Apr 30, 2020

Fax Number For Medicare Part B Enrollment Released

     From the Social Security Administration:
Although our offices are closed to the public for in-person services, we are taking steps to serve you and your clients during the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) pandemic. Your clients who already have Medicare Part A (hospital insurance) but need to sign up for Medicare Part B (medical insurance) can now submit their completed Form CMS-40B, Application for Enrollment in Medicare Part B (Medical Insurance) to us by:
  • Fax at 1-833-914-2016; or
  • Mail to their local Social Security office. You can find the local office’s mailing address by using the Locate An Office by Zip button at www.ssa.gov/locator.
Your clients can get Form CMS-40B at www.cms.gov/Medicare/CMS-Forms/CMS-Forms/CMS-Forms-Items/CMS017339. ...
     I'm almot certain that this fax number is solely for Medicare Part B enrollments. Let's hope it's monitored regularly and that, if it's a paper fax, that they keep it loaded with paper.  Social Security needs to switch to e-faxes. That's a change that the rest of the world has made or is making.

National Taxpayer Advocate On Stimulus Payments To Dependent Children

     The National Taxpayer Advocate (NTA) is part of the IRS. The NTA's blog is offering a long explanation for why the Department of the Treasury is only offering a limited window of time for Social Security and SSI recipients to file "tax returns" so that their children can receive economic stimulus payments. The whole thing is based upon the ridiculous premise that all these payments must be sent out in one big batch. The possibility of sending out a big batch now and then sending out smaller batches of payments later as people make the requisite filings seems to be beyond the ken of anyone at IRS. Perhaps more important, like the rest of the IRS, the NTA can't seem to comprehend that the Social Security Administration already has information on the dependents of those receiving Title II Social Security benefits and that information could be used to make payments to the parents of those children.
     At least, the NTA is saying that maybe something should be done about this situation although it makes conflicting recommendations that either Congress do something or the IRS do something. Maybe the IRS should do something and if they don't, maybe the Congress should tell them to do something.
     If there are further economic stimulus payments to be made, I'm not eager for the Social Security Administration to make them but it's clear to me that having the IRS do it was a terrible idea. They're out of their depth.

Medicare Part B Problems

     From the Associated Press:
At greater risk from COVID-19, some seniors now face added anxiety due to delays obtaining Medicare coverage.
Advocates for older people say the main problem involves certain applications for Medicare's "Part B" coverage for outpatient care. It stems from the closure of local Social Security offices in the coronavirus pandemic. ...
Social Security handles eligibility determinations for Medicare, and while many issues can still be resolved online, some require personal attention. That can now entail hold times of 90 minutes or more to reach Social Security on its national 800 number, according to the agency's website. ...
Fred Riccardi, president of the advocacy group Medicare Rights Center, said an already cumbersome process has been exacerbated by the pandemic shutdown, raising the risk that some seniors will fall into a coverage gap or end up owing penalties. ...
His organization is among groups asking Congress to hold seniors harmless from Medicare application problems during the coronavirus emergency. It's unclear how many are affected.
Social Security declined several interview requests and instead sent The Associated Press written responses to questions. The agency said it has seen an increase in requests for Part B enrollment because of older workers losing job-based coverage.
Social Security said it worked with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to waive certain signature requirements for Part B forms during the pandemic and has set up a dedicated fax number to receive applications.
Social Security gets credit for trying, said Leslie Fried of the National Council on Aging, but that "I don't know anyone who has a fax machine anymore." ...
Social Security said the pandemic did lead lead to much longer telephone holds, but its latest weekly average was down to 45 minutes, depending on when a person calls and whether others are trying at the same time. Agency employees have been able to continue to serve the public by teleworking. ...
     What's that "dedicated fax number to receive applications"? That certainly hasn't been publicized. Applications for what? Just Part B? Is that national or local? Don't they still need "wet signatures"?
     Second, Leslie Fried doesn't know anyone who has a fax machine anymore? I don't know what to say in response to that other than LOL!

Apr 29, 2020

SSAB Urges Stimulus Payment Sanity

     From a press release issued yesterday by the Social Security Advisory Board:
Today, the Social Security Advisory Board (“Board”) wrote to the Commissioner of Social Security about the short turn-around time from announcement to deadline for families to complete the online form to receive the $500 relief payments for eligible dependents under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act:
  • The April 22, 2020 deadline for Social Security beneficiaries was only announced on April 20.
  • The May 5, 2020 deadline for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients was announced on April 24.
The Board’s letter urges the Commissioner to continue his work with Treasury to seek elimination of the filing deadlines for Social Security beneficiaries and SSI recipients. ...
     I guess they feel something might yet be done. I hope so but my impression is that the people in charge are deliberately doing the least they can do. It seems to have gone beyond simple incompetence.
     I don't understand why they're writing the Commissioner of Social Security. The problem isn't at Social Security. It's at the Department of the Treasury. Write Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, pictured above with his wife, Louise Linton.

