Posts Tagged With: Social Security

When Will SSA Get A Real Commissioner, If Ever?

On January 23, 2017, Nancy A. Berryhill became the Acting Commissioner of Social Security, with responsibility for overseeing one of the nation’s largest and most important domestic programs. (When will SSA get a real Commissioner? President appointed only Acting Commissioners.)

                                                                                                                  

 With a $12 billion budget and almost 64,000 employees serving in more than 1,500 offices across the country and around the world, plus 16,000 State employees making disability determinations, the Social Security Administration issues more than $960 billion in payments to nearly 66 million people each year.

Previously, Ms. Berryhill served as the Deputy Commissioner for Operations, Social Security’s largest component, where she successfully implemented many expanded service delivery options for the public. Prior to that position, Ms. Berryhill served two years as the agency’s Regional Commissioner for the Chicago Region and five years as Regional Commissioner for the Denver Region. In Denver, she developed numerous innovative, mission-focused initiatives such as video service delivery, use of webinar technology, and the creation of the first American Indian outreach guide.

Ms. Berryhill began her Social Security career as a GS-2 student employee. In her 40 years at the agency, she has held many frontline positions, including Claims Clerk, Service Representative, Claims Representative, Operations Supervisor, District Manager, and Area Director for the State of Illinois.

Ms. Berryhill has received numerous agency awards, including the Commissioner’s Citation, the agency’s highest recognition. In 2010, she received the Presidential Rank Award of Meritorious Executive, and in 2015, she received the Presidential Rank Award of Distinguished Executive, the highest honor awarded career executives in the Federal Government. Her work and achievements consistently demonstrate professional excellence, exceptional leadership, integrity, and commitment to public service.

A native of Chicago, Illinois, Ms. Berryhill obtained her degree in Computer Science at the Control Data Institute in Chicago. She is a graduate of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

PREVIOUS ACTING COMMISSIONER:

Meet The New Acting Commissioner Of THe Social Security Administration, Carolyn Colvin.

                                                                                                             

On February 14, 2013, Carolyn W. Colvin became the Acting Commissioner of Social Security.  Prior to this designation, she served as the Deputy Commissioner, having been confirmed by the United States Senate on December 22, 2010 as President Obama’s nominee.  In addition to her role as the Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Ms. Colvin serves as a Trustee to the Social Security Board of Trustees.

Throughout her career, Ms. Colvin has managed programs that help people with their healthcare and financial needs.  She previously held key executive positions at Social Security Headquarters: Deputy Commissioner for Policy and External Affairs (1994–1996), Deputy Commissioner for Programs and Policy (1996–1998), and Deputy Commissioner for Operations (1998–2001).

Prior to returning to SSA, Ms. Colvin was the Director of Human Services for the District of Columbia (2001-2003); the Director of the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services (2003-2007); the Chief Executive Officer of AMERIGROUP Community Care of the District of Columbia (2007–2008); and, the Special Assistant to the Secretary of Maryland’s Department of Transportation (2009-2011).  In addition, Ms. Colvin served as the Secretary of Maryland’s Department of Human Resources (1989-1994).

Ms. Colvin has received numerous awards and recognition for her managerial expertise and creativity, including Maryland’s Top 100 Women Award from the Daily Record (2005) and the Women of Achievement Award from Suburban Maryland Business and Professional Women (2005).  She has served on a variety of boards and commissions, including the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.

Ms. Colvin earned her graduate and undergraduate degrees in business administration from Morgan State University.  Additionally, she completed the Senior Executives in State and Local Government Program at Harvard University, the Maryland Leadership Program, and the Greater Baltimore Leadership Program. Ms. Colvin is from Maryland and currently resides in Anne Arundel County.  She has one son and six grandchildren.

 https://judgelondonsteverson.me/2013/01/14/who-will-president-obama-select-to-be-the-new-commissioner-of-the-social-security-administration/

Who Will President Obama Select To Be The New Commissioner Of The Social Security Administration?

Michael Astrue

Michael J. Astrue was sworn in as Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA) on February 12, 2007 for a six-year term that expires on January 19, 2013. President Barack Obama is expected to soon nominate a new Commissioner of the Social Security Administration. Astrue was appointed by President George W. Bush. The White House is silent about who will take the helm at SSA.  The SSA faces voluminous backlogs and claimants may have to wait up to 5 years just to get a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Some extreme cases have taken more than 10 years from the date of filing a claim to get a final decision on whether they are entitled to disability retirement benefits.

Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue’s six-year term expires January 19, 2013. His successor must be confirmed by the Senate, in a process that Sen. Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, expects will take a couple of months from the hearings to a vote.

Michael Astrue was still Commissioner of Social Security on 25 January. His term ran out on January 19 but the Social Security Act says he can stay in his job until a successor is confirmed. He hasn’t resigned so he’s still Commissioner. The same is true for Deputy Commissioner Carolyn Colvin. The rumor had been that Astrue did not intend to stay on after his term ended.  So far, he’s proving that rumor wrong. Astrue does seem to be clearing items off his desk. Take a look at what he just sent over to the Office of Management and Budget. I wonder if he’s planning to send over his version of new mental impairment listings before leaving.

The SSA has more than 11,000 employees at its headquarters in Woodlawn, Maryland. It provides benefits to retirees, disabled Americans and the children of deceased workers. The SSA paid more than $778,000,000,000 (that is billion) in benefits to 56 million people. The SSA’s budget rivals that of the Department Of Defense.

Carolyn Colvin is Astrue’s Deputy, but she is not considered to be a serious contender to replace him. She was confirmed by the Senate two years ago. Her term also expires January 19, 2013. She is a former secretary of the state Department of Human Resources and served as special assistant to Maryland’s Secretary of Transportation.

One possibility that comes to mind is that there will never be an announcement of an Obama nominee for Commissioner of Social Security. Astrue will leave the job in the near future and Carolyn Colvin will become the Acting Commissioner for the rest of Obama’s term as President. Colvin as Acting Commissioner, unlike Astrue and unlike a nominated and confirmed Commissioner of Social Security, would be serving at the President’s will. If Colvin displeased the President, she could be removed from the job by Obama nominating and the Senate confirming a Commissioner. I think it is more than possible that the President has had his fill of an independent Social Security Commissioner and wants someone who is truly on his team. I have no inside information. This is just my speculation. Of course, this can’t happen if Astrue keeps hanging around.

(BIOGRAPHY of Catolyn Colvin)

QUOTE: On February 14, 2013, Carolyn W. Colvin became the Acting Commissioner of Social Security.  Prior to this designation, she served as the Deputy Commissioner, having been confirmed by the United States Senate on December 22, 2010 as President Obama’s nominee.  In addition to her role as the Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Ms. Colvin serves as a Trustee to the Social Security Board of Trustees.

Throughout her career, Ms. Colvin has managed programs that help people with their healthcare and financial needs.  She previously held key executive positions at Social Security Headquarters: Deputy Commissioner for Policy and External Affairs (1994–1996), Deputy Commissioner for Programs and Policy (1996–1998), and Deputy Commissioner for Operations (1998–2001).

Prior to returning to SSA, Ms. Colvin was the Director of Human Services for the District of Columbia (2001-2003); the Director of the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services (2003-2007); the Chief Executive Officer of AMERIGROUP Community Care of the District of Columbia (2007–2008); and, the Special Assistant to the Secretary of Maryland’s Department of Transportation (2009-2011).  In addition, Ms. Colvin served as the Secretary of Maryland’s Department of Human Resources (1989-1994).

Ms. Colvin has received numerous awards and recognition for her managerial expertise and creativity, including Maryland’s Top 100 Women Award from the Daily Record (2005) and the Women of Achievement Award from Suburban Maryland Business and Professional Women (2005).  She has served on a variety of boards and commissions, including the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.

