Dec 31, 2016

Social Security Employee Pleads Guilty

     From the Times of San Diego:
A Social Security Administration employee who accepted payments and had the authority to waive money owed to the government by overpaid beneficiaries pleaded guilty Thursday to stealing money orders and depositing them into his own checking account.
Josue Edgardo Castro, of San Ysidro, faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 when he is sentenced April 3 in U.S. District Court in San Diego.
Castro admitted that on at least 21 occasions, he accepted money orders meant for the Social Security Administration, smuggled them out of the office, and deposited them in his personal bank account.
In addition, Castro admitted that on at least nine separate occasions, he waived outstanding balances that were due to Social Security from overpaid beneficiaries in order to conceal that he had stolen their attempted repayments.
In all, Castro admitted stealing more than $5,700 in money orders and costing the Social Security Administration more than $9,000 due to the overpayment waivers he entered to hide his crimes. ...

Dec 30, 2016

Man Arrested For Bringing Pistol Into Social Security Office

     A man was arrested yesterday after bringing a pistol into the Social Security field office in Mobile, AL.

Dec 29, 2016

Are ALJs Unconstitutional?

     A panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit has held in Bandimere v. SEC that Administrative Law Judges are unconstitutional because they are not appointed by the President. The Social Security Administration employs most federal ALJs. This decision may receive en banc review, that is by the entire 10th Circuit instead of just a three judge panel. If en banc review is denied or if there is the same result after en banc review, the case is certainly headed to Supreme Court review.

Why Medicare And Not Social Security?

     From 42 U.S.C. § 1395ff(d)(1)(A), having to do with Medicare appeals:
Except as provided in subparagraph (B), an administrative law judge shall conduct and conclude a hearing on a decision of a qualified independent contractor under subsection (c) of this section and render a decision on such hearing by not later than the end of the 90-day period beginning on the date a request for hearing has been timely filed.
     You might ask why there is a time limit on Medicare appeals and no time limit on Social Security appeals, most of which linger for well over a year. The answer is simple. The Medicare appeals are filed by medical providers. They have political clout. Social Security claimants don't. In fairness, the medical providers have had trouble enforcing the section of statute I've quoted above but they're just gotten a decision indicating that the courts may be willing to enforce the time limit language.

Dec 28, 2016

The Human Costs

Donna Dye, a former client of Eric Conn
     The Associated Press is reporting on the human costs of Social Security's big effort to cut off the disability benefits of Eric Conn's former clients. All along it's seemed that the hundreds of people involved were no more than ciphers to those who were so eager to label them as frauds, cut off their benefits and stack the deck against them. The question I've had all along has been why is Social Security going to such lengths to hurt these people when the agency admits they did nothing wrong. It's perfectly obvious at ground level that these folks are sick and most would have won without any of Eric Conn's alleged shenanigans.

Dec 27, 2016

"Take A Number, Please"

     From an editorial in the Des Moines Register:
It’s the stuff of nightmares: Permanently injured in an auto accident, you lose your ability to work and must apply for disability benefits.
Faced with mounting medical bills, as well as the usual expenses for groceries and rent, you go to your local Social Security Administration office to secure desperately needed federal disability benefits.
You approach the counter, see a sign advising you to “Take a number, please,” and you comply. The receptionist calls out, “Number six?” You look at the slip of paper in your hand and realize you are number 1,136,849.
You ask the receptionist how long you’ll have to wait. She smiles broadly and cheerfully responds, “Thanks for stopping by! Your disability claim is important to us! The average wait time is currently 19 months and 22 days!” ...
Unfortunately, this nightmare scenario is based on a stark reality now faced by many disabled Americans. ...
When it was revealed that 200 veterans may have died in 2015 while waiting for care at an Arizona Veterans’ Administration hospital, Congress wasted no time scheduling hearings and proposing legislative fixes to address that problem. The SSA’s case backlog has grown for years and affects a much broader segment of the population, yet the outrage, if it exists at all, is muted. ...

Dec 26, 2016

Christmas Is Over

Dec 25, 2016

Merry Christmas

Dec 24, 2016

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas

Dec 23, 2016

I.R.S. Drops Coal In The Stockings Of Poor Disabled People

     From the Washington Post:
The Treasury Department refuse[d] to stop forcing permanently disabled people to pay taxes on student loans that have been canceled, leaving a vulnerable population susceptible to thousands of dollars in charges, according to Senate staffers.
 Anyone with a severe disability is eligible to have the government discharge their federal student loans. The process is widely considered difficult to navigate, so the Obama administration allows people to use their Social Security designation to apply, yet few take advantage. As a result, the Education Department began identifying borrowers too disabled to repay their federal loans and guiding them through debt cancellation. The trouble is, every dollar forgiven by the government is considered taxable income.
Congressional lawmakers have urged Treasury to use its administrative authority to fix the problem, but the department is not taking action.
At a meeting Wednesday, Treasury officials informed Senate staffers that it will not issue guidance addressing the tax penalty for disabled borrowers, according to people in attendance who were not authorized to speak publicly. They said Treasury officials conceded that roughly two thirds of affected borrowers are insolvent, a designation that would allow Treasury to waive any taxes connected to discharged loans. Claiming insolvency, however, involves complex paperwork. ...

Merry Christmas

Dec 22, 2016

Merry Christmas!

