Aug 31, 2022

A Labor Day Poll


Aug 30, 2022

OIG Report On Agile Software Development

     Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG) has issued a report on Agile Software Development at the Social Security Administration. The report is a major snore as far as I'm concerned. Those directly involved may have other opinions. Mostly, I'm posting about it because OIG is getting so few reports out these days.  Also, news is very slow in Social Security world as we approach Labor Day.

Aug 29, 2022

Elections Have Consequences

     From Government Executive:

The Social Security Administration has plans to restore a few key parts of its national agreement with the American Federation of Government Employees.

After months of ongoing discussions, SSA and AFGE reached an agreement on July 25 to reinstate previous levels of official time for union activity, and the union’s use of SSA facilities, that existed in an earlier iteration of the national contract from 2012. ...

And, there are more negotiations still on the table — SSA and AFGE have agreed to reopen six other contract articles, Couture said. The SSA spokesperson added that the agency looks forward to partnering with AFGE in the upcoming contract negotiations, in part, to try to resolve ongoing challenges with staffing and employee satisfaction. ...

    Actually, AFGE shouldn't need an election win to get this sort of thing. The problem is that the Republican Party has gone nuts in many ways and one of them is its strident hostility towards federal employee  unions. I know the union can be a pain in the neck. I know it can make impossible demands. I know that it is little concerned with service to the public but the Trump Administration policies towards federal employee unions were over the top by almost any standard.

Aug 28, 2022

Of All The Crazy Things In The Social Security Act, The Marriage Penalty For DAC Recipients May Be The Most Cruel

    From the New York Times:

Lori Long and Mark Contreras met on in November 2015. ...

Within weeks of [their first] date, both knew they had found their forever partner. But three months after Mr. Contreras proposed in his Salinas, Calif., home in December 2016 and Ms. Long said an ecstatic “yes,” Ms. Long sat him down for a talk. “I told him, ‘Mark, we’re not going to be able to pursue a life together,’” she said.

She still wanted to marry him, but not if it meant giving up the health care benefits that she relies on to live.

Ms. Long is caught in a governmental quagmire. She was diagnosed at 15 with ankylosing spondylitis, a condition that causes bone fractures and sometimes requires her to use a wheelchair. ...

Because she qualifies for Social Security benefits through a program for adults whose medical disability started before age 22, she is considered a “disabled adult child.” The designation, known as D.A.C., applies to 1.1 million Americans, according to the Social Security Administration website.

Those who qualify generally cannot continue to receive benefits if they marry someone who is not disabled or retired. ...

Ms. Long is among a nationwide network of people pushing for change in Social Security laws as they pertain to marriage. They include not just D.A.C. recipients like her, but also a larger group of disabled Americans — roughly four million — who get S.S.I., or Supplemental Security Income. ...


Aug 27, 2022

There’s More Than One Way To Get Into A Social Security Office

      From KOCO:

Authorities took a driver to a hospital after they crashed into a Social Security Administration building early Friday morning in northeast Oklahoma City.

Police said the driver crashed a truck into a building near Northeast 122nd Street and Kelley Avenue after driving down an embankment.

The driver went to a hospital with minor injuries. No one was inside the building at the time of the crash.

Aug 26, 2022

A Poll For A Slow Day

     There's really nothing newsworthy going on at Social Security so let's have a poll. I'll take suggestions for other polls -- or news.

Aug 24, 2022

No Dice For Disability Determination Patent Application

     The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has ruled against a patent application that promises to determine whether an individual is disabled for purposes of Social Security through a computer network.

Aug 23, 2022

Executive Personnel Assignments


Click on image to view full size

Gruber Out At OHO

     I can confirm that Theresa Gruber is out as head of Social Security's Office of Hearings Operations (OHO).

Status Of Theresa Gruber?

     On July 12, the Washington Post published an article saying that Social Security's Deputy Commissioner for Hearings Operations, Theresa Gruber, was routinely displaying signs of impairment on the job. The agency's Office of Inspector General was investigating. 

    We've heard nothing more since. 

    My assumption was that Gruber would go on leave and then retire or be quietly shifted to a less visible position but nothing has been announced. 

    Just today, I've seen an unconfirmed report that Gruber is out of her job. 

    Anyone know what, if anything, is going on?

