Carolyn Colvin Confirmed as Deputy Commissioner of Social Security
The United States Senate today confirmed Carolyn Colvin as Deputy Commissioner of Social Security to a term that expires on January 19, 2013. President Obama nominated Ms. Colvin in October 2009. She will serve as the principal deputy to the Commissioner of Social Security as well as the Secretary to the Social Security Board of Trustees.
"Carolyn brings a wealth of expertise that will be extremely valuable as we face the dual challenges of ever increasing workloads and reducing current backlogs in an environment of fiscal austerity," said Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security. "I look forward to working closely with Carolyn as we strive to meet these challenges."
Ms. Colvin has spent her career managing programs designed to assist people with their health care and financial needs. She previously worked at Social Security, holding key executive positions as Deputy Commissioner for Policy & External Affairs from 1994 to 1996, as Deputy Commissioner for Programs and Policy from 1996 until April 1998, and Deputy Commissioner for Operations from 1998 until February 2001. Ms. Colvin worked as the Director of the D.C. Department of Human Services, and the Director of the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services. She also held the CEO position at AMERIGROUP, DC from mid 2007 until July 2008 and, most recently, was Special Assistant to the Secretary in the Maryland Department of Transportation. She has received numerous awards and recognition for her managerial expertise and creativity, including Maryland's Top 100 Women of 2005 Award, from the Daily Record; and Women of Achievement Award, 2005, from Suburban Maryland Business and Professional Women.
The Social Security Administration, the largest independent Federal agency, administers the Social Security retirement, disability, and survivors insurance programs that paid $703 billion in benefits to more than 53 million beneficiaries this year, as well as the Supplemental Security Income program that provided $48 billion in assistance to almost 8 million people with limited income and resources. The agency has a national workforce of more than 65,000 employees with 1,500 installations throughout the U.S.
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.
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Social Security's Online Retirement Estimator Available in Spanish at www.segurosocial.gov
Legendary TV Host Don Francisco Says Using the Estimator is "So Easy!"
Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, announced that the agency's most popular online service - the Retirement Estimator - is now available in Spanish at www.segurosocial.gov/calculador. The Retirement Estimator uses a person's own Social Security earnings record to provide immediate and personalized benefit estimates. To publicize the website and the new Spanish-language service, Social Security has enlisted the help of the widely popular and well-respected host of Sabado Gigante, Don Francisco.
"The Spanish-language Retirement Estimator and the other information available on www.segurosocial.gov will help us provide a broader audience with important information they need to plan for a secure retirement," Commissioner Astrue said. "I thank Don Francisco for volunteering his services to help us get the word out to the Spanish-speaking community." You can see Don Francisco's Public Service Announcement by visiting www.segurosocial.gov/calculador.
"I ask my many friends to go to www.segurosocial.gov, not only for themselves but also to help their loved ones," said Don Francisco. "There is a lot of great information there. Estimating your benefits and learning about Social Security online in Spanish is so easy."
The Retirement Estimator is interactive and allows the user to compare different retirement options by changing retirement dates or expected future earnings. It protects the user's personal information by providing only retirement benefit estimates -- it does not show the earnings information used to calculate the benefit estimate, nor does it reveal other identifying information. Almost four million people have used Social Security's English-language Retirement Estimator this year.
"The Retirement Estimator is the first of our online services available in Spanish," said Commissioner Astrue. "But we are not stopping there. We are working to make our online retirement application and Medicare Extra Help application available in Spanish next year. Until then, visit www.segurosocial.gov to estimate your benefits and learn more about Social Security."
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Statements of Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, and John P. Melville, New York State Police Acting Superintendent, on the Theft of Personal Information in Upstate New York
Statement of Commissioner Astrue:
I learned earlier this week about the arrest of an individual alleged to have illegally downloaded personal information of about 15,000 people from computers belonging to private contractors working for the New York state agency that decides some initial disability claims for Social Security. This individual is in custody, and we continue to work with law enforcement to determine exactly what information was downloaded and the risk to the persons involved.
Thanks to the quick and skillful response of the New York State Police, it appears that illegal use of the downloaded information only occurred in a limited number of cases; however, the investigations are ongoing and we do not know the extent of the damage. As soon as we identify the individuals whose information was compromised, we will notify them, offer them free credit monitoring, and provide them with a special toll-free telephone number to call for assistance.
