Dec 31, 2022

Washington Post On SSA’s Failure To Adopt New Occupational Information System

      The Washington Post has a new editorial out criticizing Social Security for failing to use the new occupational information system that has been under development for more than a decade. 

     The Post falls for the right wing argument that use of the new OIS will result in more people being denied Social Security disability benefits. The new OIS will show what sophisticated observers already know. The cognitive demands of employment have gone up significantly. This has significantly decreased the availability of unskilled work. Those unskilled sedentary jobs are gone as are many of the light ones. Without major, and quite hostile, revisions to disability determination regulations, this results in far more disability claims being approved.

Dec 30, 2022

Senate To Investigate Ennis And OIG


     Lisa Rein writes for the Washington Post that the Senate Finance Committee is preparing a bipartisan investigation of Social Security’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) and its head,  Gail Ennis. OIG has been in the news because of allegations of overly harsh punitive actions against some claimants and of retaliation against whistleblowers.

     I’d call Ennis a fool for hanging around for this. What was already out made it clear she was in major trouble. This sort of Congressional investigation was inevitable. It’s not going to be pretty. 

     By the way, are there any criminal statutes implicated here? It would be a little awkward for an Inspector General to take the 5th.

Dec 29, 2022

How Do You Represent Claimants In Conditions Like This?

     A note in our database concerning one client who recently filed a claim:

 FO [Field Office] has our paperwork and has had it since 10/4/22. The claims rep, Ms. ____ at x ____, has not put our paperwork so that DDS [Disability Determination Service] will give us status. When calling the FO, another claims rep will not step in and assist. I did get the claims rep I spoke with, Mr. ____, to send Ms. ____ an email that we were calling about the paperwork on these two cases.

As the claim's rep I spoke with was sending Ms. ____ an email, I followed up with a fax prompting her attention to the representative paperwork on this case so we can get DDS access.

    To explain, the claimant filed a claim. We submitted paperwork showing I'm representing the client. Field office personnel aren't entering the data in their system showing that I'm representing the client so we're flying blind. We can't get information about what's going on with the case. We can't submit any information. In the unlikely event that there's a quick decision in the case, we won't know unless the client tells us and we can't count on that.  Why is Ms. ____ not entering the information in their system? There could be other factors at work but the main reason is that she's overworked. Everything is backlogged. The public suffers in many ways.

    This isn't an isolated case. This happens a lot. In fact, the hopeful thing about this case is that the legal assistant involved was actually able to speak to someone at the FO. Often, we struggle to get anyone at the FO to answer the phone.

Dec 28, 2022

The Clock Is Ticking

     Today's SSI story concerns a claimant who was approved for both SSI disability benefits and Disability Insurance Benefits on June 17. Her monthly checks have started but he's yet to receive any back benefits. The holdup is called the windfall offset, which was designed to pay the claimant SSI benefits as if the Disability Insurance Benefits had been paid when they were due. The windfall offset in practice is bizarrely convoluted. But, still, it's been more than six months. Why haven't they done the windfall offset? We can't get an answer but we know that the underlying problem is understaffing at the field office.

Dec 27, 2022

Why Does SSA Keep Using The DOT?

      Lisa Rein at the Washington Post has a long piece out on Social Security’s use of the horribly outdated Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) in making disability determinations. Everyone involved knows the DOT is completely unreliable. 

     Social Security has been working on a replacement for the DOT for decades. Supposedly it’s ready but they aren’t using it. Why? The only thing I can surmise is that a new occupational information system will end up affecting who gets approved and who gets denied and that’s unacceptable to Social Security. They want something “new” that’s exactly the same as the outdated data they’ve been using since 1979.

Dec 26, 2022

Happy Day After Christmas


Dec 25, 2022

Merry Christmas


Dec 24, 2022

Merry Christmas


Merry Christmas


Dec 23, 2022

Didn't Know This

     Social Security does a little, probably a very little, conflict of interest checking on its Administrative Law Judges. It sounds ineffective. Do any other agency employees receive similar treatment?

Merry Christmas


Dec 22, 2022

Disability Claims In The Time Of Covid -- Or Any Other Time

     From County-Level Drivers Of Disability Benefit Claims In Times Of Covid-19 by R. Vincent Pohl and David R. Mann:

... Counties that were closer to as SSA field office experienced larger declines in SSI and SSDI application and award rates between 2019 and 2020 compared with counties further away from the nearest field office.

SSDI application rates grew more in counties with a larger increase in unemployment rates.

Changes in SSI and SSDI application and award rates were not consistently associated with levels of COVID-19 cases and deaths. ...

Applying for disability benefits in person at an SSA field office seems to be an important factor. When field offices closed early during the pandemic, it affected potential applicants for SSI and SSDI who would have otherwise likely applied in person and were less likely to do so due to field office closures.  ...

