Sep 30, 2019

AFGE-SSA Agreement In Principle

     Below is a signed memorandum of an "Agreement in Principle" between the Social Security Administration and the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the union that represents more Social Security employees. Click on each page to view full size. This would be a big step forward for Commissioner Saul.  Without this sort of agreement, he would have faced serious difficulties with Democrats in the House of Representatives.


Ways And Means Chairman Introduces WEP Legislation

     From a press release issued Friday:
Today, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard E. Neal introduced the Public Servants Protection and Fairness Act, H.R. 4540, legislation to fix the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) for future retirees and provide meaningful relief to current WEP retirees. The bill ensures that public servants across the nation can retire with the security and dignity they deserve.
The legislation establishes a new, fairer formula that will pay Social Security benefits in proportion to the share of a worker’s earnings that were covered for Social Security purposes. This provision is coupled with a benefit guarantee ensuring no benefit cuts relative to current law for all current and future retirees. Current WEP retirees will receive $150 a month in relief payments. ...
“The WEP negatively affects nearly 2 million retired public servants across the country, including about 73,000 in Massachusetts,” said Chairman Neal. “Public employees like firefighters, teachers, and police officers should not miss out on the Social Security benefits they earned over decades of hard work. With this legislation, these valued members of our communities will have greater retirement security and peace of mind.”
Originally, the WEP was intended to equalize the Social Security benefit formula for workers with similar earnings histories, both inside and outside of the Social Security system. However, in practice, it unfairly penalizes many public employees. ...

Sep 29, 2019

my Social Security Fraud Coming Under Control?

     Social Security Office of Inspector General (OIG) has issued a report on direct deposit fraud, that is, cases where Social Security benefits were misdirected because of unauthorized bank account information changes made through "my Social Security". Below is a chart from the brief stub of the report that was issued to the public. Apparently, OIG regards this as too sensitive to release to the public because it discusses methods the agency is using to deter and detect fraud.
Click on image to view full size

Sep 28, 2019

A Moment Of Grace At A Social Security Office

     Kathryn Taylor writes about finding a moment of grace, of social security actually, at a Social Security field office.

Sep 27, 2019

A Chair Covered In Borax?

     From USA Today:
A Wisconsin woman is accused of hiding her mother's corpse to live off her Social Security money. ...
Officers arrived at [the mother's] home last Wednesday to do a welfare check after a neighbor called police. "She knew the lady and didn't see her for some time," ...
Officers found a note taped on Ruby's home that said, "Ruby has gone out of town to visit some friends of ours. Paula." Inside, they found a chair covered in Borax, as well as boxes of ammonia and bleach.
Days later, Paula Bergold confessed to her mother's death and that her body was in the home. Bergold said she found her mother dead in a chair — the one later covered in Borax — and didn't call authorities because she was worried about her finances. She told police she was living off her mother's Social Security income and investment.
When the body began to smell, Bergold placed her mother's body inside the tub. ...

Sep 26, 2019

Agency Failed To Cut Off Benefits For Some Aliens -- Also, What's RETAP?

     From a recent report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG):
... If a family member of a wage earner is eligible for OASDI [Old Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance] benefits and is not a U.S. citizen, he/she may need to meet a 5-year residency requirement. To fulfill the residency requirement, the beneficiary must establish a physical residence in the United States, while in a qualifying relationship with the wage earner, with the intent to reside for a cumulative period of at least 5 years. SSA uses the automated Regular Transcript Attainment and Selection Pass (RETAP) process to prompt benefit suspension for non-citizen beneficiaries who have not meet their 5-year residency requirement and have been outside the United States for longer than 6 consecutive months. ... 
Of the 200 non-citizen beneficiaries we reviewed, SSA did not properly suspend benefits to 26 (13 percent). SSA should have suspended these beneficiaries because they had not met their 5-year residency requirement and lived outside the United States for longer than 6 consecutive months. Of the 26 beneficiaries, 23 met the criteria for the RETAP process to prompt benefit suspension. However, RETAP did not identify these beneficiaries for suspension. According to SSA, a RETAP programming limitation prevented these beneficiaries from being identified for benefit suspension. SSA employees omitted information from the remaining three beneficiaries’ Master Beneficiary Records required for RETAP to prompt benefit suspensions. 
By not appropriately suspending benefits, SSA overpaid these 26 beneficiaries approximately $332,000. Accordingly, we project SSA overpaid nearly $29 million to approximately 2,300 non-citizen OASDI beneficiaries. ...
     Is RETAP a State Department database?

