Mar 18, 2018

Telephone Phishing Scheme

     From KMBZ:
A phone scam is making the rounds again.
Greenwood police say they've heard from residents that they've gotten calls from someone claiming to be from the Social Security Administration.  
This is how the scam works: They leave a message on your voicemail, claiming your social security number has been suspended and asking that you return the call and speak with a paralegal. 

Mar 17, 2018

46 Months For Former Social Security Employee

     From Social Security's Office of Inspector General:
Sharon Ramos, age 56, of South Bend, Indiana was sentenced before District Court Judge Jon E. DeGuilio for ten counts of making false entries in government records, two counts of conversion of government money, and one count of wire fraud, announced U.S. Attorney Thomas L. Kirsch II.
Ramos, convicted after a four-day jury trial in November 2017, was sentenced to 46 months’ imprisonment and ordered to pay restitution to the Social Security Administration in the amount of $550,383.66.
According to testimony during the trial, from approximately January 2008 and continuing until around December 2013, Ramos devised a scheme to defraud the Social Security Administration by means of materially false and fraudulent pretenses, representations, and promises.  Ramos, then an employee of the Social Security Administration, made numerous false and fictitious representations in Supplemental Security Income (SSI) accounts of numerous SSI claimants.  These improper entries in the accounts resulted in numerous SSI claimants obtaining payments they were not eligible to receive.  As a result, Ramos fraudulently converted money belonging to the Social Security Administration. ...

Mar 16, 2018

When Will The Budget Drama End?

     The federal government is operating on a Continuing Resolution (CR) that funds government operations only through next Friday, March 23. Unless something is passed before then the entire federal government, including Social Security, will shut down. 
     Congress is working on an omnibus funding bill to fund all of the federal government through the rest of the fiscal year. In more normal times, this is done with a series of bills covering different parts of the federal government. 
     There are still disagreements over the omnibus and some predictions that another short CR will be needed. 
     The current draft or drafts of this bill have not been released to the public. There's no definite sign that Social Security's appropriation is in dispute but we can't be sure. 
     The AARP has just sent a letter to Congressional leaders asking for higher administrative funding so they must think something is still up in the air.

A Long Wait In Philly

     From the Philadelphia Inquirer:
A federal administrative law judge signed a letter this week ruling that Adrianne Gunter’s multiple sclerosis has left her too sick to work, qualifying her for the government assistance known as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) — three months after she finally got a remote hearing via TV hookup and more than two years after she applied.
In total, it took the Social Security Administration 878 days to decide Gunter's case from the time she requested an appeal of her routine denial of benefits. ...
The Philadelphia Office of Disability Adjudication and Review has one of the worst averages for decision times in the country: 756 days. Not far behind is the South Jersey office, with a 736-day average decision time as of Feb. 23, according to the latest SSA data. ...
Since January, Social Security has added eight judges to the two Philadelphia-area offices, for a total of 23 administrative law judges. Four area congressmen also wrote to Nancy Berryhill, acting commissioner of the agency, asking her to address the sometimes years-long delays for residents seeking hearings.
U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle, whose district includes parts of Philadelphia and Montgomery County, met with Berryhill last week and said that the administration started a prehearing conference pilot program in Philadelphia in an attempt to alleviate the backlog. According to Boyle, Berryhill said a big reason for the pileup is that appellants often don’t learn they have a right to an attorney until their scheduled hearing. The prehearing meeting is designed to happen months before the hearing, giving them time to find a lawyer. ...