Apr 28, 2020

Official Notice On Telephone Hearings Through August

     I received this e-mail message from Social Security today:

SSA Attorneys and Representatives:

We would like to inform you that we are scheduling telephonic hearings only through the month of August due to COVID-19 related concerns.  Furthermore, our schedulers will now need confirmation first if a claimant (or their representative acting on his/her behalf) voluntarily accepts a telephone hearing before scheduling and releasing any notice of hearing for the months of July and August. 

For this reason, we highly recommend that representatives check their ERE status report for any cases currently scheduled in July, as well as cases in “ready to schedule” status, and begin confirming as soon as possible with your claimants whether they voluntarily accept a telephonic hearing.  Please know that our schedulers are currently contacting your offices primarily by telephone in order to confirm whether the claimant voluntarily accepts a telephonic hearing and to schedule the cases for hearing.  Therefore, knowing this information beforehand will assist with a more expeditious and efficient scheduling experience when we contact your office. At the bottom of this email are ERE status report instructions for any firms that are new on our mailing list.  We also have a representative ERE/ARS guide that we can furnish upon request. 

Likewise, our schedulers will also need confirmation if your claimant decides instead they decline a telephonic hearing so that we may proceed with postponing their case if it was previously scheduled for July, and/or refrain from scheduling their case for August, or until in-person hearings resume.

In the alternative, we are also accepting “blanket” declinations or acceptances from SSA attorneys and representatives, should this be an option you voluntarily wish to consider. 

We are also working on alternative ways of communicating and submitting information for these purposes.  As we receive additional scheduling updates that affect Georgia and North Carolina offices, we will forward them to the representative community. 

Pease (sic) note that our unit was under a “freeze” from all scheduling activities until recently.  Accordingly, we are still working on updating and responding to emails previously sent to our representative box.  Furthermore, please be advised that our unit is only handling confirming telephonic hearings for cases previously scheduled in July and/or “ready to schedule” cases that we can potentially schedule for the August docket.   All matters for cases scheduled from April through June are being handled by the local hearing office at this time. ...

Does It Sound Like She's Describing Social Security Disability?

      From an interview with Pamela Herd, a public policy professor at Georgetown University and the co-author of Administrative Burdens: Policymaking by Other Means, conducted by Sean Illing for Vox:

... Pamela Herd

... Most of our social welfare policies are designed in such a way where they’re a lot more concerned about preventing people who aren’t eligible from accessing benefits than ensuring that those who are eligible actually receive them. We’re fixated on fraud and abuse, which is extremely low in social welfare programs — something like 1 to 2 percent of cases. And even then, it’s not what people mean when they think of “fraud and abuse.” It’s mostly people making mistakes because they didn’t understand eligibility rules.
The problem with this unjustified obsession with fraud and abuse is that it means 20 to 30 percent of people are unable to access these programs even when they’re clearly eligible for them, because they’ve created all these administrative burdens designed to target people they don’t want on the programs. So it’s a huge disconnect in terms of trying to meet the broader goals of these programs. ...
I want to push a little on this point because I don’t think a lot of people who claim to be concerned about fraud and abuse are really concerned about fraud and abuse. As far as I can tell, this is about trumping us these accusations in order to undermine programs they fundamentally don’t believe in, just as a lot of Republicans disingenuously complain about voting fraud as a cover for depressing voting numbers.

Pamela Herd

You’re right about that. Partly, this is a way conservatives justify the use of administrative burdens. They make these sorts of arguments all the time, whether it’s about voting or social welfare programs. The pretense is always about preventing fraud and abuse. But think about a program like SNAP, or food stamps. The goal of that program was to prevent hunger, was to ensure people had adequate nutrition. If you think about that goal and you realize the way that you’re running that program means that 20 percent of people eligible for that benefit aren’t getting that help that they really need, then you’re fundamentally undermining these programmatic goals. You’re allowing all those people to go hungry. ...

Sean Illing

What are the simplest, most effective things we could do to improve this process right now for people in need?

Pamela Herd

There are technocratic things like requiring state governments and the federal government to quantify how many people who are eligible for benefits aren’t getting them. Right now they’re required to report on fraud and abuse, but they should also be required to report how many people they’re failing to reach. This would be a good start....

Apr 27, 2020

Phone Hearings For How Much Longer?

     I am hearing varying reports on how much longer that Social Security expects to be offering only telephone hearings to Social Security disability claimants who appeal and ask for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. I'm sure it will be phone hearings only through June but some hearing offices are telling attorneys that it will only be phone hearings through August. Has there been an official decision, especially one reduced to writing? None of us can say for sure but it looks more than possible that most Social Security employees will be back in their offices before August. No in person hearings even after employees are back at their desks suggests that field offices won't be open to the public either.

