Oct 31, 2020

Happy Halloween


Oct 30, 2020

Smart People Do Dumb Things Department

    From a press release:

The Inspector General for the Social Security Administration, Gail S. Ennis, today announced Federal charges of wire fraud against a former senior financial analyst for the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, for an alleged fraud scheme involving the Social Security Administration and the Federal Reserve System’s disability programs. ...

Lawrence Rufrano, who made his initial appearance October 28, 2020 in the Northern District of California, is alleged to have worked as executive director of a financial technology laboratory at a university and various law firms while collecting both long-term disability benefits from the Federal Reserve System and Social Security Disability Insurance benefits. The fraud loss is estimated to be $185,000. ...

According to the complaint, Rufrano did not report his outside employment to either disability benefit program despite requirements to do so. ...

     Rufrano was Executive Director of Stanford University's Future of Digital Currency Institute.

Oct 29, 2020

Opioids And Social Security Disability

      There's a newly published study on The Effects of Opioids on Labor Market Outcomes and Use of Social Security Disability Insurance which purports to find that increased opioid use led to both more employment and more disability claims, which is a surprising if not confounding result. 

     One problem with the study is that the author did not attempt to measure the actual use of opioids. The author measured "marketing payments from opioid manufacturers and distributors to physicians as an instrument to predict opioid prescribing."

     I wonder if the study has cause and effect backwards. Wouldn't a population with more disabled people than average be one that an unscrupulous opioid manufacturer would want to target? Aren't disabled people an obvious market for opioids? Don't you intensify sales efforts in a geographic area where your marketing campaign seems to be paying dividends? 

Oct 28, 2020

Disability Trust Fund Reserves Increasing Despite Pandemic

      There's reason for concern over the status of Social Security's Retirement and Survivor's Insurance Trust Fund. Because of the pandemic, F.I.C.A. revenues are down, while payments to retirees continue. However, despite a decline in revenues, the Disability Insurance Trust Fund's reserves are increasing because payments to disabled beneficiaries keep going down. By the way in reading the table below, keep in mind that there is considerable seasonality in F.I.C.A. payments. Compare each quarter of this year to the same quarter in the preceding year and look at the overall picture.

Oct 27, 2020

In Office Appointments Now Available In Limited Circumstances

     From Social Security's Covid-19 webpage:

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, you can only enter our offices if you have an appointment. For more information regarding appointment availability for your situation, please select the statement that applies to you:

I need help with benefits

Generally, we will schedule an in-person appointment in dire need situations. Dire need exists when you:

  • Are without food or shelter, including utilities or are without medical care or coverage and need to apply for or reinstate benefits.
  • Currently receive benefits and have an urgent need for payment to meet expenses for food, shelter, or medical treatment, and you cannot receive the payment electronically.

If you believe you qualify for an in-person appointment, call your local office. You can look up the phone number for your local office by accessing our office locator. Please note that appointments may not be immediately available, depending on local health and safety conditions and staffing.

I need help with my Social Security Number (SSN)

We are prioritizing requests for in-person SSN services for:

  • Individuals age 12 or older applying for their first SSN card.
  • Individuals who need to update or correct their SSN information (such as your name, date of birth, or citizenship) to obtain income, resources, or medical care or coverage, or other services or benefits (for example filing a tax return, applying for housing, or seeking an Economic Impact Payment).

If you believe you qualify for an in-person appointment, call your local office. You can look up the phone number for your local office by accessing our office locator. Please note that appointments may not be immediately available, depending on local health and safety conditions and staffing.

Oct 26, 2020

Regs To Allow AAJs To Hold Hearings Approved

      In August Social Security asked the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to authorize final regulations to allow Administrative Appeals Judges (AAJs), who currently only handle cases at the agency's Appeals Council, to hold hearings in place of the Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) who currently hear them. ALJs would still be allowed to hold hearings even under these regs. It's just that AAJs could start doing it as well. Those regs have just been approved by OMB. This must have been considered a very high priority matter. OMB rarely acts that quickly on regs.

