Oct 31, 2014

Not A Good Idea

     From WKMG:
Someone got into the Halloween spirit at work, but it's not a co-worker's treat. An employee at the Social Security Administration office in Lake Mary said she's offended by decorations that transformed a cubicle into a fake Ebola hospital ward.

Happy Halloween

Oct 30, 2014

Many People Don't Know About Social Security Disability Benefits; Varied Opinions On Benefit Rates

          From a survey conducted by Greenwald and Associates for the National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI) in June 2014:

Oct 29, 2014

"More SSA Crazy"

     Here's an e-mail I received recently from a member of my staff, labeled "More SSA Crazy.": "Prospect [prospective client] called the DO [District Office] to set up an appt to file a SSI claim. Whoever he talked with denied him an appt to file b/c[because] he did not have a doctor." 
     No, that's definitely not Social Security policy and, yes, that person at the District Office wasn't trained that way.  This isn't at all typical but this sort of off the wall thing does happen. 
     We'll get it sorted out.

Oct 28, 2014

Huge Majorities Willing To Raise Taxes To Support Social Security

     From a survey conducted by Greenwald and Associates for the National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI) in June 2014:

Oct 27, 2014

Thousands Die Each Year Waiting For Action On Their Social Security Disability Claims

     For decades there have been newspaper articles on Social Security disability claimants dying while their cases were being adjudicated. We'll soon have a study of these deaths. It's to be released on November 1. However, the abstract is out now. The authors say they identified 24 conditions where claimants are unlikely to survive the adjudication process. However, the big takeaway from the abstract is that they found that 42,000 people died while their disability claims were being adjudicated during the time period 1996 to 2007. That's thousands of deaths a year. Certainly some of these deaths were unavoidable because the claimants lived only a short time after filing their claims but not all. 

Oct 26, 2014

Protecting Attorney PII

     Social Security issues new staff instructions to try to better protect personally identifiable information of attorneys representing Social Security claimants.

Oct 25, 2014

Will This Help Colvin's Nomination Move Through The Senate?

     Senate Democrats plan to go into a full court press to confirm as many of President Obam's nominees as possible during its lame duck session after the election. This could include Carolyn Colvin, whose nomination for a term as Social Security Commissioner has been favorably reported out of the Senate Finance Committee. There are currently 156 pending nominations and not all will get confirmed during the lame duck session. Colvin's nomination isn't controversial but it's not clear whether that helps or hurts. She'll still be Acting Commissioner even if she's not confirmed.

Oct 24, 2014

The Other Cost Of Living Adjustments

     From Social Security's press office:


Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA):
Based on the increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI-W) from the third quarter of 2013 through the third quarter of 2014, Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) beneficiaries will receive a 1.7 percent COLA for 2015. Other important 2015 Social Security information is as follows:
Tax Rate:
2014 2015
Employee 7.65% 7.65%
Self-Employed 15.30% 15.30%
NOTE:  The 7.65% tax rate is the combined rate for Social Security and Medicare.  The Social Security portion (OASDI) is 6.20% on earnings up to the applicable taxable maximum amount (see below).  The Medicare portion (HI) is 1.45% on all earnings. Also, as of January 2013, individuals with earned income of more than $200,000 ($250,000 for married couples filing jointly) pay an additional 0.9 percent in Medicare taxes. The tax rates shown above do not include the 0.9 percent.
Maximum Taxable Earnings:
2014 2015
Social Security (OASDI only) $117,000 $118,500
Medicare (HI only) N o   L i m i t
Quarter of Coverage:
2014 2015
$1,200 $1,220
Retirement Earnings Test Exempt Amounts:
2014 2015
Under full retirement age
NOTE: One dollar in benefits will be withheld for every $2 in earnings above the limit.
The year an individual reaches full retirement age
NOTE: Applies only to earnings for months prior to attaining full retirement age. One dollar in benefits will be withheld for every $3 in earnings above the limit.
There is no limit on earnings beginning the month an individual attains full retirement age.
Social Security Disability Thresholds:
2014 2015
Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA)