Dec 21, 2016

Proposed Final Regs Fail To Clear OMB In Time To Come Into Effect Before Change Of Administration

     The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has not yet acted on two packets of proposed final regulations submitted by the Social Security Administration. One packet was on Revisions to Rules of Conduct and Standards of Responsibility for Appointed Representatives and the other on Revisions to Rules Regarding the Evaluation of Medical Evidence. Since the Administrative Procedure Act requires a 30 day waiting period before new regulations take effect it's now too late for these proposed regulations to become final before President Obama leaves office. This doesn't mean that these proposed final regulations are dead. The incoming administration will almost certainly put any proposed final regulations pending at OMB or which have been approved but not come into effect through a new review before they can become final. The review of these regulations may not even start until there's a new Commissioner of Social Security. The regulations could be modified or withdrawn as a result of the review.

Student Loan Offset Problems

     The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has issued a 90 page report on the offsets applied to Social Security benefits due to unpaid student loans. Even though the GAO seems to me to try to downplay the problem, it's still clear that it's real and serious. Many people are being thrown into poverty by the offsets as shown by the chart below, even though many of the student loans went to pay for nearly worthless online education.
Click on chart to view full size

Merry Christmas

Dec 20, 2016

Merry Christmas

Dec 19, 2016

Merry Christmas?

Dec 17, 2016

Merry Christmas

Dec 16, 2016

Gun Control Regs Now Official

     Social Security is publishing the new regulations that will permit the agency to report claimants with representative payees to the database used to screen gun purchasers. Those with representative payees won’t be allowed to buy guns. This will come into effect before inauguration day. However, Trump can refuse to implement the new regulations. I wonder, though, whether the initial data transfer can be accomplished before inauguration day. Can it be easily removed from the gun control database once it gets in there? 
     By the way, whenever I post about this subject, there are always comments about Social Security appointing representative payees for people who have little or no problem handing money. Balderdash. I think most, if not all, of these comments are coming from paid shills. Don't be naive. There is a lot of right wing money being used to try to affect the political discourse in subtle ways. Don't get misled.

Additional Money For Hearing Backlog

     From the continuing resolution funding the federal government until April:
The fifth provision under the heading ‘Social Security Administration—Limitation on Administrative Expenses’ in division H of Public Law 114–113 shall be applied during the period covered by this Act by substituting ‘shall be used for activities to address the hearing backlog within the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review’ for ‘shall be for necessary expenses for the renovation and modernization of the Arthur J. Altmeyer Building’.
     To explain, P.L. 114-113 was the appropriations bill funding Social Security for the now ended fiscal year (FY) 2016. At the behest of former Senator Mikulski that bill contained $150 million for renovating Social Security's Altmeyer Building. Social Security had not asked for this and was apparently dismayed to have received it instead of a higher operating appropriation. I thought the amount was almost certainly excessive for the project. I'm pretty sure the renovation hasn't started so almost all of the $150 million should still be available. Social Security can now use that money to address the hearing backlog. It might have been better if the money could be used to address all backlogs at the agency but this is still good news.
     I think we should also take this as a sign that Republicans in Congress have some level of concern that the GOP will now be blamed for backlogs at Social Security.

Merry Christmas

Dec 15, 2016

Program Uniformity Rules To Become Final

     Social Security is publishing final rules on Ensuring Program Uniformity at the Hearing and Appeals Council Levels of the Administrative Review Process in the Federal Register tomorrow. These will be effective on January 15 but "compliance is not required until May 1, 2017" which is an odd way of doing things. These rules state that, with some exceptions, all evidence must be submitted at least five days before an ALJ hearing.

Evaluation Of Medical Evidence Regulations Sent To OMB

     The Social Security Administration has sent proposed final rules on the evaluation of medical evidence to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for approval. To come into effect before the change of administrations, the regulations would have to be approved by OMB and published in the Federal Register by December 20.
     Here's what I picked out of the proposed regulations when they appeared in the Federal Register on September 9:
  • We propose to revise our rules in 20 CFR 404.1504 and 416.904 to state that we will not provide any analysis in our determinations and decisions about how we consider decisions made by other governmental agencies or nongovernmental entities that an individual is disabled, blind, or unemployable in any claim for disability or blindness under titles II and XVI of the Act , and that we are not bound by those decisions. Although we would categorize decisions made by other governmental agencies or nongovernmental entities within the other medical evidence category if made by a medical source or a statement if made by a nonmedical source, we propose to state in 20 CFR 404.1520b and 416.920b that these decisions are inherently neither valuable nor persuasive to our disability and blindness determinations. ...
  • [W]e propose to state in 20 CFR 404.1520b(c)(2) and 416.920b(c)( 2 ) that we will not provide any analysis about how we considered disability examiner findings from a prior level of adjudication ...
  • Consistent with our goals to better define and organize our evidence regulations to produce more accurate and consistent determinations and decisions, we propose to define a statement on an issue reserved to the Commissioner as a statement that would direct the determination or decision of disability. ... Although a statement on an issue reserved to the Commissioner would be categorized within other medical evidence if made by a medical source or a statement if made by a nonmedical source, we would not provide any analysis about how we considered such statements at all in our determinations and decisions . ...
  • To help adjudicators, representatives, and courts identify statements on issues reserved to the Commissioner, we propose to include the following in 20 CFR 404.1520b(c)(3) and 416.920b(c)(3) :
  • statements that an individual is or is not disabled, blind, able to work, or able to perform regular or continuing work;  
  • statements about whether or not an individual’s impairment(s) meets the duration requirement for disability; statements about whether or not an individual’s impairment(s) meets or equals any listing in the Listing of Impairments; 
  • in title XVI child claims, statements about whether or not an individual’s impairment(s) functionally equals the Listings; 
  • in adult claims, statements about what an individual’s RFC is using our programmatic terms about the functional exertional levels in Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2, Rule 200.00 in stead of descriptions about his or her functional abilities and limitations ; 
  • in adult claims, statements about whether or not a n individual’s RFC prevents him or her from doing past relevant work; 
  • in adult claims, statements that an individual does or does not meet the requirements of a medical-vocational rule in Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2; and  statements about whether or not a n individual's disability continues or ends when we conduct a continuing disability review (CDR) . ...
  • In order to assist representatives and our adjudicators in interpreting our rules, we propose to revise our rules to state affirmatively our current policy that we will not use a diagnosis, medical opinion, or an individual's statement of symptoms to establish the existence of an impairment(s). We would clarify our rules to state that a physical or mental impairment must be established by objective medical evidence from an AMS. We would continue to follow our current policy if we have objective medical evidence from an AMS that a claimant has a severe impairment(s) at step 2, we will consider all evidence to determine the severity of the impairment(s) and all other findings in the sequential evaluation process. ...
  • [W]e propose several revisions to how we consider medical opinions and prior administrative medical findings. First, we would no longer give a specific weight to medical opinions and prior administrative medical findings; this includes giving controlling weight to medical opinions from treating sources. Instead, we would consider the persuasiveness of medical opinions and prior administrative medical findings using the factors described below. Second, we propose to consider supportability and consistency as the most important factors. Finally, we propose to reorganize the factors to: (1) list the supportability and consistency factors first, (2) include a "relationship with the claimant" factor that combines the content of the current examining relationship and treatment relationship factors, (3) list individually the three different factors currently combined as other factors, and (4) restate the factors using consistent sentence structure. ... 

