Feb 28, 2021

What Long Term Effects Will The Pandemic Have On Social Security?

      Nobody knows what the long term impact of the pandemic will be on Social Security. How much will the trust funds be affected by the economic downturn? Will the trust funds be healthier because of the people dying early from Covid-19? Will there be a surge of disability claims? Will the pandemic combined with the failed Trump presidency have generalized effects upon public attitudes towards government support programs? These are important questions but it will be years before we have answers to all of them. This article in the Philadelphia Inquirer contains some interesting speculation from some well informed sources.

Feb 27, 2021

NADE Newsletter

      The National Association of Disability Examiners (NADE), an organization of the personnel who make initial and reconsideration determinations on disability claims for the Social Security Administration, has posted its Winter newsletter.

     Here's an excerpt that concerns something I haven't yet seen in my office but probably will, eventually:

For more than a year, analysts across the nation have seen a huge influx in CDB cases [Childhood Disability Benefits, also known as Disabled Adult Child or DAC cases]  cross our desks, with people filing for Childhood Disability Benefits years or even decades after they were approved for SSI. A 38-year-old applying for Childhood benefits? Why now?The OIG’s office conducted an audit last year, summarized in a report submitted in December entitled, “Follow-up on Dis-abled Supplemental Security Income Recipients Potentially Eligible for Childhood Disability Benefits.” ... 
OIG recommended that SSA instruct their staff in the importance of following up on potential leads to other benefits and assessing eligibility for other programs during redetermination and initial claims. They renewed their recommendation that SSA establish an automated solution that identifies SSI recipients who may be entitled to CDB. ...

Feb 26, 2021

In 2020 SSA Had Its Lowest Staffing In At Least 25 Years

      Social Security has released its Annual Statistical Supplemental for 2020, the mother lode of statistics about Social Security.

     Below is an interesting table from the Statistical Supplement. I often post Office of Personnel Management statistics showing the number of employees the agency has. This can be misleading since some are part time or out sick. The table below shows the number of work years. Click on the image to view full size. Notice the decline after Republicans gained control of Congress in the 2010 election. In 2020 the agency had the lowest staffing level in at least 25 years.

Feb 25, 2021

Absentee Boss

     From HuffPost:

Social Security Administration Commissioner Andrew Saul upset many agency staff when he canceled a popular teleworking program in 2019.

“A time of workload crisis is not the time to experiment with working at home,” Saul said when he announced the policy, citing a need to reduce wait times for Social Security claimants.

But Saul himself did not work in the agency’s main Baltimore office even before the pandemic forced everyone into telework, says Ralph de Juliis, president of the AFGE Council 220, which represents Social Security employees in field offices and call centers.

“We were told he’s spending his time in New York because that’s where he’s from,” de Juliis told HuffPost.

De Juliis said agency workers could see that Saul wasn’t logging into his Skype account, either, which employees and managers use for internal communication at the agency. In January 2020, his Skype account had been inactive for 67 days, according to a screenshot de Juliis shared with HuffPost. ...

“We really think Biden should find new people to run the Social Security Administration, who haven’t made it a point to be bad and horrible to employees and the union,” de Juliis said.

The SSA’s press office ignored requests for comment for this story.

Feb 24, 2021

"Long-Hauler" Disability Claims Start To Trickle In

      From National Public Radio:

When COVID-19 first arrived in the U.S., Jodee Pineau-Chaisson was working as the director of social services for a nursing home in western Massachusetts called Center for Extended Care in Amherst. By the middle of April, residents were getting sick.

In early May, Pineau-Chaisson was tapped for a particular duty: "I was asked to go on to the COVID-19 units to do FaceTime calls, so they could say goodbye to their family members," she recalls. "I was very scared."

She was worried about contracting the virus, but also felt like she owed it to her residents. So, at 55 years old and with no pre-existing conditions, Pineau-Chaisson put on an N95 mask, a white jumpsuit, and she entered the units to help. Three days later, she had COVID-19. ...

It's now been almost ten months since Pineau-Chaisson got sick, yet she is still dealing with a series of devastating ailments. She says she has memory problems, body pain, heart palpitations, depression and chronic fatigue. ...

Pineau-Chaisson is a so-called long-hauler. These are people who survive COVID-19 but have symptoms – sometimes debilitating symptoms – many months later. As scientists scramble to explain what is going on and figure out how to help, disability advocates are also scrambling: They are trying to figure out whether long-haulers will qualify for disability benefits.