Trial Work Period (TWP) $770/mo. $   780/mo.
Maximum Social Security Benefit:
2014 2015
Worker Retiring at Full Retirement Age $2,642/mo. $2,663/mo.
SSI Federal Payment Standard:
2014 2015
Individual $721/mo. $  733/mo.
Couple $1,082/mo. $1,100/mo.
SSI Resources Limits:
2014 2015
Individual $2,000 $2,000
Couple $3,000 $3,000
SSI Student Exclusion:

Oct 23, 2014

Same Sex Marriage Battle Continues At Social Security

     If you thought that the issue of same sex marriage was decided and that Social Security was recognizing the marriages throughout the country you'd be wrong. The Social Security Administration is refusing to accept same sex marriages until states finish all their last ditch efforts to delay the inevitable.

Oct 22, 2014

1.7% COLA

     From a Social Security press release:
Monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for nearly 64 million Americans will increase 1.7 percent in 2015, the Social Security Administration announced today.
The 1.7 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) will begin with benefits that more than 58 million Social Security beneficiaries receive in January 2015.  Increased payments to more than 8 million SSI beneficiaries will begin on December 31, 2014. The Social Security Act ties the annual COLA to the increase in the Consumer Price Index as determined by the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Oct 21, 2014

NADE Newsletter

     The National Association of Disability Examiners (NADE) has posted its Fall 2014 newsletter. NADE's members adjudicate disability claims for Social Security at the initial and reconsideration levels.

Oct 20, 2014

COLA Announcement Due On Wednesday

     The announcement of this year's Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for Social Security benefits is due out on Wednesday. It will probably be 1.7%.

Nazis On Social Security

     The Associated Press is reporting that there is a "loophole" that allows people who are suspected of having been Nazi war criminals to collect U.S. Social Security benefits after fleeing the U.S. According to the AP at least 38 suspects are involved. Apparently, these are people who left the U.S. after being threatened with formal expulsion.
     I would not call this a "loophole." There is no provision in the Social Security Act that would deny benefits to these people even if they had been convicted of war crimes unless they were actually in prison. 
     The article is sloppily written or edited. For instance, it keeps using the abbreviation "OSI" without once saying what it means. Apparently, OSI is the Office of Special Investigations at the Department of Justice which seeks out Nazi war criminals living in the U.S. The article talks of "a bitter back-and-forth between the two agencies with each accusing the other of being un-American." However, the article doesn't identify the two agencies. I don't think Social Security was one of those agencies but I can't tell for sure.
     By this point, this is mostly of historical interest. The handful of former Nazis involved who are still alive are at least 90. The evidence against them couldn't have been all that strong at the time they left the U.S. or they would have been prosecuted. By this point virtually all witnesses who could testify against them are dead. If some process was created to strip them of their Social Security benefits, they'd be dead before the process could be completed.

Oct 19, 2014

Washington Post's Bleak Take On Social Security Hearings

     The Washington Post has an article on Social Security's huge backlog of disability hearings. Here are a couple of excerpts to give an idea of the article's bleak, despairing tone:
In this case, the [disability hearing] system became, in effect, too big to fix: Reforms were hugely expensive and so logistically complicated that they often stalled, unfinished. What’s left now is an office that costs taxpayers billions and still forces applicants to wait more than a year — often, without a paycheck — before delivering an answer about their benefits. ... 
“I really wonder if what we’re doing is effective at all. If it helps at all,” [Social Security Administrative a Law Judge] Pennock said, after a day of hearing cases and trying to reduce her share of the backlog. “If, based on the amount of evidence we get, my decision is any better than flipping a coin.”
     A reader could only come to the conclusion that not only is the Social Security disability hearing process broken but that it is unfixable. The only solution would be to abolish Social Security hearings and maybe to abolish Social Security disability benefits themselves. It is the right wing view of government as hopeless, something to be largely eliminated since it can't be reformed. 
     Disability determination is a messy business but many worthwhile things in life are messy, including mankind itself. Disability benefits are an essential lifeline for millions. Without hearings Sovial Security disability would lack legitimacy. If the hearings were abolished, they would have to be restarted almost immediately. There would be too many horrible injustices that couldn't be righted.                      
     There is a simple solution for Social Security's hearing backlog -- more resources. That's been done before. We know it works. It was working until tea party Republicans took control of the House of Representatives in 2010. Everything else has been tried without success. 

