Feb 28, 2019

Confusion Reigns

     Since this sort of thing always seems to be of interest to people, I'll post another note from our database made by a legal assistant at my firm. This concerns a case where some parts of Social Security say they have no record of me representing the client even though other parts, say, yes, we've got that paperwork. That matters since the client has been approved. Far more important though is that even though the claimant has been found disabled because of cancer, the agency can't seem to find a way to pay him. If you're approved due to cancer, you almost certainly have a terminal illness so this is an even more urgent situation than usual. Anyway, here's the note which may give some of the flavor of what it's like to deal with Social Security these days:
Forgot to mention that there is a NOT2 [some sort of notice letter, I think] in file showing you are the attorney. ____ did call me back but it’s still a mess. No one can figure out why you aren’t showing on the screen when a phone call is made and ____ can’t fix it.

Not only that, the entire thing is a comedy of errors, actually, more like a tragedy.

While nothing seemed obvious to ____, we eventually found a screen that shows decision made 2/5/19 that  clt [claimant] met 13.02 [which is for cancer] as of 2/15/2017 (which it the onset we wanted). BUT, there’s no notice of any kind. The case at DO [District Office] just shows “closed.” Doesn’t show it as being at the payment center. But doesn’t SSA have to send it to PC [Payment Center]? He said, “yes.” So, if it’s closed at DO and you didn’t send it to the PC, how is supposed to get to PC? Silence. I need an answer. If he’s assigned, wouldn’t he need to send it to PC? He said call the PC. What if I call and it’s not at PC? He says call back. And say what? Speak to whom? He couldn’t say.

____ mailed a new NOT2 showing fee agreement approved today, but date of onset still says 10/18. And something called a Dickle screen that shows medical onset of 2/15/17 and a copy of the 831 from the recon.

If he knows all of that, why can’t he fix the system?

When I hang up and call back, the DO says there is no 1696 on file. No one seems to know what to do about it. Clearly, it has been in their possession. I have a letter from DDS 1/2019 acknowledging the 1696, we have the NOT2, we have the acknowledgment of the 1695.

I called the PC, 205-801-____. ____ says nothing is in queue. The program they work from, nothing in there “enterprise wise.” She says DO has to send the case there.

I called ____ , the supervisor. Ext ____. Left a very long and detailed message. I will be surprised if I get a return call and if I do not, I’m not sure where to go from here.
     By the way, we generally don't take on the cases of claimants we know to be terminally ill. We tell those folks to file the claim and expect to be approved quickly. This claimant had other very serious health problems at the time we took on the case in 2017 but had not been diagnosed with cancer. This case has been stuck at the initial and reconsideration levels since 2017. We were hoping he'd be approved not just from the time the cancer was diagnosed but from the date he stopped work in 2017 which is why there's the discussion above about onset date.
     The sort of delay that happened here doesn't happen often. When it does happen, it usually happens to people who are really, really sick. Someone at Disability Determination really wants to approve the claim but runs into a lot of resistance. It appears to me that this happened at both the initial and reconsideration levels. Finally, after the cancer diagnosis, the resistance faded and they're approving him but we're not absolutely sure that they're going back to 2017. That date issue may be part of the problem or it may just be a systems problem. We don't know.

Feb 27, 2019

Surprised He Got Away With It As Long As He Did

     From NJ.com:
A New Jersey man who had three Social Security numbers for more than two decades admitted he used them to defraud the government out of of $221,364, authorities said Monday.
Fernando Solaris, 63, of Newark, pleaded guilty to one count each of Social Security disability fraud and theft of government property, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for New Jersey said in a statement. Solaris, who slightly altered his name when he applied for the second and third social security numbers, faces up to 15 years in prison when he is sentenced June 4.
The fraud began in 2002 and lasted until 2015 as he used one of the Social Security numbers to collect disability benefits, claiming he was physically unable to work because of pain in his back and left leg, court papers said. Solaris, however, continued to work using the other two numbers, authorities said. ...
Solaris, who arrived in the United States in 1970 from Uruguay, obtained his first Social Security number in 1973. He secured additional Social Security numbers in 1984 and 1989 using slight variations in his name, according to court papers. ...

