May 31, 2023

Debt Limit Extension Bill Would Apply Food Stamps Work Requirements To Those Applying For Social Security Disability Benefits

    From Pamela Herd writing on Substack:

...  SNAP [commonly known as Food Stamps] is a critical safety valve for people trying to access Social Security Disability programs — for which delays in benefit receipt can extend into years. The expansion in work requirements for this age group [as part of the debt limit extension bill just agreed to by the President and the Speaker of the House] seems innocuous, but they are highly consequential. Even those who dislike work requirements don’t fully understand the ramifications. ...

But wait!  Aren’t disabled people excluded from the work requirements?

Yes, but this is where administrative burdens matter. In order to prove you are disabled, you must become eligible for Social Security Disability, either Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income. But this process takes significant amounts of effort and time. ...

The net result is that it can take years to prove disability in order to access either SSDI or SSI, as well as now prove that you can’t meet the work requirements for SNAP. 

And the wait times have been steadily increasing. Between 2014 and 2022, average wait times rose from 106 days to 183 days. The average beneficiary now waits six months to access their benefit, and *prove* their disability.  ...

May 30, 2023

Hearing On Identity Fraud

     Last Wednesday the House Social Security Subcommittee held a hearing on the Social Security Administration's role in preventing identity fraud. Below in the witness lineup:

Mr. Sean Brune
Deputy Commissioner for Systems and Chief Information Officer, Social Security Administration
Witness Statement

Ms. Katie Wechsler
Co-Executive Director, Consumer First Coalition
Witness Statement

Ms. Margaret Hayward
Private citizen and mother of three
Witness Statement

Mr. Robert Roach
President, Alliance for Retired Americans
Witness Statement

Mr. Jeffrey Brown
Deputy Assistant Inspector General, Office of Audits, Office of the Inspector General, Social Security Administration
Witness Statement

May 29, 2023

Memorial Day 2023



May 28, 2023

NADE Newsletter

      The National Association of Disability Examiners (NADE), an organization of the personnel who make initial and reconsideration determinations on Social Security disability claims, has issued its Spring 2023 newsletter. There’s information about a couple of meetings they’ve had with agency officials.

May 27, 2023

May 26, 2023

Unhappy ALJs

      Some of Social Security’s Administrative Law Judges really don’t like that Washington Post piece on all the federal court remands of their decisions. Take a look at what they have to say.

May 25, 2023

Social Security Faring Poorly In Federal Court

     Lisa Rein at the Washington Post has written an article on how frequently Social Security loses when denied disability claimants appeal their cases to federal court. Here are a few snippets:

  • In the last two fiscal years, federal judges considering appeals for denied benefits found fault with almost 6 in every 10 cases and sent them back to administrative law judges at Social Security for new hearings — the highest rate of rejections in years, agency statistics show. ... The scathing opinions have come from district and appellate court judges across the political spectrum, from conservatives appointed by President Ronald Reagan to liberal appointees of President Barack Obama.
  • The high rate of rejections for cases handled by administrative law judges and the attorneys who write their decisions is driven by stringent monthly quotas set by Social Security officials and growing pressure to deny more cases, according to current and former officials, audits and attorneys who represent the disabled. The agency’s policies have been reshaped to give less deference to the expertise of doctors who, in some cases, have treated claimants for years, and its policies routinely depart from federal appellate court rulings. ... Social Security has stacked the cards against the approximately 2 million people each year who apply for help when they can no longer work.
  • Social Security has also tilted the scales in recent years away from key medical evidence, critics say, in another sign of the shift toward granting fewer claims. While administrative law judges once based much of their decision on evidence from primary care doctors or psychiatrists who best understood their patients’ medical issues, that policy changed in 2017. Now judges are free to disregard the opinions of these treating physicians and rely heavily instead on contracted doctors who examine claimants for as little as 15 minute.
  • Less weight is given to certain musculoskeletal conditions, for example. IQ tests that show mental impairments do not automatically grant benefits.