Disability advocates and lawmakers are calling on the Social Security Administration or SSA to study the issue, update their policies and offer guidance for applicants.

"If we end up with a million people with ongoing symptoms that are debilitating, that is a tremendous burden for each of those individuals, but also for our healthcare system and our society," says Dr. Steven Martin, a physician and professor of family medicine and community health at UMass Medical School.

"We know what's coming. So, we have to make sure that we're on top of this," says U.S. Rep John Larson, a Democrat from Connecticut, who joined with another member of Congress to write a letter asking the SSA to work with scientists to understand what support long-haulers might need. ...

In a statement, the SSA told NPR that the current disability policy rules should be sufficient for evaluating COVID-related applicants, though the agency did not rule out taking additional action in the future. "Researchers are still learning about the disease and we will continue to look at our policies as research evolves," the statement said. ...

     As I've said before, it's easy for me to predict what Social Security will do with post-Covid "long hauler" cases. They'll delay and delay and delay doing anything with the claims. They'll then deny virtually every one of them but many will be approved after a hearing. Meanwhile, the agency will release a vague Ruling that will give no criteria whatsoever that could be interpreted as a standard by which a claim could be approved or, for that matter, denied. The Ruling will say that all evidence must be considered, blah, blah, blah. The agency is quite experienced in issuing such Rulings that seem to say something but which actually say nothing. If you refuse to say what the standard is, no one can blame you for not following the standard.

     By the way, I have my first post-Covid long hauler case now. Other attorneys tell me that they're starting to see a trickle of these cases. No one has any idea whether this will stay a trickle or become a flood but there's evidence that a significant percentage of those who suffer even mild cases of Covid-19 are still having symptoms six months later so the flood scenario is quite real.

Feb 23, 2021

Alarming Decline In SSI Claims

      From National Public Radio:

... During the pandemic, the number of monthly SSI applications and new benefit awardees has declined sharply. New data show that the number of new SSI awards given in January was the lowest on record — but it wasn't because there were fewer people in need of the benefits. ...

"The agency has a crisis on its hands," said David Weaver, who is now retired but worked for the SSA for over 20 years. Most recently, he led the SSA's Office of Research, Demonstration and Employment Support, which conducts research on the SSI program.

"The people who are missing out are among the most vulnerable," said Jonathan Stein, an advocate for those in poverty and, formerly, a legal aid lawyer at Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, which helps individuals apply for SSI benefits. "They are at enormous risk of eviction, utilities being shut off, homelessness, being deprived of food and necessities of life." ...

In 2019, 43 million people across the country visited an SSA field office. That's where many people found out about the SSI program and got help applying.

"Those were very busy places. Sometimes it would be hard to find a parking spot in the lot," said James Winston, a lawyer in western Massachusetts, who helps people who have been denied disability benefits appeal the decision. "You would go in there, and it would be packed." ...

Kathleen Romig, a senior policy analyst at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, says the explanation for the sharp decline is simply and solely the closed field offices. She says a lot of people used to go there and get help with their SSI applications.

"It's much more complicated to apply for a disability benefit than it is to apply for retirement or survivor's benefit," said Romig.

She points out that, unlike SSI benefits, applications for retirement benefits – which can be done online – have not seen a major drop during the pandemic. ...

In a statement to NPR, SSA spokesperson Mark Hinkle said, "We know vulnerable populations, especially the SSI population, rely on in-person service. We stepped up our outreach with advocates and third-party organizations to get their perspective about how things are going and to ask them for ideas on how we could improve our service during the pandemic."

He said the SSA is developing a training so caseworkers in the community can help with applications. The agency is also in the process of producing radio, TV and social media ads to raise awareness. ...

Feb 22, 2021

Social Security's Role In Desegregating Hospitals

      Andrew Saul has issued a new blog post claiming credit for the Social Security Administration for the desegregation of hospitals in the 1960s. It will surprise many that there is truth in this. The Social Security Administration was initially responsible for implementing Medicare, which came into effect during the 1960s. From the beginning, Medicare forbade discrimination in hospital care. Enforcing that ban on discrimination was part of SSA's responsibility.

