Mar 31, 2022

When Will The Field Offices Reopen To The Public?

    Why is it that I have a feeling that Social Security won't make any prior announcement when they reopen the field offices to the public because they want a "soft" reopening? Is there any other way they'd do it?

 Anyway, here are new health protocols for visiting the agency's field offices just issued by Social Security:

What safety protocols must I follow to visit a Social Security office?


All visitors, employees, and guards must review the self-assessment below before allowed to enter. You may not enter the office if your answer to any of these questions is YES, regardless of your vaccination status. Masks are required for all visitors, employees, and guards.

  1. Do you have any new or worsening symptoms of COVID-19 including:
    • Fever (100.4 degrees or higher);
    • Cough or sore throat;
    • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing;
    • Fatigue;
    • Muscle pain or body aches;
    • Headache;
    • New loss of taste or smell;
    • Congestion or runny nose; or
    • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea?
  2. Within the last 10 days, have you:
    • Been diagnosed with COVID-19;
    • Received instructions from a public health authority (local health authority, medical professional, etc.) to self-monitor for symptoms of COVID-19 or self-quarantine due to COVID-19;
    • Been tested for COVID-19 and are awaiting the results (other than for travel purposes); or
    • Been in close physical contact with anyone who was diagnosed with COVID-19 or developed symptoms consistent with COVID-19?
  3. Within the last 5 days, have you:
    • Traveled outside the country by means other than land travel, such as car, bus, ferry, or train?

Close physical contact is defined as being within 6 feet of an infected/symptomatic person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period starting from 48 hours before illness onset (or, for asymptomatic individuals, 48 hours prior to test specimen collection).

If you answered YES to any of these questions or if you feel ill, please call the office to reschedule your appointment.

If you answered NO, you must wear a face covering over your mouth and nose to enter this facility. If you do not have one, we will provide you with one. If you are unable to wear a face covering, call the office and ask to speak with the manager.

Mar 30, 2022


    From a piece by Nancy Altman, the president of Social Security Works, in The Hill (emphasis added):

After two long years, Social Security offices are scheduled to reopen in early April.  

It was wrong to keep them closed (to all but those deemed to be in dire need) for so long. Post offices never closed. ...

During the two years of closed offices, claims for disability benefits plummeted, at a time when they should have skyrocketed, given the pandemic. ...

But the reopening may be rocky — or worse. There may be very long lines; there may be people who wait and wait but are not served. People may be forced to wait outside in the rain. If things go horribly wrong, there could even be violence, committed by people who are desperate. ...

The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) should have started planning for reopening the day the offices were closed. But unfortunately, the commissioner at the time was a Donald Trump crony, Andrew Saul, who was only too happy to work from home himself, even before the pandemic.

Ralph de Juliis, head of the union council representing field office workers, also contributed to the two years of closed offices. Shockingly, he has publicly advocated for permanently shuttering almost all of the more than 1200 field offices. ...

Congress has starved SSA — and continues to do so.The Omnibus funding bill recently passed by Congress drastically underfunds SSA ....

This is part of a long pattern of Congress underfunding SSA, which began years before the pandemic. Between 2010 and 2021, SSA’s operating budget fell by 13 percent. During the same period, the number of beneficiaries grew by 21 percent due largely to the (still ongoing) retirement of the Baby Boom generation. ...

 For most of its history, SSA had a well-deserved reputation for providing exemplary service to the public. People went to their local field offices knowing they would get excellent, compassionate help with their earned benefits. It was considered one of the best federal agencies to work for, as well. Now, it ranks near the bottom. Training, which used to be extensive and first-rate, has reportedly deteriorated. ...

    You would expect that Altman would be sympathetic to de Juliis and the union. I think it's a sign of just how outrageous the union has become that Altman is criticizing him by name.

    It's not a good long term strategy for a labor union to lose support from the left since it will never have support from the right.

Mar 29, 2022

President Releases Budget Proposal

     President Biden has issued his Administration's budget proposal for FY 2023 (which begins on October 1, 2022). It calls for an administrative budget for Social Security of $14.998 billion, up 13% from $13.284 billion in FY 2022. Under the law, the Commissioner of Social Security issues their own proposed budget for the agency. The Acting Commissioner's proposed budget is $15.55 billion.

