Oct 29, 2022
Oct 28, 2022
I just received a $436.88 attorney fee in a case that was approved in November 2015. The fee had been miscomputed originally. We notified the payment center of the problem at that time. They agreed that there was a problem. It's taken them seven years to correct the problem. Seven years.
In case you're wondering (or trying to find some way to blame me for the delay) the case involved Disability Insurance Benefits, Disabled Adult Child Benefits and Supplemental Security Income benefits, meaning that benefits were computed in three locations, meaning that the chances of everything being computed correctly were low. Actually, a mispayment that only affected attorney fees is about as good as you could hope for, although you would hope it would take less than seven years to correct the mistake.
Oct 27, 2022
From Government Executive:
Members of the nation’s largest federal employee union on Wednesday rallied outside of the headquarters of the Social Security Administration near Baltimore, demanding more funding and staffing for the agency, as well as reform of agency leadership and workforce policies. ...
Union officials on Wednesday described an agency in a vicious cycle, where insufficient funding amid growing workloads has led managers to micromanage overworked and underpaid employees, burning them out until they quit, further increasing the output expectations on the dwindling workforce that remains. This is exacerbated, they said, by a refusal to act to modernize the agency’s workflows or provide workplace flexibilities that have become the norm not just in the private sector, but elsewhere in the federal government. ...
According to a survey of union members commissioned by AFGE Council 220, 43% of respondents reported that they were planning to leave the agency within the next 12 months, including 26% of respondents who said they were strongly considering it. And 76% of respondents said that the volume of their workload is an impairment to their ability to perform their duties. ...
Oct 26, 2022
From KALB in Cottonport, LA:
Hundreds of thousands of people applying for Social Security Disability benefits are having to wait up to 10 months to hear back on the status of their application. That wait is wasting time and money for families dealing with health concerns that could ultimately be the difference between life and death.
Dr. Peter Lemoine, an attorney specializing in Social Security Disability law, said he fears that number will only double given the lack of manpower and efficiency in the Social Security Administration. One of his clients, Jalisa Johnson, is a 33-year-old single mother of four children battling stage four colon cancer. Lemoine said an application for disability benefits was sent out back in March, for a family in desperate need of financial and medical support. They have yet to receive an update and yet to receive thousands of dollars worth of assistance. ...
Johnson was placed on hospice over a month and a half ago in her fight against cancer. While still waiting for her approval from social security, many community members have helped raise money for her and her children. ...
I had posted about this earlier on Twitter. Immediately I received replies that tried to place the blame for the delay on the attorney. That's ridiculous. There's no reason to suspect that the attorney failed in any way.
I've recently had a case of a terminally ill client whose case was pending at the reconsideration level. We kept calling about it and were eventually told that the problem was that the claimant hadn't returned his work history report! In case you don't know, that's absurd. That form is unnecessary when the claimant is dying. By the way, we don't intentionally take on cases of terminally ill claimants. We tell them that they won't need us. In the case I've talked about the diagnosis of terminal cancer came after we took on the case.
Oct 25, 2022
But since returning to work under Inspector General Gail Ennis, they said they have been excluded from meaningful assignments, given tasks below their experience and abilities, shut out of meetings and collaboration with colleagues, and denied opportunities for advancement. Their claims are echoed in contemporaneous emails with management officials and backed up by two senior officials familiar with their work climate, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters. ...
How could OIG leadership not foresee that retaliation would draw further negative publicity? By this point, I may be more concerned that OIG leadership lacks common sense than anything else.
Social Security has published its complete Cost Of Living Adjustments. There's more than individual COLA adjustments to be computed. Here's some key numbers for 2023:
- Attorney user fee: $113
- FICA wage base: $160,200
- Quarter of coverage amount: $1,640
- Substantial gainful activity amount (non-blind): $1,470
- Trial work period threshold: $1,050
Oct 24, 2022
From Federal News Network:
Social Security Administration employees are back in the office, but understaffing and a restrictive telework policy are making them less productive, according to one of its unions, and may lead to an exodus of more employees.
The American Federation of Government Employees Council 220, which represents SSA employees who work in field offices and teleservice centers, is asking Congress for $16.5 billion in “emergency funding” to support SSA for the rest of fiscal 2023. ...