May 24, 2023

Numbers Please

      The common wisdom is that claimants receive the same decision whether their hearing is in person, over the telephone and by video but do we really know? We think we know that the rate at which claimants were approved did not decline, at least to a significant extent, when the pandemic began and the switch was made to telephone hearings but do we know this for sure? I don't recall ever seeing any numbers from the Social Security Administration. A 2% difference probably wouldn't be enough to be noticeable without numbers from a database but a 2% change is not insignificant for a claimant. For that matter, numbers from the beginning of the pandemic are not the same as numbers from the current environment in which claimants can choose the method, although maybe "choose" should be in quotes since many law firms and other representing claimants -- and not just national firms -- always advise phone or video, mainly because it's more convenient for them. I doubt that the differences between phone, video and in person are great but we ought to get the numbers. 

    I have to say, though, that there will be confounding elements to the numbers, if we ever see them. In person is now the default mode. That's where a claimant ends up if he or she doesn't make a choice but unresponsive claimants certainly get denied at a higher rate than claimants who choose a method for their hearing. Also, the selection of video is one generally made by better educated claimants. Their chances of success may be different than for less well educated claimants who can only do telephone hearings. Yes, many, perhaps most, Social Security disability claimants lack the technical skills to download an app, register with the app and then access the app when the time comes for their hearing. There's also the problem that those who live in small towns and rural areas are more likely to select telephone or video since they have to travel farther for an person hearing than those who live in urban areas. Rural and urban claimants don't necessarily get approved at the same rate. Rural claimants, on average, have lower educational levels and less access to health care than their urban cousins.

May 23, 2023

These Numbers Are Alarming

     From CBS News:

... There are approximately 10.1 million Black children nationwide, and Census data reveals an alarming 9.6% of them, or about 975,000, had lost at least one parent as of 2021. That figure has doubled in the past decade, with a sharp increase due to the COVID-19 pandemic. One study found that Black children lost caregivers at twice the rate of White children from April 2020 until the end of 2022.

Recent Social Security data shows that only about 26% of Black children who have lost a parent — 257,533 — are receiving survivor benefits, according to the analysis by David Weaver, a former Social Security Administration executive and researcher. The comparable percentage for non-Black children is 46%. Roughly 30,000 fewer Black children are receiving survivor benefits than in 2009, the last time the data was broken down by race. ...

For those who are eligible, a lack of awareness that Social Security offers payments for family survivors — and not only retirees — is often cited as the primary impediment to connecting children with the benefits they're owed. The surviving parent or caregiver is responsible for claiming the benefits on the child's behalf, and many are unaware that the benefit exists. ...

    Social Security generally knows when someone dies. Couldn't they send out a notice addressed to the survivors of the decedent at the decedent's old address notifying them that survivor benefits may be available? How difficult is that?

    By the way, the numbers for white kids is itself alarming. The numbers for African-American kids is way beyond alarming.

    Also, this is further proof that when it comes to Social Security, most people know almost nothing and half of what they think they know is wrong.

May 22, 2023

Nothing Has Happened?

     This appeared in the Washington Post a year ago yesterday:

… The acting commissioner [of Social Security] “has very serious concerns about the issues raised by The Washington Post about the inspector general’s oversight of this program,” Scott Frey, chief of staff to Kilolo Kijakazi, said in an interview. Kijakazi has scheduled a meeting with her senior staff on Monday “to discuss how to proceed,” Frey said. …

A spokesman for the Senate Finance Committee, which also has jurisdiction over Social Security, said the committee is “evaluating a number of steps” in response to the article. …

    Update: This post has received multiple confused comments blaming the Acting Commissioner for not firing the Inspector General. I have mostly deleted those misleading comments. The Inspector General doesn't work for the Acting Commissioner. The Inspector General was confirmed by the Senate for a five year term. She can only be fired by the President, for cause. Blame the President but assign even more blame to the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency which has been investigating Social Security's Inspector General.

May 21, 2023

FRA For Biden

      From the Motley Fool:

… According to line 20a of the Bidens' 2008 Form 1040, $6,534 in Social Security benefits were recognized. The reason 2008 is so important is because it marked the year Joe Biden turned 66 (the president's birthday is Nov. 20, 1942). In other words, it was the year Joe Biden reached his full retirement age [FRA], which entitled him to 100% of his retired worker benefit. …

     He would have gotten a higher monthly amount if he had waited to age 70. 

