Dec 31, 2023

December 31


Dec 29, 2023

CPBB Chart Book Updated

     The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) has issued an updated version of its Chart Book: Social Security Disability Insurance. Here are three charts from the book. As always click on an image to view full size:


Dec 28, 2023

The Time Is At Hand


Dec 27, 2023

Past Time For Social Security To Do Something About Its Occupational Data Problem

      David Weaver, a former Social Security official, has written a piece for The Hill urging that incoming Social Security Commissioner O’Malley do something about the agency’s reliance on occupational data that is more than 40 years old in making determinations on disability claims. 

     I can only guess at what has been going on behind the scenes. My guess is that the agency would love to rely upon contemporary occupational data, as long as it doesn’t change who gets approved and who gets denied. They’re particularly terrified of using data that leads to more claims being approved. My strong suspicion is that updated data would show that too many claims are being denied. Am I being unfair to those involved at Social Security? Maybe, but they always have the option of giving a coherent explanation for all the delay. Instead, they keep everything top secret. Who wouldn’t have dark suspicions about what’s been going on?


Dec 26, 2023

This Doesn’t Sound Good

      One in four Social Security recipients reports having received an overpayment.

The Aftermath


Dec 25, 2023

Christmas Morning


Dec 24, 2023

Christmas Eve


Merry Christmas


Dec 23, 2023

NYT On SSA Overpayments

      The New York Times has a piece up on Social Security’s overpayment problem and its brutal effects on claimants.

Merry Christmas


Dec 22, 2023

Christmas Carols For Psychiatric Patients

     I deal with a lot of clients with psychiatric illness. Most Social Security and Disability Determination employees deal with the same mix of claimants. The piece below has been around for years. It may be a bit insensitive but it's funny.

Thoughts of Roasting on an Open Fire

I Think I'll Be Home for Christmas

Silent Anhedonia, Holy Anhedonia, All is Flat, All is Lonely.

Deck the Halls and Walls and House and Lawn and Streets and Stores and Office and Town and Cars and Busses and Trucks and Trees and Fire Hydrants and...

We Three Queens Disoriented Are

Hark the Herald Angels Sing About Me

Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell Rock, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell Rock, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell Rock, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell Rock, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell Rock, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell Rock, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell Rock, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell Rock, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell Rock,............(better start again)

Santa Claus is Coming to Get Me.

On the First Day of Christmas My True Love Gave to Me (and then took it all away).

You Better Watch Out, I'm Gonna Cry, I'm Gonna Pout, Maybe I'll tell you Why.

Do you Hear What I Hear?

Merry Christmas


Dec 21, 2023

"We Will Need Sufficient And Sustained Funding"

     From The Sacramento Bee:

Trying to get through to Social Security on its 800 number? Be very, very patient. Wait times have been averaging roughly 35 minutes. In September, the latest data available, the average time on hold was 34.7 minutes. The shortest average wait so far this year came in May, 28.8 minutes. The longest was in March, 39.8 minutes. ...

Reps. Ken Calvert, R-Corona, and Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, have introduced the “Stuck on Hold Act,” which would require the Social Security Administration and Department of Veterans Affairs, which has also experienced customer service issues, to tell callers the estimated wait times. If the wait is longer than 15 minutes, the agency would give the consumer the option of receiving an automated call back when it is their turn in line. The agencies would have up to a year to put the new system into effect. ...

At Social Security, “We are doing what we can to improve phone service,” said Darren Lutz, an agency spokesman, who cited the hiring of new phone agents ... . The agency has moved to a new phone system, which Lutz said “allows us to receive more calls and provides callers with estimated wait times, and will soon provide an option for some callers to receive a call back instead of waiting in a queue. “ Social Security plans more improvements, he said, though ”to improve our phone service we will need sufficient and sustained funding.“ ...

Merry Christmas


Dec 20, 2023

Officially On The Job

      Martin O’Malley was sworn in as Commissioner on Wednesday.

     He has no leave built up yet so I guess he’ll be on the job every workday other than Christmas Day itself.

Off Topic For A Slow News Day

     Maybe I’m just confessing that I was ignorant until recently but that song, "Winter Wonderland"that you’ve heard hundreds, if not thousands of times, what's it about? If your answer is "Well, it's about the pleasures of walking in the snow" you're not completely right. Here's part of the lyrics:

In the meadow we can build a snowman,
Then pretend that he is Parson Brown
He'll say: Are you married?
We'll say: No man,
But you can do the job
When you're in town.