    These are only proposals. Congress decides. It has been obvious in recent years, particularly the current year, that Social Security is a disfavored agency that is unable to get enough additional funds to even cover inflation. I like to think that the lines that will form before dawn once Social Security field offices reopen may change Congressional perspective but I'm not sure. As long as payments keep going out to retirees, Congress seems unconcerned about problems that mostly affect disabled people and poor SSI claimants.

    Below is a table prepared by Government Executive showing comparisons to what is proposed for other agencies. I have no idea how they get a figure of $10.1 billion in the President's proposed budget or $8.9 billion in the current year's for Social Security. Maybe they're excluding the Office of Inspector General and the funds earmarked for program security? But I don't know if that gets you to their numbers. In any case, this gives us a good comparison to other agencies. Obviously, Social Security didn't do bad but could have done better. It's not just Congress that discounts the need for additional funding for the Social Security Administration.

Click on image to view full size

Mar 28, 2022

Some Small Attention To Social Security's Budget Crunch

      From Mark Miller's syndicated column:

If you need help filing for Social Security, Medicare or disability benefits, I have good news and bad news.The good news: The sprawling network of more than 1,200 Social Security field offices around the United States will reopen to the public in early April after a two-year COVID-19 shutdown ...

The bad news: The Social Security Administration (SSA) is bracing for a crush of office visitors. Along with the pent-up demand created by the long shutdown, the agency’s national toll-free number has been experiencing problems, with some callers getting busy signals or abrupt disconnections, which an SSA spokesman confirmed. The phone system problems are expected to increase demand further in the initial weeks of the reopening.

The return to office comes at a time when the SSA was working to replace staff lost during the pandemic. But hiring has been frozen due to a lower-than-expected operating budget signed into law last week as part of a $1.5 trillion U.S. government spending bill for 2022. The SSA budget rose by $411 million to a total of $13.3 billion – less than half of what the Biden administration had requested.

“Our 2022 funding level will complicate our efforts to improve services to the public, although we remain committed to doing so,” said Mark Hinkle, the agency’s press officer, via email. ...

Part of the problem is application processing delays at the state level. The SSA sends disability applications to state agencies, which make medical determinations of eligibility. The largest backlog is in Florida, which had 92,525 cases awaiting determination at the end of January; Texas, California, New York state and Georgia also had large backlogs, according to agency data.

The SSA funds these state-level determinations, so the agency’s broader budget crunch has played a role in the backlogs, according to Cloyd [who works for NOSSCR]. ...

Mar 27, 2022

Social Security Is Really Popular

      From a report based upon public opinion polling compiled by the Partnership for Public Service:

Mar 26, 2022

At Least He Didn't Use A Gun

      From some television station in the Killeen, Texas area that prefers to hide its call letters and its exact location:

A 64-year-old man remained in the Bell County Jail Thursday without bond set on felony charges in connection with a disturbance at the Temple Social Security Office.

Perry Lee Penning was being held on a charge of aggravated assault of a public servant.

A Temple Police Department spokesperson said officers were called to the office Tuesday after a visitor to the office got into a physical confrontation with a security guard.

Police said Penning had been asked to leave and refused.

He was accused of striking the security guard on the head and in the abdomen. ...

Mar 25, 2022

Social Security Is Back To The Position That There Are No Time Limits On Collecting Overpayments

      Social Security had been observing a 10 year time limit on collecting overpayments by recoupment from current benefit payments. That's over now. The agency has sent out instructions to its staff saying that once again there is no time limit on recouping overpayments. You can be retiring at age 67 and be told that you won't be paid now because you were overpaid when you were a child. This has happened before and will soon happen again, not in a few solated cases but as a matter of routine in many cases. Social Security has records of how much these alleged overpayments are but doesn't have records showing why these alleged overpayments happened or whether the claimant was ever given due process rights. The claimant is left with the daunting task of trying to get in touch with Social Security to explore what their rights are.

Mar 24, 2022

Online Protective Filing Tool Released

     From a recently released Emergency Message: 

A. Purpose
This emergency message (EM) provides policy guidance and processing instructions for handling protective filings established by the Online Protective Filing Online Protective Filing tool which was released into production on March 19, 2022.

