Sep 23, 2018

From The Republican Fantasy World

     From The Hill:
Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.) introduced a bill that addresses many of the [Social Security disability] program’s functional shortfalls. His Making DI Work for All Americans Act of 2018 (H.R. 6352) would also make the program solvent over the long run, setting the stage for a significant payroll tax cut. ...
[T]he bill would add reviews for “outlier” administrative law judges (something that would have applied to a now-imprisoned administrative law judge). And to promote a more equitable determination process, it would subject SSDI judges to a code of ethics similar to those applied to other judges.It would also empower disability applicants by cutting the SSA out of the representative/client relationship. Instead, applicants would be in charge of their own money. ...
In terms of the standards for determining who’s eligible for benefits, the bill would require the SSA to update the archaic list of jobs that exist in the national economy ...
The bill seeks to improve return-to-work rates by having the SSA conduct more frequent and more comprehensive continuing disability reviews, using the most appropriate standards available to determine continued disability status.Finally, the bill would help restore the program to its original goal of preventing poverty without tapping the regular Social Security trust fund. To this end, it establishes a flat, anti-poverty benefit for all new SSDI beneficiaries. ...
     By the way, Rokita isn't running for re-election in the House of Representatives. Instead, he's running for the Senate. An old poll showed him running way behind incumbent Democrat Joe Donnelly.

Sep 22, 2018

Identity Theft Change

     From some television station that wants to be known as "ABC15":
All Jill Carlon wanted was a new Social Security number for her daughter. The girl was the victim of ongoing identity theft problems. For seven years, Carlon said the Social Security Administration's Phoenix office denied her requests, even after Carlon changed the girl's name on advice from a Social Security caseworker.  
In April, ABC15 aired the story of Carlon's daughter and the fight to clear the credit history attached to her Social Security number even though she was just 14 years old. Two days later, Carlon said, the Social Security Administration called her and offered to issue the child a new number
The story caught the attention of Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D) 9th District. Sinema had recently introduced a bill that would streamline the Social Security verification process for obtaining credit, making it harder for people to commit synthetic identity theft. 
The bill eventually passed and was signed into law by President Trump. After seeing Carlon's story, Sinema sent a letter to the Social Security commissioner. ...
Sinema said the agency has now instructed all of its local offices to never advise someone to change their name in order to get a replacement number. Also, Sinema said regional experts are now assigned to provide guidance to local offices and caseworkers with complex cases. Also, she said caseworkers will have more leeway in determining when a new number is warranted. ...
     I think that Social Security's attitude may be: Your problem is with credit reporting agencies who are reporting phony information. Why are you asking us to solve the problem? Why is it easier for Social Security to solve the problem than the credit reporting agencies?

Sep 21, 2018

Glad The Pigeon Is OK

     From the Washington Post:
A woman who yelled at Social Security Administration workers, hit a security guard in the head with her fanny pack that had a small pigeon inside and then pulled a knife on him has been arrested and charged in Northern Virginia. ... 
The pigeon was taken to a local animal shelter and was not harmed, officials said. No one was hurt during the incident. ... 
The pigeon will be “returned to the wild after the investigation is complete,” according to a police statement. ...

Sep 20, 2018

I Can't Say That I've Seen This Problem

     From a recent report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG):
... In Fiscal Years (FY) 2015 and 2016, SSA [Social Security Administration] issued approximately 1.1 million claimant representatives’ direct-fee payments totaling approximately $2.6 billion. We identified 39,024 beneficiary claims where SSA may have collected an incorrect user fee. From this, we selected a random sample of 50 beneficiary claims for review. ...
SSA technicians applied an incorrect user fee for 26 (52 percent) of our 50 sampled beneficiary claims. Generally, this occurred because technicians’ authorization of claimant representative fee payments involved manual, complex, and error-prone postings to the electronic records. We estimate d SSA incorrectly applied user fees for 20,292 beneficiary claims, which resulted in SSA over-assessing $338,916 and under- assessing $603,133 to claimant representatives.