Oct 18, 2014

Don't You Know The Department Of Justice Has To Study This For Another Year Or Two?

     From USA Today:
When the U.S. Supreme Court reopened the door for same-sex marriages in Indiana last week, Ryan Selby and Barry Cox thought their battle for recognition was over. ... 
[W]hen Selby called the Social Security Administration the same day the Supreme Court let stand federal court rulings striking down Indiana's ban on same-sex marriage, he thought they'd be able to honor his request to change his last name to his husband's.Instead, he was met with uncertainty. 
"They said they didn't have any process in place," Selby said.

Oct 17, 2014

What I Spend A Lot Of Time Doing

     If you wonder what attorneys who represent Social Security claimants do, let me tell you about one client I recently met with. He's a young man with a congenital health problem. In addition to helping him file a request for reconsideration of his disability denial and telling him how ridiculously long it will take for him to get a hearing after he's denied at recon, I advised him on the help available to him under the Affordable Care Act (not much since NC declined additional Medicaid benefits), advised him on local free or lost cost health care (which will be an enormous help to him), advised him on prescription assistance plans to help with his very high drug costs (which again will be an enormous help to him and his parents) and advised him on filing for Medicaid. I also talked with him about applying for Disabled Adult Child (DAC) benefits once one of his parents dies or goes on Social Security, making sure to warn him that he wouldn't be able to get DAC if he's married.
     This client needed more non-Social Security advice than most but an attorney must know all this and a lot more to effectively advise Social Security disability claimants. 
     Most Social Security employees have no idea how much help Social Security claimants need from their lawyers and how much of that help is only indirectly related to Social Security benefits.
     And to lawyers who don't do this sort of counseling because they never meet with their clients until the day of the hearing, real lawyering is a fulfilling career. You ought to try it.

Oct 16, 2014

OIG Explains Its Need For Ammo

     Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG) tries once again to explain why it needs to buy large quantities of ammunition. I think the issue that OIG is avoiding is whether it is classifying too many of its employees as law enforcement officers. Law enforcement officers get to retire at an earlier age than other employees.

Oct 15, 2014

Why Social Security Is Lagging In IT

     From Federal Times:
The “next generation” of the Transformation Twenty-One Total Technology Program (T4NG) — the Department of Veterans Affairs’ contract to manage its IT [Information Technology] systems — will almost double in scope from the current T4 contract, with the projected value rising from a ceiling of $12 billion to $22.3 billion.
     Has Social Security spent $22.3 billion on managing its IT systems in the last ten years? Twenty years? In its entire history?

Oct 14, 2014

"Very Unlike" The Way Things Normally Happen At Social Security?

     From Harry Gross' column in the Philadelphia Inquirer:
DEAR HARRY: Many years ago, my husband had heart failure. He applied for Social Security disability, which took three years to get.... 
About five years ago, Social Security sent us a letter saying that the payments to the children were incorrect and demanded a return of $12,000. We asked for a review of this, and the reviewer then sent us another letter now demanding an additional $8,000 with no explanation as to where it came from.
We paid back the money, but I can't see any reason for any overpayment. I cannot reach that reviewer or anyone else who is willing to explain this to me. Don't we have any recourse?
WHAT HARRY SAYS: This is very unlike the way things are normally checked out at Social Security. Try going to your local Social Security office with all your info. That visit will get you all the data on that refund and quite likely a resolution of the problem.
     No, this is actually normal behavior at Social Security. It's extremely difficult to get an explanation for an alleged overpayment and the amount usually changes if you file an appeal, although my experience is that when you file an appeal the amount goes down more often than it goes up. I've had several cases where an alleged overpayment turned into a large underpayment by the time we got through!
     The easiest way for the widow to have resolved these overpayments, at least for the children, would have been to request waiver. The children certainly weren't at fault and it's unlikely they had the means to pay back the money. Waiver would have been close to automatic for the children. Probably, the widow could also get a waiver.
     Unfortunately, even most attorneys who do Social Security work aren't familiar with overpayment cases. It's hard to hire an attorney for a Social Security overpayment case anyway because there's no way to charge a contingent fee in these cases and the claimants usually can't afford to pay a fee in any other way. It's a shame since there's so much an attorney can do to help a claimant with an overpayment.

