Sep 30, 2022

Workforce Decline Continues

    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. A Full Time Equivalent (FTE) report would cover that but we seldom see FTE reports. I'm not sure why. Here are Social Security's numbers as of June with earlier headcount numbers for comparison:

  •  June, 2022 58,332
  • 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

Sep 28, 2022

Social Security An Issue In Campaign 2022

     It is becoming clear that Democrats want to make Social Security a significant campaign issue for the upcoming mid-term election. Yesterday, the President warned that Republicans want to "sunset" Social Security.     

    Of course, the New York Times tried to "both sides" the issue by warning that Social Security is in "limbo" and on "unstable ground" neither of which is true. The Department of Defense isn't funded past midnight Friday. Does that mean that the nation's defense is in "limbo" and on "unstable ground"? 

    Current funding mechanisms for Social Security really aren't what assures that Social Security will remain afloat. Those could always be changed for the worse. Social Security's future is guaranteed because the American people love Social Security and depend heavily upon it. That's not going to change. This means that Republican talk of "sunsetting" Social Security is absurd. You could also say that it's absurd to warn that Social Security could be "sunsetted" if Republicans have their way but at least the President is talking about the hopeless desire of many Republicans.

Sep 27, 2022

House Version Of Continuing Resolution Gives Social Security More Operating Funds

     The House version of the Continuing Resolution (CR) that will fund government operations until full year appropriations bills can be passed is out. In general, CRs allow agencies to continue to spend money at the same rate as during the preceding fiscal year.  The Biden Administration had asked that Social Security be allowed to spend money during the CR time period as if the FY 2022 appropriation had been $800 million higher than it actually was. The House bill doesn't go that far. If passed it will allow Social Security to spend money at a rate $400 million higher than during FY 2022. (§148, page 28) That's certainly better than nothing but it isn't nearly enough to help the agency address its severe problems.

Sep 26, 2022

Few People Cut Off Disability Benefits Can Work Enough To Support Themselves

     From Outcomes Following Termination of Social Security Disability Insurance by , , ,and:

...  The paper found the following:

  • Among people whose benefits terminated due to medical improvement from 2005 to 2014, 16 percent of former DI-only beneficiaries and 14 percent of former concurrent beneficiaries returned to DI within five years.
  • Among people whose benefits terminated due to work from 2005 to 2014, 32 percent of former DI-only beneficiaries and 50 percent of former concurrent beneficiaries returned to DI within five years.
  • Fewer than half of former beneficiaries whose benefits terminated due to medical improvement had average post-termination earnings above the poverty threshold. Those whose benefits terminated due to work were more likely to have post-termination earnings above the poverty threshold than those whose termination was due to medical improvement.
  • Age and certain diagnoses were strongly associated with earnings below the poverty threshold and return to disability entitlement, especially schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders, and intellectual disabilities. ...

    I think the attitude of many people can be summarized as "It's easy to get on Social Security disability. Except for the 'truly disabled' those drawing benefits are mostly lazy or just wusses who don't have the courage to overcome their disabilities and work. I'd never let that happen to me."  That's the attitude among many of my clients who are themselves trying to get on Social Security disability benefits. Of course, they know themselves to be "truly disabled" without realizing that prior to becoming disabled they would have naively judged someone with their health problems to not be "truly disabled" because they didn't look sick enough. Often my clients have unrealistic expectations of their own ability to recover or overcome their disabilities and delay filing claims for disability benefits for years, until they become destitute, and then feel guilty about going ahead with a disability claim when they finally do.

    This study demonstrates that it's damned difficult to get on Social Security benefits. Those who do should be recognized as "truly disabled." It should be acknowledged that they have little hope of ever again supporting themselves with work. However, we see proposal after proposal that purport to demonstrate a path for getting disability benefits recipients can be returned to work.

Sep 25, 2022

CRS On Jarkesy Case

     The Congressional Research Service has a piece out on the implications of the decision of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in Jarkesy v. SEC, holding that removal protections for SEC Administrative Law Judges are unconstitutional. Supposedly, there are high constitutional principles at stake in cases such as this but it's mostly people trying to avoid punishment for securities violations. Also, there's basic right wing nihilism that equates thwarting administrative agencies with protecting freedom. Nevertheless, this could certainly affect Social Security.

Sep 24, 2022

WEP Reform Still Possible?

     From Roll Call:

Key lawmakers are eyeing a possible year-end tax package as their best shot at offering a fix for a Social Security provision that many on Capitol Hill believe unfairly cuts benefits for public employees who also have government pensions.

