May 31, 2018

I See Dead People

     From a recent report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG):
In a 2009 audit, we determined SSA issued approximately $40 million in improper payments to more than 6,000 beneficiaries although it had received notification they were deceased. In a 2013 audit, we determined SSA had issued about $31 million in improper payments to 2,475 beneficiaries although it had received notification they were deceased. ...
Since our prior reviews, the number of beneficiaries who continued receiving payments after SSA recorded their death information on the Numident had declined. However, 1,281 beneficiaries, including 56 identified during our prior audits, continued receiving payments for months or years after SSA received notification they were deceased. SSA received death reports for these beneficiaries and recorded dates of death on the Numident. However, SSA did not record the death information on the beneficiaries’ payment records or terminate their benefit payments. System controls designed to prevent continued payments to deceased beneficiaries were not effective in these instances. 
Prior audit work has indicated a likelihood that some death entries on the Numident were erroneous, and beneficiaries were actually alive. However, we determined that 678 of the 1,281 beneficiaries had death certificate information or other Numident entries indicating their death information had been proven or verified. 
We estimate SSA issued the 678 beneficiaries approximately $20 million in improper payments. Further, we estimate SSA will issue approximately $6 million in additional improper payments over the next 12 months if these discrepancies are not corrected. ...
     Note that OIG seems a lot more concerned about payments made to dead people than the danger of mistakenly cutting off benefits to living people.

May 30, 2018

Who Do The Less Well Educated Retire Younger?

     From What Explains The Widening Gap In Retirement Ages By Education (footnotes omitted but bolding added):
Over the last three decades, the average retirement age has increased by about three years, to 64.6 for men and 62.3 for women. But this trend is not uniform across socioeconomic groups: for example, high school graduates are retiring just a bit later than in the 1990s, leading to a wide gap between them and college graduates. This brief reviews studies by the U.S. Social Security Administration’s Retirement Research Consortium (RRC) and others that examine several potential causes of the unequal increases in retirement ages by education....
The gains in the average retirement age since the 1990s have been driven almost solely by those with more education. Today, male college graduates retire three years later than high school graduates. While the story is more complicated for women because of the dramatic change in their labor force participation over the latter half of the 20th century, the overall message is similar: like men, the gap in average retirement ages by education has grown substantially. ...
Health is one of the most important factors contributing to the retirement decision. In fact, according to Munnell, Sanzenbacher, and Rutledge (2015), it is the single most important factor in earlier-than- planned retirement, even more than involuntary job loss. Health matters in two ways. First, workers who experience a health shock are more likely to retire early. Second, workers who were in poor health when setting their retirement expectations also tend to retire earlier than they had planned, suggesting that unhealthy workers are often too optimistic about their ability to work longer.
 Blundell et al. (2017) also find that both health shocks and initial health conditions are key factors driving employment status at older ages. Not surprisingly, their results show that the less-educated are generally in worse health. Their study adds that health is an especially important driver of retirement decisions among less-educated individuals: the association between health and employment is strongest among high school dropouts, and becomes weaker with greater educational attainment...

May 29, 2018

Why ALJs Approve Disability Claims

     I know that this blog is read by Congressional staffers who have never been involved in disability determination work at all as well as by upper level Social Security employees who also lack that experience. It's easy when you don't have this experience to develop attitudes towards disability claimants that have far more to do with your general political and social views than with the reality of disability claims. I thought I would reproduce here a portion of one consultative examination (that is an exam purchased by Social Security) on one of my clients, after having been careful to remove anything that could identify the individual. It may give you a peek at what goes on in these cases.
     This is a man who was 60 at the time of the exam. He has a high school education. He's done fairly heavy work.
     You'll have to trust me that there's nothing in the rest of this man's file that detracts one bit from the information given in this excerpt. In fact, the rest of the medical records only make the case seem stronger.
     This man's case is quite strong but not unusual. I've picked it mostly because it's not that difficult for a novice to appreciate.
Click on the image to view full size
     Let my explain a few things from this report.
  • "Glucometer 399". This means his blood sugar was quite high the day he was seen. He's a diabetic.
  • "Degenerative changes greatest at the L4-5, L5-S1." He's got arthritis in is low back. That's actually fairly normal in a man of his age but it still hurts.
  • "He does seem to have a bit of peripheral lateral deficit on the right eye." You expect vision problems in an older diabetic. It's part of the damage that diabetes does to the body. However, this deficit could have some other cause.
  • "He has quite a bit of peripheral edema bilaterally very hard, woody type edema." Edema is swelling. Peripheral means it's in his lower legs. "Hard, woody type edema" sounds bad and is bad. It's a sign of poor blood circulation. This man's obesity is also contributing to the problem.
  • "He has numbness to his fingertips, numbness to the plantar aspect of both feet and the dorsum of both feet and basically the entirety of both legs ..." Diabetics typically develop peripheral neuropathy, that is nerve damage in the lower legs and sometimes their hands. It's a serious matter. Diabetics can't feel their feet very well which can lead to poor balance. Our feet are supposed to be constantly feeling the ground beneath them. Take away that feedback and you're more likely to fall. You're also more likely to injure your feet without knowing it. Other medical records show that the numbness in this man's hands is mostly due to carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • "Hypersensitivity and numbness to the lower legs." It's weird but with peripheral neuropathy, your legs can be exquisitely sensitive to touch yet numb at the same time. Just a light touch can be painful even though you can hardly feel it.
  • "Tandem gait is definitely abnormal." Tandem gait is where a physician asks a patient to try to walk while placing one foot immediately in front of the other. This man's balance is poor so he has a hard time doing it.
  • "A stent to his LAD years ago." LAD is the Left Anterior Descending coronary artery. Stents are great. They help keep a diseased artery open. In this case it was an important artery supplying blood to the heart itself. A stent has helped this man for many years but he's still got heart disease and it's almost certainly getting worse over time.
     I guess my point here is to explain why Social Security Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) approve almost half the cases they hear. It's because the claimants whose cases they're hearing mostly have fairly serious health problems. Most aren't as serious as this man's but they're still serious. 
     If you have no real experience with these cases, you can say things like "There's something else he can do." However, when you actually have to face a 60+ year old man who's never done anything that didn't involve a lot of exertion that doesn't seem to make much sense, especially when the man doesn't have much education and his health is rapidly deteriorating.
     What I'm saying here is that even if you're a Republican Congressional staffer and you're a true believer in personal responsibility and you just know that Social Security approves too many disability claims, if you were a Social Security ALJ you'd still probably approve 40% or more of the cases you heard because it wouldn't be theory anymore. It would be flesh and blood people and you'd have a solemn responsibility to fairly judge the cases.