Ms. Colvin earned her graduate and undergraduate degrees in business administration from Morgan State University.  Additionally, she completed the Senior Executives in State and Local Government Program at Harvard University, the Maryland Leadership Program, and the Greater Baltimore Leadership Program. Ms. Colvin is from Maryland and currently resides in Anne Arundel County.  She has one son and six grandchildren. UNQUOTE.

Nancy Altman, who helps lead two Social Security advocacy groups, has emerged as a potential contender. She has been endorsed by the AFL-CIO and the Association of Administrative Law Judges (AALJ), a network of 1,400 ALJs who decide disability insurance claims. The endorsement of the AALJ is the kiss of death; so, she cannot really be considered a serious contender for the job.

Nevertheless, Judge Randall Frye, president of the AALJ, has  said the AALJ is backing Ms. Altman for Commissioner because of her expertise.

For her part, Ms. Altman has said “My goal would be to restore confidence in the agency and to let the workforce know how appreciative I am and the American people are for the work that is being done.”

One of the major challenges the next commissioner will confront is building administrative support to decrease the long backlogs in the disability insurance program. This is something that Commissioner Astrue was not able to accomplish despite all of the ALJs he was allowed to place on the federal pay roll and the increase in budget that he was granted. The new Commissioner will also be challenged to improve the quality of service that SSA employees are reputed to provide to the public.  Case workers and administrative staff members at SSA are notorious for their abrupt manners and surly attitudes resulting in a low level of public service. The Agency will be challenged to provide a higher level of service.

Senator Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, was noted to remark that “This is an opportunity at the Social Security Administration to really take it to the next level, and it’s important to make sure it has the resources it needs”.

James Robinson Jr.

My choice for the next Commissioner is something of a dark horse. He is James Roosevelt Jr. He is a Health Care Insurance man and considering the controversy surrounding the implementation of ObamaCare, he would be a natural choice for President Obama for his 2nd term.

President Obama’s reelection lifted much of the cloud that hung over the health care industry in Massachusetts, where caregivers and insurers anticipated a push to repeal the national health care overhaul if Mitt Romney had become president. But Romney was not elected.

“This outcome provides an opportunity for greater cooperation and less contention,” said James Roosevelt Jr., chief executive of Tufts Health Plan.

But health care organizations are still seeking clarity on many features of ObamaCare, also known as the Affordable Care Act, many of which have not yet taken effect. The federal overhaul includes regulations requiring insurers to invest in new technology and funds for expanding Medicaid and revamping Medicare payments as the states press forward with their own efforts to rein in costs and build more integrated health care networks.

Obama’s victory “removes a layer of uncertainty for health plans, providers, and employers,” said Andrew Dreyfus, chief executive of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, the state’s largest health insurer.

In 2012 James Robinson Jr wrote an op-ed with Robert L. Reynolds, a Republican and CEO of Putnam Investments,  where he advocates raising the Social Security retirement age at a brisker pace and cutting back the growth of benefits with a different Consumer Price Index (CPI).

Robinson wrote “.. we should accelerate the rise in Social Security’s full-benefit retirement age from age 67 to 68 by 2030 and then index the full benefit age for future generations to gains in longevity. Life expectancy past age 65 has risen nearly 50 percent since 1940, when Social Security first began regular monthly payments. That said, we should improve disability options for those engaged in physically demanding jobs. No one expects coal miners or telephone line crews to work into their late 60s.”

He went further to say “On the benefits side, we should change the way we calculate the cost-of-living adjustment for all beneficiaries, by utilizing a revised Consumer Price Index which most economists agree more accurately reflects the rate of inflation for the expenses most seniors incur. Such a change would curb the rate of increase in benefits for future generations of retirees […]”

Considering President Obama’s attitude and behavior with respect to the “Fiscal Cliff” negotiations I am betting he will select James Robinson Jr to be the next Commissioner of the Social Security Administration.

This just in from former Democratic Senator Bill Bradley of New Jersey.

The press and public have understandably focused in recent weeks on high-profile appointments such as the secretaries of state, defense and treasury as President Barack Obama builds his second-term team. They also should pay close attention to the search for a man or woman to serve as commissioner of the Social Security Administration — a post central to the national welfare and, with a six-year term, an appointment that will continue into the next presidency.

The Social Security Administration, headquartered just outside Baltimore in Woodlawn, touches the lives and pocketbooks of nearly every American. With this cornerstone of our social compact under demographic pressure and political threat, the president’s choice for a successor is vitally important.

Washington is a land of partisan extremes these days, a place where compromise is an orphan and dealmakers are a rare sight. Inevitably, Social Security will again be a political football as Congress attempts to manage America’s fiscal challenges. As a veteran of more than a few policy debates and political fights — some of which didn’t end the way I’d have liked — I want suggest what I think are key job requirements for the new commissioner:

•The nominee should bring substantial managerial experience. The Social Security Administration has roughly 62,000 employees. The agency processes payments of $4.5 billion to 6 million recipients every month. It needs a strong CEO capable of running a large and complex organization that does high-stakes work.

•The nominee should bring considerable policy expertise. For more than 20 years, actuaries have battled, often very publicly, over the viability of Social Security’s funding mechanism. It would be profoundly foolish today to ignore the demographic challenges the retirement of baby boomers will pose to the system. The remedy should not be a Band-Aid, but structural reform for the long haul.

The next commissioner, unlike some predecessors, should bring to the job a detailed historical knowledge of Social Security — of decisions that have made the system stronger and of others that have weakened it.

•Diplomatic skills will be essential. The commissioner of Social Security will need to deal not only with criticism from his or her natural political opponents but also with substantial pressure from natural allies. A commissioner perceived as a zealot or out of touch with the private sector will have a hard time advancing arguments for a new structure of benefits or changes to Social Security’s long term funding.

•The commissioner of Social Security needs considerable fortitude. One of the most important aspects of the job is appearing before Congress (approximately four times a year, though the frequency can shift). For at least the next two years, that will mean confronting a Republican-controlled Congress whose leadership lives in fear of tea partiers whose rhetoric would suggest they’d like to see Social Security dismantled altogether. The next commissioner of Social Security will need the strength of will and command of facts necessary to stand toe-to-toe with well-prepared congressional foes.

•Finally, the next commissioner will have to be someone passionately dedicated to the principles that underlie the Social Security system and eloquent in articulating those principles.

The vast majority of Americans want a fair system that offers dignity to the elderly while preserving economic opportunity for current and future workers. They deserve a commissioner who can ensure Social Security operates properly, provide a vision for its long-term future and lead the fight to preserve it from political critics or demographic threats.

(Bill Bradley)

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Congress to SSA “Let’em Die. That’s Life, right?”

10,000 people died waiting for a disability decision in the past year. Will he be next?

WEBSTER COUNTY, Miss. – On the 597th day, the day he hoped everything would change, Joe Stewart woke early. He took 15 pills in a single swallow. He shaved his head. And then he got down to the business of the day, which was the business of every day, and that was waiting. He looked outside, and saw his mother there in a green sedan, engine running. So many months he had waited for this moment, and now it was here. Time for his Social Security disability hearing. Time to go.

Stewart, 55, set out on crutches, tottering out of his mobile home and down a metal ramp he’d laid when stairs became too much. “I’m sweating my ass off,” he said, getting into his mother’s car, his long-sleeved dress shirt hanging open. He tilted the passenger seat all the way down, placed a pillow at the small of his back and, groaning and wincing, settled in as best he could.

“Did they say long-sleeved?” asked his mother, Jean Bingham, 73.