B. Background
... The Online Protective Filing tool is a public-facing web tool to submit a request for an appointment to file for benefits and record a protective filing date for individuals who cannot contact us by phone or does not wish to utilize existing Online Services, such as the Internet Claim (iClaim) Application. The request can be submitted by an individual interested in benefits for themselves, or on behalf of certain other individuals. Upon submission, a protective filing date is established. The Online Protective Filing tool fills gaps in existing online methods for establishing a protective filing date for (or on behalf of) potential claimants of any age interested in receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI).  

The Online Protective Filing tool is targeted to individuals interested in filing for SSI. The Online Protective Filing tool will:

    · Collect responses to preliminary screening questions,
    · Determine the applicable Title II and Title XVI claim types,
    · Establish Title II and Title XVI protective filing dates, and
    · Provide appropriate closeout language for both Titles (in certain situations).
 Once the appointment request is submitted, the Online Protective Filing request is sent to the Enhanced Leads and Appointment System (eLAS) to create a record for further action. If the individual does not complete all required fields to submit the Online Protective Filing inquiry, or the submission fails, no data is saved or sent to eLAS, and no protective filing date is established. ...

Mar 22, 2022


      From David Weaver writing for The Hill:

Elites in America often marvel at the supposed ignorance of the American people, who, when surveyed, overestimate how much is spent on foreign aid. However, it is possible the public understands something the elites do not: Service from the government is often so bad that there must be something wrong with domestic spending.

Congressional appropriators recently provided more money for the country of Ukraine ($13.6 billion) than they did for administering Social Security ($13.3 billion).  ... Congress rapidly approved the president's request for Ukraine funding and even added an extra $3.6 billion.

Funding for the Social Security Administration (SSA), which runs the largest and most important program in the United States? That's different. Congressional appropriators decided to cut the President's FY 2022 request by about $1 billion, which will result in severe hardship for Americans, particularly Americans from low income and minority communities, who will now not be able to access benefits.

It's possible to laud assistance to Ukraine and still wonder what's wrong at home.

Since 2010, SSA's operational budget has fallen in real terms by 13 percent while the number of beneficiaries it serves has grown by 21 percent. 

The effects of underfunding an agency with a growing workload are not particularly surprising: large backlogs (one million Americans are currently waiting for a disability determination from SSA), a collapsing service infrastructure (SSA's phone systems are physically breaking down under the volume of calls), and furious members of the public who, in the most difficult times of their lives, cannot get help. ...


Mar 21, 2022

Something Coming?

     There have been rumors that an increase in the cap on fees that attorneys can charge for representing Social Security claimants is coming. That hasn’t happened yet but Social Security just saw fit to update its POMS manual section on increases in the fee cap. 

     I will say, though, that I look at these POMS updates generally and a lot of the time I wonder why they bothered with the update.

Mar 19, 2022

Senators Want Answers

    Three Senators have written Social Security's Acting Commissioner demanding answers about the agency's policies for long Covid disability claims. 

    However, so far, the real long Covid story at Social Security has been how few disability claims have been filed based upon long Covid.

Mar 18, 2022

Reopening Plans: Bringing Back Retirees, Union Negotiations

      From Federal News Network (emphasis added):

The Social Security Administration remains on track to bring most of its employees back into the office on March 30, and plans to increase in-person service to the public, including walk-in service to customers without an appointment, starting in early April.

SSA leadership, however, anticipates higher than normal wait times for customers seeking assistance for at least the first month of the agency opening its doors to walk-in traffic.

SSA is looking to hire back retired employees on a temporary basis to assist with crowds expected to line up at its field offices once they accept walk-in customers. ...

The agency plans to hire retirees to work in field offices for up to 30 days, but may extend assignments depending on office needs.

Temporary hires will be paid at a GS-11 base rate of $74,074 a year, plus locality pay based on their location.

SSA retirees accepted for this work will also receive a dual compensation waiver, which will allow agency retirees to continue to draw their full monthly annuity and a full salary with no reduction.

The agency is also offering to cover travel expenses, including lodging and per diem costs, as needed, for SSA retirees who need to work further from home. ...

Eligible retirees must have retired from a non-bargaining unit position and under optional retirement to be eligible for this temporary work. ...

These temporary hires will help field office management oversee reception area operation and lines of visitors waiting for in-person service. SSA said this assignment may include working outside or in adjacent spaces to help manage “overflow lines.” ...

Christie Saunders, the president of the National Treasury Employees Union Chapter 224, said SSA has agreed to its employees to telework up to five days a week, at least through the end of a six-month evaluation period.

