within SSA, across government and by contract)."  This proposal envisions widespread contracting out of work currently performed in regional offices, Baltimore Headquarters and Area Director offices to the private sector.  
  • Another proposal envisions the IT workforce as primarily focused on development of systems to "effectively leverage private sector services to meet business needs."  This is another indication that SSA's vision is to privatize more and more of what we do.
  • "Technology advances allow us to have a significantly smaller and more virtual workforce".  There will be fewer of us and we won't be in the same building - the workforce of alienation.  
  • "We make greater use of generalists with an emphasis on problem-solving, communication and data analytics skills."  The Academy only visited 1 field office in Washington DC before making these proposals.  Obviously they don't understand the technical complexity of the SSA programs and that few can be effective generalists due to this complexity and requiring employees to be generalists increases stress and causes health and safety problems.
  • "Our "blended" workforce delivers services with greater use of project-based employee and contractor teams."  Why is the current SSA leadership so eager to contract out our jobs?
  • "Our communication and business processes enable a dispersed workforce that is no longer working in centralized traditional offices."  
  • "Our physical infrastructure is significantly reduced and re-aligned based on service delivery changes, IT and automation investments, and workforce shifts."
On March 12, 2014 the union met with the Academy to discuss these draft proposals.  Obviously we objected to virtually all of them and made the case for maintaining the community based field office structure that continues to allow claimants to determine how they want to get SSA services - including face-to- face services.  We argued that there is nothing wrong with SSA being a government agency made up of government employees. We told them that SSA's overhead is only 1.4%.  This is cheaper than any other benefit program and significantly cheaper than any insurance company.  We argued that its our experience that many people who file claims online make poor decisions that result in permanent benefit loss for themselves and their families and the option of discussing benefit choices with a trained SSA employee is essential to the service that SSA should provide to taxpayers.  We told them that one should not accept continuing reductions in SSA's administrative budget and that what the Agency needs are strong advocates who demand that Congress provide SSA sufficient revenue so that SSA can continue to provide first class face-to-face and telephone services to those members of the public that choose to use them.

Academy members stated that their vision of 2025 is a society where most people will never leave their house except to be entertained. Therefore, there will be no need for offices and face-to-face options.

What a horrible vision! It's a vision of alienation where people in the future will not interact with others except virtually.  I don't accept this vision.  Most SSA employees don't accept this vision.  Those who talk to the public all day know that many couldn't survive without being able to deal directly with an SSA employee to complete their business.

So SSA now wants you to participate in this charade of seeking your input when they have already decided to significantly reduce services.  The recent office and contact station closings, reduction of hours that field offices are open to the public, initiatives to centralize work like moving review of Internet claims away from field offices, elimination of services like numi-lites and benefit verifications, the sudden management acceptance of flexiplace after years of opposition, the installation of self-help kiosks, the requirements demanded by SSA that employees sell Internet claims and services to the public, My SSA, video conferencing used for hearings, further expansion of regional hearing centers, starving small offices of staff till they become non-viable and close, etc. are all SSA strategies to reduce staff, consolidate operations and to transform SSA into an Agency that no longer provides the public with personal service.

The union has decided to offer it's own vision for the future.  This vision would maintain the field structure, continue to offer the claimant filing options, reduce unnecessary management, create more promotional opportunities for employees and enhance their benefits, make the field office a safe and stress free environment, continue to provide services to the public that they request and preserve the integrity of SSA records.  This is a vision that puts the public first and mirrors the services of what the public wants not what some bureaucrat has decided the public should get.  It puts a high value on employee health and safety and enhancement of employees careers and employee benefits. 

After you vote, think about what SSA wants to do.  An elimination of the field office structure means an elimination of your job.  IT'S TIME TO FIGHT TO PRESERVE YOUR JOB.  Please periodically check the AFGE Council 220 website at www.afgec220.org. for actions that you can take to preserve your job and to keep up with what SSA and the union is doing.  Also, check out our Facebook page at RallyPoint.

Witold Skwierczynski
AFGE Council of SSA Field Operations

Apr 27, 2014

Social Security's "Awful Inequities"

    Laurence Kotlikoff has a list of what he calls "awful inequities"in Social Security that outrage him. And he doesn't even mention the cap on the F.I.C.A. tax! How many do you agree with? I'd note that most of the "inequities" he talks about would end if dependent and survivor benefits were stopped. Do you think that would be a good idea? A politically plausible idea?