“It was the only decent shirt I had!” he said.

He knew only what he’d been told by his lawyer, who wanted to see him again before the hearing, and that was not to wear a T-shirt and to bring along a list of medications he uses to treat the pains that are all he has to show for a lifetime spent installing vinyl siding throughout Webster County. Neurontin for nerve pain. Baclofen for muscle spasms. Trazodone for depression. Hydroxyzine and Buspirone for anxiety, a condition that seemed to worsen each day his wait stretched into the next.

Stewart had first applied for federal disability benefits on May 21, 2015. The application was denied, and so was his appeal. When he appealed the second rejection, he went to the back of one of the federal government’s biggest backlogs, where 1.1 million disability claimants wait for one of some 1,600 Social Security administrative law judges to decide whether they deserve a monthly payment and Medicare or Medicaid. “A death sentence” is how Stewart, who has no health insurance, has come to think of another denial.

For other applicants, the wait itself may be enough to accomplish that. In the past two years, 18,701 people have died while waiting for a judge’s decision, increasing 15 percent from 8,699 deaths in fiscal 2016 to 10,002 deaths in fiscal 2017, according to preliminary federal data obtained by The Washington Post. The rising death toll coincides with a surge in the length of time people must wait for a disposition, which swelled from a national average of 353 days in 2012 to a record high of 596 this past summer.

The simplest explanation is that there isn’t enough money. The Social Security Administration’s budget has been roughly stagnant since 2010, while the number of people receiving retirement and disability benefits has risen by more than 7 million, despite a slight decline in the disability rolls beginning in 2015 as some beneficiaries reached retirement age.

The more complicated explanation, however, also includes fewer supporting staff members helping judges. A recession that increased the number of applications and appeals. A new regulation that requires additional medical evidence, lengthening the files judges have to read. And heightened scrutiny in the aftermath of a 2011 scandal in Huntington, W.Va., where one judge, who approved nearly everyone who came before him, was later convicted of taking $600,000 in bribes. Since then, according to a September report by the Social Security Administration Office of the Inspector General, the average judge has gone from deciding 12 cases every week to fewer than 10, a relatively small slowdown that, spread across hundreds of weeks and hundreds of judges, has contributed to the crushing backlog.

                                                                                          

     (Above, Left, see AALJ President, ALJ Marilyn Zahm and ALJ Randy Frye, Past President.)

“I know that people will die waiting,” said Judge Marilyn Zahm, president of the Association of Administrative Law Judges (AALJ). “This is the reflection of our priorities as an American people. We have decided it’s better for people to die than to adequately fund this program. . . . Will this get worse? Will the number of people who die double?”

While lengthy everywhere, the wait times have stretched longer still in some places, such as in Miami, where people wait an average of 759 days, and Long Island, where the wait is 720 days, and northern Mississippi, where the average is 612 days, and where Stewart couldn’t stop shaking in his car seat.

“My shirt is undone, I ain’t going to be able to put it in my pants. My pants are too tight,” he said, rummaging through a red bag filled with his medications, realizing he had forgotten to bring something to eat.

“You didn’t eat no breakfast?” his mother asked.

“I ain’t have the time!” he said.

He hadn’t felt pressure like this in years – not since he last worked in April 2015, and his world was reduced to food stamps, credit cards and the confines of a single-wide trailer, parked along a country road that few cars go down. He had thought about this day ever since. What would the judge ask him? Would he believe him? Or would he think he was lying, too lazy to work? Would he finally get an answer, or would the wait continue?

Stewart took an anxiety pill and looked at the car’s speedometer.

“Never going to get me there in time,” he told his mother as she steered through the remote county of hills and pine where nearly 1 in 5 working-age adults receive either Supplemental Security Income, for the disabled poor, or Social Security Disability Insurance, for disabled workers.

He fidgeted with the air conditioning vents, opening them up.

“I’m going from chills to hot spells,” he said. “I’ve got hot spells now.”

He leaned back.

“I’m getting cool.”

Then: “I’m sweating.”

Then: “I’m getting worse now.”

For most of his life, Stewart had believed things could only get better. He had been raised with the conviction that a man was only as good as what he could accomplish with his hands, and so he had always felt good, because he could do so much with his. After high school, he started out building furniture. Then he worked as a carpenter. But vinyl siding was what he loved completely. Cutting the metal. Measuring it out. Hauling it in his truck and completing a job worth being proud of, worth attaching his name to, and that was a promise he made to every customer after opening his company, Premium Siding, 10 years ago.

At the time, the county was in the midst of a steady and precipitous decline, accelerated by a recession that never seemed to end, and Premium Siding’s profits were barely enough for Stewart to survive on, let alone pay for health insurance. So already carrying two decades of work injuries – falling off ladders, getting shocked by hot wires – he would sometimes go to a community clinic that charged $35 per visit. Or more likely, he’d use a heating pad and try to think about anything but pain, until one day in the summer of 2013, when pain became nearly the only thing he could ever think about.

He can’t remember what he tried to pick up. He remembers only that he had been out at a work site, lifting and cutting 50-pound coils of metal. He remembers reaching for something that had barely weighed anything. He remembers the sharp, immediate pain, the sudden realization that his back might never be the same, and that, for everything he would ultimately lose, he had never even touched whatever it was he had reached for. The doctor would later say he had a compressed vertebra and a pinched nerve in his lower spine. But in that moment, it felt more stabbed than pinched – “vicious, terrible stabbing” – and he went home, to his bed, which was where he was, four years later, on another day of waiting, when an alarm went off.

Nine in the morning. Time for his medication. He turned on the lights – three bare bulbs – and saw again what his life had become, in this trailer he allowed no one to enter, not even his mother. He stumbled past the leather furniture that hadn’t been sat on since he hurt his back, and the NASCAR toy cars he carefully collected years ago, covered in a thick film of dust along one wall, and the kitchen countertop obscured by months of trash.

“Let’s just get it over with,” he said, looking at his bottles of medicine.

The pills made him drowsy, and he went to the only place he could still sit. The Ab Lounge, an exercise chair he had bought to strengthen his lower back but now used because it could recline just so, was where he conducted his affairs. There were empty peanut jars nearby, a stack of debts and a remote control, which he picked up. A science-fiction show came on, and he tried not to think about the bankruptcy papers he would soon need to file. Or the yard out back he could no longer tend to and had to poison. Or the utter sameness of his life, every day so much like the one before, that his memory felt increasingly blurred. Or that just about the only time his phone rang anymore, as it did at this moment, was when a bill collector called.

“Yeah? Okay,” he said into the phone, realizing it was only his mother, who was planning to use her Social Security check to buy him more medicine later that day. “That will work.”

He hung up and shook his head, unable to handle the shame of it anymore. He had promised himself that if he was denied again, he’d no longer accept his mother’s help. He’d let his pills run out, and his trailer go dark, and start drinking again. So much in his life depended on others now, from the television his brother had helped pay for, to the groceries delivered by his mother, who also took him wherever he needed to go, including on this morning to see his lawyer before his Social Security disability hearing.

“I just need silence,” he said, in the car, hoping that would calm him.

“I’m not used to all of this, Joe!” she said, giving him a weary look.

“I need – I need silence.”

The car went quiet, and Stewart waited for the anxiety medicine to take hold. For his hands to stop quivering. For the car to carry him past all of the payday loan shops and empty storefronts of Webster County to an office belonging to a lawyer who he believed could help him.

“Hugh Gibson Law, this is Samantha, can I help you?” the receptionist was saying to another caller.

On the other side of the counter, sitting on a thick-cushioned couch in the waiting area, was a thin man with gaunt features who grimaced whenever he shifted in his seat. Every now and again, someone at the office would ask him if he needed anything.

