Jul 31, 2018

SSA Failing To Recover Net Out Some SSI Overpayments And Underpayments

     From a recent report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG):
... To recover an outstanding SSI overpayment, SSA can withhold the entire prior-month underpayment due a recipient up to the balance of the overpayment. SSA defines underpayments that are due for months before the month SSA identifies them as prior-month underpayments. ...
SSA did not always follow its policy of withholding SSI prior-month underpayments from outstanding SSI overpayments. Specifically, SSA did not appropriately withhold more than 6,000 prior-month underpayments to recover outstanding overpayments. This occurred because SSA employees did not take the necessary manual actions in SSA’s systems to ensure overpayment recovery. Had SSA followed its policy, we estimate it could have recovered approximately $44 million in outstanding overpayments from nearly 125,000 prior-month underpayments it paid to SSI recipients during CYs 2015 and 2016. ...

Jul 30, 2018

Lucia Doesn't Pose A Catastrophic Threat

     The prospect of huge numbers of Appeals Council remands as a result of the Supreme Court decision in Lucia v. SEC worries a lot of people. It would certainly add to the severe backlogs at the hearing level but let's not get carried away. As of the end of June there were 89,157 cases pending at the Appeals Council. So far this fiscal year, Administrative Law Judges are disposing of an average of 60,746 cases per month. This means that if every case pending at the Appeals Council is remanded for a new hearing as a result of Lucia, the backlog at the hearing level would increase by about one and a half months. Certainly, any increase in the backlog is undesirable but a one and a half month increase in the backlog is hardly catastrophic. Ending the backlog at the Appeals Council level would be a good side effect. Appeals Council employees who suddenly lack regular job duties could help with the decision writing backlog at the hearing level. Large numbers of Lucia remands wouldn't destroy the system -- not that the system is anything to brag about.

Jul 29, 2018

Are ALJs A Bunch Of Liberal Democrats?

     Based on limited experience, Paul Mirengoff believes almost all Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) are liberal Democrats, a group he certainly doesn't want hearing cases.
     Some real ALJs beg to differ.
     I don't talk much with ALJs about politics and never at a government office. I rarely interact with ALJs other than at a Social Security office. My impression is that the veterans preference assures that ALJs as a group aren't particularly liberal, particularly for lawyers. Of course, it's more than possible that Mr. Mirengoff regards anyone who doesn't wear a MAGA cap regularly as a liberal Demicrat.

Jul 28, 2018

SSA Failing To Initiate Overpayment Withholding On A Timely Basis In Some Cases

     From a recent report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG):
SSA did not always appropriately withhold overpayments from individuals receiving OASDI [Old Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance] or SSI benefits. We reviewed a sample of 50 OASDI beneficiaries and 50 SSI recipients who were receiving a monthly benefit and had a total outstanding overpayment balance greater than $1,000. We found SSA missed opportunities to recover overpayments from 31 of these individuals’ benefits (28 OASDI beneficiaries and 3 SSI recipients). ...
Had SSA initiated withholding timely, we estimate it could have already collected over $114 million in overpayments from almost 25,000 individuals. ...

Jul 27, 2018

Senators Object To Treatment Of Employee Unions

     From the Baltimore Sun:
Maryland’s U.S. senators say the Social Security Administration is demonstrating “hostility towards its workforce” in the way it is implementing recent executive orders signed by President Donald J. Trump.
Trump signed the orders in May with the stated goals of promoting accountability, rooting out poor performers and negotiating union contracts more advantageous to taxpayers and the federal government.
But labor groups have characterized the orders, which reduce the time available for union business, as an attack on long-held civil service protections.
The Baltimore-based SSA has gone beyond the orders’ reach and is trampling workers’ rights, Democratic Sens. Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin said in a letter Thursday to acting commissioner Nancy A. Berryhill and other officials. ...