Sep 25, 2019

Black Confirmed As Deputy Commissioner

     David Black was confirmed by the Senate as Deputy Commissioner of Social Security yesterday. The vote was 68-26.

Social Security's Predictions Of Hearings Pending And Hearing Processing Time


 Click on images to view full size.

Sep 24, 2019

Two Listings Rolled Over

     Social Security has extended without change the expiration dates for its Listings for Respiratory and Genitourinary disorders.

Lots Of iClaims Fraud

     From a recently released report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG):
... SSA’s controls that identified potentially fraudulent iClaims were generally effective. However, the number of undetected fraudulent iClaims is unknown. Of the 70,173 potentially fraudulent iClaims OAFP [Office of Anti-Fraud Programs] identified, SSA determined 3,807 were fraudulent, 48,062 were likely fraudulent, 4,825 were not fraudulent, 11,289 were inconclusive, and 2,190 were pending. ...
     Almost 60,000 known cases where they can't tell for sure whether there was fraud or not. They admit that they have no idea how many unknown fraud cases there are. Still, they call that "generally effective"? What would ineffective look like? No, iClaims fraud is a big problem and Social Security doesn't have a handle on it.

Sep 23, 2019

OIG On Delays In Scheduling Remands

     From a recent report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG):
... Administrative law judges (ALJ) decided 49,579 Appeals Council remand decisions from Fiscal Years (FY) 2016 through 2018. Appeals Council remands represent the modification of a prior hearing decision often because the ALJ applied the wrong law, additional claimant or other witness testimony was needed, the claimant did not receive a fair hearing, or the ALJ decisional rationale was insufficient. 
SSA’s policy states that remands should be processed as a priority workload. Hearing offices are required to flag remands when they are docketed into the hearing office and assign them immediately to an ALJ for review. ...
Although remands should be processed as a priority workload, SSA does not define “priority” and does not have a processing time goal for this workload. Of the 49,579 remands processed in FYs 2016 through 2018,
  • 22,144 were processed in fewer than 270 days,
  • 10,043 took between 270 and 360 days,
  • 5,191 took between 361 and 430 days,
  • 7,179 took between 431 and 595 days,
  • 4,717 took between 596 and 999 days, and
  • 305 took 1,000 days or longer to process.  
Our sample analysis found some remands took longer to process because they were not always input immediately in the hearing offices’ master docket or the remands stalled in the Ready to Schedule, ALJ Review Pre-hearing, or ALJ Review Post-hearing stages. ...
     In my experience, this is definitely a problem. I've never understood what's going on behind the scenes but remands often take longer to schedule than new request for hearing cases.

Sep 22, 2019

COLA To Be 1.6 Or 1.7%?

     USA Today estimates that this year’s Social Security Cost Of Living Adjustment (COLA) will be 1.6 or 1.7%.

Sep 20, 2019

Social Security Says She Owes $38,192 But They Won't Tell Her Why

     From the Hartford Courant:
Bill Small of Rocky Hill got a jolt this past March when the Social Security Administration (SSA) notified him in a letter that it had overpaid his wife, Bess, during two decades of disbursing her monthly benefit. And so, now that he and his wife are 85 years old and she has been diagnosed with dementia, the SSA is demanding that he repay a total of $38,192 on her behalf. ...
The retired Air Force colonel, who during a 28-year career piloted multiengine military aircraft all over the world and served in Vietnam, says the government admits it made a mistake and that he and his wife of 63 years are blameless. He asked in June that the SSA waive its demand for repayment.