I asked Social Security's Inspector General to undertake an investigation and audit, and to work closely with the New York State Police. I appreciate the continued cooperation of the State of New York and will ask the appropriate authorities to prosecute every responsible individual.
Statement of New York State Police Acting Superintendent John P. Melville:
In addition to the insecurity brought directly upon victims, identity theft and computer crimes cost consumers, corporations and government millions of dollars every year. The New York State Police will employ all its expertise and financial and computer crimes resources to investigate and bring to justice anyone who engages in the fraudulent use of stolen personal information.
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Social Security Publishes New Rule Revising Withdrawal Policy
Rule Also Limits Voluntary Suspension to Prospective Months
The Social Security Administration today published final rules, effective immediately, that limit the time period for beneficiaries to withdraw an application for retirement benefits to within 12 months of the first month of entitlement and to one withdrawal per lifetime. In addition, beneficiaries entitled to retirement benefits may voluntarily suspend benefits only for the months beginning after the month in which the request is made.
The agency is changing its withdrawal policy because recent media articles have promoted the use of the current policy as a means for retired beneficiaries to acquire an "interest-free loan." However, this "free loan" costs the Social Security Trust Fund the use of money during the period the beneficiary is receiving benefits with the intent of later withdrawing the application and the interest earned on these funds. The processing of these withdrawal applications is also a poor use of the agency's limited administrative resources in a time of fiscal austerity -- resources that could be better used to serve the millions of Americans who need Social Security's services.
Although the new rules are effective immediately, the agency is providing for a 60-day public comment period. The agency will consider any relevant comments received and publish another final rule to respond to comments and to make any appropriate changes to the rule.
Social Security recommends that comments be submitted via the Internet. To view the new rule or to comment, visit the Federal eRulemaking portal at www.regulations.gov and use the Search function to find docket number SSA-2009-0073.
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Statement of Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, on Senate Passage of H.R. 5773 Designating the Operations Building as the "Robert M. Ball Federal Building"
I am extremely pleased that the United States Senate has joined the House in passing legislation to name the Operations Building at Social Security headquarters in Baltimore as the "Robert M. Ball Federal Building." Bob Ball was the longest-serving Commissioner of Social Security, and his dedication to the agency and its programs lasted until his death in 2008.
I want to thank Maryland's two Senators, Barbara Mikulski and Benjamin Cardin, for their leadership on this issue. I also thank the Chair of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, Senator Barbara Boxer, and Ranking Member, Senator James Inhofe, who cleared the bill for Senate passage. I look forward to the President's signing of the bill.
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Social Security Clarifies Explanation of Proposed Disability Rule for People with Mental Disorders
Public Comment Period to be Reopened for 15 Days
The Social Security Administration announced today that it will publish a notice clarifying part of the recently proposed "Revised Medical Criteria for Evaluating Mental Disorders."
In order to address some public misunderstanding, the notice will better explain how Social Security would consider the use of standardized testing when it determines disability for people who have a mental disorder.
The original public comment period ended on November 17th, but Social Security will reopen the comment period to provide an additional 15 days from the date of publication of the Federal Register notice to allow additional comment on our proposed policy regarding the use of standardized tests.
To read the entire set of proposals, the new notice about the proposed rule on testing, and all of the public comments, go to www.regulations.gov and use the search function to find Docket
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Social Security Unveils New Home Page at www.socialsecurity.gov New Look Makes Finding Popular Services Even Easier
Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, today unveiled the agency's newly redesigned home page at www.socialsecurity.gov that will help visitors more quickly and easily find the information and services they need. One of the key features of the redesigned home page is a service channeling guide, which appears in the left hand column of the page. The guide links users directly to the most popular pages on Social Security's web site -- the services visitors are most likely to want to use.
"We set out to make Social Security's new home page even easier for visitors to find the services and information they need," Commissioner Astrue said, "and our new look reflects the useful feedback we received from the public during testing. Almost everyone either needs the information on our site or can use it to help a relative or neighbor. See for yourself at www.socialsecurity.gov."