May 28, 2018

Memorial Day

May 27, 2018

I'll Be Happy To Reach The End Of This Story

     Eric Conn may have reached a plea deal on the many criminal charges he still faces. Unfortunately, the problems will continue for many of his former clients for a very long time.

May 26, 2018

Researchers Suggest Ending Early Retirement

     A new study from researchers associated with the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas suggests that the availability of early retirement benefits makes people poorer. Of course, chaining people to their jobs until they drop dead might also make them less poor, in one sense.
     There's a ruthlessly mercenary aspect to this -- the unstated premise that nothing in life can have worth unless it can be measured in dollars. There's also a failure to understand that many, perhaps most, who retire at age 62 are not doing so because they really want to retire but because they're too sick to go on working even though they're loath to file a disability claim.
     This is a report that could only have been written by younger people.

May 25, 2018

Study On Deaths While Awaiting ALJ Hearings

     From a study by Social Security's Office of the Chief Actuary on Probability of Death While Pending an Administrative Law Judge Determination:
There are two key findings. First, the death rate for individuals who are awaiting an ALJ determination has declined somewhat over the period from 2006 to 2017. Second, the death rate for this group, while it is two to three times as high as that for the general population, is only about one-fourth of the death rate for workers who have been awarded disabled worker benefits and are in their first two years of benefit entitlement. ...
Click on each table to view full size

     The summary given above is accurate but I don't see why anyone would find this report reassuring. There are far too many people waiting for hearings and thousands of them die each year. 
     To give a full report on this issue shouldn't the Office of Chief Actuary have looked at what happened to those disability claims after the claimants died? The vast majority of those cases didn't die with the claimant. Someone was entitled to whatever benefits accrued before the claimant's death. Sure, some of those claims were denied but I'm pretty sure that the vast majority of those claims were approved after the claimant died. Isn't that an important?

May 24, 2018

Solving Social Security Problems The Old Fashioned Way -- Getting News Media Attention

     From a television station in Arizona which hides its call letters:
The whole situation didn't seem plausible. A 7-year old's financial life entangled with a complete stranger's.
She is now 14 years old. The Peoria girl's Social Security number was used fraudulently and repeatedly since she was a second grader and as recently as last year. She had businesses and bank accounts connected to her. Debt collectors were calling her house.
But, the Social Security Administration would not issue the girl a new number. Not after begging from her mom, not with detectives and attorneys pleading her case, not even after Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake got involved, sending letters to SSA on the child's behalf.  For 7 years, denial after denial. Then her story aired on ABC15.
"48 hours later, I get a phone call from Social Security and they offered us a new number," said the girl's mother, Jill Carlon. ...
It sounds easy now, but Carlon will tell you it has been anything but. Over the past 7 years, Carlon said Social Security recommended she press charges against the fraudster, local charity founder Jacqueline Harris, if she wanted to obtain a new number for her daughter. Harris was then convicted of one felony count of possession of a forgery device. Then Carlon said the goal post moved. If she wanted a new number, Social Security said she would have to change her daughter's name. She did that too. But it still wasn't enough to get a new number. ...

