Jun 30, 2021

Not Necessarily High On My List Of Priorities For Social Security

      From CNBC:

A new bipartisan bill proposed in Congress would require the Social Security Administration to once again mail annual statements to everyone ages 25 and over who have paid into the system.

The bill, called the Know Your Social Security Act, was proposed on Thursday by Republicans and Democrats in both the House and Senate. They include Reps. John Larson, D-Conn., and Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., as well as Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Bill Cassidy, R-La.

The Social Security Administration since 2011 has only sent out paper statements on a limited basis. Those who still receive annual mailed paper statements include people who are ages 60 and up who are not receiving benefits and have not signed up for an online My Social Security account.

     Don't do this without giving Social Security more money to implement it. If you prioritize one thing without giving additional operating funds, you deprioritize others. The problem isn't that Social Security lacks the desire to send out annual statements; it's that they don't have the operating funds to do everything they ought to be doing. I don't think this gets through to these members of Congress. There's no elasticity left at the agency.

Jun 29, 2021

Doesn't "Program Integrity" Include Paying Benefits When Due?

      From an editorial by Mark Miller on Reuters:

Our worries about Social Security often focus on the program’s solvency issues, which threaten benefits if left unresolved. But right now, we face a more immediate challenge: how to fund the Social Security Administration (SSA) as it climbs out of the COVID-19 crisis so that it can serve the public efficiently and equitably.

Social Security’s customer service has suffered from more than a decade of budget cuts imposed by Congress, and its operating budget dropped 13% from 2010 to 2021, adjusted for inflation. Over that same period, the number of Social Security beneficiaries grew by 22%, SSA data shows. ...

Routine business, such as applications for retirement benefits and Medicare, have proceeded smoothly during the shutdown. But applications for disability benefits plunged over the past year at a time when in all likelihood the number of people eligible for benefits - and needing them - jumped. There also has been a sharp drop in applications for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a benefit program for low-income, disabled or older people.

The field office closures are the likely culprit. ...

Social Security also has a problem in an area known as “program integrity.” In Congress, lawmakers typically use the phrase to refer to fraudulent benefit claims - and they have pushed the SSA over the past decade to crack down by earmarking a significant portion of the agency’s budget to program integrity activities.

Much of this activity has focused on removing people from the disability benefit rolls based on an assessment of medical improvement. Last year, Congress earmarked $1.6 billion for disability and other reviews - a whopping 12% of its overall administrative budget.

Next year, the SSA plans to increase medical disability reviews by 36%, and the number of SSI redeterminations by 23%, notes David Weaver, a former associate commissioner in Social Security’s Office of Research, Demonstration and Employment Support.

But we need a broader definition of “integrity” that includes benefits that should be paid - and are not....

Jun 28, 2021

Show Us The Numbers

      Social Security's budget justification for the next fiscal year included numbers indicating a big productivity decline at its Office of Hearings Operations (OHO) during the pandemic. I would guess that the agency has productivity indices for other components. If there are such productivity indices, it seems to me that the agency should release them to the public. I think they would be crucial information which should be used in making decisions on when and how Social Security reopens its offices. If they don't show productivity declines, the continuation of extensive telework is justified. If they do show productivity declines, agency employees and their unions shouldn't make a fuss when telework goes back to pre-pandemic levels or, at least if they do, they shouldn't expect much sympathy from others. However, even if field office productivity indices show no decline as a result of telework (which I doubt), the field offices must reopen to to the public. It's abundantly clear that there is a strong public demand for this level of service. The Social Security Administration exists to serve the public.

Jun 27, 2021

Full Retirement Age Is Already Too Damned High

     From Are Older Workers Capable Of Working Longer?, a study by Laura D. Quinley and Gal Wettstein of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College:

The paper found that:

  • The capacity to work to older ages is still increasing for high-education individuals and low-education Black women.
  • However, no progress has been observed for low-education whites of all genders and Black men.
  • As a result, large shares of those still working at age 62 will be incapable of working even two more years. 

The policy implications of the findings are:

  • Raising Social Security eligibility ages may reduce the financial security of large segments of the population.
  • These impacts will be particularly pronounced for Black men and low-education white individuals of all genders. 

Jun 26, 2021

How Much Should Be Done?

      From Fedweek:

An audit has illustrated issues that arose with the partial reopening of SSA field offices, including a lack of contact information on visitors and no guarantee that visitors who later learn they have the Coronavirus or have been exposed to it will report it back to the agency. ...

