Difficulties the Social Security Administration will face in the next decade

Yesterday the Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report on Preliminary Observations on Key Management Challenges that Social Security will be facing over the next few years.  (The report uses the word “challenges” instead of problems but they are really problems.)  The report divides the problems into four main areas: (1) human capital, (2) disability program issues, (3) information technology, and (4) physical infrastructure.  I am going to summarize the report below.

Human Capital

Over the next decade, SSA will face a decline in a workforce due to retirement and a hiring freeze.  “Although not all employees will necessarily retire when eligible, nearly 7,000 headquarters employees and more than 24,000 field employees will be retirement eligible between 2011 and 2020. The agency projects that it could lose nearly 22,500 employees.”  Apparently most of the employees who are eligible to retire happen to be the most experienced.   Regional and district managers told the GAO they have already lost staff experienced in handling the most complex disability cases.  This is comforting news!  No wonder why it takes long to get paid.

Disability Program Issues

An entire report could be devoted to this topic alone.  The Social Security Administration has made progress in reducing the backlog of pending cases.  Unfortunately they have not been able to keep up.  SSA’s 707,700 initial claims pending in fiscal year 2012 were 27 percent higher than fiscal year 2008 levels. The number of disability beneficiaries is projected to grow about 15 percent between 2012 and 2025.  At the hearing level, SSA completed more hearing requests in fiscal year 2012 than in previous years,  but the agency fell short of its hearings completion target by more than 54,000 hearings, and at 321 days, the average wait time for hearings exceeded the agency’s target by 41 days.

Although I receive numerous inquiries about continuing disability reviews (“CDRs”), apparently they are not as numerous as I thought.  “SSA reported that in fiscal year 2010, the agency did not conduct 1.4 million CDRs that were due for review, in part because of competing workloads. In June 2012, the GAO also found that the number of childhood CDRs conducted fell from more than 150,000 in fiscal year 2000 to about 45,000 in fiscal year 2011 (a 70 percent decrease). During this time, the number of adult CDRs fell from 584,000 to 179,000.

Information Technology

Social Security has weaknesses in their computer system and in storing sensitive data.  Their own study determined that the weaknesses are internal.  Nevertheless, the GAO found it important to remind them that in 2012, a former SSA employee was found to have used her position to provide personally identifiable information to a person outside the agency, who is accused of using the information for criminal purposes.

Physical infrastructure

SSA is taking steps to centralize its facilities management, which may standardize facilities decisions, but the GAO’s preliminary results show that the agency lacks a proactive approach.  SSA has resisted consolidating offices contrary to other agencies such as the Census Bureau and USPS.  An official told the GAO that Social Security has “long considered face-to-face interaction to be the gold standard of customer service, and  that any changes away from that model would represent a major cultural shift for the agency.”

The GAO felt that the SSA was limited in these four problem areas because while SSA has ongoing planning efforts,  (1) its planning efforts are short-term and do not adequately address emerging issues, and (2) it lacks continuity in its strategic planning leadership.

It seems that the Social Security Administration has many “challenges” ahead.  This report was a preliminary report; the GAO expects to publish a final report in June.

Enjoy the national parks with an Access Pass

Now that we are well into summer I thought I would highlight an item that people with disabilities may obtain to enjoy the national parks for free.  This item is called an “Access Pass.”  This is a lifetime pass that is available to permanent residents or U.S. Citizens of the United States who have been medically determined to have a permanent disability.

A permanent disability (for the purpose of obtaining this pass) is a permanent physical, mental, or sensory impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, such as caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working.

Proving permanent disability for an Access Pass seems to be easier than proving it to obtain Social Security, understandably.  In order to prove disability, you may submit:

  • A statement by a licensed physician;
  • Document issued by Federal agency such as the Veteran’s Administration, Social Security Disability Income, or Supplemental Security Income;
  • Document issued by a State agency such as a vocational rehabilitation agency.

An Access Pass allows the holder and guests (those accompanying the holder in one vehicle, up to an additional three people), free entrance into the national park as well as discounts on expanded amenity fees such as swimming, boat launching, and guided tours.

There is a $10.00 fee to obtain the Access Pass but it is good for life.

Even with our government’s current budget problems, it is nice to know that people with disabilities are given the opportunity to enjoy our parks for free.  For more information about the Access Pass, go to the website for the National Parks and Federal Recreation Land Pass.

Can I receive Social Security benefits if I have been deported?

Recently one of my colleagues asked whether his client who had been deported (now called “removal”) could receive Social Security benefits.  I thought this was an intriguing question so I decided to research it.  The answer is generally, “no,” but it depends upon the year in which the removal took place and the section of law that it was under.  Our current law is contained in Section 202(n)(1) of the Social Security Act.  (You will need to scroll down on the page to see the applicable section.)  It basically states that once the Department of Homeland Security notifies the Social Security Administration that an individual has been removed, Social Security will terminate benefits.  Benefits will resume again if and when the individual returns to the United States as a lawful permanent resident.  For most people, this means that means at least a ten year wait abroad.  Of course there also has to be a legal way for the person to return.

Dependants or suvivors of workers fare better.  Even though the individual worker may have been removed, a dependent or a person entilted to survivors benefits may receive the benefits as long as they:  (1) are U.S. Citizens  or (2) presnet in the United States for the entire month(s) after the worker has been removed from the United States.   If you would like to see the actual text of the regulation,  it is contained at 20 C.F.R. Section 404.464.

Generally someone who has worked long enough in the United States to earn Social Security benefits would have been in the United States long enough to have been elgibile for citizenship.    It is a shame that he or she loses benefits (and is removed from the United States)  when both removal and the non-receipt of benefits  could have been potentially avoided had he or she simply applied for citizenship.