Aug 22, 2022

Why Not Do This?


    From the Office of Evaluation Sciences:

… Survey data from the National Institutes of Health-supported Health and Retirement Study suggest that less than 60 percent of individuals age 65 or older who may be eligible for SSI receive the benefit, and administrative data from SSA suggest that uptake may be substantially lower.

SSA identified over 4 million individuals age 65-80 who were potentially eligible for SSI, and sent one of four letter variations to a sub-sample of them. …

Individuals were randomly assigned to receive one of four letter types or to a control condition (i.e., no targeted information about potential SSI eligibility): (1) a basic letter; (2) a letter which states the maximum benefit; (3) a letter which states that applying is simple; (4) a letter combining the maximum benefit element and the “applying is simple” element. SSA sent 100,000 of each letter variation. …

Of beneficiaries who received a letter, 6.0 percent applied for SSI in the nine months after the letters were sent out, compared with 1.0 percent of beneficiaries who did not receive a letter. Similarly, 2.3 percent of beneficiaries who received a letter were awarded SSI during this time, compared with 0.5 percent of beneficiaries who did not receive a letter, an increase of 340%.

    Why not do this? I'll answer my own question. Social Security can't handle the caseload it has now, much less a big jump in SSI claims.

Aug 20, 2022

And He's Up For Re-Election This Year!

     Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) didn't stop with his plan to make Social Security benefits subject to annual appropriations. Now, he's back to insist that Social Security wasn't set up properly to begin with, that in the midst of the Great Depression, not long after the original Black Friday, with memories still fresh of stock brokers plummeting from windows, that the Trust Fund should have been invested in stocks! I think that at that time his idea might have gotten him locked up for insanity. (The standards for involuntary commitment were looser in those days.) Of course, it's still a bad idea for many reasons but in the 1930s? How ignorant can you be of history?

Aug 19, 2022

9.6% COLA?

     The Senior Citizens League is now estimating that Social Security's cost of living adjustment for this year will be 9.6%.

Aug 18, 2022

A New Benefit For SSI Recipients

     From a blog post by Alejandro Roark, Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau Chief, Federal Communications Commission:

... The Federal Communications Commission wants everyone to access reasonably priced internet services. We recently launched a new program to reduce the cost of getting online.

The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) provides a discount of up to:

  • $30 per month toward internet service for eligible households.
  • $75 per month for households on qualifying Tribal lands.

Eligible households can also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 toward purchasing a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet from participating providers. To qualify for this one-time discount, households must contribute more than $10 and less than $50 toward the purchase price.

Any household with an individual who receives Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is eligible to receive discounted internet service through the ACP. Social Security doesn’t count ACP assistance as income or a resource for SSI purposes. Receipt of this assistance will not affect your SSI payment. You may also be eligible, if your household participates in other assistance programs, such as:

  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
  • Medicaid.
  • Federal Public Housing Assistance.
  • Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).
  • Lifeline.

If you don’t receive SSI or participate in another qualifying assistance program, you may also be eligible if your household income is at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. ...

For more information about the program, please email or call 877-384-2575.

Aug 17, 2022

Ways And Means Wants Answers

     The Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Ways and Means Committee are calling for answers from Social Security on the long lines outside the agency's field offices.

    I've got an idea. Why don't they hold a hearing to highlight the problem for the Appropriations Committee which apparently feels that Social Security doesn't deserve enough money for the next fiscal year to even cover inflation much less to improve service?

Aug 16, 2022

Will Social Security Be An Issue In The 2022 Elections?

     From Fox News:

President Biden on Monday commemorated the 87th anniversary of the Social Security Act becoming law by touting Democrat plans to protect, expand and deliver "stronger" benefits to recipients, while warning that a Republican-controlled Congress could put the program "on the chopping block."  ...

Look, if you know me, you know I think rebuilding the middle class is the moral obligation of our time," Biden says in the video. "Social Security allows for our seniors to retire with dignity, and me and my Democratic friends on the hill are trying to protect it and expand it." ...

"But here’s what’s crazy," Biden continued. "Republicans on the hill—they want to put it on the chopping block."

"Every five years it would come up to reconsideration, whether it continues or not," Biden said. "Think about that."

Biden was referring to a plan Republican Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., proposed earlier this year that would sunset Social Security and Medicare within five years.