It Took The Help Of A TV Station To Get A Terminally Ill Man Paid

Fewer People Out Of Labor Market Due To Health Reasons

     From the New York Times:
A seemingly inexorable economic trend has changed direction in the past few years, as people who cited health reasons for not working are returning to the labor force.
The rise in the number of Americans not working because of disability was so persistent for two decades that some economists began to hypothesize that the trend would never reverse.
But perhaps it has. Since a peak almost four years ago, that number has steadily fallen, showing its largest decline — both in terms of head count and percentage — in at least the last 25 years. ...
The data shows that the decline has come almost entirely from the older half of the prime-age population (that is, people between 40 and 54). The drop has also been steeper among the less educated. The number of disabled nonparticipants without a high school diploma fell by 18 percent, versus 4 percent for those with at least a high school diploma. It has been somewhat larger among women (minus 9 percent) than men (minus 6 percent). ...
     One thing to keep in mind is that there are many people who believe themselves to be disabled by illness or injury who are not on Social Security disability benefits. Whatever has been going on probably has little or no connection to program developments at Social Security. There have been changes at Social Security over time but the only dramatic changes have been in backlogs.

Mar 15, 2018

New ABLE Account Instructions

     The Social Security Administration has updated the staff instructions in its POMS manual for Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) accounts. These accounts allow the sheltering of money which would otherwise render a person ineligible for Supplement Security Income (SSI). 
     I cannot evaluate the significance of these new instructions since I haven't been involved in ABLE issues. 
     I'm glad the ABLE accounts exist but they're a sop to people who have money and want to help their disabled relatives get around the ridiculously stringent SSI resource limits. Most disabled people don't have relatives who can help them in this way. What's urgently needed are updated resource and income limitations for everyone on SSI. The SSI resource and income limitations contain no cost of living adjustment and haven't been updated since they were created in the 1970s. They're brutal. I know those who supported ABLE accounts also supported income and resource updates. I can't fault their decision that it was better to take ABLE than to get nothing but ABLE isn't nearly enough. When the time finally comes again when Democrats control Congress, an SSI update has to be very near the top of the entire Democratic agenda. There is no other issue in the Social Security world, apart from the agency's operating budget, that's anywhere near as important as an SSI update.

Mar 14, 2018

Should He Have Been Arrested?

     From the Journal News:(which is apparently somewhere in Pennsylvania although their website either doesn't give that information or hides it):
Middletown police responded to the report of a man saying “you’re all going to die” at the Social Security Administration office in Franklin on Monday, but the man later said he actually just meant they were “going to hell.”
The incident happened Monday morning ... according to a Middletown police report. The man, who was not arrested or charged, was upset for procedures he did not get done, and a security officer reported that the man said, “you’re all going to die” as he was leaving. ...
     Update: I'm told that this Middletown is in Ohio, not Pennsylvania.

Mar 13, 2018

Study On Social Security Disability Benefits

     From Trends in SSDI Benefit Receipt: Are More Recent Birth Cohorts Entering Sooner and Receiving Benefits Longer? by Yonatan Ben-Shalom, David Stapelton, Alex Bryce, Mathematica Policy Research Working Paper 55: 
We provide the first publicly available statistics on the extent to which recent successive birth cohorts enter Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), and on cross-cohort trends in the average number of years of SSDI benefit receipt among cohort members. We find that the percentage of each birth cohort entering SSDI by ages 45, 50, and 55 is increasing. Mean years of benefit receipt among all individuals in the birth cohort has grown even more rapidly, due to the combined effects of entry at younger ages and lower mortality after entry. Our findings account for immigration, an important factor that is often ignored in discussions about growth in the SSDI rolls. Annual SSDI awards have declined sharply since 2010, after rising rapidly on the heels of the Great Recession. During the same period, the birth cohort data show a decline in SSDI entry by age 40, and a diminished rate of growth by age 55. Still, in 2014—the last year of our data—the rates of entry by ages 45 and 50 are well above what they were 10 years earlier. Viewing the data from the perspective of cohorts shows that there remains an urgent need to test and adopt policies to reduce avoidable labor force exit and SSDI entry by workers who experience work-threatening medical problems. 
Trends in SSDI entry by age 40, 45, 50, and 55, as percentage of the size of the birth cohort in the SSA area population at age 20. Click to view full size.
     Those on the right will say that this proves that it's too easy to get on Social Security disability. However, it's not. It never has been and it's certainly not now.
     The problem is the near demise of manufacturing in the United States. People with low cognitive abilities or chronic psychiatric problems or other nagging health problems used to be able to hold down jobs in manufacturing, perhaps not as steadily as they would have liked but well enough to avoid having to file disability claims. Without manufacturing, these people have only a marginal ability to be employed. Jobs like Certified Nurse Attendant (CNA) at a nursing home or maintenance mechanic doing minor building repairs are hard to do if you have a bad back. Employers in these fields are less likely to put up with depressed employees with spotty attendance or employees with limited cognitive abilities who just can't seem to understand or remember how the job is supposed to be done. Those "simple, routine, repetitive" jobs aren't plentiful these days.
     If you work in an office, you may think that anyone can but that's not so. Those people you went to high school with who just barely managed to graduate or who didn't graduate, you probably didn't hang out with them. You didn't understand their problems then. You certainly don't understand them now. Sometimes, the problems that forced those students to the margins in high school go away or get better. Mostly, they stay the same or get worse. Those people are prime candidates for becoming disabled.
     The decline is American manufacturing has been properly blamed for the opioid epidemic, Rust Belt unemployment and the election of Donald Trump. This study is just finding another effect of the decline in manufacturing.