Water? Something to eat? Want to lie down?

The man tightened his grip on his cane.

“I want someone to shoot me,” he finally said.

“Hugh Gibson Law,” the receptionist said to another caller.

A few minutes later, Gibson, the most prolific Social Security disability lawyer in Webster County, a tall, garrulous 71-year-old who himself walks with a limp and a cane, came into the waiting room, glanced at the man on the couch and headed into the back of the office. Gibson had spent years witnessing the disintegration of people like him, marooned in a disability adjudication system that he still believed could be a force for good, despite everything. He started taking disability cases four decades ago, when claims in Webster County predominantly involved illnesses and car accidents. But then the factories that once powered the county’s economy closed, and more unemployed workers started applying, and the wait became longer and longer.

When potential clients now ask about applying for disability, Gibson tells them that it could be two years minimum before they get a judge’s decision, and that they can’t work while they wait if they want to be approved. They usually lose the car first, then the house. Next comes bankruptcy. Stresses accrue, marriages fracture, pains and illnesses mount, and some die right before their hearings, when the wait is worst, and when Gibson brings clients into his office to prepare one final time, clients like the thin man with the cane, Joey Sims, 36, now seated in front of him.

“Does he have a good case?” Gibson asked his assistant.

“He hasn’t been to the doctor but twice this year,” she said.

“A semi-idiot then,” Gibson sighed, knowing that the severity of a medical condition mattered only so much as what was documented, and not enough was documented here.

“If I had money to go see the doctors, then I wouldn’t need help,” Sims said, exasperated.

“Yeah, well, we have serious things to deal with to get you approved,” Gibson said, glowering, because it seemed that way with every case. If clients weren’t too young, then often there were drugs in their pasts. Or they’d return to the job after an injury and, even if they quit soon after, it would look to a judge like they could still work.

“I’ll do whatever you need me to do,” Sims pleaded, and Gibson began a routine he performs for all of his clients, the same one he did again the next day for an anguished woman in a back brace.

“You can’t just go in there and be an idiot,” he told her.

“They don’t pay liars,” he told her.

“See that shirt you got on? Don’t wear that,” he told her.

Gibson knew how terrible he must sound sometimes, hollering at clients, cutting them off, ordering them around, but he also knew what could happen if he didn’t. They could say something to a judge that would be innocuous in other circumstances – that they could drive, or mow grass – but could lead to a quick denial, which had been happening more often, as the disability approval rate among judges nationwide dropped from 73 percent in 2008 to 55 percent last year.

There were increasingly days when Gibson wondered whether it was time to scale back. After all, he was paid only if his clients won. Maybe the other lawyers were right, some cases just couldn’t be won. And that was how he was quietly beginning to feel about Stewart.

Outside Gibson’s office, Stewart held a stack of medical papers and, disoriented, tried to listen as his mother asked question after question.

“Are you taking those in there?” she asked of the documents.

“How long is this going to take?” she asked.

“Are you going to be okay?” she asked.

“Remind me to tie my shoes,” was all he managed to say, going inside the law office, shoelaces flopping this way and that. He took a seat in a back room, head full of doubts. If he couldn’t focus well enough to answer his mother’s questions, how was he going to answer the judge’s?

“Joe,” Gibson said, riffling through all 169 pages of his medical file. “Let’s go over what you do all day.”

Stewart didn’t say anything. His mouth was dry. He was still wearing sunglasses he’d forgotten to take off.

“What time do you get up?” Gibson asked after a moment.

“Around nine,” Stewart said.

Gibson cringed.

“How many of [your medications] make you lightheaded?” came another question.

“Quite a few,” Stewart said. “About half.”

Another bad look came over Gibson’s face. He tapped his pen against the folder.

“Make no mistake, if you don’t do this well, you’re going to lose,” he said slowly. “You’ve got to speak up and tell him what is what and not be vague. ‘Sometimes.’ ‘A little while.’ ‘A little bit.’ ‘Not very much.’ ‘A whole lot.’ All those words. They don’t mean anything. They don’t mean anything. You might as well just open your mouth and close it. Because nothing comes out worse than those vague words. And I just want to grab people and slap them – wake up! You can’t just say ‘sometimes’ with a judge!”

“Lord, mercy,” Gibson said, telling Stewart that he could not have drawn a stricter judge. James Prothro had the 31st lowest approval rating among Social Security administrative law judges, according to a Washington Post analysis of every judge’s disposition record between January 2010 and April 2017. During that period, Prothro decided 2,610 cases, approving 27 percent of them.

Later, Stewart would get angry. He would think about all of the people he had seen in Webster County receiving benefits whose disabilities he considered milder than his, and wonder how they had gotten them, and why everything had to be so difficult for him. But at that moment he just nodded slowly, wanting to absorb everything Gibson said – stand to show he couldn’t sit for long; never say, “I don’t know” – until Gibson rose from his seat.

“You have a slim shot,” he said. “People sitting around the house, watching TV all day, they’re not used to talking, and I understand that. But I have to get you to talk. Tell the judge the things the judge needs to know. Can you do that, Joe?”

And then Stewart was back in the car, and he was rummaging for his anxiety medicine, and he was saying, “I need to put it in my pocket so I can remember to take it,” and he was going into a courtroom, and the door behind him was closing, and it was locking, and he was trying to stay calm.

Five-hundred and ninety-seven days.

One-hundred and sixty-nine pages of medical evidence.

One hearing.

How to condense so many years of physical deterioration, so many days of waiting, into one hearing? How to convince someone of pain, when no one can see it? How to remember to say everything that needed saying – the pills taken, the number of pounds that can be lifted, the distance that can be walked, the falls, the different doctors and their names?

So Stewart did his best to follow Gibson’s directions. He carried his back pillow into the courtroom. He stood when he felt pain. He was specific. He said, “burning in the chest.” He said, “I went to see my chiropractor, but they wanted $60, so I haven’t been back.” He said, “My mother, she’s tired of driving me around; she has other things to do.”

And he tried to look at the judge, to express with his eyes what he couldn’t with words, but the judge wasn’t in the room at all. He was sitting in front of a camera in another courtroom 65 miles away in another Social Security Administration building in Tupelo, Mississippi part of a government policy to work down the backlog by holding some disability hearings by video-tele-conference. Stewart heard the disembodied voice of someone whom Gibson called a “vocational expert,” whose role it was to use, among other sources, the government’s list of possible jobs, the Dictionary of Occupational Titles, last updated in 1991, to discern whether there was any work someone like him could do anywhere in the United States, regardless of pay, distance from his house, or whether he would be hired.

And then an hour had passed, and the hearing was over, and Gibson was saying, “Thank you, your honor.” Stewart, feeling dazed and unsure whether that was really it, sat for a moment, until he saw everyone else was standing. He got up. He collected his crutches and walked outside with Gibson, who was going on and on about the judge.

“One lawyer – a good lawyer – they had 13 cases with him, and they didn’t win a one,” he said. “Not a one.”

“Whether or not he’s going to pay you, I do not know,” he said.

“So we’ll wait and see. . . . You might not get a decision until February.” And: “It may be six months.”

Gibson said something about errands he had to run, shook Stewart’s hand and got into his bright red truck. And Stewart, now caught in another backlog of people awaiting a disposition after the hearing – which has doubled in the last year, from 35,000 claimants to 70,000 – watched him drive off, then saw his mother. She was in her car, waving at him to move it, so he climbed in and reclined the seat until he was nearly supine.

“Can I ask you a question?” said his mother, who had sat outside the courtroom but overheard something about a videoconference. “Was he in there?”

“Who?” Stewart asked.