The issue was thrust into the spotlight after bipartisan supporters of legislation to permanently boost Social Security payouts by hundreds of dollars a month for nearly 3 million individuals were on the cusp of forcing their bill to the House floor using a special procedural tool.

But House Ways and Means Committee leaders who have been working on their own less expansive compromise plan, one they believe has a better chance of becoming law, turned off the procedural gambit by instead marking the bill up on Sept. 20.

The House’s top tax writers believe they’re close to agreement on addressing the “windfall elimination provision,” which lowers Social Security payouts for individuals who qualify for pensions from their work as teachers, police officers, government employees and other public sector jobs and for Social Security benefits from separate employment. ...

Sep 23, 2022

Senators Complain About Late Trustees Reports

From a press release: 
U.S. Senators Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA), Mike Crapo (R-ID), and Senate Finance Committee Republicans sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) requesting the agency monitor the Managing Trustee’s flagrant disregard for statutory deadlines.  Required by law, the Medicare and Social Security Trustees reports are to be issued no later than April 1, yet the 2021 and 2022 reports were issued August 31 and June 2, respectively.  ...  
The Biden Administration has repeatedly ignored Congressional inquiries as to why the trustees reports have not been submitted in a timely manner.  Neither Treasury Secretary Yellen nor the Board of Trustees have signaled any intent to modify internal procedure regulating management of the report schedule, nor have they adopted previous GAO recommendations to improve communication with Congress.  It is the responsibility of the Treasury Secretary to provide these reports to Congress in a timely manner, as required by law, or provide Congress and the American people with explanations for late work.  ...

    These delays are annoying but it's not like the Trustees Reports have arrived on time during Republican administrations. I suspect the delays have to do with staffing at Social Security's Office of Chief Actuary but I don't know. The delay certainly isn't a major problem.

Sep 22, 2022

WEP And GPO Elimination Bill Faces Obstacles

     From the Monroe (LA) News-Star:

A bill to eliminate the Social Security penalty for workers with government pensions and their spouses hit a snag in the U.S. House this week, forcing Louisiana U.S. Reps. Garret Graves and Julia Letlow into a last-ditch effort to keep it alive.

Graves and Letlow, both Republicans and co-authors of the Social Security Fairness Act (H.R. 82) by Illinois Democrat Rodney Davis, thought they'd secured enough support in August to force a vote on the House floor, but they blamed a procedural maneuver from Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi for stalling the vote.

Davis, Graves and Letlow have scheduled a press conference Thursday morning to announce an effort to secure 218 colleagues' signatures on a petition to trigger a floor vote, but time is running out for the current Congress, which will likely meet only a handful of days before and after the mid-term elections.

"Only when we were on the cusp of forcing a floor vote did Democratic leadership take action to ... essentially bog it down in a backlog," Letlow, of Start, said during a House floor speech Wednesday. ...

Average Rent Is $1,500 A Month But SSI Is $750 A Month

     From NPR:

After two months of sleeping in the Salvation Army Center of Hope homeless shelter in Charlotte, N.C., Margaret Davis has had no luck finding an apartment she can afford. ...

Davis is homeless even though she receives funds from the Supplemental Security Income program ...

Davis' job options are limited because she gets dialysis treatment three times a week for kidney failure. As she prepares to spend another night in the crowded shelter, she checks her phone to see whether a doctor wants her to have her left leg amputated.

"My therapist is trying to help me stay positive, but sometimes I just want to end this life and start over," Davis says. ...

Falling into homelessness is not a new issue for people dependent on supplemental income from the Social Security Administration. But moving recipients out of shelters, crime-ridden motels and tent encampments and into stable housing has been getting harder, according to academic researchers, nonprofit attorneys and advocates for people with disabilities. ...

Rapidly rising rents and inflation deserve a share of the blame.

But SSI recipients, activists and others say the issue also underscores for them how the program itself locks millions of people into housing instability and deep poverty even as President Biden promises to fix it. ...

The amount of money Davis says she gets each month from the program is about $60 more than the maximum amount offered 10 years ago, when she first started receiving the benefit. Yet the average apartment in Charlotte, where Davis lives, now rents for $1,500 a month — about 70% more than it did nearly a decade ago, according to Zumper, which has been tracking rental prices since 2014. ...

If a person applies for federal disability income, they can wait months or even years to get benefits. ...

The situation was made worse during the COVID-19 pandemic because the Social Security Administration closed more than 1,200 field offices across the nation and kept them shuttered for roughly two years.