The Word Is Getting Out

     Investment News reports on the brutal backlogs at Social Security and on the reason for them -- a lack of an adequate operating budget.

Waiting In Missouri

     From a television station in Bloomfield, MO:
Every day, Susan Babis wonders how she's going to pay even the smallest bills.
Babis lives with schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder and said she is unable to hold a job. Even a $3 co-pay for her medications forces her to rely on friends. ...
Babis applied for Social Security disability benefits in July 2016. More than a year and a half later, she still hasn't had a hearing to determine whether she'll receive them. The government denied her application and she filed an appeal in January 2017. Earlier this year, she was informed she was scheduled for a hearing this September.
Babis isn't alone. 
The Social Security Administration's own data show an average wait time of 16 months at the agency's facilities in Springfield and Kansas City, 18 months in Columbia and 20 months in St. Louis. ...
The Social Security Administration turned down a request for an on-camera interview for this story. It also never responded to a request for the number of Missourians currently awaiting disability claims.

Mar 12, 2018

Former Conn Client's Case Argued In CA6

     The audio recording of the oral argument before the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of Hicks v. Commissioner of SSA is now available online. This is the first case to reach a Court of Appeals concerning the legal issues presented by Social Security's unprecedented reviews of the cases of former clients of Eric Conn.

Quite Rare?

     From the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
Q: Last month I received a letter from Social Security telling me how to access the online account I had just established. The letter also told me to dial an 800 number or visit a Social Security office if I had not opened such an account. Two days later I received a second letter about my change of address request.
I had done neither of these, so I went to the Akron Social Security office. The people there were friendly and professional. They deleted the online account and disallowed the change to a San Diego address. They also told me that my direct-deposit bank information had not been compromised.
I asked whether it would be a good idea to open a legitimate online account and they helped me do so.
Two things they were vague about: How did the scammer get my information and what could he or she accomplish with the bogus account. They also were unsure as to whether Social Security Administration would pursue this matter further.
The 800 number in the letter is answered by a robot receptionist and it could not respond to my statement, "I did not open an online account." This motivated me to drive to Akron.
D.S., Hudson
A: It's a good thing --  a really good thing -- you didn't ignore that letter. I talked to the Social Security Administration about your problem. They said that, fortunately, near disasters like what you encountered don't happen often.
"Our anti-fraud activities identify attempts and make the type of activity you are asking about very rare," said Doug Nguyen, regional spokesman for the Social Security Administration. "The agency employs a multi-faceted approach towards fraud prevention and regularly performs data analytics against (legitimate) transactions to identify anomalous activity and take action." ...