Oct 31, 2019

OMB Approval Sought For Final Regs To Remove Inability To Communicate In English As A Factor In Disability Determination

     The Social Security Administration has sent a request to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to approve final regulations to remove inability to communicate in English as a factor in determining disability.
     In a semi-related issue, when is the House Social Security Subcommittee going to hold an oversight hearing featuring the new Commissioner as the star witness? I know that there are weighty matters before Congress but reminding a new Commissioner that there will be consequences if he does things deeply unpopular with the majority party in the House of Representatives is basic.

Happy Halloween

Oct 30, 2019

Telework Ending

Sent: Monday, October 28, 2019 1:59 PM
Subject: Telework Pilot in Operations

A Message to All DCO Employees   

Subject:  Telework Pilot in Operations

Every day, we, the employees of SSA, directly serve the American public in a variety of ways.  Whether that is assisting visitors to our Field Offices or Card Centers, callers to our 800#, processing benefit claims in the Workload Support Units (WSUs) or complex post-entitlement actions in our Program Service Centers (PSCs), or providing essential support and guidance to our public facing components. The customer service you provide every day is critical to accomplishing SSA’s mission.

In recent years, Operations has faced a number of significant service challenges, including increases in wait times for customers on the 800# and in field offices, processing times for program workloads, and PSC backlogs.  Our Commissioner Andrew Saul is committed to improving customer service and this is his highest priority for the Agency. The Commissioner has already directed additional staff and other resources to Operations to help us improve our service to the public, particularly our field office wait times, 800# service, and reduction of backlogs in our PSCs.  As Operations employees and public servants, we share the Commissioner’s commitment and must ensure we do everything we can to improve service to our customers.  That includes continually evaluating the way in which we accomplish our work.

Since 2013, Operations has piloted telework in some of our offices.  Approximately, 25% of DCO employees participate in the pilot.  Operations implemented this Telework Pilot under the now expired 2012 SSA/AFGE National Agreement.  Yesterday, on October 27, the new SSA/AFGE National Agreement went into effect.  

In order to focus all of our resources on providing service to our customers, I have decided to end the Telework Pilot in Operations at this time.  Therefore, November 8, 2019, will be the last day of telework for employees in every Operations component: Teleservice Centers, Field Offices, WSUs, PSCs, Area Director’s Offices, Regional Offices, Office of Central Operations, and Deputy Commissioner for Operations Support Staff (DCOSS).  I have designated November 8 as the last day of telework to allow time for an orderly wind down of the Telework Pilot.  Managers in the Telework Pilot sites will meet with employees to discuss the next steps. 

We must have the ability and flexibility to address our shifting workloads and the daily, and oftentimes emergent, needs of our frontline components. To improve our service delivery, we need to utilize every valuable resource we have in Operations and the talents that each of you bring to this Agency.  I ask for your support and your ongoing commitment as we work together to effect change and truly improve our service to our customers.  

Grace M. Kim
Deputy Commissioner for Operations

Representation Rate Up At Initial Level But Down At Hearing Level

     From the Social Security Administration (click on each image to view full size):

Oct 29, 2019

Field Office Closing?

     Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer is trying to get information on rumors that the local Social Security Field Office in Decorah, IA is closing. I thought the agency promised to give advance notice about that sort of thing. Is Social Security already backsliding?
     By the way, note the weather forecast for this corner of Iowa shown on the webpage. Brrr!

Oct 28, 2019

Pay Attention If You’re Suing Social Security

     Social Security is announcing new addresses for service of process on the agency. This is effective immediately.

Oct 27, 2019

No Child Tax Credit Without SSN

     From the Journal Record, whatever that is:

The IRS, in an informational letter, has explained why taxpayers with a religious objection to Social Security may no longer claim the child tax credit for a child without a Social Security number. 
Certain recognized religious sects are conscientiously opposed to accepting the benefits of any public or private insurance for old age, death, disability, retirement, or medical care. Members of these religious sects may be exempted from paying Social Security, Medicare and self-employment taxes. Pursuant to IRC Code Sec. 1402(g), these individuals are not required to obtain a Social Security number for themselves or their dependent children. ... 
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 prohibits the federal government from substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion unless it demonstrates that application of the burden to the person furthers a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest. 