Feb 26, 2019

Quite A Backlog There

     Here is a note in my firm's database from a legal assistant who had called one of Social Security's payment centers on February 19 about a fee petition, that is a request that the agency approve an attorney fee, that had been submitted in a case won at the reconsideration level:
Spoke w/ Kathy. Once I gave her the ssn, she said they have it but the BA [Benefit Authorizer] has not had a chance to get to it. There's 70 cases that are ahead of this one. Told her this one is from April 2018 and she said they have cases they haven't worked from 2017.
     I can't take that fee until the agency approves it. I don't usually use the fee petition process but sometimes I have to. Many, perhaps most, attorneys take on no fee petition cases because of hassles like this. That leaves some claimants unrepresented. I don't understand anyone who says that the fee petition process is a reasonable alternative to the fee agreement cap. The only realistic alternative to the fee agreement cap is to leave the practice.

Feb 25, 2019

More Than Six Years Without A Confirmed Commissioner

     Michael Astrue, the last confirmed Commissioner of Social Security, left office on January 19, 2013. The Social Security Administration has been led by Acting Commissioners for more than six years now. I'm not sure that I want Andrew Saul, who has been nominated by President Trump, to be confirmed as Commissioner but I do wish that the agency had a confirmed Commissioner.
     As a general matter, this long interregnum without a confirmed Commissioner is proof that the whole idea of Social Security as an independent agency has failed. The agency has not been removed from the political sphere. Either make Social Security a cabinet level department or fold it back into HHS.

Feb 24, 2019

Problems For Another Widow

     I had posted recently about the problems a widow faced after she reported her husband’s death to Social Security and a Social Security employee recorded it as if the husband had died a year earlier than he did. Now comes a second report of another widow who dutifully reported her husband’s death and another Social Security employee recorded it as if both husband and wife had died instead of the husband!
     These reports could be signs of a systems problem.

Feb 22, 2019

Nice Try

     From the Bangor Daily News:
A former Maine man was sentenced Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Portland to 18 months in federal prison for lying in August 2017 to obtain a new Social Security number.
Lachlan Olen Granite, formerly known as Scott Edward Bounds, 54, of Center Ossipee, New Hampshire, believed that getting a new Social Security number would allow him to avoid paying alimony and child support, according to the U.S. attorney’s office. ...
The investigation into Granite’s past began after he sought a Social Security number claiming he had never had one before or received government benefits, according to the prosecution version of events to which he pleaded guilty. Granite told the Social Security worker in the Saco office that he had recently moved to Maine after being excommunicated from an Amish community in Illinois. ...

Feb 21, 2019

I Won't Even Try To Guess What The Problem Was Here

     From WIVB:
Due to a lower back injury, Melvin Sanders' says he has been unable to work since 2013.
He initially filed for Social Security Disability. However, because it could take a long time to get those benefits, he was approved for Social Security supplemental income. ...
Social Security officials put Melvin's case to an administrative law judge in Manhattan, via satellite, in December 2017. The judge ruled in Melvin's favor a few days later.
As of last week, Melvin had not received a dime of his benefits, "the wait has been very long, the pain has been terribly excruciating, seeing that my life has been in limbo for quite some time" ...
Sanders received a check for $4,300 last Friday. 
The check Melvin got in the mail last week works out to a small downpayment on what he is actually owed. When his claim was approved by the judge in Manhattan, it was retroactive to when Melvin was ruled to be disabled in 2013. ...

Feb 20, 2019

Central Offices Closed By Snow

     The Social Security Administration has announced that its offices in the Baltimore and Washington area will be closed on a Wednesday because of snow.