Apr 26, 2020

Field Office Closures Hurt

     From WWLP:
Fred Hall told Border Report he walked more than 14 blocks to get to the Social Security Administration office in Downtown San Diego trying to take care of “important Social Security business.” 
When he finally got there, he was turned away by a locked door adding to his frustrations of trying to get a hold of someone inside. ... 
“My phone is dead, I can’t get a phone to report that my phone is dead, I can’t go to the library to use the internet because the library is closed, the senior centers are closed, I just can’t get any help,” Hall said. ... 
It appears seniors like Hall, have become victims of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. While talking to him, at least two other senior citizens walked up to the office without getting inside or finding anyone to help them. ...

Apr 25, 2020

More On Stimulus Payments To SSI Recipients

     Last night Social Security sent out a press release saying SSI recipients have to May 5 to file “tax returns” in order for their minor children to get economic stimulus payments.
     Let me be clear. The U.S. Treasury is responsible for making these payments. They’re the ones making a mess of this. If there is another round of payments maybe Treasury will have its act together but my thought is that the Social Security Administration may need to detail some employees to help them out. Social Security has been using databases since the 1930s. Yes, they existed back then in a primitive form. There’s probably no other government agency with Social Security’s experience with databases. Treasury was so pathetic that they didn’t even do a match with the Death Master File before sending out payments! They need help.

Apr 24, 2020

So, What's It Like Working From Home Every Day?

     Ready to get back in the office again? How's your productivity? What are the problems? What does Social Security need to do differently?

Apr 23, 2020

Union Argues For Increased Telework But Is The Argument Founded In Reality?

     Ralph de Juliis, the head of the union that represents most Social Security employees, has penned an op ed in the Baltimore Sun calling for Social Security to continue extensive telework even after the end of the Covid-19 emergency. He says:
... Social Security employees have found that not only are they able to efficiently work from home, they can provide an even better public service in a time of increased uncertainty. Before the implementation of telework, our field office employees had a 70% response rate to claimants, a rate that has increased to 95% in our remote work world. ...
     What does a 95% response rate mean? Field office service during this emergency has been better than I expected but I certainly haven't seen improvement over the baseline.
     He also says:
.....We also propose allowing employees in our telecommunication centers to work 100% remotely. The work of our telecommunications professionals already takes place over the phone, and we saw an increase in productivity among these employees during our 2013-2019 telework program. ...
     Yet, Social Security is reporting that the wait time for its 800 number went up to 90 minutes after telework was resumed! That does not sound like an increase in productivity.

ALJ Union Sues

     The union representing Social Security's Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) has filed a lawsuit challenging the authority of the Federal Service Impasses Panel that imposed a harsh contract on its members. The suit is a constitutional challenge to the fact that Impasses Panel members are not confirmed by the Senate. This is likely to still be pending come next January 20 when it is possible that Joe Biden will be sworn in as President. This is going to be a frequent theme on this blog. Lawsuits filed in the hope that a new President will settle the case in a way which overturns decisions made during the Trump Administration.

Interesting

     Social Security is updating the section of its POMS manual dealing with the economic stimulus payments it last made in 2011 during the Great Recession. Why would you be updating a section of the manual dealing with a defunct program? Perhaps because you thought you might soon be doing the same thing once again?

Apr 22, 2020

Trustees Report Released

     From a press release:
The Social Security Board of Trustees today released its annual report on the long-term financial status of the Social Security Trust Funds. The combined asset reserves of the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance and Disability Insurance (OASI and DI) Trust Funds are projected to become depleted in 2035, the same as projected last year, with 79 percent of benefits payable at that time.
The OASI Trust Fund is projected to become depleted in 2034, the same as last year’s estimate, with 76 percent of benefits payable at that time. The DI Trust Fund is estimated to become depleted in 2065, extended 13 years from last year’s estimate of 2052, with 92 percent of benefits still payable. ...
     Of course, the economic dislocations caused by the Covid-19 pandemic may significantly affect the trust funds in ways that cannot yet be projected. At least is the short run we know there will be decreased revenues.  We don't know how quickly and how completely the economy will rebound once this is over. We also don't know how this will affect claiming behavior. Will people apply earlier for benefits? I wouldn't know about retirement benefits but I've seen no jump in disability claims filed.