The audit found that on average, some 2,200 employees and some 1,600 visitors have been in the offices daily. However, the IG found that the agency “does not maintain contact information” for all visitors to those facilities nor for contractors such as security guards and cleaning staff. ...

     Does contact information matter if the employees coming to the field office are vaccinated? Aren't employees assuming the risk if they have refused vaccination? 

     I'm gotten to the point where I really don't care too much what happens to those who refuse vaccination except for that tiny number of people who have a genuine medical reason not to be vaccinated. There’s only so much we can do to protect people from their own folly.

Jun 25, 2021

Work Incentive Experiment Ended

      From an Emergency Message:

... This emergency message (EM) provides notification for field offices (FO), National 800 Number Network (N8NN), and processing service centers (PSC) that the Promoting Opportunity Demonstration (POD) will end for all participating beneficiaries on 06/30/2021. ... 
SSA began recruiting volunteers—who may be SSDI or concurrent beneficiaries—for the POD in January 2018. Recruitment continued through December 2018, resulting in a total enrollment count of 10,070 participants. The random assignment process placed POD participants into one of three groups: two treatment groups and one control group. Treatment group 1 and treatment group 2 members both received the $1 for $2 offset. Treatment group 2 members had their entitlement to benefits terminated if they experienced 12 consecutive months in full offset (that is, when their SSDI benefit is reduced to $0 for 12 consecutive months). Treatment group 1 members would not have their entitlement to benefits terminated even if they experienced 12 consecutive months in full offset. The control group did not receive the $1 for $2 offset. Control group member’s earnings were subject to current SSDI rules. ...

     No word on the results of this experiment although I think we'd have heard more about it if it had been a success. Really, how much success can one expect when you impose a 50% tax on gross earnings in addition to ordinary payroll taxes? There's just not much left for the worker. In any case, I don't think you could design an experiment that would work. You have to be so damned sick to get on Social Security disability benefits that we shouldn't be expecting any significant number of Social Security disability recipients to be returning to sustained work. The experiments are based on the fallacies that it's easy to get on Social Security disability benefits and that many on Social Security disability benefits get better over time.

     I'm not sure how this demonstration relates to the Benefit Offset National Demonstration (BOND).  If I remember correctly that was pretty much the same thing except it was supposed to run for ten years. It won't work either.

I See Dead People

      From a recent report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG):

... To identify and prevent payments after death, SSA established a program under which States can voluntarily contract with SSA to provide it death data to match against its records. Through Electronic Death Registration (EDR), States electronically submit death reports to SSA. If the decedent’s data match SSA records, SSA posts the State death information to its Numident file and terminates payments to deceased beneficiaries. In addition to EDR, SSA receives death information from other sources, such as family members and funeral directors.

We obtained data files that provided the personally identifiable information of approximately 7 million individuals Alabama, Georgia, or Illinois recorded as deceased between January 1978 and December 2018. We matched the data against SSA payment records and the Numident.

We estimate SSA issued approximately $79 million in payments after death to 1,127 beneficiaries and 4 representative payees who died in Alabama, Georgia, or Illinois between January 1978 and December 2018. Identifying and correcting these discrepancies will prevent approximately $14 million in additional improper payments after death over a 12-month period.

We also identified 53,486 non-beneficiaries who were deceased according to Alabama, Georgia, or Illinois records but whose death information was not in SSA’s Numident. Resolving these discrepancies will improve the accuracy and completeness of death information the Agency shares with other Federal benefit-paying agencies.

    I don't understand. Social Security is marking these people as dead when it receives notice from the states that they're dead but when OIG matches state death records with Social Security records, they find a number of people who are dead but who are not marked as dead in Social Security records. Social Security seems to be relying upon the same records as OIG but OIG finds more dead people. Is the problem at Social Security or is the problem with the data the states are providing Social Security? The report doesn't deal with this question although the answer seems to be crucial for preventing the problem from continuing.

     I'm sure that Social Security officials have asked themselves for years, "How did we get roped into the death master file business?" It's nothing but endless headaches. There's no obvious reason why Social Security should be doing this instead of some other agency. Many, many other agencies and private businesses rely on the death master file.

Jun 24, 2021

If You Want Social Security Service, Fly Off To The Caribbean!