    I don't understand how they can say that SSDI application rates "grew" more in areas with high unemployment when application rates were actually declining. Maybe they declined less in areas with more unemployment but they weren't going up.

Merry Christmas


Dec 21, 2022

Change In Workers Comp Offset Computation -- This Is The Sort Of Arcane Stuff That Can Make A Difference Of Tens Of Thousands Of Dollars To A Claimant

    From a newly added changes to POMS (Program Operations Manual Series) §DI 52150:

... A lump sum award may specify a payment amount based on the number holder’s (NH) life expectancy determined by insurance life expectancy tables. The life expectancy of the NH is often given in weeks, months, or years. These awards usually specify a life expectancy (LE) rate. ...

If the award indicates it should be prorated over the claimant's lifetime but does not specify a rate or time period, and the development proves unsuccessful, following is a link to a table provided by SSA's Office of the Chief Actuary to assist in determining the life expectancy:

https// ...

    This doesn't help if the workers compensation settlement agreement says nothing about proration but it helps in cases where there has been a simpler mistake in settling a workers compensation case, a failure to include specific language giving the proration formula. They're continuing with the no amendment provision. That needs to be changed. Don't punish claimants for failing to have an experienced workers comp attorney.

    This is also an example for ALJs. If this seems incomprehensible, it's because there's a lot more going on with Social Security disability cases than you're aware of. I have seen former ALJs struggle to represent claimants because they didn't realize that they would face a significant learning curve.

Merry Christmas


Dec 20, 2022

6% Increase In SSA Appropriation, Less Than Rate Of Inflation

      The Omnibus Appropriations bill likely to be passed by Friday includes $14.1 billion, an increase of $785 million or 6 percent, for Social Security’s administrative expenses. This is less than the rate of inflation this past 12 months.

Merry Christmas


Dec 19, 2022

Centralized Scheduling Of ALJ Hearings To End

     I'm hearing from the National Organization of Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR) that Social Security has decided to ditch centralized scheduling of Administrative Law Judge hearings. We'll go back to having individual hearing offices scheduling hearings beginning February 1, 2023. This is overdue. Centralized scheduling has been a failure from every point of view. It's one of the endless examples of the longstanding instinct of high level Social Security officials that smaller agency components such as hearing offices are inefficient and the only way for things to get better is to centralize as much as possible. It seems like these centralization schemes always fail. Hearing offices scheduling of hearings wasn't perfect but it wasn't bad. There was never a good reason to expect that centralized scheduling was going to help from any point of view.

Sometimes It's Lonely At Christmas But It Will Get Better


Dec 18, 2022

Merry Christmas


Dec 17, 2022

Merry Christmas


Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

      From a press release:

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado announces Justin Skiff, age 36, of Castle Pines, appeared in U.S District Court today to face one count each of wire fraud, social security fraud, and money laundering 

According to the information filed in this case, beginning in August 2019 and continuing through September 2021, it is alleged Skiff used his position as a claims specialist with the Social Security Administration (SSA), to fraudulently obtain money from the SSA. Skiff is alleged to have filed fictious claims for benefits using false identities and the identity of an actual individual to collect proceeds from these claims. According to court documents, Skiff’s actions ultimately led to the theft of approximately $310,601.44 from the SSA. …

Dec 16, 2022

An SSI Story

     I think I'll just follow up from time to time with stories about the delays in implementing SSI benefits as cases arise in my practice. 

    Today's story is about a claimant who was found disabled and eligible for SSI on October 19, almost two months ago. The claimant hasn't received any money yet nor has she been contacted by the field office for a PERC interview. When we call to ask what the holdup is, we're told that they need to do an evaluation to determine whether the claimant can handle her own money or needs a representative payee to handle the money for her. When we ask when this might be done, we're told that the matter hasn't been assigned to a field office employee yet. The claimant, like all SSI claimants, has an urgent need for the money. I guess you've also noticed that it's the Christmas season. Are the field office employees mean Scrooges? No, they're just overwhelmed with work.

Merry Christmas


Dec 15, 2022

The PERC Situation

     After an SSI claimant has been found disabled they must go through a Pre-Effectuation Review Conference (PERC) with a Social Security's field office before receiving benefits. They'll be asked about income and resources so that benefits can be correctly paid. Until the last year or so, my experience was that PERCs were done fairly quickly after a claimant was found disabled, generally within a couple of weeks. These should be done quickly. The claimants are poor and sick. Often, they need the money desperately. PERCs get homeless people off the streets, for instance. That's an urgent need.