Later on, we'll conspire,
As we dream by the fire
To face unafraid,
The plans that we've made,
Walking in a winter wonderland.
    The song tells a story about a couple becoming engaged to be married or at least contemplating it seriously. Did you know that? I’ll admit that I didn't until recently. Of course, I have a bit of excuse. We've often heard it with different lyrics that don't include Parson Brown and conspiring by the fire but you hear it both ways. I think that most times I hear it, the romantic content is there.
    Anyway, that song, at least as originally written, isn't quite as sappy as I had thought.

Merry Christmas


Dec 19, 2023

O'Malley Nomination Spurred Few Passions

     From Politico:

... The vote [on the nomination of Martin O'Malley to become Commissioner of Social Security] was 50-11, with 39 senators absent for the chamber's first vote the week before Christmas as lawmakers continue working on an international aid and border security supplemental package.

Longtime Senate reporters and procedural experts called it the worst attendance for a vote that they could recall for at least the last two decades. ...

On The Way Out The Door

     In one of her last acts as Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Kililo Kijakazi issued an apology for her confused testimony before a Congressional committee that badly understated her agency's problem with overpayments of benefits.

    By the way, does anyone have an idea where Kijakazi is headed now? Back to a staff job? On to a new position?

It's OK To Feel Down At Christmas


Dec 18, 2023

Senate Schedules Vote Today On O'Malley Nomination

     According to the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over the matter, there's been unanimous consent in the Senate to vote on Martin O'Malley's nomination today.

    Update: The vote is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. today.

    Update: Martin O’Malley has been confirmed by the Senate.

Merry Christmas


Dec 17, 2023

Merry Christmas


Dec 16, 2023

Dec 15, 2023

Rampant Scamming Of Social Security Recipients

     From Newsweek:

More than $100 million is lost each year due to Social Security scams, new figures from the Federal Trade Commission show.

Already in 2023, the FTC has received reports of 164,413 government imposter scams, with social security scams being the most common of all. The Social Security Administration saw 38,852 reports, with a total of $101.58 million lost to government-impersonating fraudsters. ...

Merry Christmas


Dec 14, 2023

Workers Say The Physical Demands Of Their Jobs Are Increasing

     From the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College:

For obvious reasons, people who do physically demanding work are prone to injuring themselves on the job and are more likely than office workers to apply for federal disability benefits.

But is technology changing this relationship?

We know technology has caused a decline in manual labor, and the blue-collar jobs that remain are also easier to perform when machinery and computers are doing more of the heavy lifting workers used to do – think warehouse robots that alleviate the need to lift and carry heavy boxes.

But new research based on a survey of couples between ages 51 and 61 – a population that is particularly vulnerable to illness and musculoskeletal disabilities – finds no evidence they feel the physical demands on them are lessening. If anything, they said, the requirements for motions like stooping, lifting, or crouching have increased somewhat since the early 1990s.

Their perceptions conflict with the other studies showing an easing in the demands on blue-collar workers. But those studies are not based on what older people are saying about their jobs but on analyses of an occupational database that rates the intensity of the specific tasks required in each job. One example is how many pounds a warehouse worker must lift and how often that is required. ...

Merry Christmas


Merry Christmas


Dec 13, 2023

Now They Make It Public

     I can't say whether this is related to the recent publicity concerning overpayments to Social Security claimants but the agency has decided to make public its longstanding policy of waiving overpayments of less than $1,000 in most cases. The policy has been around for a long time, at least for SSI cases, but it was previously labeled "sensitive" in Social Security's manual and withheld from the public. Now it's out there for everyone to see. The exception to these administrative waivers is cases where the claimant is at fault. My experience is that they only refuse to waive these small overpayments when it's obvious that the claimant is a bad actor.

    Now, how about let's raise that amount from $1,000 to $5,000? How long has it been at $1,000? Also, how about waiving these without demanding that the claimant file a request for waiver? These waivers may be nearly automatic but the big catch is that you have to file a request for waiver. Most of these small overpayments aren't waived because the claimant doesn't know to request waiver or can't figure out how to complete a waiver request form or, perhaps more important, can't get through to a Social Security office to ask what to do.

Merry Christmas


Dec 12, 2023

How Many More Kids Should Be Drawing SSI?