      From a press release:

... A representative from the Federal Benefits Unit at the US Embassy in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic will be available at the Embassy in L’Anse Aux Epines, St George [Grenada] to discuss all social security matters, including non receipt of payments, direct deposits, social security applications, retirement applications and general inquiries, by appointment only from 29 June to 2 July. ...
     I think the Federal Benefits Units people are employed by State Department. In any case, it seems odd that a U.S. citizen can get an appointment to discuss Social Security matters with a federal employee at a U.S. Embassy overseas but the same U.S. citizen can't get a similar appointment with Social Security in the U.S.

Jun 23, 2021

More On Collins v. Yellen

      I don't know how I missed this from Justice Kagan's concurrence in Collins v. Yellen:

... Consider the hundreds of thousands of decisions that the Social Security Administration (SSA)makes each year. The SSA has a single head with for-cause removal protection; so a betting person might wager that the agency’s removal provision is next on the chopping block. ... But given the majority’s remedial analysis, I doubt the mass of SSA decisions—which would not concern the President at all—would need to be undone. That makes sense. ... When an agency decision would not capture a President’s attention, his removal authority could not make a difference—and so no injunction should issue. ...

     So, if Justice Kagan is correct, the Commissioner of Social Security should enjoy no protection from being discharged from his position by the President but it's going to be extremely difficult to come up with standing to bring a legal action to challenge the Commissioner's tenure in office. Perhaps a company that didn't get a major contract or a labor union that wishes to dispute a decision made directly by the Commissioner would have standing. Even then the Commissioner might say "But I cleared it with OMB."

Andrew Saul's Hold On Office Looking Even More Tenuous

      From the Supreme Court's opinion today in Collins v. Yellen:

... But the nature and breadth of an agency’s authority is not dispositive in determining whether Congress may limit the President’s power to remove its head. The President’s removal power serves vital purposes even when the officer subject to removal is not the head of one of the largest and most powerful agencies. The removal power helps the President maintain a degree of control over the subordinates he needs to carry out his duties as the head of the Executive Branch, and it works to ensure that these subordinates serve the people effectively and in accordance with the policies that the people presumably elected the President to promote. ...  
Courts are not well-suited to weigh the relative im-portance of the regulatory and enforcement authority of dis-parate agencies, and we do not think that the constitution-ality of removal restrictions hinges on such an inquiry.

 And from a footnote:

Amicus points to the Social Security Administration, the Office of Special Counsel, the Comptroller, “multi-member agencies for which the chair is nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate to a fixed term,” and the Civil Service. ... None of these agencies is before us, and we do not comment on the constitutionality of any removal restriction that applies to their officers.

     And from the concurrence of Justice Kagan:

... Without even mentioning Seila Law’s “significant executive power” framing, the majority announces that, actually, “the constitutionality of removal restrictions” does  not “hinge[]” on “the nature and breadth of an agency’s authority.” ... Any “agency led by a single Director,” no matter how much executive power it wields, now becomes subject to the requirement of at-will removal. ... And the majority’s broadening is gratuitous—unnecessary to resolve the dispute here....

    And from the concurrence of Justices Sotomayor and Breyer:

 Never before, however, has the Court forbidden simple for-cause tenure protection for an Executive Branch officer who neither exercises significant executive power nor regulates the affairs of private parties.

     I thought it was already clear that the President's inability to remove the Commissioner at will was unconstitutional. I think it's now quite clear where the Supreme Court is headed or, should I say, has gone. I see no reason why the President should tolerate Saul any longer. Any attempt he makes to stay in office isn't going to work.

Book Forthcoming On Labor Market And Socal Security Disability Determination

      From a notice of a book forthcoming in September:

... In Social Security Disability Law and the American Labor Market, Jon C. Dubin challenges the contemporary policies for determining disability benefits and work assessment. He posits the fundamental questions: where are the jobs for persons with significant medical and vocational challenges? And how does the administration misfire in its standards and processes for answering that question? Deploying his profound understanding of the Social Security Administration and Disability law and policy, he demystifies the system, showing us its complex inner mechanisms and flaws, its history and evolution, and how changes in the labor market have rendered some agency processes obsolete. Dubin lays out how those who advocate eviscerating program coverage and needed life support benefits in the guise of modernizing these procedures would reduce the capacity for the Social Security Administration to function properly and serve its intended beneficiaries, and argues that the disability system should instead be “mended, not ended.” 