Merry Christmas

Dec 14, 2016

Gun Control Regulations Approved

     The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has cleared new Social Security regulations that will have the agency passing along information on claimants who have representative payees to the database used to prevent some individuals from purchasing firearms. Expect these final regulations to appear in the Federal Register shortly and to come info effect before inauguration day. However, it would be possible for the incoming administration to refuse to implement them. You will not be able to read the final version of these regulations until they are sent to the Office of Federal Register.

Merry Christmas

Dec 13, 2016

Merry Christmas!

Dec 12, 2016

Regs On Submission Of Evidence Approved

1) the time-frame for notifying claimants of a hearing date;
2) the information in our hearing notices;
3) the period when we require claimants to inform us about or submit written evidence, written statements, objections to the issues, and subpoena requests;
4) what constitutes the official record; and
5) the manner in which the Appeals Council considers additional evidence.
     Expect these to appear in the Federal Register shortly and to become effective before inauguration day. And to respond to a question someone raised, no, you won't be able to see the final version of this until Social Security sends it over to the Office of Federal Register.

Great Ideas Coming Out Of The CBO

     I don't know who's idea it was but the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) included two proposals for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits among its "Options for Reducing the Deficit" -- eliminating eligibility for disability benefits for those 62 and older and requiring claimants to have worked 16 of the past 24 quarters before becoming disabled. The age 62 idea would save $17.4 billion over ten years. The 16/24 idea would save $44.5 billion over ten years. That sounds like small potatoes to me considering the political flak the GOP would take for adopting either but I'm not a Republican looking for ways to pay for a huge tax cut for the wealthiest Americans. By the way, neither idea is new. I think I first heard of the 16/24 idea in the late 1970s and it probably wasn't new then! Also, by the way, the CBO works for whoever controls Congress.
     The CBO also included proposals to eliminate Supplemental Security Income benefits for children, reduce Social Security benefits for new recipients, raise full retirement age and reduce the Social Security Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA).

Dec 11, 2016

A Sign Of What's To Come?

     Just before the House adjourned for Christmas, Sam Johnson, the Chairman of the House Social Security Subcommittee, introduced a bill that would make major cuts in Social Security benefits. Many media outlets have picked up on this as a harbinger of what's to come in the next Congress.
     Before the election, many Congressional Republicans privately expressed grave concerns about Donald Trump's integrity, knowledge, and temperament. They worried about the Russian attempt to influence the election. The gravest concern of these Republican members of Congress seemed to be that Trump isn't a true conservative. However, almost none of these Republicans spoke up publicly because Trump is popular with Republican voters. Now, some people are expecting these profiles in courage to march in lockstep to enact Social Security cuts that would be highly unpopular with Republicans and Democrats alike, when it would be completely predictable that Donald Trump would pull the rug out from under them?

Dec 10, 2016

Online Tools For Deciding When To Claim Benefits

     Social Security's Office of Research, Statistics and Policy Analysis has produced A Comparison of Free Online Tools for Individuals Deciding When to Claim Social Security Benefits. The study compares the free online tools provided by the Social Security Administration itself, the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, the American Association of Retired Persons, Financial Engines and Bankrate. The bottom line is that each has its advantages and disadvantages.

Dec 9, 2016

You Heard It Here First

     The Washington Post has picked up on the story about declining service at Social Security field offices. I posted about this yesterday. I'll keep saying it. Come January 20, the GOP is the 100% owner of the terrible service at Social Security. I expect far more media attention to these problems.

Final Regs On Attorney Conduct Sent To OMB

     Social Security has sent a set of proposed final reguluations to regulate the conduct of attorneys and others who represent claimants before the agency to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for approval. OMB has little time to act on this. The final regulations would need to be in the Federal Register by December 20 to come into effect while Barack Obama is still President.