That decision left hundreds of thousands of needy people unable to seek benefits, since phone lines were jammed with calls and the agency provides no way to submit applications online, says David Weaver, a former associate commissioner for research, demonstration, and employment support at the Social Security Administration.

"The number of SSI awards just collapsed," Weaver says. ...

Sep 21, 2022

Field Office Waiting Room Now Full

     I went to an in person hearing yesterday. The Raleigh Hearing Office is now located in the same building as the Raleigh field office. I noticed something I hadn't seen before. The field office waiting room was full. Previously, they had kept the waiting room only one-half or one-third full. Masks are still required and, at least at the hearing office, there are plexiglass barriers in hearing rooms that make it hard to be heard.

Sep 20, 2022

Movement On GPO And WEP Or Maybe Not

      From Roll Call:

The House Ways and Means Committee will on Tuesday consider a widely backed bill that would scrap provisions under current law that shrink Social Security payouts for some beneficiaries with government pensions. 

The bill from Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., would get rid of two provisions that aim to prevent overly generous benefits for former public sector workers or their spouses who qualify for government pensions but may also be entitled to Social Security payments.

The “windfall elimination provision” limited Social Security for 2 million people who qualified for benefits and had a separate pension as of December 2021, according to a Congressional Research Service memo.

The “government pension offset” reduces benefits for a spouse or widow who has a government pension, aiming to replicate how Social Security paid to a spouse or widow is typically curtailed based on their own benefits under the program. That provision impacted almost 724,000 people as of December, the CRS said. …

While often a sign that legislation is advancing, Ways and Means’ decision to mark up the measure could instead slow it down. The bill has amassed 299 co-sponsors, giving it enough support for a motion to place it on the “consensus calendar” in mid-July.

The consensus calendar is a procedural tool for bringing bills to the floor, which is open to lawmakers with bipartisan bills that draw enough co-sponsors to reach at least two-thirds of House lawmakers. Twenty-five legislative days after Davis’ motion to put his bill on the consensus calendar, it would’ve been added and eligible for a speedier vote.

Committee consideration strips the bill from the process, so Ways and Means’ markup means Davis can no longer fast-track his measure to the floor without Democratic leaders’ consent.

Democrats have also said Ways and Means will consider a measure from Social Security Subcommittee Chair John B. Larson, D-Conn., but the panel has yet to mark up that bill, which has more than 200 Democratic co-sponsors. …

Sep 19, 2022

Broadcast E-Mail On Morale

From: DCO
Sent: Friday, September 16, 2022 11:19 AM
Subject: DCO Broadcast: Improving Workplace Morale

A Message to All DCO Employees

Last November, many of you participated in the 2021 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, or FEVS.  In reviewing the results, we have learned that in the current environment, staying engaged in your work is difficult and morale has dipped. As you learned in a recent Commissioner’s Broadcast, the agency went from being one of the top five best agencies to work in, to becoming 15 out of 17 among large federal agencies. I have since been working with your regional executives and senior leadership to begin rebuilding our morale and job satisfaction, starting with increased opportunities for engagement between you and your leadership. Beyond this message, I would like to talk with you directly, so I invite you to view my video message.

In the days following this message, you can expect your leaders and management to begin scheduling meetings with you. In the next couple of months, I hope that you take the opportunity to share your thoughts, feedback, and suggestions. We are here to listen, and I encourage you to continue to engage.  I want our workplace to be one that you are proud of, and look forward to participating in every day.

Thank you for your commitment to our Agency and to the American public.

Grace M. Kim

Deputy Commissioner for Operations

I don’t have the video. cth 

Sep 18, 2022

Problems With Data SSA Sent To IRS For Economic Impact Payments

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

We conducted this review to determine the extent to which the data files the Social Security Administration (SSA) provided the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to facilitate economic impact payments (EIP) under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) were accurate and complete when they were transmitted. ...

The data files SSA sent IRS were not always complete or accurate.

  • SSA’s methodology for identifying beneficiaries who received payments in Calendar Year (CY) 2020 or 2021 resulted in the erroneous (1) exclusion of information for 73,541 beneficiaries who received OASDI payments in CYs 2020 and/or 2021 and (2) inclusion of information for 308,603 OASDI beneficiaries who did not receive an OASDI payment in CY 2020 or 2021.
  • SSA also erroneously included information on approximately 177,000 beneficiaries and recipients who died before January 1, 2021 and were not likely eligible for payments.
  • Finally, SSA included 4,173,293 individuals’ information 2 or more times in the data files provided to the IRS, including instances where duplicate records included different residential address or bank account information for the same individual.