Apr 26, 2014

SSA Seeks Fitness Center Audio And Aerobics Systems

     Social Security is seeking to buy a "Complete Commercial Grade Group Exercise Aerobics System and a Complete Commercial Grade Fitness Center Audio Systems for the Wabash Fitness Center."

Apr 25, 2014

More Layoffs At Allsup

Allsup President and CEO Jim Allsup
     Allsup is having problems. Allsup, based near St. Louis, is a major non-attorney entity representing Social Security claimants. It started out representing disability claimants on behalf of insurance companies whose long tern disability (LTD) policies had an offset for Social Security disability benefits. In more recent years, Allsup has been trying to attract Social Security disability claimants one by one for representation. Allsup laid off 65 employees last August. In January of this year, they reduced the number of hours some of its employees work.The company has now laid off another 90 of its 600 employees.

Apr 24, 2014

New Process For Evaluating Trusts As SSI Resources

     Social Security has issued a new Emergency Message (EM) on the evaluation of trusts as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) resources. At least in some regions -- the EM seems unclear on this important point --  these reviews will be done on a regional basis. Few SSI recipients are the beneficiaries of trusts but those few cases can be difficult for the agency to evaluate. If certain narrow conditions are met, a trust is not considered a resource. Reviewing these cases on a regional basis allows for the development of a staff with greater expertise. It has been unrealistic to expect field office employees to evaluate the complicated legal questions that trusts can present.
     By the way, Social Security's Emergency Messages generally don't address real emergencies. They just announce new policies and procedures to Social Security's field office employees.

Apr 23, 2014

An Alternative To Using A Freezer

     From Texas News:
Police have identified mummified remains of a man found in a Lexington storage unit and the man's daughter has been charged with stealing his Social Security checks.
Now, federal authorities are searching for the indicted woman's mother, who was last seen in March.
Fayette County Coroner Gary Ginn told the Lexington Herald-Leader that the remains found in the Econo-Self Storage unit in January are those of Luther Broughton. His daughter, Judith Maria Broughton, stands accused in Texas of stealing more than $150,000 of her father's Social Security retirement benefits.
     Concealing the death of a relative in order to continue receiving their Social Security benefits isn't common. I'm sure it happens in less than one in a million deaths but there are enough people dying that there are regular reports of this sort of thing. Bodies in the freezer, bodies buried in the back yard, bodies that are never found -- all of these happen. I don't recall one in a storage unit before but I wouldn't be surprised if it's happened before.

Apr 22, 2014

Things Keep Looking Better For The Disability Trust Fund

     The numbers are in to show how Social Security's Disability Insurance Trust Fund did during the first quarter of calendar year 2014. The Fund's balance declined from $90.445 billion to $84.057 billion during that time period, a reduction of $6.388 billion. That looks bad, like the Disability Trust Fund is rapidly heading towards zero. The Disability Trust Fund may become exhausted without some change but things are actually improving. The reduction in the first quarter of calendar year 2013 was $7.944 billion. Last year's intermediate projection of Social Security's Chief Actuary was that the rate of reduction in the Disability Trust Fund would be almost exactly the same in calendar year 2014 as in calendar year 2013. That meats that so far this year the Disability Trust Fund is doing significantly better than was expected. This is on top of the fact that the Disability Trust Fund also did better for the full calendar year of 2013 than was projected.
     Yes, the Disability Trust Fund is still heading towards exhaustion but more slowly than was forecast last year. Last year, the Chief Actuary projected that the Disability Trust Fund would be exhausted in late 2016. With each passing month it becomes clearer that the Disability Trust Fund won't be exhausted until at least 2017. If you don't think there's a huge difference between 2016 and 2017, you don't follow politics. Also, it's looking clearer that any shortfall in the Disability Trust Fund will be a short term matter that can be easily bridged by a reallocation of FICA revenues or by allowing interfund borrowing. These have both been done in the past. It's getting harder each month to argue that dramatic changes are needed in Social Security disability benefits.

Apr 21, 2014

Headcount Continues To Decline

     The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has posted updated figures for the number of employees at the Social Security Administration.
  • December 2013 61,957
  • September 2013 62,543
  • June 2013 62,877
  • March 2013 63,777
  • December 2012 64,538
  • September 2012 65,113
  • September 2011 67,136
  • December 2010 70,270
  • December 2009 67,486
  • September 2009 67,632
  • December 2008 63,733
  • September 2008 63,990
  • September 2007 62,407
  • September 2006 63,647
  • September 2005 66,147
  • September 2004 65,258
  • September 2003 64,903
  • September 2002 64,648
  • September 2001 65,377
  • September 2000 64,521

Apr 20, 2014

Happy Easter!