DCPS Coming Out Slowly

     Social Security has been developing the Disability Case Processing System (DCPS) for some time. It is supposed to replace piecemeal legacy systems now used in handling disability claims pending at the initial and reconsideration levels. The agency's Office of Inspector General (OIG) recently issued a report on DCPS. Here are some excerpts (footnotes omitted):
In May 2016, SSA estimated the first release of DCPS would be available in December 2016 —at a cost of less than $38 million — and would support initial claims and reconsiderations. However, while SSA now expects the actual development costs for the December 2016 release to be about $36.6 million, the release will only include functionality needed to support a limited number of cases . SSA will need to make further investments in the product before it will support initial claims and reconsiderations. ...
SSA previously planned to make DCPS Release 1 available by December 2016 with functionality that would enable users to proce ss both initial claims and reconsiderations. However, as of the date of our report, the Agency planned to make available to three participating DDSs in December 2016 what it refers to as an “ Early -Adopter Release” version of DCPS. The Early-Adopter Release will not include all of the DCPS Core functionality that SSA previously planned for Release 1. Instead, it will only enable users in participating DDSs to process those cases involving the most severely disabled who meet the Agency’s criteria for expedited review —Quick Disability Determinations and Compassionate Allowances.
SSA expects to make the Early Adopter-Release software available to the Delaware, Maine, and Ohio DDSs. However , the participating DDSs will only be able to use the DCPS pre-release software for a small percent of their workloads. Those DDSs would need to continue using their legacy systems to process other workloads -- such as non-expedited disabled adult cases, disabled child cases, and continuing disability review -- until the requisite functionality is developed and made available in subsequent release.

Dec 8, 2016

Come January 20 The GOP Owns This

     From a recent report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG):
While the total number of visitors to all SSA [Social Security Administration] field offices steadily increased between Fiscal Years (FY) 2006 and 2010, the number of visitors began declining in FY 2011 and declined each year through FY 2015. The annual number of visitors to all SSA field offices decreased from 45.4 million in FY 2010 to 40.7 million in FY 2015. 
Even as the number of visitors to SSA field offices has declined each year since FY 2010, customer wait times have increased in all 10 SSA regions. For all regions, the average wait time increased from 19 minutes in FY 2010 to 26 minutes in FY 2015. 
The number of visitors to SSA field offices who waited longer than 1 hour for service significantly increased from FY s 2010 to 2015. In fact, for all regions, the number of field office visitors who waited longer than 1 hour for service increased from 2.3 million in FY 2010 to 4.5 million in FY 2015. Further, more than 11 percent of all visitors to SSA field offices waited longer than 1 hour for service in FY 2015. In contrast, only about 5 percent of visitors waited longer than 1 hour in FY 2010

Dec 7, 2016

Allowing Claimants To Check Status Of Claims And Appeals

     From the Social Security Administration:
In December, Social Security will launch a new service for my Social Security account holders where the public can check on the status of an application for benefits or an appeal filed with us.
The service will provide detailed information about retirement, disability, survivors, Medicare, and Supplemental Security Income claims and appeals filed either online at or with a Social Security employee.
The ability to check your application status will be available online to everyone who has or opens a secure my Social Security. You can open an account at
The service will provide important information about your claim or appeal, including, as appropriate:
  • Date of filing;
  • Current claim location;
  • Scheduled hearing date and time;
  • Re-entry numbers for incomplete applications;
  • Servicing office location; and
  • Claim or appeal decision.

Dec 6, 2016

Status Of FY 2017 Appropriations

     Social Security and all other agencies are operating on continuing funding resolutions. This is likely to be the case until March. With news that the incoming Trump administration probably won't even submit a Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 budget much less a FY 2017 budget, the pending House and Senate appropriations bills become even more important than usual. Below is a summary of what the two bills provide. In each case, the bill has only passed at the committee level. There will be new bills in the next Congress which will be at the least similar but which may not be exactly the same as these bills. Each bill will have to pass at the committee level before going to the House and Senate floors. The two bills must then be reconciled. Note that the money differences between the two houses are small in the context of a total agency appropriation of more than $12 billion.
     I have bolded what I regard as the most important riders, that is provisions in appropriations bills  or at least in committee reports that affect not how much money the agency has to spend but try to affect what the Social Security Administration does with that money. Note that what I have bolded is only in the bill that one of the two appropriations committees passed, not both. The committees may become in some ways more cautious and in other ways less cautious in their demands of the agency with a President who is at least nominally Republican. Do they really want to see changes that would deny far more disability claims if a Republican is in the White House to catch the blame? We'll have to see.

House appropriations bill: $75 million less than FY 2016 

House Riders:
  • The Committee is aware that some locations average twice the processing time of others and that it can take up to two years to process. This degree of differential processing times is a concern to the Committee. The Social Security Administration is directed to include in the fiscal year 2018 budget request steps taken to reduce the processing times at offices that average over 600 days.
  • The Social Security Administration is requested to submit to the Committee an information technology (IT) modernization plan in the fiscal year 2018 budget request. The plan shall include: a complete list of any new systems and significant improvements of existing systems proposed for development; the projected cost of each development project each year to completion including the total estimated cost of development; the estimated annual operations and maintenance costs for each system once development is complete; and a timeline and estimated maintenance cost savings of any legacy systems that will no longer be necessary and are proposed to be eliminated. The plan should also include an assessment of SSA's IT management controls, including how the systems integrate into SSA's enterprise architecture; an analysis of SSA's project management capabilities; and a review of SSA's IT investment and human capital management practices. The requested plan shall address IT funding provided in this Act and any other spending authority planned for or proposed to be used for such purposes.
  • The Committee is aware that SSA was added to the Muscular Dystrophy Coordinating Committee through the Muscular Dystrophy CARE Act Amendments enacted in September 2014. The Committee requests that the agency provide relevant data within the fiscal year 2018 budget request on the rate at which persons with Duchenne and Becker Muscular Dystrophy utilize SSA programs, particularly those focused on promoting employment and community independence such as the Ticket to Work program.
  • SSA's National Hearing Centers (NHCs) provide the SSA with invaluable flexibility and support to address the hearings backlog. Understanding the value of this flexibility and support, the Committee directs SSA to ensure that its upcoming Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) hiring allocates no less than 25 percent of those newly hired ALJs to NHCs.
  • The SSA has committed significant resources to fighting fraud in the Disability Insurance program. To understand if these efforts are effective, the Committee directs the SSA Commissioner to work with the Office of Inspector General to establish a disability fraud rate baseline no later than September 30, 2017.
Senate bill: $32 million more than FY 2016 

