Feb 29, 2020

How Long Would It Have Taken To Get This Resolved Without The Help Of A TV Station?

     From some television station in Arizona:
Mary Jo Kavanaugh has a small home-based business where she does alterations. And, while Kavanaugh enjoys sewing, it's her finances that might be coming apart at the seams. That's because Kavanaugh recently retrieved a letter from the Social Security Administration, demanding that she pay a hefty sum of money. ...
The SSA wants Kavanaugh to immediately repay more than $28,000. Why? Well, the agency says it mistakenly overpaid her ex-husband, who was collecting disability. ...
"We were divorced in 2006," said Kavanaugh.
That divorce date is important because according to the letter, the Social Security Administration overpaid her ex-husband $28,116.44 between June 2009 through March 2013. ...
We asked [Social Security] to investigate the issue and once they did, Kavanaugh says she got a phone call from Social Security saying the matter has been dropped and they will not be pursuing her for $28,000 any longer. ...

Feb 28, 2020

Overpayment Problems For A 69 Year Old Grandmother

     From WKBW in Cincinnati:
Margaret Fitzwater insisted she wasn't going to cry, but her eyes quickly turned red and watery as the 69-year-old grandmother of six described the impact of unknowingly being overpaid $35,770 in monthly Social Security benefits, then having the Social Security Administration demand that she pay it back.
"I go to bed at night worrying about it," Fitzwater said. "I just want it to end."
Fitzwater, who worked a combined 37 years at Cincinnati Gas & Electric and the United States Postal Service, said the confusion over her Social Security benefits began in March 2011.
That's when she received a letter from the agency claiming it had overpaid Fitzwater $4,345 in benefits due to not including her workers compensation payments.
In an April 2011 letter the SSA sent to Fitzwater, the agency confirmed she had paid it back.
"I assumed when I paid them money back in the very beginning that they had it all figured out," she said.
Then, in 2016, she received another letter, saying she apparently owed $35,770.
The problem is not unique to Fitzwater. In a November 2019 audit, the Office of the Inspector General expressed concerns that the Social Security Administration was struggling with overpayments, its collection process and long delays on waivers and hearings. The audit revealed that the SSA estimated it had made $8 billion in improper payments in 2018 alone.
"It's a bureaucracy," Cincinnati attorney James Williams told the I-Team in January. "Probably the world's biggest bureaucracy."
Williams is not Fitzwater's attorney and we did not discuss the case with him, but he has represented clients in hundreds of disputes with the Social Security Administration. He also worked as an attorney for the SSA's Office of Hearings and Appeals. 
"They want to do a good job," Williams said. "Part of the problem is I don't think they have enough personnel to do the good job."
The audit also identified mistakes in calculating income of beneficiaries – which is what happened to Fitzwater – by nearly $1 billion in 2018. The same audit estimated that SSA would wrongly collect an additional $671 million if it didn't fix mistakes resulting from outdated computer systems and understaffing.
Fitzwater told the I-Team she was confused by some of the notifications she received from the SSA.
In April 2013, the SSA told Fitzwater it owed her money and that it would increase her benefits.
Then, in a May 2014 letter, she was notified that she had been paid $27,016 too much because of what the agency said was unreported workers comp. 
"I feel like the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing," Fitzwater said.
In December 2018, after waiting 53 months for a hearing on her case, an administrative judge determined Fitzwater still owed $30,000 for excessive benefits.
According to Fitzwater's records, the SSA is withholding $804 from her monthly Social Security benefit of $2,368 to refund the excess benefits. Fitzwater said she also receives about $3,700 a month in workers comp benefits.
In a December 2019 letter to the SSA, Fitzwater's attorney, Albert Brown Jr., told the agency it had violated her rights by withholding benefits without ruling on any of her three requests for a waiver on paying back the money. ...

Feb 27, 2020

What's In It For The Public?