NTEU Chapter 224 represents attorneys and paralegals that work for SSA’s Office of Hearing Operations. ...

The American Federation of Government Employees Council 220, however, describes negotiations with SSA leadership that have been more contentious and less productive. ...

AFGE Council 220 Executive Vice President Bill Price said the agency, so far in meetings with the union, has “refused to agree to implement any of our proposed ideas” for a safe return to the office. ...

Mar 17, 2022

Reopening Plans

From: ^Human Resources Internal Communications
Sent: Thursday, March 17, 2022 8:55 AM
Subject: A Safe Return to Official Duty Stations

To:  All SSA Employees

Subject:  A Safe Return to Official Duty Stations

Please carefully read the updated Medical Office COVID-19 Employee FAQs, which become effective upon reentry on March 30, 2022.  While you must review the complete FAQs, below are some of the most important policy changes.  

Masking and Physical Distancing (FAQ #7)

All employees, contractors, and visitors must mask while in SSA space.  Employees may use a mask of their choice, so long as it meets the agency mask guidelines.  Offices will have disposable surgical masks for the public, and employees may also use these masks.  Upon request, the agency will provide KN95 masks.  Fully vaccinated employees do not need to physically distance from each other while in SSA worksites, but employees who are not fully vaccinated and members of the public do need to maintain at least 6 feet physical distance in SSA worksites. 

Updated Signage - Daily Self-Screening (FAQ #10)

Employees who are diagnosed with COVID-19 or who are in close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19, must remain out of the office for 10 days.  The updated daily screening criteria and new signage will be posted at the entrances to SSA facilities.

Telework and Laptops (FAQ #14)                                                          

Employees approved for telework should take home their laptops each day to be prepared for possible quarantines, isolation, or failed self-screening.  Because we are sharing the agency safety protocols in advance, employees approved for telework will not be granted weather and safety leave (WSL) if they are unprepared to telework.  Under Federal leave regulations, agencies may grant WSL only to employees who are participating in a telework program if a safety condition preventing work at the official duty station could not reasonably be anticipated.  Employees are responsible for the proper care, use, and security (both equipment and data) of their laptop.  Please see the Annual Personnel Reminders, Section 1.4, Use of Government Property, Portable Computing Devices.

The COVID-19 Vaccination Status Portal remains open for you to continue to enter updates to your vaccination status.  We encourage all employees to receive booster shots and to include the booster shot record in the Vaccination Status Portal.  You can find more information about booster shots here.  The agency provides up to 4 hours of administrative leave for employees to receive a booster.

Your manager will be meeting with you soon, and you may direct any questions to your manager at that time.  Please be patient as this is new information for all of us, including your managers. 

Thank you for your commitment to our critical public service mission.

25 Months In Club Fed For Former Field Office Employee

     From a press release:

Sean Okrzesik, age 34, of Syracuse, was sentenced today to serve 25-months in federal prison on charges of aggravated identity theft and theft of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. ... Okrzesik’s conduct occurred while he was employed in the Syracuse District Office of the Social Security Administration (SSA). ...

Okrzesik admitted that from February of 2020 through February of 2021, he opened bank accounts using the names and Social Security numbers of various SSI beneficiaries or their representative payees.  Okrzesik also admitted that once these accounts had been created, he would divert SSI benefit payments intended for these beneficiaries into the accounts, which he then used to pay personal expenses including the purchase of video gaming equipment, a custom suit, jewelry, airline tickets to the Caribbean, and online gambling.  The total amount of SSI benefits stolen by Okrzesik was $103,798.77. ...

Mar 16, 2022

Michael Astrue Has Lots Of Criticism For Democrats And Unions

      From an interview on Federal News Network with former Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue:

... The sense that I generally had was, [Andrew Saul was] trying to quiet things down. There was no successor between our time and there was an acting, long-term acting who quite frankly, did a brutal job. And pretty much every significant service metric went backwards dramatically. I mean, we spent six years driving down the hearing backlog, which was considered a national scandal and was on CBS Evening News and all that kind of stuff. And we took it down very significantly. And then under Carolyn Colvin, it went back up faster than it went down. And a lot of the other significant measures of service in the public deteriorated very rapidly. So I think my sense of what Andrew was trying to do, was to try to stabilize the agency, at a time when they didn’t have a lot of money, wasn’t getting a lot of attention from the White House or the Congress, and just trying to get some sense of normalcy back to the agency. And that’s kind of my sense of what they were trying to do. ... 

