The Government Shutdown

January 16, 2019

From Newsweek:

 

As Congress and President Donald Trump teeter on the brink of a shutdown over border wall funding, millions of Americans worry about what a partial closure of the federal government could mean for the Social Security checks and the Medicare and Medicaid they rely on, especially during the holiday season.

The good news is that Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare payments won’t be interrupted by the partial shutdown. All three programs are considered mandatory spending and are not affected by a federal budget debate. New applicants to the programs, however, may experience delays in processing. The U.S. Postal Service will also remain funded, so checks should arrive in the mail on time.

The Social Security Administration issued a shutdown contingency plan this month, outlining how it would remain in operation as some federal workers get furloughed and other programs shut down.

“Funding for the programs under Titles II, XVI, and XVIII of the Social Security Act will continue, even in the event of a lapse in appropriations,” the plan said.

Some nonessential employees of the Social Security Administration will be furloughed, so expect longer lines than usual at local offices or longer hold times on the phone. Additionally, benefit verification and the issuing of new Social Security cards will temporarily halt.

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NOSSCR has learned that proposed regulations that will give Social Security control over the type of hearing that a claimant has and eliminate the ability of claimants to opt out of video hearings in Social Security claims will be published in the Federal Register on Thursday, November 15. The preview of the proposed rule will be available tomorrow at www.federalregister.gov. We have not yet seen the exact language of the proposed regulation, but we anticipate that there will be few, if any exceptions permitted if a video hearing is scheduled. Comments will be due January 14, 2019.

SSA’s summary of the proposed regulations, as submitted to OMB states:

We propose to revise and unify some of the rules that govern how, where, and when individuals appear for hearings before an administrative law judge at the hearings level and before a disability hearing officer at the reconsideration level of our administrative review process. At both levels, when we schedule a hearing, we propose that we will determine the manner in which the parties to the hearing will appear: by VTC, in person, or, under limited circumstances, by telephone. We would not permit individuals to opt out of appearing by VTC. We also propose that we would determine the manner in which witnesses to a hearing will appear.

NOSSCR will be submitting comments advocating that video hearings should be optional, and will rely on examples of poor video hearing conditions that you have provided to us earlier this year. Our comments will likely focus on policy issues, including the reasons that some claimants need to have in person hearings, and the problems with several of the hearing locations (lack of privacy, rooms that are too small, poor equipment etc.) We will share NOSSCR’s comments as soon as possible and encourage all NOSSCR members to submit comments opposing the mandatory use of video hearings.

NOSSCR has also learned that the Senate Finance Committee may vote on the confirmation of Andrew Saul to be Commissioner of Social Security as early as this Thursday, November 15. A hearing on his nomination was held on October 2, 2018. The full Senate would then vote on his confirmation in order for it to be final.

The Social Security Administration and its Office of the Inspector General (OIG) today announced three new Cooperative Disability Investigations (CDI) Units recently opened across the country. As part of the nationwide CDI Program, the new units will identify, investigate, and prevent Social Security disability fraud throughout their respective states. The new CDI units opened in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Honolulu, Hawaii; and Indianapolis, Indiana.

The CDI Program is one of Social Security’s most successful anti-fraud initiatives, contributing to the integrity of Federal disability programs. CDI brings together personnel from Social Security, its OIG, State Disability Determination Services (DDS), and local law enforcement agencies to analyze and investigate suspicious or questionable Social Security disability claims, to help resolve questions of potential fraud before benefits are ever paid. CDI Unit efforts help disability examiners make informed decisions, ensure payment accuracy, and generate significant taxpayer savings, for both Federal and State programs.

“Social Security is committed to combating fraud and preserving the public’s trust in our programs,” said Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security. “As we open the three new CDI units, let us remember the important work they do. The CDI program plays a critical role in detecting and preventing fraud, helping to ensure benefits are paid only to the people who are eligible. This collaboration between Social Security, the OIG, and local law enforcement helps save taxpayer money and ensures the integrity of our programs.”

The CDI Program consists of 43 units covering 37 states, the District of Columbia, and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Social Security and OIG have opened several offices in the last few years as they work together to provide CDI coverage for all 50 states by 2022, as mandated by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015.

“CDI has a long, successful track record of identifying and preventing disability fraud and abuse,” said Acting Inspector General Gale Stallworth Stone. “We’re pleased to partner with Social Security, the DDSs, and local law enforcement agencies across the country, to combat fraud and promote the integrity of Social Security’s disability programs.”

Since 1997, when Social Security and OIG established CDI, its efforts have contributed to $3.9 billion in projected savings to Social Security’s programs, and $2.9 billion in projected savings to other Federal and State programs. For more information, please visit the OIG website and Social Security’s anti-fraud website at www.socialsecurity.gov/antifraudfacts/.

As of November 2018:

The Jacksonville hearing office had over 10,000 cases waiting for a hearing.

The average processing time for a case is 677 days (over two years).

In Fiscal Year 2018 (ending in September 2018), the Jacksonville hearing office held 5,812 hearing; of those over 35% were video teleconference hearings.

 

Merry Christmas to All

December 19, 2018

This Christmas, I am hoping that all of my clients will take a few days to focus on their families and NOT think about their disabilities cases.  Part of my job is to worry about your cases so you can focus on other things.  Take the holidays to do that!

SSA has proposed regulations on specific criminalconvictions that would limit a person’s ability to serve as a representative payee. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which was publishedon October 11, 2018 at 83 Fed. Reg. 51400, is inresponse to the Strengthening Protections for SocialSecurity Beneficiaries Act of 2018, which becamelaw in April. Section 202 of that law requires SSA toconduct criminal background checks on most people applying to become payees, and repeat these checksevery five years.

The law also requires SSA to consider whetherpeople with certain felony convictions can serve as a payee. The proposed regulations list thepreclusive felony convictions as human trafficking,false imprisonment, kidnapping, rape and sexualassault, first-degree homicide, robbery, fraud toobtain access to government assistance, fraud by scheme, theft of government funds or property, abuse or neglect, forgery, identity theft, or attempt or conspiracy to commit any of these offenses.

Under the proposed rule, most people with such convictions will not be able to serve as payees. But if the person falls into one of the below categories, then SSA will not consider the conviction as an absolute bar and instead will weigh the conviction along with other factors to determine which person would best serve the beneficiary as a payee:

• The custodial parent of the minor child beneficiary the representative payee applicant seeks to serve;

• The custodial parent of the disabled beneficiary the representative payee applicant seeks to serve if the beneficiary’s disability began before the beneficiary attained age 22;

• The custodial spouse, custodial grandparent of a minor child, or custodial court-appointed legal guardian of the beneficiary the representative payee applicant seeks to serve;

• The parent who was previously the representative payee for his or her minor child who since turned age 18 and continued to be eligible for benefits;

• A representative payee applicant who received a Presidential or gubernatorial pardon for the conviction.

The Motley Fool has listed 25 jaw-dropping facts about Social Security which I will excerpt from time to time.

Coming in at #3:  0.6%

The Social Security program is probably more efficient than you might think. Out of its budget of roughly $1 trillion, only 0.6% is used for administrative expenses.

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