But on Wednesday, an SSA representative told him during a personal conference in Hartford that his request is being denied. ...
Small said he still hasn’t received an explanation of what specific error by the SSA resulted in the overpayment, as well how it happened and when it began. (He said he doesn’t know how long the overpayments were happening, but if they spanned the entire 22 years, they would have averaged around $145 a month to reach the $38,192 total.) ...
“To approve the waiver of an overpayment we must be able to determine that the individual is without fault in causing the overpayment, and repayment would cause an undue hardship,” Kevin Reino, an SSA public affairs specialist in the agency’s regional office in Boston, said in describing the SSA’s general policy. ...
     Years ago I had a case that might have been a little like this. The client had been an employee of the New York City transit system. Years before he retired somebody at Social Security had made a mistake. The city had sent the agency a reel (I said it was years ago) containing data on employee wages. Somebody at Social Security had run the reel twice, double crediting wages for all those employees. The mistake was only discovered many years later. The mistake resulted in a large number of former New York City transit workers being overpaid by Social Security. I argued that the original award certificate determining the primary insurance amount was res judicata and that there was no basis for reopening it. The Administrative Law Judge bought it and the overpayment was wiped out. At least in that case, we knew why the overpayment had happened. Often, it's almost impossible to get an explanation of how the overpayment occurred. In this woman's case, I'll take a guess that Social Security didn't properly coordinate this woman's wife's benefits with her retirement benefits based on her own earnings.
     By the way, I'll bet that Social Security would take a small fraction of the overpayment amount as a full settlement if the husband makes a lump sum payment offer. Given this woman's age and health, they'll never collect much of the overpayment by way of a repayment plan.

Sep 19, 2019

Maybe He Really Is Disabled; Definitely, He Shouldn't Have Access To Weapons

     An Oregon man has been arrested after threatening to shoot up a Social Security office. This was not the first time he had made such threats. Here's what happened at the Administrative Law Judge hearing on his case:
At the July hearing, he yelled at his attorney and an administrative judge and threatened future physical violence, the complaint says. Salem police responded and Carlsen was allowed to leave without arrest after he was escorted out of the hearing room. Carlsen live-streamed his actions, according to prosecutors.

Sep 18, 2019

Kotlikoff Interacts With The Real World And Is Shocked By Its Harshness

     Laurence Kotlikoff is a columnist on Social Security issues for Forbes. Mostly he writes about claiming strategies that almost no one uses and oddball rules that he finds outrageous. Mostly, I tune him out because I don't think he's writing about real world problems. If you're a Social Security professional and have read many of his columns I think you understand why. 
     As a welcome change, Kotlikoff is now writing about two problems from the real world. First, he's shocked to discover that Supplemental Security Income's (SSI's) resource limits are draconian. Second, he's shocked to discover that a claimant on Social Security disability benefits who tries to park his income below the agency's Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) limits can easily end up with a large overpayment. I wish I was shocked by either of these situations but they are an everyday part of my work life. SSI recipients should never accumulate even modest sums of money because the rules are insanely out of date. Social Security disability recipients shouldn't try to park their income below SGA because they almost always screw it up and the consequences of a screw up can be severe.
     What gets me about Kotlikoff's column is that he's appealing to Social Security Commissioner Andrew Saul to do something about these problems but Saul can't. I suppose he could recommend that Congress update the SSI income and resource limits but he can't change them unilaterally and Mitch McConnell won't be doing any favors for SSI recipients. Saul could try to increase the SGA limits but that takes changes in regulations which would require the approval of the Office of Management and Budget which is currently headed by a Director who isn't exactly sympathetic to disabled people. An increase in the SGA limits wouldn't solve the parking problem anyway. As a practical matter, there's nothing Saul can do. Kotlikoff ought to know that.