May 23, 2018

Not Since February 9, 2009

     The Social Security attorney fee cap was raised on February 9, 2009 to $6,000 and hasn't budged since. If it had been indexed for inflation, it would now be over $7,000. Why hasn't it been raised? I think the fact that Republicans have controlled the House of Representatives since 2011 might have something to do with it. Republicans are all against government regulation except when it comes to anyone they perceive to not be Republican.
     Meanwhile, we hear more and more complaints from the Social Security Administration about the quality of representation that claimants receive. I expect that many complaints are justified. This problem might have something to do with the erosion of Social Security attorney fees in the face of rapidly burgeoning case files. You get what you pay for, or perhaps in this case, what you allow other people to pay for.
     By the way, if your opinion is that we ought to do away with any government involvement in attorney fees, that's fine with me as long as you allow me a lien on my clients' back benefits, the same type of lien that's widely used throughout the economy. Try taking your car in to the dealership for repairs and then getting it back without paying the repair bill. You can't because the dealership has a mechanic's lien on the car. That's normal. Why should attorneys be treated worse than car dealerships?

May 22, 2018

Annual Accounting Relief

     From a press release:
Yesterday, the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma announced its decision to grant the Social Security Administration (SSA) partial relief from the 1984 Jordan v. Schweiker decision requiring all representative payees to submit an annual accounting form. This decision allows the SSA to move forward implementing a key provision of the Strengthening Protections for Social Security Beneficiaries Act.
Commenting on this decision, Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX), the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee, said:
“Last month, President Trump signed into law Ranking Member Larson’s and my bill that improves Social Security’s representative payee program in order to better protect beneficiaries who are unable to manage their own benefits.  The District Court’s decision yesterday frees Social Security to implement our commonsense bill that would relieve families from burdensome reporting requirements.  I thank Social Security and the Department of Justice for moving quickly to request this relief.” 
Subcommittee Ranking Member John Larson (D-CT) added:
“I am pleased that the Court has affirmed the intent of our bipartisan legislation, which strengthened Social Security’s Representative Payee program for vulnerable beneficiaries who are unable to manage their own funds. The ruling allows SSA to fully implement the new law, which lifted a burden on families caring for their children and refocused SSA’s resources on those beneficiaries most at risk for exploitation, including by supporting protection & advocacy groups like Disability Rights Connecticut that exist in every state. I’d like to thank Chairman Johnson for his tireless efforts on behalf of the country’s vulnerable beneficiaries.”

May 21, 2018

Supreme Court To Hear Social Security Attorney Fee Case

     The Supreme Court has issued a writ of certiorari (meaning they'll hear) Culbertson v. Berryhill on the issue of:
Whether fees subject to 42 U.S.C. § 406(b)’s 25-percent cap related to the representation of individuals claiming Social Security benefits include, as the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the 6th, 9th, and 10th Circuits hold, only fees for representation in court or, as the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the 4th, 5th, and 11th Circuits hold, also fees for representation before the agency.
     This will be coming up in the Supreme Court's next term, which begins in October.

OIG Report On Disability Claimants Being Overpaid After They Return To Work

     From a recent report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG):
Using data extracted from the eWork system, we identified 4,504 beneficiaries from 1 segment of our data who completed a TWP [Trial Work Period] in Calendar Year 2012 and whose re-entitlement period ended in 2015.6 From this population, we selected a random sample on which to conduct detailed analysis. ...
Of the 200 sampled beneficiaries, SSA determined 97 had earnings that exceeded SGA after the TWP. Of the 97, SSA incorrectly paid 77. The Agency also incorrectly paid one beneficiary because it erroneously determined earnings had not exceeded SGA. In all, SSA incorrectly paid these 78 beneficiaries almost $1.3 million. Of the overpaid amount, SSA incorrectly paid
  • almost $446,000 because of its own processing delays and errors and
  • over $823,000 because of beneficiaries’ reporting failures. ...
We estimate SSA overpaid more than $571 million to over 35,000 beneficiaries who completed a TWP in 2012. Of the $571 million, SSA incorrectly paid almost $201 million because it failed to process work CDRs correctly or within its processing time goal and almost $371 million because beneficiaries failed to report their earnings, as required ...
     The OIG report assumes that if a claimant reported to Social Security that they had returned to work that the agency would have kept a record of that report. They're certainly supposed to but anyone who has experience in this field knows that many claimants insist that they did tell Social Security even though Social Security says that there's nothing in their records recording that. It's impossible to know for sure in each individual case but there are so many reports like this that no one at Social Security should feel confident about their process of recording reports of return to work. For a sign of the agency's fallibility, just look at how frequently they failed to act promptly even when they did record the report of return to work!
     I doubt that there's a foolproof solution to this problem. However, simplification of Social Security's work incentives would help. What's happened over the decades is that some member of Congress gets the bright idea that Social Security could reduce the number of people drawing disability benefits if they just gave them an incentive to return to work. Staffers try to tell the member of Congress gently that work incentives already exist but the member of Congress doesn't bother to study what already exist. They just insist that the staffers come up with a plan for new work incentives in the naive belief that one more work incentive will do the trick. That's how we end up with Expedited Reinstatement on top of the Extended Period of Eligibility on top of the Trial Work Period, supplemented by the concept of Impairment Related Work Expenses, not to mention Subsidized Employment, Unsuccessful Work Attempts, the separate blind standard for determining Substantial Gainful Activity and the near impossibility of determining whether self-employment is Substantial Gainful Activity! What did I leave out? Oh yes, there's some separate SSI work incentives. How many claimant understand any of this? For that matter, how many Social Security employees really understand this?