The Argument For Trump's Order On Federal Employee Unions

     From Bob Gilson writing for FedSmith:
I admit to fascination at the statements made by many union representatives in response to recent Executive Orders addressing their use of government time, space, equipment, and services.
When the Civil Service Reform Act went into effect in 1979, no one on either side of the aisle in either house on the Hill or down the street on PA Avenue would have seen as remotely possible the complete payment of all employee/union representatives, some getting 100% of their work time doing union work. Also incredible in 1979 would have been the current practice in many Agencies of paying for all union communications, computing, office space, meeting space and other costs. ...
     Gilson goes on to detail the facts that some union money has been used to pay for a lobbyist (a pittance by D.C standards) and that union dues have paid for only a fraction of the union's true operating costs. It's directed specifically at the union local that represents most Social Security employees. It's a harshly anti-union piece but there's certainly an argument to be made in favor of Trump's order on federal employee unions.

LTD Industry Take On Social Security Subcommittee Hearing

     People like me who represent disability claimants may think that we're the only ones interested in how the Social Security Administration handles appeals of disability claims but that's not right. Some non-profits are interested but so are insurance companies handling long term disability (LTD) benefits.  LTD is generally reduced because of Social Security disability benefits received giving the LTD insurers a huge interest in the adjudication of Social Security disability claims. The more claims get approved, the less their liability.
     Allison Bell has written an article summarizing what took place at this week's hearing before the Social Security Subcommittee, apparently for people in the LTD industry.

OIG Report On Milwaukee Field Office Closure

     There's been a controversy over the closure of a Social Security field office in Milwaukee. The Office of Inspector General at Social Security has done a Congressional Response Report on the situation. According to the report, advance warning of the office closure was given to local leaders. It sounds like the major reason the office was closed was the crime rate in the area.

Jul 26, 2018

Reinstating Recon Unpopular

     From the Philadelphia Inquirer:
In an effort to reduce its massive backlog of disability determination appeals, the Social Security Administration plans to reinstate an additional step in the appeals process for Pennsylvania and nine other states.
Social Security officials say the extra step — called reconsideration — would create a more uniform system across the country and help the administration reach its goal of resolving disability appeals within 270 days. Critics have said it could have the opposite effect, possibly lengthening the appeals process.
“While some people might get a decision sooner under reconsideration, for others this step is effectively a rubber stamp of the initial decision,” Rep. Sam Johnson (R., Texas),  who serves as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee’s Social Security subcommittee, said during a Capitol Hill hearing Wednesday. “It simply further delays their hearing with an administrative law judge.” ...

Union Stands Behind Suspended Employee

     From the Albany Times-Union:
Union members rallied outside the Social Security Administration office Wednesday in support of a union official who painted words on the building's windows protesting what the workers contend are Trump administration moves to curtail union representation and activity for federal employees.

Adam Pelletier, a claims representative and union grievance chairman, issued the protest in washable paint on the building at 500 Federal St. on July 1 and was placed on paid administrative leave on three weeks ago.
“We’re totally behind his right to speak out. He’s just the catalyst for us to be here,” said Pedro “Pete” Aviles, an SSA employee in Schenectady and president of American Federal Government Employees Local 3343, which covers most SSA offices upstate. ...

Your Get Out Of The Appeals Council Jail Free Card

     I said in an earlier post that I thought that because of the Supreme Court decision in Lucia v. SEC that the Appeals Council might as well go ahead and remand virtually all the cases it has pending. Another attorney at my firm pointed out to me the reason why they have little choice, as long as a Lucia objection has been filed with the Appeals Council. They can’t realistically raise the objection that you failed to raise the issue before the ALJ because in Lucia v. SEC itself (slip opinion at 3), the objection was only raised before the Securities and Exchange Commission itself after the ALJ decision. Theoretically, one could say that issue was never considered by the Supreme Court but that's theoretical rather than an argument Social Security is at all likely to raise. Social Security can’t say that its ALJs are different from the SEC's ALJs since the Solicitor General memo has conceded that they aren't.
     If you've got a case pending at the Appeals Council and you haven't already filed a Lucia objection, you'd better do so right away. Like today.

Jul 25, 2018

61,000 Unprocessed Appeals!