Charge Of Social Security Fraud For GOP Operative Already Facing Election Fraud Charges

     From the Daily Beast:
A Republican operative in North Carolina who’s facing criminal charges related to the alleged harvesting of election ballots was simultaneously ripping off the Social Security system, federal prosecutors say.
The Justice Department indicted Leslie McCrae Dowless this month on four federal criminal counts alleging that he knowingly concealed his income and employment status from the Social Security Administration even as he brought in tens of thousands of dollars from his political work in the Tarheel State.
That work has already landed Dowless in major legal jeopardy. He was arrested in early 2019 and charged with five criminal counts including conspiracy and obstruction. Later that year, Wake County prosecutors charged him with additional counts including conspiracy, obstruction, and perjury. He has denied wrongdoing on all counts. ...
The charges in North Carolina stem from Dowless’ alleged role in a widespread scheme that included the forgery of signatures, dates, and even votes themselves on North Carolina ballots, and a system of payments to Dowless’ employees to collect absentee ballots and ballot request forms. ...

How Did This Get Messed Up So Badly?

     From The Hill:
Two key Democrats are urging the Treasury Department to provide an "additional accommodation" for Social Security recipients who are unable to meet Wednesday's deadline to provide information to the IRS in order to quickly receive coronavirus rebates for their children.
"Given the importance of these payments at this critical time, we urge Treasury to consider all available options for paying these beneficiaries additional amounts owed this year," Reps. John Larson (D-Conn.) and Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.), senior Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee, wrote in a letter Tuesday to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. ...
On Monday afternoon, the Treasury Department and IRS announced that if Social Security and railroad retirement beneficiaries want to get the payments for their children added to their automatic payments, they need to use an IRS web tool to provide the agency with their information by noon EDT on Wednesday. Recipients of SSI and veterans benefits have a little more time to submit their dependent information.
The recipients of federal benefits who don't promptly provide the IRS with information about their children will receive a payment in the near future of $1,200 and won't be able to receive the additional amounts for their children until they file their 2020 tax returns next year, the IRS said. The agency said that it would have to wait to issue the additional payments until a 2020 return is filed "by law."
Larson and Davis, who both are chairmen of Ways and Means subcommittees, said they appreciated that Treasury wants to quickly make payments to Social Security and railroad retirement recipients but expressed concerns about the fact that the IRS announced the deadline less than 48 hours before it occurs.  ...
     I hate to say it but I wish that the Social Security Administration had been given the task of making these payments. I'm pretty sure  SSA could be doing it better.

OMB/OPM Memo On Office Re-Opening

     The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Office of Personnel Management (OPM) have issued a joint memorandum to federal agencies providing guidelines on resuming more normal operations once the immediate threat posed by Covid-19 declines.
     One important point is that there's not going to be some national order to re-open all the agencies all over the country at the same time regardless of local conditions and regardless of state and local stay at home orders. The memo says that "State and regional assessments should be the starting point for discussions and decisions related to Federal agency operations, but additional factors may include: school and daycare closures, mass transit availability, parking availability, facility requirements, and missions." That doesn't require deference to state and local stay at home orders but it certainly suggests that will be the case.
     The memo also indicates that it may be necessary for agencies to apply different rules for employees 65 and older because they face heightened risks from Covid-19. 
     I wonder if Social Security should also apply different rules to claimants who are older or immunocompromised. Maybe they should be afforded telephone hearings even after in person hearings are resumed. I don't know what the odds are for a person who gets Covid-19 while on immunosuppressive medication because of a history of an organ transplant but they're probably very bad.

Apr 21, 2020

Dependents Won't Get Stimulus Payments Unless Their Parent Files "Tax Return" By Tomorrow!

     Earlier we had been told that those receiving dependent children's benefits from Social Security would receive economic stimulus payments, that the Treasury could get enough information from the Social Security Administration to pay them. Now, Treasury and Social Security are putting out press releases saying the kids won't be paid unless a parent files an online tax return and that this tax return must be filed by tomorrow!
     Who gave Treasury the right to impose an impossible deadline on millions of people? Why is this implementation such a mess? A lot of people won't get money they're due because of this incompetence.