May 20, 2018

Men Who Work Harder Die Younger

     From the British Journal of Sports Medicine (emphasis added):
Recent evidence suggests the existence of a physical activity paradox, with beneficial health outcomes associated with leisure time physical activity, but detrimental health outcomes for those engaging in high level occupational physical activity. This is the first quantitative systematic review of evidence regarding the association between occupational physical activity and all-cause mortality. ...
Data from 17 studies (with 193 696 participants) were used in a meta-analysis, showing that men with high level occupational physical activity had an 18% increased risk of early mortality compared with those engaging in low level occupational physical activity (HR 1.18, 95% CI 1.05 to 1.34). No such association was observed among women, for whom instead a tendency for an inverse association was found (HR 0.90, 95% CI 0.80 to 1.01 ...

May 19, 2018

A Social Security Quiz

     CNBC has a Social Security quiz that it says half of all Americans can't pass. However, the CNBC quiz has some problems. One of their own answers is clearly wrong (the last one) and one of the other questions (the next to last one) is, in my opinion, misleading or, at the least, so out of date that they shouldn't be asking it. Come on, FERS has covered all new federal employees since 1986, for goodness sakes! Also, they describe their quiz as having five questions but there are actually ten. Other than that, great job, guys.

May 18, 2018

SSNs Criticized

     From Nextgov:
Government and industry rely on Social Security numbers as a fail-safe way to ensure people are who they claim to be, but massive data breaches have led cybersecurity experts to argue the nine-digit identifier is past its prime. ...
With so many numbers floating in the online wilderness, cyber advocates on Thursday told a House panel agencies and companies could no longer trust them as a certain means to verify people’s identities.
“Social Security numbers are so deeply compromised and so widely available to the public...that they can no longer be used as an authenticator,” said Paul Rosenzweig, a cybersecurity expert at the R Street Institute, before the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security. While he and other witnesses largely agreed the number can still work as a unique government ID, the days of using it to prove someone is who they say are long over. ...
Acting Social Security Administration Commissioner Nancy Berry said the agency is open to exploring new authentication methods, but noted advanced solutions often come with a high price tag. Grobman pushed back hard against this notion, highlighting the “staggering” price of doing nothing outweighs the cost of building a new system. ...
Lawmakers and witnesses debated the pros and cons of several alternative authenticators—like ID-embedded cards, biometric data and blockchain tech—but agreed on the need for change as recent breaches rendered Social Security numbers essentially public information.
“It’s clear [Social Security numbers] aren’t a secret anymore, and it’s time to stop pretending they are,” said Chairman Sam Johnson, R-Texas.
     The thing is that just as soon as Social Security goes to a different unique identifier, government and industry will start to use that new unique identifier and it, too, will quickly become just as compromised as the Social Security number.
     If the U.S. does want to go to some other unique identifier, it could do a lot worse than to copy India's Aadhar cards. Yes, poverty stricken India is probably the world's leader in this department. However, the idea of a government-issued biometrically-based identification system in the U.S. seems awfully unlikely for many reasons. The black helicopter people would go nuts or, perhaps I should say, nuttier than the already are.

Peak Royal Wedding Fever

     If you thought there wasn't even a tenuous connection between the royal wedding and Social Security, you were wrong.

May 17, 2018

Doc Indicted For Social Security Fraud

     From the Shreveport Times:
A federal grand jury indicted a Shreveport surgeon Wednesday for stealing disability benefits ... 
John T. Owings, 58, of Shreveport, was charged with one count of theft of government property and one count of concealing that he was ineligible for Social Security benefits. According to the indictment, Owings applied for Social Security disability benefits in March of 2007. After being awarded the benefits, he was required to report if he began working again. He began working in 2012 as a surgeon for the University of California-Davis where was paid $22,000 a month. He was hired in 2013 as an employee of LSU Health Sciences Center Shreveport where he is Endowed Chair and Professor of Surgery to oversee the trauma center and where he is being paid $41,400 a month. Based on his employment, Owings was ineligible to receive disability benefits. However, he concealed the employment changes from the Social Security Administration, and as a result, he received more than $200,000 in government money that he was not entitled to. ...