     You may think, AAJs, ALJs, what difference does it make? They're all judges, right? Not really. Unlike ALJs, AAJs enjoy zero decisional independence. There would be nothing to prevent Social Security from imposing quotas on AAJs, telling them they could approve benefits for no more than, let's say 25% of the cases they hear. They can't do that with ALJs. I don't know what point there could possibly be in these regs unless you wanted to remove that decisional independence.

     To be honest, there is something that might prevent Social Security from imposing quotas on AAJs and that is public opposition. My feeling has long been that if ALJs didn't exist, Social Security would have to invent them. As problematic as they can sometimes be, ALJs add a necessary legitimacy to the process. Take them away and you'd soon have a crisis and the AAJs themselves would be screaming the loudest about their lack of decisional independence. I doubt that the people behind these regs realize that. A maximalist, public opposition is a sign I'm on the right track, attitude is part of this Administration's DNA.

     Social Security will make these regs final by publishing them in the Federal Register. Unless they're even more bloody minded than I think, I expect they'll wait until after the election to publish these. 

     They can't make ALJs disappear immediately. Even if you told ALJs they could either become AAJs or be riffed, which would be the harshest way of doing this, it would take months if not years to accomplish.

     If Trump is re-elected, expect to see a big controversy over implementation of these regs. Don't expect knee-jerk support for this from Congressional Republicans. Republicans apply for Social Security disability benefits. In fact, rural areas, where the GOP is strong, produce a higher rate of disability claims than urban areas where Democrats are strong.

     If Trump loses, this will go away, one way or another. The most likely way is the Congressional Review Act that allows Congress to hold an up or down vote on regs adopted in the last few months before a change of Administration. Even the current Senate might well vote these regs down. If that fails a Biden Administration could refuse to implement the regs and could eventually go through the rulemaking process to repeal them.


Oct 25, 2020

Doctor Pleads Guilty

      From a press release:

Defendant Americo Oms-Rivera plead guilty before United States District Judge Francisco A. Besosa to conspiracy to commit wire fraud ...

The defendant admitted that starting on March 2009, until on or about October of 2015, the defendant and other co-conspirators knowingly and willfully conspired and agreed together and with each other, to devise a scheme and artifice to defraud the SSA, and to obtain money and property by means of materially false and fraudulent pretenses, representations and promises. For example, Oms Rivera would backdate medical records of patients applying for disability insurance benefits by creating fictitious medical appointments that never took place. This was done to create the appearance of a longer history of medical treatment and for the purpose of tricking or deceiving the SSA into approving disability insurance benefits.

As part of the plea agreement, Oms Rivera will pay SSA $321,000 in restitution, and agreed to the forfeiture of a property at Palmas del Mar, Humacao.  In addition, Oms Rivera will surrender his DEA license, and will be excluded from participating in SSA cases, as well as Medicare, Medicaid and all other federal health care programs. ...

Oct 24, 2020

Arrests In International Fraud Scheme

      From a press release:

Two Riverside County [CA] men were arrested today on an indictment alleging they participated in an international conspiracy that deceived elderly victims into sending more than $500,000 in cash by pretending to be federal agents threatening them with arrest on bogus warrants.

The federal grand jury indictment unsealed today charges a total of three Lake Elsinore residents with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud:

  • Anuj Mahendrabhai Patel, 30, a.k.a. “Mike” and “Indio”;
  • Elmer Miranda Barrios, 35, whose aliases include “Welbin Raul Mejia” and “Joe Rodriguez”; and
  • William Margarito Barrios, 36, Elmer Barrios’s cousin, who faces an additional charge of being an illegal alien who re-entered the United States following deportation....

