Feb 28, 2023

Full Retirement Age Went Up But Life Expectancy Went Down

     From People's Policy Project:

In 1983, Ronald Reagan signed into law a cut to Social Security benefits. Under the law, the Social Security full retirement age gradually increased from from 65 in 2000 to 67 at the end of 2022. ...

In the lead up to the passage of the legislation, a popular argument for raising the retirement age was that life expectancy had increased, so people should work for longer. The presumption was that the increase in life expectancy since Social Security’s implementation would continue as the retirement age rose. But, in reality, something peculiar happened.

Over the same period during which the 1983 law forced the retirement age up from 65 to 67, life expectancy in the US actually declined. In 2000, US life expectancy was 76.8 years. According to data released last December, life expectancy in 2021 was 76.4 years. This was the second consecutive year of significant life expectancy decline. ...

Feb 27, 2023

Covid And Social Security Disability

     From CNN:

... Pandemic issues and budget cuts at the Social Security Administration, which handles SSDI claims, have resulted in the lowest staffing levels in 25 years, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. That has kept long Covid cases backlogged. ...

People with long Covid “were less likely to be employed full time and more likely to be unemployed” due to the “presence of cognitive symptoms,” according to a recent study in the medical journal JAMA Network Open. 

A January study from the New York State Insurance Fund found that 18% of long Covid patients in that state have not been able to return to work for more than one year. ...

The Department of Health and Human Services estimates $50 billion in annual salaries in the US is lost annually due to long Covid. A Brookings analysis puts that total at an even higher number: a staggering $170 billion lost by workers. ...

[F]or many long Covid patients, [applying for Social Security disability benefitl] remains an ordeal on many levels, including the mental anguish of simply trying to cut through a notoriously bureaucratic federal disability application process.

“I feel like we’re being erased,” said Sarah Steinberg, 40, a Covid “long-hauler” and self-employed architectural designer. Disabled by long Covid since March 2020, she lives with her spouse and their 7-year-old son in Portland, Ore. 

Unlike workers whose jobs offer benefits packages, some freelancers like Steinberg say they find themselves locked out of benefits like health, dental, life, and short- and long-term disability insurance. ...

[N]early three years into the pandemic, long Covid still isn’t included on SSA’s listing of qualifying disabilities. ...

“Trying to apply for SSDI makes doing your taxes look like a kindergarten watercolor painting,” [a disability expert] said. “It’s well known that you usually have to apply multiple times. It can take years.”  ...

Feb 24, 2023

Does Political Messaging Matter?

    From the Washington Post:

 In that Jan. 25 meeting [with the President], [Senator Bernie] Sanders pushed the president to fully fund Social Security for more than seven decades by expanding payroll taxes on affluent Americans, rather than just on workers’ first $160,000 in earnings, as is the case under current law. Sanders also asked the president to back his proposal — highly unlikely to pass Congress — to not only defend existing benefits but also increase them. He wants to provide another $2,400 per year for every Social Security beneficiary.

This previously unreported discussion between Biden and his onetime presidential primary rival reflects a broader behind-the-scenes effort inside the White House to decide how, or if, the party’s message on entitlements should go beyond criticizing the GOP. ...

Biden aides have in recent weeks discussed proposing raising payroll taxes on the rich to fund Social Security, but it is unclear if the president will ultimately endorse that measure when he releases his budget in March, according to three people familiar with international deliberations. ...

“There’s a faction inside the White House that feels some need to offer a plan, though I personally feel that’s misplaced,” one senior Democratic pollster said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations with senior administration officials. “Stick to our basic message: Hands off our seniors. That’s working.” ...

    Note that these are discussions about political messaging. No tax increases are happening with Republicans in control of the House of Representatives. The Republican message that "We'll never agree to tax increases so Democrats, not Republicans, must propose benefit cuts" won't ever lead to a solution.

    It's apparent to me how Social Security's long-term financing issues will be resolved. Eventually, Democrats will have a great election cycle and have enough strength in Congress to pass a bill. Until then, it's just posturing but today's political messaging can become tomorrow's enacted fix for Social Security so the posturing matters. If Democrats don't have such an election cycle in time, it's going to be a train wreck, mainly for the GOP which will be caught between its ideology and the great majority of the country which loves Social Security and doesn't want to see it cut.