     Here is something that I was unaware of from the testimony of Lisa Eckman who is Co-Chair of the Social Security Task Force of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD), an umbrella organization of non-profits involved in helping the disabled, at today's House Social Security Subcommittee:
In March 2015, SSA updated its electronic appeals system. The new system involved a “single submission” practice in which appeals were only processed when applicants completed lengthy forms not required by SSA’s regulations. These additional requirements were poorly communicated, leading to more than 61,000 people filing regulatorily compliant appeals that went unprocessed. SSA decided in early 2018, after several years of advocacy from CCD member organizations and other groups, to re-contact these claimants. Over 28,000 of these appeals are now being processed, some of them several years after they should have been, and more will be processed soon. Although we appreciate SSA’s efforts, we remain concerned that the iAppeals system still requires more information than the regulations require and that SSA has no plans to change this. The agency’s position is that because the paper process complies with regulations, it is acceptable to have an electronic process that violates them. This faulty reasoning deprives tens of thousands of claimants of due process.

Witness List For Today's Congressional Hearing

     Below is the witness list for today's hearing before the House Social Security Subcommittee on Examining Changes to Social Security’s Disability Appeals Process. It starts at 10:00.
  • Patricia Jonas
    Deputy Commissioner, Analytics, Review, and Oversight, Social Security Administration
  • Elizabeth Curda
    Director, Education, Workforce, and Income Security Issues, Government Accountability Office
  • Will Morton
    Analyst in Income Security, Congressional Research Service
  • Jeff Price
    Legislative Director, National Association of Disability Examiners
  • Lisa Ekman
    Director of Government Affairs, National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives, on behalf of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities Social Security Task Force
  • Hon. Ronald A. Cass
    President, Cass & Associates, PC