     One interesting aspect of this blog post is that it labels Andrew Saul as Commissioner of Social Security. Which is it, "Commissioner" or "Acting Commissioner"? I've yet to see anything other than the White House list that designates Saul as "Acting Commissioner." Why is Social Security refusing to answer questions on this subject? This is a federal government agency. Don't taxpayers deserve to know the answer to the question? Why the game playing?

Feb 21, 2021

Social Security’s Ombudsman At Work

     Social Security's inability to translate Japanese marriage certificate delays widow's benefits nearly a year. Want to guess how she finally got action at Social Security?

Feb 20, 2021

Changes To Social Security Statement

     Got this in an e-mail:

Dear Colleague,

The Social Security Statement is one of our most valuable tools a person can use to learn about their earnings and future Social Security benefits. A convenient way to access the Statement is by using my Social Security, where you can find a variety of useful tools and information, including our new fact sheets.

We have added new fact sheets to accompany the online Statement. The fact sheets are designed to provide clarity and useful information, based on your age group and earnings situation. They can help you better understand Social Security programs and benefits.

The fact sheets cover:

  • Retirement planning for four different age groups (Ages 18-48, 49-60, 61-69 and 70+).
  • Benefit information for:
    • Workers with non-covered earnings who may be subject to the Windfall Elimination Provision/Government Pension Offset;
    • Workers who are not fully insured;
    • Workers with an intermittent work history; and
    • New workers.
  • Medicare planning.

The fact sheets help educate workers about Social Security so they can make informed decisions based on their specific situation.

You can find all of the new fact sheets at www.ssa.gov/myaccount/statement.html.

I encourage you to share this information with your members, colleagues, affiliates, and other interested parties.


Jeffrey Buckner
Associate Commissioner

Office of Strategic and Digital Communications

Feb 19, 2021

Not A Good Sign For Andrew Saul

      This is from a press release issued by Senator Sherrod Brown, the new Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over Social Security.

It's Not Complicated: A Smaller Operating Budget For Social Security = Fewer Employees = Poorer Service

      From Tom Margenau's column:

... When I started working for the SSA in the early 1970s, I was one of about 82,000 relatively happy and proud employees working for one of the best-run agencies in all of government. The SSA consistently won awards for public service and administrative responsibility....

Local Social Security offices were well-run, clean and efficient. I worked in several of those offices in small towns and medium-sized cities across the country. They were pleasant places to work and pleasant places to visit. ...

Unfortunately, now it's a different world and a different SSA. Those 82,000 employees I worked with in the '70s and '80s have been trimmed down to about 60,000. ...

With reduced staff and resources, it's all about numbers, efficiency and time management. Walking in off the street to visit a pleasant local Social Security office to ask some questions and possibly file for benefits while having a little chat with a happy employee is a pipe dream. Today, you must call the SSA's toll-free number and wait on hold for a long time (some readers have told me an hour or more) to make an appointment. And then you will probably wait weeks, or even a month or more, for that appointment. Then, when you finally get to the office, it's "take a number, and sit down, and wait until you are called." And sadly, the SSA rep you finally get to talk to has not had the training I had and does not have the time that I had and probably does not have the esprit de corps that I had. ...

Feb 18, 2021

Even The Simple Things Are Difficult Now

      Even the seemingly simple things have become so difficult at Social Security. God help you if you need to get the agency to recognize a name change during the pandemic. 

     There will be so much to unwind once field offices reopen.

An Amazing Account

      This woman's account of how she tracked down her husband's claim for spousal benefits and got it back on track is amazing. What's amazing is that she was able to get Social Security to answer her phone calls. That's really difficult. Social Security's payment centers are almost incommunicado. Mostly, you can't even leave a message.

Feb 17, 2021

USA Today Does A Fact Check

      From USA Today:

Shortly after the Senate acquitted former President Donald Trump for a second time, a story went viral, claiming that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., diverted billions from Social Security insurance to cover impeachment costs. ...

Our rating: False

The claim that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi withdrew billions from the Social Security Administration to cover impeachment costs is FALSE, based on our research. The claim originated from an article that is explicitly labeled as satire and impeachment costs are covered through congressional operations. ...

No Looking Good For The Puerto Rico SSI Case At The Supreme Court

    U.S. v. Vaello-Madero,  the case pending at the Supreme Court that concerns whether it is constitutional to deny SSI benefits to U.S. citizens who reside in the territory of Puerto Rico, has been listed for review at the Court's conference this Friday. This is the third time the case has been relisted for review.