According to court documents, from April 2019 until March 2020, other members of the conspiracy, some of whom are believed to be in India, telephoned victims and pretended to be government employees or law enforcement officers. Using a number of false pretenses – including phony badge numbers and using spoofed government telephone numbers – the co-conspirators convinced the victims, most of whom were over the age of 55, that their identities or assets were in trouble. 

For example, some victims were told that their Social Security numbers had been linked to crimes and that there were warrants issued by courts authorizing the victims’ arrests. The co-conspirators further told the victims that in order to clear the warrants, they should withdraw their savings and send cash by mail to other members of the scheme. ...

The total loss alleged in this case is approximately $541,420 ...

Oct 23, 2020

Disability Claims Filed And Approved Continue To Decline


     Social Security has posted updated statistics showing the number of disability claims filed and approved through the end of September. Here are the numbers of claims received at Disability Determination Services (DDS) by quarter this year:

  • Q1 -- 325,683
  • Q2 --  306,518
  • Q3 -- 296,974

 And here are the numbers of awards at all levels:

  • Q1 -- 196,386
  • Q2 -- 163,629
  • Q3 -- 149,909

     There is a very important footnote to these stats telling us that:

Because the application data are tabulated on a weekly basis, some months include 5 weeks of data while others include only 4 weeks. This weekly method of tabulation accounts for much of the month-to-month variation in the monthly application data. This method also occasionally causes quarterly data to have either 12 or 14 weeks of data instead of 13 weeks, annual data may include an extra week of data.

      Despite the footnote, it seems clear that there has been a big decline in the number of disability claims filed and approved over the course of 2020. If you were of the opinion that the number of disability claims is strongly related to the unemployment rate, you've been proven spectacularly wrong, at least for this year. And don't try to say the decline in disability claims filed is due to the special Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. Those ended on July 31. If that was what was holding down the number of disability claims we should have seen a dramatic increase in claims filed after it ended but, instead, they kept going down.

     I think that the number of claims filed is down due in large part to the increased difficulty that people have filing claims. I don't know what else it could be. Some people need more help than others.

Oct 22, 2020

EM On Representation Of Claimants

      For whatever reason, Social Security has seen the need to issue an Emergency Message reminding its staff that claimants often have representation and that there are statutes, regulations and policies concerning the agency's dealing with those representatives. Perhaps some may have thought that due to the pandemic the basic rules could be ignored. 

     By the way, for those who don't know, Social Security "Emergency Messages" don't normally address emergencies. Of course, by this point we don't know what most of the "Emergency Messages" do address. So far this year, the agency has released at least 49 Emergency Messages to its staff but has released only 4 of those to the public. Government in the sunshine? Not so much at Social Security.

Oct 21, 2020

Attorney User Fee Goes To $98 Beginning In December

      Social Security earlier announced the 1.3% COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment) for benefits for 2021. Tomorrow the agency will publish a more complete notice about all of the COLA adjustments in the Federal Register tomorrow. Perhaps the item on that list that will attract the most attention, at least from one group, is the increase in the maximum user fee charged to attorneys and others who represent claimants before the agency. That amount goes up to $98 beginning in December. The user fee is deducted from the fees that the attorneys receive. 

     Of course, no adjustment was made in the maximum fee that attorneys may charge their clients under the fee agreement process. My understanding of Social Security's position on that is that they will consider raising that amount once it is reliably reported to them that representation has disappeared. We may be in a situation comparable to that which once existed for representation of veterans. In 1864 Congress passed a $10 cap on attorney fees for attorney representation in veterans benefits matters. That may have been reasonable at the time. However, no adjustment was made in that cap for 120 years! That cap protected veterans so well that attorney representation in veterans benefits cases disappeared apart from pro bono representation. I imagine that there are those at Social Security who would be happy to see the same thing happen at Social Security.

Oct 20, 2020

But Will They Have Enough People To Answer The Phones?