Jul 24, 2018

Solicitor General Memo Makes Social Security's Lucia Headache Worse

     The Solicitor General represents the federal government before the Supreme Court. This is from a memo from the Solicitor General to General Counsels at federal agencies concerning the recent Supreme Court decision in Lucia v. SEC:
... As discussed below, to the extent feasible and consistent with law, we advise agencies ... (3) in pending cases in which no Appointments Clause challenge was timely made and preserved, to argue that any such challenge is forfeited; and (4) in pending cases in which an Appointments Clause challenge was timely made and preserved, to seek a voluntary remand to the agency to provide a hearing before a different, properly appointed ALJ, consistent with Lucia. ...
A threshold question is who exactly is covered by the Supreme Court's decision in Lucia. Although the Court's specific holding is narrow, its reasoning sweeps more broadly. For the reasons discussed below, we conclude that all ALJs and similarly situated administrative judges should be appointed as inferior officers under the Appointments Clause, and that Department Heads should ratify and approve the appointments of existing ALJs and administrative judges accordingly. ...
The Court's decision in Lucia does not directly address the constitutional status of administrative law judges appointed under 5 U.S.C. 3105 who do not preside over adversarial administrative hearings or possess powers equivalent to those of the SEC ALJs in Lucia. For example, Lucia does not squarely resolve the status of ALJs who preside over ex parte hearings for applicants seeking federal benefits. Nonetheless, much of the reasoning of Lucia applies with equal force to such ALJs: while they may not preside over adversarial trials, they do take testimony, preside over hearings, receive and weigh evidence, and employ various mechanisms for obtaining compliance with their orders. Accordingly, taking into account both the Supreme Court's reasoning in Lucia and the importance of ensuring the President's oversight of the execution of the laws, the Department of Justice no longer plans to argue that such ALJs are employees rather than inferior officers. Agencies should appoint all ALJs as inferior officers. ...
Many agencies, however, use other non-ALJ officials-often termed "administrative judges" or "administrative appeals judges"-to preside over hearings and issue initial or appellate decisions in agency adjudications. While there will be case-by-case questions, we anticipate that many of these adjudicative officials will qualify as inferior officers under Lucia, especially if they preside over adversarial hearings and have the four specific forms of authority highlighted by the Court in Lucia. Again, taking into account both the Supreme Court's reasoning in Lucia and the importance of ensuring the President's oversight of the execution of the laws, the Department does not expect to defend the appointment of such officials by individuals other than the Department Head on the ground that they are mere employees. Accordingly, we recommend that agencies appoint such non-ALJ adjudicators as inferior officers in the same manner as ALJs, consistent with the advice in this memorandum, or contact us with further questions, as appropriate. ...
The Constitution not only specifies the manner in which officers of the United States must be appointed, but also limits the extent to which officers may permissibly be shielded from removal by the Department Head. ... Many litigants have already argued that ALJs are impermissibly shielded from removal because, by statute, ALJs can only be removed "for good cause established and determined by the Merit Systems Protection Board on the record after opportunity for hearing before
the Board." 5 U.S.C. § 7521(a). ...
The Department of Justice is prepared to defend the constitutionality of Section 7521, as properly construed. As the government argued in the Supreme Court in Lucia, Section 7521's "good cause" standard for removal is properly read to allow for removal of an ALJ who fails to perform adequately or to follow agency policies, procedures, or instructions.
      The key points here as I see them:
  • The federal government isn't going to defend the constitutionality of Social Security ALJ decisions issued prior to the date they were officially appointed by the Acting Commissioner.
  • The federal government will try to defend these cases only on the grounds that the claimant did not raise the issue administratively (issue preclusion).
  • It's not completely clear but it seems very likely that the federal government will not try to defend the constitutionality of the decisions of Social Security's Administrative Appeals Judges who make decisions at the Appeals Council prior to their appointment by the Acting Commissioner. (There has been no announcement that they have been so appointed but I imagine they have. I would appreciate information on this point.)
  • The federal government will defend ALJs who are challenged on the grounds that they may only be removed by the Merit Systems Protection Board but only by saying that "as properly construed" that ALJs may be removed far more easily than has been the case in the past.
       The issue preclusion argument that Social Security will make isn't a strong one. There is a Supreme Court decision holding that issue preclusion doesn't apply to Social Security cases generally. Social Security will have an especially hard time getting the courts to accept issue preclusion in these cases since the agency announced earlier in the year that neither ALJs nor the Appeals Council could consider arguments concerning the constitutionality of ALJ appointments. How can you demand that an argument have been raised when you're announced to the world that you wouldn't consider the argument even if it was raised? Even if the agency could somehow get around that, there is the question of when the issue must be raised. Is it enough to raise the issue before the Appeals Council?
     Social Security won't follow my advice but I'll give it anyway. The Solicitor General just took away your strongest argument -- that Social Security ALJs could be distinguished from SEC ALJs. The agency may as well hold up its hands and surrender. Remand all the cases pending at the Appeals Council. Accept voluntary remands in all cases pending in federal courts.  You'd clear out the Appeals Council backlog and you'd avoid an avalanche of federal court cases that you're going to lose.
     The extent to which Appeals Council decisions will be affected is unclear. Is a denial of review enough to be a problem for Social Security? What about a remand order? It's not a final decision. Does it even matter considering that the ALJs were unconstitutional?
     Can Social Security and other agencies defend the constitutionality of the ALJ removal procedures? How hard will the federal government even try to defend on this point? Their logic sounds strained to me. I doubt that their hearts are in it. I'm pretty sure that the Federalist Society thinks that the removal procedures are unconstitutional. The Trump Administration has nearly subcontracted its legal policy decisions to the Federalist Society.
     Will Social Security try to remove more ALJs than they have in the past on the grounds that it should be far easier to remove ALJs than it has been in the past?

Editorials Opposing Trump ALJ Order

     The Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post have run editorials, independent of each other, criticizing President Trump's use of the Supreme Court decision in Lucia v. SEC as a pretext for removing the protections against politicizing the hiring of Administrative Law Judges. It took a little while but I think it's become clear to everyone who's taken the time to look at this that the Trump order, in addition to being unnecessary, was a bad idea.

Getting Carried Away

     From the Federal Times:
The Social Security Administration has left one of its employees on administrative leave well past the limit established in U.S. Code after that employee wrote on agency office windows in Troy, New York, to protest recent union-targeting executive orders.