Dubin argues that while it may seem counterintuitive, the transformation from an industrial economy to a twenty-first-century service economy in the information age, with increased automation, and resulting diminished demand for arduous physical labor, has not meaningfully reduced the relevance of, or need for, the disability benefits programs. Indeed, they have created new and different obstacles to work adjustments based on the need for other skills and capacities in the new economy—especially for the significant portion of persons with cognitive, psychiatric, neuro-psychological, or other mental impairments. Therefore, while the disability program is in dire need of empirically supported updating and measures to remedy identified deficiencies, obsolescence, inconsistencies in application, and racial, economic and other inequities, the program’s framework is sufficiently broad and enduring to remain relevant and faithful to the Act’s congressional beneficent purposes and aspirations.

Electoral Fraud With A Social Security Twist

      There have been endless baseless complaints from former President Trump and other Republicans about alleged alleged electoral fraud by Democrats. It turns out that the only recent electoral fraud case of consequence was carried out on behalf of a Republican candidate -- and that it has a Social Security connection. From a press release:

A Bladenboro [NC] man pleaded guilty today to theft of government property and Social Security fraud.

According to court documents, Leslie McCrae Dowless, 65, defrauded the Social Security Administration by concealing his work and income while receiving monthly benefits payments.  In February 2013, Dowless applied for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.  In the application, Dowless claimed that he was unable to work due to a disability.  Dowless received SSI benefits until July 2018, when he applied for Retirement Insurance Benefits (RIB).  In his application for RIB, Dowless stated that he did not expect to work in 2018 and had not worked in the two years preceding his application.  Dowless received RIB benefits through November 2018. Dowless was required to report certain events to the Social Security Administration, including changes in his work activity, income, or resources.

Unbeknownst to the Social Security Administration, Dowless worked as a consultant for at least two political campaigns during the 2018 Midterm Elections.  From March 2017 to November 2018, Dowless received at least 59 checks totaling $135,365.57 for consulting work. Dowless failed to report his work and income to the Social Security Administration. ...

     Political "consultant" is quite the euphemism. Dowless and confederates were collecting absentee ballots from unsuspecting voters and fraudulently signing them or even completing them. So many ballots were involved that both parties were in full agreement that the election was completely tainted and had to be revoted.

Jun 22, 2021

This Wasn't An Accident; All Of It Is Routine

      From KMOV in St. Louis:

A bizarre letter from the Social Security Administration had one local man scratching his head. They claimed he owed them money from nearly 50 years ago.

"You were overpaid when you received benefits as a student," the letter Rick Wosmanski got said. "I owed a total of 122.80 and I thought this is unusual .. It was 48 years ago. Give me a break," Wosmanski said. "I have a hard time remembering 48 hours ago." ...

"I was 19 years old!" Wosmanski said. He was 17 when his dad passed away and Wosmanski was entitled to his father's social security survivor's benefits. When he was no longer a full-time student, the Social Security Administration says he wasn't eligible anymore to get the money.

Trouble is, he doesn't ever remember getting paid and thinks his mom might have cashed the checks instead. "The rest is a mystery. Went to the grave with my mom," Wosmanski said. 

And now out of the blue, this letter. Even a phone call to the Social Security Administration and still they insisted he owed them money for a check he shouldn't have received.

"I said 'is there some kind of statute of limitations on this' and she said 'no, you owe us the money.' Just like that," Wosmanski said. ...

One quick email from News 4 to the government and sure enough, a change of heart. A spokesperson told us they couldn't comment on Wosmanski's situation specifically, but said "based on the information on our records, it appears we will be able to resolve this issue," saying someone would be reaching out to Wosmanski directly. ...

     This isn't some odd mistake. Trying to collect ancient overpayments is routine for Social Security. Trying to collect overpayments when there's no proof of an overpayment is routine. Immediately solving the problem for one individual when the news media asks about it is routine. This is all routine!

Why The Concentration On CDRs When Basic Service Is Suffering?

      From David Weaver, writing for The Hill:

The Biden administration recently released its first official budget plan, which recommends a 9.7 percent increase in the administrative budget of the Social Security Administration (SSA). This increase in top-line funding would partially reverse the chronic underfunding of the agency by Congress (SSA's core operating budget, adjusted for inflation, fell 13 percent from 2010 to 2021, while the number of beneficiaries SSA serves grew by 22 percent). However, problems with SSA's administrative funding go beyond insufficient funding of top-line numbers.

Increasingly, Congress has directed funding away from service delivery to disability reviews that remove individuals from the rolls based on SSA's assessment of medical improvement. ...

SSA plans to increase the number of full medical disability reviews next year by 36 percent and increase the number of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) redeterminations by 23 percent. ...