Oct 13, 2014

Doing As Little As Possible On Same Sex Marriages

     It appears that the Department of Justice is still telling the Social Security Administration to do as little as possible on same sex marriage. The approach is still state by state, waiting for each frivolous appeal to end. This could drag on for months.

Mass Mailing To Some Workers Compensation Recipients

     This is an Administrative Message (AM) sent out recently to Social Security field offices:

Identification Number AM-14066 Effective Date: 10/07/2014 Intended Audience: All RCs/ARCs/ADs/FOs/TSCs/PSCs/OCO/OCO-CSTs
Originating Office: DCO OPSOS
Title: Workers' Compensation (WC) or Public Disability Benefits (PDB) Offset Pending Mass Mailings
Type: AM - Admin Messages
Program: Disability
Link To Reference: See References at the end of this AM.
Retention Date: April 7, 2015
A. Purpose
This administrative message (AM) advises you of the mass mailing project for the Workers' Compensation Pending Cleanup workload.
B. Background
Disability (DIB) beneficiaries are subject to possible offset if they receive WC [Workers Compensation] or PDB [Public Disability Benefits] payments. When SSA [Social Security Administration] adjudicates a disability award and the claimant's WC or PDB claim is still pending, or under appeal, the Modernized Claims System (MCS) posts limited WC or PDB claim data to the Master Beneficiary Record (MBR) with an alert "WC Type OFFSET PENDING."
The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) discovered that beneficiaries often do not report when their WC or PDB claims are approved and, prior to March 2011, SSA did not have an effective systems control to ensure processing center (PC) technicians follow up and resolve OFFSET PENDING cases. As a result, SSA has a backlog of OFFSET PENDING cases that the PCs must review and resolve.
C. Mass mailings to solicit information on pending WC or PDB claims
Effective October 2014 through December 2014, the PCs will send mass mailing letters to a group of DIB beneficiaries for whom:
We first processed the claims in 2001-2003; and MBR [Master Beneficiary Record] data indicate a WC or PDB claim is still "pending." The letters solicit information about the outcome of the WC or PDB claim. Based on the MBR language indicator, we will print the mass mailing letters in English or in Spanish. When the PCs release the letter, a special message will post to the MBR indicating that the PC sent the letter and includes a reference to this AM.
Example of Special Message Text:
The letter provides and requests the following information:
Reminds the beneficiary that "you told us you filed or intended to file for workers'
compensation or public disability benefit payments or that you were appealing the decision made on your workers' compensation or public disability benefit claim" and "we are writing to update the information;" Asks the beneficiary to answer the questions in the letter by checking each item that applies, to fill in any requested information, to sign and date the letter, and return it in the enclosed envelope; Requests the beneficiary to enclose proof of any workers' compensation or public disability benefit payments received; Includes SSA's 800# (including TTY) for any questions; and Includes a return envelope addressed to:
Social Security Administration
Western Program Service Center
P.O. Box 4213
Richmond, CA 94804-0213
NOTE: Although the beneficiary should return the letter to the Richmond CA address, the Richmond office dispatches the returned letters to the PC [Payment Center] of jurisdiction for final action.
See the attached facsimile of the English language mass mailing letter.
D. Handling inquiries from beneficiaries
The following instructions provide guidance for handling inquiries from beneficiaries regarding the mass mailing letters.
1. Field Office (FO) instructions
If the beneficiary:
misplaced the return envelope enclosure, ask him or her to send the completed and signed letter to the Richmond CA address shown in section C.; brings proof of WC or PDB payments into the FO instead of mailing it to the PC address, the claims representative should promptly input the information into the Interactive Computation Facility (ICF) system. After update to ICF, fax the proof into NDRED [Non-Disability Repository for Evidentiary Documents]; and states he or she already provided SSA with proof of the WC or PDB claim or appeal status, check eView, NDRED, and PCACS [Processing Center Action Control System] to determine whether SSA has received the documents. Advise the beneficiary if the FO or PC has already input the information or if it is still under review. If the documents are not in eView, NDRED, or PCACS, ask the beneficiary to resubmit the proof to the FO and input the information when receive
2. 800 Number instructions
If the beneficiary:
misplaced the return envelope enclosure, ask him or her to send the completed and signed letter to the Richmond CA address shown in Section C.; and states he or she already provided SSA with proof of the WC or PDB claim or appeal status, send an MDW to the servicing FO. On the MDW, indicate WC Pending Cleanup workload and that the beneficiary alleges providing SSA with proof of WC or PDB claim. Advise the beneficiary that someone from the FO will contact him or her.
Direct all program-related and technical questions to your Regional Office support staff or Processing Center Operations Analysis staff.
RO [Regional Office] support staff may refer questions or problems to their Central Office contacts.
DI 52140.010 Processing Center (PC)
Responsibilities for Processing Workers'