Feb 19, 2019

Important Change For Disabled People With Federal Student Loans

     I missed that the big tax bill passed at the end of 2017 contained a change that benefits some disabled individuals. You were already able to get a federal student loan discharged if you are disabled and Social Security had set a five to seven year re-examination date for you. However, the discharge of the debt was considered income to the disabled person which often meant that the discharge could cause an expensive tax liability, which defeats the purpose of giving the discharge in the first place. That was changed at the end of 2017 by 26 U.S.C. §108(f)(5)(A), which provides that the discharge of a student loan debt for this reason is not income. However, this sunsets after 2026 but I doubt it will be allowed to end then.
     Unfortunately, the five to seven year re-examination date requirement limits the value of this. I don't know what the numbers are but I'm pretty sure that few who are found disabled by Social Security get a five to seven year re-examination date even though very few have a realistic hope of getting better. I don't know that there are any re-exam dates that long for any sort of mental illness other than profound brain injury.

Feb 18, 2019

Full Retirement Age To 80?

     A Forbes contributor thinks that Social Security’s full retirement age should be raised to 80!

Feb 17, 2019

Wait Time To Get Hearing Still High

     From a press release:
The national average wait time for a Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits hearing is 538 days, according to Allsup, which has released its latest state-by-state ranking of the hearing backlog. Allsup is the nation’s premier disability representation company. 
At year-end, 801,428 people were waiting for a hearing to determine whether they would be awarded their benefits. Overall, the national average wait time has decreased 67 days from an all-time high of 605 days in 2017. The decrease in hearing processing times is due partly to funding received by the Social Security Administration (SSA) in 2018, aimed at tackling the disability hearing backlog.

The highest wait times still top 600 and 700 days in many cities, including 724 days in Long Beach, California; 706 days in New York City; 690 days in Greensboro, North Carolina; 689 days in Phoenix (North); and 684 days in Fresno, California. ...
     By the way, I'm old enough to remember when it took three months to get a hearing. Those who talk as if anything under a year is a dangerous rush to judgment are nuts. We need a dramatic speedup. It's not reasonable to expect people to wait so long.

Feb 16, 2019

Rep Payee Steals From Ten In Oregon

     From KPTV:
A Madras [OR] woman pleaded guilty Tuesday to stealing tens of thousands of dollars in Social Security payments from disabled adults, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Oregon says. ...
Court documents state Tucker beginning in March 2014 worked for a social services organization in Madras where she oversaw outreach to mentally disabled clients as part of the organization’s mental health program. As part of her work, Tucker assumed representative payee duties for some of her clients’ Title II and Title XVI Social Security benefits, the attorney’s office says. ...
An investigation revealed Tucker had stolen $39,277 from 10 victims, the attorney’s office says. ...
     I don't know how you keep it from happening but there have been too many reports like this.

Feb 15, 2019

When Members Of The Ways And Means Committee Speak, Social Security Needs To Pay Attention

    There's an op ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer from an attorney with Community Legal Services, which has a distinguished history of Social Security advocacy, and two members of the House Ways and Means Committee, denouncing the long appeal backlogs at Social Security and the reimposition of the reconsideration step in Pennsylvania.

New Rep Payee Rules

     Social Security has adopted final rules that prohibit persons convicted of certain crimes from serving as representative payees. This is being due to effectuate a law passed by Congress.

