A recent rule entitled“Setting the Manner for the Appearance of Parties and Witnesses at a Hearing” preserves claimants’ ability to opt out of video hearings. SSA states in the prefatory matter to the final rule that although the agency believes video hearings are comparable to in-person ones and can help reduce wait times for hearings, “the commenters’ near-universal preference for our current policy, which allows a party to a hearing before an ALJ to opt out of appearing by VTC” led the agency to continue the current policy.

Starting on January 8, 2020, Social Security offices nationwide will be open to the public on Wednesday afternoons, Andrew Saul, Commissioner of Social Security, announced. This change restores Wednesday public service hours that were last in place in late 2012. “I don’t want someone to come to our office at 2:30 on a Wednesday only to find our doors closed,” Commissioner Saul said.

In another move to improve service to the public, Commissioner Saul announced in his Open Letter to the Public at http://www.ssa.gov/agency/coss- message.html that the agency is hiring 1,100 front line employees to provide service on the agency’s National 800 Number and in its processing centers. The agency is currently bringing onboard 100 new processing center employees and approximately 500 new teleservice representatives for the 800 Number. An additional 500 hires for the 800 Number will occur later in 2020.

“Improving service is my top priority. Increasing full public service hours at our nationwide network of more than 1,200 field offices is the right thing to do and will provide additional access,” Commissioner Saul said. “The hiring of a thousand new employees to provide service through our National 800 Number and an additional 100 hires to process people’s Social Security benefits at our processing centers around the country are steps in the right direction in our mission to greatly improve the service we provide.”

Currently, a field office is generally open to the public from 9:00 a.m. to Noon on Wednesdays. Beginning on January 8, 2020, offices will remain open until 4:00 p.m. on Wednesdays, with typical field office hours from 9:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.

While the agency continues to improve both the access to and the experience with its services, it is important to note that most Social Security services do not require the public to take time to visit an office. People may create a my Social Security account, a personalized online service, at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount.

Through their personal my Social Security account,

people can check personal information and conduct business with Social Security. If they already receive Social Security benefits, they can start or change direct deposit online, and if they need proofoftheirbenefits,theycanprintordownload a current Benefit Verification Letter from their account.

People not yet receiving benefits can use their online account to get a personalized Social Security Statement, which provides earnings history information as well as estimates of future benefits. Currently, residents in 40 states and the District of Columbia may request a replacement Social Security card online if they meet certain requirements. The portal also includes a retirement calculator and links to information about other online services, such as applications for retirement, disability, and Medicare benefits.

Many Social Security services are also conveniently available by dialing toll-free, 1-800-772-1213. People who are deaf or hard of hearing may call Social Security’s TTY number, 1-800-325-0778.

 

Here’s to 2020

January 1, 2020

While I am not one for resolutions, the beginning of the year makes me think about how to improve things at the office.  Tiffany and I will be taking a retreat day this month to work on our office procedures and figure out how to do a better job for all of our clients.

If you have any recommendations, feel free to comment here.

Merry Christmas to All!

December 25, 2019

Tiffany and I are taking some time off this week.  If you need us, call and leave a message and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to All!

Spousal Benefits Primer

December 18, 2019

The spousal benefit is available to couples who have been married at least one year. It allows one partner to claim a benefit as high as 50 percent of the benefit at full retirement age of his or her spouse — so long as that spouse has already claimed benefits. That requirement often trips up people hoping to generate some income while the higher-earning spouse puts off claiming benefits to earn delayed retirement credits.

“It’s one of the most misunderstood things that we see,” says Elaine Floyd, director of retirement and life planning for Horsesmouth, a firm that trains financial advisers.

If you claim a spousal benefit at your own full retirement age, the benefit will be equal to 50 percent of your spouse’s benefit. You can claim a spousal benefit as early as age 62, but your benefit will be reduced for early claiming.

If you are entitled to a spousal benefit when you file, in most cases you must file for both your own and your spousal benefit simultaneously. You’ll be paid your own benefit first; a spousal benefit amount will be added if your own benefit is less than half of your spouse’s total. Filing means that you will no longer accrue delayed retirement credits.

People born before Jan. 2, 1954, can still file for a “restricted claim” of only their spousal benefit. They were grandfathered into rules in place before passage of the Budget Act of 2015. This provision allows them to receive a spousal benefit while building delayed retirement credits on their own account, until age 70.

In most cases, widows or widowers can receive a survivor benefit when a spouse dies, providing they were married at least nine months at the time of death. The survivor benefit is equal to 100 percent of the deceased spouse’s benefit.