May 20, 2023

I Guess The Name Is OK But It’s All Really Weird

      From what I think is a press release:

Charlie, a neobank for the 62-plus demographic, is looking to solve pain points facing retirees and soon-to-be-retirees.

The fintech, which launched last week, allows account holders to withdraw their Social Security benefits up to four weeks early. The free service is available to account holders who link their Social Security direct deposit to their Charlie deposit account, said Kevin Nazemi, the fintech’s co-founder and CEO. …

     I don’t understand any of this. What’s a “neobank”? What’s a “fintech”? A financial institution named “Charlie”? How can they afford to give people money weeks prior to its actual arrival? What’s the catch?

May 19, 2023

Making It Official

     The Social Security Administration has posted a Notice of Proposed Rule-Making (NPRM) in the Federal Register to make official the availability of telephone and video hearings in Social Security cases.

May 18, 2023

Watch Out!

Watch out. I've just received a scam phishing e-mail directed squarely at
Social Security attorneys. It includes this: "You have a new document from Direct Fee Payment for Title 2 Claimant Representation" 
    Don't open the attached document!

What Effect Would A Federal Bond Default Have On The Social Security Trust Fund?

    If there's a default on the federal debt it would affect the market value of previously federal bonds. If the prevailing interest rate jumps, to let's say 8%, investors will pay a good deal less for previously issued bonds paying only 2.5%. Would that affect the value of the federal bonds held by the Social Security trust funds? I know that they can't sell the bonds on the open market but wouldn't a default affect the value of the bonds held in the trust fund? How do they value them on their books?

    Also, I  can imagine that if there is a delay in paying interest or principal on bonds that this could affect regular payment of benefits. The agency might not be able to get the money needed to pay benefits if they can't get money from their T-bills in time.

    On the other hand, a big increase in interest rates would help the trust funds gain more interest payments on newly issued bonds but, then, the major recession produced by a default on U.S. bonds certainly wouldn't help receipts and much higher inflation would definitely hurt the trust funds -- as well as beneficiaries.

    I hope and expect that all of this will remain theoretical. The consequences of a federal default are hard to even contemplate.

May 17, 2023

It's Complicated

     The question is often asked: "Why is Social Security even discussed in terms of the federal budget? Benefits are paid out of the trust funds, not general revenues." The answer to this question requires knowledge of some complicated history. Here it is from Social Security office agency history:

... From the beginning of the Social Security program its transactions were reported by the administration as a separate function in the budget. This is sometimes described in present usage by saying that the Social Security program was "off-budget." This was the budget representation of the Social Security program from its creation in 1935 until 1968. ...

In early 1968 President Lyndon Johnson made a change in the budget presentation by including Social Security and all other trust funds in a"unified budget." This is likewise sometimes described by saying that Social Security was placed "on-budget."

This 1968 change grew out of the recommendations of a presidential commission appointed by President Johnson in 1967, and known as the President's Commission on Budget Concepts. The concern of this Commission was not specifically with the Social Security Trust Funds, but rather it was an effort to rationalize what the Commission viewed as a confusing budget presentation. ...

In the 1983 Social Security Amendments a provision was included mandating that Social Security be taken "off-budget" starting in FY 1993. This was a recommendation from the National Commission on Social Security Reform (aka the Greenspan Commission). The Commission's report argued: "The National Commission believes that changes in the Social Security program should be made only for programmatic reasons, and not for purposes of balancing the budget. Those who support the removal of the operations of the trust funds from the budget believe that this policy of making changes only for programmatic reasons would be more likely to be carried out if the Social Security program were not in the unified budget." ...

[I]n the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (OBRA) of 1990 the law was changed to stop the use of the Trust Funds for any function in the unified budget, including calculations of the deficit. ... The BEA budget treatment of Social Security basically remains the law to the present day. Specifically, present law mandates that the two Social Security Trust Funds, and the operations of the Postal Service, are formally considered to be "off-budget" and no longer part of the unified federal budget. ...