Senate Riders:
  • The Committee supports SSA's efforts to reduce the backlog of disability claims hearings. Given the successful implementation of the Disability Hearing Pilot Program in Region 1, the Committee encourages SSA to implement the changes on a nationwide level. The changes should include providing advance notice of a hearing date, and requiring claimants to inform SSA or submit written evidence within a certain period in advance of the hearing, subject to the good cause exception. Furthermore, as recommended in the pilot, SSA should consider removing ``new and material evidence'' as a basis for reopening any decision made at the hearing of Appeals Council levels for benefits based on disability. The Committee requests a report on plans for implementation no later than 60 days after the enactment of this act.
  • The Committee is dedicated to ensuring that the disabled have access to needed benefits, and strongly encourages SSA to work with us to achieve that goal. The Committee continues to be concerned that SSA uses outdated rules to determine whether or not a claimant meets SSA's definition of disability. The Committee is encouraged by SSA's indication that they are beginning the regulatory process, having already received input from the National Disability Forum, the National Institute of Medicine, as well as various aging and employment experts. These initial steps are well received by the Committee as we continue to work with the Administration to modernize the outdated vocational guidelines into a structure that reflects the 21st century labor market. As this is the first significant overhaul of the grid in nearly 40 years, the Committee requests SSA to submit, no later than 60 days after the enactment of this act, a report on its ongoing efforts to update the grid. In addition, the report shall include a study assessing the feasibility of maintaining a continuous update of the medical vocational guidelines every 10 years.
  • The Committee is aware that the Social Security Administration is included in the Muscular Dystrophy Coordinating Committee under the Muscular Dystrophy CARE Act Amendments enacted in September 2014. The Committee expects the agency to make data available on the rate at which persons with Duchenne and Becker Muscular Dystrophy utilize SSA programs, particularly those focused on promoting employment and community independence such as the Ticket to Work Program.
  •  While the Committee commends SSA on its continued Program Integrity efforts towards becoming current with regards to the Continuing Disability Review [CDR] backlog, a recent GAO report found that SSA's CDR prioritization models fail to maximize potential cost savings to the trust funds and the Treasury. Within 1 year, and every 3 years thereafter, the Committee directs SSA to review and update the models for prioritization of CDRs with the primary intent of efficiently and effectively maximizing lifetime cost savings to the Federal Government, both for the DI trust fund and Treasury. A detailed, cost-based explanation for the model's prioritization of different CDR types and justification for any updates made should be included in the annual CDR Report to Congress.
  • The Committee commends SSA for its work to improve program integrity. However, the Committee is concerned, per previous GAO testimony and report findings from the SSA Office of the Inspector General, that confusion still exists about the Medical Improvement Standard (MIRS) and its exceptions. The Committee directs SSA to submit a report no later than 60 days after the enactment of this act on its progress in educating Disability Determinations Services in the proper application of the MIRS and its exceptions.
  • The Committee expects that in resolving claims for disability insurance, SSA's consideration of medical evidence should reflect the degree of relevance and familiarity each medical source has with the effect of an individual's medically determinable impairment(s) on his or her ability to perform Substantial Gainful Activity [SGA]. Since the Treating Physician rule was first published in the Federal Register in 1991, healthcare delivery in the United States has changed significantly and the Treating Physician rule no longer reflects the present reality of the medical personnel with greatest knowledge of an individual's physical and/or mental condition. The Committee encourages SSA to consider revising the controlling weight doctrine in the Treating Physician rule and revising its Acceptable Medical Sources to reflect the new degree of familiarity with their patients, and rigorous training of, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, licensed clinical social workers, audiologists, and speech and language pathologists for the particular impairments that they are well-equipped to treat.
  •  The Committee notes that the SSA's OIG has recommended that SSA periodically determine whether VE fees are appropriate to obtain the required level of VE service. The Committee understands that SSA plans to conduct such a review, including benchmark studies of VE fees paid in the national economy and those paid by other governmental and non-governmental organizations, during SSA's acquisition planning process for the contracts to be awarded in fiscal year 2018. The Committee looks forward to an update in the fiscal year 2018 CJ regarding these studies.

Dec 5, 2016

Conn Cases Reach Court Of Appeals

     Social Security's effort to cut off the disability benefits of many hundreds of Eric Conn's former clients generated an intense legal challenge. Oral arguments of the first of these to reach the Court of Appeals was held last week. This was on the narrow issue of exhaustion of remedies -- whether Social Security claimants had to go through all the steps at Social Security before challenging the process in the courts. You can listen to the audio of the oral argument and tell us how you think it went.
     One backdrop you need to consider to these legal challenges is the extraordinary right wing tilt to the judges who have heard and will hear these cases. The judges on the District Court bench in Kentucky are all Republican appointees. The judges on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals are overwhelmingly Republican appointees. This is quite unlike most federal courts where most judges are Democratic appointees.

Dec 4, 2016

Working Longer

     From an article in the Social Security Bulletin, the agency's scholarly publication:
A retired worker's Social Security benefit depends in part on the age at which he or she claims benefits. Working longer and claiming benefits later increase the monthly benefit. Information about trends in employment at older ages and the age at which individuals claim Social Security benefits can help policymakers assess the effectiveness of current policies in influencing the timing of retirement and benefit claims. Both the labor force participation rate among older Americans and the age at which they claim Social Security retirement benefits have risen in recent years. For example, from 2000 through 2015, the labor force participation rate among individuals aged 65–69 rose from 30 percent to 37 percent for men and from 19 percent to 28 percent for women. Since 2000, the proportion of fully insured men and women who claim retirement benefits at the earliest eligibility age of 62 has declined substantially.