The information letter highlights that the RFRA does not require the IRS to provide administrative relief to taxpayers who have religious or conscience-based objections to obtaining SSNs. In enacting the new CTC rules, Congress unequivocally declared that only taxpayers who provide a qualifying child’s SSN should be allowed the CTC. As a result, children without SSNs don’t qualify for the CTC.

Oct 26, 2019

ALJ In Conn Case Dies In Prison

    David Daugherty, who was convicted of receiving a bribe from Eric Conn, has died in prison at age 83. Daugherty had been an Administrative Law Judge.

Oct 25, 2019

It's Like They Don't Want Any MEs

     Social Security has posted list of fees paid for Vocational and Medical Experts at hearings for 2018. Basically, it's $77 for the first appearance of the day and $39 for each additional appearance for VEs. It's $80 for each appearance for MEs. No wonder they can't get MEs. That's laughably low.

Oct 24, 2019

Student Loan Debt Hanging Over The Heads Of Retirees

     From the Texas Tribune:
 If 69-year-old Lynda Sue Costley wants to shower, she has to go to a friend’s house. Her trailer, on a gravelly road outside Amarillo, hasn’t had running water since 2014 — when her husband died from cancer. She spent the little savings she had on his medical care, she said, and hasn’t repaired the burst pipe. 
Costley works part time at a food bank, making $7.25 an hour, and said she stretches every dollar she has. But every month, she receives a letter in the mail saying the federal government is withholding $134 from her Social Security checks — the equivalent of 18 hours of work. 
Like death and taxes, Costley may be facing another certainty in life: her student loans.
Although she attended college decades ago and made payments when she could, Costley’s debt has gone into default, swollen with accrued interest and been turned over to a collection company. She’s had her wages garnished and her income tax refunds withheld. Nearing 70, she still owes nearly $12,000 for classes she attended in the 1980s and 1990s — and her balance continues to be padded by interest and the debt collector’s costs. ... 
Typically associated with millennials, the specter of student loan debt hangs over potentially thousands of retirement-age Texans, like Costley. Older Americans — ages 65 and over — were the fastest-growing demographic of student loan holders, according to a government report from 2016, and the most likely to be in default. ...
     Student loan debts aren’t like other debts. They can’t be discharged in bankruptcy and Social Security benefits may be garnisheed to collect them. It’s time to change one or both of these. 

Oct 23, 2019

Fun Times At One Hearing Office

     Social Security has recently posted a highly expurgated "Report of Special Investigation" by the agency's Office of Inspector General (OIG) into the Madison, WI hearing office after complaints including racism, sexism, sexual harrassment and bias. This report may have been done in 2016. Here's an excerpt from the conclusion (click on each page to view full size):

The deletions were made by SSA

Oct 22, 2019

User Fee Goes Up

     The Social Security Administration has posted the official list of cost of living and other adjustments for 2020.  Of interest to attorneys and others who represent claimants is the fact that the cap on the user fee goes up to $97 next year. Of course, there will be no increase in the cap that attorneys may charge.
     I’m reminded of what happened with attorney fees for representing claimants for VA benefits. That fee was capped at $10 in 1864 and stayed at that level until 1988. Of course, it didn’t take long for all attorney representation to cease at VA. There may be some who envision such a future for Social Security.

Oct 21, 2019

New Occupational Information System To Be Tested Soon?

     From a summary of remarks made by John Owens, Associate Commissioner, Office of Disability Determination, Social Security Administration at a conference of the National Association of Disability Examiners (NADE):
... The replacement for the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) is nearing completion. This new version, the Occupational Information System (OIS) is a collection of occupational-related data from multiple sources, which will be accessed through an online platform called the Vocational Information Tool (VIT). Testing of the OIS/VIS systems will begin in October 2019 with a focus group using the data in the development of vocational assessments in 5,000 that will be reviewed as part of a case study. ...
     I would caution readers that Social Security has been promising for years that a new OIS is just around the corner. Later in the same issue of the NADE newsletter, there’s this from a summary of remarks made by Gail Ennis, Social Security’s Inspector General:
... Ennis reported on the upcoming Vocational Information Tool. The initial implementation was targeted for fiscal year 2020. She noted a prior report on SSA's actions in updating the Department of Labor's Dictionary of Occupational Titles. She reported that a company had been contracted to build a Vocational Information Tool that would house Occupational Information System. She stated that SSA did not accurately capture all information needed for disability determinations, including the mental demands of work, as well as the current diverse occupational fields. SSA plans to update the system in FY 2024 and at that time, this information should be included. SSA intends to update the Occupational Informational System every five years. ...