Feb 14, 2019

Hell For An 81 Year Old Widow

     From Laurence Kotlikoff writing for Forbes:
... Eighty-one year-old, Dolores Cooper, is being financially tortured by Social Security for Social Security's own mistake. On September 19, 2018, Dolores called Social Security to tell them her husband, Jimmy, had died two days earlier. The Social Security staffer mistakenly typed into the system that Jimmy had died not on September 17, 2018, but on September 17, 2017. 
One week after Dolores' call, she received a notice from SSA (the Social Security Administration) that Jim had been overpaid by $22,533 and that she, Dolores, needed to make repayment.What happened? The typo triggered Social Security's computer system to decide Jimmy had been paid benefits for a year when he was actually dead, which, of course, he wasn't. Dolores called SSA the next day — on September 27th. After waiting 1.5 hours for someone to come on the phone, she spoke with an Aileen. Aileen found the mistake and told Dolores to take Jimmy's death certificate to the Modesto, CA office. Aileen said it would take up to two months to fix the problem — so not to worry. On October 5th, Dolores took the death certificate to the Modesto office, waited three hours and spoke to Mike Wylie.
To quote her son, Kim, "Mike assured my mom he would make sure the issue was corrected. In the meantime, my mom started receiving tens of thousands of dollars of Jimmy’s medical bills as the incorrect date of death had propagated into the Medicare system and they stopped paying Jimmy’s medical bills and were asking for repayment of their payments. ...
On October 17, SSA sent Dolores two notices. The first stated that they'd used $17,226 of her benefits to recover part of the overpayment, but that she still owed $5,307. Social Security had retroactively activated Dolores' widows benefit to their incorrect start date, namely a year before Jimmy actually died. Those widow's benefits, which hadn't been paid were, SSA said as cryptically as possible, being used to cover $17,226 of her bill.
The second notice dated October 17 notice claimed that SSA, to quote Kim, "... paid Dolores $24,324 for September 2017 through August 2018 but they should have only paid her $10,197 so she need to refund $14,127 within 30 days. The notice also said the total amount of overpayment was $8,820. So in the same notice two different amounts were given ($14,127 and $8,820) and on the same day another notice stated $5,307."
On November 5 SSA made a direct deposit in Dolores' checking account of $8,649. On November 7 the SSA sent a notice stating the deposit of $8,649 should have been for $3,342, so there was an overpayment of $5,307 that needed to be returned. After repeated calls to find out where to send the check, Dolores sent, on November 23, a cashier’s check by priority mail. According to USPS tracking it was delivered on November 27. ...
     The story goes on but you get the ugly picture. What happened isn't a fluke. It's what I would have predicted would happen after the initial mistake was made. The two month prediction on how long it would take to correct the mistake was about what I would have predicted although I would warn a client that it could certainly take longer.
     Mistakes will happen. The problem at Social Security is the lack of staff to correct mistakes coupled with systems set up to be extremely aggressive about collecting overpayments.

Feb 13, 2019

A Question

     I'm preparing the 2019 edition of Social Security Disability Practice. One small way that I may update the book is to talk about the new practice in some U.S. District Courts of omitting the claimant's surname from the caption of a case. This is being done to try to protect the privacy of the claimants. 
     This isn't being done in any of the Districts in my state so I'm uncertain about the mechanics. Is the surname omitted in the initial complaint? Is it omitted by the parties only thereafter? Is it only the Court that omits the surname when it files an order?

Caseload Analysis Report

Click on image to view full size. Obtained from Social Security by the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR)

Feb 12, 2019

Failure To Raise Fee Cap Has Consequences

     The National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR) filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for information on the extent of representation of claimants who had hearings on their Social Security disability claims. The response they got back shows that 80% of Title II claimants, that is claimants for Disability Insurance Benefits, Disabled Widows and Widowers Benefits and Disabled Adult Child Benefits were represented ins fiscal year 2018. That went down to only 57% in Supplemental Security Income (SSI) only cases. It was 76% in cases involving both a Title II claim and an SSI claim.
     The important thing is that representation is down significantly. In 2010 about 95% of claimants were represented at Social Security disability hearings. The major reason for this is that the cap on fees for representing claimants hasn't been raised since February 4, 2009. Ten years of inflation has slowly harder and harder to represent Social Security claimants. We have to be more and more careful about the cases we take on. The result is clear. It's more difficult now to find an attorney to represent you on a Social Security disability claim.