Sep 17, 2019

New POMS On Child Relationships

     There's a new POMS (Program Operations Manual Series) issuance from Social Security updating the agency's policies on child relationships and dependence. It covers issues like children of same sex marriages, in vitro fertilization, posthumously conceived children and surrogacy. This area of the law has always been complicated because outdated state law must be applied in many cases and because things often get messy when human sexuality is involved. The advent of same sex marriages and advances in reproductive technology have made things far more complicated. There's also the problem that the statutes were written a long time ago and may not have been well written even at the time. For example, posthumous out of wedlock children were certainly known when these statutes were written but the Social Security Act doesn't talk about how the agency should deal with those cases other than referring to state laws, which are themselves problematic.

Sep 16, 2019

Wyden Plan For Social Security

     Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has released a plan to devote additional revenue to the Social Security Trust Funds. Unlike the Social Security 2100 Act pending in the House of Representatives, Wyden's plan would rely upon increases in taxes upon capital gains rather than increases in the F.I.C.A. taxes. Also, Wyden's plan, unlike the House plan or Senator Warren's plan, does not call for an increase in Social Security benefits.
     Wyden's plan is particularly important because he is the Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee. There's no way that any of these plans pass unless Democrats take the Senate as well as the House of Representatives and the White House in next year's election. If that happens, Wyden stands to become Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, the Committee that has jurisdiction over both taxes and Social Security, making his views crucial.
     I understand the short term political reasons for using capital gains taxes rather than increased F.I.C.A. taxes to shore up the Trust Funds; however, in the long run Social Security is safer if it is financed through payroll taxes, making workers feel that Social Security is an earned right. That was the genius of Franklin Roosevelt. It's kept Social Security safe for 84 years. Don't mess with success.

Sep 15, 2019

Senator Warren Wants To Increase Social Security Benefits

     It’s a different plan than the Social Security 2100 Act that may be moving in the House of Representatives and it’s not fleshed out but Senator Elizabeth Warren, who’s running for the Democratic Presidential nomination, is putting forward a plan to increase Social Security benefits.

Sep 13, 2019

It’s A Lot Bigger Problem Than Larry Kotlikoff Realizes

     Somebody needs to tell Larry Kotlikoff about the payment center backlogs. He can’t understand why a mildly complicated widows benefits situation can’t get straightened out in a timely way. There are hundreds of thousands of cases like the one he’s complaining about in many months long backlogs.The total payment center backlog is over four million! I’m sorry for the woman he’s writing about but I’ve got a few dozen clients with their own horrendous payment center backlog stories. These cases don’t get the media attention that used to go to the hearing backlog but they’re no less of an outrage. The payment centers will get more resources but these backlogs will be with us for some time to come.

Sep 12, 2019

Happy 40th NOSSCR!

     The National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR) is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year with a conference in New Orleans. The first NOSSCR conference was held in New Orleans 40 years ago. I was among the 75 or so who was present at that first conference. NOSSCR asked me to write a something about my involvement in NOSSCR. Here’s what I wrote:

