Nov 30, 2020

Update On Trust Funds

      Normally, Social Security's Office of Chief Actuary (OCA) updates its projections of the financial health of the Social Security Trust Funds once a year in an annual Trustees Report that comes out sometime in the first half of the year.  Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the OCA has issued a special update. If I am reading this correctly -- and I don't find it to be a model of clarity -- the date upon which the combined Trust Funds will run out of money goes from 2035 to 2034. I don't see separate projections for the Retirement and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund and the Disability Insurance Trust Fund.

     Always remember two things when considering the future of the Trust Funds. First, it's extremely unlikely that any future Congress will allow the Trust Funds to run out of money. Second, even if they do run out of money, partial benefits could still be paid out of then current revenues, perhaps something like 80% of what's supposed to be paid.

Nov 29, 2020

Does Social Security Need A Beneficiary Advocate Office?

     From David Weaver writing for The Hill:

Each November, the Social Security Administration (SSA) releases its Agency Financial Report. In the last several years, tucked away in the back of the report, is a discussion of “potential entitlements.” This is language the agency uses to describe situations where individuals should be receiving benefits but are not because of agency errors or because individuals are unaware of their eligibility for benefits.

An important example will illustrate.

In 2016, the agency discovered that, due to computer errors, more than 20,000 children per application year were not receiving Social Security benefits they were due (children are eligible for Social Security in the event that a parent dies or becomes disabled). Since this error was long-standing, it means, as an illustration, nearly 200,000 children in a 10-year period missed out on benefits they were legally due.

To date, SSA has still not contacted any of these families to help them receive their benefits. ...

The case of children missing out on benefits is just one example. How many other groups are out there? Quite a few. 

In its 2016 Agency Financial Report, the agency reported there were 80 categories of individuals missing out on Social Security benefits. These groups included certain widows, retirees, spouses, and children, as well as groups affected by special Social Security provisions such as some military veterans. SSA has made very little progress in helping these groups receive their benefits. ...

SSA officials need to elevate these projects to a priority level. ...

Another systemic problem is the lack of congressional oversight. ...

In addition to oversight, Congress may want to make structural changes to the Social Security Administration. One possibility is to create, within the organization, a Beneficiary Advocate office, just as the IRS has a Taxpayer Advocate. ...

Nov 27, 2020

Andrew Saul's Political Contributions

      I thought I would check Andrew Saul's political contributions this year. Here's what I found (sorry about the formatting but tables are almost impossible to get right in Blogger):

     I would caution that Saul may also have made contributions late in this political cycle that haven't yet shown up online. More important, he may have made dark money contributions that don't show up on this or any other list available to the public. 

     What's shown above is chump change for someone of Saul's wealth. Still, I would have expected a contribution directly to Trump's re-election campaign. 

     By the way, the Hawkeye PAC is associated with Senator Charles Grassley and the NRSC is the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Cory Gardner failed in his bid to be re-elected to the Senate from Colorado.

Nov 26, 2020

Nov 25, 2020

Union Leader Seems To Be Expecting New Commissioner Soon

      From a piece for Federal News Network by Ralph de Juliis, President of the union that represents most Social Security employees:

... As representatives of 26,000 employees in field offices, workload support units, and teleservice centers, we are ready for a new day of leadership at the Social Security Administration. The appointment of the next Social Security Administration Commissioner will not only set the tone for the next four years of workplace management at SSA, but have lasting implications for the millions of Americans who rely on the services we provide.    

 First, the next commissioner must fundamentally respect the dignity of work: that all labor has value, and all SSA employees are worthy of respect from their peers in management. ...

 Finally, the next commissioner must commit to open and honest dialogue with the union to ensure that our concerns are heard and respected. ...

At SSA under Andrew Saul and Deputy Commissioner David Black, the rot runs deep. It’s time we finally see the commitment to agency-employee relations that has been sorely missed.

     In theory Saul could try to hang on but the recent Supreme Court decision in Seila Law would make that problematic, especially if the new Attorney General or Solicitor General announces that it is the new Administration's position that Seila Law applies to the Social Security Commissioner position. Anybody want to dust off the old writ of quo warranto? If Saul does try to hang on, I expect the union and the new Administration will use him as a piƱata.

