Nov 16, 2018

Saul Nomination Advances

     Andrew Saul’s nomination to become Commissioner of Social Security was reported out favorably by the Senate Finance Committee. It was a unanimous vote.

Nov 15, 2018

Ticket To Work Not Working

     From the Washington Free Beacon:
The Social Security Administration has spent $3 billion on programs designed to incentivize disability recipients to go back to work over the past 16 years. So far, less than 3 percent of beneficiaries have signed up, with "no consistent evidence" the program has helped participants find a job. 
The inspector general for the agency released an audit last week calling for Congress to evaluate the "viability" of the programs 
including Ticket to Work and Self-Sufficiency (TTW) and Achieve Self-Support (PASS)."SSA has spent about $3 billion administering two ongoing congressionally mandated return-to-work programs and a time-limited demonstration project designed to determine whether a policy change would help beneficiaries return to work," the inspector general said. "However, these programs and demonstration project enticed a small percentage of disabled individuals to return to work." ...
Since it began in 2000, the TTW program has cost $2.8 billion and enrolled 1.2 million disabled welfare recipients, a participation rate of only 2.6 percent. Those beneficiaries have saved the government approximately $5.9 billion. For each beneficiary served, the government spent $2,300 through the program, as opposed to the average $5,000 benefits forgone. ...
      You might say that this shows that even though TTW is only minimally successful that it still more than pays for itself but the problem is that it is more than possible that the vast majority of those “helped” by TTW would have gone back to work on their own. To what extent are TTW providers helping people who wouldn’t otherwise get back to work and to what extend are TTW providers just profiting from people who don’t need their help? We just don’t know. Any advantage from TTW is, at best, unproven. The problem with all the efforts to get Social Security disability recipients back to work is that they are premised upon a deep seated belief that it’s easy to get on benefits. It’s not. It’s terribly difficult to get on disability benefits. As sick as people have to be to get on Social Security disability benefits, we shouldn’t expect many to go back to work.

Nov 14, 2018

Social Security Proposing Mandatory Video Hearings

     From a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) that the Social Security Administration will publish in the Federal Register tomorrow:
We propose to revise our rules to explain that the agency retains the right 
to determine how parties and witnesses will appear at a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ) at the hearing level of our administrative review process, and we will set the time and place for the hearing accordingly. ... 

We propose that parties to a hearing will not have the option to opt out of appearing by the manner of hearing we choose.  ...
     This is a proposal. The public can comment on it. Congress can’t prevent its adoption but can certainly weigh in on it. The new Democratic  majority in the House could make Andrew Saul pay a price for going ahead with it. Expect a House Social Security Subcommittee hearing on this issue next year.

Saul Nomination To Get Committee Vote Tomorrow

     The Senate Finance Committe has scheduled a vote on Andrew Saul’s nomination for Social Security Commissioner for tomorrow.

Nov 13, 2018

20 Injured At Social Security Field Office In Egg Harbor, N.J.

     From NBC:
Twenty people were injured, two of them seriously, Tuesday morning after a car crashed into a Social Security building in New Jersey, At least one person was critically injured and another in serious condition after a 1998 Nissan Sentra smashed into the lobby of the building in Egg Harbor Township about 9:50 a.m. ET, police said. 
At least one person was critically injured and another in serious condition after a 1998 Nissan Sentra smashed into the lobby of the building in Egg Harbor Township about 9:50 a.m. ET, police said.

Anybody Want To Guess What Happened Here?

     From the Des Moines Register:
One need only glance at Marla Del Carmen’s small, gnarled hands to begin to understand how rheumatoid arthritis has crippled her since 19.  
 The 62-year-old works some, but she relies heavily on Social Security disability to get by.  
 Or, she did.  
 This month, Del Carmen received an odd letter from the Social Security Administration informing her that her disability benefit would increase to $687 a month. But then the letter said those payments were being suspended because “you were not a United States citizen or lawfully present in the U.S.” 
That was news to Del Carmen. She was born in Des Moines with a Hebrew maiden name and has spent all her life on the east side. 
 