Oct 20, 2019

Congressman Demands Relief For Former Clients Of Eric Conn

     From WYMT:
U.S. Representative Hal Rogers demanded Thursday that the Social Security Administration immediately reinstate the benefits taken from former clients of Eric C. Conn. 
"While I am grateful that the SSA, by virtue of court order, has recently reinstated benefits to some 200 former Conn clients, many individuals remain without benefits. The uncertainty and delay surrounding reinstatement continue to add to the injustice experienced by the former clients," wrote Rogers. "I urge the SSA to immediately reinstate all benefits to all former clients, especially those whose redetermination hearing have been ruled unconstitutional." 
About 800 people went nearly three years without their benefits in the wake of Conn's disability fraud scheme, and those who are still going without are waiting for a new class-action lawsuit that was filed in late September. Earlier this month, more than 200 former clients started receiving their benefits and back pay from the SSA. ...
     Rogers is a senior Republican Congressman. Until the change in the control of the House after the 2018 election he had been Chairman of the House Appropriation Committee.  

Oct 19, 2019

And Now The Problem Will Be Solved In 24 Hours

     From Forbes:
Mrs. Jimmy Rogers of Houston, Texas, was disabled in 1996 in an aircraft accident while working for American Airlines. To this day she is unable to sit, stand, or walk for more than thirty minutes without extreme pain. After the accident, she applied for and received Social Security disability benefits. Four years later, she was able to work a few hours per day in her husband’s business doing some administrative tasks, always earning less than the substantial earnings amount that would disqualify her for receipt of those benefits. 
Starting in 2007 and for four of the following five years, Jimmy received [A1] shareholder distributions from her ownership of stock in her husband’s company. As Social Security Administrative Law Judge Timothy Suing recently confirmed, these payments were not labor income, but simply income from assets – no different than income Jimmy might have received had she owned government bonds.  
But in 2007, Social Security mis-instructed Jimmy, who understood very little of the distinction between asset income and labor income, to revise her tax return and report these shareholder distributions as taxable labor earnings. Jimmy did as she was ordered, but, on the advice of her husband, filed an appeal. 
Compliance with Social Security’s incorrect order triggered an unbelievable bureaucratic nightmare that is surely causing Franz Kafka to writhe in his grave.  
Over the past 13 years, Jimmy and her husband, Larry, have, thanks to Social Security’s acknowledged mistake, been deprived of tens of thousands of dollars in Social Security disability and spousal benefits. Jimmy has been forced to pay extra Social Security payroll taxes she didn’t owe. Jimmy has been forced to pay extra federal income taxes she didn’t owe. Jimmy and Larry’s company has been forced to pay extra FICA taxes they didn’t owe[LR2] . Jimmy retroactively lost her Medicare healthcare coverage and is now being told to pay for years of healthcare treatment coverage. But the icing on the cake is that Social Security has been and is still, to this day, sending Jimmy and her husband a bill for over $120,000 for disability and spousal benefits that they rightfully received (before their benefits were incorrectly terminated), but were falsely told that shouldn’t have received, even though Social Security’s own Administrative Law Judge says the benefits were properly paid (although slightly higher than what they should have been due to the downward adjustment in Jimmy’s income after the shareholder distributions were no longer included in her earnings record). ...

Oct 18, 2019

Our Lives Are So Much More Fragile Than We Want To Imagine

     Going from being a college professor to being on Social Security disability to being homeless. It took this man nine years.

What More Can They Do?

     Senator Collins believes that Social Security isn’t doing enough to combat the current wave of fraud involving telephone callers pretending to be Social Security employees. What, exactly, does she think they should be doing that they aren’t?

