Jan 31, 2023

Some Listings Will Become Harder To Meet

     Social Security's musculoskeletal Listings will become harder to meet this November. As written many of these Listings require that all relevant criteria be present simultaneously or "within a close proximity of time." Because of the Covid-19 pandemic this became hard to prove since access to healthcare, particularly in person health care, became more difficult. In July 2021 Social Security adopted a temporary rule loosening these requirements until "6 months after the effective date of a determination by the Secretary of Health and Human Services under section 319 of the Public Health Service Act, 42 U.S.C. 247d, that the national public health emergency resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic no longer exists." Newspapers are reporting that the President plans to issue an order ending the public health emergency on May 11, 2023. Thus, the Listings will become harder to meet as of Veterans Day in November. 

    The musculoskeletal Listings have been too hard to meet even with the temporary rule in place suspending some of their worst aspects. They will become even more harsh. They need re-examination.

Jan 30, 2023

Ferguson To Be New Chairman Of House Social Security Subcommittee

     Congressman Drew Ferguson will be the new Chairman of the House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee. Ferguson was not on this Subcommittee in the last Congress. Apparently, he's a mainline Republican Congressman -- an election denier who wants to outlaw abortion and same sex marriage, for instance. He was very much opposed to blocking Social Security recipients who need representative payees from buying firearms. This is what he said in the press release on his appointment as Chairman of the Social Security Subcommittee:

... As a member of the Committee on Ways and Means and House Budget Committee, I am ready to roll up my sleeves and get our country back on track with responsible fiscal and pro-growth policies. For the last two years, the radical Left’s out-of-control, big government spending resulted in an economic crisis – causing hardworking Americans to suffer with record high inflation and putting our nation on the brink of a recession. 

“We will reverse course and enact policies to maintain American competitiveness and innovation, economic growth, and fiscal responsibility. As the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Social Security, I will be a leading voice for our nation’s seniors, and advance solutions to some of the most pressing issues facing our country today.” ...

    The problem is that for many Republicans in Congress the only solution for any Social Security issue is to cut benefits somehow, such as by raising full retirement age. I'm not saying that's his view or that he'd get anywhere if that is his view, but that's the milieu he's coming from. There's also the prevailing Republican viewpoint that since government is infinitely wasteful, cuts in agency operating budgets can have no effect upon agency service. The agencies will get by just by reducing waste. At least that's their viewpoint as to non-defense spending.
    Would he be interested in working on the more mundane problems at Social Security, such as getting their phones answered, where he might make a difference? We'll see but I'm expecting hearings asking why Social Security allows people to freely change their gender in agency records and why any Social Security employees are allowed to do any work from home.
    Below is the full list of Subcommittee members -- at least as announced so far. Since this list includes an equal number of Democrats and Republicans, I think there may be another Republican or two to be added.
  • Drew Ferguson, Chairman
  • David Schweikert 
  • David Kustoff
  • Tom Rice
  • Jodey Arrington
  • John B. Larson, Ranking Member
  • Bill Pascrell, Jr.
  • Linda T. S├ínchez
  • Brian Higgins
  • Dan Kildee

Jan 29, 2023

Social Security’s Immigration Problem

      From the Motley Fool:

… Look at social media message boards, and you'll find one commonly repeated viewpoint: That undocumented workers receiving benefits are to blame for Social Security's financial shortcomings. Immigration into the U.S., in general, seems to be a regular scapegoat for why America's top retirement program is struggling.

But this school of thought couldn't be more wrong.

Social Security's problem isn't that too many immigrants are flocking to the United States. Rather, it's that net-legal immigration has been declining for a quarter of a century. Since 1998, the net migration rate into the U.S. has fallen every single year, and is down by an aggregate of 57%, according to data from the United Nations. 

Most people legally migrating to the U.S. tend to be younger, which is an extremely important point. These are people who will spend decades in the labor force contributing to Social Security via the payroll tax. The 12.4% payroll tax on earned income (wages and salary) was responsible for providing approximately $981 billion (90.1%) of the $1.088 trillion in revenue Social Security collected in 2021. 

The intermediate-cost model in the 2022 Trustees Report -- the "intermediate-cost model" is what the Trustees view as the outcome likeliest to happen -- is based on average annual total net immigration of 1,246,000 people.  Between July 1, 2012, and June 30, 2017, fewer than 955,000 total net migrants entered the U.S. annually, according to data from the World Bank.  If net migration into the U.S. continues to fall, or even steadies at these reduced levels, it's all but a certainty that Social Security's funding shortfall will grow. …

Jan 28, 2023

Now How About A Commissioner Nomination?