I had the good fortune of hanging out a shingle to practiceSocial Security law just before NOSSCR’s first conference. Without NOSSCR I don’t think I would have made a go of it.
I started work for what was then the Bureau of Hearings and Appeals (BHA) as a staff attorney in February 1978. While I found that I liked the field of Social Security law, I did not like working for the federal government or anybody else for that matteropened my own law office on the Tuesday after Labor Day in 1979.  
While working at BHA was an excellent way of learning Social Security law, I realized as I was preparing to leave the agency that I had learned nothing about how to practice Social Security law. There was no one locally to learn from since no other attorney in the area did much Social Security work. I also discovered that I would now be a small business ownerThat was real shock.
     After I submitted my letter of resignation to Social Security, I talked with another staff attorney whom I had met in training. He worked in Atlanta. He told me that there was a new organization forming of attorneys who represented Social Security claimants. He didn’t know much about it but he gave me the telephone number of a Georgia attorney, Rudolph Patterson, who was involved in the effort.
    Rudolph was gracious when I called. He told me how to join NOSSCR and told me the newly formed organization would be holding its first conference in New Orleans that November. He sent me copies of the first two or three issues of NOSSCR’s newsletter. I pored over them. Even though my finances were tight, I decided that I had to go to the first NOSSCR conference. 
    I still regret one thing about that first NOSSCR conference. Rudolph invited pretty everyone to dinner at Antoine’s the night before the conference was to begin. Because of another commitment, I took a late flight and didn’t arrive in time for that dinner. I’ve been able to dine at Antoine’s since but I still regret missing that dinner on Rudolph’s dime.
     I couldn’t afford to stay at the conference hotel, the Royal Orleans, so I stayed at a barely adequate place on St. Peter Street a few blocks away. I remember walking over to the Royal Orleans at about 8:00 on the first morning of the conference and seeing bars open and serving drinks to customers. I knew that I was definitely not in Raleigh! At that time, you couldn’t even buy a mixed drink in a restaurant in Raleigh.
I was impressed by many things once the conference beganbut most by the obvious hunger for knowledge that everyone was exhibiting. Even though we were in a city that afforded endless temptations, almost everyone stayed for almost every minute of every presentation. This was the case for NOSSCR conferences that followed for at least several years. 
     Even though people at that first conference were meeting for the first time, there was almost instant camaraderie. In addition to meeting Rudolph for the first time, I met people like Nancy ShorSteve Babitsky, Bob Crowe, Jim Brown, Carl Weisbrod, Steve Horenstein, Cliff Weisberg, Mike Glancy and Lyle Lieberman, all of whom became friends. I have learned so much from them over the years. 
    At that first NOSSCR conference I noticed that I had something to contribute. While I knew nothing about practicing Social Security law or running a law office, I had picked uptechnical Social Security knowledge that was in short supply in the early days of NOSSCR. 
     I couldn’t afford to attend the second NOSSCR Conferencebut for many years thereafter I didn’t miss another one. They were cherished opportunities to learn, to network with other Social Security attorneys and to contribute what I could.
     Those conferences and phone calls with other NOSSCR members were opportunities to feel less isolated professionally. I was used to working at BHA with other staff attorneys and ALJs but I was now by myself. While there are dozens of other Social Security attorneys in North Carolina now, at the time there was just myself, another attorney in Charlotte who was somewhat seedy and a few fine legal services people such as Mike Glancy. Other young attorneys in private practice in Raleigh at the time doing personal injury and workers comp didn’t understand the challenges I was facing nor did I understand theirs. I think I might have eventually given up without NOSSCR because it would have just been too lonely.
     In retrospect, joining NOSSCR and going to that first NOSSCR conference were the two best moves I’ve made professionally. NOSSCR has meant and continues to mean a lot to me. I hope I’ll be there for the 50th anniversary NOSSCR conference in 2029 and even the 60th in 2039. 
Keep this organization strong. It’s needed now as much as ever.

Sep 11, 2019

Astrue Nomination To SSAB Withdrawn

     Michael Astrue was nominated to a seat on the Social Security Advisory Board (SSAB) in August of last year.  He hasn’t been confirmed. That nomination has now been withdrawn. No, I don’t know whatever stories there may be behind the failure to act on the nomination and the withdrawal of the nomination.

Sep 10, 2019

eCBSV Moves Forward

     From a Social Security press release:
The Social Security Administration today announced the first potential group of selected participants for its new electronic Consent Based Social Security Number (SSN) Verification (eCBSV) service. The agency will roll out the service to these users in June 2020, and plans on expanding the number of users within approximately six months of the initial rollout. ...
Social Security is creating eCBSV, a fee-based electronic SSN verification service, to allow select financial institutions and service providers, called “permitted entities” and including subsidiaries, affiliates, agents, subcontractors, or assignees of a financial institution, to verify if a person’s SSN, name, and date of birth combination matches Social Security records. Social Security needs the person’s written consent and will accept an electronic signature in order to disclose the SSN verification to the permitted entity. eCBSV returns a match verification of “Yes” or “No.” eCBSV does not verify a person’s identity. ...