     David Black, by the way, is no problem. The Social Security Act provides that the Deputy Commissioner becomes the Acting Commissioner but that the President can order that someone else become Acting Commissioner. I would certainly expect that Biden would so order.

I Guess They Gave SSA Free Copies

      Social Security funds research aimed at encouraging disability benefits recipients return to work. The Journal of Rehabilitation has published what appears to be an entire issue showing the results of some of this Social Security funded research. Here are the titles:

      You can read abstracts of each of these online. However, if you want to read the whole thing though, it's going to cost you 27.50 Euros or about $32.61. I'm not sure if that is per article or whether it gets you the whole issue because I didn't payup.
     Is it appropriate for research funded by the federal government to be behind a pay wall?

Nov 24, 2020

Class Actions On HITECH Violations? Sounds Good To Me

     From a blog post on JD Supra:

In the wake of the 2019 United States Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Civil Rights (“OCR”) enforcement actions against Bayfront Health St. Petersburg (“Bayfront”) and Korunda Medical, LLC (“Korunda”) pursuant the HIPAA and HITECH Right of Access Initiative—for violations of the rights of patients to obtain access to their medical records promptly, without being overcharged, and in the readily producible format of their choice—private lawsuits have been on the rise to enforce patients’ right to access.

Of most recent note, the matter Russell v. Healthalliance Hospital Broadway Campus, and Ciox Health, LLC, 1:20-cv-01204 (USDC No. Dist. of NY), seeks not only monetary damages for failing to grant access to the medical records of the deceased husband of the Plaintiff, but also certification of a class action on behalf of those similarly situated. ...

Given the fact that 42 U.S.C. § 1320d-5 provides for penalties of $50,000 per violation and up to $1,500,000 in fines per calendar year, the prospect of class actions under this law are to be taken very seriously. ...

     If you work at Social Security, you may wonder why I post this. If you represent claimants, you know all too well. Almost all larger medical providers and some who aren't all so large have entered into contracts with outside companies, such as Ciox, to handle medical records requests for them. It's obvious that these companies, if not the medical providers, regard responding to medical records requests as an opportunity to gouge the requesters. It's a monopoly situation. If my client was treated at a particular hospital or medical practice, there's only one place I can go to get those medical records. There are supposed to be limits on this, provided by HITECH and state laws but these companies try to evade the limits with ever more inventive explanations for why they're allowed to charge more than the law allows. They know in the end we need the records now and we'll have to pay up. We file complaints with the OCR but those take time and the medical records companies involved are almost never punished for their outrageous behavior. The situation has devolved into almost hand to hand combat. Class actions sound like a good idea to me.

Nov 23, 2020

A Surprising Blog Post From The "Vampire Squid" Guy

      Matt Taibbi, who is a contributing editor for Rolling Stone, has posted on his blog about Social Security. In the first part, he talks about Social Security's performance evaluation system of all things. By the way, my experience is that all performance evaluation systems are a mess. There's no good way of doing it. Taibbi segues into a discussion of Social Security's disability claim adjudication process. Taibbi seems to have conflated the jobs done by different categories of employees in ways which make the system seem even more odd than it actually is.

     Taibbi, by the way, famously described Goldman Sachs as a "vampire squid." Goldman Sachs will have to live with that one for a long, long time.

Nov 22, 2020

Phone Scam Indictment

     From a press release:

A first-of-its-kind indictment was unsealed today against Indian-based Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) provider, E Sampark, and its Director, Gaurav Gupta, who pushed out tens of millions of scam calls to American consumers on behalf of India-based phone scammers.  Pursuant to a consent permanent injunction, a federal court has also ordered a Florida-based server farm to stop providing E Sampark and Gupta with servers used to help perpetuate the fraud scheme. The consent permanent injunction seeks to prevent E Sampark and Gupta from further victimizing U.S. consumers through the use of the servers located in Florida. ...