     From Emergency Message  EM-20006:
Beginning February 29, 2020, SSA will be offering enhanced registration/identity-proofing methods to a limited number of specially selected potential customers. Emails will be sent to this limited group of ‘customers,’ inviting them to go online and create a my Social Security account.
We plan to release methodically this enhanced functionality. The first phase will include Social Security employees, friends, and family. The enhanced registration process through electronic access (eAccess) will introduce the verification of state issued identification documents (driver’s licenses, learner’s permits, state identification cards) and verification of digital addresses (email address and cell phone numbers). All accounts created through the link provided in the invitation email will be Extra Security accounts; therefore, financial verification may also be required online.
Beginning February 29, my Social Security will allow this limited group of customers to: · Take a photo of:
      · the front of the state issued Identity Document (ID – driver’s license, learner’s permit, or state identification card)
      · the back of the state issued ID
      · his or her face (selfie), or
· Manually type the ID information (name, date of birth, ID#, issue state) plus financial evidence (Credit card number, W-2/Self-Employment information, direct deposit amount), or
· Answer Out-of-Wallet quiz questions plus financial evidence. In the first phase of this rollout, any customers receiving an error message during registration will be directed to send an email to the following address: mysocialsecurity.registration.support@ssa.gov

If any representatives from the FOs or on the N8NN receive any inquiries about the new registration process, send an internal email to: ^mySocialSecurity Registration Support

NOTE: Assist current my Social Security account holders and customers who register via the original registration path with the current policies in place.

Direct all program-related and technical questions to your Regional Office (RO) support staff or Program Service Center (PSC) Operations Analysis (OA) staff. RO support staff or PSC OA staff may refer questions, concerns or problems to their Central Office contacts.

POMS will be updated later due to several system releases in the upcoming months. POMS will be published with all-inclusive information from each of the releases planned. We will continue issuing EMs to assure everyone has the necessary information before these publications.
     I don't understand. A limited number of people would have the opportunity to go to the trouble of uploading personal information. What's in it for them? Why would they do it?

Feb 26, 2020

Home School Problems

After 40 years in the workforce, James Blume began collecting well-earned Social Security retirement benefits, including an additional amount for his son who was still in school. 

When the homeschool teen turned 18 last year, however, the additional benefit stopped—even though the law says he still qualified for the payment. 

“We filled out their form stating that he was still in secondary school,” James Blume recalled, “but this was not sufficient. The Social Security Administration needed more to substantiate [his status] and said they wanted the school to give a statement that he had met their requirements for education.” ... 

Sadly, situations like the one experienced by the Blumes are no longer a rarity. 

According to Senior Counsel Darren Jones, who deals with Social Security Administration (SSA) issues along with other members of Home School Legal Defense Association’s litigation team, the number of cases we’re dealing with in this area has nearly tripled in the past five years. 

The problem typically occurs after a homeschool student turns 18. That’s when the additional benefit granted on behalf of a child usually ends for parents receiving SSA payments for retirement, disability, or the death of a spouse. 

The law says that youth who are still going to school full-time qualify for Social Security students benefits until two months after their 19th birthday. And it’s fairly straightforward for students in traditional schools to show they are still eligible for these payments. ... 

Sometimes problems with Social Security stem not from the complications of individual cases but because of regional policies. 

This explains why several midwestern states, including Michigan and Minnesota, have proven especially troubling. 

Read Jones said that Social Security officials in these jurisdictions have developed local guidelines that discriminate against homeschool students based on a faulty understanding of compulsory education laws. Their view is that, because there is nothing compelling 18-year-olds to remain in school, these teens can’t legally be considered students....
      I saw a case like this maybe 20 years ago. I thought the agency had given up on harassing the home schoolers. I’m especially surprised to read that this may be a regional issue. 

Feb 25, 2020

About Time

     I was under the impression that Social Security had long since processed all of the claims based upon same sex marriages that had been held up pending policy decisions. It looks like I was wrong. The agency has just released a batch of cases that had been held up. I don't know what issues there might have been in these cases. I suspect that it could not have been many cases or I would have been aware of them. Perhaps this is just housekeeping, telling staff to check to make sure that they don't have any more cases on hold awaiting policy decisions that were made some time ago.

