Jul 31, 2016

New Security Requirements

     From Social Security:
The Social Security Administration (SSA) has added an extra layer of security for our customers when they interact with us online using the my Social Security suite of services. my Social Security account holders are required to use their cell phone, in addition to their username and password, as an additional authentication factor during online registration and every sign in. 
We implemented multifactor authentication (MFA) to comply with Executive Order 13681, which requires federal agencies to provide more secure authentication for their online services. We are committed to using the best technologies and standards available to protect our customers’ data. MFA is just one of the ways we ensure the safety and security of the resources entrusted to us. Since we launched my Social Security in May 2012, we have provided this added security of MFA as an option to our customers.
Now, all new and current my Social Security account holders will need to provide a cell phone number able to receive text messages. People will not be able to access their personal my Social Security account if they do not have a cell phone or do not wish to provide the cell phone number. We expect to provide additional options in the future, dependent upon requirements of national guidelines currently being revised.
     Don't anybody tell Social Security that it's possible to get text messages without a cell phone. 

Jul 30, 2016

A Social Security Casebook

     There's old saying that law school isn't set up to teach people the law. It's set up to teach people how to think like a lawyer. This won't make much sense to you if you're not a lawyer but, trust me, it does make sense to anyone who's gone through law school only to realize that they really didn't know much about the law. Given that the focus of law school has more to do with modes of thinking and less with the practical aspects of practicing, you'd expect that Social Security law wouldn't be taught much and you'd be right. However, some law schools do teach the subject. Professor Jon Dubin of Rutgers Law School was kind enough to send me a copy of a Social Security casebook that he and Frank Bloch, Emeritus Professor at Vanderbilt Law School, put together. Actually, this is at least the second edition of the book. It's quite good. I would recommend it to anyone learning Social Security law. 
     I have to say that looking at the price of the book brought home to me how long it's been since I was in law school. I think I remember casebooks being about $30-$40 back then but, of course, we were studying by whale oil lamps back then!

Jul 29, 2016

Mind Boggling

     There's a report out that AARP, which bills itself as Social Security's most ardent supporter, is helping fund the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a sinister far right group which has long advocated privatization of Social Security.

Jul 28, 2016

List Of Those Disqualified From Representing Claimants

     Social Security has recently posted a list of attorneys and others who have been sanctioned for misconduct in representing claimants before the agency. It's a longer list than I would have thought although it does go back more than 30 years. I only counted five names added to the list in the year before this was posted. He's not representing clients before the agency now anyway but Eric Conn's name isn't on the list.

Jul 27, 2016

Tape Your Conversations With Social Security?

     Laurence Kotlikoff, writing for Forbes, recommends that you tape your conversations with Social Security because "you do not want to be powerless in facing Social Security’s bureaucracy when it is your word against theirs and tens of thousands of dollars hang in the balance."
     What do you think?

Jul 26, 2016

Crime Doesn't Pay: Part One Gazillion

     From a Social Security press release:
Sophia Dix, 35, of Newport News, was sentenced today to 15 months in prison for wire fraud.  Dix was also sentenced to three years of supervised release and ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $97,584.94.
Dix pleaded guilty on April 25, 2016. According to court documents, from in or about April 2014, through in or about August 2015, Dix devised a scheme to defraud the Social Security Administration (SSA), where she was employed as a service representative at a district office in Norfolk. She had computer access to Social Security Administration beneficiary information, including bank account data for the direct deposit of benefit payments into the bank accounts of beneficiaries. Dix obtained monies for herself by fraudulently processing computer changes to beneficiary account information so that benefit payments would be deposited directly into prepaid reloadable debit card accounts that she opened at a financial institution in the name of a deceased beneficiary. As a result, Dix fraudulently diverted over $97,000 into the prepaid reloadable debit card accounts, which she used for her personal benefit.