Other features of the new home page include a rotating "showcase" that provides high visibility for significant agency initiatives that benefit the American public. Redesigned subpages for the major Social Security benefit programs -- Retirement, Disability, Survivors, SSI, and Medicare -- are easily accessed by clicking on the row of horizontal blue buttons at the top of the home page. An additional button -- Business Services -- links to a portal with information and services Social Security offers to businesses. A news section keeps readers up-to-date on important Social Security announcements, and a large question mark on the right side of the page takes visitors to frequently asked questions. While the look of the website may have changed, the bookmarked links to users' favorite pages have not.
According to the American Customer Satisfaction Index, Social Security has the three highest rated online services in all of government - the Retirement Estimator, online benefit application, and the Help with Medicare Prescription Drug Plan Costs application. The customer satisfaction scores for these online services exceed the top-rated commercial site, Netflix.
To visit Social Security's redesigned home page go to www.socialsecurity.gov.
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Social Security Holds Compassionate Allowances Hearing on Cardiovascular Disease and Multiple Organ Transplants
Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, today hosted at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, the agency's sixth public hearing on Compassionate Allowances. Commissioner Astrue joined Susan B. Shurin, Acting Director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health, and other Social Security officials in listening to testimony from some of the leading experts on cardiovascular disease and multiple organ transplants regarding possible methods of identifying and implementing Compassionate Allowances for both adults and children.
"Compassionate Allowances and the Quick Disability Determination process are making a real difference for disabled Americans by ensuring those with devastating disabilities receive their benefit decisions quickly and accurately," Commissioner Astrue said. "This fiscal year, about 150,000 people will benefit from these fast-track disability processes. With this hearing, we continue to look at broader categories of conditions to determine if a subset or certain diagnosis might clearly meet our disability standards and qualify as a Compassionate Allowance."
Social Security implemented Compassionate Allowances in October 2008 to expedite the processing of disability claims for applicants with medical conditions so severe that their conditions by definition meet Social Security's standards. There currently are 88 specific diseases and conditions that qualify as a Compassionate Allowance. To learn more and to view a web cast of today's hearing, go to www.socialsecurity.gov/compassionateallowances.
"Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in America," said Commissioner Astrue. "More than 95,000 people are currently waiting for an organ transplant and nearly 4,000 are added to the waiting list each month. Today's hearing will help us move one step closer to ensuring quick and accurate disability decisions for those with the most severe conditions."
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Social Security Breaks Ground on Jackson Teleservice Center
New Call Center Will Help Agency Handle Growing Demand for Services
Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, today joined Congressman John Tanner and local officials at a groundbreaking ceremony for the agency's new teleservice center (TSC) in Jackson, Tennessee. The Jackson TSC will be the first new call center opened by Social Security in more than a decade. When completed, it will create almost 200 new jobs for residents in the Jackson area.
"Our teleservice centers handle more than 60 million calls each year and we are facing an ever increasing demand for our services as more and more baby boomers reach retirement age," Commissioner Astrue said. "The new Jackson call center will help us further improve service to the millions of Americans who call our toll-free number. The new permanent federal jobs we are bringing to Jackson and the State of Tennessee are an added benefit for the area."
The Jackson TSC will provide additional capacity the agency needs in the Eastern and Central time zones, where more than two-thirds of the calls to Social Security's toll-free number originate. Social Security currently has 33 TSCs operating in locations all across the country. All centers take calls from throughout the U.S. and provide service via Social Security's national toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778). Live service is available from 7:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. Automated service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Social Security is working closely with the General Services Administration to facilitate the process for building the new TSC. The Jackson call center will be located at 257 BancorpSouth Parkway and is expected to open by late 2011.
For more information about our toll-free 800 number services, go to www.socialsecurity.gov/pgm/services.htm.
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Under the Law No Social Security COLA for 2011
Monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for more than 58 million Americans will not automatically increase in 2011, the Social Security Administration announced today.
The Social Security Act provides for an automatic increase in Social Security and SSI benefits if there is an increase in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W) from the third quarter of the last year a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) was determined to the third quarter of the current year. As determined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there is no increase in the CPI-W from the third quarter of 2008, the last year a COLA was determined, to the third quarter of 2010, therefore, under existing law, there can be no COLA in 2011.
Other changes that would normally take effect based on changes in the national average wage index also will not take effect in January 2011. Since there is no COLA, the statute also prohibits a change in the maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax as well as the retirement earnings test exempt amounts. These amounts will remain unchanged in 2011. The attached fact sheet provides more information on 2011 Social Security and SSI changes.