"Let me ask you have you ever seen the Republicans on Capitol Hill do anything to protect or increase or to benefit Social Security?" Biden asked. ...

"So here’s the deal, with Democrats in Congress, you get stronger social security because you paid for it and you deserve it," Biden said. "With Republicans in Congress, it’s probably going to get sliced." ...

But Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., shut down Scott’s proposal earlier this year, stressing that Republicans "will not have as part of our agenda a bill that raises taxes on half the American people and sunsets Social Security and Medicare within five years." ...

OGC Is Hiring

     Social Security's Office of General Counsel is hiring. They're accepting the first 1,000 applications.

Aug 15, 2022

What To Do About The Death Master File?

     The National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) has produced a lengthy Report to Congress on Sources and Access to State Death Data. This is a role that Social Security, by default, has assumed for the federal government and, indeed, for many businesses. It's a role that Social Security has never been comfortable with and which others have criticized. 

    NAPA has come up with five possible ways to address this issue: 

  • the status quo (what SSA does currently)
  • designating an agency as the distributor of state death data
  • a non-governmental data clearinghouse
  • designating an agency as the federal repository of death data
  • federal agencies contracting directly with individual states 

    NAPA regards the last two options as not feasible. 

    I'm  betting we end up with no change in the status quo. Social Security acknowledges that there are problems with its Death Master File but it's unlikely that anyone else would do better. There's certainly no other agency that wants this chore.

    By the way, this is a much better report than you usually see from a Beltway Bandit.

Aug 14, 2022

Happy 87th Birthday, Social Security!


    The woman in the photo is Frances Perkins, who may deserve the most credit for the creation of Social Security.  I've always thought that Perkins was looking into the future when this photo was taken.

Aug 12, 2022

Hard To Spell Isaac

    From the Washington Post:

... Inspired by Mississippi-based journalist Sarah Fowler’s brilliant Washington Post story on the folks who changed their baby’s first name — 30,000 in the past five years alone — we asked the Social Security Administration for a list of the most-changed names. They ran the numbers back to 2017. ...

Aug 11, 2022

EM On Covid

     Social Security has issued an Emergency Message on the evaluation of Covid cases. It goes on and on but says little. Certainly, there is no suggestion that there are standards that the agency is obliged to abide by. Everything must be "considered."

Aug 10, 2022

OHO Posts Updated Stats

    A Caseload Analysis Report on Social Security's Office of Hearings Operations, posted online. As always, click on the image to view full size.

Aug 9, 2022

It's The Dog Days -- Or Maybe The Tortoise Days

     There seems to be no Social Security news to write about today so I'll just post a picture of a visitor we saw this morning on the walk outside our offices.

Aug 8, 2022

Flyover States Like Representation?

     A map showing geographic variation in representation of Social Security disability claimants at the initial level from Legal Represetation (sic) in Disability Claims a presentation by Hilary Hoynes, of the University of California, Berkeley, Nicole Maestas, of Harvard University and Alexander Strand of the Social Security Administration at the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium


Aug 6, 2022

SSNs Exposed In Court Records

From a letter from Senator Ron Wyden to John Roberts, the Chief Justice:

I write with concern that federal courts are failing in their legal obligations to protect Americans’ private information, putting Americans at needless risk of identify theft, stalking and other harms. Each year, federal courts make available to the public court filings containing tens of thousands of Americans’ personal information, such as their Social Security Numbers (SSNs) and dates of birth. However, federal court rules — required by Congress — mandate that court filings be scrubbed of personal information before they are publicly available. These rules are not being followed, the courts are not enforcing them, and as a result, cach year tens of thousands of Americans are exposed to needless privacy violations. 

The Judicial Conference, the courts’ policy-making body, has known about this problem for at least a decade and has refused to act.  …

The most recent report, which was provided to my office in draft form, says the Federal Judicial Center (FIC), the courts’ research arm, has twice studied the problem of personal data appearing in public court records, in 2010 and 2015, and in both cases found significant violations of the judiciary’s privacy rules. In the most recent study, the FIC examined 3.9 million court records filed duringa one month period in 2013. It found 5,437 of these documents included one or more SSNs. If these statistics are representative of the problem, it would mean that the courts have made available to the public roughly half a million documents containing personal data since 2015. …

     I hope this isn’t happening in Social Security cases. Many, many years ago we used to put the claimant’s Social Security number in the case caption but those days are long gone. 