CCD Letter On Office Closure Problems

     From a letter sent by the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilties (CCD), the major umbrella group of organizations involved in helping those with disabilities, to Social Security Commissioner Andrew Saul:
... Please publish field office phone numbers more prominently. Currently, the national 800 number is in two much more visible spots ... and the local number ... is more difficult to find on the field office locator tool. With wait times on the 800 number exceeding 90 minutes, allowing people to more easily contact their local offices is critical to improving customer service. ...
We have requested, and understand that the Office of Disability Operations is considering, creating a web page on ssa.gov indicating the daily operating status of all state agencies (DDSs). We assume that SSA is already aware of whether DDSs are completely closed, having all employees telework, or operating under a different arrangement; allowing claimants, representatives, advocates, and others to access this information would be helpful as well.With many DDSs completely closed, it is difficult for DDS staff to obtain evidence submitted by mail or fax, and to generate CDs with claimants’ records to inform claimants and their representatives. Unfortunately, SSA has not yet provided claimants or representatives with the ability to view their electronic files or upload evidence electronically. SSA should prioritize these IT modernizations so that the agency can more efficiently process disability claims at the initial and reconsideration levels....
We appreciate that the Office of Disability Operations created an email address for representatives to send documents to the Representative Call Center (RCC). However, it would be useful for SSA to have similar email addresses for representatives to send documents to the Program Service Centers (PSCs) since the RCC email address cannot be used for any other unit or module. The PSCs often need documentation, such as information about workers’ compensation benefits, to effectuate decisions. With field offices closed, it is more important than ever for PSCs to have adequate channels of communications.  ...
OHO issued a Chief Judge’s Bulletin (CJB) regarding procedures during the pandemic on April 3, 2020. However, the Bulletin has not been published with other CJBs at https://secure.ssa.gov/apps10/reference.nsf/instructiontypecode!openview&restricttocategory=CJB. Advocates were told in the same phone call that the April 3 CJB was both too general to be of use to claimants and representatives and too “sensitive” to be publicly released. This strains credulity.  ...
Finally, some representatives have been told that OHO could not send any of the barcodes used as cover sheets when faxing documents to claimants’ electronic files and which contain information used to upload documents electronically. If accurate, OHO must find a way for claimants and representatives to submit evidence, requests for on the record decisions and critical case designation, and other important documents to the claims file. If not, SSA should explain how representatives can request bar codes for cases where they’ve recently been appointed or the ALJ hearing request has just been made. ...
The Appeals Council receives many documents and requests for review by fax; they use actual fax machines rather than a fax-to-computer system, and this is now a problem because the machines are out of paper and their memories appear to be full. We are encouraging claimants and representatives to use SSA’s iAppeals system whenever possible and mail if necessary, but claimants who are unaware of these options may be sending their requests for review into a technological void. We urge you to have the Appeals Council devise a way to accept faxed documents, ideally using a desktop faxing system so that staff do not have to manually load paper into fax machines and scan the faxes they receive. ...
     Isn't it obvious that it's inappropriate for an agency to issue secret instructions to ALJs on how they should handle cases? I don't think there's something nefarious going on here; just the age-old bureaucratic penchant for pointless secretiveness.

Apr 20, 2020

It's Not Just Puerto Rico; There's SSI Litigation In Guam

     I had posted earlier on the opinion of the First Circuit Court of Appeals that it is unconstitutional to deny Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits to an American citizens living in Puerto Rico even though that same person is eligible if living in one of the 50 states (or the Northern Marianas). We'll see what Social Security does about that ruling. My guess is that they think about it and then file a petition asking the Court to rehear the case en banc, that is by all members of the First Circuit Court of Appeals rather than by a three judge panel, as is normally the case.
     It's worth noting that Puerto Rico isn't the only U.S. territory with this sort of litigation. There's also a case pending in the U.S. District Court for Guam and there should be a decision in that one soon. The case in Guam presents the issue more directly than the Puerto Rico case since it concerns a claim for benefits as opposed to an overpayment allegedly created when a person who was getting SSI moved from New York to Puerto Rico.
     The Guam case may not matter since it isn't as far along as the Puerto Rico case and since Guam is so much smaller than Puerto Rico but that case also holds out the prospect of the Supreme Court refusing to hear the Puerto Rico case because there has been no disagreement between Courts of Appeals on the issue of SSI in territories. Disagreement between Courts of Appeals is the most important reason why the Supreme Court agrees to hear cases. I'm not sure exactly where it leaves Social Security if the Supreme Court refuses to hear the Puerto Rico case since it doesn't directly involve a claim for benefits.
     By the way, I've been surprised that Social Security didn't raise the defense of res judicata in the Puerto Rico case. Presumably, Social Security first declared the overpayment administratively before suing to get a judgment on the overpayment. If the agency did, it looks as if the claimant didn't appeal. Arguably, the claimant should have raised any defense to the overpayment at that time rather than later when he was sued. If the government sued first without giving the claimant an opportunity to fight the overpayment administratively, I think he was denied all the process he was due. Perhaps both parties were eager to get to the constitutional issue.