Oct 12, 2014

Fee Petition Process Problems

     From a recent audit report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG):
Our control testing of 50 fee petition payments that exceeded $6,000 in Fiscal Year 2012 found controls were not always working as intended. Specifically, while we found sufficient support authorizing the fee payments, SSA did not always (1) pay fees in accordance with SSA policies and the petition specifications, (2) maintain required documentation for the fee petition process, or (3) adequately track fee petitions in its management information systems. For example, we identified payment processing errors in 16 (32 percent) of the 50 cases we reviewed. In seven instances, SSA incorrectly issued direct fee payments to former claimant representatives who withdrew or, had been discharged, before the favorable decision.

Oct 11, 2014

Risk Of Unauthorized Access To Social Security Computers

     Sometimes, Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG) completes a report but doesn't want to release it to the public. In these cases OIG issues a "Limited Distribution" report. All that is available to the public is a brief blurb. Here are some excerpts from one of these recent "Limited Distribution" blurbs:
The National Institute of Standards and Technology recommends that security issues be patched timely to maintain the operational availability, confidentiality, and integrity of information technology systems. ...
SSA [Social Security Administration] did not have a comprehensive server patch management program. Consequently, the Agency did not always address known vulnerabilities timely. Specifically, we found that the Agency did not always : 
  • patch Windows servers according to its patch management policies ; 
  • have effective policies and procedures to ensure UNIX servers were patched timely; or 
  • address software vulnerabilities on the Windows servers. 
Without an effective patch management process in place, systems are at risk of unauthorized access

Report On Federal Employee Unions

     After repeated requests from a Congressman, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has put together a report on federal employee unions. The report shows that as of 2012 Social Security had 50,815 bargaining unit employees. Union leaders get official time to attend to union business. This official time amount to 247,563 hours in 2012 at Social Security, which is the equivalent of 119 full time positions or one for every 427 bargaining unit employees.

Oct 10, 2014

New Genitourinary Listing

     The Social Security Administration has posted new final rules in the Federal Register revising its listing of Impairments for genitourinary disorders.

Advisory Council For "McCrery-Pomeroy SSDI Initiative"