Feb 24, 2020

Final Regs On Removing Inability To Communicate In English As An Education Category To Appear In Federal Register Tomorrow

     Final regulations on Removing Inability to Communicate in English as an Education Category will be published in the Federal Register tomorrow. You can read them today. They will be effective on April 27. Social Security has also announced in the Federal Register that it is rescinding Social Security Acquiescence Ruling 86-3(5) which has to do with the consideration of inability to communicate in English.
     What a proud moment for Social Security -- being enlisted in Donald Trump's war on immigrants.

     Update: In an Orwellian touch, Andrew Saul is touting this as "updating" Social Security.

Three Listings Extended

     The Social Security Administration is extending without change the Medical Listings for Special Senses and Speech, Hematological Disorders, and Congenital Disorders That Affect Multiple Body Systems.

Feb 23, 2020

Improvement In Spotting Potential VA Cases

     From a recent report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG):
... Since SSI is a program of last resort, SSA requires that individuals apply for all other benefits for which they are potentially eligible, including VA benefits. In a January 2010 report,we estimated SSA paid approximately $1.3 billion to 21,520 SSI recipients who appeared to meet VA’s requirements for benefits.To conduct our current review, we identified 1,327 SSI recipients (from 1 of 20 Social Security number segments) who appeared to meet VA’s requirements for benefits. We randomly selected 50 cases for detailed analysis. ...
SSA improved its process of identifying SSI recipients potentially eligible for VA benefits. We estimated approximately 7,960 SSI recipients appeared to meet VA’s requirements, a nd SSA had not documented VA’s final determination for benefits or continued SSI payments even though recipients had not filed for VA benefits. This is 63 percent fewer than the estimated 21,520 SSI recipients in our prior report. ...

Feb 22, 2020

Congressional Democrats Oppose Plan To End Use Of Independent ALJs

     A press release:
Top Democrats from the House Ways and Means Committee, House Committee on Oversight and Reform, House Judiciary Committee, and Senate Finance Committee yesterday called for the Trump Administration to withdraw a Social Security Administration (SSA) proposal that would make it more difficult for eligible Americans to receive their Social Security benefits. The proposed changes to the SSA appeals hearing process would compromise claimants’ and beneficiaries’ due process and potentially limit their access to their earned benefits, put unqualified judges in control of deciding appeals cases, and contradict the congressional intent of the law governing such proceedings.

“SSA’s proposed rule would erode due process for Americans who are appealing a denial of Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), threatening access by eligible individuals to disability, retirement, and survivors’ benefits,” the members wrote in their comment letter. “Replacing independent Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) with Administrative Appeals Judges (AAJs) is contrary to congressional intent for impartial SSA hearings, and it is not supported by the rationale asserted in the proposed rule.”

The letter was signed by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard E. Neal (D-MA), House Committee on Oversight and Reform Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY),  House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee Chairman John B. Larson (D-CT), House Ways and Means Worker & Family Support Subcommittee Chairman Danny K. Davis (D-IL), House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law Chairman David N. Cicilline (D-RI), Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Senate Finance Social Security Subcommittee Ranking Member Sherrod Brown (D-OH).

The full letter can be found HERE.

Feb 21, 2020

Constitutionality Of Social Security Commissioner At Issue Before Supreme Court But Court Received Almost No Briefing On The Issue

     I thought I would look through the briefs filed in Selia Law v. CFPD, the case pending at the Supreme Court in which the constitutionality of agency heads who can only be removed by the President for cause, which would be the case with the Commissioner of Social Security, to see if the parties or any of the amici who filed briefs tried to distinguish the Consumer Finance Protection Board (CFPB) from Social Security or even discussed Social Security. Here's what I found.