    My experience is that the PERC situation has deteriorated badly, particularly over the last six months and that things are getting worse at an accelerating pace. I'm not talking about just one field office. It's several that I'm dealing with. It often takes two months or more to get a PERC. Even after the PERC, it can take many weeks before benefits are actually authorized. That's if everything goes smoothly. God help you if things go off the tracks even a little bit. This is horrendous service. And don't get me started on windfall offsets! I'm not blaming the employees. They know how to give good service. I'm sure they'd like to. They're just overwhelmed.

    How widespread is this problem? Does upper level management at Social Security have a handle on the PERC situation? Will anything other than a ton of overtime help?

    I don't want to imply that the payment problems are limited to SSI. There are also major problems getting Title II benefits paid once a claimant is found disabled but I'll save that for a later post.

Merry Christmas


Dec 14, 2022

Nice Try But I'm Not Buying It

    Nancy Altman, the President of Social Security Works and a past candidate for nomination to become Commissioner of Social Security, has written a piece for Common Dreams arguing for an end to the marriage penalty which terminates Disabled Adult Child (DAC) benefits for recipients who marry. I've been arguing for decades that the DAC marriage penalty is indefensible and should be abolished. Altman is arguing that President Biden should just order an end to the DAC marriage penalty because of the passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act which prohibits application of any federal law that substantially burdens religious freedom. The argument is that one's religion may demand marriage therefore making application of the marriage penalty illegal. Altman says that the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund is trying to convince Social Security to adopt this view.

    My opinion is that this is a strained interpretation of the law that is unlikely to get anywhere. If nothing else, remember that marriage is both a civil and a religious institution but you can have one without the other. Many people choose civil ceremonies but it's possible to have the opposite, a religious wedding without obtaining a marriage license which leaves you without the legal rights and penalties that go along with marriage but with religious sanction for your marriage.

Dec 13, 2022

Merry Christmas


Dec 12, 2022

NADE Newsletter

     The National Association of Disability Examiners (NADE), an organization of personnel who make initial and reconsideration determinations for Social Security, has posted its latest newsletter. There's much in it about briefings they've received from Social Security officials.

Dec 11, 2022

Merry Christmas


Dec 9, 2022

Could We See A Commissioner Nomination Next Year?

     Democrats will have 50 Senators in the new Congress and Republicans 49. Senator Sinema will continue her effort to be the most complete flake possible as an Independent. She may or may not caucus with Democrats but this still leaves Democrats with a majority without needing the Vice President’s vote. That doesn’t sound like much of a difference from the current Congress but the Washington Post reports that the extra Senator makes plenty of difference, particularly with confirmation of nominations. Will President Biden finally nominate a new Commissioner of Social Security next year?

Merry Christmas


Dec 8, 2022

OHO Backlogs Creeping Up

     This was uploaded by Social Security. Click on the image to view full size.

Dec 7, 2022

The Need Is Real

     From Lisa Rein writing for the Washington Post:

Top House and Senate Democrats on Tuesday called for a drastic boost in funding for the Social Security Administration to increase staffing, improve technology and expand other investments as the agency confronts a massive backlog in claims for disability benefits. ...

“Lawmakers in both parties are getting an earful at home about the backlog and poor customer service at the Social Security Administration, and are demanding answers on this and the disarray in its workforce,” Rep. Kevin Brady (Tex.), the ranking Republican on the Ways and Means Committee, said in a statement. ...

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) decried the “unacceptable” delays facing disabled Americans “to even find out if they are eligible for benefits.”...

The push for a bigger budget comes as House and Senate negotiators race to agree on a bipartisan deal to fund the federal government for the rest of the fiscal year before a temporary budget expires Dec. 16. ...

It’s unclear, though, if Congress will agree on enough spending priorities to pass a new budget before the end of the year. That would leave Social Security and the rest of the government with a full-year stopgap measure at current funding levels. The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is preparing for such a scenario with proposals for additional funding for several agencies over current levels. In Social Security’s case, the request would grant the full $800 million boost that the administration sought in the fall, according to an OMB document circulating Tuesday on Capitol Hill. ...

Dec 6, 2022

Redesigned SSA Web Site

     The Social Security Administration has issue a press release saying that they've redesigned their website. The press release says that the agency's website is getting about 180 million hits a year.

Merry Christmas


Dec 5, 2022

At The Breaking Point

    From Lisa Rein at the Washington Post:

The Disability Determination Division in Austin was at a breaking point.

Inside its vast two-story warehouse, close to 130,000 claims were awaiting review by the state employees who help decide whether Texans will get disability benefits from the Social Security Administration — a backlog that would take at least a year to clear. Nearly 40 percent of the examiners had quit since January, driven out by crushing workloads and low wages that could not compete in the high-tech boomtown. Those who stayed toiled in long rows of cubicles or at home reviewing massive medical files.

Then one week in September came the unthinkable: 75,000 new claims suddenly were routed to an electronic queue already buckling under 2½ years of strain during the coronavirus pandemic. ...