Sep 9, 2019

Don't Know What This Means

     Social Security has issued Emergency Message EM-19025 on the Eric Conn cases. It says that:
... On November 28, 2018, the Unites States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit concluded in Hicks v. Commissioner of Social Security that our current redetermination process violated constitutional and statutory protections for individuals who challenged the agency’s redetermination process. Pursuant to the Sixth Circuit’s decision in Hicks, the courts are remanding affected cases to the agency to provide new hearings and decisions. The courts have also ordered us to reinstate benefits pending the outcome of the new redetermination proceedings. We refer to this sub-set of individuals as Hicks cases. ...
Individuals who had their cases remanded from Federal court for new proceedings will receive a letter from the Appeals Council. The letter will address their new hearing to consider their medical condition. …
Affected individuals will also receive separate notices, which will be available in the Online Retrieval System (ORS), explaining how we will comply with the district court’s order to reinstate benefits until we make a new decision and how we will schedule a phone appointment. …
     The EM doesn’t say what will be in these new letters and notices nor does it say what these phone calls will concern. These may be addressed in another EM that they're not posting. Many EMs are kept secret. There are also a number of non-functioning links in the EM. Some of them might address the issues this EM raises.

Sep 8, 2019

$150,000 Employee Fraud Alleged

      From an Alabama television station:
A Former Social Security Administration employee in Birmingham is accused of creating underpayments to more than a dozen beneficiaries who’s loved ones had died.
LaTanya Hatter is charged in a three-count federal indictment alleging fraud and identity theft.
Court records show Hatter used her position as a Benefits Authorizer at the Social Security Administration field office in Birmingham to create Automated One Time Payments causing nearly $150,000 to be electronically deposited into her account or the bank accounts belonging to friends or family members. ...

Sep 7, 2019

House Arrest For Former Employee Who Embezzled From Social Security

     From the Star News:
A Chula Vista man who worked for the Social Security Administration was sentenced Aug. 30 to eight months home detention for embezzling $65,118.
Nam-Phong Hung Le, 37, has paid all the money back which is part of the reason why he was placed on three years probation in U.S. District Court.
Judge Janis Sammartino ordered Le to pay an additional $34,890, which is a judgement found against him that relates to the fraud. He will have to pay for electronic monitoring of his house arrest.
Le worked as a technical expert in the Social Security Administration office in El Cajon and later in the downtown San Diego offices.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeff Hill asked for a 1-year sentence in prison, saying money was taken from six people’s Social Security accounts, including several who were deceased and whose payments should have stopped. ...

Sep 6, 2019

AFGE Sues Over Impasses Panel Ruling

     From Government Executive:
A federal employee union local in New York on Wednesday filed a lawsuit accusing the Trump administration of violating a court ruling blocking the key provisions of three controversial workforce executive orders.
The American Federation of Government Employees Local 3369, which represents Social Security Administration workers in New York, argued in a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York that the White House, Social Security Administration and the Federal Impasses Panel effectively used the collective bargaining process to do an end-run around an injunction against the orders.
In May 2018, President Trump issued three executive orders that sought to shorten the length of performance improvement plans to 30 days, exempt adverse personnel actions from grievance proceedings, streamline collective bargaining negotiations, and significantly reduce the number of work hours and activities that union members can spend on official time. U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson in August 2018 blocked the key provisions of the orders, finding that they collectively “eviscerated” federal workers’ collective bargaining rights.
In July, a three-judge panel on the U.S. Circuit Court for the D.C. Circuit overturned that decision on jurisdictional grounds, but the injunction remains in place as the court weighs whether to rehear the case with all 11 judges.
The complaint argues that the Social Security Administration’s actions in negotiating a new contract with AFGE constitute a successful effort to “circumvent” the injunction prohibiting the government from implementing the executive orders and claimed that the impasses panel exceeded its authority by acting as an implementation arm of the Trump administration, rather than an independent arbiter of labor-management bargaining disputes. ...