 She is married to a Hispanic man, Mateo Del Carmen Hernandez, a permanent resident of the United States, for more than 22 years.  ... 
 With immigration the chief focus of President Donald Trump’s administration, Del Carmen says she can’t help but feel targeted by the federal government. She said it appeared she was disqualified from federal benefits solely because of her married name.  
“I’ve never been to another country. I don’t even have a passport,” she said. “I have to take chemo for my arthritis and I have COPD, so I can’t travel.” Del Carmen said she checked with the Des Moines Social Security office, and no one had applied fraudulently for her benefits. ...

The Election Results: Effects On Proposed Regulations

     On October 29 the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approved the publication of proposed new regulations that would allow the Social Security Administration to force video hearings on claimants who don't want them. Normally, once OMB approves the publication of proposed regulations, Social Security publishes them in the Federal Register within a week or two. It hasn't been that long but this one hasn't yet been published.
     I wonder whether the Acting Commissioner of Social Security will sign off on publishing this proposal now. The incoming Democratic majority on the House Social Security Subcommittee is likely to be strongly opposed to this proposal. In my experience, the Social Security Administration has always been highly responsive to the House Social Security Subcommittee, far more responsive than to the White House or the Senate, neither of which is interested in getting down in the weeds of Social Security issues. Perhaps the Acting Commissioner would prefer to leave this hanging until there's a confirmed Commissioner to make the decision. We’ll see.
     For that matter, there's a proposal to remove inability to communicate in English as an education category in the grid regulations that's pending OMB review. Assuming OMB approves it, will Social Security ever publish it? More important, proposed changes to the musculoskeletal listings have already been published. The comments to that proposal may get much more serious consideration now.

Nov 11, 2018

Report On Culbertson v. Berryhill Oral Argument

     SCOTUSblog reports on this past week’s oral argument before the Supreme Court in Culbertson v. Berryhill, a case concerning the cap or caps on attorney fees for representing Social Security claimants in federal court.

Nov 10, 2018

Does This Story Add Up To You?

     A Cleveland television station reports on a Social Security overpayment case. Here's the scenario. Woman's mother dies. She says she informed Social Security of the death yet the direct deposit of her mother's Social Security benefits continued for ten years.  At one point she even opened a new bank account to continue receiving the money. She says that over the years she just never thought about the bank account and never took out any of the money. Now she's worrying about repaying all the money. 
     Does this story add up to you?
     By the way, the television station's take on the story was only to wonder how in the world Social Security kept paying benefits all that time.

Nov 9, 2018

Proposed Regulations On Consideration Of Pain

     The Social Security Administration has asked the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which is part of the White House, to approve publication of proposed an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rule Making (ANPRM) on Consideration of Pain in the Adult Disability Determination Process. Here's the only explanation available of the proposal:
Our regulations set a two-step process for evaluating pain in disability claims, at which we identify the existence of medical evidence supporting pain and evaluate the intensity of the alleged pain respectively. With this ANPRM we seek to solicit public comment on these existing rules to determine whether they align with current medicine and health care research.
     This isn't even a proposal at this point. They'll only be seeking comments on what a proposal should be.

Nov 8, 2018

Transcript Of Culbertson v. Berryhill Oral Argument

     The Supreme Court has posted the transcript of the oral argument in Culbertson v. Berryhill, concerning attorney fees for federal court work. The argument was more spirited than I would have thought. I wouldn't predict the Court's decision in this case but I would predict that it won't be unanimous. 
     To my mind this is a straightforward plain language case. The statute says there's a separate cap on attorney fees for federal court. You can certainly make an argument that it shouldn't say that but that's what it says. If that's not what Congress intended, they can change the statute but it's not up to the Court to change it to something they think makes more sense. Judges or justices shouldn't use the plain language argument only when it suits their purposes and ignore it when they don't like the result. Plain language should always be the first consideration.

Hearings For Eric Conn's Former Clients Suspended Until January 7

     The Lexington Herald-Leader reports on Social Security's decision to suspend hearings for Eric Conn's former clients until January 7.
     I'd love to get a copy of whatever memo Social Security sent out to staff about this.