Information about Medicare changes for 2011, when available, will be found at www.Medicare.gov. The Department of Health and Human Services has not yet announced if there will be any Medicare premium changes for 2011. Should there be an increase in the Medicare Part B premium, the law contains a "hold harmless" provision that protects more than 70 percent of Social Security beneficiaries from paying a higher Part B premium, in order to avoid reducing their net Social Security benefit. Those not protected include higher income beneficiaries subject to an income-adjusted Part B premium and beneficiaries newly entitled to Part B in 2011. In addition, almost 20 percent of beneficiaries have their Medicare Part B premiums paid by state medical assistance programs and thus will see no change in their Social Security benefit. The state will be required to pay any Medicare Part B premium increase.
For additional information about the 2011 COLA, go to www.socialsecurity.gov/cola.
For additional information about changes in the national average wage index, go to www.socialsecurity.gov/OACT/COLA/AWI.html.
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News Release Social Security Fast-Track Disability Processes Get Even Faster New Rules Will Further Speed Benefits to Tens of Thousands of Americans with Disabilities
Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, today announced that the agency has published final rules that will further reduce the time it takes to decide applications for disability benefits from those persons with the most severe disabilities—a process that currently takes less than two weeks on average. The new rules allow disability examiners to make fully favorable determinations for adult cases under the agency's Quick Disability Determination (QDD) and Compassionate Allowance (CAL) processes without medical or psychological consultant approval. It also will help the agency process cases more efficiently as it will give medical and psychological consultants more time to work on complex cases where their expertise is most needed.
"The new rules we are publishing today will help us get disability benefits to the most severely disabled Americans even faster," Commissioner Astrue said. "This year, more than 100,000 people benefited from our fast-track disability processes and received decisions in a matter of days rather than the months and years it can sometimes take. I am pleased that our fast-track processes will now be even faster and help speed much needed benefits to our most vulnerable citizens."
Under Social Security's QDD process, a predictive computer model analyzes specific data within the electronic disability file to identify cases where there is a high likelihood that the claimant is disabled and we can quickly obtain medical evidence. The CAL process currently identifies 88 specific diseases and conditions that clearly qualify for Social Security and Supplemental Security Income disability benefits and can be fast-tracked.
The final rules, 20 CFR Parts 404 and 416, can be accessed through the Federal Register online at www.regulations.gov. They will be effective on November 12, 2010.
Additional information about Social Security's Compassionate Allowances process is available at www.socialsecurity.gov/compassionateallowances.
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Statement of Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, on H.R. 5773 Designating the Operations Building as the "Robert M. Ball Federal Building"
Legislation to name the Operations Building at Social Security headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland as the "Robert M. Ball Federal Building" cleared a significant hurdle with passage in the House of H.R. 5773 by unanimous consent. It is fitting to name this building after Bob Ball who served as Commissioner of Social Security under three Presidents and who continued to write and speak about Social Security until his death in 2008.
I want to thank the sponsor of this legislation, Congressman Elijah Cummings, the co-sponsors including the Maryland congressional delegation, Acting House Ways and Means Chairman Sander Levin, and Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Earl Pomeroy. This legislation now heads to the Senate where I hope it quickly passes.
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Social Security Among the Best Places to Work in the Federal Government
Social Security employees rate their agency as one of the Best Places to Work in the Federal Government according to The Partnership for Public Service and American University's Institute for the Study of Public Policy Implementation. Among the large federal agencies in the top ten Best Places to Work, Social Security also had the greatest improvement in overall employee satisfaction.
"I am always impressed by the outstanding work of our employees and by their commitment to public service," said Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security. "Our workloads have grown tremendously due to the recession and we are under more pressure than ever to keep up with the increased demand for our services. Despite these pressures, every day our employees bring the energy and teamwork necessary to provide the public with the highest standard of considerate service."
The Best Places to Work in the Federal Government® rankings draw on responses from more than 263,000 federal employees to produce detailed rankings of employee satisfaction across 290 federal agencies and subcomponents. Data from the Office of Personnel Management's Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey is used to rank agencies according to a Best Places to Work index score, which measures overall employee satisfaction. In addition to the employee satisfaction rating, agencies are scored in workplace categories such as effective leadership, employee skills/mission match, pay and work/life balance. Social Security employees gave the agency higher ratings in all of these categories when compared to the prior survey.