     From How Many Medicaid Recipients Might Be Eligible For SSI by Michael Levere and David Wittenburg for the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College:

Children’s participation in the federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program has declined substantially over the past decade. Many children with disabilities might be eligible for SSI, yet barriers such as a lack of knowledge of the program or perceived challenges with applying may limit participation. In this paper, we use machine learning models on Medicaid administrative data to estimate the number and characteristics of children who are potentially eligible for SSI but do not currently receive benefits.

The paper found that:

  • A substantial number of children are potentially eligible for SSI. Depending on the exact probability used to define potential eligibility, the increase could likely range from 10 percent to 55 percent increase in enrollment (relative to the current number of SSI recipients). ...

    Note that the title of the study is misleading. They're not talking about all potential SSI recipients; just children.

Merry Christmas


Dec 11, 2023

Support For Updating SSI

     From a press release:

In the latest sign of strong momentum for U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown’s (D-OH) bipartisan legislation to fix the Social Security Income program, the executives of the eight leading banks in the United States endorsed the SSI Savings Penalty Elimination Act. The legislation ... is the first bipartisan, bicameral bill to increase SSI’s asset limits and ensure disabled and elderly Americans can work and save for emergencies without putting at risk the benefits they rely on to live.  

During the U.S. Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee’s annual hearing with the big bank executives, Brown described how SSI’s outdated eligibility rules lock beneficiaries in poverty and that his bill – co-sponsored by BHUA Committee member Sen. Rounds and already supported by JP Morgan Chase – would raise the asset limit. When asked if the executives would join in supporting the bill, each of them confirmed they supported the measure. ...

Introduced in September 2023, the bill is also endorsed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Microsoft, Transunion, the Kroger Company, the Food Association, Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company, AARP, Bipartisan Policy Center, The Arc, National Association of Evangelicals, Faith and Freedom Coalition, Jewish Federations of North America, Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, American Academy of Pediatrics, Autism Society of America, CEO Commission for Disability Employment, Cure SMA, Coalition on Human Needs, Justice in Aging, Muscular Dystrophy Association, National Down Syndrome Society, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Prosperity Now, Social Security Works, and nearly 300 other local and national organizations.  ...

Merry Christmas


Dec 10, 2023

Merry Christmas


Dec 9, 2023

Kijakazi And The Presidential Prayer Team

     The Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Kililo Kijakazi, is listed as an Executive Prayer Leader for the Presidential Prayer Team, which apparently does what its name suggests. It organizes prayer on behalf of the President of the United States. Many members of Congress are members of the Presidential Prayer Team, including many Republicans who certainly don't give one the impression that they regard Joe Biden as their brother in Christ.

Merry Christmas


Dec 8, 2023

Kijakazi Made A Mistake

    From Government Executive:

The Social Security Administration has demanded money back from more than 2 million people a year — more than twice as many people as the head of the agency disclosed at an October congressional hearing.

That’s according to a document KFF Health News and Cox Media Group obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration Kilolo Kijakazi read aloud from the document during the hearing but repeatedly left out an entire category of beneficiaries displayed on the paper as well. ...

The document obtained via FOIA shows that the numbers Kijakazi gave at the hearing covered only two of the three Social Security benefit programs. They did not cover Supplemental Security Income, or SSI ...

    Kijakazi should have included the SSI numbers or made it clear that she wasn't including them but to defend her more than she deserves, the Social Security Subcommittee has no jurisdiction over SSI. Perhaps more important, while SSI is part of the Social Security Act (Title XVI of it), most of the titles of the Social Security Act cover things like Medicare that aren't generally considered part of "Social Security." To the extent that we consider SSI as part of "Social Security" it's because the Social Security Administration, uh, administers it. Generally, Title II of the Social Security Act (providing old age, survivor and disability benefits based upon work credits) is always what people are thinking about when they refer to "Social Security" but sometimes they're also thinking about SSI.

Merry Christmas


Dec 7, 2023

What's At Stake For SSA With Generative AI

     The Acting Commissioner of Social Security recently made the decision that the agency will, for now, have no involvement with Generative Artificial Intelligence (AI). While I have a healthy skepticism that AI will ever have much role in taking or adjudicating Social Security claims, there's one area where Generative AI may be of considerable assistance and that's dealing with the COBOL problem. Social Security's most important computer programs are written in the ancient COBOL programming language. Many other agencies and private companies are similarly dependent upon COBOL. Schools are no longer teaching COBOL. Computer programmers don't want to work with it. Few programmers are available to work on COBOL programs and those programmers have long since gone gray.