Dec 3, 2016

Poverty High Among Social Security Disability Recipients

Click on each part to view full size. From the Social Security Bulletin.
      Sorry this is divided into two parts. It extended over two pages in the article.
     SPM stands for Supplemental Poverty Measure, an alternate method for defining poverty.

Dec 2, 2016

Gun Control Regulations Sent To OMB

     The Social Security Administration has sent final rules to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) that will require the agency to provide information on claimants who have been appointed representative payees to a database used to determine eligibility to buy firearms. If approved, the final regulations will be posted in the Federal Register. There is still time for these to come into effect before President Obama leaves office but OMB must act fast. Inauguration day is January 20. There has to be a 30 day notice period after final regulations are published before they come into effect. if these regulations become final before inauguration day, it takes a long process to take them off the books.
     By the way, nothing about this proposal would remove firearms from anyone's possession. This is only about the ability to purchase firearms. Also, the notion put forward by some gun nuts that representative payees are appointed to handle the benefits of people who have only minor problems is ridiculous. The only people I see getting representative payees appointed are severely impaired. 
     In reading comments on this board, whether in response to this or other posts, remember that some commenters are paid shills who don't hesitate to lie about their knowledge or experience.

New HIV Listings

     The Social Security Administration has published new final Listings for HIV/AIDS. Thank goodness these Listings aren't nearly as important as they were in years past.

Becerra Leaves Congress

     Xavier Becerra, who had been the top Democrat on the House Social Security Subcommittee, has decided to leave Congress to become the California Attorney General. Becerra had served 12 terms in Congress and was Chairman of the House Democratic Causus. He had earlier announced his intention to become the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee. He was thought of as a potential Speaker of the House and had been mentioned as a potential Vice Presidential candidate. Becerra has been an ardent supporter of Social Security.
     John Larson of Connecticut is the second ranking Democrat on the House Social Security Subcommittee but that doesn't mean he will necessarily become the ranking minority member of the Subcommittee in the next Congress.  Subcommittee membership is somewhat fluid. Larson could move to another Subcommittee or another more senior member of the Ways and Means Committee could move to the Social Security Subcommittee.

Nov 30, 2016

Hearing On Blahous And Reischauer Nominations

     The Senate Finance Committee is holding a hearing at 10:00 today on the nominations of Charles P. Blahous III, and Robert D. Reischauer to become members of the Social Security Advisory Board.
     Update: I should have said these are nominations to become members of the Social Security and Medicare Board of Trustees.

Nov 29, 2016

Order Of Succession To Become Acting Commissioner Of Social Security

     Assuming that Acting Commissioner Colvin submits her resignation at the end of President Obama's term of office as expected, here is the order of succession to become Acting Commissioner of Social Security:
  • Deputy Commissioner for Operations Nancy Berryhill
  • Deputy Commissioner for Budget, Finance, Quality, and Management Michelle King
  • Deputy Commissioner for Systems Robert Kloop
  • Regional Commissioner, Atlanta Rodney Taylor
  • Regional Commissioner, Dallas Sheila Everett
     Note that this order of succession could be altered by President Obama before he leaves office or by Donald Trump after he takes office.

Nov 28, 2016

Action Needed Before Inauguration Day

     From Michael Hiltzik writing in the Los Angeles Times:
The Department of Education and the Social Security Administration jointly are doing yeoman’s work in identifying about 387,000 severely disabled and insolvent Americans saddled with federal student debt they can’t repay and informing them that the law allows their loans to be forgiven. But one agency still needs to act to make sure these people aren’t hit with a tax penalty when that happens: the Internal Revenue Service.
Thus far the IRS has been silent, even though Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) tried to poke it awake last month with a stern letter. Time may be getting short, because the election places the White House and both houses of Congress in the hands of a Republican Party that often has displayed disdain for the plight of people on disability.
 The affected persons have been judged to be totally and permanently disabled and to have annual income below the federal poverty level for a family of two, or less than about $16,000. About 80% of those in this category of disability had zero earnings in 2014, according to the Social Security Administration; of the 16% who report any earnings at all, the average is about $8,000. Their median net worth is $200 — and that might even be an overstatement. But their average student loan balance is $18,000. About half already are in default on their loans, the Education Department says. Under federal law, as disabled and insolvent borrowers they’re eligible to have their federal student loans zeroed out.
But few of the eligible borrowers have been taking advantage of the law. Some may have been dissuaded by the Education Department’s demand for extensive documentation of their medical condition. Some may not even have known about the law.
In April, the Education Department and Social Security Administration got proactive by matching up their databases to identify permanently disabled borrowers, whose medical records are kept by the latter agency. Eligible borrowers were to get a letter explaining their eligibility for loan forgiveness and a streamlined application form. ...
The problem is that under federal tax rules, the balance on forgiven debt can count as income — and the Education Department’s discharge of a loan triggers automatic notification to the IRS....
Even if the recipient owes no taxes — and many of them have virtually no taxable income — they may end up hearing from IRS collection agents or even facing an audit. ...
Warren tried to goad the IRS into issuing a no-action guideline for these borrowers — a blanket rule that tax on student loan forgiveness for the severely disabled should be presumed to be waived. That would avert unnecessary pain for the borrowers and the government agencies alike, she observed.
     By the way, on September 15, 2014, I called on Social Security and the Department of Education to do a database match and automatically cancel the federal student debt for as many of the disabled as possible. A database match program to do exactly what I called for was announced on April 12, 2016. I'd like to think I deserve credit for coming up with this idea but who knows. It should have been obvious to Social Security and the Department of Education without anyone from the outside suggesting it. I don't know why they took so long to do it.