Adam Pelletier, an employee and union representative at the Troy office, was placed on administrative leave July 2 and told Federal Times that he has yet to receive any official notice on why or what the agency plans to do with him.
U.S. Code limits the amount of time a federal employee can be placed on administrative leave to 10 work days per calendar year, which expired for Pelletier July 16. An agency can place an employee on investigative leave for additional time after that in the case of a misconduct investigation, but the employee must receive written notice of such leave.
Pelletier joined SSA as a temporary employee in July 2012 and joined the American Federation of Government Employees shortly thereafter. He was then hired as a permanent employee one year later. He currently works as a claims representative and a grievance vice president for the local chapter of the union.

Late at night July 1, Pelletier wrote on the windows of the Troy, New York, SSA office building with washable window paint. Pelletier said it was an act of protest of moves the agency had made to remove the union from the offices. ...
The morning after tagging the windows, Pelletier told District Manager John Rainis that he tagged the windows, and that he intended to file a grievance if the message was taken down. The district manager then called the police, according to Pelletier.

“When they got there, I approached them. I indicated that it was me, and I explained to them why I did it. And they just took some notes and carried on with their day,” said Pelletier. “About an hour later the federal police showed up, my manager called me into his office and he essentially explained that I was being put out on administrative leave until further notice.” ...
     I'm not defending this guy. He's got free speech rights but they don't go this far. Look at it this way. If the guy had written something innocuous like "Have a nice day" on the window would the agency have been within its rights to take it down and discipline him? Of course. The window isn't a public space in the same way that a public park or street corner is. As an employee he had no right to post a personal message there. Social Security should have followed its own rules, however.

Jul 23, 2018

That Trump Executive Order On ALJs May Be Illegal

     You may recall that when the President issued an Executive Order changing the hiring process for Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) to allow agencies to hire with few formalities or limitations I raised the question of whether Trump's order complied with the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) which normally requires that proposed changes to regulations be published in the Federal Register for public comment before they can come into effect. I didn't pursue this issue since I assumed there had to be some obscure provision in the civil service laws that allowed the President to do this. Valerie C. Brannon of the Congressional Research Service (which is part of the Congress) pursued this issue and found that there are serious APA problems with the Trump Executive Order. I doubt that agencies will even try to hire ALJs under the new process.
     This Executive Order is an exemplar of the Trump Administration -- trying to heroically and simplistically solve difficult problems with the stroke of a pen while dissembling about the reasons for the actions that are taken (claiming the Order was a response to a Supreme Court decision when it wasn't), all coupled with incompetent execution. If Trump and those who work for him weren't such bumbling fools, he'd be a lot more dangerous.

Jul 22, 2018

Add This To The Long List Of Things That Gets Looked At If Democrats Control The House Of Representatives Next Year

     From the Virginian-Pilot:
Widows and widowers who were shortchanged on Social Security benefits by an estimated $131.8 million won’t get any of that money back, despite an Inspector General report calling for action.
Earlier this year, the administration’s Office of the Inspector General issued an audit report that determined the Social Security Administration underpaid 9,224 people over the age of 70. In addition, as more people in this group turn 70, the underpayment will amount to $9.8 million annually, auditors found.
The report said SSA officials agreed to “take action, as appropriate” for 41 beneficiaries it identified directly in the sample study and determine if it should review the records of more than 13,000 other beneficiaries. It also asked the administration to review its procedures and staff training for informing beneficiaries of their claiming options.
SSA has since provided “nationwide training” to field office workers about these survivor options and changed the language in application materials, said Darren Lutz, a Social Security spokesman.
It won’t, however, change anyone’s benefits retroactively based on the study.
“We reviewed the cases from the audit and determined they were adjudicated correctly, according to the law,” he said in an email. He declined to comment beyond the statement or make officials available to discuss the training. ...
     It really seems as if the Social Security Administration is acting as if Republicans will control the House of Representatives forever. It's a better than even bet that Democrats control the House of Representatives next year.