Apr 19, 2020

Twenty-Five Years Ago

     The bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City that killed 168 people and injured 680 more happened at 9:02 CST on this date 25 years ago. Among those killed were 16 employees of the Social Security Administration. Those who committed the crime were anti-government zealots.
     Here is the list, prepared at the time, of the Social Security employees who lost their lives:
  • Richard A. Allen, Claims Representative Had 22 years of service with SSA. A Vietnam veteran, he was born in Bailey's Crossroads, Va., and won a scholarship to Panhandle State University in Goodwell, Okla. He is survived by a daughter and his mother. 
  • Saundra G. Avery, Development Clerk Worked nine years for SSA. She was a native of Danville, Ark., and was active in her church. A graduate of Central State University in Edmond, Okla., Sandy is survived by her parents and a brother. 
  • Oleta C. Biddy, Service Representative Worked 20 years for SSA. Oleta was born in Rosebud, Ark., and was active as a Sunday school teacher and taught children's choir at her church. She is survived by her husband, a son, two grandchildren and two sisters. 
  • Carol L. Bowers, Operations Supervisor Had 33 years of service at SSA, starting as a clerk-steno in December 1961. Carol was born in Chandler, Okla., and is survived by her husband and a son. 
  • Sharon L. Chesnut, Claims Representative Worked for SSA for 21 years and was an active member of her church. She was born in Oklahoma City and is survived by a daughter, her mother, a sister, a stepson and a stepdaughter. 
  • Katherine L Cregan, Service Representative Had 14 years of SSA service. Kathy was a native of West Memphis, Ark. A widow, Kathy is survived by three sons and five grandchildren.
  • Margaret E. Goodson, Claims Representative Had almost 21 years of service with SSA. Margaret enjoyed motorcycling and camping trips with her husband. Other survivors include three sons, one daughter, three brothers and four grandchildren.
  • Ethel L. Griffin, Service Representative Had 19 years of service with SSA, starting as a claims clerk. She was born in Illinois, where she attended Southwest Jr. College and the College of DuPage. Ethel is survived by her husband, two children and three grandchildren. 
  • Ronald V. Harding, Service Representative Had more than 30 years of government service. He served two years in the Army and also worked for the Air Force before joining SSA in 1967. A respected musician, Ron is survived by two sons, two daughters, his parents, two brothers and a sister. 
  • Raymond L. Johnson, Senior Community Service Volunteer National Indian Council on Aging worker, was stationed in the Oklahoma City DO for the past six months helping with Head Start programs for Seminole children. Born in Lawton, Okla., Raymond is survived by his wife, seven children, 21 grandchildren, five great-grandchildren and a brother. 
  • Derwin W. Miller, Claims Representative Worked at SSA for five years. Derwin was an Arkansas native and a member of the Army Reserve. He was hired through the Outstanding Scholar Program. He is survived by a daughter, his parents, two brothers, a sister and two grandmothers. 
  • Charlotte A. Thomas, Contact Representative Had 12 years of service with SSA. She was employed previously with the Departments of Defense and Health and Human Services. Charlotte is survived by a son. 
  • Michael G. Thompson, Field Representative Worked for SSA for 19 years. He served in the Army for more than two years. A Vietnam veteran, he is survived by his wife, three sons, one daughter, his mother, two brothers and one sister. 
  • Robert N. Walker, Jr., Claims Representative Had 15 years of service with SSA. He served in the Army for three years. Born in Jacksonville, Fla., Bob attended the University of Florida. He is survived by his wife, one son, three stepsons, one stepdaughter and 12 grandchildren. (See in-depth story.) 
  • Julie M. Welch, Claims Representative Was hired under the Outstanding Scholar Program in August 1994. Julie was a recent graduate of Marquette University and had studied abroad at the University of Madrid. She is survived by her parents, a brother and a stepbrother. 
  • William S. Williams, Operations Supervisor Had 20 years of service with SSA. An Oklahoma native, he had a degree in mathematics from Oklahoma State University. Steve is survived by his wife, three daughters, his father

Apr 18, 2020

Time To Raise The LSDB?

     David Weaver argues in The Hill that the Covid-19 pandemic is good reason to update Social Security’s Lump Sum Death Benefit (LSDB). Weaver thinks it should be increased from the absurdly low amount that is now paid, $255, to something that comes closer to the costs of a funeral, $2,500 and that it should be available not only to surviving spouses, as it mostly is now, but to any survivor handling the disposition of the earthly remains. I don’t think he goes far enough. I think the LSDB should be raised to $5,000 or even $10,000. There’s little point in the current LSDB. It probably costs more to administer than is paid out as benefits.

Apr 17, 2020

FSIP Rules Against ALJ Union

     The Federal Services Impasse Panel (FSIP) has authority to resolve disagreements in contract negotiations between federal employee unions and employing agencies. FSIP has recently issued a long decision and order resolving a contract dispute between the Social Security Administration and the union that represents its Administrative Law Judges (ALJs). It was a foregone conclusion that FSIP would go against the union and it did. The Trump Administration has packed FSIP with anti-union activists
     I am no expert on this contract but the most obvious and important sign of FSIP hostility towards the union concerns the amount of paid time that union officials can put in on union business each year. In the past, the union was provided up to 22,000 hours per year of which it used an average of 15,226 hours per year. FSIP ordered that the union receive only 1,200 hours per year. This is only a third of the 3,600 hours that Social Security had already offered the union! The appearance is that the union was punished for its audacity in not accepting what the agency offered.
     The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) recently sued to remove FSIP members for bias. This was added to already pending litigation over the fact that FSIP members have not been subject to Senate confirmation. Those suits will probably still be pending come next January. Should Joe Biden be elected President, his Administration would have the opportunity to settle the suits in a manner favorable to the employee unions. This is one of a number of recent actions by this Administration that may be quickly reversed if Trump is not re-elected.