The data obtained by The Washington Post paints a grim picture of the holdups claimants are confronting across the country. In Texas, it took 214 days on average in fiscal 2022 to process an initial application. Wisconsin took 227 days, up from 90 days in fiscal 2019. Florida’s average time has almost tripled to 225 days. Georgia is taking 246 days. And Delaware now holds the record for the longest wait: 261 days. The pileup of cases has driven a normally three-month wait for an initial review to at least seven, the data shows. But in states struggling most to catch up, it’s taking well over a year. ...

Dec 3, 2022

Annual Statistical Supplement Issued

      Social Security has issued its Annual Statistical Supplement for 2022. This is the largest compendium of statistical information on agency programs.

Dec 2, 2022

DDS Refusing To Schedule CEs For ALJs -- How Widespread?

I and others in North Carolina are seeing cases where Administrative Law Judges try to order consultative medical examinations (CEs) but the state Disability Determination Services (DDS, which handles CEs in addition to making determinations on disability claims at the initial and reconsideration levels), refuses to schedule the exams, saying they don't think them necessary. 

    Is this happening in other states? 

    I don't particularly like them but sometimes a CE is necessary and ALJs don't order many of them so this seems surprising.

    I don't think DDS should be second guessing ALJs on this, especially since it's often hard to understand why DDS schedules CEs themselves when they have jurisdiction over cases. It often seems to be a stalling device for disability examiners -- as in "I'm too busy to finish work on this case now so I'll delay by ordering a CE." I don't see ALJs doing that. Clean up your own house, DDS!

Dec 1, 2022

What About Those Allegations Of Retaliation Within OIG?

     From the just released Semiannual Report to Congress by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG):

Section 5(a)(20) of the Inspector General Act of 1978, as amended (IG Act), requires SSA OIG to provide a detailed description of any instance of whistleblower retaliation, including information about the official found to have engaged in retaliation and what, if any, consequences the establishment imposed to hold that official accountable. There are no known instances of retaliation to report for this reporting period.

Nov 30, 2022

What A Surprise!

    During the recently concluded Congressional campaigns Democrats attempted to portray Republican candidates as eager to cut Social Security. Republicans responded that they weren't a bit interested in cutting Social Security. So what do Republicans do now that the campaign (that went poorly for them) is over? Right, they start pressing for Social Security cuts. John Thune, who is second in the Senate Republican leadership, is saying that Republicans will press for Social Security cuts as part of the price they want paid for extending the debt ceiling.

    Please don't give me the "Republicans just want to save Social Security" dodge. That's not fooling anyone.

Nov 29, 2022

Blunt Talk

    From a blog post by Jeff Nesbit, Social Security's Deputy Commissioner for Communications:

... The Biden-Harris Administration asked Congress for a funding anomaly of $800 million higher than our fiscal year (FY) 2022 budget, as we started FY 2023 in October without a full year budget. The additional funding would have allowed us to maintain level service by hiring employees, funding our fixed cost increases, funding information technology (IT) projects, and allocating enough overtime to handle workloads, provided there is not an unexpected and significant increase in demand for our services and programs.

Congress provided us with $400 million, which provides enough funding to cover our fixed cost increases only through December, overtime at FY 2022 levels, and continuous hiring at the start of FY 2023. However, it is not enough to cover the full year fixed cost increases or to maintain the hiring and overtime levels beyond December to improve service. On the other hand, the FY 2023 President’s budget request of $14.8 billion for SSA – a $1.4 billion increase over our FY 2022 enacted level of funding – would allow us to improve customer service and offer the service experience you deserve.

We have faced years of underfunding. We are currently operating with approximately 4,000 fewer employees since prior to the pandemic – a 7% drop, since we have not had the funds to hire the level of staff needed. We are also experiencing historically high levels of employees leaving the agency, because employees are carrying unreasonable workloads given the staffing shortage. As we lose employees, our service further deteriorates. You feel the effects of our staffing shortage. You are waiting an unacceptable average of over six months for a decision on an initial disability claim and over 30 minutes to speak to a representative on our National 800 Number. ...

    In case you haven't noticed there's an ongoing, concerted effort to lobby Congress for more operating funds for the Social Security Administration. For the first time this includes explicit, public efforts by Social Security management as well as outside groups interested in Social Security. I wish I knew how all of this was organized but I'm delighted to see it. The agency's appropriation for fiscal year 2023 is likely to be decided before Christmas, probably just before Christmas.

Nov 28, 2022

That’s Some Rodent Problem

      From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

The federal government has awarded a $3.2 million contract to Stockbridge-based Power House Termite and Pest Control, to exterminate rats from the entirety of the Sam Nunn Atlanta Federal Center downtown.