     I have little knowledge of Supreme Court practice so I'll quote someone who does

If a case has been relisted once, it generally means that the Court is paying close attention to the case, and the chances of a grant [that is, agreeing to schedule oral arguments in the case] are higher than for an average case. But once a case has been relisted more than twice, it is generally no longer a likely candidate for plenary review, and is more likely to result in a summary reversal or a dissent from the denial of cert.

     The decision in the Court of Appeals was that it is unconstitutional to deny SSI benefits to U.S. citizens residing in Puerto Rico so a summary reversal would mean no SSI for Puerto Rico residents. It seems unlikely that the Count would refuse to hear the case (deny the petition for a writ of certiorari) since it presents a constitutional issue and there is a good deal at stake.

Feb 16, 2021

Headcount Changes Little From End Of 2019 To End Of 2020

    The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is really trying hard to catch up.  Here is the headcount of Social Security employees are as of December with some earlier headcount numbers for comparison:

  • December 61,816
  • September 2020 61,447
  • June 2020 60,515
  • March 2020 60,659
  • December 2019 61,969
  • December 2018 62,946
  • December 2017 62,777
  • December 2016 63,364
  • December 2015 65,518
  • December 2014 65,430
  • December 2013 61,957
  • December 2012 64,538
  • September 2011 67,136
  • December 2010 70,270

Feb 15, 2021

Take A Look

      I can't figure out how to reproduce it here but this piece on the hearing backlog at Social Security has a nice interactive chart displaying the backlog at each hearing office. It's noticeable that the worst backlogs seem to be West of the Mississippi.

Feb 14, 2021

Improve Retirement Income By Increasing The Minimum Wage

     From Market Watch:

...If a single worker with a life expectancy of 90 were to earn the current minimum wage her whole life, and claimed Social Security benefits at her full retirement age, she would receive a monthly benefit of $924, compared with that same type of worker earning $15 an hour, who would receive $1,337, said Bill Meyer, chief executive officer of software firm Social Security Solutions.

But Social Security benefits can also be calculated cumulatively — that is, the total amount in one’s lifetime. Cumulatively, a worker claiming at 62 after having earned the current minimum wage his whole life would receive $294,000 (assuming a 2% cost-of-living adjustment), and $398,000 if he claimed at 70. But if a worker earned $15 an hour and claimed at 62, he would see $425,000 in lifetime Social Security benefits, and $576,000 if he claimed at 70. ...

Feb 13, 2021

Does This Matter?

      An addition to Social Security’s HALLEX manual:


Hearing office (HO) staff will initiate and conduct a prehearing case analysis and workup when the HO receives a claim(s) file. HO staff will consult with the administrative law judge (ALJ) and HO management on the issues discussed below, as needed.

Prehearing Analysis of Evidentiary Issues

As part of the prehearing case analysis, HO staff will review the claim(s) file to determine whether the claimant informed the agency about additional evidence that is not in the record. If the evidence is not in the record, HO staff will develop the evidence according to the regulations and instructions in Hearings, Appeals and Litigation Law (HALLEX) manual I-2-5-13.

If HO staff determines additional evidence may be needed for a full and fair inquiry into the matters at issue, they will consult with an ALJ to determine whether to develop the evidence. See HALLEX I-2-5-2. If the ALJ decides that he or she needs additional evidence, the HO will develop the evidence before scheduling the hearing.

C.General Overview of Prehearing Analysis and Workup

In addition to performing a prehearing analysis of evidentiary issues, as discussed in subsection B above, HO staff (or the ALJ, if otherwise stated in the referenced citation), will take the following actions:

  • Ensure the claim(s) file is associated with the correct claimant.

  • Assess whether there is a prior claim(s) file. See HALLEX I-2-1-13.

  • Determine whether special handling procedures apply. See HALLEX I-2-1-55 D.

  • Determine who is a party to the hearing. See HALLEX I-2-1-45.

  • Determine the issues in the case. See generally HALLEX I-2-2.

  • Ensure concurrent claim(s) or requests for escalation of claim(s) are associated with the case. See HALLEX I-2-2-22.

  • Determine whether special notices are required. See HALLEX I-2-3-45 and I-2-3-50.

