Mar 31, 2021

FAQs On New Musculoskeletal Listings

      Social Security has released FAQs on the new musculoskeletal Listings due to go into effect on Good Friday. Here is an excerpt:

Q4: What percent of decisions do adjudicators make using these revised rules?

A4: We decide claims involving musculoskeletal impairments primarily at step 5 of the sequential evaluation process where we consider a claimant’s residual functional capacity (RFC), age, education, and work experience. Specifically, we make 90 percent of allowances due to a musculoskeletal impairment using the medical-vocational rules at step 5 of the sequential evaluation process, which have not changed. The remaining 10 percent of the people who apply for disability benefits and are found disabled after an initial review due to a musculoskeletal impairment meet (or medically equal) a musculoskeletal disorders listing. We do not expect this to change because of these final rules.

Q5: How do these changes affect vulnerable populations?

A5: Our Office of the Chief Actuary’s (OCACT) primary conclusion for these rules are that the net effect of the new listings will be very small for both Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and SSI. OCACT estimated that for SSI, there would be a very small net increase in SSI awards of roughly 180 annually. For SSDI, there would be a very small net reduction in disability awards of roughly 260 annually due to these listings.

OCACT estimated that implementation of these final rules will result in a net increase in SSI payments of $67 million over fiscal years 2021-2030, and a net reduction in scheduled Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) benefits of $263 million over the same period, assuming implementation in January 2021. Our Office of Budget, Finance, and Management estimates administrative savings of less than 15 work years and $2 million annually.

It is important to note that while the estimated effects of changes from allowance to denial and from denial to allowance are largely offsetting, the actual net effect for either program, SSDI or SSI, could potentially be either a small cost or a small saving.

     Seriously, you're telling us these new Listings will make almost no difference in the number of claims approved? What was the point of the new Listings then? Social Security isn't claiming that these have anything to do with advances in medicine. 

    Why is the Chief Actuary's office trying to evaluate whether a change in the Listings will result in more or fewer claims being approved? It's outside their field of expertise. How is it even conceivable that these new Listings would increase the number of SSI claims approved, even in a small way? There's nothing to these new Listings other than a tightening of criteria across the board.

    Why hasn't the Chief Actuary released their study? There were repeated questions about this on a conference call I listened to yesterday and Social Security refused to answer the question, even though the Chief Actuary, Steve Goss, was on the call. Their partial answer to another question suggested that the Chief Actuary's office may have only looked at claimants age 50 and older. The largest effect of these new Listings, however, will be on claimants under the age of 50.  I guess the Actuary's projection is how they sold this to OMB and the Biden Administration, making it an important document. I think we ought to be able to see it.

    I will say this. If they start being more reasonable in determining Residual Function Capacity (RFC) at the Initial and Reconsideration levels it would be possible to offset the negative effects of these new Listings. However, prior experience tells me to expect the exact opposite. Again, there was never any point to the Listings changes other than to deny more claimants. Any other reasons Social Security has given for these changes have been nothing more than window dressing.

Mar 30, 2021

Sanctioned Representatives

      Social Security recently released lists of sanctioned claimants representatives. Below are the lists of those sanctioned from 2020.

Registered Representatives










Unregistered Representative



Mar 29, 2021

Disability Incidence Map

You'll have to go to the link to make it interactive.

      Mathematica has put together an interactive map showing the incidence of disability by county in the United States. Make of it what you will. I'd say it mostly shows that disability is more common in rural areas.

Mar 28, 2021

Social Security Employee Arrested In Syracuse

      From a press release:

Sean Okrzesik, age 34, of Syracuse, was arrested on March 23 on charges of theft of government property and Social Security fraud related to his diversion of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits into bank accounts he set up in the names of beneficiaries or their representative payees while he was employed in the Syracuse District Office of the Social Security Administration.

     I keep mentioning an ironic fact. In the wake of the Eric Conn fiasco Social Security purchased expensive software programs to spot data anomalies that might indicate fraud. They expected to find widespread fraud by claimants and their representatives but it wasn’t there. What they've found instead has been a modest amount of fraud by their own employees.

Mar 27, 2021

Field Offices Are Essential

      A few people who ought to know better think that there’s no need to ever reopen Social Security’s field offices to the public. The AARP gives you some of the reasons why those people are wrong.

Mar 26, 2021

I'd Like To Hear The Other Side Of This Story

      From a press release issued by Andrew Saul:

"I want to provide an important update about the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) processing of Economic Impact Payments (EIPs) under the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act.

At each turn over the last 12 months, immediate delivery of EIPs has been, and remains, a top priority for this agency. ...