    IBM, and probably others, have decided that Generative AI may be the cure for COBOL problems. There would be no need to laboriously rewrite all the old programs in newer programming languages. AI would quickly rewrite the old COBOL programs in modern computer programming languages. Programmers would be more widely available for modern computer languages. Corrections and improvements to existing programs would become easier. That would be a godsend to Social Security, if it works.

Merry Christmas


Dec 6, 2023

Social Security Says Don't Rely On SkillTRAN For Numbers Of Jobs

     From Emergency Message EM-21065 REV, Guidelines for Using Occupational Information in Electronic Tools issued yesterday (emphasis added):

In making disability determinations, SSA relies primarily on the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) (including its companion publication, the Selected Characteristics of Occupations (SCO)) for information about the requirements of work in the national economy. The SSA Digital Library hosts three searchable databases developed by SkillTRAN for the DOT. Adjudicators may use these tools to help make an assessment at step four (see 20 CFR 404.1560(b)(2) and 416.960(b)(2)) or step five (see 20 CFR 404.1566(d), 404.1568(d)(2), 416.966(d), and 416.968(d)(2)) of the sequential evaluation process. ...

     [The three searchable databases] contain DOT and SCO occupational information developed by the United States Department of Labor (DOL). This information is useful, but it does not replace SSA policy or adjudicative judgment and decision-making. While the DOT and SCO are acceptable sources of occupational information for adjudicating disability claims, they also contain (1) information that must not be used in disability adjudication because our rules and subregulatory guidance do not permit it and (2) information of which we do not take administrative notice. ...
    Federal agencies now publish labor market information by the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) code. Those with vocational expertise use various approaches to arrive at informed estimates of numbers of jobs that exist within a DOT occupation. Results may differ given the method used for the estimate. We have not reviewed and do not specifically endorse the SkillTRAN proprietary algorithm. ...

    To explain, in responding to hypothetical questions, vocational experts testifying at hearings on Social Security disability claims give lists of jobs that a hypothetical claimant could perform. They also testify to the numbers of such jobs in the economy. The numbers of jobs figures come from a propriety program, SkillTRAN. I think that everyone who has looked at this issue, including Administrative Law Judges, knows that those SkillTRAN numbers are bull. Social Security is finally acknowledging this. 
    Will this affect cases where these numbers have already been cited in decisions? We'll see.                                                                            

OHO Stats

     Just released by Social Security:

Click on image to view full size


Merry Christmas


Dec 5, 2023

AI Out At Social Security, For Now

     From Fedscoop:

The Social Security Administration has banned the use of generative artificial intelligence-based tools on agency devices, FedScoop has confirmed. The block, which is temporary, is meant to ensure the security of data and systems.

The agency’s block of these third-party tools was disclosed earlier this month in a management advisory report for this fiscal year, published by the SSA’s inspector general office. The report noted that the decision was made to protect personally identifiable information, along with health, sensitive and other non-public information, that risked being shared through the use of the technology. 

The Social Security Administration said the block was a precautionary measure and that the agency has yet to use generative AI. When asked if the ban applies to agency laptops and mobile devices, a spokesperson said the block “is designed to be agency-wide.”  ...

Merry Christmas


Dec 4, 2023

NY Times Article On Service Problems At SSA

      The New York Times has a nice piece on the terrible service problems at the Social Security Administration. There’s nothing in it that would come as news to regular readers of this blog but it’s good to see any publicity given to the situation.
     There’s also a piece on Yahoo Finance dealing with the Commissioner nomination and service at S.S.A.

Merry Christmas


Dec 3, 2023

Merry Christmas


Dec 2, 2023

Merry Christmas


Look familiar?

Dec 1, 2023

OIG Report To Congress

     This is from the Semiannual Report to Congress prepared by Social Security's Office of Inspector General. Note that 143,816 total allegations of fraud were received but there were only 228 indictments or criminal informations issued. That's a pretty low ratio. Note also the vast number of imposter scam allegations received. This is where the real fraud problem is at Social Security. (I received a call earlier this week from a former client who was the recent victim of imposter fraud. How long will it take before his benefits are restored?)

Click on image to view full size

    Also, why is Gail Ennis still the Inspector General?