As part of a Social Security scam, India-based callers posed as federal agents in order to mislead victims into believing their Social Security number was 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 send cash to aliases used by other members of the fraud network, and to transfer funds via gift cards to the callers.  In one instance in November 2019, the callers kept a Marietta, Georgia woman on the phone for over eleven hours while they convinced her that her Social Security number had been compromised, that there was a warrant for her arrest in Texas, and that she should tell no one about the purported investigation.  The callers told the victim that her assets were going to be frozen and that she should purchase gift cards in order to protect her money.  Per the callers’ directions, the victim went around Cobb County to purchase over $35,000 in gift cards, including Target, GameStop, Sephora, and Nordstrom gift cards.  The callers had the victim provide them with the numbers on the back of the cards, which allowed them to steal the funds from her.  E Sampark and Gupta allegedly connected the victim with the fraudsters. ...

Nov 21, 2020

And It's All Very Legal But Is It Reasonable Or Fair?

      From Laurence Kotlikoff

Imagine you are 25, haven’t seen your now deceased father since you were a young child, never received a penny from him, and find, in your mail, a demand from Social Security to repay over $4,500 that was supposedly overpaid to him on your behalf. This ... is exactly what happened and is happening to Felicia — a hardworking, single mom, who is struggling to get a college degree on a part-time basis. ...

This is the third story I’ve heard of Social Security reaching back decades to correct overpayments nominally paid to minors — minors who had no knowledge whatsoever of this fact nor any ability to determine that Social Security was sending the wrong amount.

Hopefully, someone at Social Security will read this column and put a stop to the System’s hounding of Felicia and others like her. ...

Nov 20, 2020

Andrew Saul Claims A "Basically Seamless" Transition To Service Delivery With Field Offices Closed

      Next Avenue has decided to give Andrew Saul, who may be Social Security's Commissioner, its 2020 Influencers in Aging Award. (I'm not joking. There is a legitimate controversy about Saul's position.) According to Wikipedia,"Next Avenue is a digital platform launched by PBS that offers original and aggregated journalism aimed at baby boomers."

     Here's some excerpts from an interview that Saul gave to Next Avenue:

...  "To be honest, a year ago, I never thought we would be this far along now," Saul told me. "It did take us time to get up and running, but now we're going to reap the rewards of a year's planning." ...

... How has customer service improved since you've been on the job would you say?

Well, first we have to talk about, unfortunately, COVID-19, because there's no question you cannot.

When I took over here, we had a tremendous amount of plans to digitalize and modernize the way we deliver services. But obviously when March hit and we were faced with this situation, we had to keep the lights on. We had to protect our employees and our beneficiaries, and therefore we had to revert to operating from home.

And we were forced to close our offices, both our field offices and our disability hearing offices, and become a virtual operation. We had no choice.

So, the service that we were delivering was interrupted, but considering what happened, this team did an amazing job. And I think if you talk to people that use our services on an active basis, they'll say we really made a transformation here which was basically seamless.

Look, I'm not saying everything was perfect. It still isn't perfect. The last six months have really pressed the team to the limits. But having said that, I think we've done a great job in keeping the lights on and keeping the old boiler running.

Now what this [COVID-19] has taught us and what we've been doing is changing the way we do business. And I think it's going to be changed forever. ...

And the field offices?

When we hopefully go back and roll out our field office operations again, we're going to be using many more personal appointments rather than having people just come into the office. I believe the offices are going to be much better organized, with express service for certain things that people come in for on a much more regular basis.

What about the Social Security Administration's website?

We're going to have a new website, completely redesigned, which is something that is important because it's our most important face to our customer.

How far along did you get before you had to pivot in March with the pandemic?

We had most of this underway. And you know, the amazing thing about systems work is you can do it offsite.

I'm not going to tell you this [COVID-19] didn't slow us down, because we had to be able to go from an in-office to a virtual operation. Did it slow us down? Yes, it did slow us down, but now we're running well.

Before the offices were shut down for the pandemic, a lot of people would come into the offices to ask questions and sign up for retirement benefits. How much has closing the field offices slowed down the number of applications that have come in?

You know, it is somewhat slower. What's happened is we have many more eight-hundred number calls. We also have many more calls to the individual offices.

The other thing is: We are getting tremendous amount of hits on our website. I think it's up fifty, sixty percent. We've been getting almost a million hits a day. Wow.