Those Cheating Grannies

     From a recent report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG):
We reviewed a random sample of 250 Title II spousal or widow(er) beneficiaries to determine whether they reported their marriages to SSA while they were receiving Title XVI payments as single individuals. Of the 250 beneficiaries, we identified 41 who did not appear to have reported their marriages to SSA while they were receiving Title XVI payments and may have received improper Title XVI payments because of spousal income.
We referred these 41 beneficiaries to our Office of Investigations (OI) to investigate their living arrangements while they were receiving Title XVI payments. OI determined seven beneficiaries were not living with their spouses so were not overpaid, and one beneficiary had potentially committed fraud, resulting in a $104,998 overpayment.
OI did not pursue investigations on the remaining 33 beneficiaries because the potential overpayments were below the applicable U.S. Attorneys’ thresholds for prosecution and/or the periods of potential overpayment were outside the statute of limitations. Since OI did not pursue investigations, we referred these 33 beneficiaries to SSA to assess any overpayments. Of the 33 beneficiaries, SSA determined
  • 22 were not living with their spouses so were not overpaid, and
  • for 7, there was insufficient evidence to proceed with a review. For the remaining four beneficiaries, SSA’s review was ongoing as of July 2016.
Given that our audit did not identify a significant number of beneficiaries who were living with their spouses and overpaid while receiving Title XVI p ayments, we are not making a recommendation.
     Potentially, there are many people who would be affected if Social Security were to start trying to catch widows and widowers who failed to report marriages to the agency. There could be many overpayments and criminal prosecutions. Is Social Security willing to go there? Does Congress want them to? Is disability fraud the only fraud that Congress is interested in?

Jul 25, 2016

Try Being Social Security Czar

     Want to run your own simulations of potential changes to Social Security such as raising full retirement age, raising or lowering benefits, lifting the FICA cap? Take a look at the Penn Wharton simulator
     It's interesting that the model doesn't even allow you to look at the effects of completely removing the cap on the FICA tax. The model only allows you to raise it to $400,000. Penn Wharton seems to believe that's completely off the table.
     If you're a fan of raising full retirement age or fiddling with COLA, be warned. Neither gets you very far. You're going to have to do a lot more than that.

CDRs Target Children; Little Threat To Adults

     Social Security has released numbers on its Continuing Disability Reviews (CDRs) which determine whether those receiving disability benefits remain disabled and eligible for benefits. In 2015 Social Security did 1,971,812 CDRs. That's a big number. However, 59%, of those reviews were just "mailers." They just mail the claimant a form to complete. Unless the claimant reports that that he or she has gotten better or that they've gone back to work, that's pretty much it. Of the 767,797 who got a full medical review, 201,317 were actually cut off. That's 26% of those who got a full medical review but only 10% of those who were subjected to any sort of review, including the "mailers." As low as that number is, it's misleading. A full 65% of those cut off benefits are children. The agency is really targeting them. If you're an adult drawing Social Security disability benefits, your chance of being cut off due to a CDR is only 5%.
     The bottom line is that few Social Security disability recipients get better. You could review more people more intensively but you'd be wasting money. Many who are unfamiliar with the program think that most Social Security disability recipients have had a heart attack or have been in an automobile accident but that they'll get better. Wrong. Your disability has to be expected to last at least a year to get on benefits. The people who were going to get better never got on disability benefits in the first place. I wish it were otherwise but if you're been disabled for at least a year, it's unlikely that you're going to get better. You can talk all you want about medical advances but if they're going to help you get better, that's probably going to happen within a few months after you get sick or injured.

Jul 24, 2016

Chamber Of Commerce Favors FICA Hike In Conjunction With Benefit Cuts

     The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has endorsed an increase in the FICA tax that supports the Social Security trust funds but only in conjunction with benefit cuts and raising full retirement age. This is, I suppose, a step forward for them.

Jul 23, 2016

Questions Raised About Margaret Thatcher's Son And U.S. Social Security -- Seriously

     This is from RT, which is apparently a Russian television network so it's obviously suspect (emphasis added):
Secret files detailing the shadowy Middle Eastern business activities of Sir Mark Thatcher, son of the late former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, will be kept under lock and key in government archives instead of being published as expected. 
Four batches of documents on the younger Thatcher are being retained despite official legislation dictating documents should be released after 20 years unless there are good reasons to retain them in Britain’s National Archives. ...
Two further files have been designated as "temporarily retained" and have been assigned no date for release. These are titled ‘Mark Thatcher and the Omanis; other allegations against Mark Thatcher’ and ‘Request by Electronic Data Systems to employ Mark Thatcher.’
It is thought the files pertain to Middle Eastern construction contracts and a role Mark Thatcher took up at the US Department of Social Security while his mother was still in high office.
     Of course, it's also an extremely stale story if it's any story at all.