Sherry Jackson, AFGE Council 220’s second vice president and legislative action coordinator, said during a virtual town hall Thursday that SSA is running with 4,000 fewer field office and teleservice center employees than it did 12 years ago. ...
The emergency funding request amounts to a $1.7 billion increase above the Biden administration’s fiscal 2023 budget request for SSA. Congress passed a continuing resolution that lasts through Dec. 16 and is still working out a comprehensive spending deal for the rest of FY 2023. ...
Oct 23, 2022
- Self-reported poor health did not lead to increased claiming during COVID, a story consistent with the Great Recession.
- The booming stock market associated with COVID induced early claiming among those with retirement assets, a stark difference from the Great Recession where workers remained to replenish depleted balances.
- On the other hand, generous UI benefits reduced early claiming for workers in the two lowest earnings terciles, a stark difference from the Great Recession where the lower paid continued to retire earlier than the well paid.
- In the end, and in contrast to the Great Recession, the competing effects more than canceled each other out and resulted in an actual decrease in early claiming during the COVID Recession and slightly higher monthly Social Security benefits.
Oct 22, 2022
From some television station in Indianapolis:
“It’s insanity.” Stephanie Curbeaux was fed up. She was cold from spending the better part of two hours on Wednesday morning standing in a line outside the Social Security office in northwest Indianapolis. The temperature was in the mid-30s. But Curbeaux stood there, needing to get her name changed with the agency.
“I got divorced. I’ve been needing to get it changed. They wanted me to mail my official documents which I wasn’t going to do.” And now that they’re open. This is the third I’ve been up here. God, it just makes me so mad.”
Two placed behind Curbeaux in the line was Susan Taylor, who is recently widowed.
“My husband passed away and I’m here to collect the benefits, as his widow. They won’t make appointments online. Even when I call to make an appointment, they won’t allow you to make an appointment. So, I have to just stand in line in the cold.”
Another two placed behind Taylor was a woman holding a place in line for a friend. Gabriel James says his spinal pain is so bad the longest he can stand at one time is five minutes. ...
We checked back in this morning when the office opened and an interesting thing happened. 36 people were allowed to walk through the door. The line which had been a persistent presence outside the building disappeared. The line did not reappear when checked throughout the day.
Oct 21, 2022
When additional medical evidence is needed to approve a disability benefits application with the Social Security Administration, the agency requires applicants to get a consultative exam with a doctor.
In the Kansas City region, Midwest CES is one of several contractors working with the government to provide the exams.
Shiron Norah visited one of Midwest CES’s locations in 2018 during her application process. The lifelong Kansas Citian says she can no longer work because of a series of ailments, including carpel tunnel in both wrists, hip surgery, pain in her neck and back, constant migraines and arthritis.
Norah said the doctor at Midwest CES spent less than 10 minutes with her and did not ask her a single question. The doctor’s report cited Norah’s ability to “use her fingers and hands to button and unbutton a shirt,” but Norah says she was not wearing a shirt with buttons during her exam. ...
Kyle Sciolaro, an attorney at BurnettDriskill, says he’s found roughly 250 other people in Norah’s shoes. They visited Midwest CES for a consultative exam and subsequent reports had similar language about buttoning their clothing or turning doorknobs - even though the exam rooms at Midwest CES’ North Kansas City office doesn’t have doorknobs.
In a series of civil lawsuits against the Social Security Administration, Midwest CES and doctors conducting exams, Sciolaro and his team allege fraud. ...
A lawsuit under the False Claims Act allows BurnettDriskill to file a case on behalf of the United States and its taxpayers. It alleges the Midwest CES knowingly submitted false information for payment. ...
President of Midwest CES Jake Johnsen responded to the claims. He calls the exams his company completes “a critical service” that helps prevent fraud. Johnsen pointed out Midwest CES does not know which results will lead to approval or denial of a claim. The government pays contractors like Midwest CES the same whether an applicant qualifies for benefits or not. ...
Oct 20, 2022
From a press release:
Kilolo Kijakazi, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, announced that the agency now offers people the choice to self-select their sex on their Social Security number (SSN) record. The agency has implemented this policy change and the new option is now available. ...