Feb 23, 2023

Good Decision Out Of CA4

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an important decision yesterday in Shelley C. v. Commissioner of Social Security.

    The Court found that summary statements assigning "little weight" to the opinion of the treating physician on the grounds that it "is on an issue reserved for the Commissioner and . . . is inconsistent with the medical evidence of record. [His] treatment notes do not indicate any significant symptoms that would render [Shelley C.] unable to perform basic work activities” does not comply with the agency's own regulations. An ALJ decision must identify the alleged inconsistencies between the treating physician's opinion and the medical evidence. The Court also held that the ALJ decision must explicitly show consideration of each of the six factors in 20 C.F.R.§404.1527(c). I think that in practical terms the Court held that merely using canned language won't cut it. If an ALJ gives "little weight" to a treating physician's opinion, the ALJ is going to have to explain why.

    By the way, the Court didn't even deign to discuss the "opinion reserved to the Commissioner" language in the ALJ decision, which is about how much attention one should pay to makeweight language implying that Social Security has some right to summarily make decisions without regard to the evidence and without being held to account by anyone. Taken at face value, that arrogance would render judicial review meaningless.

    The Court also held that the ALJ "could not dismiss Shelley C.’s subjective complaints based entirely upon the belief that they were not corroborated by the record’s medical evidence."

    The Court did not remand the case. It reversed it and ordered payment of benefits. That is uncommon at the District Court level and quite rare at the Court of Appeals level. This was a bad day for Social Security's Office of General Counsel and for canned boilerplate in ALJ decisions. Show your work, ALJs.

Feb 22, 2023

They Call This The Waterfall Chart

Click on image to view full size

Feb 21, 2023

The Dubious Benefits Of Ticket To Work

     From Effects of the Ticket to Work Program: Return on Investment and Overall Assessment of Outcomes Versus Design by

The Ticket to Work (TTW) program was established by 1999 legislation to expand access to vocational rehabilitation services for beneficiaries of Social Security Administration (SSA) disability benefit programs. We evaluate TTW and compare its outcomes with the intentions of its authorizing legislation. We also compare the program's costs with the benefit savings resulting from the reemployment of successful program participants. We analyze unadjusted descriptive statistics, then consider potential participation bias among individuals who received employment services by devising an econometric analysis that accounts for the seriousness of a participant's interest in work. We find that TTW improved employment outcomes and generated net benefit savings to SSA for many employment-service clients, but the savings did not fully offset program costs. However, these estimates should be regarded as lower bounds of TTW's positive effects because they do not account for higher service needs of TTW program participants. ...

Feb 20, 2023

Bad Conditions In Wisconsin -- And Most Other Places

     From some television station in Milwaukee:

They can’t work, have little money to fall back on, and are waiting months for the approval of [Social Security disability] claims that could put a roof over their heads. The delays are impacting some of Wisconsin’s most vulnerable. ...

Back in 2019, it took 116 days on average to get an initial disability decision in Wisconsin. Today, it takes 247 days on average. Decisions are made by the Disability Determination Services (DDS) in Madison. ...

Doug Nguyen, regional communications director for SSA, tells Contact 6 they’re working to "reduce the backlog of disability cases that developed during the pandemic." However, he says they need "adequate and sustained funding."

Nguyen says SSA received 55% of the increase President Biden requested for its administrative budget in 2023. He says SSA has experienced historically high attrition at DDS locations and is having difficulty hiring new workers, "similar to the larger labor market."

Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) also blames a transition mid-pandemic to a new federal system for processing disability claims. A DHS spokesperson says Wisconsin’s old system was more efficient. ...