Since the time that discussions began regarding issuance of EIPs in the ARP Act, weeks before passage, we have worked tirelessly with our counterparts at IRS to provide to them the information they need to issue payments to our beneficiaries. Despite the fact that Congress did not directly provide SSA funding to support our work on EIPs, we have provided countless hours of assistance to IRS consistent with the laws that establish how we may use the Trust Funds that every American counts on us to protect. ...

SSA discussed with Treasury and IRS, both before passage and after enactment of the ARP Act, that the Social Security Act does not allow the agency to use our administrative appropriation to conduct work on any non-mission provision or program. Accordingly, we were not authorized to substantively engage Treasury or IRS prior to the ARP’s passage. Instead, upon passage, we were required to pursue a reimbursable agreement with IRS because we received no direct appropriation through the ARP Act. From the outset of discussions, we kept congressional staff apprised of the hurdles this approach would create for SSA, and we have continued to update them on our progress with IRS as we completed the required interagency agreements.

Once we were free to move forward, we aggressively worked with Treasury and IRS to issue payments. As a result of our efforts, we successfully signed the reimbursable agreement and a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) less than one week after passage, on March 17. That process often takes weeks or months to complete, but we got the job done in a matter of days. A few days later, on Monday, March 22, SSA sent initial test files to IRS. IRS confirmed testing success on Wednesday, March 24. Production files were delivered to IRS before 9 AM on Thursday, March 25 – more than a week sooner than we were able to provide a similar file to IRS during the first round of EIPs. ...

     Doing it a little faster than last time doesn't sound like an achievement to me. Of course, it's faster this time because you have the experience of having done it before. I don't understand the statement that "we were not authorized to substantively engage Treasury or IRS prior to the ARP’s passage." Really, why not? Social Security cooperates with many other agencies all the time. What is this obsession with not using appropriations for non-mission programs? That doesn't seem to have prevented a ton of other data matches. Also, why was the agency having active discussions with Treasury and the IRS at a time when it supposedly wasn't allowed to "substantively engage" with them? That doesn't make sense. Why couldn't the MOU have been negotiated prior to passage of the bill and signed immediately after passage? Passage of the bill wasn't a cliffhanger. Why would it take even a week to negotiate a new MOU anyway? This had been done before. Just dust off the MOU you used previously and use essentially the same language. You don't have to re-invent the wheel.

     I'd like to hear the IRS and Treasury side of what happened.

One Week Until New Musculoskeletal Listings Take Effect

      Unless something happens in the meantime to delay or prevent it, Social Security's new musculoskeletal Listings go into effect a week from today. If you haven't read them, they're more extreme than you can probably imagine. I've reproduced the Listings changes below -- just the Listings without the lengthy preambles. Judge for yourself. My opinion is that the public isn't going to be happy with these and that the current Presidential Administration will be blamed, which is exactly what was planned, I imagine. These certainly weren't rushed out while there was a Republican President. Click on each thumbnail to view full size.

Mar 25, 2021

Biden's Suggestive History On SSI For U.S. Territories

      I just became aware of President Biden's history with  U.S. v. Vaello-Madero, the case to be heard by the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of denying SSI benefits to U.S. citizens who reside in Puerto Rico. On September 6, 2020, a reporter for a Puerto Rican newspaper posted a story about the Trump Administration requesting that the Supreme Court hear U.S. v. Vaello-Madero and then tweeted about the story. Then candidate Joe Biden tweeted the following in response:

Time and again, the president has refused to provide Puerto Rico with much-needed resources. He’s repeatedly insulted Puerto Ricans and this latest action is another example of his disrespect for the island. 

This ends when I’m elected president.

     This isn't exactly a promise to withdraw the request that the Supreme Court hear  U.S. v. Vaello-Madero, although it can be interpreted that way. This twitter history is drawing attention and some are expressing disappointment that Biden hasn't already changed the government's position on the case. Biden's press secretary has said that Biden supports legislation to extend SSI to U.S. territories.

     Biden hasn't yet nominated a Solicitor General, the official who represents the federal government before the Supreme Court. Once he does, I hope that the Biden Administration's position on U.S. v. Vaello-Madero comes up in the confirmation hearing.

Mar 24, 2021

Why Are There Delays In Stimulus Checks To Social Security Recipients?

      From a press release: 

Today, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard E. Neal (D-MA), Social Security Subcommittee Chairman John B. Larson (D-CT), Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ), and Worker and Family Support Subcommittee Chairman Danny K. Davis (D-IL) wrote to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Social Security Administration (SSA) to express their concerns over reported delays in automatically issuing stimulus checks to some of the most vulnerable Americans. In previous rounds of direct payments, IRS and SSA worked together to deliver assistance to Social Security, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Railroad Retirement Board (RRB), and Veterans Affairs (VA) beneficiaries automatically and promptly. There is no excuse for the delay this round, which puts critical assistance on hold for millions of Americans in need. ...