Nov 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving!

Nov 23, 2016

SSA Wants To Get Program Uniformity Rules Finalized Before Change Of Administration

     I'm surprised that this is being done so late. Typically a new President suspends not just ongoing regulatory actions but new rules that have been finalized but which have not yet gone into effect. Since Social Security has to give at least 30 days notice before a final rule goes into effect, OMB has little time to act on this proposal.
     By the way, if you were going to rush something through, why wouldn't you rush through the proposal to prevent claimants who need a representative payee from buying guns?

Nov 22, 2016

Man Arrested After Punching Hole In Wall At Social Security Office

     From WPBN/WGTU in Michigan:
A 32-year-old Ludington man was arrested after allegedly punching a hole in the wall at the Social Security Office. ...
According to the Mason County Sheriff's Office, a man reportedly became upset and loud inside the office over what he felt was unfair treatment. The man was then asked to leave when deputies say he allegedly punched the wall with his fist, causing damage.

Nov 21, 2016

An Addition To Trump's Social Security Transition Team

     From the Washington Examiner:
An announcement from President-elect Trump's transition team hints that the incoming administration may be more open to changes in Social Security than the Republican suggested on the campaign trail, if personnel is any guide.
The transition team announced Monday that former Dallas mayor and former Texas Senate candidate Tom Leppert would be part of the "landing team" tasked with preparing the Trump administration to take over control of the Social Security Administration.
Leppert has endorsed raising the retirement age and partially privatizing Social Security, the kinds of changes that Trump has said would reduce the old-age program to shreds.
    The Washington Examiner is a very right wing publication which burns with true fire for the dream of weakening Social Security before killing it. I don't think there's even the smallest chance that Trump would actually attempt such a thing much less that they would succeed. I don't think that Democrats will be that lucky. However, I think we have to put Leppert's name down as a contender for the position of Commissioner of Social Security. I can't imagine why he would have even wanted to be on the Social Security transition team if he wasn't interested in the job of Commissioner.

Number Of Social Security Disability Recipients Declining

Nov 18, 2016

Many To Leave Social Security Because Of Change Of Administration?

    There are reports on the ALJ Discussion Forum that Acting Social Security Commissioner Carolyn Colvin told agency employees in an in-house television broadcast that she and many other unnamed officials will be leaving their jobs at Social Security at the time of the inauguration. There is nothing surprising about Colvin leaving. That was widely expected.  However, it is surprising that many others would choose to leave Social Security because of the change of administration. That is not at all what has happened in the past.
    The same source contains a report that agency employees have been told to expect that appropriations problems will slow down the hiring of Administrative Law Judges. The slowdown in hiring is inevitable given the appropriations problem. Backlogs are going to grow rapidly over the next four or five months, at least. No one knows what to expect beyond that.

Nov 17, 2016

Getting A Little Feisty

     From the testimony of  Robert Klopp, Deputy Commissioner of Systems and Chief Information Officer, Social Security Administration yesterday to the Subcommittee on Information Technology, House Committee on Oversight and Information Technology:
... In our last hearing, some Members voiced concerns about a lack of leadership on cybersecurity at the agency. I appreciate this concern, but I also think we need to be careful about assuming that any security weakness is the result of bad management. If the fact that there are vulnerabilities in our IT infrastructure reflects a lack of leadership, then I accept the responsibility for the lack of leadership. If the criteria is that, if DHS [Department of Homeland Security] finds anything wrong, this reflects a lack of leadership, then I accept the responsibility. But this also means that every agency that has a vulnerability, exploited or not, has a leadership issue - and that means every agency, not just SSA. ...
The SSA can shift funding from our IT budget for cyber, but soaking up any savings by spending it on cyber does not fund continuous improvement. It does not fund IT modernization. The idea that the SSA, or any agency, can do more in cyber while simultaneously rebuilding our IT infrastructure is no less a fantasy than the idea that the country can modernize any other infrastucture - our roads, our dams, our electric grid, our military - without an investment.
My testimony includes a request to modernize IT and to fund improvements in cyber defenses. Wishing for better IT from cost cutting will not help. Wishing for cost-cuts with no investment will not help. Passing legislation without providing funding is not enough. ...

Nov 14, 2016

I Don't Know

     People keep asking me what's going to happen at Social Security with Donald Trump as President. For the most part, I don't know. I'm pretty sure that the people on Trump's Social Security transition team have little idea. It would be too early in any transition and there are ample signs that this will be a more disorganized transition than usual.Much may depend upon Trump's pick for Social Security Commissioner but that may not come for six months or more and it may not matter that much anyway. In most administrations, the Social Security Commissioner seems mostly to be told to not make waves.
     The one thing that people worry about the most -- that Trump would try to privatize Social Security -- is out of the question. He's signaled that he opposes that. Few Congressional Republicans would have the heart for such a fight. Even Donald Trump can recognize that this is a fight he would lose badly. I wish he would try but he won't.
     While there are many, many frightening things that could happen at Social Security in a year or two or four, the only immediate threat is to the agency's operating budget. We're on a continuing resolution now which runs out in December, if I remember correctly. I expect that will get rolled over until the Spring. Over the past six years the House GOP has been demanding greater and greater cuts for all agencies, including Social Security, and damn the consequences. However, it's been noticeable in the past that the Congressional GOP has always seemed far more interested in budget austerity when there was a Democratic President than when there was a Republican President, not that Social Security fared well under President George W. Bush. We are at the point that the news media can already report on horrendous backlogs at Social Security, if they choose to. Do Republicans want to risk bad media coverage on this? Do they even recognize or care about that risk when they've just been able to elect a President who's been accused of, among other things, sexually abusing more than a dozen women?