     From a press release:

The Social Security Administration (SSA) has chosen Verizon to provide Unified Communication (UC) and Contact Center (CC) services to more than 62,000 SSA employees at 1,300 locations through The Next Generation Telephony Project (NGTP). This project focuses on converging three existing systems to provide an enterprise-wide CC and UC solution upgrade for the SSA.

Verizon will provide a customized UC/Customer Experience platform that will help the SSA transform customer service as part of its long-term IT modernization plans. The project includes complete operational support services including management, maintenance, training, help desk, network operations center, security, recording and analytics. It also enables the SSA to analyze operations more effectively, improve customer experience and better serve the public across channels, whether in-person, video, phone or online. ...

Verizon will also play an instrumental role in replacing SSA’s national 800 number teleservice platform, which supports over 10,000 agents and field office employees who respond to citizen inquiries regarding their SSA benefits.

Oct 19, 2020

Personnel News

      From Federal News Network:

Rajive Mathur, the Social Security Administration’s deputy commissioner and chief information officer, is leaving after more than two years in the role.

Federal News Network has confirmed Mathur’s last day as CIO [Chief Information Officer] will be Oct. 26. SSA Commissioner Andrew Saul said in an email to staff, which Federal News Network obtained, that until his departure at the end of the year, Mathur will work in the commissioner’s office as a senior advisor.

Saul also said Sean Brune, currently the assistant deputy commissioner and deputy CIO, will be the deputy commissioner and CIO starting on Oct. 26 when Mathur moves to the commissioner’s office. ...

Saul also announced two other personnel changes at SSA.

In the Office of Analytics, Review and Oversight, the improper payments function moves from the Office of the Deputy Commissioner to the Office of Anti-Fraud Programs — which is now renamed the Office of Program Integrity.

In the Office of Operations, Travis Dodson, currently the center director for Disability and Programs Support in the Dallas Region, will begin an assignment as the acting deputy regional commissioner, Dallas.

Oct 18, 2020

SSAB Recommendations On Disability Claims Improvement

      In 2018 the House Social Security Subcommittee requested that the Social Security Advisory Board (SSAB) examine Social Security's reinstatement of the reconsideration stage of appeal in disability claims and to recommend improvements at the initial and reconsideration stages. SSAB is only now getting back to the Subcommittee with a full report.

     SSAB assembled five panels to discuss possible improvements. What the panels recommended mostly seems vague to me. For instance, one recommendation is "Simplify SSI eligibility for children." That's certainly a worthy goal but if you know any history of SSI child disability, you know that if you want "simplification" you'd better say exactly what you have in mind -- and then duck because whatever you have in mind will be extremely controversial. Recommendations that are more specific, such as "Simplify the SSI program by eliminating the living arrangement eligibility requirement, windfall offset, dedicated accounts, and in-kind support and maintenance" can only happen if there are major changes in the political environment. We'll see about that after November 3.

Oct 17, 2020

Social Security And The Wealth Gap

      From  No, the New Deal Wasn't Racist by Samuel Hammond:

... Without counting Social Security, the median-earning white Baby Boomer has 7.3 dollars in wealth for every dollar held by their Black counterpart. Account for Social Security, and that ratio falls to 2.2 — a spectacular two-thirds reduction in the effective racial wealth gap. ...

Oct 16, 2020

I Think They Have A Point

      From a press release:

U.S. Reps. French Hill (R-AR) and Steve Womack (R-AR) joined their home-state Republican colleagues in seeking changes to a federal policy requiring Arkansans to turn over primary identification documents, such as a driver’s license, to obtain a new copy of their Social Security card.

“We write to request that you alter Social Security Administration (SSA) policy that forces our constituents to choose between violating the laws of the State of Arkansas or forgo driving themselves to important destinations, such as to work or to the doctor,” wrote Rep. Hill, Rep. Womack, and U.S. Reps. Rick Crawford (R-AR) and Bruce Westerman (R-AR) in an Oct. 8 letter sent to SSA Commissioner Andrew Saul.