     I've already written about my concern that the "McCrery-Pomeroy SSDI Initiative" which is supposedly going to come up with bipartisan solutions for the fact that the Social Security Disability Trust Fund will probably run out of money in the not too distant future, is sponsored by The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB), which has a long association with Pete Peterson's crusade against Social Security.
     I've now seen a list of individuals who have agreed to be part of the Advisory Council for this project. Here's the list:
  •  Michael Astrue
  •  Lawrence Atkins
  •  Andrew G. Biggs
  •  Barbara Butz
  •  Mary C. Daly
  •  Marty Ford
  •  Steve Goss
  •  Ron Haskins
  •  Andrew Houtenville
  •  Andrew Imparato
  •  Neil Jacobson
  •  Stanford Ross
  •  C. Eugene Steuerle
  •  William Taylor
  •  Rebecca Vallas
      You can read the biographical blurbs on the Advisory Council members. No person, including members of this group, can be accurately described in the shorthand way that I'm about to, so I won't describe them individually, but I still think it's useful to break these Advisory Council members into several rough groups. You could certainly argue with my groupings. Here's a rough guide to how I think these Council members break down based upon past positions held or views publicly expressed:
  • Very favorable to Social Security Disability claimants -- 3
  • Moderately favorable to Social Security Disability claimants -- 2
  • Neutral or unknown -- 4
  • Moderately hostile to Social Security Disability claimants -- 2
  • Very hostile to Social Security Disability claimants -- 3
  • Mostly interested in Social Security spending as much money as possible on rehabilitation -- 2
     In a sense this is a balanced group. Some of the members of this Advisory Council have actually met Social Security disability claimants. I wish more had. The main thing about this group is that a unanimous recommendation is pretty much out of the question. There's just too big a spread of viewpoints. Bipartisanship in Washington? Get real.
     I hope this group wastes lots of Pete Peterson's money on something that may not matter once it becomes clear that the Disability Trust Fund is going to last at least into 2017. Please, hold public hearings at expensive hotels all over the country. Travel to other countries to see what's happening abroad. Demand huge per diems. Commission lots of expensive studies. Pete Peterson can afford it.
     For those Advisory Council members who care about such things, remember that when I and others talk about Social Security disability claimants who have been denied becoming homeless or committing suicide, we've not making it up. It happens all the time. These are not abstract issues. Real people's lives are affected in horrific ways when Social Security disability claims are denied.
     From where I stand, it would be far better to let the Disability Trust Fund run out of money and have Social Security disability benefits cut by a certain percentage than to agree to something that reduces the number of people granted Social Security disability benefits. Lowered benefits would hurt but SSI puts a floor under the income of disability recipients. Medicare and/or Medicaid wouldn't be cut. Reduced benefits wouldn't last. A change in the definition of disability would be permanent

Oct 9, 2014

Social Security Attorneys Are Hurting Because Social Security Claimants Are Hurting But The Disability Trust Fund May Do Better

     A company that sells "leads" to attorneys has done an interesting analysis that breaks down some of the reasons why fees paid to attorneys representing Social Security claimants have gone down so much in recent years. Here are some numbers they came up with, which point to a significant reduction in the percentage of claims approved by Administrative Law Judges (ALJs), a significant increase in the backlog of claimants awaiting a decision after an ALJ hearing and a significant decrease in the number of disability claims filed as the reasons:

Administrative Law Judge Decisions
Year% DeniedFully FavorablePartially Favorable

Administrative Law Judge Hearings Held And Decisions Issued
YearDecisionsHearings HeldHearings Held to Decisions

Volume of Disability Claims Filed
*projected at current pace

     Note that this last set of numbers has implications for the Disability Trust Fund. The current midrange projection is that the Fund will be exhausted in 2016 but that projection is based upon an assumption that the disability incidence rate would actually be increasing slightly at this time.

Oct 8, 2014

The Frustrations Of Dealing With A Bureaucracy That Has Too Few Employees To Do Too Much Work

     Claimant receives a favorable decision from an Administrative Law Judge on July 25. In mid-September the client still hasn't been paid so we call the payment center which says they're working on it. By October 8 there's still been no payment of benefits so we call back. An exasperated employee at the payment center tells us (inaccurately) that they told us in mid-September that it takes 45-60 days for these to be paid and asks that we not call back for at least a month. You notice that as of October 8, it had already been well over 60 days since the favorable decision.

Is This Significant?

    The Social Security Administration has posted a notice on the Federal Business Opportunities website indicating that it wishes to hire a contractor to study position descriptions for its Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR). Here's some background information:
The organizational changes associated with this growth, most recently with the reorganization of SSA’s Office of Hearings and Appeals (OHA) into the current ODAR, has contributed, over time, to the accrual of multiple Position Descriptions (PDs), which describe the functions of the various jobs our workforce performs.  As a result, ODAR now has over 1,000 PDs, some so antiquated they still refer to OHA, and some similar enough such that employees performing essentially the same duties in one region have difficulty qualifying for promotion in another region because the same duties there are under a different PD. ...  Rather than continue with the status quo, ODAR desires a smaller set of PDs.  With the exception of revising ALJ [Administrative Law Judge], AAJ [Administrative Appeals Judge], and AO [Adjudicative Officer] PDs, ODAR would like a revised set of national, updated, standard (de-specialized) workload PDs.  ODAR would then present this revised set to SSA’s Office of Human Resources for classification approval and institutionalization.