Oct 17, 2019

Not Keeping Up With Inflation

     Average Social Security attorney fee per case by year:
  • 2010 -- $3,492.40
  •  2011 -- $3,196.81
  •  2012 -- $3,036.62
  •  2013 -- $2,923.30
  •  2014 -- $2,944.49
  •  2015 -- $3,040.05
  •  2016 -- $3,110.89
  •  2017 -- $3,239.28
  •  2018 -- $3,309.93

Oct 16, 2019


     All I can say about this thread on the ALJ Discussion Forum (scroll down) is LOL! Take a look at my post that they think shows I must have paid someone at Social Security. The link is to something  the agency posted. All I did was go to the trouble of looking at what the agency posts.  
     I think the only thing I ever got from the ALJ Discussion Forum that I posted here was the bizarre story several years ago about Social Security telling ALJs to not report any work done in the last week of a fiscal year because it would mess up their stats. That one led to a Congressional hearing and considerable embarrassment to the agency but who would deny they had that coming?

Oct 15, 2019

AC Reviews Per ALJ And Their Outcomes

     Social Security has posted data on the number of Appeals Council reviews per Administrative Law Judge in 2018 and the outcomes of those reviews.

Oct 14, 2019

Andrew Saul Buying Stock

     Social Security's Commissioner, Andrew Saul, is a wealthy man. Since being in office he's bought stock in Rolls Royce and Wayfair. For someone of his wealth, the purchases weren't large. The overall list of Saul's holdings is extensive.

Oct 13, 2019

It’s Easy To Get Your Social Security Problems Resolved — Just Get A TV Station Involved

     Social Security stopped a man’s benefits benefits because they say he’s in prison but a TV station found him at home saying he’s never been in prison. He couldn’t get the agency to restore his benefits. Twenty-four hours after the TV station starts asking Social Security about the case, the benefits are resumed. Funny how that happens.

Oct 12, 2019

Support For GAO Report On Organizational Rep Payees

     From the Ripon Advance:
U.S. Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY) welcomed federal recommendations and urged their adoption to strengthen the U.S. Social Security Administration’s (SSA) monitoring of and reliance on organizations like non-profits or nursing homes that help beneficiaries manage their benefits.
“SSA should adopt these recommendations promptly,” said Rep. Reed and U.S. Rep. John Larson (D-CT), ranking member and chairman, respectively, of the U.S. House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee, in a joint Oct. 4 statement.
The new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, Social Security Benefits: SSA Needs to Improve Oversight of Organizations that Manage Money for Vulnerable Beneficiaries, makes nine recommendations for SSA, including that the agency assess requiring background checks for organizational payees; and establish timeframes for, and conduct revisions of the accounting form required annually for most organizational payees, according to the lawmakers’ statement. ...

Oct 11, 2019

How Much Effect Will This Have At Social Security?

     The President issued an executive order on Wednesday on "guidance documents" that  has slipped below the radar but which will certainly have effects at federal agencies including Social Security. Here's the relevant language:
... [I]t is the policy of the executive branch, to the extent consistent with applicable law, to require that agencies treat guidance documents as non-binding both in law and in practice, except as incorporated into a contract, take public input into account when appropriate in formulating guidance documents, and make guidance documents readily available to the public.  Agencies may impose legally binding requirements on the public only through regulations and on parties on a case-by-case basis through adjudications, and only after appropriate process, except as authorized by law or as incorporated into a contract. ...
 “Guidance document” means an agency statement of general applicability, intended to have future effect on the behavior of regulated parties, that sets forth a policy on a statutory, regulatory, or technical issue, or an interpretation of a statute or regulation, but does not include the following:
(i)    rules promulgated pursuant to notice and comment under section 553 of title 5, United States Code, or similar statutory provisions;
(ii)   rules exempt from rulemaking requirements under section 553(a) of title 5, United States Code;
(iii)  rules of agency organization, procedure, or practice;
(iv)   decisions of agency adjudications under section 554 of title 5, United States Code, or similar statutory provisions;
(v)    internal guidance directed to the issuing agency or other agencies that is not intended to have substantial future effect on the behavior of regulated parties; or
(vi)   internal executive branch legal advice or legal opinions addressed to executive branch officials. ...
Within 120 days of the date on which OMB issues an implementing memorandum under section 6 of this order, each agency shall review its guidance documents and, consistent with applicable law, rescind those guidance documents that it determines should no longer be in effect. ...
     One can argue that the vast majority of Social Security's policy issuances describe how the agency is supposed to behave, not how the public is supposed to behave. Still, I can think of areas where the agency has sought to bind the public without adopting rules through the notice and comment procedure, such as:
  • Material included in the notice of final rulemaking on regulation of attorney conduct that was not in the regulations themselves;
  • Material in the agency's POMS manual on trusts;
  • Materials in the HALLEX manual and Emergency Messages on the ways the Conn cases will proceed;
  • Materials in HALLEX and POMS on attorney fees.