  • Document whether the claimant has objected to appearing at the hearing by video teleconferencing. See HALLEX I-2-0-21.

  • Note whether the case may be appropriate for a decision on-the-record, or whether the claimant has waived the right to a hearing. See HALLEX I-2-1-82.

  • Select the proposed exhibits and prepare an exhibit list. See HALLEX I-2-1-15 and I-2-1-20.

  • Determine whether an interpreter or other special accommodations are needed at the hearing. See HALLEX I-2-0-15 CI-2-1-70I-2-1-72I-2-1-74, and I-2-3-10.

  • Determine whether expert testimony is needed at the hearing. See HALLEX I-2-5-34 and I-2-5-50.

  • Determine whether the testimony of any other witness is needed at the hearing. For instructions regarding when field office employees can be called as witnesses, see HALLEX I-2-5-71.

  • Give the claimant or the representative the opportunity to examine the claim(s) file. See HALLEX I-2-1-35.

  • Schedule a prehearing conference, if appropriate. See HALLEX I-2-1-75.

  • Schedule a hearing and send a notice of hearing (if applicable). See HALLEX I-2-3-10 and I-2-3-15.

  • For claim(s) remanded by the Appeals Council, request clarification before scheduling a hearing if the ALJ cannot carry out the directive(s) set forth in the remand order, or if the directive(s) appears to have been rendered moot. See HALLEX I-2-1-8.

Feb 12, 2021

A Message From Andrew Saul, Who's Still Calling Himself "Commissioner", Not "Acting Commissioner"

 Maintaining Service during the COVID-19 Pandemic

02-11-2021 · 2 MINUTE READ · Commissioner Broadcasts

A Message To All SSA and DDS Employees

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to impose hardships especially on our country’s most vulnerable citizens. Of concern, we have seen reduced application filings for the Disability Insurance (DI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs since the middle of last year. Many of these individuals, including those people with low-income, limited English proficiency, facing homelessness, or with mental illness, have historically relied on meeting with you face-to-face to get the help they need.

Over the past year, we have worked closely with national and local advocacy groups to improve service to vulnerable populations. We have also engaged Federal, State, and local agencies, as well as private industry, to raise public awareness of how to access our services during the COVID-19 pandemic. The positive response demonstrates how much our programs matter. Agency resources, like the recently implemented “Information for People Helping Others” page at www.ssa.gov/thirdparty, provide the type of information the beneficiaries, and the advocate communities who help them, need, but we can do more.

I know our frontline employees witness the hardships our customers endure firsthand. Soon, I will share a number of initiatives with you that are designed to help us provide better service through enhanced outreach and communication with our most vulnerable populations.

We are determined to continue to keep you safe while ensuring we do not fail the people who depend on us. Additionally, these efforts align with President Biden’s executive order on supporting underserved communities. With your continued help and that of our partners, we can ensure that the people know about and apply for our programs.

Thank you for your continued commitment and dedication to the public we serve.

Andrew Saul

Three Sandwiches And Three Bottles Of Beer

     From the Virginian-Pilot:

William Rankin came to Norfolk’s Social Security Administration building Monday afternoon with a simple message — “I want my money!” — and a plan to get it, one that involved a handgun, rifle and some 600 rounds of ammunition, according to the FBI.

It appears he was prepared to stay a while: He brought three sandwiches and three bottles of beer. ...

On Thursday, federal prosecutors charged the 44-year-old Rankin with attempted murder of someone helping an employee of the U.S government, assault, having a firearm in a federal facility and being a felon in possession of a firearm. If convicted, Rankin faces 10 years to life in prison, although sentences for federal crimes are usually less than the maximum. ...

It all started a little before 3:30 p.m. Monday, when Rankin entered the Social Security Administration building at 5850 Lake Herbert Drive. Right after he entered with a rifle bag slung over his left shoulder, a security guard approached him. ...

Rankin yelled, “I want my money!”

The guard told Rankin that, because of the coronavirus pandemic, the building was closed; he needed to call the phone number listed on the front door. Rankin clarified he was there because he wanted his mother’s money. The guard said he still needed to call the number listed on the door.

Rankin then pulled a .380 pistol and told the guard he wasn’t leaving without the money. The guard tried to keep Rankin calm. But Rankin became more agitated and demanded the guard unholster his gun and put it on the ground. The guard refused.