Social Security Headcount Rebounds But Still Less Than A Year Ago

     The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has posted updated figures for the number of employees at the Social Security Administration.
  • June 2014 62,651
  • March 2014 60,820
  • 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

Oct 7, 2014

COLA Will Be About 1.7%

     Investment News is projecting that Social Security's cost of living adjustment (COLA) for 2014 will be 1.7%, slightly more than last year's COLA of 1.5%.

Oct 6, 2014

No Need For More Delay -- Same Sex Marriage Battle Is Over

     The Supreme Court has decided not to hear any of the cases concerning same sex marriage. Several of the Courts of Appeals have held that it is unconstitutional for a state to refuse to marry same sex couples. All of these decisions are now final. At least in the states where those cases arose, and probably in the entire judicial circuits where those cases arose, states cannot refuse to allow same sex marriage and Social Security must recognize those same sex marriage as long as those involved stay in those states. In theory, the Supreme Court could decide at a later time to hear a new case arising from a Court of Appeals that has not yet acted on one of these cases. That seems unlikely at the moment but I would guess that Justices Scalia, Alito and Thomas would be happy to go down this route should a Republican be elected in 2016 and the composition of the Court changes.
     The Attorney General can now say that the matter is resolved and that the Social Security Administration and other agencies must immediately recognize same sex marriages in every state. However, the Attorney General could study the matter for many months and then say that the issue must be legally resolved separately and tediously in each state or at least every judicial circuit  until the Supreme Court has refused to hear a case from each state or at least each judicial circuit, a process that will take another year or more. I think the Attorney General should do the former but based on past action will probably do the latter.

Union: 70,000 My SSA Accounts Have Been Subject Of Some Kind Of Fraud

     From a press release issued by the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the union that represents most Social Security employees:
AFGE, Social Security Works and the Alliance for Retired Americans on Thursday submitted half a million signatures of people who demand that Social Security offices remain open in local communities across the country. In total, four rallies took place across the country in Columbus, Ohio, New York,  Oakland, Calif. and Washington, D.C. ...
“Many people who rely on Social Security are the least likely to have knowledge, ability, and resources to use the Internet services,” AFGE Council 220 President Witold Skwierczynski told the crowd. “Moreover, 95 percent of people who’ve filed for benefits online have to be re-contacted because of missing information. People need experts to guide them.”
Skwierczynski added than 70,000 My SSA accounts have been subject to some kind of fraud as people fall victim to identity theft. SSA is aware of the problem but chooses to play it down. Alliance for Retired Americans Rich Fiesta said it’s outrageous that SSA is closing offices when baby boomers are retiring in massive numbers and need the aid of experienced Social Security Administration staff.

Oct 5, 2014

And Many Of These People Vote

     Thirty-four percent of Americans think that the U.S. government spends more money on foreign aid than on Social Security. Actually, foreign aid totals about $48 billion a year and much of that is military aid. Social Security expenditures are about $808 billion a year.

Oct 4, 2014

Pension Coverage Around The World

     Take a look at the International Labour Organization's cool map showing pension coverage (mostly Social Security) for the elderly around the world. Yes, the ILO uses the British spelling, labour.

Oct 3, 2014

Are More Claimants Now Refusing Video Hearings?

     Since Social Security's changed its regulations to require claimants to make a decision on whether to accept a video hearing shortly after asking for a hearing -- and long before the hearing is actually scheduled -- I've heard from a number of attorneys in North Carolina who tell me that they are now routinely refusing video hearings. I've heard from many of my clients who have received these notices who tell me that they want to refuse a video hearing. If attorneys and claimants are behaving the same in other states as they appear to me to be doing in North Carolina this change will dramatically cut the number of video hearings. There is some evidence that this is going on nationally.
     What are you seeing where you are? Are there any national numbers yet? Has Social Security management started coming to grips with the possibility that these new regulations will have the exact opposite effect of what was intended?