2020 Social Security And SSI Rates And Limits

Click on image to view full size

Oct 10, 2019

These Stories Are Becoming Too Common

     From a press release:
A former Social Security Administration (SSA) employee pleaded guilty today to a federal criminal charge for stealing more than $176,000 in Social Security benefits designated for elderly and disabled beneficiaries.
Rowena Isabel Lokeni, 36, of Garden Grove, pleaded guilty today to one count of wire fraud. Lokeni was hired as an SSA service representative in 2008 and worked in the administration’s field office in Fountain Valley. She resigned from SSA shortly after her September 6 arrest on a federal grand jury indictment in this matter.
From her work cubicle, between April 2017 and August 2019, Lokeni accessed the SSA computer databases and queried the records of 10 Social Security beneficiaries, according to her plea agreement. Once she accessed the victims’ records, Lokeni fraudulently changed each victim’s direct deposit bank account and routing numbers to instead reflect her personal bank account’s routing and account numbers, the plea agreement states. ...
United States District Judge John F. Walter has scheduled a January 6, 2020 sentencing hearing, at which time Lokeni will face a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison. ...

1.6% COLA

     It's official. Social Security's Cost Of Living Adjustment (COLA) will be 1.6%. It was 2.8% last year.

Overtime Hours Down But OHO Backlog Continues To Decline

     This report on operations of the Office of Hearings Operations (OHO), mistakenly identified here by its old acronym, ODAR, was obtained from the Social Security Administration by the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR) and published in its newsletter, which is not available online to non-members.
Click on image to view full size

Oct 9, 2019

$446,000 Employee Fraud Scheme

     From a press release:
Martin Hernandez, 45, of Selma [CA], pleaded guilty on Monday to one count of wire fraud in connection with a scheme to fraudulently obtain unauthorized Social Security benefit payments, U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott announced.
According to court documents, Hernandez met Social Security benefit recipients through his employment at the Social Security Administration. Hernandez recruited certain recipients to receive fraudulent payments in addition to the benefits that they were entitled to receive. These recipients agreed to return a substantial amount of the money they received from the fraudulent payments back to Hernandez. Hernandez electronically initiated the payments from his workstation at the Social Security Administration offices where he worked. After Hernandez caused the beneficiaries to receive the fraudulent overpayments, he would instruct them to meet him in person to give him cash. During the course of the scheme, Hernandez caused the Social Security Administration to make unauthorized payments of over $446,000. ...

Oct 8, 2019

No, I Don't Know Why She Hasn't Been Approved But Even If She Is Approved, It Won't Be Enough To Live On

     From the Philadelphia Inquirer:
The pair are homeless. Currently, she sleeps in a bed at Chester County Hospital, while Don sleeps in the chair next to her. Medicaid covers hospital costs. They survive on $350 a month in food stamps, and whatever cash and gas money for Don’s father’s old car, a 2005 Nissan Altima, that friends, Chester County churches, and charitable strangers can give. ...
While Maureen has suffered through three years of chemotherapy, radiation, and other treatments, Don — who once earned $53,000 a year selling parts for BMWs — has been laid off twice, and now devotes his time to caring for his wife and looking for a part-time job.
The couple have applied for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for Maureen, but have been denied by the federal government three times. SSI, which amounts to about $770 a month, is given to disabled and destitute people who can’t work. Despite a mythology that has grown around the program — that payments are easily obtained by cheating the system — approximately two-thirds of applicants are turned down, federal figures show. ...
Doctors have said Maureen might live a year or less, as cancer has ravaged one breast and lodged in the other. The disease has further metastasized to her lungs and her liver.
“This is a sad case, a sad case,” said Jan Leaf, executive director of the Lord’s Pantry of Downingtown food bank, which offers the Walls food, and has bought them a hot plate so Maureen can eat vegetables. "To see people who worked all their lives, just to end up in this situation ... .