Jul 22, 2016

NPRM Packet To OMB On Evidence

     This is Social Security's description of a Notice of Proposed Rule-Making (NPRM) that the agency has sent to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB):
We are proposing several revisions to our medical evidence rules. The proposals include redefining several key terms related to evidence, explaining what is and is not evidence, revising our list of acceptable medical sources (AMS), revising how we consider and articulate our consideration of medical opinions and prior administrative medical findings, revising who can be a medical consultant (MC) and psychological consultant (PC), revising our rules about treating sources, and reorganizing our evidence regulations for ease of use. These proposed revisions conform with the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 (BBA), reflect changes in the national healthcare workforce and in the manner that individuals receive primary medical care, simplify and reorganize our rules to make them easier to understand and apply, allow us to continue to make accurate and consistent decisions, and emphasize the need for objective medical evidence in disability and blindness claims.
     OMB has to approve the NPRM before it is published in the Federal Register. The public can then comment upon it. The agency must "consider" the comments but the "consideration" is generally limited to giving a brief explanation of why they don't agree with the comment unless the comment has to do with something as minor as punctuation. After that process is finished, the final regulation goes back to OMB and then into the Federal Register again after which it goes into effect. However, we'll have a new President and Commissioner before this happens.

Jul 21, 2016

We're Number Six!

     The Partnership for Public Service's rankings of the best places to work in the federal government, among large agencies, based upon Office of Personnel Management surveys:

1 National Aeronautics and Space Administration 76.1 74.6 1.5 
2 Intelligence Community 67.1 67.9 -0.8 
3 Department of Justice 66.3 63.8 2.5 
3 Department of State 66.3 68.2 -1.9 
5 Department of Commerce 66.2 68.7 -2.5 
6 Social Security Administration 66.0 63.2 2.8 
7 Department of Health and Human Services 63.9 61.8 2.1 
8 Department of Labor 63.1 58.7 4.4 
8 Department of Transportation 63.1 60.4 2.7 
10 Department of the Air Force 60.0 56.8 3.2 

Jul 20, 2016

Don't Spend It All In One Place

     Social Security's Office of Chief Actuary is estimating a cost of living adjustment (COLA) this year between 0.0% and 0.7% with the intermediate estimate being 0.2%.

Jul 19, 2016

Budget Cuts Threaten Furloughs At Social Security

     From a press release (emphasis added):
The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) National Council of SSA Field Operations Locals (NCSSAFOL) is warning the public and Social Security beneficiaries of the danger of the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee's decision to cut President Obama's proposed budget request for the Social Security Administration (SSA) by $1.2 billion, $263 million below the Fiscal Year 2016 spending level.
Witold Skwierczynski, President of the NCSSAFOL, states that the House budget cuts will result in a ten-day furlough of all SSA workers, an agency-wide hiring freeze, a reduction in local field office hours, permanent closing of many field offices, increases in wait times on SSA's National 800 number and field offices, and an increase in processing times for benefits. ...
The AFGE National Council of SSA Field Operations Locals represents 28,000 employees in 1250 Social Security field offices  and 28 Teleservice Centers across the country, including Puerto Rico, and the Pacific Islands.

Eanes Nomination Stalled

     I don't know what's going on but there's been no action on the Senate floor on the nomination of Andrew Lamont Eanes to become Deputy Commissioner of Social Security even though the nomination was reported out of the Senate Finance Committee almost three months ago. At this point, it's not clear that the Senate is willing to act on any Obama nominee.

Jul 18, 2016

Why Is This Legal?