     The President has nominated Kathryn Lang to became a member of the Social Security Advisory Board. Lang is Director of Federal Income Security at Justice in Aging, a national non-profit legal organization that fights against senior poverty. She has worked with Social Security and SSI issues.

Jan 27, 2023

Disability Backlogs Are Cruel

     From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (paywall):

A hospital social worker helped Nicholas Johnson fill out dozens of pages of paperwork for Social Security Disability Insurance in September after he woke up from a coma and realized he was paralyzed. ...

Johnson missed two phone calls from the Social Security office while he was in physical therapy. He started the application process over, for a third time, in early January. 

With no income, Johnson can’t pay rent, so he moved in with his grandmother. But her home is too small to accommodate his wheelchair, so family members come over daily to carry him from room to room. ...

Johnson is one of more than 2,000 people in Milwaukee waiting for the Social Security Administration's approval to receive disability benefits, according to the latest data available from the agency. The average wait time is 368 days, leaving many people struggling without adequate housing or money to pay for their basic needs for more than a year. ...

Hope Lloyd is a community living and home supervisor with Independence First who is working with about a dozen people in Milwaukee with spinal cord injuries who haven't been able to get their first disability checks, so they are living in nursing homes or with family. 

"It's not where they belong, but without those expedited payments, they can’t  apply for an apartment because they don't have any income," Lloyd said. "A lot of times, they're the primary breadwinner, so it's just really, really bad." ...

At the state level, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services said a mandated federal update to its computer system in late 2019 further pushed wait times. 

"Wisconsin’s legacy system was superior to the current (federal) system because it included more automatic prompts for examiners that made it easier for them to manage their very high caseloads," said Jennifer Miller, a spokeswoman with DHS. 

Miller said examiners receive specialized training that takes more than two years to become fully proficient.  

"As a result of increased evidence, increased scrutiny, continuously growing case complexity, and a new nationwide case processing system rollout, case production has become more labor-intensive and slower," Miller said. "Adjudicators’ case counts have increased significantly, and the job has become untenable in many states. ...

Jan 26, 2023

I've Got News For The AARP: That $785 Million Appropriation Increase Is Less Than The Increase In Inflation So Don't Expect Improved Service

     From AARP:

We’re asking the Social Security Administration (SSA) to put customer service on the front burner now that Congress and the Biden administration have approved a $785 million budget increase for the agency.

AARP members sent Congress more than 200,000 emails last year urging it to approve more funding for customer service issues amid historically high wait times and a backlog in disability claims. The agency primarily blamed the delays on years of understaffing and insufficient funds. ...

We wrote to SSA Acting Commissioner Kilolo Kijakazi last week, urging her to make customer service a top priority in the operating plan the agency is required to submit to Congress next month as part of the recently approved 2023 spending bill. ...

Jan 25, 2023

GOP Wants To Cut Social Security

     From the Washington Post:

...  Only weeks after taking control of the chamber, GOP lawmakers under new Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) have rallied around firm pledges for austerity, insisting their efforts can improve the nation’s fiscal health. ...

So far, the party has focused its attention on slimming down federal health care, education, science and labor programs, perhaps by billions of dollars. But some Republicans also have pitched a deeper examination of entitlements, which account for much of the government’s annual spending — and reflect some of the greatest looming fiscal challenges facing the United States. ...

In recent days, a group of GOP lawmakers has called for the creation of special panels that might recommend changes to Social Security and Medicare, which face genuine solvency issues that could result in benefit cuts within the next decade. Others in the party have resurfaced more detailed plans to cut costs, including by raising the Social Security retirement age to 70, targeting younger Americans who have yet to obtain federal benefits ...

GOP lawmakers have been counseled by a wide array of right-leaning groups, including the Heritage Foundation, that the new majority should consider significant changes to entitlements as part of their commitment to cutting spending and balancing the budget — but not tax increases. ...

    "Special panel" to recommend Social Security cuts. Is that like a death panel? 

    Republicans are living in a fantasy world if they really think they can cut Social Security. Forget the Senate and the White House. They couldn't come close to passing Social Security cuts in the House of Representatives. Get real.

Jan 24, 2023

Trust Funds Report

     Social Security's actuaries have released final trust fund numbers for calendar year 2022. The Disability Trust Fund entered the year with $99 billion on hand and ended the year with $118 billion. The Retirement Trust Fund entered the year with $2.76 trillion and ended the year with $2.71 trillion on hand. Combined, the two Trust Funds entered the year with $2.85 trillion dollars and ended the year with $2.83 trillion.

Jan 23, 2023

Time To Loosen Up?