The structure on Forsyth Street is the largest federal building in the Southeast. About 3,500 people across 23 agencies work there, according to the GSA. It consists of a 24-story main tower linked by a bridge to another 10-story building and the former main building of Rich’s department store. …

About 500 Social Security Administration employees work in the complex, said Patti Patterson, an agency spokeswoman.

While some rodent intrusion was found in our space, it never impaired or restricted access to work spaces,” she said in a statement. “While the majority of our employees in the Sam Nunn Federal Center telework, they are able to work in the office when necessary.” …

Nov 26, 2022

Have The Courage Of Your Convictions, GOP

      From Joseph Chamie writing for The Hill:

Despite an expected backlash, vocal objections and possible threats, it’s time to raise America’s Social Security retirement age to 70 years with no early retirement option.

There are important reasons for America to raise Social Security’s retirement age to 70 and do away with early retirement with reduced benefits, which about half of the recipients are currently choosing before reaching full retirement age.

The first has to do with the fact that Social Security is  projected to be insolvent by 2035. In its 2022 annual report, the Social Security Board of Trustees concluded that if no changes are made, the program will not be able to meet its financial responsibilities by 2035.

A second reason for raising the retirement age to 70 centers on the increasing life expectancies of Americans that have occurred over the recent past. …

     I think that once they get control of the House of Representatives next year the Republicans should bring this proposal to a vote. 

Nov 25, 2022

Now, How About Doing The Same In The U.S.?

     From Reuters:

Tech giant Uber (UBER.N) and delivery apps DiDi and Rappi have proposed offering [Mexican] social security benefits to workers in Mexico for the first time ahead of a new government bill set to regulate the gig economy.

The companies said in a statement on Wednesday, co-signed by worker-rights activist groups, they were open to covering drivers and couriers who work an average of more than 40 hours a week on one or more platforms.

They stopped short of agreeing to classify drivers as employees, however, and few details were given on how payments towards social security costs would be divided.

Mexican Labor Minister Luisa Alcalde has said officials are working on a bill that would bring gig workers into the "formal economy," although the timeline is still unclear. ...

Nov 24, 2022

Nov 22, 2022

SSI Awards Fell By 26% At Start Of Pandemic In Pennsylvania

    From the Pennsylvania Capital-Star:

... Research released by Community Legal Services of Philadelphia shows that Supplemental Security Income awards, one of two key funding streams, fell [in Pennsylvania] by more than a quarter (26 percent) between 2019 and 2020, the steepest decline of all 50 states. ...

[A] decade-plus of underfunding has “made it extraordinarily difficult for people to access the vital benefits they need to survive.”

That underfunding issue was exacerbated by the pandemic, which saw the U.S. Social Security Administration shutter offices, choking off the flow of aid so badly that the federal agency issued a half-million fewer SSI awards than at pre-pandemic levels, researchers found. ...

Nov 21, 2022

GAO Report On Covid

    The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has issued a report titled Social Security: Remote Service Delivery Increased During COVID-19, But More Could Be Done To Assist Vulnerable Populations. It's primarily a history of how Social Security reacted to Covid making it not too interesting to those of us who have lived and worked through it. The recommendations were pretty much worthless other than one to develop online applications in Spanish. That has nothing to do with Covid directly but certainly needs to be done.

Nov 20, 2022

Social Security Not Taking Claims In Columbus?

     From WCMH in Columbus, OH:

Kathleen McGovern’s husband, Gilbert, died in September. In October, McGovern began the process of settling his affairs, including finances.

“As I understood it, I was eligible to collect my husband’s social security because his was more than what mine was,” said McGovern.

About $600 more. So, McGovern called the social security office in Worthington, to apply for widow’s benefits. She spoke with a representative, who told McGovern that she couldn’t apply online. 

“And she said, ‘No, you can’t do it online either. You have to come in with an appointment to our office, and make your application here,'” said McGovern. “I can’t do it at any other office either. Just that one.”

But McGovern said the representative also told her that wouldn’t be possible, at least for a while, because as of that day, the office was not taking any more appointments. McGovern said she was told to call again, in case that changed. She did, but said she could never get through. ...

Unsure of what to do, McGovern called Better Call 4. We spoke on October 20. I reached out to the Social Security Administration on October 26, and that same afternoon, got a call from a representative, asking for McGovern’s contact information.

The next day, McGovern called Better Call 4 again, to tell us that the agency called her, and took her application over the phone — adding that a lump sum settlement would be deposited in her bank account the following day. ...

    I don't know whether there's a systems limitation that prevents filing a claim online in this situation. There shouldn't be but maybe there is. I don't think agency employees are ever supposed to say they can't make an appointment. She should have been able to take care of her business over the telephone at the least and she should be able to deal with any Social Security field office. 

    If you're a Social Security employee, don't say it couldn't have happened as this woman has described it. I've talked with too many Social Security employees who tried to BS me. It doesn't happen often but it happens and it probably happens a lot more frequently with claimants than it does with an attorney like me.