Sep 19, 2018

And The Beat Goes On

     From the Lexington Herald-Leader:
Former clients of disbarred Eastern Kentucky attorney Eric C. Conn will have to wait a little longer to get access to files in his defunct office that might be of use in hearings on whether they’ll continue to receive disability benefits.
The Kentucky Bar Association refused to appoint a receiver for the files earlier, a federal prosecutor said in a court motion.
Because of the “complete abdication of responsibility by the KBA” for the files, prosecutor Darren L. McCullough asked U.S. District Judge Danny C. Reeves to appoint someone to take charge of getting the records to Conn’s former clients.
There are 6,000 to 8,000 files at the office, McCullough said in the motion.
Reeves scheduled a hearing on the request for Oct. 12.
The issue is important because the Social Security Administration last month began holding hearings on whether nearly 2,000 former clients of Conn will get to keep their disability benefits. ...
[T]he files in Conn’s former office may contain evidence from other medical professionals not suspected of wrongdoing, meaning it could still be used in proving eligibility, [Ned] Pillersdorf said.

Pillersdorf said he has learned that Conn did not file key medical evidence in many cases. ...

Read more here:     I

Read more here:
      I am representing some of Conn's former clients. I've heard it from them. They gave Conn medical records but Conn never gave the records to Social Security. Conn had it all figured out. Why bother with traditional lawyering? Don't bother collecting your clients' medical records. Even if your clients give you copies of their records, don't do anything with them. Just send your clients to your own pet physicians and psychologists and submit only those records. That way was so much easier for Conn.
     I and other attorneys can now try to collect old medical records on Conn's former clients but it's tough. Our clients' memories have dimmed. They may not remember all the doctors they saw years ago. Some of those medical practices have gone out of business in the intervening years. We need access to Conn's old files.
     I'm not a member of the Kentucky bar so I hate to criticize the KBA but I will. They've been completely irresponsible. I'd like to think Conn couldn't have happened in North Carolina but if he had, I'm certain the N.C State Bar would have behaved far differently than the KBA. When even the prosecutors are more sympathetic to Conn's former clients than the KBA, something is wrong.
     Why is Social Security plowing ahead with hearings when they know that Conn's former clients can't get access to their files?

Read more here:

Sep 18, 2018

Office of Chief Actuary Scores Social Security Plans

     Social Security's Office of Chief Actuary has put out an update to its set of financial estimates for various options to change Social Security programs, mostly options that would reduce Social Security's long term financing problems. Here are some of the more popular options expressed in the percentage of long term financing deficit eliminated (positive number) or increased (negative number):
  • Starting December 2019, reduce the annual COLA by 1 percentage point +64%
  • Starting December 2019, add 1 percentage point to the annual COLA for beneficiaries who have lived past a "specified age". -3%
  • Price indexing of PIA factors beginning with those newly eligible for OASDI benefits in 2025: Reduce factors so that initial benefits grow by inflation rather than by the SSA average wage index  +98%
  • Provide an increase in the benefit level of any beneficiary who is 85 or older at the beginning of 2020 or who reaches their 85th birthday after the beginning of 2020  -5%
  • Give credit to parents with a child under 6 for earnings for up to five years. The earnings credited for a childcare year equal one half of the SSA average wage index (about $25,947 in 2018). The credits are available for all past years to newly eligible retired-worker and disabled-worker beneficiaries starting in 2019. -8%
  • After the normal retirement age (NRA) reaches 67 for those age 62 in 2022, increase the NRA 1 month every 2 years until the NRA reaches 68 +13%
  • Increase the payroll tax rate (currently 12.4 percent) to 15.4 percent in 2019 and later. 100%
  • Eliminate the taxable maximum in years 2019 and later, and apply full 12.4 percent payroll tax rate to all earnings. Do not provide benefit credit for earnings above the current-law taxable maximum. +83%
  • Expand covered earnings to include employer and employee premiums for employer-sponsored group health insurance (ESI). Starting in 2022, phase out the OASDI payroll tax exclusion for ESI premiums. Set an exclusion level at the 75th percentile of premium distribution in 2022, with amounts above that subject to the payroll tax. Reduce the exclusion level each year by 10 percent of the 2022 exclusion level until fully eliminated in 2031. Eliminate the excise tax on ESI premiums starting in 2022. +32%

Sep 17, 2018

Why Do People Retire Early?