The judge.

“No, he was on TV,” he said, and she looked confused.

“Well, I’m relieved it’s over,” she finally said.

“It ain’t over,” he responded, and there was nothing else to say, so on they went to Webster County, through the endless rows of tall pines, past the houses Stewart had once worked on, stopping at his trailer. “There’s another day,” his mother said and pulled away, and he was alone again. The trailer was dark inside. He took his afternoon medication. He sat in his Ab Lounge. The television came on. The pills started to do their work. The 597th day was over, and the only thing left to do was to wait for the 598th to begin.

(By  , November 21, 2017)

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Judge London Steverson, This Is Your Life

 https://www.amazon.com/My-Life-Coast-Guard-Tiger-ebook/dp/B077G9BS5R/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

Judge London Steverson has written the story of his life. Trying to write a book about my life is like trying to describe the landscape by looking out the window of a moving train. The events continue to unfold faster than one can describe them. My life is a work in progress. For this reason I have decided to look at my life in phases that have a clearly defined beginning and an end. In this book I intend to describe that part of my life that was shaped by my involvement in the Martial Arts. 

https://www.amazon.com/Judge-London-Steverson/e/B006WQKFJM


IN A NUT SHELL 
I, London Eugene Livingston Steverson retired from the United States Coast Guard in 1988 as a Lieutenant Commander (LCDR). Later, I retired from the Social Security Administration (SSA) as the Senior Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) in the Office of Disability Appeals and Review (ODAR) Downey, California.
In 1964, I was one of the first two African Americans to receive an Appointment as a Cadet to the United States Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut. I graduated in 1968. After two years at sea on an Icebreaker, the USCGC Glacier (WAGB-4), and another two years as a Search and Rescue Operations Officer in the 17th Coast Guard District Juneau, Alaska, I was appointed Chief of the newly formed Minority Recruiting Section in the Office of Personnel at Coast Guard Headquarters, 7th and D Street, SW, in Washington, DC. My primary duty was to recruit Black High School graduates for the Coast Guard Academy. This was my passion, so I set about this in a most vigorous manner.
I have written several books concerning Military Justice, famous Courts-martial Cases, and Social Security Disability Determination Cases. I am a retired member of the New York State Bar Association, The Association of The Bar of The City of New York, and The Tennessee Bar Associations.
A Presidential Executive Order issued by President Harry Truman had desegregated the armed forces in 1948, but the military academies lagged far behind in officer recruiting.
President John F. Kennedy specifically challenged the Coast Guard Academy to increase appointments to qualified Black American high school students.
I was one of the first Black High School students to be offered such an appointment in 1964. I had a Black classmate from New Jersey, Kenny Boyd. We would become known as “The Kennedy Cadets”, because the pressure to recruit us originated with President John F. Kennedy.
On June 4, 1968, I graduated from the Coast Guard Academy with a Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering and a commission as an Ensign in the U.S. Coast Guard.
My first duty assignment out of the Academy was in Antarctic research logistical support. In July 1968 I reported aboard the Coast Guard Cutter (CGC) Glacier (WAGB-4), an icebreaker operating under the control of the U.S. Navy. I served as a deck watch officer and head of the Marine Science Department. I traveled to Antarctica during two patrols from July 1968 to August 1969, supporting the research operations of the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Research Project in and around McMurdo Station.
In 1974, while still an active duty member of the Coast Guard, I entered The National Law Center of The George Washington University. I graduated in 1977 with a Juris Doctor of Laws Degree.
I worked as a Law Specialist in the 12th Coast Guard District Office, San Francisco, California and as an Assistant U. S. Attorney for the collection of Civil Penalties under the Federal Boating Safety Act from 1979 to 1982. As Assistant District Legal Officer, I was required to defend as well as prosecute military members who had been charged with violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Occasionally I was asked to represent other officers in administrative actions involving sexual harassment and discrimination. One such case was the Case of Christine D. Balboni . 

 Ensign (ENS) Balboni was one of the first female graduates of the Academy, Class of 1981. She filed the first case of Sexual Harassment case in the military.

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SSA Announces 2% COLA Increase in 2018.

Social Security checks to be 2% bigger in 2018.

Average monthly check will go up $27

 

NEW YORK  – Millions of Americans will get a boost to their Social Security checks next year.

The government announced a 2 percent increase to Social Security Benefits October 13. The bigger checks aim to help offset rising prices.

The average monthly check is estimated to increase to $1,404 in January — a $27 increase from $1,377 a month.

Millions of Americans rely on Social Security to help make ends meet, and many have been struggling in the face of higher prices on essentials like health care, rent and food. Not all of the recipients are retired workers — many are people with disabilities, or surviving spouses and children.

The 2 percent increase is the highest since 2012 when retirees got a 3.6 percent raise.

At the start of 2017, recipients saw an increase of just 0.3 percent.

In 2016, there was no increase. Over the summer, the Social Security trustees had projected a 2.2 percent increase in benefits.

Around 62 million Americans will receive around $955 billion in Social Security benefits this year, according to the Social Security Administration.

The annual cost of living adjustment (COLA) was introduced in 1975 and is based on increases in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). CPI-W tracks how much consumers pay for goods and services.

But some argue the increase is not enough to cover rising prices.

“For the tens of millions of families who depend on Social Security for all or most of their retirement income, this cost of living increase may not adequately cover expenses that rise faster than inflation including prescription drug, utility and housing costs,” said AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins.

The Social Security Administration also announced the maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax will increase to $128,700 from $127,200.

(  VASEL, K., CNN Money, 13Oct2017)

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Undocumented Workers Are Keeping Social Security Afloat

 

In 2013, analysts at the Social Security Administration calculated that in 2010 undocumented immigrants had paid $13 billion into the system and were making on average $34,000 a year at the time. From 1996 to 2003, undocumented workers paid a combined $90 billion into both Social Security and Medicare.

Since 1996, immigrants who didn’t qualify to get a Social Security card numbers have been able to apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) from the IRS. ITINs were originally granted to foreign citizens who were active investors in the American real estate market.

A substantial percentage of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. pay billions in taxes annually and own their own homes, according to a 50 state report from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (The Study).

With an IRS ITIN number, undocumented residents can legally open a bank account and apply for mortgage financing and close on a real estate transaction.

“Contrary to a lot of myths out there, The Study shows that the undocumented pay a very significant share of their income to state and local taxes,” Meg Wiehe, a co-author of the report told CBS MoneyWatch. “They are also establishing roots here because they are committed to their communities.”

One in three of the nation’s undocumented families own a home, according to the ITEP report. States such as Idaho and New Mexico report undocumented ownership rates as high as 46 percent. Those statistics are based on research done by the Migration Policy Institute and data collected by the U.S. Census’s American Community Survey.

Expert opinion remains sharply divided on the impact of the undocumented on the U.S. economy.

While analysts at the conservative Heritage Foundation concede undocumented immigrant households do contribute tax revenue, they make the case that what they contribute is far outweighed by what their presence here in the U.S. costs taxpayers.

“In 2010, the average unlawful immigrant household received around $24,721 in government benefits and services while paying some $10,334 in taxes,” according to Robert Rector and Jason Richwine in their analysis for the Heritage Foundation.

“This generated an average annual fiscal deficit (benefits received minus taxes paid) of around $14,387 per household,” their analysis said. “This cost had to be borne by U.S. taxpayers. Amnesty would provide unlawful households with access to over 80 means-tested welfare programs, Obamacare, Social Security, and Medicare. The fiscal deficit for each household would soar.”