Nov 7, 2018

Hearings For Eric Conn's Former Clients Suspended For Two Months

     Ongoing hearings to cut off disability benefits for Eric Conn's former clients have been suspended until January 7, probably because of the problems in these claimants obtaining access to the files that Conn's office kept on them. No, I don't have a link. This just happened. Apparently, there was pressure from a local Republican Congressman. The news has come from his office. We have no word yet on cases which have already been heard but which are pending decision writing.
     I wouldn't predict that Democrats on the House Social Security Subcommittee, who will be in the majority come January, will go to bat for Conn's former clients but the pressure on Social Security to aggressively go after these claimants will abate. Perhaps we'll get some sanity. If you haven't been involved in these cases you may think these people are just getting what they deserve but once you get nearer ground level it becomes clear that whatever Conn may have done these claimants did nothing wrong and that most of them are sick and deserve the benefits they've been receiving. Social Security has gone to incredible lengths to try to prevent Conn's former clients from getting fair hearings.

Nov 5, 2018

Was A Claimant Required To Make A Lucia Objection Administratively In Order To Preserve The Issue For Federal Court?

     Since the Supreme Court's decision in Lucia v. SEC that Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) as they had been appointed to that time were unconstitutional there's been a big issue concerning the thousands of Social Security cases pending in the federal courts. It would seem that all should be remanded for new hearings except for one problem. Almost none of the claimants involved had raised the issue while the cases were pending at Social Security. In most administrative litigation an objection must be filed while the case is pending before the agency in order to preserve the issue for federal court. However, there's a prior Supreme Court decision that says that as a general matter that is not required in Social Security cases. There's also the fact that Social Security had announced prior to the Lucia decision that it would refuse to consider any argument about ALJ constitutionality. Why require that an objection be made when the agency has announced that it won't consider it?
     We've been waiting for the federal courts to act on this issue. There have been a number of decisions that have accepted Social Security's argument but those have been rather summary decisions that barely discussed the issue. We now have a more substantive decision in Muhammad v. Berryhill and it goes the other way. It's the recommended decision of a federal Magistrate Judge. The District Court judge could overrule this recommendation but it is certainly a substantive decision. We're a long way from even a Court of Appeals decision in this case.
     This issue may or may not end up at the Supreme Court. My guess is that it won't because the Courts of Appeals will all come down against Social Security. Even though a number of District Courts have accepted the agency's arguments, I just think those arguments are weak.

Nov 4, 2018

Preview Of Culbertson v. Berryhill

      SCOTUS blog gives a preview of the oral arguments coming up this week before the Supreme Court in Culbertson v. Berryhill on the computation of federal court attorney fees for representation in Social Security cases in the federal courts.

Nov 3, 2018

SSA To Pay $12.4 Million For Early Intervention

     From a contracting notice recently posted by the Social Security Administration:
:
$12,378,342.00...

:
MATHEMATICA POLICY RESEARCH, INC.
1100 1ST STREET NE
12TH FLOOR
WASHINGTON
DC
200024221
USA
 
: ... 
Single Award Cost Plus Fixed Fee 5-year Contract for Retaining Employment & Talent After Injury/Illness Network (RETAIN) Evaluation - This is a joint project between SSA, the Department of Labor (DOL), and several states. The purpose of the contract is to evaluate the impact of the various interventions implemented under cooperative agreements between the states and the DOL.
     I hope this study shows that early intervention works but let me list just a few of the reasons I don't think it will work very well:
  • Most people who become disabled are disabled by degenerative conditions, like diabetes or osteoarthritis. These conditions just get worse with time. Rehabilitating people with this sort of problem isn't realistic. As soon as you get them able to do a new job, their condition has worsened to the point they can't do it.
  • Pain is a huge factor in producing disability.  No intervention can take away the pain. If pain prevents one type of work, it's almost certain to prevent other types of work.
  • Mental illness is a major cause of disability. It’s not so amenable to intervention that  helps to preserve the ability to work.
  • People with below average cognitive abilities are dramatically over-represented among the population of people who apply for Social Security disabilities. That's because their limited intellectual abilities limit them to simpler, more physically demanding work to begin with and make it almost impossible for them to switch to other less demanding work. 
  • This whole concept is based upon a misunderstanding of who applies for Social Security disability benefits and why they apply. Those who support this think that most disability is due to trauma and that if you can just help people figure out what they can do despite their injuries and give them a mobility scooter or whatever that they can go back to work. The thing is that the 12 month duration of disability requirement in the definition of disability that is written into the Social Security Act means that folks who are disabled by trauma either go back to their old jobs or figure out something else they can do on their own or with the help of programs that already exist well before 12 months have passed. I don't know that there's anything new that can be offered to help people in this situation. If you wanted to do something useful, you could better fund state vocational rehabilitation agencies. Besides, it's such a small component of disability that it doesn't matter that much anyway.
  • In any case, as far as I'm concerned, Mathematica is nothing more than a Beltway Bandit. They get lots and lots of government contracting money but nothing they do ever helps anyone.