The Old Blame It On GSA Excuse

     From the Baltimore Sun:
The Social Security Administration office at the Rotunda in North Baltimore is scheduled to close next month, the latest in a recent string of field office closures decried by activists and lawmakers. ...
The owner of the Rotunda has been redeveloping the property with apartments and new retail. Tiggerman said the original Social Security space was “repurposed.”
The General Services Administration, which serves as Social Security’s real estate agency, was unable to find a suitable replacement space, Tiggemann said. ...
The GSA could not be reached for comment.

An Actress In California?

     From the Dothan Eagle (emphasis added):
An Alabama woman who lied to employees at Dothan’s Social Security office in order to obtain fraudulent benefits for her son was sentenced along with her husband to federal prison recently. ...
According to court testimony, Nakia Palmer falsely informed Social Security employees in Dothan that she was an actress living in California and had left her minor son in her husband’s exclusive custody so that Social Security would not consider her income in determining whether her son was eligible for benefits. Nakia Palmer, however, was not an actress living in California, but an employee of the Social Security office in Montgomery. Prosecutors contend the Palmers did not use the fraudulently obtained benefits to support the minor son, but used the money to finance a new vehicle. ...

May 16, 2018

Service Complaints

     From the Washington Post:
The Social Security Administration (SSA) is getting heat from inside and outside the agency stemming from scores of field-office closures and poor customer service. ...
In letters to SSA and the General Services Administration (GSA) on Monday, Sens. Susan M. Collins (R-Maine) and Robert P. Casey Jr. (Pa.), the chairwoman and ranking Democrat, respectively, of the Senate Special Committee on Aging said, “as some 10,000 seniors turn 65 each day and file for Social Security and Medicare, we should be expanding access to services, not reducing access.”
Instead, Social Security has closed about 125 field offices since 2000 and, the senators said, “service hours at field-office locations have also been cut while wait times have risen and hearing backlogs have grown.” ...

Useful Compendium

     A recent addition to Social Security's Program Operations Manual Series (POMS) contains this useful summary of citations from the agency's Social Security Rulings (SSRs) on the effects of various sorts of limitations upon the ability to perform ranges of work.

1. Standing/Walking

SSR Issue Statement from SSR
83-10 Lifting and carrying—light work

Standing/walking—sedentary and light work
“Even though the weight lifted in a particular light job may be very little, a job is in this category when it requires a good deal of walking or standing—the primary difference between sedentary and most light jobs.”
83-10 Standing/walking—light work “Many unskilled light jobs are performed primarily in one location, with the ability to stand being more critical than the ability to walk.”
96-9p Standing/walking—sedentary work “If an individual can stand and walk for a total of slightly less than 2 hours per 8-hour workday, this, by itself, would not cause the occupational base to be significantly eroded.”
96-9p Alternate sitting and standing “An individual may need to alternate the required sitting of sedentary work by standing (and, possibly, walking) periodically. Where this need cannot be accommodated by scheduled breaks and a lunch period, the occupational base for a full range of unskilled sedentary work will be eroded.” (This suggests that if scheduled breaks and a lunch can accommodate the need to alternate positions, the full range of unskilled sedentary work is intact.)
96-9p Medically required hand-held assistive device—sedentary work “For example, if a medically required hand-held assistive device is needed only for prolonged ambulation, walking on uneven terrain, or ascending or descending slopes, the unskilled sedentary occupational base will not ordinarily be significantly eroded.” “Since most unskilled sedentary work requires only occasional lifting and carrying of light objects such as ledgers and files and a maximum lifting capacity for only 10 pounds, an individual who uses a medically required hand-held assistive device in one hand may still have the ability to perform the minimal lifting and carrying requirements of many sedentary unskilled occupations with the other hand.”

2. Lifting/carrying/pushing/pulling

SSR Issue Statement from SSR
83-10 Lifting/carrying—medium work “Being able to do frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 25 pounds is often more critical than being able to lift up to 50 pounds at a time.”
96-9p Lifting/carrying—sedentary work “For example, if it can be determined that the individual has an ability to lift or carry slightly less than 10 pounds, with no other limitations or restrictions in the ability to perform the requirements of sedentary work, the unskilled sedentary occupational base would not be significantly eroded.”
96-9p Pushing/pulling—sedentary work “Limitations or restrictions on the ability to push or pull will generally have little effect on the unskilled sedentary occupational base.”

3. Postural limitations

SSR Issue Statement from SSR
83-10 Stooping—sedentary work “By its very nature, work performed primarily in a seated position entails no significant stooping.”
83-10 Stooping—light work “The lifting requirement for the majority of light jobs can be accomplished with occasional, rather than frequent, stooping.”
83-14 Stooping and crouching—light and sedentary work “However, to perform substantially all of the exertional requirements of most sedentary and light jobs, a person would not need to crouch and would need to stoop only occasionally.”
83-14 Climbing, kneeling and crawling—medium work “In jobs at the medium level of exertion, there is more likelihood than in light work that such factors as the ability to ascend or descend ladders and scaffolding, kneel, and crawl will be a part of the work requirement. However, limitations of these activities would not significantly affect the medium occupational base.”
83-14 Climbing, kneeling, and crawling—light work “On the other hand, there are nonexertional limitations or restrictions which have very little or no effect on the unskilled light occupational base. Examples are inability to ascend or descend scaffolding, poles, and ropes, inability to crawl on hands and knees; and inability to use the fingertips to sense the temperature or texture of an object.”
85-15 Climbing and balancing “Where a person has some limitation in climbing and balancing and it is the only limitation, it would not ordinarily have a significant impact on the broad world of work.”
85-15 Stooping and crouching—