Nov 30, 2023

Lauren Boebert Is An Ass -- But You Already Knew That

     From The Hill:

Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) argued with a Social Security official over claims of backlogs in a Wednesday hearing about post-pandemic teleworking policies.

Boebert asked Oren “Hank” McKnelly, an executive counselor for the Social Security Administration, if the administration monitored its employees’ output and hours if workers are logging on from home.

 McKnelly assured Boebert social security employees are “subjected to the same performance management processes” whether they are teleworking or working from the office. ...

“We have systems in place that our managers use to schedule, assign and track workloads,” McKnelly said, adding that if employees work virtually, they must be responsive to various forms of communication.

Boebert continued, asking the official why the backlog of social security applicants has increased from 41,000 to 107,000.

“We’ve been historically underfunded for a number of years now,” McKnelly fired back, to which the congresswoman disagreed.

McKnelly said in the past 10 years, the administration has seen an increase of more than 8 million beneficiaries and experienced the lowest staffing levels ever at the end of fiscal 2022.

“That’s a math problem,” he said. “If you have those workloads increasing and you don’t have the staff to take care of those workloads, you’re going to have the backlogs that you’re talking about, representative.” ...

Nov 28, 2023

O'Malley Nomination Reported Out Of Committee

     From the New Hampshire Bulletin:

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley moved one step closer Tuesday to becoming the next Social Security commissioner, a role that would become increasingly difficult as the program inches closer to insolvency during the next decade.

The U.S. Senate Finance Committee voted, 17-10, to send O’Malley’s nomination to the floor, though it’s not clear how soon the entire chamber will vote on confirmation. All the panel’s Democrats and Republican Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, and Thom Tillis of North Carolina voted to advance his nomination. ...

Annual Statistical Supplement Issued

     The Social Security Administration has issued its 2023 Annual Statistical Supplement, a huge compendium of all the statistical information you could ask for concerning Social Security programs. Here's one excerpt (footnotes omitted):

Number of SSA full-time staff and work years, fiscal years 1995–2023 

Year Full-time permanent staff a Total work years b
1995      62,504 67,063
1996      62,133 66,726
1997      61,224 69,378
1998      59,943 67,210
1999      59,752 66,459
2000      60,434 65,521
2001      61,490 65,562
2002      61,914 65,742
2003      63,569 65,343
2004      63,186 c 66,154
2005      63,696 d 68,026
2006      61,692 66,878
2007      60,206 63,939
2008      61,920 64,358
2009      65,203 67,170
2010      67,548 70,758
2011      64,744 69,936
2012      62,943 67,208
2013      59,823 64,601
2014      62,956 64,006
2015      63,466 67,004
     62,685 65,798
2017      61,250 63,957
2018      61,011 64,095
2019      60,450 64,576
2020      60,364 62,291
2021      58,952 61,830
2022      56,907 60,570
2023      60,026 61,771


Nov 27, 2023

The Attacks On Social Security Never Stop

     Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times has quite the takedown of a ridiculous piece on Slate by Eric Boehm and Celeste Headlee titled “Social Security Doesn’t Make Sense Anymore.” Hiltzik describes the Slate piece as full of "misconceptions, inaccuracies, misrepresentations, and flat-out lies about" Social Security.

Nov 25, 2023

Social Security Bulletin Released

     The Social Security Administration has posted the most recent issue of the Social Security Bulletin, its scholarly publication, which is now in its 83rd year. Here are summaries of two articles from this issue of the Bulletin:

Mixed-Methods Study to Understand Public Use of Social Security's Online Platform by Lila Rabinovich and Francisco Perez-Arce

In this article, the authors use quantitative analysis of survey data and qualitative analysis of personal interviews to examine public awareness and use of online my Social Security accounts. The accounts are the Social Security Administration's platform for providing both general and personalized retirement-preparation information, including benefit estimators, along with other agency services. The authors explore internet literacy and demographic factors that may affect platform access and use. They also review the experiences and reactions reported by individual platform users.

The Alignment Between Self-Reported and Administrative Measures of Disability Program Application and Benefit Receipt in the Health and Retirement Studyby Jody Schimmel Hyde and Amal Harrati

This study examines the differences between self-reported data and administrative records on Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) application and benefit receipt using survey data from the Health and Retirement Study linked to the Social Security Administration's Form 831 records and Disability Analysis File. The authors find that aggregate survey reports of DI and SSI application and benefit receipt are lower than administrative records indicate and that individual-level misreporting is common, although both sources indicate similar incidence patterns.