Well, I think what’s disappointing is just this sense of neglect. You know, it’s been 14, 15 months now that they’ve had the time to decide what they wanted to do at Social Security [about a new Commissioner]. And they haven’t made a decision. And I think that demoralizing for the agency, it tends to freeze decision making. I think it’s hard to justify. You look at sort of how positions are filled in other agencies, and you say, well, how come not at Social Security, is it just not as important? It’s frustrating. And I agree with you, I believe that the acting commissioner is up any day. And there’s been no announcement on that. The concern is that they’re just going to do nothing. And although violation of the vacancy act often doesn’t bring the agency to its knees, it’s demoralizing for employees, it invalidates certain types of actions, or keeps the commissioner from doing certain types of things, and creates enormous uncertainty. And the last thing that the agency needs, with underfunding and everything else that’s going on is uncertainty. So it would be a very helpful thing for improving service delivery for the White House to decide what direction doesn’t want to go at Social Security and try to find the very best person that they can to run the agency. ...

[T]here’s a history and yet again, both parties, but particularly with the Democrats of nominating candidates [for Commissioner], without any management experience whatsoever, and to get it into an agency where you have 60,000 to 70,000 employees to manage, and you’ve got enormous budgetary issues, you’ve got workloads going through the roof, you have antiquated technology, you have lots and lots of problems. It is really almost unfair to throw someone in who’s managing people for the first time and whose background is policy because they don’t get to do policy. But they got to do a lot of management of a very complex organization. And it’s a tough one to learn on the job. ...

[Interviewer]: And how did you find dealing with the major unions, there, the AFGE councils?

Michael Astrue: Impossible. I mean, they’ve been confrontational since the ’60s, and not really, in my opinion, interested in improving service to the public. They’re interested in expanding the number of employees and that type of thing. And I found them excessively confrontational, dishonest, really, in reporting what was being said and done in the agency, and really very determined not to cooperate in a Republican administration. Now in Democratic administrations, they have what’s called partnership, and at Social Security, White Houses have pretty much interpreted that almost as co-management, which makes it very difficult to make change, and very difficult to improve service, which is why, under Carolyn Colvin, for instance, service went backwards in every conceivable way, because I don’t think she had division but she also had her hands tied by the union. And you worry in this administration, that it’s going to be back to the same thing where you can’t make the changes that you need to improve the quality of work unless the union approves them. ...

Mar 15, 2022

As I've Said, Few Covid Disability Claims So Far

     From a Washington Post article on Covid disability claims:

... The Social Security Administration said it has received about 23,000 disability applications since the beginning of the pandemic that include a mention of covid in some way — less than 1 percent of all annual claims, it said. ...

Mar 14, 2022

Does Social Security Need A Beneficiary Advocate?

    From a press release: 

Today, U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), chairman of the Senate Finance Subcommittee on Social Security, Pensions, and Family Policy, Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Bob Casey (D-PA) sent a letter to President Biden urging him to create a “Beneficiary Advocate” position within the Social Security Administration (SSA). This position would be modeled off of the Taxpayer Advocate position at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and ensure that the tens of millions of Americans who rely on Social Security, often after a lifetime of work and paying into the system, have a dedicated voice in SSA’s day-to-day operations. ...

    It would have to be truly independent to be effective. My guess is that Social Security management would strongly oppose this since an independent taxpayer advocate would almost immediately start offering harsh criticism of service at Social Security. There's a lot to criticize and they know it. The problem is the low operating budget and that's the fault of Congress but Social Security management acts as if it's their fault and tries to cover it up.

Mar 13, 2022

NYC To Stop Taking Children's Benefits

Child welfare officials in New York City say they will stop collecting all of the Social Security checks from children in foster care and using that money to cover the costs of their care, altering a practice criticized by advocates for children. And those advocates say they hope New York's action becomes a model for agencies across the country.

Jess Dannhauser, commissioner of the Administration for Children's Services, New York City's child protection agency, says soon the Social Security money will be placed in savings accounts that children can access when they leave foster care–either when they return to family, are adopted or age-out of foster care between ages 18 and 24. ...

Mar 12, 2022

Does Anybody Care?