People who update their sex marker in Social Security’s records will need to apply for a replacement SSN card. They will still need to show a current document to prove their identity, but they will no longer need to provide medical or legal documentation of their sex designation now that the policy change is in place.
The agency will accept the applicant’s self-identified sex designation of either male or female, even if it is different from the sex designation shown on identity documents, such as a passport or state-issued driver’s license or identity card. SSN cards do not include sex markers. Currently, Social Security’s record systems are unable to include a non-binary or unspecified sex designation. The agency is exploring possible future policy and systems updates to support an “X” sex designation for the SSN card application process. ...
It doesn't matter to the Social Security Administration what a person's gender identity might be. The Social Security Act is gender neutral. Wherever there's a wife's benefit, there's a husband's benefit. Wherever there's a widow's benefit, there's a widower's benefit. There's really no need for the Social Security Administration to even record gender. It's a relic from more than 40 years ago when the Social Security Act was not gender neutral.
Oct 19, 2022
Oct 18, 2022
Oct 17, 2022
Maybe I missed some announcement but I just discovered that Social Security has an online e-1696 form. The 1696 form is the one that claimants sign to appoint an attorney or other representative. It's basic and important for those of us who represent claimants. Social Security processes hundreds of thousands of them a year.
The only problem I see is that the e-1696 relies upon docusign or something like docusign to get the claimant's signature. I've tried to use docusign for other paperwork and found that it flummoxes my clients. Few of them are able to handle it. I think that may tell you something about the ability of Social Security claimants to handle online systems.
Oct 16, 2022
After two months of sleeping in the Salvation Army Center of Hope homeless shelter, Margaret Davis has had no luck finding an apartment she can afford.
The 55-year-old grandmother receives about $750 a month from the federal government. She's trying to live on just $50 cash and $150 in food stamps each month so she can save enough for a place to call home.
Davis is homeless even though she receives funds from the Supplemental Security Income program, a hard-to-get federal benefit that was created nearly 50 years ago to lift out of poverty Americans who are older, blind, or disabled.
Davis' job options are limited because she gets dialysis treatment three times a week for kidney failure. As she prepared to spend another night in the crowded shelter, she checked her phone to see whether a doctor wanted her to have her left leg amputated. ...
Falling into homelessness is not a new issue for people who receive 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 nonprofit attorneys, advocates for people with disabilities, and academic researchers. ...
"We are trapping people in a place where dignity is out of reach," said Rebecca Vallas, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a progressive think tank that conducts research on economic equity. "The program started with good intentions," she said. "It is hard for me to see this as anything but willful neglect." ...
Oct 15, 2022
From a press release:
Amy Shuart, of Alexandria, Virginia, has been appointed by the House to the Social Security Advisory Board for a six-year term effective October 9, 2022.
Shuart has over 15 years of experience in Social Security and identity policy. She is currently the Head of North America Government Affairs and Policy Director for Onfido, a technology company that specializes in automated global digital identity verification and authentication solutions. For over a decade, she worked for the Committee on Ways and Means, most recently as the Social Security Subcommittee Staff Director. She started her career as a Presidential Management Fellow at the Social Security Administration in the Office of Retirement Policy and has also worked at the Office of Management and Budget in the Medicare Branch and the White House National Economic Council. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and a Bachelors of Arts in Public and Urban Affairs from Virginia Tech, and a Master of Public Affairs from the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. ...
Oct 14, 2022
Oct 13, 2022
Former Social Security Commissioner sat for a long interview with a staffer at the right wing American Enterprise Institute "think tank." I don't want to waste the time listening to it but maybe you will. Apparently, Saul claimed that Social Security has 100,000 employees! I knew that he never bothered to try to understand the agency he was supposed to be leading but this is over the top. Actually Social Security has fewer than 60,000 employees. Did he care about anything at the agency other than being as obnoxious as possible to employees?
Oct 12, 2022
From Bloomberg Government:
Social Security and Medicare eligibility changes, spending caps, and safety-net work requirements are among the top priorities for key House Republicans who want to use next year’s debt-limit deadline to extract concessions from Democrats.