     From Accounting For Social Security Claiming Behavior by Svetlana Pashchenko and Ponpoje Porapakkarm, a paper published by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College:
The paper examines why most individuals claim Social Security benefits before the full retirement age. Early claiming results in a substantial reduction in pension income, yet many people claim as early as possible, age 62, or soon thereafter. Since delaying claiming is equivalent to purchasing additional annuity income, this behavior is consistent with the so-called annuity puzzle....
The paper found that:
  • One of the important factors accounting for the low demand for public annuities is a significant discrepancy between : (i) th e individuals’ subjective discount rate, and (ii) the discount rate im plied by the implicit price of the Social Security annuity.
  • Two of the commonly named impediments to private annuitization – mean -tested benefits and medical expenditures – are not important drivers of individuals’ decisions for when to claim Social Security benefits.
    Pre-annuitized wealth and bequest motives play a major role in the decisions to collect Social Security benefits. Our counterfactual experiments show that if the amount of basic Social Security benefits is scaled down or if the strength of the bequest motive is diminished, significantly more people will postpone claiming.
The policy implications of the findings are: 
  • Given that many people consider themselves sufficiently annuitized even when they claim at age 62, late claimer s should be awarded not with higher pension income but with lump -sum payments. 
  • We show that the policy of providing lump-sum payments instead of increasing Social Security benefits is very effective in inducing individuals to delay claiming.
     It should be noted that this is an entirely theoretical work. No new real life data was collected.
     You've got two economists who are disturbed by the fact that real people don't behave like the billiard balls that their theories suppose them to be so they try to come up with new theories that square with reality. That's perfectly appropriate as a matter of economics and it's an approach that may pay dividends but it's not proof of anything. Maybe lump sum payments would work. Maybe they wouldn't work.
     I think the economists need to consider two possibilities more closely. One is that as people get older, on average, their health declines making it harder for them to work. The other is that as people get older, they become more interested in enjoying the benefits of retirement. People don't look at things in the same way when they're 62 that they did when they were 32. People aren't billiard balls. Maybe, we should let them make the decisions they want to make without prodding them to make decisions that other, younger people (as these economists almost certainly are) think they ought to make.

Sep 16, 2018

Recent Trump Statements On Social Security

TRUMP: "We're saving Social Security. The Democrats will destroy Social Security. We're saving Medicare. The Democrats want to destroy Medicare. …We will keep it going. We're making it stronger. We're making Social Security stronger."
TRUMP, promoting Montana Republican Matt Rosendale's Senate campaign: "I'm going to protect your Social Security. We're going to take care of your Social Security. Matt Rosendale is going to make sure we're not touching your Social Security and your Medicare is only going one way. That's stronger."
Collected by the Associated Press

Sep 15, 2018

Disparity In Longevity Defeating Social Security Progressivity

     The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College has published a new report titled How Is The Mortality Gap Affecting Social Security Progressivity? The results are simple and straightforward. The wealthier you are, the longer, on average, you live and the more Social Security benefits you'll draw. The Social Security Act was designed to be modestly progressive, that is that poorer people are supposed to get a better deal from Social Security than wealthier people, but the increase in longevity among wealthier people is partially defeating this design.

Sep 14, 2018

Sad Trombones For Lucia

     From the Joint Explanatory Statement (page 67) of the Conference Committee on the bill to fund the Social Security Administration (and other agencies) for Fiscal Year 2019, which begins on October 1, 2018:
It is vital that Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) be independent, impartial, and selected based on their qualifications. The conferees expect SSA to maintain a high standard for the appointment of ALJs, including the requirement that ALJ s have demonstrated experience as a licensed attorney and pass an ALJ examination administered by the Office of Personnel Management.
     This would largely undo Trump's big win in Lucia v. SEC or at least render it mostly meaningless.

Ten Rulings Rescinded

     The Social Security Administration has announced that it is rescinding the following Social Security Rulings:
  • 62–47
  • 65–33c
  • 66– 19c
  • 67–54c
  • 68–47c
  • 71– 23c
  • 72–14c
  • 72–31c
  • 82– 19c
  • 86–10c
     This appears to be nothing more than ordinary housekeeping.

Sep 13, 2018

Ennis Confirmation Hearing Postponed

     The Senate Finance Committee hearing that had been scheduled for today on the nomination of Gail Ennis to become Inspector General at Social Security has been postponed. No new date is given. There could be another reason but Hurricane Florence strikes me as the likely cause. It’s not hitting Washington but it’s certainly snarling air traffic.

Sep 12, 2018

Hurricane Florence Already Closing Offices

     The Social Security Administration has already closed many of its offices in North and South Carolina because of the looming threat of Hurricane Florence. Probably more office closures further North are coming. Stay tuned.

Sep 11, 2018

Proposed Regs Sent To OMB

     Social Security has sent over to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) a batch of proposed regulations on redeterminations when there is reason to believe that fraud or similar fault was involved in an individual’s claim for benefits. The agency needs OMB approval before these can be published in the Federal Registerfor public comment. There is no way now to know what is in the proposal.