However, those involved in budget matters often produce two sets of numbers, one without Social Security included in the budget totals and one with Social Security included. Thus, Social Security is still frequently treated as though it were part of the unified federal budget even though, technically, it no longer is. ...

    One crucial way that Social Security is treated as part of the budget is in the way that Congress handles appropriations for Social Security's administrative budget. Technically, Social Security doesn't receive an appropriation. It's called a Limitation on Administrative Expenditures (LAE). Social Security's LAE is lumped in with the Labor-HHS appropriations bill, probably because Social Security used to be part of HHS. The Labor-HHS bill is the one that's always most controversial with Republican legislators. They work hardest at keeping the Labor-HHS bill as low as possible, which hurts Social Security. The agency could be moved out of the Labor-HHS bill. Probably, a statute could even be passed allowing administrative expenditures as needed without a specific annual LAE but that's not going to happen since it would reduce the powers of the appropriations committees in Congress, not that those powers have been exercised to any significant extent apart from keeping the agency on a starvation diet.

May 16, 2023

Phone And Video Hearings Not Going Away

     Not that there was any doubt, but Social Security has decided to make telephone and video hearings a permanent option.

    This is extremely convenient for "national" firms representing disability claimants.

May 15, 2023

And Another One Bites The Dust

     From David Weaver writing for The Hill:

The Social Security Administration (SSA) recently released the results of a major study on disability and work patterns. ...

The new study, called the Supported Employment Demonstration, sought to determine whether service interventions could promote success in the labor market for younger adults (that is, under the age of 50) who suffer from mental impairments.

Individuals in the treatment groups received employment support integrated with behavioral health services. These services and supports, known as the Individual Placement and Support (IPS) model, focuses on rapid job placement and eliminating barriers to work. The control group received no direct services or supports.

An important feature of the Supported Employment Demonstration is that it focused on individuals who were denied Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits. Thus, the experiences of the control group illuminate the likely outcomes of proposals by Republican leaders and conservative economists that would shrink the reach of such programs. ...

In the third year of the study, the average monthly earnings of individuals in the control group were only $395 — not nearly enough to ward off extreme hardship. ...

Conservatives often emphasize the importance of financial disincentives of disability programs. But, gold-standard random-assignment demonstrations by SSA have not found any effect on earnings from financial incentives embedded in the benefit rules. Why? Because the fundamental problem facing disability applicants stems from the way in which severe health problems, directly and indirectly, interfere with every aspect of employment. ...

Average monthly earnings among those who received employment support and behavioral health services were 40-50 percent higher than for those who received no services — further evidence that individuals with severe health problems need services and support to have some success in the labor market. ...

To be sure, the monthly average earnings of those who received services in the Supported Employment Demonstration were still modest, ranging from $553 to $590. ...

In the idealized view, only full-time work at high levels of earnings is considered a successful outcome for disabled persons. A rethink of disability and work would allow for programs, policy and communications to support diverse work patterns among persons with disabilities, including part-time work, episodic work and less formal work, including volunteer. ...

    The problem with Mr. Weaver's position, which he acknowledges, is that policymakers are only interested in programs that knock people off benefits, not programs that help them earn a little more while staying on benefits. By this standard, this study was a near complete failure, just as every other study of work incentives and work assistance programs has been a near complete failure. Even those whose disability claims are denied are too sick to work on a regular basis. They really are sick. The standards to get benefits really are difficult to meet. You can't make rational decisions about Social Security disability benefits until you realize just how harsh these programs are. One of the signs that policymakers don't realize how harsh these programs are has been the endless adoption of new work incentives and the endless funding of demonstration programs designed to put disability claimants back to work. None of it can work. The claimants are just too damn sick to benefit from these efforts in any significant number.

May 14, 2023

Didn’t Know The Show Was That Popular

      From Fox News:

The two fastest-growing names for boys in the U.S. last year are inspired by the hit show "Yellowstone," according to the Social Security Administration (SSA).

SSA said the names "Dutton" and "Kayce" are ranked #1 and #2 on the list of top five fastest-growing boys' names in 2022.