And we are doing about fifty-three percent of our transactions online through those that have the my Social Security account. ...

What else would you like to do to improve customer service?

We're going to have to see what happens when we start reopening the offices to the public.

I don't know how much you knew about the offices before, but it was terrible. I used to go visit these offices and some of the busy ones were really a disaster, in my opinion — just people sitting around waiting. I don't want that anymore. We can't have that.

It doesn't mean that we're not going to have field offices. It doesn't mean that we're not going to have an eight-hundred [toll-free] number. But we are going as quickly as we can so that our major form of communication to our customer is digital and video. ...

Nov 19, 2020

Sounds Like They Want To Reduce Unnecessary Secretiveness

A. Purpose
This emergency message (EM) announces an upcoming change in the business process for all instructions designated as sensitive at the time of the publication request.

B. Background
On October 1, 2020, agency stakeholders met to discuss how we apply the sensitive designation to policy instructions. Following the discussion, we developed a draft proposal to improve the application of the sensitive policy designation.

C. Proposal

For each publication, an AC signoff sheet is already required. To ensure the sensitive designation is appropriate, we will be modifying the AC-Level Signoff Document to require a more stringent review and added justification for applying the designation. 

      And here's the signoff sheet:

Section A This signoff is for:

   A Sensitive Instruction (these instructions are for internal SSA use only – if being designated as a sensitive instruction, what criteria does it meet? please check appropriate box below, highlight that specific section in your attachment and complete the ‘Background’ section below following this determination)

☐  Descriptions of internal security controls and override instructions in claims processes

Instructions which explain to employees what steps they must take to effectuate or redirect a payment or to override an internal control feature; or

Instructions designed to detect fraudulent documents and actions




Nov 18, 2020

SSA Doing Poor Job Of Identifying Disability Recipients Eligible For Student Loan Relief

Background: Individuals with TPD [Total and Permanent Disability] are eligible to have their Federal [student] loan debt discharged. To assist ED [Education Department] in fulfilling its obligation to ensure borrowers with disabilities who have Federal student loans more efficiently and effectively apply for TPD discharge of their student loans, SSA [Social Security Administration] and ED entered into a computer-matching agreement. ED accepts SSA’s MINE [Medical Improvement Not Expected] designation as evidence of TPD and uses SSA match responses to identify and inform borrowers with TPD of their eligibility for student loan discharge. In 2016, SSA’s initial match under the agreement identified approximately 400,000 borrowers with TPD. SSA reported these matches to ED. Since that time, SSA and ED have conducted similar quarterly data matches.

Findings: SSA needs to improve its data-matching process to assist ED in administering the TPD discharge process for disability beneficiaries with student loan debt. We estimate data matches SSA completed during our review period did not identify 36,248 borrowers with MINE status. This occurred because SSA had incorrect coding in its Disability Control File or had converted the beneficiaries from disability to retirement benefits. As a result, SSA did not identify these beneficiaries to ED as eligible for loan discharge.

     Let me explain why this is important. Many, many disabled people have outstanding federal student loans. Mostly it's loans they took out. Sometimes, they were a guarantor of a loan to a child.  It's almost impossible to discharge these loans in bankruptcy. The lenders are pitiless and the laws draconian. Much of the "education" was worthless. These loans can be $100,000 or more. People who are disabled desperately need to get out from under these loans. It sounds like SSA is making a mistake for almost 10% of claimants. That's not 10% of claimants who should be eligible for relief but 10% of ALL claimants. That's a huge error rate. Also, this sort of error assures that SSA will be wasting money doing unnecessary continuing disability reviews for people who they already know won't improve. It also assures that the Department of Education has to slog through a lot of applications for TPD status proven by means other than a Social Security determination that could have been cleared quickly if the Department of Education had just received appropriate information from SSA.

     To my mind, this problem deserves a Congressional hearing.

     Notice the chart below from the report. Why did the identification of those eligible for loan discharge decline so abruptly after the 2016 election?

Nov 17, 2020

Analysis Of Reduction In SSI Claims Filed Since Field Offices Shut Down

     This slide deck 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 each to view full size.

    I think we should all expect that once Social Security field offices reopen that there will be a huge number of disability claims filed. I hope there will be enough staff to take and adjudicate those claims.