So Rankin fired at least five rounds at the security guard, hitting him in the left arm, left shoulder, left leg, right leg, left upper chest and the lower abdomen. A bulletproof vest saved the security guard from the shots to his upper chest and abdomen.

 After firing, Rankin turned and started to move to the front door, at which point the security guard drew his weapon and shot Rankin several times. Even though he’d been shot multiple times, the guard was able to get into an elevator, go to the second floor and tell others he’d been shot and to call 911. He then went back downstairs and watched Rankin until backup arrived. ...

Law enforcement found a 9mm Hi Point rifle and roughly 600 rounds of ammo in his rifle bag, including nine boxes of 9mm and three fully-loaded extended 9mm magazines. Officers searched Rankin’s Chesapeake home and interviewed his wife, who told them about his struggle to get Social Security benefits for his mother. ...

Feb 11, 2021

A Bulletproof Vest Saved His Life

      From WAVY:

A security company says a bulletproof vest likely saved the life of a 52-year-old guard who was shot at a U.S. Social Security Administration building in Norfolk on Monday. ...

In the message Tuesday, the president of [the security company] said an “armed assailant” attempted to gain entry into the Social Security building, but it was closed to the public.

When he was refused entry, he opened fire into the lobby. ...

The security guard was hit four times, but returned gunfire “until the threat was neutralized.”

After he was shot, the security guard went to the second floor to alert the other officer he was working with. That officer was already responding to the sound of gunfire downstairs, and had secured the seven employees on the floor and called 911.

Despite being injured, the officer who was shot went back to the main floor and secured the scene until police arrived. ...

[T]he guard was set to have surgery Tuesday and was in stable condition. ...

Feb 10, 2021

Arbitrator Rules In Favor Of ALJ Union

      From Government Executive:

An independent arbitrator last week ruled that the Social Security Administration violated federal labor law when it moved to unilaterally implement a partial union contract on the Association of Administrative Law Judges, despite the fact that several issues remained up for negotiation.

Over the last two years, Social Security and the ALJ union have undergone a long and at times acrimonious process to negotiate a new union contract. Last January, the Federal Service Impasses Panel took jurisdiction over nine contract articles still disputed by the parties, over the objection of the union. ...

Despite the fact that several elements of the new contract still had not been finalized, the Social Security Administration called on the judges union to ratify a partial contract of articles on which they had come to agreement, in apparent violation of the parties’ ground rules for negotiations. When the union declined to hold that vote, the agency unilaterally imposed those contract provisions in August 2020.

In his decision, Arbitrator Salvatore Arrigo said the agency’s violation of its memorandum of understanding with the union when it implemented the partial contract was “clear and patent,” and that it “constituted a repudiation of the essence of the ratification process.” ...

Arrigo ruled that the agency should cease engaging in bad faith bargaining with the administrative law judges union, rescind its demand that the union ratify only part of the new contract, and roll back implementation of those new provisions. The agency may appeal the decision to the FLRA [Federal Labor Relations Authority] for review. ...


Authorities Only Releasing Limited Information On Norfolk Shootings

      From "13NewsNow":

Norfolk police have released new details in their investigation of a shooting at the site of the Social Security Administration office, including the identity of the suspected gunman.

Around 4 p.m. Monday, officers were sent to the 5850 block of Lake Herbert Drive after learning that a shooting broke out there. That building houses both the Social Security Administration office as well as a disability services office.

Police arrived to find two men who both had been shot multiple times.

William D. Rankin was one of those men. Investigators have charged him as the suspected gunman. The 44-year-old was taken to a nearby hospital with life-threatening injuries.

A 52-year-old man who Rankin allegedly shot suffered non-life-threatening injuries. Police say he was working as a security guard at the building when the shooting started. 

Authorities charged Rankin with:

  • Malicious Wounding
  • Shooting in an occupied building
  • Use of a Firearm
  • Firearm by Felon ...
No other details have been released at this time, including the motive behind the shooting. ...

SSA On A Real Losing Streak In Conn Cases

      From WTVQ:

Hundreds of Social Security disability recipients in Appalachia who were victimized by now-disbarred attorney Eric C. Conn’s fraud scheme notched another major legal victory.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled Thursday the Social Security Administration violated due process rights of Conn’s former clients by refusing to allow them to rebut allegations that their medical evidence was tainted by fraud. ...