Nov 19, 2022

Florida Man Tries To Rob Bank After Social Security Benefits Cut

    From the Villages-News in Florida (where else?)

A 74-year-old Villager has been arrested after allegedly attempting to rob a local bank claiming he had been “cut off” by Social Security.

Joseph Vincent Albanese ... walked into the Wells Fargo bank on U.S. Hwy. 441 in Lady Lake at about noon Monday and slipped a pre-written note to a bank teller ... The bank teller removed $700 in cash from her drawer and placed it into a pillow case carried in by Albanese.

He “kept apologizing” and sat down in the main lobby area. Bank employees quickly evacuated customers out of the lobby.

When deputies arrived at the bank, Albanese was still sitting in the lobby. He said Social Security just “cut him off.”

Nov 18, 2022

They Wouldn't, Would They?

     From Michael Hiltzik writing for the Los Angeles Times:

You may have thought that the drubbing Republicans received in the recent election would have prompted party leaders to think more warily about promoting policies that nauseate the voting public.

You would be wrong. We know this from an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal under the name of Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah). The piece appeared Nov. 10, two days after the vote, when congressional leadership was still up in the air. ...

Nevertheless, Romney again teed up the traditional, and discreditable, Republican shibboleth of attacking Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid as “entitlements” that have been causing inflation.

With the Democrats having retained their Senate majority, the chances of wholesale hacking away at these programs’ benefits have receded, for the moment.  

But since Republicans have regained their majority in the House, the possibility that they will try to hold the U.S. economy hostage to force some sort of compromise on the programs, inimical as it might be for the general public, still looms. ...

[W]hat the GOP hopes will be its leverage in any debate over social insurance benefits [is]: the federal debt ceiling, which will need to be raised early next year to avert a possible shutdown of government functions or even an unprecedented default on treasury securities. ...

Nov 17, 2022

Kim Receives Award

     Grace Kim, Social Security's Deputy Commissioner for Operations, has been awarded the Presidential Rank for Distinguished Service. This award was given to 48 federal civil servants across all agencies.

    Kim is in charge of much of Social Security operations providing service to the public. The service is terrible. Why give her an award? I don't know enough about what Kim has done to say whether she deserves the award but poor service was inevitable given the serious underfunding of agency operations. It's possible to do a better or a worse job of dealing with a difficult situation. It's certainly stressful to do a better job of handling a disastrous situation that's not of your own making.

Kijakazi Calls For Greater Administrative Funding

    From Think Advisor:

On Wednesday, Acting Social Security Commissioner Kilolo Kijakazi offered the opening remarks at a retirement equity forum held by the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis and the Economic Policy Institute. ...

Kijakazi says her focus is now squarely on advocating that Congress pass President Joe Biden’s proposed fiscal 2023 budget, which would direct about $14.8 billion to the Social Security Administration, an increase from the agency’s $13.3 billion budget for fiscal 2022.

According to Kijakazi, the SSA is currently operating with one of its lowest levels of staffing on record, and the SSA’s staff are grappling with significant backlogs and challenges, especially when it comes to the review and approval of Social Security disability claims. ...

Nov 16, 2022

New OHO Caseload Analysis Report

    Social Security has posted the Caseload Analysis Report for its Office of Hearings Operations for October 2022, the first month in the new federal fiscal year. These are basic operations statistics. Click on the image to view full size.

Nov 15, 2022

Why So Much Variation?

     Social Security has posted the allowance rates on disability claims at the initial and reconsideration levels for the 2022 federal fiscal year, which ended on September 30, 2022. Last year when these numbers were revealed, I asked why there was so much variation from state to state. I still have the same question. Sure, there are some demographic differences but why are 69.5% of disability claims approved at the initial level in Alaska but only 29.8% in D.C.? Demographics can't account for a difference that great. Closer to home for me, why did North Carolina have a 35.9% allowance rate at the initial level but in the neighboring states of Virginia and South Carolina the allowance rates were 41.3% and 42.8% respectively?

Nov 14, 2022

The ORS?

     I just saw that the National Association of Disability Representatives (NADR) has scheduled training on the Occupational Requirements Survey. They ask if it might be a replacement for the long outdated Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) that Social Security uses. This is the first I've heard of the ORS. Anyone else have info on it?

Nov 13, 2022

What Is The Incidence Of Severe Long Covid?

     From U.S. News & World Report:

... The Social Security Administration has identified about 40,000 disability claims that “include indication of a covid infection at some point,” spokesperson Nicole Tiggemann said. How many people with long covid are among the more than 1 million disability claims awaiting processing by Social Security is unknown.