According to the members’ letter, the SSA is remote-only in Arkansas due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and requires that a driver’s license be presented to apply for a replacement Social Security card. Specifically, Arkansas SSA officials are requiring individuals to mail in their driver’s licenses for processing. ...

Oct 15, 2020

OHO Receipts And Backlog Continue To Fall

       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. It is basic operating statistics for Social Security's Office of Hearings Operations.

Click on image to view full size

Oct 14, 2020

What Happened To The SSA-4547 Form?

      I learned from the newsletter of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR) that there is a form for making an Advance Designation of Representative Payee, the form SSA-4547. Perhaps I should say that that such a form may have once existed or that it still exists in some state of limbo. We know the agency created the form. Social Security's manual makes reference to the form. NOSSCR has a copy of the form. However, the form doesn't appear on the agency's list of forms. You can't find a copy online. It's certainly not in use. 

     So, what happened to that form? I might have some clients who could use it. I think others would too. For that matter I could possibly use it personally. I'm sure that Social Security has a staff tasked with creating and maintaining the forms needed to run the agency and they must know what happened to SSA-4547.

Oct 13, 2020

1.3% COLA

Click on images to view full size

Attacks On Chief Actuary Continue

Stephen Goss
     Senator Grassley, the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, is continuing his attacks on Stephen Goss, Social Security's Chief Actuary. Goss had the temerity to do his job and give truthful answers to hypothetical questions about a possible policy alternative. The President had proposed doing away with the F.I.C.A. tax that supports the Social Security trust funds and had proposed no replacement. Goss was asked what would be the result. Of course, he answered that the trust funds would quickly run out of money. What is Goss supposed to do -- refuse to answer the question because it would make Trump look bad? Goss's answer isn't the problem. The problem is what the President said.

     If Trump loses, I fear that there will be major acts of retribution before Inauguration Day. I hope that Goss is not at risk.

Oct 12, 2020

Biden Social Security Plan

      I had earlier posted Joe Biden’s plan for Social Security disability benefits. Here’s his plan for Social Security retirement benefits:

  • Put Social Security on a path to long-run solvency. ... The Biden Plan will put the program on a path to long-term solvency by asking Americans with especially high wages to pay the same taxes on those earnings that middle-class families pay. ...
  • Provide a higher benefit for the oldest Americans. At advanced ages, Americans become more vulnerable to exhausting their savings, sometimes falling into poverty and living a life of hardship. The Biden Plan will provide the oldest beneficiaries – those who have been receiving retirement benefits for at least 20 years – with a higher monthly check to help protect retirees from the pain of dwindling retirement savings. 
  • Implement a true minimum benefit for lifelong workers. ... Under the Biden Plan, workers who spent 30 years working will get a benefit of at least 125% of the poverty level. 
  • Protect widows and widowers from steep cuts in benefits. ... The Biden Plan will allow surviving spouse to keep a higher share of the benefits. This will make an appreciable difference in the finances of older Americans, especially women (who live longer on average than men), raising the monthly payment by about 20% for affected beneficiaries. 
  • Eliminate penalties for teachers and other public-sector workers. Current rules penalize teachers and other public sector workers who either switch jobs or who have earned retirement benefits from various sources. The Biden Plan would eliminate these penalties by ensuring that teachers not eligible for Social Security will begin receiving benefits sooner – rather than the current ten-year period for many teachers. The Biden Plan will also get rid of the benefit cuts for workers and surviving beneficiaries who happen to be covered by both Social Security and another pension. These workers deserve the benefits they earned. 
  •      I don’t think that Donald Trump has any coherent plan for Social Security other than to end the F.I.C.A. tax.

Oct 11, 2020

Oct 10, 2020

NADE Newsletter

     The National Association of Disability Examiners (NADE), a voluntary organization of personnel involved in making initial and reconsideration determinations on Social Security disability claims, has released its most recent newsletter. One thing I noticed is that it says that the Disability Case Processing System (DCPS), a set of software programs, is now "official" even though it has not yet been rolled out at every Disability Determination Service. DCPS has been controversial. I hope   they've got the bugs out of the system.