Nov 2, 2018

Field Office Supervisor Steals Over $700,000 From Claimants

     A press release:
RALEIGH, N.C. – Robert J. Higdon, Jr., the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina, announces that a Federal grand jury in Raleigh has returned a thirteen-count indictment charging STEPHANIE CHAVIS, age 42, of Saint Pauls, North Carolina, with ten counts of Wire Fraud, two counts of Aggravated Identity Theft, and one count of Theft of Government Property.
The indictment alleges that beginning in or about August 2010, and continuing until in or about April 2018, CHAVIS engaged in a scheme to defraud the Social Security Administration by using her supervisory position to divert more than $700,000 in funds meant for SSI beneficiaries into bank accounts controlled by CHAVIS.
The indictment further alleges that CHAVIS advanced this scheme by convincing unsuspecting employees to manually process unauthorized payments on SSI beneficiary accounts using the beneficiaries’ personal identifying information and CHAVIS’s bank account information.
If convicted of all counts, CHAVIS faces a maximum penalty of twenty-four years imprisonment. She also faces a minimum two-year consecutive term of imprisonment on each aggravated identity theft count.
The charges and allegations contained in the indictment are merely accusations. The defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.
The case is being investigated by the Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General. Special Assistant United States Attorney Tamika Moses is prosecuting the case for the government.
     How did she get away with this for almost eight years? I thought there were internal controls in place that would catch something like this. Wouldn't the people whose money was stolen have noticed and said something? My guess is that whatever internal controls have been in place are about to get strengthened nationally.
     My firm deals extensively with that field office. I think it's about to get turned upside down. I hope they're able to handle their normal workload.
     I also hope that Social Security promptly pays the money that was owed to the claimants involved. That should be a priority.

Nov 1, 2018

Wouldn't That Right Now Be "Clearly Established" At Least In The 9th Circuit?

     From Whalen v. McMullen, CA9, decided October 30, 2018:
While investigating Kathleen Whalen for fraud related to her application for social security benefits, Washington State Patrol officer John McMullen gained both her cooperation and entrance into her home by requesting her assistance in a fictitious criminal investigation. During his investigation, McMullen secretly videotaped Whalen both outside and inside her home. No criminal charges were ever lodged against Whalen, but the Washington Disability Determination Services division (“DDS”) of the Washington Department of Social and Health Services (“DSHS”) used at her social security hearing the footage surreptitiously filmed inside her home.
Whalen brought suit against McMullen under 42 U.S.C.§ 1983, alleging that McMullen’s entry into her home without a warrant and under false pretenses violated her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. She appeals a grant of summary judgment in favor of McMullen based on qualified immunity. W e conclude that McMullen violated Whalen’s Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, but we agree with the district court that McMullen has qualified immunity from suit because the right was not clearly established. We affirm.
     I have seen this exact same tactic used in North Carolina. I think it's the way they're generally doing these investigations. I'm pretty sure they won't keep using this tactic in the 9th Circuit area. What about the rest of the country? I don't know that I'd want to do it if I were working for them or with them.

Oct 31, 2018

Happy Halloween!