Benefit Statements Coming Back -- At Five Year Intervals

     From Reuters:
Paper Social Security benefits statements, which used to be mailed out every year and then fell victim to budget cuts, are going to make a partial comeback.Starting this September, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will resume mailings at five-year intervals to workers who have not signed up to view their statements online, an agency spokesman told Reuters. The statements will be sent to workers at ages 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, 55 and 60, he said, adding the agency would continue to promote use of the online statements.

Apr 19, 2014

Forensic Genealogists And Social Security

     Dee Dee King writes in Forensic Genealogy News about the new process to become certified to access Social Security's Death Master File. Who knew there were forensic genealogists?

Apr 18, 2014

A Little Weird

     Let me tell you something a little weird about this blog. It gets some surprising hits from outside the U.S. I'm sure that some of these hits come from people who are genuinely interested in U.S. Social Security. I'm sure that some of these hits come from people who were looking for information about another country's Social Security system. However, Google Analytics tells me that many of the hits from other countries come from people who did a search for "resignation letter." Long time readers can attest that the subject of resignation letters has not been a major focus of this blog. The term "resignation letter" has come up in only four posts out of 6,367 in the history of this blog! 
     Don't ask me why a search engine would direct people seeking information on resignation letters would funnel traffic this way or why that would only be the case for those making this request who live outside the U.S. I have no idea.
     I think there's an opportunity here. People in other countries want to find examples of resignation letters. They'll seek out your website if you provide them.

Apr 17, 2014

Social Security Ends Letter Forwarding Service

     From today's Federal Register:

Letter Forwarding is a service we provided to the public since 1945. It is not a program related activity under the Social Security Act (Act). Therefore, we will stop the letter forwarding service. ... 
 DATES: The cessation date for letter forwarding services is May 19, 2014. ...
We provided the letter forwarding service to the public since 1945. ... 
SSA processes the following types of letter forwarding requests (free and for a fee). 
  • Humanitarian (free)--when the health or welfare of an individual is at risk and the requestor provides a compelling reason to show the person would want to be aware of the circumstances. In addition, when an immediate family member (e.g., parent, sibling) is seeking to re-establish contact with another immediate family member. 
  • Monetary purpose (fee $35 in fiscal year (FY) 2013)-- situations in which the individual sought is due something of value, and it is reasonable to assume that he or she is not aware that the asset is due.
     Reading this makes me sad. Yes, letter forwarding has been a very ancillary service but a damned important one to the people being served. This is one of many signs that the Social Security Administration lacks the funding needed to carry out its work in the humane way that the public deserves.

We've Hit A Plateau

     TheWall Street Journal is noticing that disability claims have hit a plateau. They still don't want to acknowledge that the aging of the baby boom generation had anything to do with the boom in disability claims. It had to have been the economy or fraud or anything other than simple demographics. But it was almost completely demographics and predictable fifty years ago. The WSJ is also now acknowledging that the Disability Insurance Trust Fund may not run out of money in 2016.

Apr 16, 2014

Major Hepatitis C News

     If you're involved with Social Security disability claims you know that hepatitis C causes much misery, disability and death. There are almost four million people in the United States infected with hepatitis C. It's an epidemic that receives far too little coverage in the media. The treatment available has been horribly inadequate. It's expensive. A high percentage of people who attempt the treatments cannot tolerate the horrible side effects. Even if the patient can afford treatment and can tolerate the side effects, about half the time it doesn't work. Without effective treatment, a person infected with hepatitis C slowly becomes weaker and eventually succumbs to liver failure or liver cancer. It may take ten, twenty, thirty years or more but it's inexorable.
     Finally, finally, there's good news on hepatitis C. Researchers at the University of Texas have come up with a drug that appears to cure, that's right, cure, hepatitis C in a few weeks for those with genotype 1 infections, which account for about 45% of hepatitis C cases. The medicine is expensive but hepatitis C inexorable progressing to liver cancer or liver failure is even more expensive. This is a big deal.