Apr 15, 2020

Trump Administration Relents -- SSI Recipients Will Get Stimulus Payments Without Need To File "Tax Return"

     From a press release:
The Social Security Administration announced today that Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients will automatically receive their Economic Impact Payments directly to their bank accounts through direct deposit, Direct Express debit card, or by paper check, just as they would normally receive their SSI benefits. Treasury anticipates SSI recipients will receive these automatic payments no later than early May.  

“SSI recipients with no qualifying children do not need to take any action in order to receive their $1,200 economic impact payment. The payments will be automatic,” said Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin. “Recipients with qualifying children should use the ‘Non-Filers: Enter Payment Info Here’ web portal to enter basic information so they can receive their payments as quickly as possible.” ...
     This means that SSI recipients with children as well as those with pending disability claims who have not filed a tax return for 2018 or 2019 still need to file the "tax returns" but that's a much smaller problem.

An Economic Simulus Question

     Let me ask a question that probably won’t get answered here. Let’s say a disabled person has a Title II Social Security disability claim approved next month. He hasn’t already gotten an economic stimulus payment previously because he didn't file a tax return in the last two years. Will he get an stimulus payment once he gets on Social Security benefits? The question is whether the Treasury Department will just look once for Title II beneficiaries eligible to receive economic stimulus payments or whether it will continue to pay attention to those newly entitled. I'm guessing the Treasury won't pay attention to those newly entitled to Social Security benefits but we'll see. I'll bet that no one at Treasury has even though about this issue. It's going to affect thousands of disabled people each month and some non-disabled people filing for retirement and survivors benefits as well.

Apr 14, 2020

SSI Claimants Will Have A Lot Of Trouble Getting Economic Stimulus Payments

     To get a Covid-19 economic stimulus payment if you receive SSI benefits without also receiving Title II Social Security benefits you have to file an online  "tax return" unless you happened to have already filed a tax return in the last couple of years. To file the "tax return" you have to have an e-mail address. 
     I think that filing even though this process seems simple to most that it will defeat many SSI recipients. I decided to pull up all my firm's active SSI only cases to see how many have an e-mail address. I looked at the first 100 that came up in alphabetical order by the client's name. Of that 100, only 43 had an e-mail address.
     You might think that getting a G-mail account is simple and something that's necessary for modern life but most of my SSI clients haven't done it. Why? Many lack internet access. Many have mental limitations that make online transactions impossible for them. I'm not necessarily talking about cognitive limitations, although there's plenty of that in this population. Depression and anxiety make it hard to overcome even slight obstacles.
     I hope that many SSI claimants can overcome the hurdle that has been placed in their path, perhaps with help from others, but this hurdle shouldn't have been there to begin with. This online form is unnecessary. Social Security's databases already contain all the information needed to make these payments. No one has even tried to defend this cumbersome process as necessary.

Apr 13, 2020

First Circuit Rules That Puerto Rico Residents Can Be Paid SSI

     The First Circuit Court of Appeals has issued an opinion in the case of U.S. v. Vallelo-Madero holding that it is an unconstitutional denial of equal protection to refuse to pay Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits to qualified residents of Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico residents are citizens of the United States but since the beginning of the program ineligible for SSI. If they move to a state, however, they can get the benefit.
     The background of the case is interesting. Vallelo-Madero was receiving SSI while living in New York but then moved to Puerto Rico. Apparently, he didn't tell Social Security he had moved but they somehow found out later. It looks as if they did a criminal investigation but eventually decided not to bring charges. Instead, they did something they rarely do, they filed a civil suit to try to collect the overpayment. It was at this point that he raised the defense that his SSI never should have stopped so there wasn't an overpayment.
     Social Security can now ask all the judges of the First Circuit Court of Appeals to hear the case en banc or they can ask the Supreme Court to hear the case or they can give up and start paying SSI to all eligible applicants living in Puerto Rico. I don't think this Administration is going to pay SSI to a bunch of brown skinned people if it can avoid it. However, if Joe Biden is elected President in November and this case is still pending as I expect it will be, he may decide to accept the First Circuit opinion and start paying SSI to eligible people living in Puerto Rico.