Many divorced people are surprised to learn that they can file for a spousal benefit on the record of an ex-spouse. To qualify, you must be single and have been previously married to your ex at least 10 years. You also cannot be receiving a benefit greater than your divorced spouse’s benefit. If the ex is 62 or older and the divorce occurred over two years earlier, the ex does not need to have filed for his or her benefit.

Eligibility for an ex’s benefit is lost if you remarry, and you can’t file for benefits on your new spouse’s earnings record until you’ve been married to that person at least one year.

If your ex-spouse is deceased, you may be able to claim a divorced-spouse survivor benefit. The rules are basically the same except that you can be remarried as long as you remarried after age 60.

Spousal benefits were made available to same-sex married couples after the landmark 2013 Supreme Court decision striking down key provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act.

SSA Scam Calls

December 11, 2019

The following is a press release from the Social Security Administration:

The Inspector General for the Social Security Administration, Gail S. Ennis, and Commissioner of Social Security Andrew Saul announced the launch of a dedicated online form at https://oig. ssa.gov to receive reports from the public of Social Security-related scams. These scams—in which fraudulent callers mislead victims into making cash or gift card payments to avoid arrest for purported Social Security number problems—skyrocketed over the past year to become the #1 type of fraud reported to the Federal Trade Commission and the Social Security Administration.

To combat these scams, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) will use the new online form to capture data that will be analyzed for trends and commonalities. The OIG will use the data to identify investigative leads, which could help identify criminal entities or individuals participating in or facilitating the scams. Ultimately, these efforts are expected to disrupt the scammers, helping reduce this type of fraud as well as the number of victims.

“We are taking action to raise awareness and prevent scammers from harming Americans,” said Commissioner Saul. “I am deeply troubled that our country has not been able to stop these crooks from deceiving some of the most vulnerable members of our society.”

Inspector General Ennis and Commissioner Saul encourage the public to use the new online form to report Social Security phone scams including robocalls and live callers, as well as email, text, and in-person scams. The form allows people to create a unique Personal Identification Number (PIN), so if the OIG contacts a person about their report, they will know the call is legitimate.

“Awareness is our best hope to thwart the scammers,” said Inspector General Ennis. “Tell your friends and family about them and report them to us when you receive them, but most importantly, just hang up and ignore the calls.”

Social Security employees do occasionally contact people—generally those who have ongoing business with the agency—by telephone for business purposes. However, Social Security employees

will never threaten a person with arrest or other legal action if they do not immediately pay a fine or debt. In those cases, the call is fraudulent and people should just hang up.

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Social Security will not:
• Tell you that your Social Security number has

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been suspended.
• Contact you to demand an immediate payment. • Require a specific means of debt repayment,

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like a prepaid debit card, a retail gift card, or

cash.
• Demand that you pay a Social Security debt

without the ability to appeal the amount you

owe.
• Promise a Social Security benefit approval,

or increase, in exchange for information or

money.
• If there is a problem with a person’s Social

Security number or record, in most cases Social Security will mail a letter. If a person needs to submit payments to Social Security, the agency will send a letter with instructions and payment options. People should never provide information or payment over the phone or online unless they are certain of who is receiving it.

The Social Security OIG will also continue to take reports of fraud, waste, and abuse in Social Security’s programs and operations. A separate online form for those reports remains available on the OIG website.

SSA recently published a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) related to when they will perform a Continuing Disability Review (CDR).  A CDR is when SSA reviews whether a person continues to be disabled.  The proposed rule, if enacted, will reduced the time between reviews and allow them to be performed more quickly.  This is not advantageous to individuals receiving SSD or SSI benefits.
This NPRM proposes to revise the criteria for the existing diary categories and associated time periods we use to schedule CDRs under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. We also propose to add a fourth category.
Overview of proposed changes for medical diary categories:
  1. Medical Improvement Expected (MIE)– Existing category. We propose using this category for nonpermanent impairments that meet a listing with a specified period of disability or allowances based on low birthweight. The timeframe for review would continue to be 6 to 18 months.
  2. Medical Improvement Likely (MIL)– New category. We propose using this category for nonpermanent impairments with higher than average CDR cessation rates, certain mental and musculoskeletal impairments, and most step 5 allowances. This timeframe for review would be 2 years.
  3. Medical Improvement Possible (MIP)– Existing category. We propose using this category for nonpermanent impairments that do not fit in the MIE or MIL diary categories. The timeframe for review would continue to be 3 years.
  4. Medical Improvement Not Expected (MINE)– Existing category. We propose limiting this category to permanent impairments identified solely on medical factors without consideration of vocational factors. The timeframe for review would be 6 years.
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