RJ Eskow On Invisible Cuts To Social Security

     It's nice to hear other people talking about these problems

Colvin Says Women Need To Save

     From National Public Radio:
The Social Security Administration distributes retirement benefits to nearly 60 million Americans. And of those beneficiaries, nearly 60 percent are women.
The SSA is led by a woman, too. Carolyn Colvin was once retired herself, collecting benefits from the agency she now serves. A call from President Obama brought her back in 2010, and she recently took over as acting commissioner. As part of Morning Edition's look at the, Colvin spoke with Kelly McEvers about how women plan for financial security.
Colvin points out two realities she hopes women consider when . First, women make less money than men on average; when they stop working, their monthly Social Security checks are smaller, too.
Also, women tend to live longer than men. Colvin encourages women to estimate their own life expectancy with the, and find out more. Doing so, she says, often makes women realize they can outlive their savings — and that retirement benefits alone won't be enough.

Apr 15, 2014

Why Collect These Ancient Overpayments Out Of Social Security Benefits?

     Quotations from Mark Hinkle, a Social Security spokesperson, as quoted in an Associated Press article, with emphasis added:
We want to assure the public that we do not seek restitution through tax refund offset in cases when the debt in question was established prior to the debtor turning 18 years of age. Also, we do not use tax refund offset to collect the debt of a person's relative — we only use it to collect the overpaid benefits the person received for himself or herself.
     But they're still collecting the same debts every day by offsetting Social Security benefits. The statement makes it clear that they haven't sworn off that tactic. If it's inappropriate to seize tax refunds in these situations, why is it appropriate to seize Social Security benefits in these situations? You or your father or mother was overpaid when you were ten years old. Forty-five years later they're seizing your monthly Social Security check! Does that seem fair and reasonable?
    Let me make it clear that the problem here isn't at the Social Security Administration. The problem is draconian laws passed by members of Congress who equate Social Security overpayments with fraud when, in most cases, the overpayments are caused by the Social Security Administration's own mistakes.

Apr 14, 2014

Press Release On Overpayment Collections

     A press release issued by the Social Security Administration:
Statement of Carolyn W. Colvin
Acting Commissioner of Social Security
“I have directed an immediate halt to further referrals under the Treasury Offset Program to recover debts owed to the agency that are 10 years old and older pending a thorough review of our responsibility and discretion under the current law to refer debt to the Treasury Department.
If any Social Security or Supplemental Security Income beneficiary believes they have been incorrectly assessed with an overpayment under this program, I encourage them to request an explanation or seek options to resolve the overpayment.”
     But, what about collecting these ancient alleged overpayments by offsetting benefit payments? I don't see how that's any less of a problem.

Social Security Has A Plan

     The Social Security Administration has asked the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for approval to publish final regulations that would:
... revise our rules to protect the integrity of our programs and to address public concerns regarding the removal of an administrative law judge's name from the Notice of Hearing and other prehearing notices. To accomplish both objectives, these proposed rules state that we will provide an individual with notice that his or her hearing may be held by video teleconferencing and that he or she has an opportunity to object to appearing by video teleconferencing within 30 days of the notice. We have also made changes that allow us to determine that claimant will appear via video teleconferencing if a claimant changes residences while his or her request for hearing is pending. We anticipate these changes will increase the integrity of our programs with minimal impact on the public and result in more efficient administration of our program. 
     I'm telling you now, Social Security. This isn't going to work out the way you think. You're just going to dramatically increase the number of objections to video hearings because you won't be able to use the threat of delay to force claimants and their attorneys to accept video hearings. No, I don't think the agency can realistically tell claimants that it's going to take several months longer to get a hearing if they object to a video hearing if that objection is made early in the process. Social Security can get away with that sort of delay if a video hearing has already been scheduled before the claimant objects but it won't be be a credible threat if the hearing hasn't yet been scheduled.

Apr 13, 2014

And It Only Took Almost Three Years For Social Security To Clarify This

     From a transmittal sheet amending Social Security's POMS manual:
...to clarify the following:
  • SSR 11-1p applies when a claimant wishes to file a new disability application under the same title and for the same benefit type as a prior claim pending administrative review.
  • However, we follow existing application and protective filing procedures when a claimant files a new application under a different title or for a different benefit type than the pending disability claim.

Apr 12, 2014

I've Been Talking About This For Years. It's Absurd. It's Abusive. Why Don't People Care?