Jul 21, 2018

More Same Sex Marriage Litigation

     From the NM Political Report:
Anthony Gonzales met his future husband, Mark Johnson, at an Albuquerque gay bar, twenty years ago this month. Soon after, Gonzales and Johnson moved in and began their life together. In 2013, they made their union legally binding when they joined hundreds of other couples on Albuquerque’s Civic Plaza on the first day counties across New Mexico began legally recognizing same sex marriages. Almost six month later, 180 days to be exact, Johnson died of cancer.
Now, just weeks before his wedding anniversary, Gonzales has filed a federal civil suit against the U.S. Government’s Social Security Administration for the monetary benefits he said he is owed. The suit, filed in June, asks for Social Security survivor benefits or money usually paid out to a surviving spouse. But, the Social Security Administration requires couples to be married for nine months before a surviving spouse can collect those specific benefits from their deceased partner. That’s the case for Gonzales and thousands of others, even though the administration grants other exceptions for those who have been able to legally marry for centuries.
     The only other exception is for cases where the death was unexpected which, apparently, wasn't the case here since Mr. Johnson died of cancer.
     I regret that Mr. Gonzalez lost his husband. I regret that he wasn't allowed to marry Mr. Johnson until 2013 but this lawsuit is going nowhere.

Jul 20, 2018

Legislation Passes

     From Think Advisor:
The House Ways and Means Committee’s Subcommittee on Social Security and Tax Policy passed on Wednesday the “Social Security Online Tools Innovation Act,” H.R. 3309, which requires the Social Security Administration to provide online tools to help individuals assess their disability benefits.
The bill, which was reported to the full House, requires the Social Security commissioner to make publicly available online tools allowing individuals that are eligible for disability benefits “to assess the impact of earnings on the individual’s eligibility for, and amount of, benefits received through federal and state benefit programs.”
House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson, R-Texas, announced the same day that he plans to hold a hearing on Wednesday to examine changes to the Social Security disability appeals process.
The hearing will examine recent and planned changes affecting the Social Security Administration’s disability appeals process, the metrics the SSA uses to evaluate process changes, and the progress the SSA has made to address the appeals backlog.
“Recently, the Social Security Administration made a major decision to change the disability appeals process in certain states that could have real-life consequences for Americans,” Johnson said in announcing the hearing. “A decision of this magnitude should be made by a Senate-confirmed commissioner, which we currently do not have. In the meantime, it is Congress’ duty to examine whether this change makes sense for disability claimants and taxpayers.”
     This piece addresses two issues. As to the first, here's the text of the bill, which I predict will have zero real world consequences:
Not later than 2 years after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Commissioner of Social Security shall make available through an individual’s account on the website of the Social Security Administration online tools to allow all individuals eligible for benefits based on disability under titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act to assess the impact of earnings on the individual’s eligibility for, and amount of, benefits received through Federal and State benefit programs.
      I have no idea why the Tax Policy Subcommittee would have had anything to do with this bill. 
     As to the second, it looks as if a major reason the hearing has been scheduled for next week is Congressional unhappiness about reinstating reconsideration in some states. If that's the case, how about we end reconsideration in all states?

Hard Edged Approach To Union

     From Government Executive:
Officials at the Social Security Administration informed the union representing administrative law judges Thursday that it is unilaterally implementing a new management edict, effectively voiding an existing collective bargaining agreement.
In an email to officials at the Association of Administrative Law Judges, SSA Associate Commissioner in the Office of Labor-Management and Employee Relations Ralph Patinella justified implementing a new unilateral CBA that made changes to nine contract provisions by saying the union ... “declined to bargain” on implementation of the Trump administration’s recent workforce executive orders.
But Marilyn Zahm, president of the Association of Administrative Law Judges, said nothing in the existing collective bargaining agreement requires them to engage in midterm bargaining on issues already covered by the CBA. The move by SSA comes just one day after the union filed an internal grievance over the unilateral implementation of executive order provisions governing official time.
Zahm said that on July 6, SSA informed her that the agency would immediately begin implementation of the controversial edicts, starting with a severe reduction in the amount of official time allowed for union employees, the refusal to grant official time to work on grievances and the end of agency subsidies for travel.
“I had to take personal leave last week for an already scheduled arbitration,” Zahm said. “And I went to the hotel to check in, and I found out that the reservation had been cancelled. The government cancelled my reservation right out from under me, and it wasn’t even being paid for with a government credit card.”
Among the changes to SSA union policy effective July 9 are a reduction in the so-called “bank” of official time available to the association as a whole between then and the end of September from 5,500 hours to 400. Official time also can no longer be used to represent employees in grievances. And the union will no longer be able to maintain office space on agency property after July 31. ...