We did not have access to the IRS’ EIP3 payment information. As a result, we could not determine whether these errors resulted in any duplicate payments, non-payment to eligible individuals, deposits into incorrect bank accounts, or mailing of paper checks to incorrect addresses ...

Sep 17, 2022

Clarification On CR

     I need to clarify what Social Security is asking for in the Continuing Resolution (CR) that will keep government funded after the end of the fiscal year on September 30. Perhaps I misunderstood or perhaps what I had read earlier was really misleading. (I think the latter.) In any case, Social Security is not asking for an extra $800 million in the CR. They're asking to spend money during the CR as if their regular FY 2022 appropriation had been $800 million higher. Page 23. CRs typically allow agencies to spend money at the same rate as during their last regular appropriation. Social Security wants that baseline to be $800 million higher. For instance, if the CR were for three months, they would get an extra $200 million, not $800 million. Of course, giving Social Security this bump would presumably increase their baseline for FY 2023 appropriations consideration, which is even more important.

Sep 16, 2022

AARP Urges Increase In Social Security's Administrative Budget

     From a letter from AARP to Congressional leaders:

AARP has great concerns that SSA will be unable to maintain customer service at current levels, deficient as they are, without funding above the current funding level under a continuing resolution. Hence, we believe the Congress should provide an anomaly for SSA that is no less than the anomaly requested by the Administration, $14.1 billion. AARP does appreciate that the Congress provided some additional funding for SSA for FY 2022, but that amount was $847 million less than the President’s FY 2022 Budget request and was far less than the amounts needed to cover uncontrollable increases in its fixed expenses. The Acting Commissioner correctly predicted on April 28, in the FY 2022 Operating Plan the Congress requested, that the $13.341 billion in funding provided in the FY 2022 omnibus would result in “longer lines and wait times in our field offices, and growing backlogs as we work through increased claims.”

The added burden occasioned by the pandemic did not help matters, but a steady erosion in SSA’s administrative funding over the past decade is the primary reason for the rapid decline in customer service. Between 2010 and 2021, SSA’s operating budget shrank by 14 percent even as the number of beneficiaries grew by 22 percent to more than 70 million Americans. The latest available SSA data shows that disability processing times have skyrocketed to an all-time high of 198 days – nearly three times longer than just a decade earlier. SSA also reports that callers to the national 1-800 number today are waiting about 31 minutes, or about ten times longer than callers waited in FY 2012. And, more importantly, the average disability claimant today will likely wait more than 2 years for a final hearing decision while their health worsens – tragically, more than 10,000 people die every year while waiting for a decision.

Sep 15, 2022

2022 COLA Predicted To Be 8.7%

     The best current prediction is that this year's Social Security Cost Of Living Adjustment (COLA) will be 8.7%. The official announcement will come on October 13.

Sep 14, 2022

Social Security Seeks $800 Million Bump In CR

    The AARP has written a letter to the Acting Commissioner of Social Security asking pointed questions about the sorry state of service that the agency is giving the public. It's reproduced below. However, I'm pretty sure that the letter is more about influencing Congress to appropriate more money for Social Security than it is about pressuring the Acting Commissioner. At about the same time as it released this letter, AARP also sent out a press release quoting a Social Security official on  the sorry state of the agency's appropriations which has led to an adequate workforce. The press release calls for additional funding for the Social Security Administration. 

    A "Dear Colleague" letter directly from Social Security is even more pointed. It says that the agency is seeking an $800 million bump in the Continuing Resolution (CR) bill which must be passed before the end of this month in order to keep the government operating. The $800 million would be to prevent further deterioration in service. That would be extraordinary. I've never seen anything from Social Security like this letter., which was surely cleared by the White House. Here's some language from it:

... Prior to the pandemic, we had approximately 60,000 employees. Now, we have approximately 56,000 employees – a 7 percent drop. As we lose employees, our service deteriorates. This issue is particularly acute in our State disability determination services (DDS), where we decide initial disability claims and reconsiderations, due to historically high attrition as workloads become less reasonable with fewer staff. ...

Claimants are currently waiting an average of six months for a decision on their initial disability claims, which is unacceptable. This is two months longer than they waited in FY 2019. Wait times for our National 800 Number have also increased significantly. Callers are waiting over 30 minutes, on average – more than 10 minutes longer than in FY 2019. ...

As a result of the pandemic, the backlog in initial disability claims is approaching the one-million mark (929,000 as of August 2022, an increase of 189,000 claims from the end of last fiscal year, September 2021). Insufficient funding for staffing and overtime to reduce this backlog would result in increasing wait times. ...