Feb 19, 2023


      From Federal News Network:

The Social Security Administration is getting $23.3 million from the Technology Modernization Fund to implement multifactor authentication across its internal systems, part of a trio of recent TMF awards focused on cybersecurity and reliability. … 
“Millions count on Social Security for their benefits, and we are committed to secure systems that protect their personal information and allow our hard-working employees to provide the daily services and assistance American retirees and other beneficiaries depend on,” Sean Brune, SSA’s chief information officer, said as part of the announcement. “This investment will improve security and protections of our programmatic systems while avoiding potential agency costs and potential disruption of services.” 
The funding will help SSA accelerate the implementation of its phishing-resistant, single sign-on MFA solution across all internal systems and services. Using phishing-resistant MFA is a key requirement for agencies under the federal zero trust strategy. … 
The TMF award comes as SSA is also planning to soon release a new IT strategic plan, Federal News Network reported last month.

Feb 18, 2023

Worsening Service

      Lisa Rein at the Washington Post has a piece up on Social Security’s worsening service delivery problems, including a quote from me that some of you might not like.

Feb 17, 2023

ARS Down

     Social Security's Appointed Representative Services (ARS), also known as ERE, that allows attorneys and others representing claimants to access their client's files went down yesterday and is still down this morning. I heard that there were some problems yesterday for Social Security employees but do not know whether they are still having problems. There's been no announcement from the agency about this outage.

    Social Security should make an announcement about this sort of thing when it becomes extended as this episode has. You can pretend that there's no problem but people like me can't.

Feb 16, 2023

Some Projections From The Acting Commissioner

     From a statement attached to a letter from the Acting Commissioner to the Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee:

... We anticipate that some performance measures will show improvement in FY 2023 [in processing of initial claims at the Disability Determination Services], while others may show temporary degradation. We will process 129,000 or 7 percent more initial disability claims than in FY 2022 (52-week measure). However, wait times for a disability decision at the initial and appeal levels will increase for a period of time because backlogs will continue to grow while we hire and train new staff. ...

As of December 2022, we reduced our pending number of hearings to about 355,000 and reduced the average wait time for a hearing to 442 days from the peak of 633 days in September 2017. We are currently experiencing a temporary increase in the average processing time because we are working through our oldest cases for individuals who chose to wait for an in-person hearing rather than accepting a video or telephone hearing when our offices were closed to the public during the pandemic. We project that our monthly average processing time for hearings will be 390 days at the end of FY 2023. ...

In FY 2023, we expect to transition our National 800 Number to a modern telecommunication platform, improving service and providing more self-service opportunities for the public. In FY 2023, we estimate our speed of answer will be approximately 35 minutes compared to 33 minutes in FY 2022, while our busy rate will be 15 percent compared to 6 percent in FY 2022. ...

    Despite the discouraging figures actually presented, the overall tone of the statement is quite positive. I don't know why you'd sugarcoat the situation. Overall, things will keep getting worse until Social Security gets enough money to operate the agency. There's no way to manage the agency out of this mess. It will take more warm bodies to get the work done and that costs money.

Feb 15, 2023

Sounds Good To Me

     From Marketwatch:

Social Security should be able to pay out full benefits until 2035 without any intervention, but a proposal by Sen. Bernie Sanders would extend the life of the program for 75 years, chief actuary Stephen Goss said.  ...     

The Social Security Expansion Act aims not only to pay out full benefits but, as the name implies, to bolster the program. Under the proposal, Social Security would provide an additional $2,400 in benefits to each beneficiary every year. The program would also be linked to the experimental price index for the elderly, or CPI-E, instead of the consumer-price index for urban wage earners and clerical workers, or CPI-W. The switch would change the cost-of-living adjustment to align more closely with older Americans’ spending. 

 The proposal calls for two new taxes: a 12.4% tax on investment income for individuals earning $250,000 or more per year, and a 16.2% net-investment-income tax for specific business owners, including active S-corporation holders and active limited partners. The proceeds of the latter tax would be divided between the retirement and disability trust funds and the general Treasury fund. ...

     This isn't happening, at least not now. There wouldn't be a majority in the Senate for this and the House is under the nominal control of the GOP. I mention it because it's an honest attempt to deal with the problem, unlike ridiculous Republican claims that they want to "reform" Social Security, without raising taxes or cutting benefits.