Sep 4, 2019

iAppeals Down

     I have heard a number of reports this morning that Social Security's iAppeals system went down yesterday afternoon and is still down. I really wish the agency would make announcements about this sort of thing.
     Update: I'm told that Social Security is aware of the problem and working on it. I'm told that they may not have even been aware of the problem until well into today. That's pretty amazing.

A Personal Milestone

     I want to mark a personal milestone. Forty years ago today, the day after Labor Day 1979, I hung out a shingle and entered the private practice of Social Security law. I knew something about Social Security law from having worked at the agency but I knew almost nothing about representing clients. There's an old joke about a visitor to New York City asking a person on the street how to get to Carnegie Hall and getting the answer  "practice, practice, practice." I thank my early clients for allowing me to "practice" on them.
     Ten years from now will it be 50 years in private practice for me? Not likely but I’m not ruling it out.

Sep 3, 2019

Andrew Saul Hasn't Hit The Ground Running

     Andrew Saul was sworn in as Commissioner of Social Security on June 17. A few days later I posted a list of issues on Saul's docket. Let's go through that list and see what actions Saul has taken:

What To Do About Hicks v. Commissioner of Social Security
  • Social Security twisted its rules to cut off benefits for as many of Eric Conn's former clients as possible. The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the agency on November 21, 2018. Ever since then the Solicitor General and Social Security have been "considering" whether to ask the Supreme Court to hear the case. I doubt that they are seriously considering that. I think they've just been stalling until a new Commissioner was confirmed because it's hard to decide how to implement the decision of the Court of Appeals.  They can't stall much longer. -- A decision was made that Social  Security would not ask the Supreme Court to hear the case but that was inevitable since there was no reason for the Supreme Court to hear the case. No decision has been made on the difficult question of how to handle the Conn cases in the wake of the 6th Circuit opinion.
What To Do About Cases Pending At The Appeals Council Which Were Decided Prior To Lucia v. SEC And An Objection Has Been Made To ALJ
  • The Supreme Court decided last year that Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) as then appointed were unconstitutional. Social Security changed the way ALJs were appointed to adjust to this decision but there are thousands of cases still pending at the Appeals Council that were heard before the Lucia opinion. The agency has suggested that they want to avoid remanding all these cases for new hearings with different ALJs by having the Appeals Council issue new decisions on its own. This is arguably illegal and probably impractical. A decision on this can't be delayed much longer. -- No action. This one won't wait much longer.
Proposed Regulation That Has Been Published For Comments And Can Now Be Made Final
Proposed Regulations That Have Not Yet Been Published For Comments
Stance On Employee Unions
  • The Trump Administration has taken an extremely aggressive and antagonistic stance on federal employee unions. Social Security has followed suit. Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee are already pressuring Saul to soften Social Security's approach. Will he be a loyal Republican and continue the harsh anti-union stance or does he modify it to avoid conflict with Congressional Democrats who can make his life difficult? His message to agency staff suggests that he'll soften the anti-union stance. -- No publicly announced action on employee unions.
Process For Appointing New ALJs
  • The old process for appointing ALJs was found unconstitutional. What will the new process be? -- Apparently, the agency has been in the process of hiring new ALJs. I don't think there's been any announcement of what the process is.
Fee Cap 
  • This one may be wishful thinking on my part. The cap on fees that may be charged for representing Social Security claimants hasn't been raised since February 9, 2009. By any normal standard it's way past time to increase it. However, I'm not sure that the organizations that represent those who represent claimants have been able to generate any real pressure to increase the cap. -- No action.