Oct 9, 2020

Guilty Plea In White Powder Case

      From a press release:

Jason Pantone, age 34, of Hyde Park, New York, pled guilty today to conveying false information and hoax letters in connection with envelopes containing white powder he mailed to federal offices throughout Upstate and Central New York, and the Southern Tier. ...

As part of his guilty plea, Pantone admitted that beginning on February 21, 2019 and until his arrest on February 27, 2019, he mailed envelopes containing white power to Social Security Administration offices in Binghamton, Plattsburgh and Utica, New York.  He also mailed white powder letters addressed to the United States District Court in Syracuse, Binghamton, Albany, Plattsburgh, and Utica.  Each of the envelopes contained a typed note, which read “ANTHRAX.”  Some of the letters included a smiley face with X’s in place of the eyes.  All samples of the white powder were tested and yielded negative results for anthrax or other hazardous material. ...

Oct 8, 2020

Appellate Decision On Application Of Windfall Offset To Canadian Social Security Benefits

      From the Indiana Lawyer:

A split 7th Circuit Court of Appeals panel affirmed a grant of summary judgment to the Social Security Administration on Monday in a class-action suit brought by a Canadian woman with dual citizenship who alleged her U.S. Social Security benefits were wrongly reduced based on similar benefits she receives from Canada.

Lorraine Beeler, a dual citizen of Canada and the United States, has established nearly 20-year careers in both countries and receives monthly retirement benefits from the Canada Pension Plan, that country’s equivalent to U.S. Social Security. She also worked at jobs on which she paid Social Security taxes in the United States.

Beeler’s earnings in Canada were not subject to Social Security taxes, and her earnings in the United States were not subject to Canada Pension Plan taxes. But Beeler ran into a problem after she alleges her Social Security benefits were wrongly withheld. She then sued the Social Security Administration in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana in the class action case of Lorraine Beeler v. Andrew M. Saul, 19-2099. 

There, Beeler asserted that the reduction of her U.S. benefits is a violation of two Social Security provisions: The Windfall Elimination Provision and the U.S.-Canada totalization agreement. The class claims that both the statutory language of the WEP and the terms of the agreement prohibit the reduction of Beeler’s benefits. ...

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals split in affirming the district court’s decision, with the majority concluding the agency correctly ruled that plaintiffs’ Canadian employment was noncovered under the Social Security Act, and thus the provision applied to reduce their Social Security benefits. ...

But Circuit Judge Amy St. Eve dissented from the majority’s opinion, finding that its analysis “rests on an unsupported premise to exclude Beeler’s work from the definition of employment. ...

     I'm a little surprised that we're just now getting litigation on this issue. I suppose the reason there hasn't been litigation is that most of the time the U.S. Social Security Administration cannot apply the offset because it has no knowledge that a claimant is receiving foreign social security benefits.

     By the way, I think it would have been better if this case had not been brought as a class action. When there were more class actions against Social Security than there are now, the practice was to win an individual case and THEN bring the class action in another case with a different named plaintiff so that Social Security could raise nothing other than procedural defenses. Don't put all your eggs in one basket until you have to.

Oct 7, 2020

Guilty Plea In $500,000 Telephone Scams

      From a press release:

Husband and wife Mehulkumar Manubhai Patel and Chaitali Dave have pleaded guilty to laundering over $500,000 on behalf of India-based phone scammers.  ...

According to [the U.S. attorney], the charges, and other information presented in court: Criminal India-based call centers defraud U.S. residents, including the elderly, by misleading victims over the telephone utilizing scams such as Social Security and tech support scams.

As part of their Social Security scam, India-based callers pose as federal agents in order to mislead victims into believing their Social Security numbers were involved in crimes.  Callers threatened arrest and the loss of the victims’ assets if the victims did not send money.  The callers directed victims to mail cash to aliases used by other members of the fraud network, including Patel and Dave. ...