While the expert debate over this hot button issue has raged for years, Pew Research Center polling suggests American public opinion has shifted greatly since the early 1990s. In a 2015 poll, 45 percent of those surveyed expressed the opinion that immigrants were a net benefit for the U.S. versus 37 percent who felt their presence had a negative impact.

 

One of the ironies of the challenging financial future faced by the Social Security Administration is this seldom-discussed fact: Undocumented workers contribute about $13 billion per year to the Social Security Trust Fund, and only get back a small fraction, adding a bit of black ink to a balance sheet in sore need of a boost. These Social Security payments are a proxy of sorts for the potential power of these workers who now stand in the shadows of the economy.

These immigrants are often accused of creating outsize social services costs, but in this important instance the opposite is true. Undocumented workers using fake, invalid, or borrowed Social Security numbers are subject to payroll taxes but usually receive nothing back.

The extent of their contributions hints at the vast scale of the underground economy.

The chief actuary of the Social Security Administration estimates that, out of the approximately 7 million unauthorized workers currently in the US labor force, about 3 million use either false or expired Social Security numbers.

The payroll taxes paid by these unauthorized workers go into the Social Security’s “Earnings Suspense File” — in effect, money without a lawful home.

“You could say legitimately that had we not received the contributions that we have had in the past from undocumented immigrants . . . that would of course diminish our ability to be paying benefits for as long as we now can,”. Undocumented immigrants have contributed $100 billion into Social Security over the last decade.

Major immigration reform legislation would provide work authorization and Social Security numbers for an estimated 11 million immigrants working here illegally. But without changes to protect Social Security, illegal workers whose status later changes could become entitled to benefits based on jobs worked under fake and invalid Social Security numbers. Social Security could be on the hook for hundreds of billions in new liabilities according to a new  research report based on data from the Social Security Administration.

Unauthorized immigrants getting jobs show employers false or invalid Social Security numbers. When the Social Security Administration receives copies of W2s in which the name and Social Security number do not match those on Social Security’s records, they go into the Earnings Suspense File (ESF). The W2s remain on file until the earnings can be reconciled with the real worker, even if that occurs years later. Since 2000, the Social Security Administration has received about 9.3 million such W2s per year on average, representing more than $69.4 billion per year in earnings.

The earnings reported to the ESF over the past 11 years now total more than $763.5 billion, unadjusted for inflation. “Those earnings are important, because that’s what the Social Security Administration uses to determine entitlement and initial benefit amounts — not the amount of taxes paid in,” .

Although Social Security is aware of the problem, no government estimates of the potential future cost of benefits based on work under fake Social Security numbers exist.

Immigration advocates say that the taxes on earnings worked under invalid Social Security numbers help boost Social Security’s financing and that workers would have little chance of collecting benefits. “But that would change under immigration reform that provides work authorization”. “Work authorization and a valid Social Security number are the two requirements that would allow former unauthorized workers to file a claim for benefits.”

That could have significant implications for future Social Security costs because, under current law, the fraudulent use of Social Security numbers to gain employment is not penalized. “One would think that the earnings under fake Social Security numbers would not be used to calculate Social Security benefits. But to the contrary, under current policies, those earnings can be reinstated — no questions asked”.

Social Security uses all earnings to determine entitlement even for jobs worked under fake Social Security numbers. If workers have kept evidence of earnings, like copies of their W2s, tax return earnings under invalid Social Security numbers would be reinstated to the new valid number.

“Congress is considering Social Security changes that would cut the benefits of U.S. citizens and authorized workers who paid into the system under valid Social Security numbers”. “Yet our current polices reward people for the use of fraudulent Social Security numbers, undermining the financial solvency of the program”.

“You could say legitimately that had we not received the contributions that we have had in the past from undocumented immigrants . . . that would of course diminish our ability to be paying benefits for as long as we now can,”. Undocumented immigrants have contributed $100 billion into Social Security over the last decade.

(In part based on an article by Robert Hennelly in MoneyWatch February 29, 2016)

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Mentally Impaired Social Security Claimants Commit Suicide After Being Told That Benefits Will End

Lawsuit blames two suicides on notice of imminent cut in disability benefits.

 A move by the Social Security Administration (SSA) to end disability checks for thousands of people in Kentucky played a substantial role in two people killing themselves, a federal lawsuit alleges.

 

The two dead claimants committed suicide by gunshot. They blew out their brains. Melissa Jude and Leroy Burchett, were despondent after getting notice that they would lose benefits, the lawsuit alleges.

Burchett shot himself in the chin on June 1. Jude shot herself in the head the next day, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit further alleges that two Social Security recipients were distraught over the notice from SSA that they would lose their livelihood and might have to repay pass benefits received.

Social Security has notified thousands of benefit recipients of the impending loss of checks.

This case is linked to allegations of fraud in disability cases of Kentucky lawyer Eric Conn.

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How To Win Your Social Security Disability Claim? Simple, Find The Right Judge.

Disability Claim Denied? Find the Right Judge

Nine percent of the judges who hear appeals grant benefits 90% of the time, costing taxpayers tens of billions.

To all parties involved in a trial, the slam of a gavel should indicate that justice has been served. Unfortunately, this is often not the case with Social Security Disability (SSDI and SSI) appeals. A system designed to serve society’s vulnerable has morphed into a benefit bonanza that costs taxpayers billions of dollars more than it should. The disability trust fund will become insolvent in 2016, and Congress would be wise to begin much needed reform.

A disability applicant whose claim is rejected during the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) first two stages ( before State Disability Determination Services)  can appeal the decision to administrative-law judges (ALJ). These judges must impartially balance the claims of the applicant against the interests of taxpayers.

Over the past decade judicial impartiality has declined significantly, as many administrative-law judges uncritically approve most claims. In 2008 judges on average approved about 70% of claims before them, according to the Social Security Administration. Nine percent of judges approved more than 90% of benefit requests that landed on their desks.

Do nine out of every 10 applicants appealing denied claims need societal support? There are reasons for skepticism. The data show that judges who are generous in granting benefits are consistently generous over time—which is suspicious, since each year they should hear a random set of new cases. The more discerning judges—those who award benefits less than 90% of the time—are more unpredictable from year to year.

(Photo: Getty Images/Illustration Works)

If the judges with award rates topping 90% are removed from the data, the rate of denial increases by 2%-3% annually. That amounts to 98,000 claims from 2005-11. Assuming an average lifetime award of $250,000, taxpayers would have saved $23 billion over those six years had the worst judges left the bench. If we lower the threshold to exclude judges with award rates north of 85%, these savings increase to $41 billion.

Former Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue, who took office in 2007, made much-needed changes. Incompetent incumbents saw their influence diluted by new judges drawn from fresh candidate lists. Judicial decisions are now randomly reviewed to ensure that the court remains impartial and fair to taxpayers. Judges were limited to hearing 1,000 cases a year (the figure has since been lowered to 700), and individuals are allowed only one disability application at a time.

Mr. Astrue’s reforms have produced good results. In 2011 judges with award rates exceeding 90% heard a mere 4% of all cases, a 63.6% decline from 2008. But Mr. Astrue’s term expired in 2013, and these changes can easily be undone, either intentionally by future administrators, or unintentionally as bad habits slip back into the system.

His program to increase accountability and judicial turnover should be made permanent. Congress should also institute 15-year term limits for judges, who currently enjoy lifetime tenure, to ensure that fresh legal minds are joining the stale judicial aristocracy. A term of a decade and a half is long enough to insulate judges and prevent undue political influence.

The system faces a huge backlog, made worse by claimants who play adjudication roulette, filing and then withdrawing appeals in hopes of drawing a generous judge. Congress can limit this gamesmanship by allowing only one application per claimant in a three-year period. Because judges must marshal more documentation for a denial than an approval, they have an incentive to grant benefits to keep the system chugging along. The agency can fix this by further limiting the number of cases each judge must decide to 500 from 700.