    What I love seeing in response to proposals like this is the cynical argument that it does no good to raise taxes on the wealthy. They'll just use tax tricks to avoid paying the tax. Sure. So why do these wealthy people employ shills to spread the cynical argument in forums like this? Who else but shills would spread that sort of garbage? Of course the wealthy would pay more under Senator Sanders' proposal. That's why they fight it with such vigor.

Feb 14, 2023

Proposal To Omit Food From SSI In-Kind Support And Maintenance Calculations

     To appear in tomorrow's Federal Register:

We propose to update our regulations to remove food from the calculation of In-Kind Support and Maintenance (ISM). We also propose to add conforming language to our definition of income, excluding food from the ISM calculation. Accordingly, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) applicants and recipients would no longer need to provide information about their food expenses for us to consider in our ISM calculations. We expect that these changes will simplify our rules, making them less cumbersome to administer and easier for the public to understand and follow. These simplifications would make it easier for SSI applicants and recipients to comply with our program requirements, which would save time for both them and us, and improve the equitable treatment of food assistance within the SSI program. The proposed rule also includes other, minor revisions to the regulations related to income, including clarifying our longstanding position that income may be received “constructively” (we will define this term below).

    Remember, this is only a proposal. At best, it will be many months before this comes into effect.

Feb 13, 2023

Deaths Of Children And Social Security Disability

    If you're directly involved with Social Security's process of disability determination, have you noticed the number of claimants who have suffered the death of a child? I've got no numbers but I've been struck over the years by how frequently this comes up. I'm talking about adult children as well as young children. I'm talking about deaths from disease as well as death in accidents and assaults and death by drug overdose. We all know these deaths occur and that they're tragic but, thank goodness, it's uncommon. Yet, it seems that once a month I'm seeing a case. We all know that these deaths have terrible effects upon families when they do occur. Most of the time it's not psychiatric illness that gets the claimant but a very real physical ailment.

    I wish someone would do a study on this.

    I don't know how people survived in the bad old days when childhood deaths were so common. My own grandmother was a generally cheerful woman and certainly a wonderful person to me but there always seemed a tinge of sadness about her. I only found out later that she had lost two children to a typhoid epidemic before my father was born and was never quite the same again. (Yes, I'm that old but typhoid epidemics aren't as far back in this country's history as you might think.) I now possess a memorial quilt that she made after these deaths. I'm sure that making that quilt helped with her grief.

Feb 12, 2023

Wait Times Are Terrible

      From CNET:

In December about the status of their disability benefits applications. The average wait time for a decision was seven months, the longest it's been in 14 years, according to a recent report from USA Facts.

Jeff Nesbit, deputy communications commissioner for Social Security, said years of inadequate funding means the agency "cannot keep up with the demand for service and our annual fixed cost increases." 

Disability Determination Services, which assesses disability claims, has been hit particularly hard, Nesbit wrote in a September 2022 memo, "due to historically high attrition as workloads become less reasonable with fewer staff."

Feb 11, 2023

I'm Sure It Seemed Like Easy Money At The Time

     From a press release:

The United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania announced that Takiyah Gordon Austin, age 47, formerly of Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, pleaded guilty yesterday before U.S. District Court Judge Malachy E. Mannion, for a scheme to fraudulently obtain unemployment benefits related to COVID-19 emergency relief funds. ...

Takiyah Gordon Austin engaged in a scheme to abuse her position as a claims specialist for the Social Security Administration in order to obtain the personally identifiable information of unsuspecting individuals. Austin then utilized that information to file for and receive fraudulent Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) claims and benefit payments.  As part of the scheme, Austin also filed PUA claims for ineligible individuals in exchange for payment from the individuals. 

    The fraud pulled in over $288,000. She was charged with wire fraud among other offenses. Wire fraud has a 20 year maximum jail term.

Feb 10, 2023

I Thought We Decided Social Security Was Constitutional Over 80 Years Ago

     From Slate:

... For years now, right-wing litigators have argued that the CFPB [Consumer Financial Protection Bureau] is unconstitutional because it is funded independently: The agency draws its budget from the Federal Reserve, which in turn draws its budget from interest on securities. Because Congress does not directly appropriate money to the CFPB every year, lawyers claimed, its funding violates the Constitution’s appropriations clause. ...