Don't Listen To This Nonsense

     I have no idea whether Democrats will advance President Biden's Social Security plan in this Congress. However, if it does start to advance, we're likely to see opposition of the sort put forward recently by Alicia Munnell of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. She is disappointed that the Biden plan doesn't solve Social Security's long term funding issues for the next 75 years!

     Why is it essential or even important that all issues be solved until near the year 2100? First, any projections that far out are inherently unreliable so no plan can conceivable solve all issues this far in advance. Second, if it's important to solve problems that far in advance, why hasn't the Department of Defense already solved our national security issues for the next 75 years? Why adopt any plan to address global warming that doesn't solve the issue once and for all? We don't expect any other sort of legislation to solve problems 75 years into the future. Why should we expect Social Security legislation to do so? 

     Listening to people like Alicia Munnell would make any legislation impossible. Don't make the perfect the enemy of the good.

Mar 23, 2021

Dismissals Resumed

     From the White Mountain Independent, of all places:

The Social Security Administration has lifted lifted the temporary suspension of issuing dismissals for untimely filed hearing requests and for failure to appear at a scheduled hearing.

That temporary suspension was implemented in October. Effective March 8, absent a showing of good cause, they will resume issuing dismissals in cases involving an untimely filed hearing request, or when neither the claimant nor the appointed representative, if any, appeared at a scheduled hearing.

Before issuing a dismissal, however, they will take additional steps to confirm that they are complying with established notice procedures including conducting quality reviews for these specific dismissals.

If they mail a notice of hearing at least 75 days before the date set for the hearing, but do not receive the acknowledgement form at least 30 days before the hearing, they will attempt to contact the claimant or appointed representative for an explanation.

Similarly, if they mail an amended notice of hearing or notice of supplemental hearing at least 20 days before the hearing date, but do not receive the acknowledgement form at least 10 days before the hearing, they will attempt to contact the claimant or appointed representative for an explanation. ...

For more information, contact Jack Burns, public affairs at Social Security Administration, 866-331-4359.

Mar 22, 2021

When Will Social Security Offices Start Reopening For Vaccinated Employees?

      I know that it's way too early for Social Security to require its employees to return to the office. If current predictions are accurate it won't be until about late June before all Social Security employees will have had a reasonable chance to be fully vaccinated. However, even now a not insignificant number of Social Security employees are fully vaccinated. By the end of April, the number fully vaccinated should be quite significant. Can Social Security employees who have been fully vaccinated return to their offices now? If not yet, when? Should this be delayed until everyone who wants the vaccine has been vaccinated? I think that by now, Social Security should have a plan. I suppose they need to talk about it with the union but it's about time to announce something.

E-Fax Capability Now At SSA

      From Emergency Message EM-21023: 

Any SSA employee that has access to Microsoft Outlook has the ability to send and receive faxes electronically via their Outlook email client. Sending an outbound fax by email is similar to sending a normal email. The only difference is that the fax will go to the recipient’s fax machine instead of an email address. ...    

This enables SSA employees to fax digital files easily from their email client instead of using a fax machine/multifunction device. In addition, incoming faxes can be delivered to a shared mailbox as a PDF file, enabling users to receive faxes by email. ...

Mar 21, 2021

More On The Efforts To Oust Saul

      From Yahoo News:

... According to two inspector general complaints filed in January of this year and reviewed by Yahoo News, an administrative law judge claimed that Saul, Black and their deputies put “illegitimate political pressure on Administrative Law Judges to reduce the rate of Social Security disability case approval.”

The whistleblower said the complaints were initially acknowledged by the inspector general, but they have yet to receive any further communication.

The SSA Office of the Inspector General did not immediately return a request for comment. ...

The complaints detail an example of Saul and Black's behavior by recalling a meeting in February 2020. Brian Blase, then special assistant for health to the Trump White House’s National Economic Council, met with management in the SSA’s Office of Hearings Operations to demand that the agency fire administrative law judges with high rates of disability claim approval. ...

According to [Alex] Lawson [of Social Security Works] and other sources familiar with conversations within the SSA, Biden’s four-person transition advisory committee attempted to put backstops within the agency to limit Saul and Black by installing union-friendly Democratic staffers. Scott Frey of the AFL-CIO joined as Saul’s chief of staff, and Kilolo Kijakazi of the Urban Institute replaced Trump administration-era deputy Mark Warshawsky as the deputy commissioner of the Office of Retirement and Disability Policy. ...

[Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Senator Sherrod] Brown said he has not yet personally asked Biden to fire Saul and Black, but his subcommittee staff is in regular communication with White House staff on the situation. Brown suggested that both he and Biden would prefer it if the two officials stepped down rather than having to be fired. He noted the lengthy legal fight either could take against the White House. ..