That's A Lot Of EEO Complaints

      From a Request for Information recently posted by Social Security:

... The Social Security Administration (SSA) is seeking a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) software and modules in support of the agency’s existing Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) enterprise case management solution. ...

Social Security Administration with its 65,000 employees currently processes approximately 1,000 EEO counseling, 500 formal complaints of discrimination, 550 hearings and 300 appeals per year.  A Case Management Information System is required for collection of information on nationwide performance of SSA in counseling, Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), investigation, hearings, final agency decisions, appeals and compliance. ...

Oct 6, 2020

SSA Employee Sentenced For Taking Bribe

      From a press release:

... Kurt Walter was sentenced in the Northern District of Illinois for accepting a bribe in the course of his official duties as an SSA employee. Walter, who worked as a service representative in the Elgin, Illinois SSA office, received a total of $8,400 to access SSA databases and provide individuals’ earnings information to another defendant in the case, Joshua Hughes, without the individuals’ authorization. Hughes, who operated a process server company and a company providing consumer installment loans, then used the earnings information in wage garnishment actions against those individuals. 

On Wednesday, September 30, Walter was sentenced for his role in the bribery scheme, receiving 2 years of probation. ...

Oct 5, 2020

Almost A Caricature Of Republican Priorities

      A press release:

The Inspector General for the Social Security Administration, Gail S. Ennis, announces the addition of four new investigative units to the Cooperative Disability Investigations (CDI) program. CDI is a nationwide joint effort between the Social Security Administration and its Office of the Inspector General (OIG) to fight disability fraud and save money for taxpayers. The four investigative units recently opened offices in Omaha, Nebraska; Las Vegas, Nevada; Manchester, New Hampshire; and Cheyenne, Wyoming. ...

     Just how much fraud are you expecting to find in New Hampshire and Wyoming? Do they really need their own dedicated offices? And why are you saying this is directed at "disability fraud"? I think that most fraud cases detected at Social Security involve retirement benefits.

     Social Security is closing down field offices which provide service to the public while opening new offices to hunt for fraud even in low population areas. What does that tell us about the priorities contained in Social Security's operating budget?

Requirement To Submit Medical Records Electronically To Go Into Effect Next Month

      The Social Security Administration has posted a notice in the Federal Register that the requirement to submit medical records electronically officially goes into effect on November 4.

Oct 4, 2020

A Real Charmer


    A Texas man has pleaded guilty to communicating threats after saying he would kill “every black person at the Social Security office” if he didn’t get his benefits. And that’s not all he said. Not by a long shot! 

Oct 3, 2020

Four Years For $700,000 Identify Theft


    From the Daily Herald of Chicago:

A 42-year-old woman who used to work in the Social Security Administration's Aurora office was sentenced to four years in prison for stealing more than $700,000 in fake benefits.

Federal prosecutors said Anne Aroste, 42, of Montgomery, worked in the federal agency's Aurora field office between 2013 and 2018 and pleaded guilty last year to wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.

She admitted that she used the identities of dead workers to create new applications for Social Security benefits and used her credentials to approve the applications and funnel the benefits to bank accounts she controlled. ... 

Oct 2, 2020

Allsup Got Almost $4.5 Million In Ticket To Work Money In 2019

      Social Security has made a proactive disclosure of recipients of money under the Ticket To Work (TTW) program, which pays for rehabilitation to enables Social Security disability recipients to return to work. A rehabilitation provider gets paid based upon claimants returning to work. 
     Ranked in third place on the list of largest recipients of TTW money in 2019, at $4,467,810, is Allsup Employment Services, LLC. Yep, that's part of the Allsup non-attorney group that represents Social Security disability claimants before the agency.