SSA plans to accelerate disability reviews next year so the agency can rapidly get back to being "current" on conducting the maximum number of reviews allowed by regulations. However, the agency shows no similar urgency on being "current" on other program integrity workloads. ...

Congress needs to pause increases in disability reviews and redeterminations until it can study — and possibly reform — the administrative process. That will also have the beneficial effect of allowing SSA to focus on service delivery as it begins to find its footing following the pandemic.

Jun 21, 2021

Why Is Social Security Still Using The DOT?

     From WBTV in Charlotte:

A WBTV Investigation into social security shows thousands of people are denied disability claims every year because of jobs that are out-of-date.

The Social Security Administration uses a guide called the Dictionary of Occupational Titles that hasn’t been updated since 1991, even as technological advancements have made many of the jobs described in the book obsolete.

The impact that it’s had can be felt by people like Gray Hogan. ...

Hogan applied for disability. He’s been unable to work a forty-hour week for years because of the pain.

But Hogan was denied twice. When social security denies a claimant, the person can often file an appeal in court with an administrative law judge. That process has numerous steps and the last one is for social security to determine if there are any jobs a claimant could work. That’s when Hogan was told there were jobs that were suited for him. But none of them were from the 21st Century.

“Document preparer, addresser and (envelope) stuffer,” Hogan said.

“Common sense would tell you that job doesn’t exist as it’s described,” attorney George Piemonte told WBTV. ...

“Over the millions of claims that they’re reviewing, you’re still talking about hundreds of thousands of people being denied based on these nonexistent jobs,” Piemonte said. ...

Jun 20, 2021

Work Without Worry Act

      From a press release:

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Senator Bill Cassidy, R-La., today introduced legislation to remove a Social Security work disincentive for Americans with disabilities. The Work Without Worry Act would allow Americans with disabilities to work to their full potential without causing them to lose out on higher Social Security benefits. ...

If an adult has a severe medical condition that began before age 22, they may be eligible for a Social Security benefit called the Disabled Adult Child (DAC) benefit. Their benefits are based on their parent’s Social Security earnings, in the same way that benefits of a child under age 18 would be. However, under current law some of these young adults fear that if they try to work they will lose future DAC benefits, which are often higher than any benefit they may qualify on their own. This fear inhibits the ability of Americans with disabilities to explore their ability to work as they transition to adult life.

The Work Without Worry Act promotes financial security by ensuring that any earnings from work – no matter how much – will not prevent an individual from receiving a Social Security DAC benefit from their parent’s work history if they have an eligible medical condition that began before age 22. This bill treats all individuals with severe medical conditions that began before age 22 the same – no matter when their parents claim Social Security benefits. This change is estimated to increase Social Security benefits by $100 million and improve the lives of nearly 2,000 individuals with disabilities over the next 10 years.

Additional original co-sponsors include Senators Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., Pat Leahy, D-Vt., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Bob Casey, D-Pa. The House of Representatives introduced a companion bill today, led by Congressman John Larson, D-Conn.

     Why don't we get rid of the marriage penalty for DAC recipients while we're at it.

Jun 19, 2021

News Coverage For House Social Security Subcommittee Hearing

      There's been little attention paid to the hearing held this week by the House Social Security Subcommittee. Here's one news article, however. Unless the Senate does something about the filibuster, it's impossible for any legislation of consequence to pass.

Jun 18, 2021

Normal Phone Service At Social Security

      Social Security says it's not answering its phones today because of the Juneteenth holiday. I guess that makes it about the same as any ordinary workday.

GAO Report On ALJ Productivity Expectations


      From Process Needed to Review Productivity Expectations for Administrative Law Judges by the Government Accountability Office (GAO):

The Social Security Administration’s (SSA) administrative law judges review, process, and adjudicate requests for hearings on disability benefits. In 2007, the agency set an expectation—which SSA reported was based on trend data and some regional managers’ input—for judges to issue 500-700 dispositions(decisions and dismissals) each year, and the extent to which they have met this expectation has varied over time. SSA did not document the expectation-setting process in 2007, nor has it formally reviewed the expectation since. Judges in discussion groups held by GAO questioned the basis of the expectation and 87 percent of judges GAO surveyed (47 of 54) said the expectation was too high. ...  
Judges in selected hearing offices cited a variety of factors affecting their ability to meet the annual expectation. The top factor cited by judges GAO surveyed was the size of case files, which have increased five-fold on average since the expectation was established, according to SSA data. ...  
SSA monitors judges’ productivity and takes various actions when expectations are not met, ranging from informal conversations to formal discipline. In addition, judges in 11 of 13 discussion groups viewed telework restrictions as a consequence for not meeting expectations. Additionally, judges GAO surveyed reported feeling pressured to meet the expectations. For instance, 87 percent ofjudges surveyed (47 of 54) said that SSA placed too much emphasis on productivity, and some expressed concerns about their work quality and work-life balance. SSA officials said they do not formally seek feedback from judges onthe expectations. However, without feedback or other gauges of pressure, SSA lacks information that could help it appropriately balance timely case processing while maintaining high-quality work and employee morale. ...