In recent months, about 5% of new disability claims filed by Allsup, an Illinois-based firm that helps people apply for Social Security, involved people dealing with covid, said T.J. Geist, a director at the firm. Other firms report similar figures. ...

A recent report from the Brookings Institution estimates that 2 million to 4 million people are out of work because of long covid. A study published in September by the National Bureau of Economic Research puts the number at 500,000. ...

    By this point I'm sure that the majority of my disability clients have had Covid. That's because the majority of people in this country have had Covid. Merely having had Covid at some point doesn't mean that your disability claim is due to Covid. It's more likely your knee or your multiple sclerosis or something such. Of the few clients I've seen with disability related to Covid, their current diagnosis isn't so much long Covid as post-ICU syndrome, which was well known before Covid. That's post-ICU syndrome as in if you have to spend an extended period of time in the ICU your health may never be the same again regardless of why you were in the ICU so long.

Nov 12, 2022

Missed This Earlier — New Native Affairs Office

      From an October 4 press release:

Acting Commissioner Kilolo Kijakazi announced that the Social Security Administration (SSA) established an Office of Native American Partnerships within the Office of the Commissioner.

This office will elevate and centralize efforts to administer comprehensive programs and policies related to American Indians and Alaska Natives. It will enhance the agency’s relationship with Tribes and serve as the primary point of contact on Tribal affairs for all stakeholders. …

Nov 11, 2022

Veterans Day 2022


Nov 10, 2022

Information About Claims Backlogs

VA Backlogs

    The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) puts out a quarterly report showing its claims backlog. Above is a chart from that report showing how things have been going at VA.

    I wonder if Social Security should do something like this. It would be more complicated at Social Security. I expect it would take separate charts for initial, reconsideration and hearing reviews for disability claims as well as charts showing the backlogs claimants face to get telephone appointments with the agency and in getting favorable decisions implemented. I know that if you search hard enough you can find much of this information online but putting it all in one easily accessible location and issuing regular press releases could only help the agency in getting the funding it needs. 

    Traditionally, Social Security has tried to sweep its problems under the rug -- minimize them, treat them as isolated problems even when they're routine, hide the information showing the extent of the backlogs, shift agency resources to reduce agency backlogs that attract public attention (thus insuring that other backlogs grow), etc. 

    Isn't it time to straight up tell the public what's going on and let them decide how much service they're willing to pay for? Quit being ashamed. These backlogs aren't due to management failures.

Nov 9, 2022

Purely Coincidental -- Would Have Happened Anyway

     Woman applies for Social Security disability benefits. After more than a year there's still no determination on her claim. She contacts a newspaper reporter who sends an e-mail to Social Security on a Friday inquiring about the case. The following Monday the woman gets a call from Social Security saying her claim had been approved.

    By the way, Social Security doesn't normally call you to tell you that your disability claim has been approved unless there's an SSI claim involved and the description in the article of the woman's family income suggests that there wasn't an SSI claim involved.

Nov 8, 2022

Time Off For Voting A Problem At SSA?

     From Government Executive:

Several agencies are ignoring or putting tight restrictions on the Biden administration’s directive to provide extra time off for employees to vote or work at the polls, according to dozens of workers, the union representing them and internal policies reviewed by Government Executive.  ...

To qualify for the bonus leave, GPO said, employees must be unable to vote due to work duties—such as due to work-related travel—and not have access to absentee voting. Early voting options must also be the same hours as normal election day hours to remain eligible for the time off. If an employee can vote on alternative days earlier in the morning or later at night than is available on Nov. 8, GPO would not provide administrative leave. ...

[A]gencies that employees flagged as non-receptive to leave-for-voting requests included the Veterans Affairs Department, Transportation Security Administration, Social Security Administration and Defense Department. ...

Nov 7, 2022

Can This Business Survive?

    From the Messenger Inquirer:

Will Craig retired from the Social Security Administration in December after 25 years.

He said he’s seen the problems people have in filing claims and appeals.

So Craig has started The Social Security Advisor, a business “where I can help people seeking guidance with Social Security-related issues, such as help with completing complex forms, filing appeals or just help filing their applications,” he said. “I’ve see how everything works. I can’t file claims, but I can help people fill them out correctly.”

Craig said when he worked at Social Security, “I had to get people in and out in 10 minutes. Often they said they wished they had more time to talk with me.”...

Craig charges $50 an hour for his services. ...

Craig’s website says, “People often feel that they don’t need an attorney to qualify for Social Security disability, but might still need help completing the piles of forms and questionnaires that the Disability Determination Service can send. Have you tried calling your local Social Security office to see if they can help? Most likely they told you that there is no one available or that you should seek help from a friend or family member. With 25 years of experience working for the Social Security Administration, I’ve assisted people just like you fill out those forms.”