     There are a lot of acrylic shields in place in Social Security hearing rooms. They're a pain in the neck for those participating in hearings in person. It can be hard to hear. I believe there are also a lot of acrylic shields in Social Security field offices. Is it time for them to go? Are they still needed?

Jan 20, 2023

Attorneys Representing Social Security Claimants Are Hurting

     Social Security has posted final numbers showing total fees paid to attorneys and others for representing claimants in 2022. Let's do a comparison with the last three years:

  • 2019: 390,809 fees were paid for a total of $1,214,557,861. Average fee per case was $3,107.80
  • 2020: 360,493 fees were paid, down 8% from 2019. The total fees paid were $1,081,523,523, down 11% from 2019. Average fee per case was $3,000.12.
  • 2021: 296,847 fees were paid, down 18% from 2020 and down 24% from 2019. The total fees paid were $932,887,938, down 14% from 2020 and down 23% from 2020. Average fee per case was $3,142.66.
  • 2022: 311,047 fees were paid, up 5% from 2021 but down 14% from 2020 and down 20% from 2019. The total fees paid were $923,992,941, down 1% from 2021, down 15% from 2020 and down 24% from 2019. The average fee per case was $2,970.59.

    Social Security attorneys are genuinely hurting. The recent increase in the fee cap is only going to help so much, especially when you consider that the attorneys have to cope with huge inflation and case files that have been getting bigger and bigger because of electronic medical records. The end result is that the quality of representation of claimants has been going down.
    Social Security depends upon claimants being represented. Take us out of the picture and workloads at Social Security become far worse.

Jan 19, 2023

How Well Does SSA Use Plain Language?

     There is a federal Plain Language Act that is supposed to require agencies to use, well, plain language when communicating with the public. The private Center for Plain Language issues a yearly report card on how well agencies comply with the Plain Language Act. This year's report card is reproduced below. Note that they're only evaluating two web pages for each agency -- Contact Us and FOIA Request. They're not looking at ordinary written communications from each agency. I think that if they were to look at written communications Social Security would score much lower. Consider the letter that starts "Upon receipt of your request for reconsideration ..." When do you think that was last revised in any substantive way? Perhaps the 1980s?

Jan 18, 2023

Biggs And Lewis Renominated

     The President has renominated Andrew Biggs and Sharon Beth Lewis to serve on the Social Security Advisory Board (SSAB). Biggs is only renominated because the President essentially has to nominate him. Certainly, he would not be nominated otherwise. As a Social Security employee -- a Social Security employee! -- he campaigned with then President George W. Bush for the partial privatization of Social Security. It's understood that Social Security Commissioners don't do this sort of thing. It's way beyond the pale for underlings. What Biggs did was quite a few years ago but it's not been forgotten. Remember, though, that the SSAB has only a limited role. Biggs on the SSAB doesn't move us one inch closer to privatizing Social Security.

Jan 17, 2023

A Poll


Jan 15, 2023

Gotta Get 7 On Your Side!

      Five trips to a Social Security field office didn’t solve a family’s Social Security problem but one call from a TV station does. Funny how that works.

Jan 14, 2023

Scary Scene In St. Louis

     A woman threatened to shoot up a Social Security field office in St. Louis on Friday. She ended up exchanging gunfire with law enforcement officers. Thank goodness this didn’t happen in the Social Security field office.

Jan 13, 2023

A Simple Suggestion

     It's been my impression over the years that Social Security always practices "fast tracking" to some extent. By "fast tracking" I'm talking about processing the simplest things first, the ones that take little time, in order to generate good production numbers. 

    "Fast tracking" seems to be out of hand now. Why is Social Security processing retirement claims almost immediately while taking six months to do windfall offsets? I'm seeing workloads of more complex matters at the field offices and payment centers that have been put off and put off in the apparent hope that there will be time later to work on them. Many of these delayed cases became complicated because someone at Social Security made a mistake that needs to be corrected. These delayed cases are now at crisis levels. I don't see a surge of overtime to take care of these cases anytime in the next two years.

    Isn't it time to say "stop!" Delay the routine processing of easy cases a bit. Take care of the horrible backlogs of more complicated matters and then get back to the routine cases. If a retirement claimant has to wait an extra month for first payment of benefits, so what? Why should that retirement claimant have his or her case processed quickly just because it's easy? You can't keep putting off windfall offsets and other complicated matters forever. Sooner or later the field offices and payment centers will have to take care of them. Quit worrying about the stats and take care of the claimants who have waited the longest.  It's the fair thing to do.