Feb 11, 2019

Class Action May Create Big Workload For Social Security

     The United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio has entered a decision in favor of the Plaintiffs in the Steigerwald v. Berryhill class action. The case has to do with the computation of benefits to which a claimant is entitled in a case where both Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are both approved and the claimant is represented. To oversimplify, the needs based SSI benefits are supposed to be reduced because of the DIB payments. However, a represented claimant does not receive the entire DIB payment because some of it is used to pay the attorney. Should the SSI benefits be reduced by money the claimant never sees because it's used to pay the attorney? The Court held that the answer is no. 
     If they can't get this reversed, and I doubt they will, Social Security is going to have to do a lot of recomputations. This isn't computerized. It's all manual. This will be a nightmare for an agency as shorthanded as Social Security is.
     We'll see but I guess that Social Security will appeal, not because they think they can win on appeal, but to stall. I get the impression that there's a lot of stalling going on at Social Security. Everything is being put off until there's a confirmed Commissioner. Maybe they can stall this one until the agency gets better funding.

Feb 10, 2019

Something That Shouldn't Be Forgotten

     I first posted this last July and wondered at the time whether Social Security was acting as if Republicans would be in charge of the House of Representatives forever. This may be something the House Social Security Subcommittee ought to look at.
     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. ...

Feb 9, 2019

Into The Clouds

     From Fedscoop:
The Social Security Administration is looking to industry for commercial tools to help manage its hybrid, multi-cloud environment.  
 SSA said in a request for information Friday that it “requires a suite of COTS tools, including implementation and integration support, for the enhanced automated management of its diverse cloud hosting environments.” ...  
 SSA’s pursuit of such a tool is in line with it’s greater cloud strategy. As the agency described last summer, rather than pushing blindly into it, it is trying to be “cloud smart,” much like the administration’s recent Cloud Smart policy.  
 “What that means is consider cloud first but be aware of where things run the best,” said John Foertschbeck, senior adviser in SSA’s Office of Systems Operations and Hardware Engineering, the office that issued this RFI. “So just because we’re considering cloud first doesn’t mean that’s where it goes. We want to make sure that we look holistically at applications and make the best determination for where they fit in our environment.”
     This sounds like a concession that the National Data Center that Social Security constructed recently at great expense was a waste of money. 

Feb 8, 2019

En Banc Review Requested In Hicks v. Berryhill

     In Hicks v. Berryhill the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals held unconstitutional the process that the Social Security Administration had used to terminate the disability benefits of hundreds of former clients of Eric Conn, who was found guilty of fraudulent conduct. That opinion came out on November 21, 2018. After getting two extensions, the Social Security Administration asked for rehearing en banc on February 6, 2019.
     Normally, cases at the Court of Appeals level are heard by three judge panels. However, after an opinion from a three judge panel, the losing party can ask that all the judges on the Court hear the case en banc. The 6th Circuit has 16 judges. En banc review is seldom requested and rarely granted. 
     An oral argument is very much an interactive process. I can't even imagine what it would be like to argue a case before a 16 judge panel.
     If this is reheard en banc, I fear that the result will be a deeply fractured plurality opinion, one where there's not a majority of the Court in agreement on anything. A plurality opinion would probably leave the Social Security Administration uncertain of what it should do. Plurality opinions are bad enough when they happen at the Supreme Court. They shouldn't happen at a Court of Appeals.

Feb 7, 2019

Delay After Delay

     From the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
Today is the day Isaac Everhart has long been waiting for, the day he appears before an administrative law judge with the Social Security Administration in a bid for disability benefits.
Isaac is counting on the benefits to lift his wife, Violet, and daughter, Tiffany, out of their subsistence existence – the result of his inability to work since 2015 because of a back injury. ...
Isaac assumes the hearing is just a formality, that the judge will make an immediate ruling to grant him monthly disability checks and retroactive pay to the date of his fall. But he is mistaken.
At the end of the hearing, the judge informs Isaac that a review of the material in the nearly six-inch binder could take as long as 75 days. If the decision is in Isaac’s favor, it would likely be three to six months before Isaac sees the first check.
The news reduces Isaac to tears.
“I don’t understand how they can make us wait any longer,” Isaac tells his lawyer. ...
      No, it's not likely to take three to six months to get first payment of benefits. In most cases, it's a month. It can certainly take longer to get everything paid, particularly if there's a windfall offset or a workers compensation offset but it doesn't sound like that would be the case here. The 75 days to get an ALJ decision would be on the optimistic side where I practice. There's a big backlog in getting out ALJ decisions nationally. It's good that this article talks about the delays AFTER an ALJ hearing is held. They're significant. Claimants also need relief on that side.