The agency ended up terminating benefits for nearly half those individuals, including Gary Kirk and Larry Kermit Taylor, the plaintiffs in Thursday’s decision.

Kirk and Taylor successfully argued the SSA violated the Administrative Procedure Act and the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution when it revoked their disability.

Besides the Fourth Circuit, the Sixth Circuit and the Seventh Circuit have considered substantially similar cases and each concluded that the SSA’s redetermination procedures were unlawful. ...

Feb 9, 2021

Two People Shot At Social Security Office In Norfolk

     Two people have been shot at a Social Security office in Norfolk, VA. It's not clear whether they were shot inside or outside the building or whether the shooting had anything to do with the Social Security office itself. However, federal authorities are participating in the investigation.

Feb 8, 2021

Could SSI Changes Be Coming?

      I had earlier posted the names of the members of the House Social Security Subcommittee. However, it's unlikely that that Subcommittee will advance any significant legislation in this Congress or, at least, that it could be passed. It would take 60 votes in the Senate to overcome filibuster and pass such legislation. It's hard to imagine any significant Social Security bill garnering 10 Republican votes in the Senate. Specifically, the Byrd Rule prevents budget reconciliation bills (which don't require 60 votes in the Senate) from containing provisions that affect Title II of the Social Security Act. 

     Legislation affecting Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a different story. My understanding is that SSI legislation could be passed as part of a Budget Reconciliation bill. However, the budget reconciliation rules do forbid anything that extends beyond 10 years so anything affecting SSI would have to include a 10 year sunset provision. That's not a complete bar. Much tax legislation including 10 year sunsets has been passed as part of budget reconciliation bills. It's basically a challenge to future Congresses to re-up the provisions. Would that happen with SSI legislation? I don't know. The Biden campaign released an ambitious SSI plan but I've heard nothing about SSI since the election. 

     I do know that the Social Security Subcommittee lacks jurisdiction over SSI. That's under the jurisdiction of the Worker and Family Support Subcommittee. It could be the more important subcommittee in this Congress. Here are the Democratic and Republican members of that Subcommittee:

Worker and Family Support Subcommittee

Chair: Rep. Danny K. Davis

  • Democrats 
  • Rep. Judy Chu
  • Rep. Gwen Moore
  • Rep. Dwight Evans
  • Rep. Stephanie Murphy
  • Rep. Jimmy Gomez
  • Rep. Dan Kildee
  • Rep. Jimmy Panetta
  • Republicans
  • Republican Leader Tom Reed (R-NY)
  • Rep. Tom Rice (R-SC)
  • Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-TX)
  • Rep. Ron Estes (R-KS)
  • Rep. Kevin Hern (R-OK)

Feb 7, 2021

“Kick Them Laterally To The Associate Commissioner Of Recycling”

      From Government Executive:

Officials at the nation’s largest federal employee union said that they have seen little progress from agencies in the days since President Biden signed an executive order rescinding Trump administration edicts on labor-management relations last week. ...

Ralph de Juliis, president of AFGE’s Social Security Administration Council, said he has seen a similar reluctance to move forward with the implementation of Biden’s order rescinding the previous president’s workforce policies.

“At SSA, we already sent the executive order to the agency and said that we wanted to return to the table, and Jim Julian, the associate commissioner for labor-management and employee relations, responded by saying, ‘Good point, we’ll talk about this on our February call,’” de Juliis said. “And earlier today, I sent the recent order from [the Occupational Safety and Health Administration] on COVID and social distancing, and I sent it to various SSA people who had given me floor plans on how they plan to squeeze us into cubicles [when we return to the office], and I asked, ‘How are you going to redo the floor plan?’ And the answer we got back was, ‘We’re not doing anything yet, we need to wait until we’re told what we can do.” ...

de Juliis said that, at least at the Social Security Administration, that relationship with the current labor-management officials can never be mended. AFGE’s council of unions at the agency, along with other labor groups and advocates, have called on the Biden administration to force Commissioner Andrew Saul and Deputy Commissioner David Black to resign before their terms expire in 2025.

“[The officials] in the labor-management office have to go,” de Juliis said. “They’ve overseen the discipline of too many union officials during the pandemic, of too many employees. The trust cannot be restored . . . Employees are held accountable and held responsible, while leaders are being given a pass, and they cannot be given a pass. There’s no working with these people, so get rid of them, kick them laterally to the associate commissioner of recycling or something, but just get them out of dealing with labor relations.”