      I keep posting links to stories such as these from New York and California about terrible service at Social Security but I am getting an increasing feeling of futility. The national media seem uninterested. Congress just passed an appropriation for Social Security that was way below the increase in the cost of living, assuring that Social Security's service problems are just going to get worse. Poor public service at Social Security is just too boring a subject for a Congressional hearing. Agency management seems more interested in dealing with internal labor-management issues than with public service. Social Security basically didn't answer their telephones this week -- at all. They say it's technical problems but the agency couldn't be bothered to even put out a press release. How can a huge agency like Social Security fail to answer its phones for a whole week and no one notices other than those trying to call the agency? If agency management can get away with this, is there anything they can't get away with? Of course, it's hard to tell the difference between telephone service this week and most weeks because it's so bad even when they halfway try to answer their phones. What is it going to take to get public attention to the problems? Will it be noticed when people are lining up well before dawn to get into Social Security field offices to be helped? That's coming in April.

Mar 11, 2022

Contractor Problems Contributing To Social Security Phone Issues

    Social Security's telephone systems have been down this week. It's been essentially impossible to call in. I don't  get the impression that the agency is all that concerned about this. They haven't even put out a press release. Maybe by this point the difference between nearly impossible and impossible have become so slight that it hardly matters to them any more.

    There's an employee union podcast on reopening at Social Security, specifically at the teleservice centers, which says that there are MAJOR technical problems with new telecommunications contractors which are significantly affecting agency telephone service. There's a fair amount of whining on the podcast that would appeal only to union members but mixed in is real info on the agency's telephone problems. Talk about strategies to make sure agency employees can work in their pajamas everyday, forever, isn't going to win the union many friends nor are many likely to buy into the notion that Covid will still be a dire public health threat by late this month when agency employees start returning -- part-time -- to their offices. However, my point in posting this is the information in the podcast about the serious technical problems.

    Note that no matter how bad the contractor problems may be, Social Security lacks the manpower to answer its phones anyway!

Mar 10, 2022

OHO Caseload Analysis Report

      Posted in Social Security's Freedom of Information Reading Room:

Click on image to view full size

Mar 9, 2022

Finally An Appropriations Agreement

      There is finally agreement on an Omnibus Appropriations Bill to fund the federal government for the remainder of the fiscal year. Social Security will get $13.2 billion for its operations. The FY 2021 appropriation had been $12.9 billion. The increase is not nearly enough to cover inflation. The agency remains on a starvation diet that assures that service will continue to decline.

     Whatever lobbying efforts went into obtaining an adequate operating budget for the Social Security Administration were completely ineffective. 

     Individual members of Congress who declare their concern over the state of service at Social Security may be sincere but, in general, there must be nearly zero concern in Congress over the state of the service that the public is getting from Social Security.

Mar 8, 2022

The First Step -- Admitting You Have A Problem

      A tweet from Social Security:

We are currently having problems with our local offices and 800-Number phone systems. You may experience service issues, including poor call quality, dropped calls, and long wait times. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience and we appreciate your patience.

Mar 7, 2022

OHO Phone Outages

      I have received multiple reports of telephone outages at Social Security's hearing offices in several states today. Telephone hearings are going forward, however. We can't call in but can agency employees call out?

An Idea For Social Security

      From Government Executive:

The Internal Revenue Service announced a new Taxpayer Experience Office meant to shore up taxpayer service at the struggling agency on Friday. ...

The IRS says that the new office will work on all parts of "taxpayer transactions" across the IRS. ...

"The IRS is committed to customer experiences that meet taxpayers where they are, in the moments that matter most in people's lives and in a way that delivers the service that the public expects and deserves," said Chief Taxpayer Experience Officer Ken Corbin, who is also the commissioner of the Wage and Investment division.

The IRS is also grappling with how to do identity verification for online accounts. It recently announced it will pivot from private company, which uses biometrics, to General Services Administration's after this tax season.

     It would help if Social Security would be honest with itself and the public about the state of the service it provides. It would also help if the agency accepts the reality that personal service including in person service will be required forever. We are not in a transition to completely digital service at Social Security and never will be. Field offices and teleservice centers are never going away.

Mar 5, 2022

Another CR?

      We’re almost six months into the federal fiscal year and Congress is still unable to pass appropriations bills. On March 11 the continuing resolution funding Social Security and other agencies runs out. It’s not clear that Congress can meet this deadline. There won’t be a government shutdown but we may end up with yet another continuing resolution giving Congress yet more time. The problem is Republic stonewalling combined with the unwillingness of two Democratic senators to end the filibuster.