     Brian Blase certainly has a history of hostility to Social Security disability claimants. 

     By the way, while Saul might be able to fight being ousted, Black’s position has no such protection. I have no idea why he’s still there.

Mar 20, 2021

Disability Claim Of Man In Hospice Care Denied On Grounds He Has No "Severe Impairment"

    From some television station in Florida or Georgia that wishes to be known as Firstcoast News:

Before his illness, Aaron Conner was relatively healthy and enjoying life and working as a hair stylist. Now, at age 34, he is at the opposite end of the life cycle.

"I am in the process of writing down my final wishes," Conner said.

In November, he entered hospice for a terminal illness; he is battling congestive heart failure, liver failure and other diseases. ...

Before it got to where it is today, Conner said he applied for Social Security Disability Insurance. He was denied and appealed, and on March 1, his appeal was denied.

Hospice counselors and health care providers all petitioned SSI but in vain. The agency already backlogged with claims stated in its denial, in part:

"...we have determined that your condition is not severe enough to keep you from working." ...

On Your Side reached out to the Social Security Administration office in Atlanta for answers.

Privacy laws restrict discussing the specifics of a case unless there is a written waiver from the client in hand or on file.

However, a spokesperson told On Your Side Social Security will reach out to Conner and provide assistance. ...

Mar 19, 2021

Outreach Initiatives

 From: ^Commissioner Broadcast <>
Sent: Wednesday, March 17, 2021 8:48 AM
Subject: Outreach to Vulnerable Populations During the COVID-19 Pandemic

A Message to All SSA and DDS Employees

Subject: Outreach to Vulnerable Populations During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Last month I wrote to you about how we are working on initiatives to reach vulnerable populations that may normally access our services by walking into a local office.  Now, I am pleased to share more information about our national public outreach campaign, developed in collaboration with leaders in the claimant advocacy community, to raise awareness of the SSI and SSDI programs.  

Working in our communities, with other government agencies, and with third-party organizations is key to reaching at-risk persons, including individuals with low income, limited English proficiency, facing homelessness, or with mental illness.

Our campaign efforts include:

  • Working with community-based groups that can assist with claims-taking;
  • Guest presentations on our blog site and a national conference call with partner groups; 
  • A national advertising campaign on TV, radio, and social media, with emphasis on children with disabilities; and
  • A number of new online tools and informational pages including:

I want to thank the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships for working with us and sharing our website and products with their national network of faith and community leaders. 

I also thank you for the service you provide every day and your commitment to reach those people who need us most. I will continue to update you on new outreach initiatives as we prepare to implement them. 


Andrew Saul

Mar 18, 2021

Delusional Letter From Andrew Saul

      From Letter to the Public on Service by Andrew Saul:

I want to update you about how things are going at the Social Security Administration. ...

We are currently testing drop box and express appointment options for the public to bring in documentation. ...

[I]f you do need to replace your card, we are testing video appointments if you need a new Social Security card but do not need to change any of the information in our records. Although ideas like these began as solutions during COVID-19, we are considering how they could improve service in the future. Some of these concepts also allow us to consider how we might continue to use telework, something that most organizations and companies have depended on during the COVID-19 pandemic, to drive longer-term operational efficiencies like reducing space. We could use those savings to provide you more online service options and hire more people to serve you more quickly as well as to retain outstanding employees. We will continue to engage our managers, employees, and unions on ways we could use telework to improve customer service and other issues. ...

As we contemplate the future, we are delivering now. To help improve deteriorating service, we have added over 6,000 frontline employees to help you. We decreased the average wait to talk to our 800 Number agents by one-third and reduced the agent busy rate by over 50 percent in the last two years, and our 800 Number agents handled 1.6 million more calls than they did a year ago.

During the pandemic, we shifted service to the telephone where local office employees answered 13 million more calls last year than they did in fiscal (FY) 2019. They answered your calls in under 3 minutes on average compared to an average wait of nearly 24 minutes in FY 2019. ...

The pandemic has significantly disrupted parts of our disability process, particularly at the state Disability Determination Services (DDS) that make disability determinations for us. We have provided the DDSs with additional hiring and overtime to help address a significant increase in pending initial disability cases. The DDSs have been able to reduce the number of people waiting for a decision on initial disability claims by about 100,000 cases since the height of the pending cases in August 2020. In order to make initial disability decisions as quickly as possible, and to reduce the burden on the medical community still stressed from the pandemic, we have focused our limited resources on completing initial requests for disability benefits and have reduced the number of continuing disability reviews we are conducting. ...