Feb 6, 2021

PII Failure In Charlotte

     From WCNC:

A failure by Social Security Administration employees in Charlotte resulted in the wrong people receiving original copies of others' Social Security cards, passports, birth certificates and other private documents.

"I'm just shocked and really disappointed in the Social Security Administration," said Brandi Soles, whose records were among those compromised. "This isn't an incident that you have when you go and place an order at Wendy's and they forget your fries or they give you somebody else's order. These are personal life documents, originals, that you would expect the Social Security office to handle with care and to make sure that they send them back to the right persons, and that did not happen."

Conversations with several people in Charlotte revealed at least four people were impacted by the mistake. An SSA spokesperson wouldn't reveal how many others were affected.

"Social Security takes its responsibility to protect the information it maintains seriously," SSA Regional Communications Director Patti Patterson said. "Due to employee error some information was mailed to incorrect individuals. We are working to contact these people and secure the information." ...


Feb 5, 2021

GOP Announces Its Members Of Social Security Subcommittee

      House Republicans have announced their members on the Social Security Subcommittee:

  • Republican Leader Tom Reed (R-NY)
  • Rep. Tom Rice (R-SC)
  • Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-TX)
  • Rep. Ron Estes (R-KS)
  • Rep. Kevin Hern (R-OK)

Feb 4, 2021

Are TV Stations Social Security's Ombudsmen?

      From a TV station in the San Francisco area:

It's a common mistake, but one that proved costly for a Danville man. You might say, this is a case in point -- a decimal point. ...

He sent in an online payment to Social Security for his Medicare B coverage for what he thought was for $1,695.60.

When he received verification of his payment, he discovered he put the decimal point in the wrong place.

The payment ended up being for $16,956.

"So I about freaked out. And obviously the numbers were right, but the decimal was put in the wrong place," he told us.

Russ called Wells Fargo, requesting a stop payment. The bank told him it couldn't do that.

"It was an electronic transfer, and not a check. That I'd have to contact Social Security. So that's when all my woes began," Bernard said.

Social Security told him it could only give him a credit and not a refund for the overpayment. That was the policy. ...

 He learned on Christmas Eve that Social Security denied his appeal.

That same day, his wife Carla came down with COVID-19.

"All of a sudden the room went sideways, and I was sick," she recalls.

Still, Carla had enough strength to suggest Russ call 7 On Your Side.

"I said if anybody can get this fixed, it's 7 On Your Side, call them," she said.

He did, and we contacted Social Security.

A spokesperson told us it couldn't comment due to privacy reason.

But it refunded $15,000 back into Bernard's bank account.

"7 On Your Side can't be beat," said Bernard. ...

Feb 3, 2021

Social Security Subcommittee Democrats Named

      The House Ways and Means Committee has finally announced its subcommittee assignments for this Congress, at least for the Democrats. I can't find an announcement about the Republicans. Below is the lineup for the Social Security Subcommittee. Let's hope we can get some oversight hearings in this Congress. I've never before seen the passivity displayed by the Social Security Subcommittee in the last Congress.

Chair: Rep. John B. Larson

  • Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr.
  • Rep. Linda T. S├ínchez
  • Rep. Brian Higgins
  • Rep. Steven Horsford
  • Rep. Earl Blumenauer
  • Rep. Terri A. Sewell
  • Rep. Gwen Moore

Feb 2, 2021

Disability Trust Fund Holding Up Despite Pandemic

      Social Security's Office of Chief Actuary has released the numbers on the performance of the Disability Insurance Trust Fund in 2020. Things went pretty well despite the high unemployment caused by the pandemic. The Trust Fund ended 2020 having gained about two and a half billion dollars since the end of 2019. We'll have updated long term projections in a few months but if you were dreading (or hoping) for a Disability Insurance Trust Fund collapse due to the pandemic, it hasn't happened. See the table below. As always, click on the image to view it full size.

Feb 1, 2021

Online Services Outages

      According to Down Detector, Social Security started experiencing significant problems with its My Social Security portal sometime over the weekend and apparently the problem is continuing into today. It may not be connected but Social Security just announced on Friday that claimants can now request access to documents that the Social Security Administration has concerning their cases through the My Social Security portal.