Mar 4, 2022

Service Sucks At Social Security -- Part One Million

      From AARP:

When Jim Sauer read the letter from the Social Security Administration (SSA) in October 2021, he was puzzled. Because he was claiming benefits a year after his full retirement age, he was expecting bigger payments than what the SSA said he would receive. So Sauer called the Social Security office near his home in Fairfield Township, Ohio, to address the problem. But after 12 conversations with local SSA customer service representatives and two calls to the agency’s national call center, Sauer remained not only puzzled but also frustrated.​

“It’s not just the issues themselves,” says Sauer, a former career employee at a Fortune 500 company who worked in international finance. “It’s when you call, you wait on hold forever. And then when you finally get ahold of someone, they seemingly just don’t care about helping you and are highly unqualified to answer your questions or to lead you to where you could get answers.” ​ ...

As with most things, customer service issues are tied in large part to money. Since 2010, the SSA’s operating budget — set each year by Congress — has declined by 13 percent and its staff by 12 percent, while the number of Social Security beneficiaries has increased 22 percent, according to an analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. ​ ...

Mar 3, 2022

Field Office Managers Have Complaints

... During our interviews with management and our office visits, we learned office managers—who are not members of a bargaining unit— were the main staff reporting to the offices throughout the pandemic. Approximately half of the office management we interviewed believed they were treated fairly; while the remaining office managers indicated SSA leadership could have provided them more support during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Sixteen members of management stated they felt overworked, dispensable, and unappreciated, and 45 said the Agency did not realize the large volume of non-portable work for which they were responsible. Management noted it was a challenge to juggle their normal managerial duties and the non-portable workload. ...

Mar 2, 2022

Harder To Win In Rural States Which Are Mostly Red States

      From Blue Virginia:

Recent data from the Social Security Administration (SSA) shows that rural states are more likely to have low disability claim approval rates as compared to more urban states.

Of the top 15 states with the lowest disability claim approval rates, Oklahoma (30 percent), Hawaii (30.2 percent), and West Virginia (31.9 percent) have the lowest overall approval rates.

Seven of the remaining 15 states have approval rates that fall at or below 35 percent: Alabama (32.3 percent), Kentucky (32.9 percent), North Carolina (33.5 percent), New Mexico (34.4 percent), Florida (35 percent), Indiana (35.2 percent), and Maryland (35.9 percent).

The other six states have marginally higher approval rates. Still, they fall below the national approval rate average of 41.7 percent: Montana (36.2 percent), Utah (36.2 percent), Arizona (36.4 percent), Mississippi (36.6 percent), Georgia (36.7 percent), and Tennessee (37.9 percent). ...

Mar 1, 2022

If They Haven't Gotten Better, Why Are We Ending Their Benefits?

      From Does Welfare Prevent Crime? The Criminal Justice Outcomes of Youth Removed From SSI by Manasi Deshpande & Michael G. Mueller-Smith (emphasis added):

We estimate the effect of losing Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits at age 18 on criminal justice and employment outcomes over the next two decades. ... We find that SSI removal increases the number of criminal charges by a statistically significant 20% over the next two decades. The increase in charges is concentrated in offenses for which income generation is a primary motivation (60% increase), especially theft, burglary, fraud/forgery, and prostitution. The effect of SSI removal on criminal justice involvement persists more than two decades later, even as the effect of removal on contemporaneous SSI receipt diminishes. In response to SSI removal, youth are twice as likely to be charged with an illicit income-generating offense than they are to maintain steady employment at $15,000/year in the labor market. As a result of these charges, the annual likelihood of incarceration increases by a statistically significant 60% in the two decades following SSI removal. The costs to taxpayers of enforcement and incarceration from SSI removal are so high that they nearly eliminate the savings to taxpayers from reduced SSI benefits.

     You've been granted SSI disability benefits as a child. It wasn't easy. You had to have been pretty sick. However, at age 18, even though you haven't gotten a bit better, you're made to prove all over again that you're disabled and in many, many cases cut off your SSI, leaving you with no income. Why? Does turning 18 make people healthier? How can we realistically expect anything other than bad results from such a brutal policy? This study is looking at just the dollar costs to the government. What about all the misery caused to disabled people and their families? That has value too.