     From the primary brief for Selia Law:
 Similarly, the legitimacy of the Social Security Administration has been contested ever since it was restructured as an independent agency in 1994, with President Clinton stating at the time that the “single Commissioner” structure posed a “significant constitutional question” and noting his willingness “to work with the Congress on a corrective amendment.” Presidential Statement on Signing the Social Security Independence and Program Improvements Act of 1994, 2 Pub. Papers 1471, 1472 (Aug. 15, 1994); Breger & Edles 1207-1208 & n.492. Again, there is less reason for concern than with the CFPB, because the Social Security Administration’s primary function is to adjudicate claims for benefits, rather than to exercise core executive power by bringing enforcement actions against private entities.
     From a footnote in the amicus brief filed by the Chamber of Commerce in support of Selia Law:
Apart from the Bureau, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (“FHFA”), the Office of Special Counsel (“OSC”), and the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) also have single heads who are removable only for cause. But these agencies do not enforce laws against private persons—FHFA, for example, oversees government-sponsored entities, two of which are in conservatorship with the FHFA as the conservator. 12 U.S.C. § 4511(b); FHFA, History of Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac Conservatorships, goo.gl/XzeAYr; see also PHH, 881 F.3d at 174-76 (Kavanaugh, J., dissenting).
     From a footnote in the amicus brief filed by several Republican led states in support of Selia Law:
To be sure, history includes some agencies headed by single individuals who have served fixed terms. See SELIN &LEWIS, supra, at 48-49. But those agency heads typically lack for-cause removal protection. Id. Apart from the FHFA and CFPB, only two agencies (the Office of the Special Counsel and the Social Security Administration) have single heads with removal protections, and those two have jurisdictions limited to enforcing federal law against federal officers or pertaining to federal spending. Id. For the reasons Petitioner [Selia Law] explains (at 23-24) [See above] , the legitimacy of these agencies is also subject to question.
     That's it, folks. No brief was filed sounding the alarm that this case could cause chaos at the Social Security Administration. The Supreme Court has been told that the legitimacy of the position of Commissioner of Social Security may be at stake but this certainly hasn't been emphasized, mainly because the briefs have all been filed by those trying to invalidate the CFPB, a bete noire for business groups and their allies in the Republican Party. The briefs make what seems to me to be a weak effort to distinguish the Commissioner of Social Security from the head of the CFPB. Social Security doesn't enforce laws against private persons? Of course it does. The agency has investigative units all over the country! Why is adjudicating claims less important than stopping consumer fraud? Social Security affects far more people far more directly than the CFPB.

Feb 20, 2020

Is The Position Of Commissioner Of Social Security Unconstitutional?

     From Reuters:
Facing an existential threat at the U.S. Supreme Court, which will hear oral arguments on March 3 in a constitutional challenge to the unusual structure of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the CFPB has found an unlikely champion. The Trump administration believes that the bureau's lone director is unconstitutionally shielded from accountability to the president, yet the Justice Department’s final brief before oral argument urged the Supreme Court not to issue a ruling that will halt the CFPB’s “critical work." ... [The case is Seila Law v. CFPB .]
Seila’s lawyers ... had asked the Supreme Court to decide whether the provision that shields the CFPB director from being removed without good cause runs afoul of the separation of powers doctrine. The Justice Department and the CFPB, repudiating the CFPB’s longtime defense of its structure, backed Seila’s petition, arguing that the provision was an unconstitutional restraint on the president....
DOJ and Seila also agreed that Clement’s attempt to fit the CFPB’s structure within the penumbra of 1935’s Humphrey’s Executor v. U.S. falls short. In that case, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Federal Trade Commission, but Seila and DOJ said the court’s analysis applies only to “quasi-judicial” agencies headed by several commissions, not to the CFPB’s lone director. They also hinted that if Humphrey’s Executor controls this case, then the Supreme Court should consider overruling its precedent, which Seila described as “erroneous and already repudiated.”  ...
     The Social Security Administration is also headed by a lone director who can only be removed "... pursuant to a finding by the President of neglect of duty or malfeasance in office." If, as this Administration is arguing, the position of head of the CFPB is unconstitutional, I see no way that the position of Commissioner of Social Security isn't also unconstitutional.
     If the position of Commissioner of Social Security is unconstitutional are regulations adopted by unconstitutional Commissioners valid? What about decisions made under a delegation of authority from an unconstitutional Commissioner such as those made by Administrative Law Judges and Appeals Council members? This isn't a problem that can be easily solved in the same way that the problem with how ALJs are appointed was solved.
     If the Supreme Court rules that positions such as that of the Commissioner of Social Security are unconstitutional, the Social Security Administration can no longer be an independent agency, at least not without a multi-member board heading it and maybe not then.
     This could put a real crimp in Andrew Saul's plans for a batch of far reaching regulations.