SSI Recipients Must File Tax Returns To Get Stimulus Payments

     It's now official. If you're an SSI recipient who is not also receiving benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, you must file a "tax return" in order to get the economic stimulus payments recently enacted. The "tax return" can only be filed online.
     This is terrible. It's completely unnecessary. Social Security's databases already contain all the information needed to make the payments. Social Security's databases are already being used to pay those receiving Title II benefits.
     This is a problem because many SSI recipients will never received the payment they are due because:
  • They don't know that they need to file a "tax return" and no one is making any meaningful effort to tell them.
  • They lack internet access.
  • They lack an e-mail address, which is required to complete the "tax return."
  • They can't figure out how to use the online form.
  • The "tax return" requirement is going to generate a lot of calls to Social Security at a time when the agency already hopelessly overburdened with calls.
     Some may respond, wondering who lacks internet access and who lacks an e-mail address and who can't figure out how to complete the simple form. Many SSI recipients, that's who. If you actually deal with SSI recipients you already know this. If you don't, listen to someone who does. SSI recipients are far poorer, far less educated and far less sophisticated than most people can imagine.
     Why is this requirement imposed upon SSI recipients? I can't think of a reason other than hostility towards poor people.
     To respond to responses I know I'll get, of course SSI recipients haven't lost wages because of Covid-19. So what? Most people receiving the payments haven't lost income due to Covid-19. That's not the point of the payments.

Apr 9, 2020

Will Decline In OT Be Reversed Due To Extra Covid-19 Funding?

     This was obtained from Social Security 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 the image to view full size.
      By the way, isn't it time to update the heading for this report? ODAR has been out of business for some time now.

Apr 8, 2020

What’s New? ALJ Union And SSA At Odds

     From Government Executive:
Officials with the union representing administrative law judges said the Social Security Administration is trying to implement an unfinished collective bargaining agreement, despite the fact that several elements of the contract remain pending before an independent impasses panel. 
The Association of Administrative Law Judges and Social Security reached agreement on 20 of 29 articles for their union contract last year. The other nine articles remain unresolved, and have been sent to the Federal Service Impasses Panel for adjudication in the coming weeks, although the union has objected to that, citing constitutional concerns about how panel members are appointed.  
In early March, Social Security Administration Chief Spokesman Eddie Taylor formally called on the administrative law judges union to ratify the portions of the contract not before the impasses panel by May 4, arguing that the remaining unresolved issues don’t need to be ratified since they will be imposed by the panel. ... 
Thus far, the union has rejected calls to ratify the contract, arguing that the 60-day ratification window should not begin until the impasses panel issues its decision. AALJ President Melissa McIntosh said it would be inappropriate to continue to push for early ratification of a partial contract while the agency responds to the novel coronavirus outbreak. 
“I think it’s really unseemly that they continue to pursue this during a pandemic,” she said. “They really need to be focused on making sure the American public receives essential services and that hearings go off as planned, rather than continuing its effort to eliminate the judges’ union. I really am stunned that they’re persisting with this.” ...
     The general rule in negotiation is that nothing is agreed upon until everything is agreed upon. Is there some exception to that rule that applies here?

Apr 7, 2020

SSAB Urges That SSI Recipients Receive Covid-19 Relief Payments Automatically

     From a press release:
Today, the Social Security Advisory Board (“Board”) sent a letter to Commissioner of Social Security, Andrew Saul, urging action related to relief payments to Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients and restoring representative payee monitoring.
The Board urged the Commissioner, under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (Pub. L. 116-136), to work with the Department of the Treasury to ensure that those who receive SSI payments also receive relief payments automatically and quickly, without filing any forms. ...
     Honestly, unless your goal is to harass SSI recipients, I don't know why you want to make them go to the trouble of filing any kind of tax return. Social Security has all the info in its databases needed to make these payments. Forcing SSI recipients to file tax returns makes more work, not just for them but also for the IRS and Social Security, which will both be receiving phone calls about this.  Of course, one guiding principle of the Trump Administration is what some have referred to as "performative cruelty", that is cruelty for the sake of cruelty conspicuously aimed at disfavored groups. Poor people are certainly disfavored by this Administration. If you’re poor, it must be because you’re lazy or because God doesn’t love you. In any case, if you’re poor, you can’t be a Republican and that’s good enough reason for you to be punished.

     Update: More pressure on this issue, now from AARP:
...  When contacted by AARP for clarification about the requirement for low-income SSI and VA beneficiaries to file a tax return to receive a stimulus payment, an IRS official would only say that “guidance is still in the process.” In addition, SSA announced on April 3 that it is working with the IRS to clarify the requirements for SSI beneficiaries: “We are working closely with Treasury to address outstanding questions about our SSI recipients in an attempt to make the issuance of economic impact payments as quick and efficient as possible.” SSA added that economic impact payments won't count as income for SSI recipients, and the payments will be excluded from resource calculations for 12 months.
As it did with Social Security beneficiaries, AARP is urging the IRS to reverse course and make automatic stimulus payments to SSI and VA beneficiaries without the burden of filing any additional paperwork such as a tax return. Due to the coronavirus outbreak, free tax services for low-income filers such as the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program have been forced to suspend operations. ...