Aug 5, 2022

Such Careful Reviews

     Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG) has belatedly posted four reports for the time period of June and July. I had written recently about the lack of reports for that time period. Four is still far below what OIG had been averaging but better than nothing,

    Here's a quote from one of those newly posted reports, The Social Security Administration’s Appeals Council Workloads:

In FY 2020, 76 AAJs [Administrative Appeals Judges] issued approximately 85,000 total dispositions. While 22 AAJs issued fewer than 500 dispositions, 4 issued more than 2,500, see Figure 6. The number of dispositions per AAJ ranged from 3 to 3,731, and the median number was 1,064 dispositions.

    These files probably average around 1,000 pages now but one AAJ is carefully reviewing 3,731 of them a year? Yes, they have help but 3,731 in a year? Calling the Appeals Council a rubber stamp is an insult to rubber stamps.

Aug 4, 2022

My Social Security Redesigned

     An announcement from Social Security:

We have exciting news to share! We redesigned my Social Security!

It’s now easier for your clients who receive Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) to do business with us online and find the information that they need.

With the new design, people who receive Social Security benefits or SSI are now able to update their telephone number online and see more information under the Benefits and Payments section. People who receive Social Security benefits can also change their address and direct deposit information under the My Profile tab.

While signed into their personal my Social Security account, your clients can continue to:

  • Get their Benefit Verification or proof of income letter.
  • Obtain replacement SSA-1099/SSA-1042S tax forms, if applicable.
  • View their Social Security Statement.
  • Request a replacement Social Security card.

Your clients can access their redesigned my Social Security account at

    Now, if they'd just allow those who have pending disability claims to access their earnings records or file retirement claims ...

Aug 3, 2022

Third Rail Alert

     I generally don't post about the silly ideas that various Representatives and Senators have for Social Security legislation when there's no hope of passage or even of the proposal having an impact on Social Security legislation that may be passed at some indefinite time in the future. I'm making an exception for the latest utterance by Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. He's proposing that Social Security's guaranteed benefit payments should end, that Social Security benefits become subject to annual appropriations. This, of course, is going nowhere. I doubt that he could find more than one more Senator who would publicly agree with this or more than a handful of Representatives.  Senator Rick Scott, who has expressed his own absurd notions about Social Security, might agree with him. So why post about this nonsense? Senator Johnson is in a tight race for re-election against a Democratic opponent yet to be decided in a primary election. That race may determine control of the Senate in the next Congress. Johnson has touched the third rail of American politics. Here's hoping his audacity gets him the reward of spending more time with his family.

    By the way, Johnson argues that if annual appropriations are good enough for the Department of Defense, they should be good enough for Social Security. If Social Security were to receive the whooping budget increases that the Department of Defense has been receiving, Johnson's idea might not be so bad!

Aug 2, 2022

What's Going On At OIG?

    Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG), particularly the Inspector General herself,  has been in the news lately. OIG has been having trouble getting work out the door recently or, at least, posting notice of the work. OIG has posted zero reports online since May 26. Mostly the reports are studies of agency operations with recommendations. By contrast, here are the number of reports posted online in June and July of recent years:

  • 2021 -- 13
  • 2020 -- 11
  • 2019 -- 11
  • 2018 -- 14

Aug 1, 2022

Social Security Staffing At Low Ebb

    The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has posted updated numbers showing the headcount of employees at each agency. Note that these numbers do not tell the whole story. They don't account for part time employees nor for overtime. Overtime is a huge part of the story at Social Security. Here are Social Security's numbers as of March with earlier headcount numbers for comparison:

  • March 2022, 59,257
  • December, 2021 60,422
  • September, 2021 59,808
  • June 2021 59,707
  • March 2021 60,675
  • December 2020 61,816
  • September 2020 61,447
  • June 2020 60,515
  • March 2020 60,659
  • December 2019 61,969
  • December 2018 62,946
  • December 2017 62,777
  • December 2016 63,364
  • December 2015 65,518
  • December 2014 65,430
  • December 2013 61,957
  • December 2012 64,538
  • December 2010 70,270
  • December 2009 67,486
  • December 2008 63,733