Feb 19, 2020

Delay In Posting Attorney Fee Numbers

     It's happening again. Social Security is delaying posting final 2019 numbers for fees paid to attorneys and others for representing claimants before the agency. The fees come out of the back benefits of the claimants. Normally, those numbers are posted on a monthly basis in less than a week after the beginning of a month. We're now past the middle of February and Social Security still hasn't posted the December 2019 numbers. I'm not the only one who pays attention to these numbers. This delay happened last year if I remember correctly.

Feb 18, 2020

I'll Save You A Bunch Of Money -- This Plan Won't Work

     From a contracting notice posted by the Social Security Administration:

The Social Security Administration (SSA) seeks a contractor to assist in a synthesis of the lessons learned from the tests of new policies (i.e., demonstrations) that SSA has conducted.  The contractor will convene a state of the science meeting, edit the resulting papers, and publish a volume targeting policymakers and others interested in Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and related policies. ...
Over the past 30-plus years, SSA has also conducted several tests of new policies and programs to improve beneficiary work outcomes.  These demonstrations have covered most aspects of the SSDI and SSI programs/populations and have addressed topics including family supports, children, informational notices, changes to benefit calculations, and a variety of employment services and program waivers. ...
These demonstrations have generated dozens of documents reporting which policies worked and which did not.  However, apart from a few cursory reviews in academic survey articles or Congressional Research Service reports, little has been done to synthesize the findings of these demonstrations to identify cross-demonstration lessons about which policies, program, and other operational decisions would provide effective supports for disability beneficiaries who want to work.

By taking stock of the full lessons learned from prior demonstrations, policymakers will have the understanding of what has been tested and whether and why those policies were effective.  In turn, this understanding will enable SSA to implement policies that work in multiple settings, propose alternatives to policies that may not have worked for identifiable reasons, and identify policies and strategies for future demonstrations. ...
     This proceeds from the unshakeable belief that it's easy to get on Social Security disability benefits and that, therefore, it's easy for recipients to get back to work. They just need the right incentives. There has to be a way. Surely, somewhere hidden in all the research and demonstrations Social Security has done, there must be a path visible, a way to put many of those people back to work.
     I'm familiar with the research history. There's no path hidden away in some unread journal. The truth is that it's extremely difficult to get on Social Security disability benefits. Very few who get on benefits get significantly better. In fact, the vast majority keep getting worse. This contract will be a waste of money.

Feb 17, 2020

How Did Social Security Get Involved In This Mysterious Navy Contract?

     From a contracting notice posted by the Social Security Administration (emphasis added):

The Social Security Administration (SSA) intends to establish a contract with Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab (JHU/APL) on a sole source basis. SSA administers the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) Program under which SSA pays monthly cash benefits to millions of Americans insured under the Social Security Act. SSA annually processes and adjudicates hundreds of thousands of disability determinations, including at the administrative hearing and appeal levels. JHU/APL is currently conducting a detailed performance improvement and future state analysis of various aspects of the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) Program. JHU/APL is performing this work on behalf of SSA pursuant to a task order issued by Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) under a contract between NAVSEA and JHU/APL. SSA seeks to maintain the essential engineering, research and development capability currently being provided to it by JHU/APL beyond the expiration date of the NAVSEA task order in 2020. SSA intends to use the independent, unbiased technical analysis and recommendations it receives from JHU/APL under the sole source contract to continue to identify opportunities for policy improvement and increased efficiency and accuracy in the administration of the agency’s mission. ...
      Why would the Navy have been issuing a task order on behalf of Social Security? What does "detailed performance improvement and future state analysis of various aspects of the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) Program" mean? How could an applied physics lab possibly help Social Security?  This may be legit but it sure sounds fishy.