Continued Decline In Social Security Workforce

     The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has posted updated figures for the number of employees at the Social Security Administration:
  • March 2018 61,487
  • 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
     Did you fall for the fairy tale that a bigger appropriation to Social Security would result in better service? The increase in funding was slight and Republicans in Congress made sure that the increase would go to politically connected contractors instead of into hiring the personnel needed to get the work done. I think the attitude of Republicans in Congress to Social Security's ability to deliver service to the public ranges from indifference to an active desire to sabotage.

Jul 19, 2018

Eric Conn Client Getting "Three Hots And A Cot" But A Former Client Is Homeless

    From WYMT:
Thousands of former clients of Eric C. Conn have had their social security benefits taken away and are being scheduled for redetermination hearings to see if and when they can get those benefits back. While Conn is in prison with a roof over his head and food in his stomach one of his former clients is struggling to have even that. 
"I have nothing...I'm homeless right now and I have nothing," said Thomas Mullins.  ...
But nearly two years ago Mullins, who can not read or write, lost his benefits during a hearing where his only council was the Social Security Administration....
"They (Social Security Administration) told me I didn't need a lawyer and I went in front of them and they cut my benefits off without a lawyer," Mullins explained. ...
Mullins' oldest son, Jacob, says the situation has left his dad considering the unimaginable.
"I know that thoughts of suicide...he's talked with me about it..and it's just...I mean just hold on as long as you can," said Jacob Mullins.
Mullins says there is still hope as he has a redetermination hearing scheduled in September. ...

Congressional Hearing Scheduled On "Changes To Social Security Disability Appeals Process"

     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 “Examining Changes to Social Security’s Disability Appeals Process.” The hearing will focus on recent and planned changes affecting the Social Security Administration’s (SSA’s) disability appeals process, the metrics the SSA uses to evaluate process changes, and the progress the SSA has made to address the appeals backlog. The hearing will take place on Wednesday, July 25, 2018, in 2020 Rayburn House Office Building, beginning at 10:00 AM.
     Uh, what changes apart from the downturn in claims and appeals? I'm sure Lucia issues will be raised but that's not really a change in the "process."

Jul 18, 2018

Social Security Following Anti-Union Trump Orders With "Gusto, Joy And Clear Purpose"

     From Joe Davidson writing for the Washington Post:
President Trump's recent executive orders are a serious assault on federal labor organizations, but it is taxpayers who could become collateral damage.
Consider the Social Security Administration (SSA), which deals more directly with clients than most. It is on the front lines of the Trump-union clash, because officials there are enforcing his commands more aggressively than management at many agencies. Three orders issued in May sharply cut the time available for union officials to represent the workforce, restricted their ability to bargain collectively and sped the firing of federal employees. Another order, issued last week, would diminish administrative law judges, most of whom decide Social Security disputes involving recipients.
While the federal workforce and its representatives are the target of the orders, Social Security beneficiaries could be the victims, warned Max Richtman, president and chief executive of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. He said the impact on them is  pretty direct and dramatic.  Calling agency employees  so dedicated,  he said that  when they re faced with a pretty hostile employer in the government executive in particular, their ability to perform their central duty is undermined and that will lead to a detrimental impact on Social Security beneficiaries. ... [I]mplementation [of the President's orders] is more like imposition and has been done with a vengeance, according to Witold Skwierczynski, president of AFGE's National Council of SSA Field Operations Locals.  SSA followed the Trump administration's executive order  guidance  with gusto, joy, and clear purpose,  he said.
But the administration s gusto and joy is a bummer for Social Security employees and that could be a drag for Social Security recipients.
Richtman and Nancy Altman, president of Social Security Works and chair of the Strengthen Social Security Coalition, cited the effect of Trump's actions on employee morale and the resulting impact on service.
Altman is particularly concerned about Trump s order that devalues administrative law judges (ALJ) by eliminating all but the most minimal requirements for new hires. Additionally, they would be selected by agency heads without first being vetted by the Office of Personnel Management as was the procedure. That makes the process more vulnerable to politicization. ...