sedentary and light work
“If a person can stoop occasionally (from very little up to one-third of the time) in order to lift objects, the sedentary and light occupational base is virtually intact.” “This is also true for crouching.”
85-15 Crawling and kneeling “However, crawling on hands and knees and feet is a relatively rare activity even in arduous work, and limitations on the ability to crawl would be of little significance in the broad world of work.” “This is also true of kneeling.”
96-9p Postural limitations—sedentary work “Postural limitations or restrictions related to such activities as climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, balancing, kneeling, crouching, or crawling would not usually erode the occupational base for a full range of unskilled sedentary work significantly because those activities are not usually required in sedentary work.”
96-9p Stooping—sedentary work “A complete inability to stoop would significantly erode the unskilled sedentary occupational base and a finding that the individual is disabled would usually apply, but restriction to occasional stooping should, by itself, only minimally erode the unskilled occupational base of sedentary work.”

4. Manipulative limitations

SSR Issue Statement from SSR
83-10 Reaching, Handling, Fingering—light work “They require use of arms and hands to grasp and to hold and to turn objects, and they generally do not require use of the fingers for fine activities to the extent required in much sedentary work.” (“They” refers to many unskilled light jobs.)
83-10 Reaching, Handling, Fingering—medium and sedentary work (The quote refers to manipulative activities common in medium work as opposed to sedentary.) “Use of the arms and hands is necessary to grasp, hold, and turn objects, as opposed to the finer activities in much sedentary work, which require precision use of the fingers as well as use of the hands and arms.”
85-15 Fingering “As a general rule, limitations of fine manual dexterity have greater adjudicative significance—in terms of relative number of jobs in which the function is required—as the person’s exertional RFC decreases.”
85-15 Feeling “However, a VS would not ordinarily be required where a person has a loss of ability to feel the size, shape temperature, or texture of an object by the fingertips, since this is a function required in very few jobs.”
96-9p Feeling—sedentary work “The ability to feel the size, shape, temperature, or texture of an object by the fingertips is a function required in very few jobs and impairment of this ability would not, by itself, significantly erode the unskilled sedentary occupational base.”

5. Special senses limitations

SSR Issue Statement from SSR
85-15 Vision “As a general rule, even if a person’s visual impairment(s) were to eliminate all jobs that involve very good vision (such as working with small objects or reading small print), as long as he or she retains sufficient visual acuity to be able to handle and work with rather large objects (and has the visual fields to avoid ordinary hazards in the workplace), there would be a substantial number of jobs remaining across all exertional levels.”
96-9p Hearing and speaking “Basic communication is all that is needed to do unskilled work. The ability to hear and understand simple oral instructions or to communicate simple information is sufficient. If the individual retains these basic communication abilities, the unskilled sedentary occupational base would not be significantly eroded in these areas.”

6. Environmental limitations

85-15 Hazards “A person with a seizure disorder who is restricted only from being on unprotected elevations and near dangerous moving machinery is an example of someone whose environmental restriction does not have a significant effect on work that exists at all exertional levels.”
96-9p Cold, heat, wetness, humidity, vibration, unusual hazards—sedentary work “In general, few occupations in the unskilled sedentary occupational base require work in environments with extreme cold, extreme heat, wetness, humidity, vibration, or unusual hazards…. Even a need to avoid all exposure to these conditions would not, by itself, result in a significant erosion of the occupational base.”

7. Mental limitations

SSR Issue Statement from SSR
85-15 Mental “Where there is no exertional impairment, unskilled jobs at all levels of exertion constitute the potential occupational base for persons who can meet the mental demands of unskilled work. These jobs ordinarily involve dealing primarily with objects, rather than with data or people, and they generally provide substantial vocational opportunity for persons with solely mental impairments who retain the capacity to meet the intellectual and emotional demand of such jobs on a sustained basis.”1

May 15, 2018

Side By Side Comparison Of Proposed And Current Musculoskeletal Listings

     See below for side by side versions of Social Security's proposed new musculoskeletal Listings and the current Listings -- just the Listings. There are also considerable changes in the Listing preambles. Click on each page to view full size. You can also download a PDF of the whole thing. Notice that in every case the proposed new Listing is longer than the current Listing.