The four Republicans interested in serving as House Budget Committee chairman in the next Congress said in interviews that next year’s deadline to raise or suspend the debt ceiling is a point of leverage if their party can win control of the House in the November midterm elections. ...
A bipartisan negotiation on Social Security and Medicare would likely start with Democrats pushing for more revenue, while “Republicans have a list of eligibility reforms, and we don’t like the tax increases,” Arrington said. He said an increase in the eligibility age for both programs would be a commonsense change.
Reducing benefits for wealthier Americans could also cut costs, Smucker said.
“We should ensure that we keep the promises that were made to the people who really need it, the people who are relying on it,” Smucker said. “So some sort of means-testing potentially would help to ensure that we can do that.” ...
Republicans have this longstanding dream that they can force Democrats to accept major cuts in Social Security and then find a way to blame Democrats for those unpopular cuts. Jujitsu! That hasn't worked in the past and it's not going to work next year. Democrats will go to the mattresses over means testing Social Security or raising full retirement age. Republicans won't have the stomach to go to the mattresses themselves over obtaining the cuts.
Oct 11, 2022
There is no news that I know of in Social Security world, so let me share a vignette from a conversation I had recently with a client. I knew the client must have been out of work for at least a year and probably two but I didn't know when she had stopped so I asked her when she stopped work. Her answer: "Uh, uh, uh, what's today?"
Oct 9, 2022
From a recent report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG):
To determine whether the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) overall information security program and practices were effective and consistent with the Federal Information Security Modernization Act of 2014 (FISMA) requirements, as defined in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 core Inspector General (IG) FISMA reporting metrics. ...
We engaged Grant Thornton LLP (Grant Thornton) to conduct this performance audit ...
Based on the FY 2022 core IG FISMA reporting metrics guidance, Grant Thornton concluded SSA’s overall security program was “Not Effective.”
Although SSA had established an Agency-wide information security program and practices, Grant Thornton identified deficiencies that may limit the Agency’s ability to adequately protect its systems and information. While SSA continued executing its risk-based approach to strengthen controls over its information systems and address weaknesses, Grant Thornton’s audit continued to identify persistent deficiencies in both the design and operation of controls related to the FY 2022 core IG FISMA reporting metrics. ...
Oct 8, 2022
From a press release:
Today, Congressman Joe Neguse [D-CO]and Representative Gwen Moore (D-WI) wrote to Social Security Administration Acting Commissioner, Dr. Kilolo Kijakazi, requesting an update on the agency’s efforts to expedite the processing of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) applications and appeals. Both programs provide assistance to Americans who meet the requirements for disability as well as those who are older, blind, or have little to no income. The lawmakers also requested information on how the Social Security Administration (SSA) is working to ensure agency materials are accessible for all individuals, regardless of their specific needs.
“Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, the backlog of pending SSDI and SSI cases increased exponentially. Social Security employees worked tirelessly to adapt to a new environment, and more must be done to ensure access to these critical benefits,” said Congressman Joe Neguse.
“The process for applying for Social Security disability benefits is difficult to navigate, and only worsened by inaccessible materials and chronic underfunding, despite the program’s growing needs. For vulnerable individuals who are unable to work and are applying for benefits to survive, delays and denials without proper recourse can be frustrating, and at worst, devastating. I recognize that SSA has been severely underfunded and I will continue to fight to increase the agency’s resources. That said, as a Ways and Means Social Security subcommittee member, I join Rep. Neguse in leading the call for improved services, so that both SSA beneficiaries and applicants have access to the timely and accessible information and the benefits they have earned and are owed,” said Congresswoman Moore. ...
Oct 7, 2022
Oct 6, 2022
From a recent report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG):
... One of SSA’s mission-essential functions is enumeration, the process of assigning SSNs. During the enumeration process, SSA issues a Social Security card (original and any later replacement) to each individual assigned an SSN. In Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 (October 1, 2020 to September 30, 2021), SSA processed approximately 12 million applications for original and replacement SSN cards, which is approximately 1 million fewer than it processed in FY 2020 and 5 million fewer than in FY 2019. We reviewed non-automated enumeration services (in-person and mail-in SSN applications) for original and replacement SSN cards during the COVID-19 pandemic.