Feb 6, 2019

Judge Finds Failure To Provide SSI In Puerto Rico Unconstitutional

From the Associated Press:

A U.S. judge said Monday that the federal government is violating the Constitution by prohibiting people who live in Puerto Rico from receiving Supplemental Security Income.
The opinion was issued as Judge Gustavo Gelpi dismissed a lawsuit filed by the federal government seeking to recover more than $28,000 in SSI disability benefits paid to a U.S. citizen after he moved from New York to the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico.
Gelpi said a clause in the Constitution that allows federal legislators to enact rules and regulations for U.S. territories is not "carte blanche for Congress to switch on and off at its convenience the fundamental constitutional rights to due process and equal protection."
"Congress, likewise, cannot demean and brand said United States citizen while in Puerto Rico with a stigma of inferior citizenship to that of his brethren nationwide," Gelpi wrote, adding that powers granted under the Constitution are not infinite.
The ruling involved the case of Jose Luis Vaello Madero, who lived in New York from 1985 until 2013, when he moved to Puerto Rico. He continued to receive payments until 2016, when he was told he was ineligible. The Social Security Administration then filed civil action against him in 2017 demanding he return the funds he received. ...
     If this holds up on appeal, it's enormously important in Puerto Rico. Let's use Mississippi for comparison. About 121,000 Mississippians out of a population of about 2.9 million draw SSI. If the same proportion of the population of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, about 3.2 million, were to draw SSI it would be about 134,000 people but Puerto Rico is certainly poorer than Mississippi so it would be more.
     Before you yawn and say that's interesting but what does it have to do with me, consider this. Puerto Rico residents should immediately start filing SSI claims to give themselves protective filing dates. The Puerto Rico field offices aren't ready for this and will need lots of outside held. However, the real avalanche of SSI claims will come if this holds up on appeal. Taking and adjudicating those claims will be an enormous undertaking for an understaffed agency. It will take resources away from other parts of the agency.
     By the way, everyone knows that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, right?

Feb 5, 2019

PACER Gouging

From the New Republic:
 … Three legal nonprofit groups—the National Veterans Legal Services Program, the National Consumer Law Center, and Alliance for Justice—filed a class action lawsuit against the federal government in 2016 to challenge PACER’s fee structure. …  

 The PACER system itself brought in more than $146 million in fees during the 2016 fiscal year, even though it cost just over $3 million to operate. …  
     Social Security attorneys who practice in the federal courts are big users of PACER.  This rankles.

Feb 4, 2019

Democrats Support In-Person Social Security Hearings

     From a press release:
Top Democrats responsible for Social Security policy in the House and Senate yesterday called on the Social Security Administration to withdraw a proposed rule that would limit the right of Americans to receive an in-person appeals hearing if their initial application for Social Security benefits is denied. Workers who are eligible to apply for these benefits have contributed to Social Security for years, paying into the program with each paycheck.
“This change would deprive millions of Americans of their constitutional right to due process and result in hearings which are less fair and less efficient. This proposal is harmful and not justified and we request that SSA withdraw this proposed rule,” the members wrote. 
The letter was signed by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard E. Neal, (D-MA), House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee Chairman John Larson (D-CT), House Ways and Means Worker & Family Support Subcommittee Chairman Danny K. Davis (D-IL), Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Senate Finance Social Security Subcommittee Ranking Member Sherrod Brown (D-OH).
In the letter, the members outlined why video hearings are inferior to in-person hearings. In a video hearing, the administrative law judge (ALJ) may be limited in their ability to thoroughly evaluate the impact that an individual’s impairments have on their ability to work, and disabled individuals may not be able to fully and effectively present their case. The Social Security Administration has a large backlog of individuals awaiting an appeal hearing, and the delays cause significant harm to individuals who have worked years to earn their Social Security benefits but have suffered a career-ending injury or illness. ...
The full letter can be found here.