Dutton is the surname of the fictional family who own the Yellowstone ranch in the hit Paramount Network show. Kevin Costner plays the patriarch, John Dutton. His son in the show is Kayce Dutton, played by Luke Grimes. …

May 13, 2023

Most Popular Baby Names Of 2022

     From the Social Security Administration:



1.     Liam 1.  Olivia
2.     Noah 2.  Emma
3.     Oliver 3.  Charlotte
4.     James 4.  Amelia
5.     Elijah 5.  Sophia
6.     William 6.  Isabella
7.     Henry 7.  Ava
8.     Lucas 8.  Mia
9.     Benjamin 9.  Evelyn
10.   Theodore 10. Luna 

    One thing I notice is that eight of the top ten girls names end with an "a." Somehow, parents associate the "a" sound at the end of a name with girls.

May 12, 2023

Action On Listings

     Action on new or amended regulations at Social Security has been almost non-existent at Social Security for years so it was a surprise to me to see that something had finally happened.  The agency has received approval for new Listings for Digestive and Skin Disorders. Expect to see them in the Federal Register soon.

    Social Security now has zero new or amended regulations pending approval at the Office of Management and Budget. I don't remember that happening before.

May 11, 2023

Early Retirement And Disability

     From Kaiser Health News:

... Every year, tens of thousands of people who are disabled and unable to work consider taking early retirement benefits from Social Security. The underfunded federal disability system acknowledges that it is stymied by delays and dysfunction, even as over 1 million people await a decision on their benefits application.

The United States, which has one of the least generous disability programs among developed Western nations, denies most initial claims, leaving applicants to endure a lengthy appeals process. ...

"They don't have the luxury of waiting," said Charles T. Hall, a disability attorney based in Raleigh, North Carolina. "The vast majority of people need the money now, and you can get early retirement benefits in two months or less." ...

Most callers to the Social Security Administration are unable to reach an agent, and people seeking local field office assistance with an application can wait at least a month for an appointment ...

In a written statement, Social Security Administration spokesperson Darren Lutz acknowledged that wait times are "far too long," citing inconsistent and insufficient funding, staffing shortages, and other challenges. The agency refused to make officials available for a phone call to discuss the issue in more detail.

Caught in the tangle of dysfunction are disabled people with little or no income, who often take early retirement because they are struggling to pay for basics like housing, food, and medicine. In some cases, people end up homeless or die waiting for their disability benefits, lawyers told KFF Health News. ...

May 10, 2023

What Happens To Social Security If The Debt Ceiling Isn't Increased?

     The Biden Administration, as others before it, has said that if the debt ceiling isn't increased that there will be consequences for all recipients of federal funds. They have specifically warned that the systems used by the Department of the Treasury do not allow them to prioritize one type of payments over others. For instance, they cannot decide that they will pay Social Security benefits on time but delay payments to Defense Department contractors. I'm sure they're telling the truth. However, I'm also aware that they can generally delay payments for a period of time. That happens every month. I know because it's apparent to me that I receive little or no payments of attorney fees in the last few days routinely every month. I've written about this before and have received the response that Social Security is aware of the problem and that it affects claimants as well as attorneys but that it's nothing that the Social Security Administration is doing. It's the Department of the Treasury that holds up payments. My guess is that it has something to do with routine management of the federal debt. There's probably a lot of debt refinancing at the end of each month. That this happens tells me that their systems can hold up payments for a period of time. What else can the Treasury do if the debt ceiling isn't increased other than to delay payments? At the start, payments of Social Security benefits start showing up a day late. Payments of federal employee salaries show up a day late. Payments to Defense Department contractors show up a day late. That's for starters. The delays would increase with time.

    Anyway, that's my guess of what will happen but I don't know if Treasury's systems allow them to delay Wednesday's payments until Thursday and Thursday's payments until Friday, etc. Maybe they can hold up all payments for a time but cannot control which payments are released once they lift the hold.

    Of course, what I'm talking about would also mean delays in payments to federal bondholders which would put the U.S. into default with massive consequence for the economy but, who cares, being tough on Biden plays well on Fox News and that's all that really matters.