 Click on images to view full size

Sep 13, 2022

OHO Caseload Analysis Report


Click on image to view full size

Sep 12, 2022

Russia-Ukraine War And Social Security

     You might think that the war between Russia and Ukraine would have no effect upon the Social Security Administration but you'd be wrong. The agency has put out an Emergency Message to staff because the war has prevented some immigrants to this country from accessing pensions and resources in Russia. This affects Supplemental Security Income benefits.

Sep 10, 2022

How Much Is Joe Biden Receiving In Social Security Benefits?

     We don't have the figure just for the President but Joe and Jill Biden together received $54,665 last year from Social Security or about $4,555 per month.

Sep 9, 2022

What's In A Name?

     Social Security is using Voicemeeter Potato to record Administrative Law Judge hearings.

Sep 8, 2022

Quite A Life 1926 - 2022


SSI Regulatory Proposal Hung Up At OMB

     Before publishing proposed new regulations in the Federal Register for public comments, agencies must obtain the approval of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). On February 8, some seven months ago, Social Security asked OIRA for approval of proposed regulations that would omit food from consideration as in-kind support and maintenance in computing Supplemental Security Income benefits. This is a not insignificant proposal. The proposal is still pending. That's a long time for a proposed regulation coming from Social Security to stay pending at OIRA. 

    I have no idea what is causing the delay. I don't think this would be a complicated proposal. Anything that would help SSI claimants would be a big deal, though. For decades, Congress has failed to update SSI income and resource limitations.

Sep 7, 2022

Democrats Pound Ron Johnson On Social Security

     I hate to keep harping on it but it's becoming obvious that Senator Ron Johnson's (R-WI) expressed desire to sunset Social Security is becoming a major focus of Democratic efforts to retain control of the Senate after this November's election. See these pieces from Huffpost and Bloomberg.

Sep 6, 2022

Kafkaesque Indeed



    Mark Betancourt has written a piece for Mother Jones magazine titled Inside The Kafkaesque Process For Determining Who Gets Federal Disability Benefits.

     The use of the term “Kafkaesque” may be more apt that Mr. Betancourt realizes. Frans Kafka’s day job was in the related field of what would today be called workers compensation claims.

Sep 5, 2022

Happy Labor Day


Sep 3, 2022

Nevertheless The Lines Are Still There

      From a House Ways and Means Committee press release:

In response to a request from Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard E. Neal (D-MA) and Ranking Member Kevin Brady (R-TX), the Social Security Administration (SSA) has outlined the urgent action field offices have taken to protect visitors from the summer heat. …

In its response, SSA reports that it has already taken a number of steps to address Congress’s concerns about maintaining the health and safety of visitors waiting in lines outside Social Security offices, including:

  • Increasing in-person staff and service options to reduce waiting times at the busiest offices;
  • Assigning some workloads to other offices, to free up the busiest offices for in-person service;
  • Reconfiguring waiting areas to allow more people to enter climate-conditioned waiting areas; and
  • Providing outdoor canopies, fans, and access to bathrooms and water fountains for those waiting outside of offices in the heat. 

Sep 2, 2022

An Answer To A Burning Question: What Was Superman's Social Security Number?

     From Electricsistahood:

...  I got to wondering to myself, does Superman have a Social Security number? Moreover, does his alter-ego Clark Kent have a Social Security number. And does this require Kal-El to have two Social Security numbers? Beyond that, the questions become endless.

So I started doing some research into the subject. Answering the question, does Clark Kent have a Social Security number, is easy. That was answered way back in 1966 in Action Comics -- his Social Security number is 092-09-6616. Turns out that it was the same number used by a man named Giobatta Baiocchi, who died the year before. ...

    Which means, Superman got his Social Security Number in the  state of N.Y.

Sep 1, 2022

We Don't Talk About Social Security

    , a fellow at the right wing American Enterprise Institute, has written an opinion piece for Bloomberg, giving advice to Republicans on how to handle Social Security issues during this election season. He makes it clear that he believes that Social Security must be cut. That's the first thing he talks about. However, he acknowledges that this is wildly unpopular and extremely unlikely to happen. Thus, he basically advises Republicans to shut up about Social Security.

    That's not completely reassuring. Republicans would be better advised to permanently forget about cutting Social Security. That will never, ever be anything other than political suicide for the Republican party. Never, ever. People like Ponnuru are part of the problem for Republicans. They keep up a slow, pointless drumbeat for cutting Social Security that makes some in the GOP think it is actually something that can and should happen and which gives many Americans good reason to believe that they can't trust Republicans on Social Security.