     From an accounting firm's newsletter:
The federal self-employment (SE) tax just keeps going higher and higher. [No, apart from a cost of living adjustment in the earnings base, it hasn't changed in many years.] If you've reached the breaking point, there may be a way to tame the SE tax beast by converting your existing unincorporated small business into an S corporation. ...
So it may be time to consider an S corporation conversion. Reason: The SE tax doesn't apply to earnings from an S corporation business. 
The FICA tax is only due on an S corporation shareholder-employee's salary. So when the company pays only a portion of its profits to the owner, or owners, in the form of a reasonable salary, with the remaining portion paid out in the form of cash distributions, only the salary portion is hit with Social Security and Medicare taxes (in the form of the FICA tax). The profits paid out as cash distributions are exempt from the FICA tax (and exempt from the SE tax too)....

Thanks, Trump

     The Social Security field office in downtown Cleveland will be closed this week because of the Republican national convention.

Jul 17, 2016

People Cut Off Social Security Disabilty Benefits Struggle

     And these are claimants that Social Security has found to be medically improved.

Jul 16, 2016

Jul 15, 2016

This Would Be A Lot Less Difficult To Address Than COBOL Problems

     From the written testimony of Rick Warsinskey, President, National Council of Social Security Management Associations(NCSSMA) an organization of Social Security managers, mostly at field offices, before the House Social Security Subcommittee yesterday:
... Every day, SSA [Social Security Administration] employees wait and watch as their computers crawl from one system’s window to another. Users watch the spinning wheel move as programs and screens attempt to load, losing valuable time that could be used to assist other customers or address workload backlogs. Around noon Eastern Time every day our system reaches peak capacity and the slowness becomes most apparent, as almost all the offices in the country are open to the public and taking claims, talking to the public on the telephone, or handling some aspect of a claimant’s record. We can demonstrate the degradation of SSA computer speed in real numbers. We surveyed our offices and found that data speed tests showed these median Megabits per Second (Mbps) speeds: 
Download: 2.87 Mbps 
Upload: .25 Mbps 
A year ago when we surveyed the same measurements, the median speeds were: Download: 
3.45 Mbps 
Upload: 2.0 Mbps 
This degradation in data speeds supports the nearly universal feedback we are receiving that our system is slowing down significantly. It is important to note the data speeds you can typically expect to receive from cable internet service providers are now over 50 Mbps for download and 10 Mbps for upload speed. ...
Our computers often freeze or applications become inaccessible and require a reboot. It can take 10 minutes to restart a computer and get back online. We are often unable to run live video training or engage in video communications with the public due to lack of bandwidth. Once we open more than five programs on our computers, they often freeze, requiring us to reboot the system. Internet access and our e-mail communications are also excruciatingly slow.
Our online time and attendance system (WebTA), which is the system used to pay employees, periodically freezes and is often down on the day we certify payroll for employees. Additional time is spent on the telephone waiting to talk to our internal help desk to resolve computer issues that we are experiencing. The need to call the help desk will only increase as SSA expands telework and calls to resolve access issues increase.

Jul 13, 2016

Proposed Rules On Appointed Representatives

     The Social Security Administration is clearing out its regulatory cupboard as we approach the end of the Obama administration and the end of Carolyn Colvin's tenure as Acting Commissioner of Social Security. The agency has sent to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) a proposal titled Revisions to Rules of Conduct and Standards of Responsibility for Appointed Representatives. The following blurb is all that it is publicly known at the moment.
This regulatory change adds several affirmative duties and prohibited actions for representatives. We will clarify some of our rules regarding processing representative sanction actions at the hearing and Appeals Council levels and change the timeframe for suspended representatives to request reinstatement when the Appeals Council denies an initial request for reinstatement from 1 to 3 years.
     OMB is part of the White House. If OMB approves the proposed rules, which is not automatic, the proposal get published in the Federal Register. The public can then comment on the proposal. The agency must consider the comments. The consideration given is usually nothing more than giving some meaningless reason why the comment will be ignored. This process generally takes at least a year.