Nov 16, 2020

I'm Surprised By The Amount Of Overtime In The Third Quarter

       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

Nov 15, 2020

Issuing A Directive

      A press release:

Today, House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee Chairman John B. Larson (D-CT) and Worker and Family Support Subcommittee Chairman Danny K. Davis (D-IL) sent a letter directing the U.S. Department of Labor to halt consideration of a proposed transfer of the Ticket to Work program from the Social Security Administration to the U.S. Department of Labor. The Ticket to Work program provides services to help Social Security and Supplemental Security Income disability beneficiaries who are attempting to return to work.

“In 1999, Congress placed the new Ticket to Work and Self-Sufficiency program (Ticket program) under the Social Security Administration (SSA), because of the close coordination between SSA and program participants, including beneficiaries and service providers, that is essential to the operation of the Ticket Program. Nothing has changed to warrant a transfer to the Department of Labor (DOL),” wrote Larson and Davis.

“By law, the Department of Labor does not administer the Ticket program,” continued Larson and Davis. “We do not intend to consider legislation to remove the administration of the Ticket program from SSA and place it at DOL. We therefore expect the Department to halt any further consideration of this inappropriate and detrimental proposal.”

Nov 14, 2020

Opposition To AAJ Hearings

      A press release:

Today, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard E. Neal (D-MA), Social Security Subcommittee Chairman John B. Larson (D-CT), and Worker and Family Support Subcommittee Chairman Danny K. Davis (D-IL) released the following statement after the Trump Administration announced it would finalize a rule on December 16, 2020 to change the Social Security Administration’s appeals process by replacing independent and impartial Administrative Law Judges with internal agency lawyers: 

“For nearly two years, we’ve sounded the alarm that this change would erode due process for Social Security and Supplemental Security Income applicants and beneficiaries and threaten their access to their earned benefits. The rule puts unqualified agency staff in control of deciding appeals hearings and contradicts the congressional intent of the law governing such proceedings. We condemn this political decision that will go into effect just as the Trump Administration is on its way out the door. It is our hope that the Biden Administration rights this grievous wrong and ensures that all those who are eligible can access their disability, retirement, and survivors’ benefits.”

     No mention of the Congressional Review Act. 

Nov 13, 2020

Regs On AAJ Hearings To Go Into Effect On December 16

      Monday's Federal Register will contain new final regulations from Social Security on Hearings Held by Administrative Appeals Judges of the Appeals Council. You can read the regulations today. The effective date is December 16. I do not expect that these regulations will be implemented during the Biden Administration. It is possible that they will be disapproved under the Congressional Review Act. Neither a filibuster nor the Senate Majority Leader can prevent a Congressional Review Act vote.

     The explanatory material published contains this sentence (emphasis added): "Because AAJs and ALJs have similar levels of training, will follow the same set of policies, and have equivalent decisional independence, we anticipate that when AAJs are used at the hearing level, they will provide the same level of service and fairness as ALJs do." I can't say that I take that statement at face value. In fact, if true, I don't know what the point of these regulations is.

Nov 12, 2020

Final Musculoskeletal Listings Changes Approved

      The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has approved final regulations to modify Social Security's Listing of Impairments on musculoskeletal disorders. This proposal had been pending at OMB since last December, an extraordinary length of time. We don't know what's in the approved final regulations, although it's unlikely to be much different from the proposal. Expect to see these published in the Federal Register in the near future.

     The proposal was extremely controversial. Musculoskeletal disorders produce a lot of disability. There's no doubt that the proposed regulations would have a significant effect upon who gets approved for disability benefits and that the intention was to sharply reduce the number approved. My opinion is that these regulations will prove to be the most enduring legacy of the Trump Administration as far as Social Security is concerned and that it will be a harsh legacy.

     In theory, these regulations could be reviewed under the Congressional Review Act. It would only take a majority vote in both Houses of Congress plus the incoming President's approval to ditch these. No filibuster is allowed. However, these may seem too technical to get voted down. Also, if regulations get voted down under the Congressional Review Act, it takes Congressional approval to ever revive them. That could make it difficult for Social Security to ever modify the musculoskeletal Listings.