May 9, 2023

OHO Caseload Analysis Report

     Just released by Social Security (notice that it still refers to ODAR which hasn't been the correct name for several years now):

Click on image to view full size

May 8, 2023

A Pet Peeve

     There doesn't seem to be any Social Security news so far today so I'll tell you about a pet peeve. Does talking on a cell phone using earbuds cause people to talk very LOUD? I was at the NOSSCR conference last week. In the halls there were attendees talking directly into their cell phones, quietly. Those using earbuds broadcast their side of the call to everyone within 50 feet.

May 6, 2023

High Standards Required

     When I read that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas received private extremely valuable considerations from those interested in the Court’s business, I am reminded of a Social Security Administrative Law Judge who got into trouble because a local attorney allowed the ALJ to park his boat on a vacant lot the attorney owned.

May 5, 2023

Shakeup At Social Security




Date:May 4, 2023Refer To: S7A-4

To:Senior Staff


From:Kilolo Kijakazi /s/

Acting Commissioner


Subject:Executive Personnel Assignments - INFORMATION


have several announcements.


In the Office of TransformationBetsy Beaumoncurrently the Senior Advisor for IT Modernization and Innovation, is the Chief Transformation Officer.  In addition to hirole as the Assistant Deputy Commissioner (ADC) in the Office of SystemsPatrick Newbold will begin an assignment as the Deputy ChiefTransformation Officer. Kim Baldwin Sparks is the Customer Experience Officer.


In the Office of Operations, Michelle King, currently the Deputy Commissioner (DC) of the Office of Budget, Finance and Management (OBFM), will be the Deputy Commissioner forOperations. Linda Kerr-Davis, currently the Regional Commissioner (RC) for Kansas City, is the Acting ADC, OperationsEric Skidmore, currently the ADC for the Office of Legislative and Congressional Affairs (OLCA) is the Acting ADC, OperationsNancy Berryhill, currently a Senior Advisor in the Office of the Commissioner, will begin an assignment as a Senior Advisor to the DC for Operations.


Also in OperationsTonya Freeman, currently the Deputy RC for the Kansas City Region, is the Acting RC, Kansas City.  In theAtlanta Region, Yelitza Sanchez-Garrido, currently the Deputy Assistant Regional Commissioner for Management and Operations Support (ARCMOS), will begin an assignment as the Acting ARCMOS.


In the Office of the General Counsel (OGC), Eric Kressman, currently the Deputy General Counsel (DGC) (General Law),will be the Associate General Counsel (AGC) in the Office of Program Litigation (Office 6).  Jeff Blair, currently the AGC for Program Law, is retiring June 30, 2023.  I want to thank Jeff for his 42 years of outstanding service.  We will miss his tremendousinstitutional knowledge and we wish him good health in retirement. Mona Ahmed, currently the AGC for the Office of Program Litigation (Division 6), will be AGC for Program Law upon Jeffs retirement.  Nancy Gonzalezcurrently the AGC in the Office of General Law (OGL) (Office 4), is the AGC, OGL (Office 1). Sharese Reyes, currently the Deputy AGC, OGL (Office 4) will begin an assignment as the Acting AGC, OGL (Office 4).  We will release a solicitation of interest and vacancy announcement for the AGC, OGL (Office 4) position shortly.  


In OBFM, Chad Poist, currently the Associate Commissioner (AC) for Budget, will be the DC, OBFM.  Beth Chaney, currently the Deputy AC for the Office of Budget (OB)will be the AC, OB.


In the Office of Retirement and Disability Policy (ORDP), Erik Jones, currently the ADC in Operations, will begin an assignment as the Acting ADC, ORDP.


In the Office of Hearings Operations (OHO), Joe Lytlewho has been the Acting DC since August 2022, is the permanent DC, OHO.  Florence Felix-Lawson, who has been the Acting AD(Mission Operations) sincOctober 2022, is the permanent ADC(Mission Operations), OHO.  Terrie Gruber, who has been on assignment to the OC, is a permanent Senior Advisor in OC.


In the Office of Human Resources, Eddie Taylor is the Senior-Level Senior Agency Labor Strategy Expert.  Eddie will continue to serve as the Acting Deputy Associate Commissioner in the Office of Labor Management and Employee Relationsuntil a permanent incumbent is selected.  


Please join me in congratulating our colleagues.