    I wish Mr. Craig all the best with his new business. I think this sort of service is needed. However, I think that Social Security is going to effectively shut it down by insisting on a fee petition for each fee he receives from a customer and that all monies he receives be held in escrow until a fee is approved. I have to say that this sort of thing -- where help is provided a Social Security claimant but there is no direct contact with Social Security -- has always been a gray area. I can't be entirely sure that Social Security will try to shut him down. I think it would not be in the public interest for them to shut him down. Why shouldn't it be legal to provide this sort of service if there's a demand for it? By the way, don't tell me that insisting that he file a fee petition to get paid isn't the same thing as shutting him down. Anyone who says that doesn't know how slow and tedious the fee petition process is. He would expend more effort filing fee petitions and following up on them than he would helping customers.

Nov 5, 2022

They Don’t Know How Much They Don’t Know

     Americans know so little about Social Security in general and about Social Security disability benefit in particular. According to new research, 24% of Americans don’t realize that there is such a thing as Social Security disability benefits. 7% don’t realize that you need to apply in order to be approved for those benefits. Yes, I have clients who have a hard time understanding that they won’t have a chance at being approved for Social Security disability unless they apply.

Nov 4, 2022

Please Read Before Commenting On This Blog

     I don't know why but there seem to be more and more comments posted on this blog. I think it may be a good idea to discuss the way that comments are handled here.

     Any comments you make on this board are moderated by me. They don't appear until I approve them. I approve comments one by one. Lately I have been deleting more comments. I don't think that's because my standards have changed. It's because the comments have changed. There are more objectionable comments offered. 

    I don't have any comprehensive list of standards for comments but let me list some that will get your comment trashed:

  • Comment has no relevance to what I posted.
  • Comment has only tangential relevance to what I posted. (There's a lot of subjectivity here. How tangential is too tangential?)
  • The comment is repetitive. (Sometimes people repeat their comment merely because the fact that it didn't immediately appear confused them. Often, multiple comments seem to come from paid shills and, yes, it's obvious to me that this blog is targeted by paid shills. I try to knock them all out.)
  • The comment seems intended to be insulting. (Some subjectivity here but there are way too many really insulting comments offered. I offer more leniency when we're talking about public officials.)
  • The comment seems intended to troll. (Some subjectivity here.)
  • The comment contains a clearly false and misleading statement of fact. (I few of these are honest errors but there are too many attempts to offer "alternative facts.")

    Remember, this is my blog. It's not a democracy. I get to be an autocrat. I can turn my thumb up or down on comments as I please. My purpose is to promote a useful and civil dialog. I certainly allow comments that express disagreement with me or which say my facts are wrong but I don't allow comments that are intended to insult me or anyone else or comments which appear to be deliberate lies.

    By the way, remember that I have to get around to reviewing your comment before it appears. This may happen quickly or it may take hours. It depends on my schedule. 

      Judging by what I have to throw out, I'd guess that most of my readers would prefer that the comments be moderated.

Nov 3, 2022

You Snooze, You Lose

    From Bloomberg:

An attorney who won disability insurance benefits for his client isn’t entitled to the fees the Social Security Administration designated for his work before a federal court, because his 26-month delay in requesting them wasn’t reasonable, the First Circuit said.

Jose Pais was denied benefits by the SSA in 2014. In 2018, a federal district court ruled in Pais’ favor and remanded the case to the SSA, which then decided Pais was entitled to benefits.

Pais and his lawyer had signed a contingent-fee agreement. The SSA therefore sent Pais a notice of award in June 2019, saying that his lawyer was entitled under federal law to fees of up to $29,159, representing 25% of the recovered benefits.

The lawyer promptly submitted a claim to SSA for over $7,000 for the work he did in administrative proceedings, but didn’t submit a claim for his work before the district court until August 2021.   

The district court rejected the lawyer’s excuses and said that the delay was unreasonable under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b).

There is not fixed time under the Social Security law for an attorney to file a motion for fees, the opinion by Judge O. Rogeriee Thompson of the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit said. But there is a circuit split over which Federal Rule of Civil Procedure applies to the request, Thompson said.

The Tenth Circuit applies Rule 60, under which parties have a “reasonable time” to move for “relief from a final judgment, order, or proceeding.” But the Second, Third, Fifth, and Eleventh circuits apply Rule 54(d)(2), which says that unless a statute or court order says otherwise, a motion for attorneys’ fees must “be filed no later than 14 days after the entry of judgment.”

Agreeing with the Tenth Circuit, the First Circuit said that the SSA never hands down a notice of award within 14 days of a district court’s judgment, which makes rigid application of Rule 54(d)(2) impossible. It also noted that some of the circuits that apply Rule 54(d)(2) toll the 14 days to the date the SSA issues a notice of award. ...

    What I want to know is how long it took Social Security to act on the fee petition. This delay may not be as bad as it seems.