     From the Washington Post:
A few weeks ago, with no notice, the U.S. government intercepted Mary Grice’s tax refunds from both the IRS and the state of Maryland. Grice had no idea that Uncle Sam had seized her money until some days later, when she got a letter saying that her refund had gone to satisfy an old debt to the government — a very old debt. 
When Grice was 4, back in 1960, her father died, leaving her mother with five children to raise. Until the kids turned 18, Sadie Grice got survivor benefits from Social Security to help feed and clothe them 
Now, Social Security claims it overpaid someone in the Grice family — it’s not sure who — in 1977. After 37 years of silence, four years after Sadie Grice died, the government is coming after her daughter. Why the feds chose to take Mary’s money, rather than her surviving siblings’, is a mystery. ... 
The aggressive effort to collect old debts started three years ago — the result of a single sentence tucked into the farm bill lifting the 10-year statute of limitations on old debts to Uncle Sam.

Apr 11, 2014

Pictures On Social Security Cards?

     From the Washington Post:
 As Republicans push for new voting restrictions around the country, a handful of Democrats have coalesced around an impromptu idea: placing a photo on Social Security cards.
 U.N. ambassador and civil rights activist Andrew Young — who chairs a nonpartisan voting rights group calledWhy Tuesday? — buttonholed President Obama and two of his predecessors in Texas this week in an effort to win their support for the concept. Former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter endorsed the idea, while the White House declined to comment.
     UpdateMichael Hiltzik thinks this is a terrible idea.

Apr 10, 2014

House Oversight Committee Hearing

     The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing yesterday on Social Security's continuing disability reviews. Here are links to the written statements:
      LaCanfora, O'Carroll  and Nottingham all talked about the limitations on continuing disability reviews caused by inadquate administrative funding. Bertoni, as is normal for witnesses from the GAO, said nothing of consequence other that the agency was doing a bad job and ought to be doing better without saying what exactly they should be doing different given budget restraints. I think that if GAO had its way agencies would spend 100% of their funding making sure that they don't misspend any money. I don't know what Lockhart was talking about. Her written testimony seemed to have nothing to do with Social Security.

Apr 9, 2014

Should Social Security Comb Through Social Media Postings By Disability Claimants?

     From the Washington Times:
Key members of Congress said Tuesday that two Social Security judges may have approved thousands of bogus disability claims, but the agency has never gone back to review those judges’ cases to stop the ones that were fraudulent.
Rep. James Lankford, Oklahoma Republican, and Rep. Jackie Speier, California Democrat, who head the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on health care, say Social Security employees should be allowed to look at the social media profiles of those applying for disability, reasoning that photos and other information people post can expose the applicants as able-bodied.
The lawmakers also said the agency should come up with a system to review cases from “red-flag” judges who show inclinations toward rubber-stamping applications.
In an exhaustive 11-page memo to Social Security acting Commissioner Carolyn W. Colvin, the lawmakers detailed nearly a dozen recommendations for improving a disability system that has received an explosion of applications in recent years and is in danger of going bankrupt by 2016.
Mr. Lankford and Ms. Speier said it was indefensible that the agency hasn’t reviewed applications approved by two administrative law judges, David B. Daugherty in West Virginia and Charles Bridges in Pennsylvania, who have been accused of making bogus disability determinations. ...

The oversight committee has been looking into the disability issue for some time and took testimony from Jasper J. Bede, a regional chief administrative law judge who told investigators that some judges appeared to be rubber-stamping applications.
Judge Bede singled out Judge Bridges, who decided more than 2,000 cases a year and who often went beyond looking at an applicant’s disability and considered income or other factors.

Apr 8, 2014

What Happens When An SSI Recipient Fails To Cash Their SSI Check?

     Social Security still issues some checks to Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients. What happens if they don't cash those checks? The Department of the Treasury, which actually cuts the checks, notifies Social Security that a check wasn't cashed within a reasonable time. You'd think that Social Security would then check to see what was going on. Is the intended recipient dead? Is the intended recipient in prison? Is the intended recipient in a nursing home and no one is taking care of his or her affairs? There's lots of possible explanations why a really poor person wouldn't cash a check and most of them suggest that Social Security should check to see what had happened. A recent report of Social Security's Office of the Inspector General suggests that most of the time nothing is done. Specifically, in 100 cases picked at random, nothing was done in 87 cases. 
     This sort of laxity can happen at any agency at any time but it's been happening a lot at Social Security in recent years and lack of adequate funding has a lot to do with it. There aren't enough warm bodies to get all the work done.