The system is further complicated because even if a claimant has legal counsel, the judge must advocate on the claimant’s behalf. This dual role should be ended. Most claimants—85%—now have third-party representation. These professionals should be held responsible for getting supporting materials into court expeditiously and completely so the record can be closed in a timely manner.

Even under better legal rules, judges will still face rigid and outdated guidelines for granting benefits. The framework they must follow—known as the Medical Vocational Grid (known as The Listings)—is formulaic to the point of senselessness. For instance, the bar to benefits approval is lower for someone who doesn’t speak English, on the theory that it is difficult to find a job without the language. But that English rule is also applied to claimants from Puerto Rico, where the language of business is Spanish.

These guidelines (in The Listings) also do not give due consideration to actual labor market experience, dictating a looser approval standard for someone with only a high-school degree, even if the person has succeeded in the labor force for decades.

The framework (of The Listings) was developed in the late 1950s, for the previous generation’s workforce, and hasn’t been updated since 1978. Decades ago workers ages 50 or 55 might have been considered retiring, but this is no longer generally the case. Novel job-training programs also make it easier than ever for workers to move into new fields and make up for low levels of education, and new disability criteria would account for these changes.

These solutions would begin to deliver meaningful reform to Social Security disability awards. They can restore dignity and efficacy to a troubled system.

(BY Mark J. Warshawsky And Ross A. Marchand, March 8, 2015) 

(Mr. Warshawsky is a visiting scholar at the Mercatus Center of George Mason University and a former member of the Social Security Advisory Board from 2006 to 2012. Mr. Marchand is a first-year economics graduate student at George Mason University.)

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Acting Social Security Commissioner Fails To Get Senate Confirmation Due To Possible Criminal Investigation

On February 14, 2013, Carolyn W. Colvin became the Acting Commissioner of the  Social Security Administration (SSA).  Prior to this designation, she served as a Deputy Commissioner at SSA.  Several high-level members of her inner circle of advisers are at the center of an  investigation concerning  a dysfunctional, $300 million computer system. An Inspector General’s (IG) Report has raised the possibility of a criminal investigation.

The Senate canceled vote on President Obama’s pick for Social Security Commissioner. Obama pick to head Social Security runs into more trouble; Senate cancels confirmation vote.

(AP)(14 Dec. 2014) — President Barack Obama’s pick to head the Social Security Administration has run into more trouble after Senate Democrats canceled a procedural vote on her nomination.

All 11 Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee signed a letter to Colvin on Wednesday, December 10th, noting that new information had come to light about a dysfunctional, $300 million computer system intended to speed the processing of disability claims. An interim inspector general (IG) report has raised questions about whether agency employees misled Congress about the extent of the problem, the lawmakers said.

“We cannot in good faith allow a nomination for any position that requires the advice and consent of the Senate to proceed to a vote as long as the specter of a potential criminal investigation surrounds the nominee and/or those in their inner circle,” read the letter from Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, the top Republican on the committee, and its other GOP members.

“Agency representatives previously briefed members of the Senate and House regarding the issues raised in the Senate Republican Finance members’ letter,” the spokeswoman, LaVenia LaVelle, said in the statement. “The acting commissioner will respond timely and fully to the members requests, and continue to cooperate with Congress and any related investigation.”

Aides have long noted that the troubled computer system, which was intended to speed the processing of disability claims, was implemented under Colvin’s predecessor, Michael J. Astrue. And they have said that Colvin began a thorough investigation of the matter when she took over the agency last year.Still, the opposition from Republicans in the waning days of the lame-duck session of Congress threw Colvin’s confirmation into question. The current Congress is set to adjourn as soon as next week — and the Senate calendar will become increasingly full between now and then.

While senators have sped through several confirmations since the midterm elections, they have dealt mainly with non-controversial appointments. Colvin’s term, if she is confirmed, would last for six years, well into the next presidential administration.

And when the new Congress gavels in next month, the Senate will be controlled by Republicans, giving concerns raised by Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee added weight.Neither of Maryland’s Democratic senators, Barbara A. Mikulski and Ben Cardin, have responded to request for comment. Cardin is a member of the Finance Committee, which oversees Social Security.

The agency came under scrutiny this year amid revelations that it spent nearly $300 million and six years developing the computer system for disability claims, and it still does not work. The problems were known during Colvin’s confirmation hearing, and while Hatch mentioned them at the time he did not ask Colvin about them.

In their letter, the senators pointed to a news release from a House subcommittee last month regarding an interim IG Report that raised the possibility of a criminal investigation. The letter said the senators have sought to better understand the nature of that investigation but have been unable to do so because the probe is continuing.

“We have received information from whistleblowers that the ongoing investigation has centered around the activities of certain members of your immediate office, including several high-level agency officials, the senators wrote. “Therefore, it is essential to address your role with respect to this inquiry before each of us can make an informed decision on how to vote for your nomination once it reaches the full Senate for consideration.”

Obama nominated Carolyn W. Colvin to a six-year term as commissioner in June, and Colvin’s nomination cleared one procedural hurdle in the Senate Saturday, Dec. 13. However, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., canceled an upcoming vote, making it likely Colvin won’t get a vote until next year, when Republicans take control of the Senate.

Colvin’s nomination would have taken up valuable floor time as the Senate rushes to finish its year-end business. Senators could speed the process but that would require a bipartisan agreement.

Colvin’s nomination first ran into trouble when a group of Republican senators said they would try to block it while investigators look into a $300 million computer project at the agency.

The project, which doesn’t work, predates Colvin’s tenure — she has been acting commissioner since Feb. 2013. But an inspector general’s investigation is ongoing.

“I don’t know how the Senate can, with good conscience, vote to confirm anyone with this type of ongoing investigation going on around their immediate office,” Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said in a floor speech. “It may very well turn out that Ms. Colvin did nothing wrong, but we need to know for sure.”

Colvin defended her integrity and her long career in government in a recent interview with The Associated Press.

“I’ve worked in government my entire life. There’s never been a suggestion, personal or professional, of any wrongdoing,” Colvin said in the interview, which had been scheduled before the controversy erupted.

“I’m certainly not ending my career with that,” Colvin continued. “I came out of retirement to help this organization, not hurt it.”

Six years ago, Social Security embarked on an aggressive plan to replace outdated computer systems overwhelmed by a flood of disability claims. But the project has been racked by delays and mismanagement, according to an assessment commissioned by the agency over the summer.

The new computer system is supposed to help workers process and manage disability claims. But the project is still in the testing phase and the agency can’t say if it will ever be operational or how much it will cost.

Colvin, 72, first worked as a deputy commissioner at Social Security in the 1990s. She left the agency in 2001 to become director of human services for the District of Columbia. She later had a similar job in Montgomery County, Maryland.

Colvin returned to Social Security in 2010 as deputy commissioner.

Associated Press

Throughout her career, Ms. Colvin has managed programs that help people with their healthcare and financial needs.  She previously held key executive positions at Social Security Headquarters: Deputy Commissioner for Policy and External Affairs (1994–1996), Deputy Commissioner for Programs and Policy (1996–1998), and Deputy Commissioner for Operations (1998–2001).

Prior to returning to SSA, Ms. Colvin was the Director of Human Services for the District of Columbia (2001-2003); the Director of the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services (2003-2007); the Chief Executive Officer of AMERIGROUP Community Care of the District of Columbia (2007–2008); and, the Special Assistant to the Secretary of Maryland’s Department of Transportation (2009-2011).  In addition, Ms. Colvin served as the Secretary of Maryland’s Department of Human Resources (1989-1994).