"Our employees make a positive difference in the lives of millions of Americans," Commissioner Astrue said. "I encourage anyone looking for a career in public service to look closely at Social Security. You can make a difference in people's lives and your own." To learn more about careers with Social Security, go to www.socialsecurity.gov/careers. For more information about the Best Places to Work in the Federal Government® rankings, go to www.bestplacestowork.org.
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Social Security Checks Arriving Early Along Atlantic Coast Money Will Get to Atlantic Coast Residents Ahead of Hurricane Earl
Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, today announced that benefit checks are being delivered to some Atlantic coast residents on Thursday, September 2nd, before the arrival of Hurricane Earl and ahead of the regular September 3rd payment date. About 737,000 beneficiaries in South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Washington, D.C. are affected by this early check delivery.
"Delivering checks early to these residents eliminates one concern beneficiaries might have as they prepare for the storm," Commissioner Astrue said. "As beneficiaries take steps to ensure their own safety, this is one step we can take to help them. They should also be aware that Direct Deposit is a more secure and convenient way to receive payments, particularly when natural disasters strike."
Social Security worked closely with the U.S. Postal Service and the Department of the Treasury to make the early delivery of checks possible. Beneficiaries living in areas with the following first three digits in their zip codes will receive early delivery.
3-Digit ZIP Code
270 - thru - 289
Greensboro, Raleigh, Rocky Mount, Charlotte, Fayetteville, Kingston, Hickory, and Asheville
290 - thru - 296
Columbia, Greenville, Charleston, and Florence
206 - thru - 212, 214 - thru - 219, and 267
Linthicum, Baltimore, Cumberland, Eastern Shore, and Frederick
200, 202 - thru - 205
220 - thru - 225, 228 - thru - 239, and 244
Richmond, Culpeper, Norfolk, and Farmville
189 - thru - 194
Philadelphia and Southeastern PA
197 - thru - 199
070 - thru - 074, 076 - thru - 078 and 080 - thru - 088
DV Daniels, NNJ Metro, South Jersey, Newark, Trenton, Monmouth and Kilmer
100 - thru - 104, 110 - thru - 114, and 116,
115, 117, and 119
Manhattan, Staten Island, Queens, Brooklyn, Bronx, and
021 - thru - 026
Brockton, Boston, Northwest Boston, and Cape Cod
027 - thru - 029
The Department of the Treasury, through the Federal Reserve, has requested that financial institutions in the affected areas honor the paper checks.
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Social Security Board of Trustees: Long-Range Financing Outlook Remains Unchanged
The Social Security Board of Trustees today released its annual report on the financial health of the Social Security Trust Funds and the long-range outlook remains unchanged. The combined assets of the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) Trust Funds will be exhausted in 2037, the same as projected last year. The Trustees also project that program costs will exceed tax revenues in 2010 and 2011, be less than tax revenues in 2012 through 2014, and then permanently exceed tax revenues beginning 2015, one year earlier than estimated in last year's report. The worsening of the short-range outlook for the Social Security Trust Funds is due in large part to the recent economic downturn.
In the 2010 Annual Report to Congress, the Trustees announced:
- The projected point at which the combined Trust Funds will be exhausted comes in 2037 - the same as the estimate in last year's report. At that time, there will be sufficient tax revenue coming in to pay about 78 percent of benefits.
- The projected point at which tax revenues will fall below program costs comes in 2010. Tax revenues will again exceed program costs in 2012 through 2014 before permanently falling below program costs in 2015 -- one year sooner than the estimate in last year's report.
- The projected actuarial deficit over the 75-year long-range period is 1.92 percent of taxable payroll -- 0.08 percentage point smaller than in last year's report.
- Over the 75-year period, the Trust Funds would require additional revenue equivalent to $5.4 trillion in present value dollars to pay all scheduled benefits.
"The impact of the current economic downturn continues to be felt by the Social Security Trust Funds," said Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security. "The fact that the costs for the program will likely exceed tax revenue this year is not a cause for panic but it does send a strong message that it's time for us to make the tough choices that we know we need to make. I applaud President Obama for his creation of the Deficit Commission so we can start the national discussion needed to ensure that Social Security remains a foundation of economic security for our children and grandchildren."