Conn's Files Transferred To Receiver

     From WYMT:
In April we were told about thousands of medical files belonging to the former clients of Eric C. Conn found inside his Floyd County law complex in Stanville.
In August U.S. Marshals seized the law complex, locking the doors and boarding up the windows, until a receiver of the files could be appointed. That receiver, appointed two weeks ago, will have the task of reviewing all the files and making sure they get into their owners' hands.
"I have had some difficult discussions with the receiver," said Prestonsburg Attorney Ned Pillersdorf who represents many former Conn clients. "And in my view, he does not understand the urgency of getting these people their files in my opinion yesterday."
Nearly 2,000 former clients of Erc C. Conn have been going through redetermination hearings trying to get back their Social Security benefits. However, many of them are appearing for those hearings without the medical files necessary to prove their disability. 
According to Pillersdorf, the clients will not start seeing their files until December, and that could be too late.
"By that time hundreds of hearings will have gone on. And in my view, no question that truly disabled people will lose their benefits because they did not have access to their files which contains important information."
Pillersdorf says many of those former clients do not realize just how important those files really are.
"There is a misunderstanding of what these hearings are about. They are not about whether these people are disabled today. The hearings are about whether they were disabled in 2007 and 2008, explained Pillersdorf. "Those client files, that the clients still don't have access to, were generated in 07 and 08 and would be very relevant." ...
     Many of these claimants say that they obtained their own medical records and gave them to Conn's office. However, he never submitted anything other than reports from physicians and psychologists on his payroll. Anything a claimant gave his office is probably still in his old files. Obtaining these records from the medical sources ten years later can be difficult or impossible. Claimants can't even remember which doctors they saw back then. Some of the medical practices where they were seen have closed. A few medical practices which are still open have discarded older medical records.
     What is particularly bothersome is that Administrative Law Judges hearing these cases are all refusing to wait until Conn's files become available to the claimants. We have seen no instructions that they should not wait but none is willing to wait. How did they all decide to do the same thing if they weren't told that is what they are supposed to do? If they were told off the record to act in this way, isn't that an inappropriate ex parte communication?

Oct 30, 2018

Social Security To Propose Mandatory Video Hearings

     The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has approved publication of proposed new Social Security regulations on Setting the Manner for the Appearance of Parties and Witnesses at a Hearing. Here is Social Security's summary of the proposal before it was submitted:
We propose to revise and unify some of the rules that govern how, where, and when individuals appear for hearings before an administrative law judge at the hearings level and before a disability hearing officer at the reconsideration level of our administrative review process. At both levels, when we schedule a hearing, we propose that we will determine the manner in which the parties to the hearing will appear: by VTC [Video Teleconference], in person, or, under limited circumstances, by telephone. We would not permit individuals to opt out of appearing by VTC. We also propose that we would determine the manner in which witnesses to a hearing will appear.
     Remember, this is a proposal. It has to be published in the Federal Register for public comment. The agency must consider the comments before submitting a final proposal to OMB for approval. This process can take well over a year. Congressional opposition could derail the proposal.

Oct 29, 2018

Off Topic: I'm Not Sure About All Of This

     The Coalition for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) is an umbrella group for organizations supporting the rights of the disabled in the United States. This is from a recent position paper they've put out on service animals:
... Public transportation, as well as Amtrak, must allow any service animal trained to work or perform tasks with the exception of primates and exotic snakes. Any limitations must preserve access for all species and sizes of dogs, cats, rabbits, miniature horses, capuchin monkeys, and other species that can be trained to behave appropriately and be safely brought on public transit and rail. ...

Oct 28, 2018

Why Do Technical Denials Keep Increasing?

     The Social Security Administration has just published its Annual Statistical Report on the Social Security Disability Insurance Program, 2017.  Yes, they were unable to get the 2017 annual report until now.
     Here's one table from the report:
     Note that the technical denials keep increasing. Why?

Oct 27, 2018

"25 Jaw-Dropping Facts About Social Security"

     The Motley Fool is running a listicle of 25 Jaw-Dropping Facts About Social Security. Here's number 3:

0.6%

The Social Security program is probably more efficient than you might think. Out of its budget of roughly $1 trillion, only 0.6% is used for administrative expenses.

Oct 26, 2018

What's Going On In The Region 4 RCALJ Office?