     I would say that under normal circumstances Social Security would like to have considerable lead time in order to implement something of this magnitude and might make them effective further out in the future than the minimum 30 days notice. However, I don't think that those behind these regs expect to be around for the implementation or care much about proper implementation. For them, it's smash and grab time.

     Below is a side by side comparison of the proposed regulation and the current regulation. Click on each to view full size. There was also an extensive preamble to the proposed regulations.

Click on each image to view full size

Final Approval Requested For CDR Regs

      Almost a year ago, Social Security published proposed regulations on continuing disability reviews. They propose to add a new category fro reviews, Medical Improvement Likely (MIL), to be reviewed every two years. MIL was aimed at a group of impairments which they said fitted between the categories of Medical Improvement Expected (MIE) and Medical Improvement Possible (MIP). They said they would include anxiety related disorders in this category. They proposed to increase the frequency of reviews for the category of Medical Improvement Not Expected (MINE) from seven years to six years. Overall, they said they expected to increase Continuing Disability Review (CDRs) by more than 1.1 million a year. This proposal encountered considerable opposition. 

     Social Security has now asked the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to give approval to these as final regulations.  OMB won't have long to act on the proposed final regulations. Traditionally, new Administrations put a freeze on any regulations still pending at OMB as well as new regulations that have been published but which have not yet gone into effect. Since agencies have to give at least 30 days notice, by my calculation Social Security needs to get these regulations in the Federal Register by December 21 to have them become effective before Joe Biden takes office. Even if they meet this timeline, the new Administration can refuse to implement them and the new Congress can review them under the Congressional Review Act. There are no filibusters of Congressional Review Act reviews.

Biden Transition Team For Social Security


    President Elect Joe Biden has released the names of the members of his transition team for the Social Security Administration:

NameMost Recent Employment
Carolyn Colvin, Team Lead Self-employed 
Scott Frey                     American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees

David Holmes Rebellion Defense
Jack SmalliganUrban Institute 

      Colvin is, of course the former Acting Commissioner of Social Security. I could have predicted her as the Team Lead a year ago. I could also have predicted a union official on the team a year ago. Holmes is an Engineering Manager who has worked on projects at Social Security. Smalligan has promoted a "Work Disability–Functional Assessment Battery (WD-FAB)"  which "uses item response theory and computer adaptive testing to quickly interview people and systematically map physical and mental health functioning." 

     It's not impossible for one of these people to end up with a job at Social Security but that's not the purpose of a transition team. I'd guess a job at Social Security for a member of this team is unlikely, but who knows, maybe Colvin would be interested.

Nov 11, 2020

Happy Veterans Day

Nov 10, 2020

Supreme Court Agrees To Hear Social Security Cases

      The Supreme Court has agreed to hear Carr v. Saul and Davis v. Saul, two cases presenting the issue of whether the federal courts can consider Lucia objections to Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) having heard cases before the Social Security Administration when those objections had been raised administratively. The Supreme Court held in Lucia v. SEC that ALJs were unconstitutional since they had not been appointed by the agency head. Since that time they have been. 

     My opinion is that it's nuts to expect claimants to have raised Lucia objections when the Social Security Administration's stated position was that it wouldn't consider Lucia objections. It's also nuts because the Supreme Court had previously held that it was not necessary to raise other sorts of objections in Social Security cases administratively before raising them in the federal courts.

     It's possible but I imagine unlikely that the new Solicitor General for the Biden Administration could decide to settle these cases before they're heard.

Nov 9, 2020

Do People Retire Later If They Receive Frequent Mailings Of Social Security Statements?

     From Can Informational Interventions Be Effective Policy Tools? An Initial Assessment of the Social Security Statement by Barbara A. Smith, published in the Social Security Bulletin:

The Social Security Administration employs an informational intervention—mailing Social Security Statements—to inform workers about their potential benefits. I use linear probability models and agency administrative data to analyze the effect of Statement receipt on the age at which workers claim their Social Security retirement benefits. I compare results for individuals who received one or multiple Statement mailings by age 62 with those who received none during the 1975–2007 study period. I find that workers who received multiple Statement mailings were significantly more likely to claim retirement benefits at later ages than were other workers, and that Statement receipt is positively associated with employment at ages 62–70. I also compare the relative effects of an educational outreach (Statement mailings) and a direct policy change (involving the full retirement age) on claiming behavior and find that the magnitudes of the two effects are similar.