Apr 7, 2014

Online Social Security Card Replacement Coming

     From a contracting notice posted by the Social Security Administration:
SSA is developing an Internet-based Social Security Number (SSN) Replacement Card (iSSNRC) application to improve service to the public.
 iSSNRC will allow U.S. citizens who meet certain criteria to request replacement SSN cards online by completing an application and providing data from their U.S. State-issued drivers' licenses (DL) or U.S. State-issued identification (ID) cards as evidence of identity. SSA then needs to electronically verify that the DL or State ID card information entered matches the data on the issuing State's database for the document being verified.

Apr 6, 2014

Boldly Go

Apr 5, 2014

Watching TV At Headquarters

    From a contracting notice posted by the Social Security Administration:
The Social Security Administration (SSA), Office of Acquisition and Grants (OAG) ... is currently performing market research to determine the availability of sources to provide Community Antenna Television (CATV) and a high-speed internet solution for the headquarters campus. SSA's CATV port distribution system supports local and national network broadcasts throughout headquarters (HQ) and outlying campus buildings. We are looking for sources capable of providing and supporting business information channel lineups for a minimum of 500 ports. ...
Currently, 615 television ports are utilized across HQ campus buildings. ... Television requirements support SSA's executives, senior staff, senior management staff and technical support staff, as well as selected knowledge worker positions requiring real time news and communication. These features allow SSA staff to stay informed during events, weather situations, and emergencies. ...
Our current lineup includes ABC, CBS CNBC, CNN, CNN Headline News CSPAN 1, CSPAN 2, CSPAN 3, FOX, FOX News, Fox Business News, MPT MSNBC, NBC, PBS, and The Weather Channel. ...
The CATV network is also an alternate delivery method for Interactive Video Tele-training (IVT) broadcasts, which provides educational and training content to SSA HQ's components. We currently broadcast seven channels from three local studios and four regional studios. The agency supports a distribution system to insert agency programs that are broadcasted via the CATV network. ...
We request information from businesses that believe they have a bona-fide capability to meet the agency's requirements.

Apr 4, 2014

This Article Nails All The Social Security Disability Themes

     Here's an article that talks about these Social Security disability themes:
  • It's wonderful when a person who draws Social Security disability can go back to work. We need to do more to encourage that.
  • The number of people on Social Security disability benefits is soaring. It's an unsustainable burden for the government.
  • Giving Social Security disability benefits to people hurts them because they should be working.
  • Tightening the disability rules by making it impossible to get on benefits for obesity wasn't enough.
  • Fraudulent claimants for Social Security disability benefits pay money for phoney medical reports.
  • High unemployment rates lead to more people on Social Security disability benefits.
  • Social Security disability benefits aren't enough to live on.
     The plot twist here is that it's about Australia.

Apr 3, 2014

Off Topic: Well, There's Your Problem

Your Wasteful Federal Government?

     A new Office of Inspector General (OIG) report shows that Social Security has 27,885 square feet of office space at its headquarters in the Baltimore area, most of it in the Annex building, that is not being used. You might say that this is just another example of your wasteful federal government and I expect that's how Fox News might present this report but it's not that simple. The first question is why is that office space vacant? It's doubt that it's because Social Security bought or leased too much space. Almost certainly, it's because headquarters workforce has been downsized. The second question is whether, as a practical matter, that space can actually be rented out or sold. Who wants office space in that area of Baltimore especially if it's part of a building that's mostly occupied by Social Security? I don't know the answer to that question. Neither does OIG.

Apr 2, 2014

New Ruling On Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

     Social Security is publishing a new Ruling on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in the Federal Register tomorrow. You can read it today. This replaces Ruling 99-2p.

Apr 1, 2014

Tea Party Don't Care

     Social Security field office closes. Tea Party Republican representing the District in Congress doesn't seem to care. Why should he? He wants to close down virtually the entire government. Anyway, that part of his District has mostly Democratic voters. He's got the Koch brothers on his side, so no problem. (By the way, I know that Social Security doesn't base field office closures on political clout and has taken a pretty hard line recently when those with political clout have tried to influence field office closures. Somebody's ox is going to get gored. The agency may as well use objective criteria when selecting whose ox it is. The point here is that the Congressman made no effort to keep that field office open. Most people would consider making that effort to be part of his job description.)
     Update: The Tea Party member of Congress wrote a letter to the Acting Commissioner of Social Security about the office closure. So, is the Congressman representing his district or just being a hypocrite? That's the problem with being a Tea Party member of Congress. You want to close down government but your constituents like a lot of what the government does for them.