Oct 7, 2019

COLA Announcement Coming On October 10

     The big announcement of Social Security's Cost Of Living Adjustment (COLA) is coming up on October 10. Expect it to be 1.5% or 1.6%.

Oct 6, 2019

Tide Has Turned

     The Wall Street Journal says that policy debates about Social Security have shifted from cutting benefits to raising benefits. Looking back, it’s hard to understand we’ve spent so many years listening to talking heads telling us we have to cut benefits. That’s never been what people wanted.
     I remember years ago reading this imagined exchange between a Republican member of Congress and a Democratic member:
Republican: All you do is tax and spend.
Democrat: And elect and elect

Oct 5, 2019

Did They Get Their Money's Worth?

     I don't think I've seen this before. Social Security has posted the amount it spent on consultative medical examinations of disability claimants in Fiscal Year 2018: $353,390,976.61.

Oct 4, 2019

Tense Negotiations Over Union Contract

     From Federal News Network:
After more than a year of tense negotiations, the Social Security Administration and the American Federation of Government Employees have finally reached an agreement on a new, six-year contract.
The new collective bargaining agreement, which SSA management and AFGE representatives signed late last week, settles months of disagreements between the two parties and offers both some stability days before the injunction on the president’s May 2018 executive orders was lifted. ...
The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) in September brought AFGE representatives and SSA management together to begin discussing how the two parties would move forward after a June decision from the Federal Service Impasses Panel.
In total, the impasse panel ruled on four provisions for management, six with slight modifications for management, one provision for AFGE and another for the union with slight modifications. ...
SSA wanted to allow five days for negotiations with the union. AFGE proposed four weeks, the union said.
Both parties struggled to agree on a bargaining process — specifically how long they could negotiate and what specifically they should negotiate over.
In the end, the union faced a decision: drop all ongoing litigation related to the SSA bargaining agreement, which included two court cases and nine grievances, and negotiate with the agency — or have the impasses panel rule on the remaining articles of the existing AFGE contract. SSA, meanwhile, said it would begin to implement the provisions of the president’s workforce executive orders under the second option. ...
“We had two options available to us. Neither option was particularly good,” Rich Couture, president of AFGE Council 215, which represents employees at SSA’s Office of Hearings and Appeals, said in an interview. “One was a choice between a certain annihilation of representation at SSA, as well as long-held employee rights and benefits and privileges, versus a chance at continued survival.” ...
The new agreement gives a bank of 125,000 hours of official time — half of the official time bank AFGE representatives had under the previous contract but 75,000 more hours than what the impasses panel granted in its recent decision. ...
The agreement allows 20 union representatives to use no more than 840 hours of official time a year, meaning those employees could spend about 40% of their time on union activities and the remaining 60% of their time performing the functions for which they were initially hired.
All other union representatives have a limit of 400 hours of official time a year, meaning these employees can spend as much as 19% of their time on union activities. Both of these scenarios give AFGE representatives more official time to work with than what’s described in the president’s executive orders. ...
“The fight is not over, but at least we will have some time and resources to conduct a fight,” AFGE wrote in a summary of its new contract to its members. “There will no longer be any union officials who on 100% official time, 75% official time or even 50% official time. Every union official will be doing production work and we will be feeling, first hand, the same pains and abuses that every other worker feels.” ...
“The commissioner had stated to us that he wanted to have a strong and positive relationship with the unions at SSA, that he wanted to improve working conditions for employees,” Couture said. “Everybody is pretty well aware that SSA’s Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey scores for the last few years are pretty poor. Also, the commissioner wanted to really bring in employee ideas and engage employees in labor in finding ways to address, tackle and solve a lot of SSA’s service delivery issues.” ...
Maintaining the status quo with telework was one of the top priorities for the union, Couture said, but it was one of the few areas where AFGE and SSA couldn’t compromise. ...
The union said it’s concerned SSA component leaders may make their own changes now to existing telework policies. ...