Sep 10, 2018

Hearing On IG Nomination

     The Senate Finance Committee has scheduled a hearing for 2:00 on Thursday, September 13 on the nomination of Gail S. Ennis to become Social Security’s Inspector General. She was nominated almost 11 months ago.

Sep 9, 2018

SSI Income Deeming Problems

     From a recent study by Social Security’s Office of Inspector General:
From a sample of 100 recipients we reviewed who had manually deemed income, SSA [Social Security Administration] did not correctly compute SSI [Supplemental Security Income] payments for 46. This occurred because SSA did not correctly develop all income information when the deemors reported it or it became available from other sources if the deemors did not report it timely, did not consider the correct family members in the household, or made various other errors. Further, SSA’s policy did not require that a second employee review manually deemed computations. 
SSA improperly paid the 46 recipients $136,569. Specifically, SSA overpaid 12 recipients $33,375, underpaid 9 recipients $7,734, and both over- and underpaid 25 recipients $95,460. Accordingly, we project SSA improperly paid approximately $105 million in SSI payments to 35,200 SSI recipients with manually deemed income.

Sep 8, 2018

Won’t Be Seeing Eric Again Anytime Soon

     Eric Conn has been sentenced to 15 years for his pathetic attempt to escape justice by fleeing to Latin America. This is on top of the 12 year sentence he received for the underlying crime.

Sep 7, 2018

Senators Object To Reinstating Recon

     Ten Senators have written the Acting Commissioner of Social Security to urge that she not reinstate the reconsideration step in the disability appeals process. If they’re successful, I hope they’ll also urge that recon be ended in those states where it remains in effect. I think it’s time for the process to be the same in  all states using.

Sep 6, 2018

OIG Study Of CDR Recons

     Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG) did a recent study of delays in processing requests for reconsideration for disability claimants who are being threatened with benefit termination due to medical improvement. Generally, the claimants receive continuing benefits as their appeals continue through the hearing level so delays cost the agency money. 
     The thing about this is that almost all the causes of delay discussed in this report also apply to those applying for benefits and have the same underlying cause, lack of sufficient personnel to get the work done in a timely manner. The OIG report discusses these delays as if they have been caused by bungling, when for the most part, the fault lies Congress and the White House, which have failed to give the Social Security Administration adequate administrative funding.
     I hope that OIG isn't implying that Social Security should prioritize cutting people off benefits over processing new claims for disability benefits but that does seem to be the attitude of Congressional Republicans.

Sep 5, 2018

I Keep Making The Same Boring Point: An Inadequate Operating Budget Wastes Money

     From a recent report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG) (emphasis added):
... SSA [Social Security Administration] conducts redeterminations, which are reviews of SSI [Supplemental Security Income] recipients’ non-medical factors of eligibility, such as income, resources, and living arrangements. The redetermination process is a way of detecting any unreported changes in circumstance that would affect a recipient’s SSI eligibility. Redeterminations are scheduled annually if a change in circumstance is likely or once every 6 years if a change in circumstance is unlikely. We identified 53,744 SSI recipients (from 1 of 20 segments) who had not had a redetermination completed in longer than 10 years. We analyzed a random sample of 275 cases. ...
We estimated about 1.1 million SSI recipients — about 1 in 8 recipients — had not had a redetermination completed in longer than 10 years because SSA only did a limited number of redeterminations each year based on its budget. As a result, we estimate d about 77,060 SSI recipients might be overpaid approximately $381.5 million because SSA had not completed a redetermination in longer than 10 years. ...
     I keep making the same point again and again: Failing to adequately fund SSA costs money. An adequate administrative budget would at least pay for itself by reducing overpayments. Instead, Republicans pursue a wasteful "starve the beast" strategy. It’s ideology over common sense.

Sep 4, 2018

OHO Caseload Analysis Report

     From the newsletter of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR), which is not available online to non-members:
Click on image to view full size
     Note the continuing decline in receipts and backlogs. I can't see the national picture but I know locally that one reason for this is that cases are piling up at  the initial and reconsideration levels. You can't ask for a hearing until you've been denied at initial and reconsideration. Increased backlogs at that level, at least where I am, has led to decreased backlogs at the hearing level. 
     Note also the large amount of overtime used as well as how highly variable overtime usage is from month to month. I'd say that such heavy usage of overtime in a program that deals with only very minor seasonal fluctuations in workload is bad management. I think that if they were honest that Social Security managers would agree but would blame it on the uncertain budget situation they face. 
     By the way, I think it's time to change the caption on this report from "ODAR Workload and Performance Summary" to "OHO Workload and Performance Summary". It's been quite some time now since they changed the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) to the Office of Hearings Operations (OHO).