     Doing this actually occurred to me years ago. Sometimes you help a claimant get on benefits but you know from their medical records that they're getting better and have a realistic chance of returning to work. It doesn't happen much but it does happen. Since you already have their medical records, you're in a great place to spot these cases and to profit from providing "rehabilitation" to people who need little help anyway. I never did it because it seemed like a conflict of interest or at least it didn't seem to smell quite right. It's not illegal, though, as far as I know. Of course, I don’t know how Allsup is coming by its TTW cases.

     I wonder if there are other affiliates of entities representing Social Security claimants on the TTW list, perhaps with names that can't be so easily connected.

Oct 1, 2020

More On The New 1696


     To: Social Security:

     From: Charles T. Hall

     Would you please quit encrypting the damned SSA-1696! You don't need to do it. To simplify matters, attorneys representing claimants typically combine the forms to be signed by new clients into one PDF. We want to make it so that we only have to enter the claimant's name, address, telephone number and Social Security number once and the data propagates to all the documents in the PDF. When you encrypt the SSA-1696, we have no choice but to print out the 1696, scan it and then laboriously re-enter the fields so they'll line up with the fields in the rest of the packet of forms. This is pointless and should be unnecessary. The encryption serves no legitimate purpose. If you don't understand what I'm talking about, just forward this to the people who design forms for you. I assure you that they'll understand what I'm talking about.

     Thank you!

New 1696

      The Social Security Administration has issued a new version of the SSA-1696 form used to appoint an attorney or other representative. I wish they'd give us some advance notice before they do this.

Would Amy Coney Barrett's Confirmation Endanger Social Security?

      From Kim Phillips-Fein writing for the New York Times:

Much of the public anxiety about Amy Coney Barrett — judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, Notre Dame law professor and Donald Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court — has focused on the question of abortion, and whether as a believer in originalism and a practicing Catholic she would be likely to vote to reverse Roe v. Wade.

At least as consequential might be her position on the Social Security Administration: She has suggested that an originalist — whose view of the law is rooted in the idea that the duty of judges is to ascertain whether laws reflect the original meaning of the Constitution — might say that it is not clearly permissible given a strict reading of the Constitution. This isn’t to say that she thinks it should or even could be repealed. “Some decisions,” she wrote, “thought inconsistent with the Constitution’s original public meaning are so well baked into government that reversing them would wreak havoc.” But it does indicate that in the area of judicial philosophy, there are many ways to be extreme. ...

Those who share Judge Barrett’s belief in the legal philosophy of originalism are not ideologically monolithic, but most originalist judges are united in a deep skepticism toward the idea of a powerful federal government....

During the 1930s, similar issues brought Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration into conflict with the Supreme Court. Many of the early initiatives of the New Deal were rejected as unconstitutional  ...

After his re-election in 1936, with the Social Security Act and the National Labor Relations Act facing constitutional review and the country mired in economic depression, Roosevelt did not want to see his entire program jeopardized by the court. Instead, in February 1937 he proposed a mandatory retirement age of 70 — the “court-packing” plan, as it became known — with any judge who refused to step down to be supplemented by an additional justice with full voting rights. ...

Will the Supreme Court become once more what it was in the early 20th century? Will it insist on a circumscribed national government and a rigid vision of individual economic rights — in the midst of a second Gilded Age?...

     Phillips-Fein isn't the only one thinking that even Social Security could be at risk. Laurence Tribe is saying the same thing. 

     Do not underestimate the extent to which the right wing still wants to re-litigate the New Deal or how radical the Supreme Court will be with Coney Barrett on the bench.

     I think that what worries me the most about Coney Barrett is that she has virtually no experience practicing law. She went from law school to a Supreme Court clerkship to a short time drafting Supreme Court briefs for a law firm to being a law school prof to the Court of Appeals. I don’t think that background should qualify anyone for the Supreme Court. If she had been nominated to a District Court judgeship would she have been considered qualified? Not in my opinion. In fact, I think she would have had enough sense to decline such a nomination.