     I thought I would pass this along. It's a letter from the Office of Social Security's Regional Chief Administrative Law Judge (RCALJ) for Region 4, the Atlanta Region. This is acknowledgment of an appeal I filed from the attorney fee approved by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). The fee approved was $0. This was a case where my firm has been representing the claimant since 2010. We have had a fee approved for work done before a federal court but the ALJ approved nothing for all the work done before the Social Security Administration, even though this involved two hearings and working on the case for more than eight years. No, the Court can't approve a fee for work done before the agency or vice versa. 
     The thing you should particularly note is what this says at the bottom: "Enclosure: Copy of letter dated November 08, 2017." That's a copy of the letter I sent them appealing the $0 approval. It's taken 11 months to get that office to even acknowledge the appeal. Yes, we've been calling them about this and they have long since acknowledged over the telephone that they had the appeal.
     It's not just me and this isn't an exceptional case. Other attorneys in this Region can confirm that this is a general problem which has been worsening over many years. The volume of these fee appeals isn't great, even in Social Security's largest region. You have to wonder what's going on. I'm not sure that even the phrase "low priority" would describe the situation.

Oct 25, 2018

Commissioner's Message On Compassionate Allowances


From: ^Commissioner Broadcast
Sent: Thursday, October 25, 2018 10:38 AM
Subject: Ten Years of Compassionate Allowances!

A Message To All SSA and DDS Employees 

Subject: Ten Years of Compassionate Allowances!

On October 27th, we will celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the Compassionate Allowances program.  Over the past decade, Compassionate Allowances have helped us identify and fast-track cases for individuals who have diseases and other medical conditions that are most likely to be approved for disability benefits.  To date, over 500,000 people with serious disabilities have been approved through this fast-track, policy-compliant disability process. 

In August, we added five new conditions to the list.  Their inclusion continues our commitment to ensure people with qualifying disabilities quickly receive the benefits they need.  For a complete list of conditions and other useful information, I encourage you to visit our Compassionate Allowances page.

In celebrating 10 years of the Compassionate Allowances program, we also celebrate you.  To each of you, I say ‘thank you’ for your excellence and dedication in making a difference in the lives of those we serve each day.


Nancy A. Berryhill
Acting Commissioner

Lexis Nexis Falls Afoul Of OIG

     From a press release:
The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and LexisNexis Risk Solutions (LNRS), a LexisNexis Group subsidiary, entered into a settlement agreement to resolve the Government’s claim that LNRS violated Section 1140 of the Social Security Act by publishing misleading online advertising regarding “SSA Verify.”
 
LNRS had marketed “SSA Verify” for its access to the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Consent Based Social Security Number Verification (CBSV) service. LNRS cooperated with the OIG inquiry; the firm immediately discontinued the at-issue advertising upon receiving notice of the Government’s allegation and subsequently discontinued offering the CBSV service to its customers. In the settlement agreement, LNRS did not admit violating the law but agreed to comply with Section 1140 and pay a civil monetary penalty of $54,000.
 
SSA makes CBSV available to companies for a fee; the service is typically used by companies that provide financial services, provide background checks, and satisfy licensing requirements. With the consent of a Social Security number (SSN) holder, CBSV verifies whether the SSN holder’s information matches SSA’s records. CBSV does not verify an individual’s identity or provide a participant’s customers with a direct link to Social Security records. Participant companies agree not to use the words Social Security or other CBSV program-related words, acronyms, emblems and symbols in connection with an advertisement for identity verification. LNRS marketed CBSV as “SSA Verify,” suggesting the product offered SSA identify verification, while also asserting that the service provided LNRS customers with a direct link to Social Security records.
 
Section 1140, a consumer protection law, establishes two broad prohibited activities:
  • Prohibits people and companies from misleading consumers through various communications by giving a false impression of association with or endorsement by SSA; and
  • Prohibits reproducing and selling Social Security publications and forms without authorization, as well as charging for services SSA provides free without providing proper notices. ...

Oct 24, 2018

Scare In Springfield

     From MassLive, which is apparently the screen name for The Republican, a Massachusetts newspaper:
The Social Security Administration office on Bond Street in Springfield was evacuated on Tuesday following a report of a suspicious package. 
Just before 10:30 a.m., the city fire department was called to investigate after someone opened a suspicious package and an unidentified white powder was discovered.
According to Dennis Leger, aide to Commissioner Bernard J. Calvi, three employees were potentially exposed to the powder. They didn't appear to be injured, he said, but they were being kept from the public until the regional hazmat team conducted an on-site test of the substance. ...
Social Security Administration employees were sent home for the day just before 11 a.m. Minutes later, Department of Homeland Security officials showed up in a marked SUV. ...