     I don't know how to describe this letter as anything other than delusional. This letter talks as if service has actually improved instead of deteriorating during Covid-19! I'm out here dealing with the agency and I can tell you emphatically that isn't true. Dealing with the agency has become more and more difficult. Backlogs are soaring on disability claims at the initial and reconsideration levels. This letter cherry picks a few stats that have improved during Covid-19 while ignoring the mass of other stats that would show declining service. The thing that gets me most is the claim to have hired over 6,000 frontline employees. Could Social Security have hired 6,000 employees in the last year? Sure, but they were mostly replacing existing workers who were leaving. There's been little net increase in the agency's workforce. In March 2020, Social Security had 60,659 employees. In December 2020, the agency had 61,816 employees. That's an increase of 1,157 employees, not 6,000, nothing more than a wobble in the numbers. No, I don't think they've hired 5,000 new employees since the end of last year. The idea that Social Security could increase its workforce by about 10% while its operating budget in real dollars has gone down is bonkers.

Mar 17, 2021

Hope For Covid Long Haulers?

     From the Washington Post:

Arianna Eisenberg endured long-haul covid-19 for eight months, a recurring nightmare of soaking sweats, crushing fatigue, insomnia, brain fog and muscle pain.

But Eisenberg’s tale has a happy ending that neither she nor current medical science can explain. Thirty-six hours after her second shot of coronavirus vaccine last month, her symptoms were gone, and they haven’t returned.

“I really felt back to myself,” the 34-year-old Brooklyn therapist said, “to a way that I didn’t think was possible when I was really sick.”

Some people who have spent months suffering from long-haul covid-19 are taking to social media to report their delight at seeing their symptoms disappear after their vaccinations, leaving experts chasing yet another puzzling clinical development surrounding the disease caused by the coronavirus. ...

U.S. clinicians and researchers have yet to come to a consensus on even a definition for long-haul covid-19. They do not know how many people have it, what all the symptoms may be or who tends to develop problems that persist or begin after the virus is cleared.

 A December workshop held by the National Institutes of Health that began grappling with those issues suggested that 10 percent to 30 percent of people infected with the coronavirus suffer some long-term symptoms. And on Feb. 23, NIH announced that it would spend more than $1.1 billion over four years to study the effects of long-term covid-19. ...

But there is little guidance about vaccination for people suffering through extended battles with the disease, other than medical authorities’ instruction that everyone in the United States should be immunized. Diana Berrent, founder of Survivor Corps, an online organization of people with long-term covid-19 symptoms, said many members of the group were initially hesitant to comply for fear that the vaccine would create more havoc with their immune systems.

One tiny study released Monday but not yet submitted for peer review concluded that people with long-term symptoms who get vaccinated are more likely to see their problems resolve or not worsen than people who have not been vaccinated. But the research out of the University of Bristol in England compared only 44 vaccinated patients against 22 unvaccinated ones and was designed to determine whether the vaccines were safe for people with long-haul covid-19. ...

When Survivor Corps informally surveyed its members recently, 216 people said they felt no different after vaccination, 171 said their conditions improved and 63 reported that they felt worse, Berrent said. ...

Mar 16, 2021

Unions Complain Social Security Dragging Its Feet On Implementing Biden Administration Directive To Re-Negotiate Contracts

      From Government Executive:

Nearly two months after President Biden rescinded a series of Trump administration anti-union directives and instructed federal agencies to bargain with labor groups over a much wider scope of issues, union officials said the leadership of the Social Security Administration still isn’t doing enough to comply with the new administration’s plans for labor-management relations.

On Biden’s third day in office, he signed an executive order that rescinded the Trump administration’s federal workforce policies and ordered agencies to engage in so-called “permissive bargaining,” a term that refers to a wide array of workplace issues that traditionally can be subject to negotiation only at the discretion of an agency head. But in the days and weeks that followed, many agencies failed to turn over a new leaf in the labor-management arena, saying they required additional guidance from their legal teams and the Office of Personnel Management.

On March 5, Acting OPM Director Kathleen McGettigan issued that guidance, and the message to agencies was clear: If you have implemented a union contract enforcing elements of President Trump’s workforce policies, you must reopen the agreement and negotiate with the union.

“In carrying out this task, agencies should take a hard look at the degree to which, if any, [the executive orders] influenced bargaining-table strategy and decision-making,” McGettigan wrote. “[Biden’s order] neither requires nor prohibits affected agencies from reopening CBAs on other matters not related to subjects covered by [the Trump orders].”

But in the intervening days, union officials at the Social Security Administration said that leadership at the agency have done the bare minimum to move toward compliance with the new order. ...