Nov 12, 2016

Transition Team For Social Security?

     I'm not familiar with but they're reporting that Mike Korbey, former senior advisor to the principal deputy commissioner at the Social Security Administration in George W. Bush’s administration; former Reagan Social Security Commissioner Dorcas Hardy; former Social Security Inspector General Patrick O’Carroll; and former Social Security General Counsel David Black have been appointed to Trump's transition team for the Social Security Administration. Korbey and Hardy have a history of supporting privatization of Social Security, although I strongly doubt that any such plan will be forthcoming in a Trump administration. I can say that O'Carroll was no fan of Social Security disability claimants when he was at Social Security. I'm not familiar with Black.

Nov 11, 2016

Nov 10, 2016

My Theory

     For at least the last four years attorneys who represent Social Security disability claimants have been asking each other why there has been little news media coverage of the human costs of the unprecedented backlogs of Social Security disability claims and the general harshness in adjudicating these claims. Large numbers of people are dying while waiting for action on their claims. Many disability claims are wrongly denied, particularly claims based upon mental illness. After all, smaller backlogs and less harsh policies had received extensive media coverage in years past. Why not now?
     My theory on why there has been so little coverage is that the think tanks and advocacy groups based in D.C. who ought to be initiating the media coverage were instead squelching it because they were afraid that a Democratic president would be blamed even though the fault, at least for the backlogs, clearly lies with the Republicans in Congress who have failed to give the Social Security Administration an adequate appropriation.
     If my theory is correct, expect lots of media attention next year to the backlogs. We could have used the attention to these problems over the last four years.

Nov 9, 2016

The Greatest Of All Tools

     I am reminded that a college friend once told me that the hammer is the greatest of all tools because if you can't fix it with a hammer by the time you're done with it, it can't be fixed.

Nov 8, 2016

ODAR Workload And Performance Summary -- FY 2016 -- Rapid Deterioration In Service And SSA Doesn't Care

     This was obtained from Social Security by the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR) and published in their newsletter (which isn't available online). Click on the image to view it full size.
     Note that they were getting in an average of 2,798 new cases per workday in fiscal year 2016 but only disposing of 2,545 cases per day. That's a 9% shortfall. The backlog increased by 61,107 cases over the course of the fiscal year. Those are real people, most of whom will ultimately be found disabled.
     Note that Senior Attorney dispositions totaled only 1,187 cases over the entire fiscal year. Social Security, you can pretend to credulous members of Congress that you care about the backlogs but don't try telling that to me. It's simple. If you care about the backlogs, you take the brakes off and increase the number of Senior Attorney decisions dramatically. If you're not willing to do that, you just don't care about the backlogs. Senior Attorney decisions are an excellent way of doing something quickly about the backlogs. They don't ultimately do anything other than quickly approve cases that would ultimately be approved anyway.

Nov 7, 2016

SSA Doesn't Make News Just Before An Election So Here's An Interesting Picture

NC Museum Of Art Park 11/6/16

Nov 2, 2016

RCALJ Oliver Garmon In The News Again

     An Atlanta television station is running a piece on employment discrimination at Social Security, featuring Regional Chief Administrative Law Judge Oliver Garmon.

Oct 31, 2016

Mass Killing By Social Security

     From The News Advance of Lynchburg, VA (emphasis added):
The Luedkes — husband George and wife Ann — had just returned from vacation in late August when they learned the unthinkable.
Ann Luedke was dead, and had been for 12 years, according to the Social Security Administration. Within days, tens of thousands of dollars would be withdrawn from their joint bank accounts by the U.S. Treasury Department — repayment, the federal government reasoned, for Social Security benefits paid to Ann for the three years in which she had been drawing benefits.
“I don’t remember dying,” Ann said, laughing. “I would have noticed.” ...
On Sept. 6, Ann visited the local Social Security Administration office on Timberlake Road and met with an employee who found that Ann was declared deceased. Ann recalled that her record was partially corrected.
The next day, George and Ann visited the local office together. Later the same day, Ann received a voicemail by an employee in the local office informing her that she was among several thousand people affected by a system input error and the Social Security Administration was working on the problem. ...
[Social Security spokesman Daniel O'Connor] said he could not comment on the Luedke case specifically, citing privacy laws.
When speaking of the assertion that several thousand people were erroneously declared deceased, O’Connor referenced an audit conducted by the Office of the Inspector General in 2015 that raised concerns about the accuracy of death records collected by the Social Security Administration.
 The Social Security Administration reached out to five states — including Virginia — to conduct a pilot by which the agency sought to obtain “historical death data” to “further explore filling potential gaps in our records,” O’Connor said. In August 2016, the Social Security Administration posted approximately 40,000 death records from Virginia and two other states in the pilot. While around half of those records reflected true deaths that matched records of the Social Security Administration, it was discovered that some of the remaining 19,000 matches were in error, O’Connor said. ...
     Are you kidding me? Why has there been no public announcement on this? Why no Emergency Message? Did Social Security think no one would notice? Having one's name wrongly added to the Death Master File causes massive problems.

Oct 27, 2016

Clinton Plan Popular

     From Public Policy Polling:
Do you support or oppose increasing – not
cutting – Social Security benefits by asking
millionaires and billionaires to pay more into
the system?
Support increasing – not cutting - Social
Security benefits by asking millionaires and
billionaires to pay more into the system
Oppose increasing – not cutting - Social
Security benefits by asking millionaires and
billionaires to pay more into the system

     Even 51% of Republicans support increasing Social Security benefits while asking the wealthy to pay more.