Jul 12, 2016

Draft Appropriations Bill Calls For Decrease In Social Security Operating Funds

     The House Appropriations Committee has released a draft appropriations bill for fiscal year 2017, which begins on October 1, 2016, covering Social Security's administrative budget. Here's the summary:
The bill provides $11.9 billion to administer SSA activities – a decrease of $250 million from the fiscal year 2016 enacted level – to ensure those served by the program receive efficient and timely assistance and services. One‑time costs for building renovations provided in fiscal year 2016 make up a majority of the decrease.
     I'm all in favor of reducing the appropriation for the building renovation. The appropriation for the current year included an exorbitant amount of money for the renovation of one office building at Social Security's central offices. This had not been requested by the agency or the President. It was added to get the support of Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, where the money would be spent. However, the agency as a whole is in dire straits and needs a significant increase in operating funds.

Does This Address Real Problems?

     From a Notice of Proposed Rule-Making (NPRM)published in the Federal Register today by the Social Security Administration:
404.935 (a) ... Each party must make every effort to ensure that the administrative law judge receives all of the evidence and must inform us about or submit any written evidence, as required in Sec. 404.1512, no later than 5 business days before the date of the scheduled hearing. If you do not comply with this requirement, the administrative law judge may decline to consider or obtain the evidence unless the circumstances described in paragraph (b) of this section apply.
(b) If you have evidence required under Sec. 404.1512 but you have missed the deadline described in paragraph (a) of this section, the administrative law judge will accept the evidence if he or she has not yet issued a decision and you show that you did not inform us about or submit the evidence before the deadline because:
(1) Our action misled you;
(2) You had a physical, mental, educational, or linguistic limitation(s) that prevented you from informing us about or submitting the evidence earlier; or
(3) Some other unusual, unexpected, or unavoidable circumstance beyond your control prevented you from informing us about or submitting the evidence earlier. For example, the administrative law judge will accept the evidence if you show that:
(i) You were seriously ill, and your illness prevented you from contacting us in person, in writing, or through a friend, relative, or other person;
(ii) There was a death or serious illness in your immediate family;
(iii) Important records were destroyed or damaged by fire or other accidental cause; or
(iv) You actively and diligently sought evidence from a source and, through no fault of your own, the evidence was not received or was received less than 5 business days prior to the hearing. ...
404.938 Notice of a hearing before an administrative law judge.
(a) Issuing the notice. After we set the time and place of the hearing, we will mail notice of the hearing to you at your last known address, or give the notice to you by personal service, unless you have indicated in writing that you do not wish to receive this notice. We will mail or serve the notice at least 60 days before the date of the hearing...
404.949 Presenting written statements and oral arguments.
You or a person you designate to act as your representative may appear before the administrative law judge to state your case, present a written summary of your case, or enter written statements about the facts and law material to your case in the record. You must provide a copy of your written statements for each party no later than 5 business days before the date set for the hearing.
     This seems to me to be an attempt to blame the attorneys who represent Social Security claimants for the horrible hearing backlog. We're not to blame. It's the fault of the Congress which has failed to give the agency adequate operating funds. This sort of thing gives aid and comfort to those who would blame the victims of the backlog. Even taken at face value this proposal could address no more than the tiniest sliver of the backlog.
     I have often found that Social Security employees who have never been involved in obtaining evidence from claimants' medical sources haven't the slightest idea how difficult and time consuming this can be, nor how long it can take. Doctors and hospitals aren't standing around eager to hop on my request for medical records. They often sit on requests for weeks or months and ignore telephone calls urging them to act. They often invent bizarre excuses for failing to act, such as "This is a photocopied signature and we can't accept that" when the printed medical release was obviously signed in blue ballpoint ink. One of the biggest dodges is to demand that the patient sign the medical provider's own medical release. These medical providers refuse to accept medical releases designed to meet all legal standards. Only their medical release is good enough even though some of the provider medical releases fail to meet legal standards. Can you imagine how difficult this can be when an attorney is dealing with hundreds of medical practices and a dozens of hospitals? And I haven't even mentioned claimants who fail to communicate with their attorneys. Due to homelessness, poverty and mental illness many claimants lead highly disordered lives. It's hard to get them on the phone and when you do, it's hard to get information out of them. Every attorney who represents claimants will tell you tales of claimants who denied new medical sources in a phone call a month or two before a hearing but who then show up on the day of the hearing and tell the attorney about hospitalizations and new physicians that date back well before that phone conversation. Worse, some claimants simply disappear for months and then show up on the day of the hearing. I make diligent efforts to obtain medical evidence on my clients. I generally contact my clients, to the extent I can, two months prior to a hearing to update their medical records but sometimes the medical evidence still hasn't arrived by the date of the hearing. And, no, I'm not just starting to obtain medical evidence two months prior to the date of the hearing. That starts soon after the request for hearing. I'm talking about updates here. Administrative Law Judges want up to date medical records and so do I but it's a moving target. New medical records keep getting created.