Oct 23, 2018

Remember That Anyone Approved For SSI Is Desperately Poor

     Below is a note in my firm's database concerning a telephone conversation with a client whose claim for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) was recently approved. We had told him to contact the District Office (DO) since it had been a couple of weeks since he had been approved and the DO had not yet contacted him to begin processing him onto benefits, as would be normal:
DO told him it would be 60 days from when he received his decision before he hears from them - So not to expect to hear from them until ~ Nov 20th.

Oct 19, 2018

All Part Of The Plan

     From Paul Krugman’s column in the New York Times:
When the Trump tax cut was on the verge of being enacted, I called it “the biggest tax scam in history,” and made a prediction: deficits would soar, and when they did, Republicans would once again pretend to care about debt and demand cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. 
Sure enough, the deficit is soaring. And this week Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, after declaring the surge in red ink “very disturbing,” called for, you guessed it, cuts in “Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid.” He also suggested that Republicans might repeal the Affordable Care Act — taking away health care from tens of millions — if they do well in the midterm elections. 
Any political analyst who didn’t see this coming should find a different profession. After all, “starve the beast” — cut taxes on the rich, then use the resulting deficits as an excuse to hack away at the safety net — has been G.O.P. strategy for decades. ...

Oct 18, 2018

DOT Replacement Coming Soon?

     The National Association of Disability Examiners (NADE) has posted its most recent newsletter. NADE members make determinations on disability claims for Social Security at the initial and reconsideration level. Here’s an excerpt from a write up on a talk by Gina Clemons, Social Security’s Associate Commissioner for Disability Policy:
... Gina also updated the NADE audience on work underway in the agency’s Vocational Regulations Modernization (VRM) and Occupational Information Systems (OIS) projects. These companion projects have been ongoing for several years. Key to the OIS project is an ongoing effort (since 2012) with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to collect updated occupational information through the Occupational Requirements Survey (ORS) that we will use in adjudication. The good news here is that, after three years of testing and three years of data collection, BLS will publish a complete data set documenting requirements of work in the U.S. economy sometime this winter. BLS is committed to regularly updating occupational information moving forward on a 5-year refresh cycle and has already started collecting updated occupational data to refresh the ORS data set by 2024. BLS will document some of the basic mental demands of jobs in the 2024 ORS refreshed data.
The ORS data set will replace the Dictionary of Occupational Titles in adjudication. SSA has adopted an evidence-based, data-driven approach to modernizing the vocational regulations. The scope of the VRM project includes policy considerations in step 4 and 5 of the sequential evaluation process. Gina explained that several internal teams involving representatives from across SSA have been working on policy development for VRM.

 

Oct 17, 2018

Positions Of The Two Parties On Social Security

     The New York Times summarizes the positions of the two major parties on Social Security as we approach an election. Simply put, Democrats want to enhance Social Security and Republicans want to cut it. Given the extent to which Americans rely upon Social Security, it’s hard to comprehend why voters haven’t emphatically rejected the Republican Party.

Oct 16, 2018

Received Appointed For Conn Files

     A receiver has finally been appointed to handle the thousands of case files left behind by Eric Conn. No one knows how long it will be before his former clients get access to their files. Hearings are ongoing in these cases. From what I've seen and heard, Administrative Law Judges have been told to barge forward and wait for almost nothing, including these files which may contain medical evidence. Of course, there are hundreds of Conn's clients who have already lost benefits who never knew that these files still existed.

Oct 15, 2018

Going Backwards

     Below is a summary of the 2019 Fiscal Year (FY) appropriation for Social Security recently signed into law. FY 2019 began on October 1 of this year. This was obtained by the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR) and published in their newsletter (which isn't available to the public online). Click on the image to view full size.
     Remember that because of inflation a flat appropriation means the agency is losing ground.

Oct 14, 2018

When Will The Appeals Council Act?