At least seven different federal courts dismissed this theory until it landed in the 5th Circuit, the nation’s Trumpiest appeals court. In May 2022, Judge Edith Jones—a Ronald Reagan appointee and hard-right bomb-thrower—wrote a 39-page concurrence asserting that the CFPB is funded unconstitutionally. Four other judges joined her. Then, in October, a three-judge panel formally declared that the CFPB’s independent budget mechanism renders the entire agency unconstitutional. Judge Cory Wilson, writing for the panel, revoked the CFPB’s ability to issue or enforce any regulations. (All three members of the panel were appointed by Donald Trump.) Thus, under the current law of the 5th Circuit, the CFPB effectively does not exist. ...

You might wonder: What does this skirmish over a small financial agency have to do with hundreds of billions of dollars in annual entitlement spending? The answer: everything. In her concurrence, Jones took pains to clarify that her reasoning was not limited to the CFPB. Jones announced that all “appropriations to the executive must be temporally bound.” If Congress does not put a “time limit” on funding, it gives the executive branch too much discretion over spending. Under the Constitution, she claimed, the executive must “come ‘cap in hand’ to the legislature at regular intervals” to ensure that it remains “dependent” and “accountable.” ...

If their view becomes the law of the land, it will empower courts to abolish trillions of dollars in entitlement spending. Why? Because today two-thirds of annual federal spending is “mandatory”—including some of our nation’s most beloved social safety net programs. All of this spending amounted to $5.2 trillion in fiscal year 2021 that would suddenly be at risk of elimination by judicial fiat. ...

Does this principle derive from the Constitution? Of course not. The appropriations clause at question simply states that all money drawn from the treasury must be “in consequence of appropriations made by law.” There is no textual requirement that Congress reauthorize appropriations periodically. In fact, Article 1 of the Constitution suggests the exact opposite: It bars Congress from appropriating money to the Army “for a longer term than two years,” implying that other kinds of long-term appropriations are permissible. If they weren’t, then why would Army appropriations need an explicit time limit? ...

    Be careful what you ask for GOP. You might get it.

Feb 9, 2023

Stats On OHO Operations


Click on image to view full size

    This report is for the Office of Hearings Operations (OHO).

Feb 8, 2023

We're All In Agreement, Right?

     From USA Today:

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., stood up from her seat in the back of the House chamber to heckle President Joe Biden after he said during his State of the Union address Tuesday that “some Republicans want Medicare and Social Security to sunset” while discussing the need to raise the debt ceiling in order to avoid a US default.

“Liar!” she said. Other lawmakers in the chamber booed him. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, seated behind Biden, shook his head in disapproval.  ...

As boos continued, Biden turned toward the House gallery to address an audience member not seen on camera. 

"It's being proposed by individuals," he said. "I'm politely not naming them, but it's being proposed by some of you."  ...

As the camera landed on individual lawmakers, it captured a shot of a stunned Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah [who has openly talked about his desire to 'phase out" Social Security], who looked around the room with his mouth wide open. 

“So folks, as we all apparently agree, Social Security and Medicare is off the books now,” Biden said. “They're not to be touched? All right. We've got unanimity!"

Cheers erupted in the chamber.

"Tonight, let's all agree, and apparently we are — let's stand up for seniors," Biden said, raising his fists in the air. Speaker McCarthy took to his feet. ...

Feb 7, 2023

Why Does Anyone Think That Private Accounts Could Replace Social Security?

     From Michael Hiltzik at the Los Angeles Times:

Former Vice President Mike Pence dipped his toes into the presidential campaign waters Feb. 2 with a proposal that would mean the death of Social Security. ...

Pence unearthed the old Republican idea of privatizing Social Security wholly or partially. ...

Pence didn’t say outright that he advocates killing Social Security. Instead, he took the course I reported on just last week. That’s the Republican and conservative habit of employing plausible-sounding jargon and economists’ gibberish to conceal their intention to hobble the program. ...