In a statement, agency spokesman Mark Hinkle said Social Security has begun a review of all of its union contracts and has asked for unions' "input," which it expects to complete by April 23. He said the agency is moving "enthusiastically" and at a "reasonable speed" to implement Biden's workforce order. ...

On Monday, officials at Social Security sent a copy of the agency’s new COVID-19 workforce safety plan to union officials just two hours before publishing it for the entire workforce. Negotiations regarding the policy would only be allowed “post-implementation.” The executive order mandating the safety plan requires agencies to “promptly consult” federal employee unions on the plan’s implementation. ...

[American Federation of Government Employees Council 220 President Ralph ] DeJuliis said that in the end, the agency’s recalcitrance was unsurprising.

“My first local president when I joined the agency in 1979 laughed and told me, ‘There are two ways of doing things: the right way, and the SSA way,’” he said. “Forty years later, and there are still two ways of doing things: the right way, and the SSA way. SSA relishes in doing it the wrong way, and then it tries to make the victim the person who is at fault. Any time I talk to any attorney on federal sector cases, they say the worst agency to deal with is SSA.”

Mar 15, 2021

Question For The Day

      Once field offices reopen, should vaccination for Covid-19 be required of Social Security employees who have extensive dealings with the public?

     On the one hand, we generally respect personal autonomy when it comes to healthcare decisions. On the other hand, while even vaccinated employees pose some risk of spreading Covid-19 to the public and ever though the evidence isn't yet definitive, it seems clear  that un-vaccinated field office employees will pose a much greater risk to the public.

     I've got zero sympathy for vaccine skeptics. Even though I've got relatives, friends and neighbors in this camp, I regard them as dangerously deluded fools. I have no problem with putting pressure on them. That's what it's going to take for us to fully get past this pandemic.

Mar 14, 2021

Covid-19 And Federal Workers Compensation

      I don't know whether there have already been cases of Covid-19 associated with employment at Social Security. If not, there may be before this is over. The Department of Labor has issued some guidelines for federal workers compensation cases alleging Covid-19 as an occupational disease.

     By the way, I once had a client who got workers compensation benefits for a really bad case of tuberculosis that was affecting parts of his body well beyond his lungs. There was no dispute about it being a compensable occupational disease. He had been a monkey handler working for an enterprise doing medical research. It turns out that tuberculosis is endemic among monkeys used in research and that getting tuberculosis is a well known risk of handling those monkeys. The things you learn in this line of work.

Mar 13, 2021

Puerto Rico Case Won't Be Heard By SCOTUS Until The Fall

      The Supreme Court has issued what should be its final oral argument schedule for this term of Court and it doesn't include U.S. v. Vaello-Madero, the case on the constitutionality of denying SSI to U.S. citizens residing in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico. That means the case should be argued early in the October term of the Supreme Court, which always begins on the first Monday in October. An opinion might come in early 2022.

     This delay would also give the Biden Administration time to settle the case if it wishes. I doubt they will but it's not out of the question. We still don't have a Solicitor General, the official responsible for handling cases at the Supreme Court on behalf of the federal government.

Mar 12, 2021

EM On E-Signatures

     From Emergency Message  EM 20022 REV 2 issued yesterday:

... While this EM is in effect, use the instructions below if any of the forms are submitted without a signature the agency would otherwise recognize as valid, so long as such forms are accompanied by an electronically signed SSA-1696:

    · SSA-1693 Fee Agreement for Representation before SSA (or other written fee agreement)
    · SSA-16 Application for Disability Insurance Benefits
    · SSA-8001 Application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) (Deferred or Abbreviated)
    · SSA-8000 Application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
    · SSA-L2 Comprehensive Notice and Application Summary for Third Party Filed iClaim
    · SSA-820 Work Activity Report – Self-Employment
    · SSA-821 Work Activity Report - Employee
    · SSA-827 Authorization To Disclose Information To The Social Security Administration
    · SSA-455 Disability Update Report
If a representative submits any of the above forms along with an electronically signed SSA-1696, technicians should, in one single telephone contact with the claimant, ensure that he or she take all steps for each form submitted. ...

Mar 11, 2021


      From a notice that Social Security posted online but has not promoted:

New online service - Electronic filing of a representative's notice of appointment  On February 22, we released a new service to allow representatives to initiate an SSA-1696 notice of appointment online where they and their claimants can complete, sign and submit the form electronically with no personal contact. This is a two-step process the representative must initiate. Once the claimant completes the second step and submits the signed document, the service will automatically route the document for processing. This service will help expedite the appointment process and give representatives and claimants flexibility. We will continue to accept submissions of appointment notices via mail, eFax, or uploaded through our filing portals and Electronic Records Express as before. The link to the e1696 is located at the top left of this page, so be sure to bookmark it!