     The Securities and Exchange Commission is remanding all cases pending before the full Commission for new hearings before different Administrative Law Judges, without regard to whether the Lucia issue was raised before ALJ or even before the full Commission. When will Social Security follow suit? Tens of thousands of cases are pending at Appeals Council. My firm has a considerable number of cases pending at the Appeals Council. We’ve raised the Lucia issue in each one. We’re not getting remands. We’re not getting denials of review. The cases are just sitting there.  What are they waiting on? Come on, Mr. Lucia himself didn’t raise the issue of ALJ appointment before the ALJ.

Oct 13, 2018

Departmental Appeals Board At Social Security? OIG A Party Appealing ALJ Decisions?

     Can someone explain to me the process discussed in the Second Circuit decision in Capetta v. Commissioner of Social Security? Was the Court just confused in its description of the administrative process?

Oct 12, 2018

Full COLA Announcement

     Below is the full Cost Of Living Adjustment (COLA) announcement from Social Social. It includes Maximum Taxable Earnings, income required for a Quarter of Coverage, Retirement Earnings Test (for those under Full Retirement Age), and the new Supplemental Security Income payment amounts, among other things. Note that they include the SSI Resource Limits and Income Exclusions even those have NEVER been adjusted for inflation and are absurdly out of date.
     Click on the image to view full size.

Oct 11, 2018

2.8% COLA

     As predicted Social Security's Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for this year is 2.8%.

Proposed Regs On Rep Payees

     The Social Security Administration has published proposed regulations to implement legislation passed in August that prohibits persons convicted of certain criminal offenses from serving as a representative payee in certain circumstances. I hope there's enough discretion remaining in this proposal. Certainly, there are rep payees who rip off Social Security beneficiaries but the biggest problem I've seen has been a lack of anyone willing or able to be a rep payee. Blanket disqualifications may exclude trustworthy people. It's possible to commit a crime, be convicted, serve your time and then get out and live an honorable life.

Oct 10, 2018

Waiting In Topeka

     From the Topeka Capital-Journal:
The average time to process a claim for Kansans with disabilities jumped this fiscal year, despite millions of dollars invested into the Social Security system to address an issue one official called “inhumane” and “unacceptable.”
Mike Stein, assistant vice president of operations strategy and planning for TrueHelp, said he has “a lot of words” about what people face who are unable to work and whose lives may be destroyed as they await a decision from Social Security on whether they deserve disability benefits. An average disability check is $1,197 per month, he said.
“Every month that goes by when that person who is simply asking for a benefit that they paid for during their working years doesn’t seem fair,” he said. “All that while, they might not be able to afford their medications or regular treatment on top of the other financial stresses. Their condition probably is going to get worse because of their financial strain. They were prescribed one pill a day, and they take a half a pill a day because of cost.” ...
"A lot of damage gets done when someone can no longer work,” he said. “We see the physical ailment turn into a mental ailment at times. The depression from losing a big part of one’s identity. Neighbors looking at you. A lot of pressure, all the way you’re waiting on Social Security. We hear the stories of them taking out loans, losing the house, the spouse has to get another job. These are not outlier stories.”

Oct 9, 2018

Fraud Alert

     From Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG):

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 9, 2018
The Acting Inspector General of Social Security, Gale Stallworth Stone, is warning citizens about an ongoing Office of the Inspector General (OIG) impersonation scheme.  The OIG has recently received reports from citizens about suspicious phone calls claiming to be from the Acting Inspector General.
The reports indicate the caller identifies as “Gale Stone” and states the person’s Social Security number (SSN) is at risk of being deactivated or deleted.  The caller then asks the person to call a provided phone number to resolve the issue.  Citizens should be aware that the scheme’s details may vary; however, citizens should avoid engaging with the caller or calling the number provided, as the caller might attempt to acquire personal information.
The Acting Inspector General urges citizens to be cautious, and to avoid providing information such as your SSN or bank account numbers to unknown persons over the phone or internet unless you are certain of who is receiving it.  If you receive a suspicious call from someone alleging to be the Acting Inspector General or from the OIG, you should report that information to the OIG at 1-800-269-0271 or online via https://oig.ssa.gov/report.
See the full advisory at the OIG website.