May 14, 2018

Might Be Some Problems With This Nomination

     AllGov has put together a biographical piece on Andrew Saul, President Trump's nominee to become Commissioner of Social Security. Here are some excerpts:
Saul was born in New York on November 6, 1946. He did his undergraduate work at the Wharton School at Penn, earning a B.S. in 1968, just as Trump did.
After graduation, Saul took a job with Brooks Fashion Stores, a mid-range women’s clothing chain. He became vice president for store operations, executive vice president and in 1980, president of the company. Saul’s tenure as president was marked by millions of dollars in losses for Brooks. ...
Saul joined the board of New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) in 1997 and in 2006 was appointed its vice chairman. He has been an MTA board member ever since. In 2003, he was chairman of the MTA audit committee when state and city comptrollers accused MTA of keeping two sets of books. While on the MTA 15-person voting board in 2005, Saul’s was one of only two votes against a holiday fare reduction for transit riders.
Saul was a top fundraiser for George W. Bush, and was rewarded in 2002 with an appointment as chairman of the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, which supervises 401-k-style retirement programs for federal employees, including the military. Saul tightened loan requirements for Thrift members and grew the fund while maintaining strict financial controls. He remained on the board until 2011.
In 2007, Saul entered the race for Congress from his home district in New York, and his deep pockets made the candidacy popular with the GOP. However, Saul dropped out of the race in November 2007 days after The New York Times reported that two of his campaign donors were bidding to build on MTA property. Saul also drew criticism for proposing transit fare increases. ...
Saul’s personal life took a couple odd turns. As his daughter, Jennifer Saul Yaffa, was going through a divorce in 2009, Saul began eviction proceedings against the family, which was living in a Fifth Avenue co-op owned by a family trust. A court ruled against Saul. In 2012, he tried to get out of a trespassing charge by claiming he was a police commissioner. Saul was trying to ride a bicycle on a dam when told by a police officer that he was trespassing. Saul ignored the officer, who had to pull Saul off his bike. Saul produced a “courtesy card” he’d received through the MTA police. Despite all that, Saul wasn’t ticketed. ...

Hearing Scheduled On Future Of Social Security Number

     From a press release:
House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson (R-TX) announced today that the Subcommittee will hold a hearing entitled “Securing Americans’ Identities: The Future of the Social Security Number.” The hearing will focus on the dangers of the use of the Social Security number (SSN) as both an identifier and authenticator and examine policy considerations and possible solutions to mitigate the consequences of SSN loss or theft. The hearing will take place on Thursday, May 17, 2018 in 1100 Longworth House Office Building, beginning at 10:00 AM. ...

May 13, 2018

I Keep Telling You He's A Doofus

     As a result of absconding, Eric Conn is facing additional charges that carry sentences of up to 255 years in prison. His plea deal had carried only a 12 year sentence. Since he already pleaded guilty to those charges, that sentence is already locked in.

May 12, 2018

Is This Reasonable?

     Should a medical provider charge a $350 fee for completing paperwork to help a Social Security disability claimant? Remember, Medicare or Medicaid benefits go along with Social Security disability benefits. A patient who loses their Social Security disability appeal may lose medical coverage or be forced onto Medicaid which reimburses providers at a lower rate. Is the $350 fee reasonable? What about filing health care reimbursement forms? Should providers charge separately for doing that? It's not medical care either.
     If you think that attorneys who represent Social Security disability claimants are so wealthy that they should easily be able to absorb fees like this, maybe you ought to ponder this question. Why is it that virtually no one leaves the employment of the Social Security Administration to represent claimants before the agency? If it's lucrative, wouldn't you expect there to be a steady stream of people doing this?

May 11, 2018

Most Popular Baby Names

     Here's Social Security's list of the most popular baby names for 2017:
Boys Girls
1. Liam 1. Emma
2. Noah 2. Olivia
3. William 3. Ava
4. James 4. Isabella
5. Logan 5. Sophia
6. Benjamin 6. Mia
7. Mason 7. Charlotte
8. Elijah 8. Amelia
9. Oliver 9. Evelyn
10. Jacob 10. Abigail

     Whatever happened to "Charles" as a baby name? Or "John" or "Mary" or "Joseph" or "Elizabeth" or "Michael" or "Catherine"?

May 10, 2018

Can You Help?

     Can anyone help me interpret this report from the Social Security Bulletin on variation in Social Security disability participation? I know I'm in trouble when I'm trying to interpret something that starts out with this sort of thing:
The variance relationship is given in equation (7):

     If I had been interested in this sort of thing maybe I would have gone to grad school in my undergraduate major, political science (which, at least at the graduate level, is a lot sciencier than you might think). There are reasons people go to law school and some of them have to do with figuring out what you don't want to do.
     I think this report shows that persons of Hispanic origin and those who live in households where English isn't spoken at home are less likely to be on Social Security disability (take that, Donald Trump!) but there's a lot more in this report that I'm struggling to interpret.