But make no mistake: Diverting any significant portion of Social Security taxes into private accounts would make the program unworkable, funnel untold wealth into the hands of Wall Street promoters and leave millions of families destitute. ...

[Pence] whined about “this trajectory of massive debt that we’re piling on the backs of [our] grandchildren” and attributed most of it to Social Security and Medicare (the “entitlements”). Never mind that well more than $1 trillion of that debt was incurred when his party passed a massive tax cut for the rich in 2017. ...

He promised, as Social Security “reformers” always do, that he would hold seniors harmless: “To everyone that’s got hair the same color hair as me, nothing’s going to change for you,” but younger Americans would face a changed landscape, “better choices that would also be better for the country.”

This is also a cherished Republican stunt — guaranteeing that their “reforms” won’t harm current retirees and the near-retired. It’s pure politics because they know that seniors would slaughter them at the polls otherwise. But if their ideas are so great, one must ask, why not impose them on everybody? ...

    I won't repeat it here but Hiltzik goes on to eviscerate every premise that has ever supported the notion of private accounts to replace Social Security. No, they're not a pathway to wealth for Americans. No, they're not at all safe. No, they wouldn't begin to replace the protection against disability and early death contained in the Social Security Act. No, they can't replace the inflation protection of the Social Security Act. As Hiltzik concludes:

It’s a crap shoot. And in craps, like any other gamble promoted as a sure thing, it’s the house that wins. Pence is carrying water for the Wall Street firms that will be circling small investors to suck up their assets. When they’re done, there will be nothing left of Social Security.

Feb 6, 2023

SSI Regulations Advance

     Almost a year after it was submitted to them for review, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has finally approved proposed rules to omit food from in-kind support and maintenance SSI calculations. However, this does not mean that the proposed regulations will come into effect anytime soon. They must first be published in the Federal Register for public comment. Social Security must then consider the comments and prepare a final version of the regulations which must again be submitted to OMB for approval. This could easily take 24 months, especially if OMB is going to sit on it for a year.

Feb 3, 2023

A Poll


Feb 2, 2023

Raising Retirement Age Unpopular In France

     From the Associated Press:

An estimated 1.27 million people took to the streets of French cities, towns and villages Tuesday, according to the Interior Ministry, in new massive protests against the government’s key pension reform plans. ...

The nationwide strikes and protests were a crucial test both for President Emmanuel Macron and his opponents. The government says it is determined to push through Macron’s election pledge to reform France’s pension system. And strong popular resentment will strengthen efforts by labor unions and left-wing legislators to block the bill, which would raise the retirement age from 62 to 64. ...

Rail operator SNCF said most train services were knocked out in the Paris region, in all other regions and on France’s flagship high-speed network linking cities and major towns. The Paris Metro was also hard hit by station closures and cancellations.

Power workers also demonstrated their support for the strikes by temporarily reducing electricity supplies, without causing blackouts, power producer EDF said. ...

Feb 1, 2023

Appropriations Subcommittee Members

     I posted earlier about the members of the House Social Security Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee. At least as important is the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee (which also covers Social Security). They're the ones deciding how much money each agency under their purview gets to spend. Here are the members of that Subcommittee for this Congress:


  • Rep. Robert Aderholt (AL) – Chair
  • Rep. Mike Simpson (ID)
  • Rep. Andy Harris (MD)
  • Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (TN)
  • Rep. John Moolenaar (MI)
  • Rep. Julia Letlow (LA)
  • Rep. Andrew Clyde (GA)
  • Rep. Jake LaTurner (KS)
  • Rep. Jake Ellzey (TX)
  • Rep. Juan Ciscomani (AZ)


  • Rep. Rosa DeLauro (CT) – Ranking Member 
  • Rep. Steny Hoyer (MD)
  • Rep. Barbara Lee (CA)
  • Rep. Mark Pocan (WI)
  • Rep. Lois Frankel (FL)
  • Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman  (NJ)
  • Rep. Josh Harder (CA)
    DeLauro is Ranking Member for the entire Committee. She was Chair of the entire Committee and its Labor, Health and Human Services, Education Subcommittee in the last Congress. In the past she hasn't seemed all that interested in funding for the Social Security Administration.