Seizing Social Security Checks To Pay A Hospital Bill

     From a San Antonio television station:
Texas passed laws this year to protect patients from surprise medical bills. But some hospitals can still hit you with huge charges, take money from your paycheck, even confiscate your tax refund. News 4 Trouble Shooter Jaie Avila shows us how it's devastating some local families.
Government-owned hospitals like Brooke Army Medical Center can save your life in an emergency. But they are not part of any insurance network and will not negotiate charges with them. If your insurance doesn't pay the bill in-full the government goes after you.
Back in 2015 Frank Hooker suffered a fall that fractured his skull and caused bleeding in his brain. He was flown to Brooke Army Medical Center for several days of treatment.
“To this day I don't know why the bill wasn't paid because he had really good insurance," said Frank’s daughter Jana Gentry. ...
Frank worked for the City of Devine for decades, but now suffers from Alzheimer's and his wife recently passed away. His daughter Jana says she had no idea there was an unpaid hospital bill for $60,000 until January of this year.
“I got a letter from the Department of the Treasury saying if it wasn't paid in-full they were going to take it out of his social security," Jana recalls.
And that's what they did....
So, we contacted Humana, and BAMC, on Frank's behalf.
Brooke Army Medical Center says after hearing from us they immediately called Jana.
“We provided a copy of the bill to her for her records. As a courtesy to Ms. Gentry, we rebilled her father's insurance carrier," BAMC officials said in an email.
Humana also told us it would look into Frank's bill, adding: "We work diligently and with our members to research and resolve their personal situations."
A few days went by and then, Humana called Frank's daughter Jana with fantastic news: it is covering the hospital bill. ...
We've heard from numerous other families who are struggling to pay off large bills because their insurance companies will not cover charges from BAMC. We've asked to interview someone with Brooke Army Medical Center and the Treasury Department about their collection methods, We hope to bring that to you soon.
      No, I don't know why why Brooke Army Medical Center would have been treating a civilian. (I've actually had a client who had a heart attack while visiting a relative who was an inpatient at a VA hospital. The visitor was admitted to the VA hospital even though he wasn't a vet. That's not the situation here, however. I remember that there was an insurance problem in that case but it was only because the situation came up so seldom that the VA hospital had trouble producing a bill.) I do know that if this had been a hospital owned by anyone other than the federal government that they could not have taken his Social Security check.

Year In Prison For Striking Guard

     From WCPO in Cincinnati:
A Milford man will spend a year in prison for punching a Social Security Administration guard in the face.
U.S. District Judge Michael R. Barrett sentenced 35-year-old Daniel Toops Thursday for the assault that happened on April 11 at the Batavia Social Security office.
According to court documents, Toops was dissatisfied with information he was given after speaking with an official at the social security office. Toops started to leave the building and shouted expletives that included threats to the office and the workers.
Court documents said Toops was then approached by a security guard. There was an altercation, and Toops punched the security guard in the face. ...

Oct 3, 2019

Because Of Treasury Transfers The WEP Bill Would Have No Significant Effects Upon Social Security's Trust Funds

     Social Security's Office of Chief Actuary has "scored" the bill introduced by Richard Neal, the Chairman of the House Social Security Subcommittee, that would address the Windfall Offset Provision (WEP) in the Social Security Act that offsets pensions that are based upon wages not covered by the FICA tax. Here's what they found:
... Over the period 2020 through 2029, we estimate the program expenditures for the OASDI program would be increased by $34.3 billion, with the trust funds being fully reimbursed for the added cost on an annual basis with transfers from the General Fund of the Treasury. Over the long-range 75-year period, we estimate that enactment of the Bill would increase OASDI program cost and program income each by 0.02 percent of taxable payroll, thus having no significant effect on the OASDI actuarial balance. ...