May 9, 2018

Headcount Holds Steady

      The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has posted updated figures for the number of employees at the Social Security Administration:
  • December 2017 62,777
  • September 2017 62,297
  • June 2017 61,592
  • March 2017 62,183
  • December 2016 63,364
  • December 2015 65,518
  • December 2014 65,430
  • December 2013 61,957
  • December 2012 64,538
  • September 2011 67,136
  • December 2010 70,270
  • December 2009 67,486
  • December 2008 63,733
  • September 2008 63,990

May 8, 2018

Looks Like The Biggest Problem Is A Lack Of Warm Bodies To Get The Work Done

     From Workload Review of the Office of Hearings Operations’ Atlanta and New York Regions, a report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General:
The hearing offices in both regions with high average processing times (APT) had below average staffing levels, low morale, and issues with telework, claimant representatives, and the quality of the support staff’s work. Other factors, such as administrative law judge performance issues, difficulty scheduling expert witnesses, and a large number of supplemental hearings/postponements also contributed to high APT. In the New York Region, local office management issues and State filing requirements were also negative factors. In the Atlanta Region, an insufficient number of decision writers and information technology problems were negative factors.
In the New York Region, several interviewees cited their Regional Office as a negative factor that contributed to higher APT and lower productivity. The issues that interviewees cited included Regional Office micromanagement, excessive time and oversight devoted to minor issues, goals not agreeing with real capabilities, negative messaging/tone, and frequent changes implemented with little notice or input. The New York Regional Office generally agreed with our findings but explained that a few offices require closer regional level oversight for a variety of reasons, including inexperienced or under- performing managers, failure to follow established policy and procedures, and employee conduct or performance matters. Some interviewees in the Atlanta Region cited similar issues with their Regional Office, though the feedback was more mixed. ...

May 7, 2018

One In Ten Field Offices Closed

Demonstrators protesting closure of Arlington, VA field office
     From the Washington Post:
The Social Security Administration plans to close its Arlington field office and one of its Baltimore locations in June, part of a series of shutdowns across the country that activists and political leaders say is causing major difficulties for the elderly, people with disabilities and other beneficiaries.
The agency has closed about 125 of its approximately 1,250 offices since 2000 — a 10 percent reduction, part of what officials describe as a shift to greater use of online services in an era of budget constraints and a growing population of senior citizens.
In addition, all 533 Social Security Administration “contact sites” — locations that serve remote, rural populations on a weekly or monthly basis — have closed, said leaders of the union that represents Social Security employees. ...

A Grace Note

     The final footnote in the opinion of Magistrate Judge Joan Glazer Margolis in Lawson v. Berryhill, 3:17 CV 247 (JGM) (D.Conn.2018):
After having had the great privilege of serving as a U .S. Magistrate Judge for more than thirty-three years and now facing retirement in approximately five weeks, this decision is the last Social Security ruling to be filed by this judicial officer. This Ma gistrate Judge estimates that she has filed at least 350 rulings on Social Security matters, starting with one filed in March 1985, just one month after she began this position. This judicial officer has never lost sight of how critical these Social Security files are to the parties involved, and few other rulings issued in federal court have the profound impact on the parties as these do. 
Starting in August 2002, this Magistrate Judge has had the great assistance of her highly talented career law clerk, Monica Watson Cucchiarelli, in approximately 150 of these Social Security rulings. Ms. Watson’ s contribution to the development of Social Security law in this district has been immeasurable, and there a re few lawyers as knowledgeable, and talented, about these matters than she is. The only reason this Magistrate Judge has remained relatively current with her Social Security docket, which began to soar in 2009  nd continues to do so at a dramatically escalating pace, is due to the diligence, perseverance, and wisdom of Ms. Watson, who consistently ga e up her evenings and weekends to work on these files. The Social Security bar, the District Court, and this judicial officer in particular, owe Ms. Watson their deepest gratitude.

May 6, 2018

How To Deal With An Overpayment

     So, who should you call when Social Security stops your checks because THEY made a mistake? Your local TV station, of course. You certainly can't expect the agency to resolve the issue or tell you what to do.

May 5, 2018

Wave Of The Future?

     The Glenwood Springs, Colorado Social Security field office is moving to a new location. With the move, the hours that the office will be open to the public will be 9:00 am to noon Monday through Friday. Previously, the office, like other Social Security field offices in recent years, had been closed to the public only on Wednesday afternoons.

May 4, 2018

New Proposed Musculoskeletal Listings Out

     Social Security is publishing proposed new musculoskeletal Listings in the Federal Register on Monday. You can read them today. They're 169 pages long!

Another D.C. Area Field Office Closing

     I'm hearing that the Baltimore North Social Security field office will be closed.

May 3, 2018

Great New Idea!

     A law professor has a great new idea. Why don't we pay for Trump's wall on the Mexican border by taking money out of the Social Security Trust Funds? It's only fair. Many undocumented migrants from Mexico have paid into those Trust Funds but will never draw benefits because they worked under phony Social Security numbers. Who could object to taking that money out of the Trust Funds to pay for the wall?

May 2, 2018

Why Does This Vary So Greatly?

From a data file released by Social Security