Nov 8, 2020

Early Retirements Declining

     From Sean Williams writing in the Statesville Record and Landmark:

 ...  Between 1995 and 2016, more than 70% of retired workers receiving a [Social Security retirement]benefit had their payout reduced for early retirement.  ...

But as of December 2019, 67.3% of the close to 45.1 million retired workers receiving a benefit had their payout reduced. That marks the ninth consecutive year that early retirees declined as a percentage of total retired workers. ...

Nov 7, 2020



Nov 6, 2020

Union Claims Bias In Performance Appraisals

      From Government Executive:

A union representing employees at the Social Security Administration this week accused the agency of failing to correct systemic bias in its performance appraisal process, in which white employees are receiving the lion’s share of top ratings despite making up less than half of the frontline workforce in recent years.

Officials with the American Federation of Government Employees said that management has been aware of the issue since at least 2015, when it agreed to settle a grievance with the union over the distribution of top performance ratings, but aside from two preliminary meetings, the agency has taken no action to correct the disparity.

According to data provided to Government Executive, in fiscal 2014, minority employees made up 54.3% of AFGE’s bargaining unit, but accounted for only 36.2% of the bargaining unit’s “Outstanding” performance ratings. The largest minority group—Black workers—accounted for 30.3% of the bargaining unit, but only 21.7% of top performance marks.

And while Latino employees made up 16.4% of the bargaining unit, only 8.7% of “Outstanding” ratings went to Latino workers. Similarly, while 10.5% of frontline employees at the agency have a disability, they only accounted for 5.5% of top ratings. ...

Social Security Administration spokeswoman Nicole Tiggemann said the union’s method of aggregating appraisal data is “not statistically valid,” because it does not “account for job type, employee experience and many other factors.”

[The Union president] said that in six years of filing grievances, Tiggemann’s statement is the first he has heard of the agency disputing the data management had provided. ...

Nov 5, 2020

Happens All The Time

      From CBS News:

Mary Hutson of Santo, about an hour west of Fort Worth, began teaching elementary school students in 1963.

Now, the great-grandmother sits and reads with her great-grandchildren and teaching them.

Hutson is very involved with her family.

She is very active.

And, she is very much alive as she explained staring into a zoom call, hair fixed perfectly, smiling from ear to ear with pink lipstick glowing. ...

But a couple of months ago, she was dead according to the government. ...

In June, Hutson’s brother passed away.

When she reported his death to the Social Security Administration, she says she somehow also ended up “deceased” according to records. ...

Particularly during a pandemic, both Hutson and Tuckett [another person who had also been wrongly declared dead] say “coming back to life” is not easy. They both had to visit the social security office in person. They then had to wait for every entity tied to that that magical nine-digit number to bring them back to life. ...

“I was glad they recognized that I am still on earth,” laughed Mrs. Hutson looking down at a letter from the Social Security Administration which she finally received stating that she is alive. “I’m old, but I’m still here.”

Nov 4, 2020

If You Can Use Digital Signatures, Why Can't We?

      From a Social Security newsletter (emphasis added):

We are required to conduct continuing eligibility reviews for disabled beneficiaries every three years. This process requires that beneficiaries complete a Continuing Disability Review mailer to update information about their medical conditions and recent treatments.

We now offer an online option to complete this update and provide any supporting documents about your medical treatment or your work.

We designed this new form with convenience in mind—and to save you time. You can access the online form at (Use either Microsoft Edge or Google Chrome for the best online experience.) ...

Once you “Click to Sign,” you will receive an email from asking you to confirm your digital signature. Check your junk folder if you don’t receive it within a few minutes. Your signature isn’t complete—and your form won’t be processed—until you complete the instructions in your email.

     I think this is the first time I've seen Social Security accepting digital signatures. Attorneys have been complaining for some time that Social Security won't accept digital signatures on documents submitted by attorneys.

Nov 3, 2020

Nov 1, 2020