SSA staff did not consistently comply with established enumeration policies and procedures or temporary enumeration guidelines, and the Agency did not have adequate controls over managing evidentiary documents submitted to support SSN card applications during the COVID-19 pandemic.
✓ We reviewed a sample of 150 SSN card applications SSA processed between November 2020 and January 2021 and found 41 contained processing errors and 45 contained documentation errors. Based on our sample, we estimated SSA made 188,659 and 128,346 SSN card application processing and documentation errors, respectively.
✓ We reviewed an additional sample of 50 replacement SSN card applications SSA processed between June and September 2021 and found 15 contained processing errors and 19 contained documentation errors.
✓ SSA staff issued multiple SSNs to 27 individuals without cross-referring the SSNs. Therefore, SSA was unaware that each individual had more than one SSN.
✓ Some SSA offices did not report the loss, or suspected loss, of personally identifiable information.
✓ SSA did not have a comprehensive method to track the total number of lost original documents. ...
Oct 5, 2022
Oct 3, 2022
From a report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG) on The Social Security Administration's Human Capital Planning (footnotes omitted):
... In a May 2022 hearing on customer service, Grace Kim, SSA’s Deputy Commissioner for Operations, explained “. . . insufficient funding over multiple years to hire the level of staff needed, and higher than average attrition rates across the agency” had driven SSA to its lowest staffing levels in 25 years. SSA’s ability to hire during the year is affected by when SSA receives its funding. SSA’s final budget is not usually passed timely as appropriations for agencies are not always signed into law when the FY begins on October 1 each calendar year. Congress and the President must approve the budget or a continuing resolution (short-term legislation to keep the Government open). Otherwise, a funding lapse may result in a Government shutdown where agencies can only conduct mission-critical activities, and non-essential work like training is suspended. As a result, SSA will send guidance as to when components can hire. SSA stated it is difficult to plan and manage funding under the Federal budget process especially if there are funding lapses or continuing resolutions. Office of Operations staff explained they cannot over-hire to account for losses throughout the year.
When SSA can hire, it often hires staff in large numbers after it receives an approved budget and trains the new hires together. One Regional Commissioner noted a “steady source of income” would allow for more balanced planning and hiring all year as uncertain budgets create cycles of hiring and freezes. Other Operations subject-matter experts explained hiring staff in large numbers creates a strain on human resource support staff who need to address a large number of staff hired at one time. Also, SSA reported the timing of funding can limit SSA from strategically hiring staff during advantageous times of the year, such as recruiting before students graduate and during the times college campuses typically hold recruitment and job fairs. Not being able to strategically time when to hire staff places SSA at risk of not hiring the most qualified candidates as they may have accepted offers from other employers and are no longer seeking employment opportunities when SSA receives funding. ...
Oct 2, 2022
From The Daily Independent:
I once notified the Hearing Office that I considered a client to be a potential threat at the hearing. I was told that the Hearing Office had received multiple warnings about the claimant who was clearly severely mentally ill but lacked enough earnings to qualify based upon her earnings and had too much income to qualify for SSI. Her husband was with her hen I saw her in the office. I advised him to take her directly to a psychiatric hospital. I got out of the case before the hearing.
Oct 1, 2022
From a press release:
Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) today joined his colleagues led by Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) in a letter to President Biden, urging him to nominate a Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner to serve at the Social Security Administration. The Social Security Administration has been without permanent leadership for over a year, making it difficult to address longstanding challenges that the agency faces in providing service to Americans who rely on these benefits. …
Joining Senator Markey in signing the letter led by Senators Van Hollen and Brown were Senators Carper (D-Del.), Padilla (D-Calif.), Baldwin (D-Wis.), Casey (D-Pa.), Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Markey (D-Mass.), Cardin (D-Md.), Murray (D-Wash.), Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Sanders (I-Vt.), Warren (D-Mass.), Schatz (D-Hawaii), Feinstein (D-Calif.), and Blumenthal (D-Conn.). …
I’ve never heard why Biden is delaying the nomination. My guess is that Republican Senators have vowed to delay any nomination because they’re still miffed that Biden fired Andrew Saul. They can’t prevent confirmation but they can slow down the Senate at a time when Biden wants to get other things accomplished. Anybody else have a theory?