      Social Security cannot continue to ignore the dramatic changes in disability claim files nor can they continue to blindly pressure ALJs to do the impossible.

     It's not just ALJs who are affected by the dramatic increase in the size of Social Security disability claim files. It's also the attorneys who represent the claimants. We not only have to read all those records but we have to obtain many of them. And we have to do this at a time when our fees have been effectively cut by the failure to increase the fee cap. If there is a dramatic increase in the number of Social Security disability claims filed next year, as seems likely, I'm not at all sure that there will be attorneys available to represent them. The pandemic plus the effective decrease in attorney fees have left Social Security attorneys in a seriously weakened financial position and unlikely to increase their staffing.

Jun 17, 2021

Last Minute Surprise: Tomorrow Is A Federal Holiday

      It's amazing that tomorrow, June 18, may or may not be a federal holiday. Congress has passed legislation that would make Juneteenth a federal holiday. Apparently, the President will sign the legislation at 3:30 this afternoon. If that happens, I don't know how tomorrow isn't a holiday since that's what the legislation requires and apparently the legislation is effective immediately.

     I'm happy that Juneteenth will be a holiday. However, adopting this new holiday without any lead time is bizarre. Just in Social Security terms, there are many thousands of individuals who have appointments scheduled with Social Security tomorrow. For that matter, many thousands of federal employees won't get word about this new holiday before tomorrow morning.

     Update: Now it's official. The Office of Personnel Management has tweeted that tomorrow will be a federal holiday.

Social Security Concedes That It Must Reopen Negotiations With ALJ Union

     From Government Executive:

The Social Security Administration on Tuesday announced that it would abide by an arbitrator’s decision ordering the agency to completely restart negotiations with a union representing its corps of administrative law judges.

Last month, Arbitrator John T. Nicholas found that management at the agency engaged in unfair labor practices, including illegally forcing matters to impasse and engaging in surface level bargaining, when negotiating five different articles of its contract with the Association of Administrative Law Judges. The decision marked the third instance where an independent arbitrator found evidence of malfeasance on the part of the agency’s negotiating team in relation to its negotiations with the judges union. ...

“The union was pleased to see that the agency has finally relented and will comply with the arbitration award,” McIntosh said. “For some time, Commissioner Saul and Deputy Commissioner Black clung to the ill-gotten gains of the Trump-era union busting [impasses] panel order. This notification signals that they concede it is not possible to enforce it against us.” ...

Jun 16, 2021

Law Firm Lays Off 76

      Pond Lehocky Giordano, a Philadelphia law firm concentrating in workers compensation and Social Security, is permanently laying off 76 employees, apparently due to financial stresses brought about by Covid-19.

Jun 15, 2021

We Need Social Security Employees Back In Their Offices

      You can read many comments to this blog asserting that Social Security employees have been just as productive working from home as they were in the office. Some even assert they're more productive. This could be true of some components of the agency but I think it needs to be made clear that this is emphatically not the case when it comes to the agency's field offices and its payment centers where claims for Title II benefits are processed. 

     To assess how well these components have fared with employees mostly working from home you have to look first at workload. Workloads are down considerably. SSI claims, which are taken and implemented by the field offices, were down 29% for the time period July 2020 to April 2021. For that same time period, Title II disability claims, which are taken by the field offices and implemented at the payment centers, were down 17%. Yes, retirement claims haven't been down, but come on, we all know those take little time to process. It's the disability claims that take all the time. Despite this major downturn in workload, backlogs have soared at the field offices and payment centers. 