Jan 12, 2023

The Never Ending Eric Conn Story

     From WYMT:

Victims of Eric C. Conn could see their social security benefits re-instated thanks to an agreement between the Social Security Administration and a local attorney.

Prestonsburg attorney Ned Pillersdorf, who has been advocating for many former clients of Conn’s in their battles with the SSA over the past several years, announced on Facebook Monday night that the “historic agreement” with the administration means that many of the 500 former clients could see their benefits reinstated if they request new hearings.

If the clients prevail in the hearings, they could see up to six years worth of back pay that could collectively total tens of millions of dollars. ...

    When will it be time for Social Security to just throw up its hands on this? The whole thing is an impossible mess created by  agency over-reaching. Of course, there was misconduct by a few people in Kentucky but the Social Security Administration didn't have to throw out all its rules and commonsense in responding to what happened.

Jan 11, 2023

OHO Backlog Growing

     Social Security has released operating statistics for its Office of Hearings Operations through the end of 2022. Click on the image to view full size.

Jan 10, 2023

New Disability Claims Filed Up Slightly But Number Awarded Benefits Continues Decline

     Social Security has posted numbers through the end of 2022 showing how many people filed disability claims, how many of those claims reached a Disability Determination Service (DDS) for adjudication and how many were approved. Note that the number of claims filed and the number reaching DDS went up slightly but the number of awards went down. How come? Serious problems at DDS units around the country.

Jan 9, 2023

Boring To Most Readers But Essential To Some

      Social Security is changing its rules to centralize acceptance of legal process. To explain, Social Security gets sued many thousands of time a year. The vast majority are appeals in disability cases. If you sue someone, you have to tell them they've been sued. This can be referred to as "legal process." Up to this point, where you sent the legal process depended upon where the lawsuit was filed. Now, they will all be sent to the same place. This has to do with changes at Social Security's Office of General Counsel (OGC) but also with changes in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. This change will appear in the Federal Register (where official federal announcements are published) tomorrow.

Jan 6, 2023

You Know, Maybe We Should Do Something About This

      A Cleveland television station reports on the problems that Social Security claimants have getting the agency to work on their cases in Ohio. Hint: It’s not just Ohio. It’s everywhere.

Jan 5, 2023

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 September with earlier headcount numbers for comparison:

  • September, 2022 57,754
  • 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

Jan 4, 2023

Wonder Why Social Security Is Dragging Its Feet On The Occupational Information System They Say They Want?

    The table below is from the Department of Labor's Occupational Requirements Survey (ORS). This is what Social Security hopes to use as a replacement for the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT). 
    Some things to notice here:
  • Less than a third of the workforce has jobs at the sedentary level. Contrary to the instincts of many office workers, they're very much in the minority in the workforce. Count your blessings. Don't assume that the work style you enjoy is available to most people. It's not.
  • What part of that 29.1% of jobs at the sedentary level is available to those with only a high school education? What about those with less than a high school education? What? You thought that everyone has a high school education? How naive. Those with lower cognitive abilities often fail to complete high school. Those with lower cognitive abilities also file a lot of Social Security disability claims. You see, if all you had to offer an employer was a strong back, you don't have much to fall back on if you lose the strength in your back. By the way, what do you think the odds are that Social Security already knows the percentage of jobs at the sedentary level performed by those with a high school level or less? Wouldn't giving Social Security an answer to that question have been a simple matter for DOL? They're already collected the data.
  • Of that 30.2% of jobs that have no minimum educational requirement, what percent do you think would be at the sedentary or even light level? I'd guess not too many. Again, what do you think the odds are that Social Security already knows the answer to this question?
  • Most workers are exposed to at least moderate noise. Who knew? Not many office workers would guess that.
  • 78.7% of employees have to interact with the general public. That's one of many work demands that can be tough for those with psychiatric difficulties.

Jan 3, 2023

No Social Security For Trump

     I took a look at Donald Trump’s recently released tax returns. Despite being well past age 70, he hasn’t reported Social Security benefit payments. Maybe he didn’t bother to apply. Maybe he didn’t have a history of wages that would qualify him. For that matter, Melania isn’t receiving Social Security benefits either but she’s only 52.

     Trump is so grasping, it would be hard for me to imagine him not reaching out for the income but he’s so incompetent I can suppose it wouldn’t have occurred to him.

     By the way, please, if you’re a Social Security employee, don’t try to look up Trump’s earnings record. You won’t succeed but you will be fired.

     Also by the way, President Biden is receiving Social Security retirement benefits.

Jan 2, 2023

An Age Old Question


Jan 1, 2023

May God Protect Ukraine In The New Year


From Ukraine