Ms. Colvin has received numerous awards and recognition for her managerial expertise and creativity, including Maryland’s Top 100 Women Award from the Daily Record (2005) and the Women of Achievement Award from Suburban Maryland Business and Professional Women (2005).  She has served on a variety of boards and commissions, including the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.

Ms. Colvin earned her graduate and undergraduate degrees in business administration from Morgan State University.  Additionally, she completed the Senior Executives in State and Local Government Program at Harvard University, the Maryland Leadership Program, and the Greater Baltimore Leadership Program. Ms. Colvin is from Maryland and currently resides in Anne Arundel County.  She has one son and six grandchildren.

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The Earnings Suspense Fund at Social Security

80082-social-security-card-with-cash-in-hands

One of the ironies of the challenging financial future faced by the Social Security Administration is this seldom-discussed fact: Undocumented workers contribute about $13 billion per year to the Social Security Trust Fund, and only get back a small fraction, adding a bit of black ink to a balance sheet in sore need of a boost. As President Obama mulls whether and when to enact executive orders that would affect the status of up to 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country, these Social Security payments are a proxy of sorts for the potential power of these workers who now stand in the shadows of the economy.

These immigrants are often accused of creating outsize social services costs, but in this important instance the opposite is true. Undocumented workers using fake, invalid, or borrowed Social Security numbers are subject to payroll taxes but usually receive nothing back. The extent of their contributions hints at the vast scale of the underground economy — and at the economic benefits that could be harnessed by giving undocumented workers a legal way to move out of it.

The chief actuary of the Social Security Administration recently told Vice News that, out of the estimated 7 million unauthorized workers currently in the US labor force, about 3 million use either false or expired Social Security numbers. The payroll taxes paid by these unauthorized workers go into the Social Security’s “Earnings Suspense File” — in effect, money without a lawful home.

“You could say legitimately that had we not received the contributions that we have had in the past from undocumented immigrants . . . that would of course diminish our ability to be paying benefits for as long as we now can,”. Undocumented immigrants have contributed $100 billion into Social Security over the last decade.

Major immigration reform legislation would provide work authorization and Social Security numbers for an estimated 11 million immigrants working here illegally. But without changes to protect Social Security, illegal workers whose status later changes could become entitled to benefits based on jobs worked under fake and invalid Social Security numbers. Social Security could be on the hook for hundreds of billions in new liabilities according to a new  research report based on data from the Social Security Administration.

Unauthorized immigrants getting jobs show employers false or invalid Social Security numbers. When the Social Security Administration receives copies of W2s in which the name and Social Security do not match those on Social Security’s records, they go into the Earnings Suspense File (ESF). The W2s remain on file until the earnings can be reconciled with the real worker, even if that occurs years later. Since 2000, the Social Security Administration has received about 9.3 million such W2s per year on average, representing more than $69.4 billion per year in earnings.

The earnings reported to the ESF over the past 11 years now total more than $763.5 billion, unadjusted for inflation. “Those earnings are important, because that’s what the Social Security Administration uses to determine entitlement and initial benefit amounts — not the amount of taxes paid in,” .

Although Social Security is aware of the problem, no government estimates of the potential future cost of benefits based on work under fake Social Security numbers exist.

Immigration advocates say that the taxes on earnings worked under invalid Social Security numbers help boost Social Security’s financing and that workers would have little chance of collecting benefits. “But that would change under immigration reform that provides work authorization”. “Work authorization and a valid Social Security number are the two requirements that would allow former unauthorized workers to file a claim for benefits.”

That could have significant implications for future Social Security costs because, under current law, the fraudulent use of Social Security numbers to gain employment is not penalized. “One would think that the earnings under fake Social Security numbers would not be used to calculate Social Security benefits. But to the contrary, under current policies, those earnings can be reinstated — no questions asked”.

Social Security uses all earnings to determine entitlement even for jobs worked under fake Social Security numbers. If workers have kept evidence of earnings, like copies of their W2s, tax return earnings under invalid Social Security numbers would be reinstated to the new valid number.

“Congress is considering Social Security changes that would cut the benefits of U.S. citizens and authorized workers who paid into the system under valid Social Security numbers”. “Yet our current polices reward people for the use of fraudulent Social Security numbers, undermining the financial solvency of the program”.

“You could say legitimately that had we not received the contributions that we have had in the past from undocumented immigrants . . . that would of course diminish our ability to be paying benefits for as long as we now can,”. Undocumented immigrants have contributed $100 billion into Social Security over the last decade.

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More Bad News From Social Security

The Biggest Change to Social Security You’ve Never Heard About

 

2014-06-13-ssaofficeclosed.jpg

There’s been lots of debate and discussion lately about how to shore up Social Security for future generations. But already there are dramatic changes underway that threaten to end Social Security as we know it — yet almost no one has even heard of it.

The plan is called Vision 2025, and every working American has a stake in it.

To explain the significance of what’s going on, let me paint a picture. Say you’re the CEO of a major corporation doing $850 billion in business annually out of 1,200 locations across the country. More than 43 million clients walked through your doors in the past year, seeking one-on-one appointments with your experienced customer service representatives on matters affecting their financial security.

But there’s a storm brewing. You’ve lost 12 percent of your employees in just the past three years, and another third of the workforce is projected to retire in the next decade. Customer demand is breaking records, yet failure to fill vacancies means longer waits for appointments. Customers are waiting three times longer than last year for assistance on your 1-800 phone line, while the website that was set up to take pressure off your field offices can’t meet demand either.

So what do you do? If you’re the head of the Social Security Administration, you lay out a plan to close most of your 1,200 field offices, not replace the 30,000 employees about to walk out the door, and force your customers to conduct nearly all of their business using a phone line and website that already are overwhelmed.

This is the real-life scenario playing out at SSA right now, and the ramifications of decisions made today will affect every working man and woman in this country for generations.

This fall, SSA will unveil its long-range strategic plan for the next 10 years, the so-called Vision 2025 plan. A draft of the plan, being developed for SSA by the National Academy of Public Administration, is frightening:

  • The bulk of SSA’s field offices would be shut down, leaving the agency with a “significantly smaller and more virtual workforce.”
  • Many of the employees left behind would be “generalists” who lack the technical skills and expertise to address benefits questions.
  • Customers could reach an actual claims representative only in “very limited circumstances,” either through in-person visits, phone calls, online chats or video conferences. In the vast majority of cases, the only way to interact with SSA would be through “online self-service delivery.”

Self-service checkout may work at grocery stores, but it’s not the right model for an agency tasked with determining complex retirement and disability benefits for tens of millions of Americans each year. Do they really expect grandpa to hop on his iPad Mini to apply for benefits and get all his questions answered?

Most of the individuals contacting SSA for help are elderly, disabled or indigent. Many others are active seniors who simply are overwhelmed by the complicated maze of laws, regulations and policies pertaining to retirement benefits. They deserve and expect face-to-face interaction with skilled employees who can ensure they receive all the benefits they are owed.

Unfortunately, SSA seems determined to cannibalize itself. In addition to leaving thousands of positions vacant, management already has shuttered 80 field offices and dramatically reduced hours at remaining offices — even before its strategic plan is finalized.

As the representative for the bulk of SSA’s workforce, our union is working hard to save Social Security for current and future generations. This week, we plan to submit testimony at a congressional hearing on SSA’s plan to dismantle the program. AFGE will not let it die without a fight.

I urge you to join the discussion about a program that all of us will ultimately depend on. Your retirement security is at stake.

( By J. David Cox Sr., National President of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents more than 670,000 federal and D.C. government employees nationwide, including more than 28,000 SSA field office employees across the country

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