Kavanaugh Would Hold That Social Security Commissioner Is Unconstitutional

     Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has no history of rulings directly in Social Security cases as best I can tell. There just aren't that many Social Security cases arising in the D.C. Circuit where he has been a judge. However, he has opined on an issue that could directly affect the Social Security Administration. He believes that it is unconstitutional to have an independent agency with a solitary head, such as the Social Security Administration. He's a fan of the "unitary executive" theory who believes that we're all safer if the President has largely unlimited power over the Executive Branch. Since the President can't simply fire a confirmed Commissioner of Social Security, the agency, as presently constituted, would be unconstitutional in Kavanaugh's view. If Kavanaugh is confirmed, expect litigation over the constitutionality of the Social Security Commissioner, assuming a Commissioner is also confirmed.

Sep 3, 2018

Happy Labor Day — 2018 Style

     From the New York Times:
The Trump administration seemed to suffer a major setback recently when a judge rebuffed its efforts to impose tighter labor rules in federal agencies. 
But the judge largely found fault with the means by which it had acted, not with the ends it was pursuing: to make it easier to fire federal employees and limit the power of their unions. 
As a result, the administration may yet achieve the same goals. And according to workers and union officials, the effort has already created a climate of anxiety across much of the government. ... 
Few agencies epitomize this approach better than the Social Security Administration. Union officials say that while management has generally taken a more confrontational posture since the George W. Bush administration, the atmosphere has been poisonous at times under President Trump. ...  
[U]nion leaders worry that the Social Security Administration will seek to enact the same provisions through a short-circuited bargaining process. Under that approach, the agency could declare an impasse, opening the door for an outside panel — a body composed of presidential appointees — simply to impose most of what management had sought. ...

Happy Labor Day!

Sep 2, 2018

A Milestone

     Social Security benefit payments are supposed to exceed $1 trillion for the first time next year. By way of comparison, the Trump tax cut is about $1.5 trillion over the next decade.

Sep 1, 2018

A Sad Story Of Insanity, Guns And Bad Policing

     The Miami Herald reports on the sad story of how Social Security Administrative Law Judge Timothy Maher ended up killing himself after an armed standoff with police. There's no question about it. This sad story shouldn't have ended like this. Maher should have been involuntarily committed. There was ample evidence to justify an involuntary commitment well before the armed standoff began.

Aug 31, 2018

Just In Time For The Labor Day Weekend

     From the Baltimore Sun:
Unions representing thousands of Social Security Administration employees said Thursday that the agency is lifting rules that restricted the unions’ ability to advocate for members in the workplace. The rules had been issued by President Donald Trump in three executive orders May 25. 

A federal judge ruled Saturday that Trump overstepped his authority in significant portions of the orders, which restricted members’ access to government office space for union business and limited the time for union activities such as discussion about grievances.
The American Federation of Government Employees and other unions had been waiting since Saturday for the Baltimore-based Social Security Administration to confirm it would comply, as the Justice Department in Washington weighed a possible appeal.
Confirmation came Thursday.
“As of August 30, the agency is returning to the terms we had with our unions prior to the implementation of the executive orders,” the administration said in a statement in response to Baltimore Sun questions. “Social Security enacted these steps consistent with the recent District Court ruling and accompanying guidance issued by the Office of Personnel Management.” ...

Aug 30, 2018

Social Security In No Hurry To Comply With Court Ruling On Unions

     From Joe Davidson writing for the Washington Post:

Federal labor organizations won a major battle against President Trump with a U.S. District Court ruling overturning major sections of executive orders that substantially undermined government unions.
But the lingering effects could continue to haunt the already mangled management-labor relationship in an administration that has taken one step after another to alienate federal employees.
First, will the administration obey the court order? ...
The response of the Social Security Administration is instructive. It demonstrates no hurry to follow the court’s decision....
Emails provided by the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) from Social Security labor relations officials in Chicago and Dallas to local union leaders indicate the agency still considers Trump’s orders binding.
“The agency is currently evaluating the judge’s ruling on the executive orders,” said a labor and employee relations supervisor in Chicago. “We will not make any changes until that evaluation is complete.”
An email sent Monday from a Social Security official in Dallas said “we just received notice from headquarters, that the Agency’s position remains the same on the guidance that was effective on July 9, until further notice.”  ...
     Update: The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has now instructed federal agencies to comply with the District Court decision.