Jul 11, 2016

Social Security Subcommittee Schedules Hearing

      From a press release:
Today, House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson (R-TX) announced that the Subcommittee will hold a hearing entitled “Modernizing Social Security’s Information Technology Infrastructure” on Thursday, July 14, at 10:00 ...
Upon announcing the hearing, Chairman Johnson said:
... “What makes no sense is that, despite the importance of this information, Social Security relies on technology so outdated it is not even taught in computer science classes.
“For years, I’ve sounded the alarm on the dangers of Social Security’s outdated and aging IT. I look forward to hearing Social Security’s plan to update its IT for the 21st century – a plan we have been asking to see for far too long. ...
     Republican lawmakers like to talk about Social Security's technology problems. It's a good way of deflecting attention away from Social Security's staffing problems which are 100% the result of inadequate funding. Also, Republican lawmakers want to make very sure that if Social Security gets any additional funding that most of it goes to contractors instead of hiring additional staff. The technology problems are certainly real but so are the staffing problems. Throwing money at the technology problems will help but it won't be quick and it won't be easy. Throwing money at the staffing problems will definitely work and work fairly quickly and easily.
     By the way, there are two reasons why Social Security can't come up with a long term IT plan. First, technology is changing so fast that any long term plan will be outmoded long before it can be implemented. Second, the agency has a hard time with even medium range IT planning because it has no idea what funding level to expect in coming years.

Jul 10, 2016

Read Charles Binder's Employment Contract With Binder And Binder

     For those interested in learning what's going on in the Binder and Binder bankruptcy, take a look at this objection filed by Charles Binder. It's hard to follow but attached to it are copies of contracts that Charles Binder had with Binder & Binder – The National Social Security Disability Advocates (NY), LLC which may be of more interest. By the way, the link I'm giving will only be good until July 15 so download it while you can!

Jul 9, 2016

Why Wouldn't Democratic Platform Endorse Expanding Social Security?

     From the Washington Post:
The Democratic National Committee added a call for a $15 minimum wage to its 2016 platform, a victory for progressives produced by a deal between supporters of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Just an hour later, however, Clinton-loyal members of the platform committee defeated two amendments that would have committed the party to expanding Social Security — a moment marked by cries of "Shame!" and "Are you Democrats?" from Sanders supporters sitting in the observation area of the Hilton hotel where the party was meeting.

Jul 8, 2016

Would You Name Your Daughter After A Character In "Game Of Thrones"?

     From the Houston Chronicle:
Using name data from the Social Security Administration, MooseRoots, a genealogy research site that’s part of Graphiq, set out to discover which names broke their own popularity records in 2015. To do this, they found the 100 most popular names, 50 from each gender, that were ranked higher in the U.S. than ever before. ...
The most popular record-breaking female name of 2015 is Charlotte. ... This spike could partially be explained by the arrival of the royal baby Princess Charlotte. ...
Of the 50 most popular record-breaking female names, several can be connected to figures from pop culture. The popularity of the name “Arya” could partially be due to the “Game of Thrones” character Arya Stark played by actress Maisie Williams. The name “Emilia” also appears on the list, perhaps for the same reason. Emilia Clarke plays Daenerys Targaryen in the hit HBO show. ...
“Riley”, which reached a peak popularity ranking of 35, might be due to Riley Curry, daughter of well-known NBA player Stephen Curry. “Ivy” made the list as well, perhaps due to BeyoncĂ© and Jay-Z’s daughter Blue Ivy Carter, who made a cameo in BeyoncĂ©’s “7/11” music video. ...
Of the 50 most popular record-breaking male names, a few are worth highlighting. The popularity of the name “Jaxon” which reached its peak popularity ranking of 44, could be connected to pop singer Justin Bieber’s younger brother Jaxon Bieber. “Maddox” which also makes the top 50, is the name of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s adopted son. ...