Andrew Saul, Art Collector, Patron Of The Arts

     From Artfixdaily:
... New York businessman and philanthropist Andrew M. Saul, who served as a trustee [of the National Gallery of Art] since 2013, stepped down from the board in June to serve as U.S. Commissioner of Social Security. ...
Since 1994, Andrew M. and Denise Saul have been generous donors to the National Gallery of Art, as well as lenders of art to Gallery exhibitions, including Warhol: Headlines (2011), Jasper Johns: An Allegory of Painting, 1955–1965 (2007), Hudson River School Visions: The Landscapes of Sanford Robison Gifford (2004), Arshile Gorky: The Breakthrough Years (1995), and The Drawings of Jasper Johns (1990). The Sauls have been members of the Collectors Committee since 1994 and were donors to The Exhibition Circle in 2008. Andrew M. Saul served as a member of the Gallery's Trustees' Council from 2006 to 2010 and again since 2012. Based in New York City, the couple―listed among the 200 top art collectors in the world by ARTnews magazine in 2009―has amassed a stellar collection of modern and contemporary art and Chinese porcelains. ...

Oct 2, 2019

Who's Being Unreasonable -- These Parents Or Social Security?

     From the Los Angeles Times: 
When Azul Ruelas-Brissette was born in the summer of 2018, the baby’s parents were resolute: They did not want “male” or “female” spelled out on their child’s birth certificate.
Jay Brissette and Miguel Ruelas had weighed their decision carefully. They are part of a small but burgeoning cohort of parents who are raising their children in what they call a “gender creative” or “gender expansive” way.
In the couple’s Los Angeles social network alone, several of their friends have chosen not to reveal the gender of their children until the kids are old enough to articulate their identities on their own. ...
Hence Azul’s birth certificate, which shows two dashes where gender is typically indicated. In January 2018, the state of California began issuing birth certificates that mark a gender of female, male, non-binary (those whose gender identities fall outside the categories of male or female) or nothing at all. At least 10 other states allow gender-neutral markers on identity documents.
But Brissette and Ruelas soon learned that federal agencies still adhere to traditional ways of designating gender.
Last November, the couple contacted the Social Security Administration to inquire about registering Azul for a Social Security number. They asked how they should handle the application form, which has just two options in the “sex” category: male and female.
“They went into this whole thing. That we had to pick a gender, that a baby is not a person without a gender,” Brissette said. ...
So they went to the SSA office in downtown L.A. with Azul, who wore a jean jacket and sparkly boots. They filled out the paperwork but left the “sex” category blank, and showed an employee Azul’s birth certificate.
A few minutes later, the employee handed the parents Azul’s Social Security card and a copy of the paperwork. On it, Azul was listed as male. The couple asked how, and why, the agency made that choice for them.
“They told us Azul did have a gender and closed the window,” Brissette said. ...

Oct 1, 2019

Problems For Social Security 2100 Act in CBO Projections

     The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has analyzed the effects of the Social Security 2100 Act currently pending before the House Ways and Means Committee. They find that it doesn't quite stabilize the Social Security Trust Funds until the year 2100 as the bill's sponsors have believed. More important, the CBO finds that along the way the bill would cause the Trust Funds to run out of money in 2041. In other words, in the long run if the bill would be adopted would come pretty close to solving the funding problem but there would be a crisis in 2041. This conflicts with the projections of Social Security's Office of Chief Actuary that under the bill the Trust Funds would be fully solvent until at least the year 2100.
     I think the Trust Fund problem- brought up by the CBO could probably be addressed fairly simply by modestly speeding up the tax increase included in the Social Security 2100 Act.
     Another problem, though, is that while the CBO projects that the bill would decrease the overall federal deficit, it would increase on-budget deficits by hundreds of billions of dollars in each decade "because a portion of income taxes paid on Social Security benefits would no longer be allocated to the Medicare Hospital Insurance (HI) trust fund (which is on-budget) and because of the reductions in income tax revenues that would result from the increase in payroll taxes." I don't understand this. My guess is that it's an conceptual problem in the byzantine world of federal budgeting rather than a real world problem.