     The explanation given by some posting comments on this board for the soaring backlogs is that they can't get the work done because they normally get a lot of work done using overtime and there's been little overtime this fiscal year. While a lack of overtime certainly isn't helping, it doesn't explain the soaring backlogs. Total workyears, including overtime, for Social Security itself (not including the Disability Determination Services) were down from 64,056 in FY 2019 to 61,553 in FY 2020 and to 60,905 in FY 2021. That's a very significant 5% decline in workyears from FY 2019 to FY 2021. However, remember that workloads for the field offices and payment centers declined significantly over this time period. You should also know that the agency has been able to shift overtime hours from hearing offices to other components as hearing office backlogs have declined.

     Social Security employees and their unions can give whatever explanations they want but I'm on the receiving end of the agency's services. It's obvious to me that field office and payment center backlogs have soared during the pandemic even though workloads are down. I can't think of any rational explanation other than lower productivity caused by most employees being on 100% telework. 

     I'm not interested in hearing: 

  • What about ventilation?
  • What about variants?
  • Telework is the future.
  • Social Security can cut the office space it rents if employees can all work from home forever.
  • Commuting is dangerous and difficult.
  • Andrew Saul is a jerk.
  • Lots of employees are going to quit if they're forced to return to the office.

     Enough already! The work isn't getting done. The current situation isn't sustainable. Allow employees some telework but Social Security employees need to get vaccinated and to get back to the office.

Jun 14, 2021

Biden Administration Tells Agencies To Negotiate Re-Opening With Unions

      From Fedweek:

New workplace planning guidance from the Biden Administration stresses in several places that agencies must “satisfy any applicable collective bargaining obligations, and provide ample notice to any affected employees,” before making changes.

The joint OMB-OPM-GSA memo notes President Biden’s executive order stating that it is the policy of the government to “encourage union organizing and collective bargaining.” It does not specify issues over which agencies must bargain nor what form bargaining should take; formal negotiations for example might be drawn out over weeks.

“Labor relations obligations may be addressed issue by issue for aspects of the agency’s overall plan for reentry and post-reentry. For example, an early issue to surface to employee representatives may be the agency’s plan for ample notice to employees. Also, for example, an agency may decide to engage with employee representatives on aspects of its post-reentry personnel policies separate from labor relations engagement on the updating of the agency’s COVID-19 workplace safety plan,” it says.

After that, employees who will be returning to the physical workplace or who will have altered work schedules should be given advance notice; the length can “vary based on the effect of the change on particular employees” but normally would be at least 30 days. …

     It would help if there were some basic trust between labor and management at Social Security but there isn’t. It would also help if the union would not be trying to keep employees working completely from home forever regardless of what that does to public service but I expect that's what they'll be asking for.  For that matter, does Social Security have to negotiate with the union over going back to the telework status quo ante Covid-19? That's not clear to me. In any case, I think a return to something like the telework status quo ante Andrew Saul to be more likely.

Jun 13, 2021

NADE Newsletter

      The National Association of Disability Examiners (NADE), a voluntary organization of employees who make disability determinations for Social Security at the initial and reconsideration levels, has released its Summer 2021 newsletter.

Jun 12, 2021

No Sunset On The Eric Conn Fiasco

      There's a new book out that deals in part with the Eric Conn fiasco, Twilight In Hazard, by Alan Maimon.

Jun 11, 2021

Happy Birthday APA


     Today is the 75th birthday of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The APA has been enormously influential. Most states have adopted their own APAs.

     I don't think the Social Security Administration has ever explicitly acknowledged that the APA applies to them but it has certainly influenced them. On the other hand, the APA was based to some extent on practices already followed at Social Security.

Jun 10, 2021

Disability Claims Projected To Soar


From Social Security's Budget Projections

Jun 9, 2021

Budget Projections

       Some excerpts from Social Security's budget projections (bolded) with my comments:

     "The Budget would increase staffing for frontline operations including State DDSs by over 6 percent." -- You say that as if frontline staffing is your real priority but if the agency gets what's proposed, its funding goes up by almost 10% but staffing only increases by 6%.

      "Over $2.7 billion for current staff, additional hiring, and other expenses for the State DDSs to make our disability determinations. This amount includes funding for 1,300 additional employees we are hiring in FY2021, an increase of about 10 percent." -- OK, so DDS staffing goes up 10%, which corresponds with the 10% increase in the budget. However, "frontline staffing" which includes DDS only goes up 6%. If I'm doing the math correctly, this means that "frontline staffing" apart from DDS goes up by a lot less than 6%. 