     And this is the link to the e1696. I haven't tried it yet but I'm told it's not working, which may be why they're not promoting it.


     Update: Social Security just posted this today:

How will SSA process my notice of appointment while emergency procedures are in place?


Beginning March 11, 2021, we have revised our temporary procedures to allow you to use different methods to sign the notice of appointment of a representative and fee agreement, if the fee agreement is submitted with the new notice of appointment, during the current COVID-19 health emergency. During this time, if we receive an appointment document such as the Form SSA-1696, on its own or along with an SSA-8000, SSA-8001, SSA-L2, SSA-820, SSA-821, SSA-827, or SSA-455 form, and your signature appears to be an electronic or digital signature, we will make three attempts to contact you to verify your identity and confirm the signature. If we verify your identity and signature, we will process the appointment as usual. If the first attempt to reach you by telephone is unsuccessful, we also will send a call-in letter to you and the representative you requested. If we cannot reach you and you do not return our call, or do not verify the signature, we will return the paperwork to the person who submitted it without recognizing the appointment.

We also have temporary procedures in place permitting you to verbally appoint a representative during a “remote” telephone hearing with an administrative law judge, if you submit a written notice of appointment afterwards. In this case, we will accept an electronic signature on the written appointment notice, without needing to call you again.

Mar 10, 2021

NIOSH Visits A Field Office

      Social Security management has invited representatives of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), which is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to tour four Social Security field offices and to give recommendations for safety for those already working at the field offices. A representative of the labor union that represents most agency employees has written up a summary of the inspection of the Hamilton, OH field office

     The union rep asked management officials present on the day of inspection whether there was any plan to provide vaccination to Social Security employees prior to their return to work and received "no acceptable response" as he put it. 

     If, as promised, vaccines are freely available by sometime in May, I doubt it will be necessary for the Social Security Administration to provide vaccinations. I'd be more interested in the answer to a question that wasn't asked: Will Social Security require that its employees who deal with the public be vaccinated? I don't know whether there is legal authority for such a requirement. You'd hope that front line employees would have enough common sense to be vaccinated but there are a lot of vaccine skeptics in the country.

Mar 9, 2021

Social Security Isn't Ready

      Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times has written a column about the threat that Social Security faces from Covid-19 "long haulers." We could see a huge wave of disability claims from Covid-19 survivors coming in the aftermath of the pandemic. This is in addition to the routine claims that people have deferred filing because of the closure of Social Security's field offices, the large backlog of cases that have built up at the initial and reconsideration levels during the pandemic and the possibility of a huge surge of SSI claims from Puerto Rico and other territories depending upon what the Supreme Court does with U.S. v. Vaello-Madero. The Social Security Administration isn't ready for any of this.

Mar 8, 2021

Bad Times At Field Offices

      An anonymous e-mail I received:

Hi Charles - I have been reading your blog for years.

Im a field office manager and felt compelled to share what management has sustained for nearly twelve months.

First off - kudos to SSA for putting somewhat of pan together by sending everyone home after cancelling telework...of course. Since that time things have gotten just awful and unsustainable.
We don’t have centralized print so management is asked to go in and pack every letter daily. Many ma agents don’t have updated mail machines so we must weigh envelopes individually and seal them by hand. The process takes hours. After outgoing is done all day - we handle incoming. Hundreds of documents from the public daily in some cases. Items go missing regularly. We open every piece and scan them into a program so employees can work. This process is even longer than outgoing mail. When it concludes - the day is likely over. As this work from home progresses we were slowly told things would return to normal but from home. Problem is we don’t the technology - everything at home takes longer. Managers were drowning in mail and still are- the calls exploded - an office like mine went from 600 calls to roughly 2000. We could not keep up - Area directors insisted on 90% answer rates. Workload immediately fell off. Instead of adjusting they increased our PSI goals in one area in particular- ssi redetermination. We had some of the highest targets ever yet we were receiving no help. Through all this management was told they could not work OT because it would look bad. We were told that management doing production was also frowned upon.

Months have passed and the agency did little to aid mgmt. in fact they made it worse. They made exceptions to allow individuals in office and mgmt was asked to pull away from mail to risk ourselves with claimants. It’s ok - they bought flimsy sneeze guard to protect us. When we asked for hazard pay or ability to carryover we were told no.

We have been wildly mistreated by the DCo front office. This year is worse still

For your audience our initials claims have gone from 125 as a goal for an initial decison to 170 days and recons from 118 to 152 days . In short it’s now average 11 months before you make it to a hearing In many cases - replacement cards take a month before processing . Record request from attys - I haven’t been able to get to them in months. You want certified record - that’s 6 months minimum. We are a disaster and holding it all together on the back of managers that are breaking. We are told we can’t let calls go but due to a nearly 500 million budget shortfall we won’t have any OT , are still expected to clear 20% more redeterminations and answer 90% of goals. Oh and all mail most be processed in 60 days.