Feb 3, 2019

Surgeon Convicted Of Social Security Fraud

     From the Shreveport Times:
A Shreveport surgeon was found guilty by a federal jury on Friday of stealing more than $200,000 in Social Security disability payments. 
Dr. John Owings, chief of trauma at LSU Health Shreveport, was found guilty of 20 counts of theft of government property and one count of concealing or failing to disclose an event affecting right to a government benefits. 
The United States presented evidence during trial showing that Owings applied for disability benefits in 2008 and continued to receive those benefits through June of 2017, after returning to work in 2012,” a release from the Department of Justice states. “When Owings went back to work as a surgeon at the University of California-Davis in 2012, making $22,000 a month, he failed to tell the Social Security Administration (SSA) about his return to work.” ...

 Shreveport surgeon was found guilty by a federal jury on Friday of stealing more than $200,000 in Social Security disability payments.

Feb 2, 2019

Are Undocumented Immigrants Such A Bad Thing?

     Those nasty undocumented immigrants that Donald Trump wants to keep out of this country with a fence are actually contributing about $13 billion a year to the Social Security trust funds. Why exactly is it crucial that we hunt down and deport all of these immigrants when the U.S. birth rate is so low?

Feb 1, 2019

Democrats Coalescing Around Social Security 2100 Act

Congressman Larson
     John Larson, the Chairman of the House Social Security Subcommittee, and Democratic Senators Blumenthal and Van Hollen have introduced the Social Security 2100 Act which would increase Social Security benefits and reduce taxes paid on Social Security benefits. The bill would also increase the FICA tax in two ways. Income over $400,000 would be covered by the FICA tax and the FICA rate itself would climb by 0.1% a year between 2020 and 2043. The bill has 200 cosponsors in the House of Representatives, all Democrats. 
      The Office of Chief Actuary at Social Security has now scored the Social Security 2100 Act. It would leave the Social Security trust funds in balance for the next 75 years at least.
     There is little hope that such a bill would pass with Republicans in control of the Senate. However, Democrats running for Congress and the White House in 2020 may choose to run on this bill and then try to pass it in 2021.

Proposed Regulations On Inability To Communicate In English And A Foreshadowing Of Something Bigger

     Social Security has posted proposed regulations on removing inability to communicate in English as an education category in determining disability. This is only a proposal. The public can comment on it. Social Security is supposed to consider the comments. Congressional opposition can sometimes head off proposed regulations. Sometimes, the agency change its mind or there's a change of administrations before proposed regulations can be finalized.
     Note the following language from the explanation of the proposal which may foreshadow more consequential changes:
The increase in labor force participation by individuals who lack English proficiency may be in part due to the increase in low-skilled work in the national economy. In 2014, our Office of Research, Evaluation, and Statistics (ORES) prepared an Evidence Synthesis consolidating information from research we commissioned and other available research for the purposes of modernizing our vocational regulations. ORES' literature review on the vocational factor of education indicates that with the introduction of new technology replacing moderately skilled workers, there are fewer moderately skilled jobs and higher numbers of low and high skilled jobs.
     I've given Social Security's link to the "Evidence Synthesis" but I'm not seeing it there.
     This could foreshadow changes to Social Security's "grid" regulations used in determining disability that would greatly disadvantage individuals who lack job skills. It could even be a sign that they want to abolish the grid regulations. We should not underestimate the maximalist impulses of the Trump Administration or its willingness to act in the absence of any evidence supporting its actions.
     In my experience, I've not seen higher numbers of low skilled jobs. My impression is that the exact opposite is the case. The assembly jobs that used to be widely available to people who can only handle simple work have largely disappeared from the U.S. economy. I've seen nothing else picking up the slack.