     "More than $2.1 billion for IT services funding to help us maintain and continue modernizing our large IT infrastructure, as well as increase our digital and automated services." -- The FY 2021 IT number was $1.9 billion so the projection is for an 11% increase which is a bit above the approximately 10% overall budgetary increase. However, contrast this with the 6% increase in frontline staffing and you get an idea of management priorities.


  • FY 2020 (actual) 1801 FTEs 
  • FY 2021 (projected) 1,155 FTEs 
  • FY 2022 (projected) 1,800 FTEs

 -- They expect to get a nearly 10% increase in funding but overtime will be slightly less in FY 2022 than in FY 2020. How do they expect to work off the backlogs at their field offices and payment centers? As we'll see below, the answer, at least for the payment centers, is that they don't expect to work off the backlogs.

      Disability claims receipts:

  • FY 2020 (actual) 2,213
  • FY 2021 (projected) 2,491
  • FY 2022 (projected) 3,111

-- I don't understand the FY 2021 number. There have been far fewer disability claims filed in the current fiscal year than the last so why are they saying it's up? Anyway, they're projecting a 25% increase in disability claims in the next fiscal year. That's as good a guess as any but nobody knows. It could easily be a good deal more or less than that.

     National 800 number: Average speed of answer projected to go down from 15 minutes to 12 minutes. -- That still sucks

     Office of Hearings Operations Production per Workyear: 

  • FY 2020 (actual) 93
  • FY 2021 (projected) 80
  • FY 2022 (projected) 103

-- I don't know what these numbers mean but if the are meaningful, they're saying that productivity at the hearing offices has taken a major hit during the pandemic but will soar in the next fiscal year. If these numbers mean anything, OHO employees should knock off the talk about how they've been just as productive working from home. Also, it would be nice if we had productivity numbers for other agency components.

     "We plan to hire ALJs by the end of FY 2022 to ensure we have adequate resources in our hearings operations." -- I think you may need them sooner but I'm glad you're planning for this. I hope you haven't forgotten that you need additional staff to go with those ALJs. Also, remember it takes time to hire and train people.

     "In FY 2022, we plan to reduce the PC backlog from 4.2 million actions to 4.14 million actions." -- That's almost no improvement in the backlog. Sounds like the payment centers aren't your priority.

     In FY 2022 the agency expects to " Begin nationwide rollout of the modern HACPS that increases the accuracy and efficiency of disability case processing for our hearings offices and Appeals Council." -- What is HACP? How does it increase accuracy and efficiency?

House Social Security Subcommittee Finally Schedules A Hearing

     From a press release:

 House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee Chairman John B. Larson announced today that the Subcommittee will hold a hearing on “Equity in Social Security: In Their Own Words,” on Tuesday, June 15, at 2:00 PM EST.

     Note that it appears that this is not an oversight hearing. It sounds like there would be no witness from the agency.

Jun 8, 2021

More On Budget

     From CNBC:

President Joe Biden’s 2022 budget could give the Social Security Administration a $1.3 billion — or 9.7% — boost in funding. ...

The money would allow the Social Security Administration to pursue a host of improvement efforts, Social Security Administration Commissioner Andrew Saul said in the agency’s budget overview. ...

The money could help reduce the hearings backlog, bringing the annual average processing time for a decision down to 270 days in fiscal year 2022 from 386 days in fiscal year 2020 , according to the Social Security Administration’s estimates.

It could also help increase the number of initial disability claims completed by 720,000 – to 2,757,000 in fiscal year 2022 from 2,037,000 in fiscal year 2020.

The 800 number wait times could also drop to 12 minutes in 2022 from 16 minutes in 2020. ...

More than $5 billion of the proposed $14.2 billion budget would go to payroll costs for frontline employees who work at the administration’s field offices, 800 phone number and processing centers, according to the Social Security Administration.

Additionally, more than $2.7 billion would be earmarked for disability determinations, including existing staff, new hires and other expenses at state disability determination centers. The administration plans to maintain the 10% increase in staff — or 1,300 additional employees — that it took on in the 2021 fiscal year.

More than $2.1 billion would fund the modernization of the administration’s IT infrastructure.

Another $1.7 billion would pay for the expansion of the anti-fraud disability investigations program, as well as the completion of program integrity reviews.

More than $1.1 billion is slated for payroll costs for employees in the hearings division.

 In addition, $96 million would be dedicated to additional outreach for Supplemental Security Income, or SSI benefits. The goal would be to contact vulnerable people who are eligible for benefits, such as adults and children with disabilities, and the homeless.