Jul 7, 2016

Kind Of Pathetic

     There's been a controversy over the Social Security Administration's efforts to collect ancient debts, some more than thirty years old, by seizing current benefits owed as well as tax refunds. Social Security generally has no records to substantiate that anything was ever owed. Often the agency tries to collect debts from the children of the person allegedly overpaid.
     Inevitably, these extreme debt collection practices have generated litigation. Apparently, Social Security has no confidence in its ability to defend its practices. The agency is now trying to moot a class action lawsuit by writing off the alleged debt of the named plaintiff. This has generated an appeal.
     Let me suggest that if Social Security doesn't think it can win in court on the merits of its position that it should change its position. This effort to moot the litigation is unworthy of a government agency.

Jul 6, 2016

Happy Birthday FOIA!

     The 4th of July of this year marked the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA). In a rare act of bipartisanship that has attracted almost no public attention, Congress passed important amendments to FOIA that are coming into effect this month. Here are some excerpts:
  • Search fees will no longer be assessed if an agency fails to meet the strict time limits set forth in FOIA unless the records requested exceed 5,000 pages. Since no agency is meeting the time limits, there will no longer be a search fees in most cases.
  • Agencies can no longer withhold documents under an FOIA exemption unless "the agency reasonably foresees that disclosure would harm an interest protected by an exemption." An agency can't just come up with some halfway plausible argument for an exemption. They have to have an argument that there will actually be some public harm.
  • Agencies can no longer use the inter-agency or intra-agency exemption for documents more than 25 years old.
  • "Each agency shall designate a Chief FOIA Officer who shall be a senior official of such agency (at the Assistant Secretary or equivalent level)."
     FOIA doesn't have a special impact at Social Security. It's just that it's crucial for our system of government. There won't be a FOIA float at any 4th of July parade but it's an essential guarantee of our liberties.
     Making a FOIA request isn't difficult. You can do it online.

Jul 5, 2016

A Question For Federal Court Wonks

     The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District Of North Carolina is now requiring that Social Security make the transcripts that Social Security files with the Court be searchable. The other two Districts in North Carolina aren't doing this. How common is this nationwide?
     By the way, searchable Social Security disability claim files at the administrative level would be nice.

Jul 4, 2016

Happy Independence Day!

Jul 3, 2016

Using Real Magic!

     Many comments posted on thus blog are just spam. Mostly, Blogger catches and deletes them. I've given up trying to delete the ones that Blogger misses. I think this is my favorite one ever:
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Jul 2, 2016

Rep Payee Mess In Richmond

     From the Richmond Times-Dispatch:
Hundreds of seniors and disabled Social Security recipients flocked to the federal agency’s West Cary Street office on Friday for their monthly checks after a Richmond-based payee service suddenly closed, leaving many without access to their accounts.
Crossroads Inc. is a payee service that accepts Social Security checks and manages the money on behalf of clients who are unable to do so themselves.
For a small fee, the company is supposed to handle rent and other bills for its clients and budget any remaining money throughout the month.
But the Social Security Administration said it received notice on June 23 that Crossroads, located at 6800 Everglades Drive in South Richmond, had closed.
A phone recording at the service told clients to collect their monthly checks from the Social Security Administration office on West Cary Street on Friday.
Some of those waiting in line — many said they had waited more than three hours as the line wrapped around the building much of the morning — said the company still had their money from previous checks and that they had been told their accounts with Crossroads had been drained. ...
Henrico police said they are investigating allegations against the company along with other jurisdictions. ...

Jul 1, 2016

New Neurological Listings

     The Social Security Administration has revised its Listings for neurological disorders. The new Listings go into effect on September 29.