I could go on forever - I only share to say how truly dire SSA situation is. I also share to show this who represent people that we are in a giant spiral with zero plan.

How out of touch you say - well dco touted a great Mobil check in program that they didn’t realize can’t handle foreign ss5 because a lack of having a number. They actually developed , designed, shared , gloated and didn’t realize its flaws until a manager pointed out the obvious.

Sorry for the rant and misspelling -perhaps you can take some blurbs to share with readers that we aren’t bad - we work hard - we just are given no chance for success and it’s getting worse. Thanks Charles

Mar 7, 2021

New Musculoskeletal Listings To Go Into Effect In Less Than A Month Unless Blocked

      The harsh new musculoskeletal Listings are scheduled to go into effect on April 2. The Biden Administration could delay implementation or even kill these changes altogether. However, there has been no sign so far of anything that would derail the new Listings. 

     I fear that these changes now seems too much like mere housekeeping. I don't think they will seem that way if implemented.

     I'm curious. Has Social Security been training staff on the new musculoskeletal Listings?

Mar 6, 2021

Ways And Means Leaders Call For Saul’s Removal

      From a press release:

Today, House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee Chairman John B. Larson (D-CT), Worker and Family Support Subcommittee Chairman Danny K. Davis (D-IL), and Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ) called for the immediate removal of the Commissioner of Social Security, Andrew Saul, and the Deputy Commissioner, David Black, who were both appointed by former President Trump. ...

     Sending out press releases is nice but any of these Subcommittee heads can hold an oversight hearing and demand that Saul testify so he can be roasted. Firing him is one way of getting rid of him. Pressuring him to quit is another.

     I wonder what’s going on behind the scenes. Is the Biden Administration torn about what to do about Saul? Is this press release just a meaningless bow to employee unions?

Mar 5, 2021

Man Dies After Exchanging Fire With Security Guard At Norfolk Social Security Office

      From WAVY:

The man accused of shooting a 52-year-old security officer Feb. 8 at a U.S. Social Security Administration building in Norfolk has died.

Federal court paperwork says 44-year-old William D. Rankin died Wednesday at a hospital. ...

According to the authorities, Rankin had been taken to a local hospital with life-threatening injuries after the shooting. Staff at the hospital pronounced him deceased Wednesday.

The security guard he injured in the shooting was taken to the hospital as well, but was expected to fully recover.

     Can anyone recall any prior fatal shooting at a Social Security office?

Mar 4, 2021

Why No SSI For Puerto Rico?

     Matt Ford has written an interesting piece for TNR on the background of the Supreme Court case on whether it is constitutional to deny SSI benefits to U.S. citizens who reside in Puerto Rico. There's little question about it. This and other distinctions were made in the case of Puerto Rico due to racism. As Ford writes:

... In Dawnes v. Bidwell, the first of the Insular Cases, the Supreme Court described Puerto Rico and other newfound colonial possessions as “inhabited by alien races, differing from us in religion, customs, laws, methods of taxation, and modes of thought,” where “the administration of government and justice, according to Anglo-Saxon principles, may for a time be impossible.” ...

Mar 3, 2021

Supreme Court To Hear Social Security Cases Today

     The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments at 10:00 today in two cases that present the issue of when a Social Security claimant must raise an issue. Must it have been raised before the agency in order to raise it before the federal courts? This is in the context of Lucia challenges to the authority of Administrative Law Judges to hear cases but the Court's ruling will certainly affect Seila Law litigation. 

     You can listen to live audio of the oral arguments.

Mar 2, 2021

SCOTUS To Hear Windfall Offset Case

      Yesterday I posted the news about the Supreme Court agreeing to hear a case concerning whether it is constitutional to deny SSI benefits to disabled individuals who live in a U.S. territory. That was not the only announcement yesterday of a Social Security case that the Supreme Court would hear. The Court also agreed to hear Babcock v. Saul, which presents an issue of more limited importance, "Whether a civil service pension received for federal civilian employment as a “military technician (dual status)” is “a payment based wholly on service as a member of a uniformed service” for the purposes of the Social Security Act’s windfall elimination provision."

Mar 1, 2021

Supreme Court Will Hear Puerto Rico SSI Case

      The Supreme Court has granted a writ of certiorari, that is it has agreed to hear, the case of U.S. v. Vaello-Madero, which presents the issue of whether it is constitutional to deny SSI benefits to U.S. citizens who reside in the territory of Puerto Rico. I don't know whether this will be argued in this term of Court. If it's too late for this term, it will be heard in the next term, which always begins on the first Monday in October.