Dec 31, 2022

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

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

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

Dec 30, 2022

Senate To Investigate Ennis And OIG


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

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

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

Dec 29, 2022

How Do You Represent Claimants In Conditions Like This?

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

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

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

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

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

Dec 28, 2022

The Clock Is Ticking

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

Dec 27, 2022

Why Does SSA Keep Using The DOT?

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

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

Dec 26, 2022

Happy Day After Christmas


Dec 25, 2022

Merry Christmas


Dec 24, 2022

Merry Christmas


Merry Christmas


Dec 23, 2022

Didn't Know This

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

Merry Christmas


Dec 22, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas


Dec 21, 2022

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

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

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

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

https// ...

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

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

Merry Christmas


Dec 20, 2022

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

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

Merry Christmas


Dec 19, 2022

Centralized Scheduling Of ALJ Hearings To End

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

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


Dec 18, 2022

Merry Christmas


Dec 17, 2022

Merry Christmas


Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

      From a press release:

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

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

Dec 16, 2022

An SSI Story

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

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

Merry Christmas


Dec 15, 2022

The PERC Situation

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas


Dec 14, 2022

Nice Try But I'm Not Buying It

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

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

Dec 13, 2022

Merry Christmas


Dec 12, 2022

NADE Newsletter

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

Dec 11, 2022

Merry Christmas


Dec 9, 2022

Could We See A Commissioner Nomination Next Year?

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

Merry Christmas


Dec 8, 2022

OHO Backlogs Creeping Up

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

Dec 7, 2022

The Need Is Real

     From Lisa Rein writing for the Washington Post:

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

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

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

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

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

Dec 6, 2022

Redesigned SSA Web Site

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

Merry Christmas


Dec 5, 2022

At The Breaking Point

    From Lisa Rein at the Washington Post:

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

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

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

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

Dec 3, 2022

Annual Statistical Supplement Issued

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

Dec 2, 2022

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

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

    Is this happening in other states? 

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

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

Dec 1, 2022

What About Those Allegations Of Retaliation Within OIG?

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

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