Social Security Tries To Find Pro Bono Rep Payees

     A press release from Social Security:
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, announced the agency’s implementation of a pro bono pilot in Maryland for attorneys interested in being a representative payee for a Social Security beneficiary. Representative payees provide crucial help to the most vulnerable individuals in our community with their Social Security and Supplemental Security Income payments.
“The Maryland Representative Payee Pro Bono Pilot offers attorneys a chance to fulfill the Court of Appeals’ aspirational goal of providing pro bono services – by assisting the young, elderly, and disabled with their Social Security benefits,” Acting Commissioner Colvin said. “Attorneys are held to high ethical standards and will serve this at-risk population with the compassion and integrity they deserve.”
Any licensed Maryland attorney in good standing can volunteer for this pilot project by registering at www.socialsecurity.gov/payee/probonopilot.htm. Social Security will use the information provided to connect interested attorneys with beneficiaries in need of the services. The Maryland pilot will expand the network of available candidates to help assist those in need.  “The Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland supports the new pilot project and looks forward to working with the Social Security Administration in promoting this important opportunity to assist vulnerable individuals to the Maryland legal community,” stated Sharon E. Goldsmith, Executive Director of PBRC.  PBRC serves as the designated pro bono arm of the Maryland State Bar Association.
Representative payees provide a key service to Social Security recipients who are unable to manage their benefits. Nearly 21 percent of people who need help managing their payments do not have family members or trusted friends who can help them. Payees receive monthly payments on behalf of the beneficiary and use the funds to meet the individual’s basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter. They also keep records and ensure that Social Security funds are used to care for the recipient. Once the pilot is successful in Maryland, the agency will consider expanding to states nationwide.
Acting Commissioner Colvin reinforced that “representative payees play a vital role in serving our beneficiaries and creating a stable living environment for the most vulnerable people in our society. I encourage eligible Maryland attorneys to participate in this pilot.”

Oct 2, 2014

Are You Sure About Your Position On This One, Social Security?

     From the Providence Journal:
A Warwick widow has filed a lawsuit against the Social Security Administration accusing the federal agency of wrongfully denying her survivor benefits after she lost her 56-year-old wife to cancer in 2011.
The plaintiff, Deborah Tevyaw, 58, was married to her late wife, Patricia Baker, in 2005 in Massachusetts, but the federal agency says the relationship ended in 2011, before Governor Chafee ordered state agencies to recognize same-sex marriage in May 2012, according to the lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court.
Rhode Island has recognized out-of-state marriages, including marriages in Massachusetts, since at least 1904, and in 2007 the state’s attorney general issued an opinion stating that same-sex marriages from other states “must be recognized under principles of comity and full faith and credit,” says the complaint.
In July this year, Governor Chafee wrote the acting commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Carolyn W. Colvin, to express his concern that the federal agency had misinterpreted the 2012 date as the date when Rhode Island first recognized out-of-state same-sex marriages, the complaint says.

Petition Demands That Social Security Offices Remain Open

     From a press release:
On Thursday, October 2, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) [which represents most Social Security employees] will join Social Security Works and the Alliance for Retired Americans in four cities across the country to unveil a petition with half-a-million signatures demanding that Social Security offices remain open in local communities across the U.S. ...
The events on Thursday, October 2, are below:
Columbus, OH – 10:30 a.m. EDT at 200 N High St Columbus OH 43215 (Federal building) 
Speakers: Norm Wernet, Ohio Alliance for Retired Americans
John Ryan, Ohio State Director for U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown
Queens, NY – 11 a.m. EDT at 155-10 Jamaica Ave, Jamaica NY 11435
Speakers: J. David Cox, AFGE National President
Washington, D.C.—1:30 p.m. EDT at 2100 M St NW, Washington DC 20037
Speakers: Rich Fiesta, Alliance for Retired Americans
Roger Hickey, Campaign for America’s Future
Carissa Miller, Daily Kos
Oakland, CA – 11 a.m. PDT at 360 22nd St Oakland CA 94612
Speakers: Dana Duggins, AFGE Council 220 Executive Vice President
Leaders from the California Alliance for Retired Americans
Local residents with personal stories about the impact of office closings