Other highlights of the Trustees Report include:
- Income including interest to the combined OASDI Trust Funds amounted to $807 billion ($667 billion in net contributions, $22 billion from taxation of benefits and $118 billion in interest) in 2009.
- Total expenditures from the combined OASDI Trust Funds amounted to $686 billion in 2009.
- The assets of the combined OASDI Trust Funds increased by about $122 billion in 2009 to a total of $2.5 trillion.
- During 2009, an estimated 156 million people had earnings covered by Social Security and paid payroll taxes.
- Social Security paid benefits of $675 billion in calendar year 2009. There were about 53 million beneficiaries at the end of the calendar year.
- The cost of $6.2 billion to administer the program in 2009 was a very low 0.9 percent of total expenditures.
- The combined Trust Fund assets earned interest at an effective annual rate of 4.9 percent in 2009.
The Board of Trustees is comprised of six members. Four serve by virtue of their positions with the federal government: Timothy F. Geithner, Secretary of the Treasury and Managing Trustee; Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security; Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services; and Hilda L. Solis, Secretary of Labor. The two public trustee positions are currently vacant. President Obama nominated two individuals to serve as public trustees, and the Senate Finance Committee held hearings on July 29 for both trustee nominees. Their confirmations are pending.
The 2010 Trustees Report will be posted at www.socialsecurity.gov/OACT/TR/2010/ by Thursday afternoon.
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Social Security Opens New National Hearing Center in St. Louis Brings 200 Jobs to St. Louis
Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, today opened in St. Louis, Missouri the agency's fifth National Hearing Center (NHC). The St. Louis NHC is the largest in the nation and is co-located with two other new Social Security facilities -- the National Case Assistance Center (NCAC) and the Midwest Training Center. Together these three facilities will bring over 200 new federal jobs to St. Louis. The project, funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, was completed in just ten months and is the fastest the General Services Administration has ever delivered a project of this size, quality, and type.
"The St. Louis NHC will help us reduce the backlog of disability cases in those areas of the country where citizens with disabilities are currently waiting far too long for a hearing decision," Commissioner Astrue said. "For the City of St. Louis and the State of Missouri, these facilities will bring new permanent federal jobs."
The St. Louis NHC will be staffed by 100 people -- 18 Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) and 82 support staff. The NHC uses state-of-the-art electronic video technology to hold disability hearings remotely throughout the country to reduce backlogs. St. Louis initially will hear disability cases for Cleveland, Ohio and Minneapolis, Minnesota - cities with two of the most backlogged hearing offices in the nation. Social Security has additional NHCs in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Baltimore, Maryland, Falls Church, Virginia, and Chicago, Illinois.
The NCAC and Midwest Training Center will employ 102 people. The NCAC will provide decision-writing assistance to backlogged hearing offices throughout the U.S. The Midwest Training Center will enable the agency to train Midwest and western employees closer to home - saving taxpayers money by reducing the travel costs associated with employee training.
"The new Social Security facilities in St. Louis are prime examples of Recovery Act dollars at work," said Commissioner Astrue. "I applaud the General Services Administration and the Social Security staff who worked tirelessly to open these new facilities in record time. The result will be better service for disabled Americans and increased job opportunities for residents of the St. Louis area."
Social Security's administrative appeals operation, under the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, is the largest administrative judicial system in the world. ALJs conduct hearings and will issue approximately three-quarters of a million decisions this year. For additional information about Social Security's hearings and appeals process, go to www.socialsecurity.gov/appeals.
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Share Your Personal Stories and Reflections to Help Social Security Celebrate 75 Years of Public Service
Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, today announced that Social Security is asking members of the public, as well as current and former employees, to help the agency celebrate its 75 years of public service by sharing their personal stories and reflections about how Social Security has touched their lives. To share your story, go to www.socialsecurity.gov and click on the box that says "Social Security Celebrates 75 Years of Public Service." Selected stories will be edited for content and brevity and posted for everyone to read.
"On August 14, the most important and successful domestic program in our nation's history turns 75," Commissioner Astrue said. "For three quarters of a century, Social Security has provided a financial lifeline to millions of Americans. As we approach our anniversary, Social Security remains a solid foundation for retirees, the disabled, and survivors. I encourage everyone to visit our website, share their stories, and join me in wishing Social Security a happy 75th anniversary."
Social Security is asking people to tell how the program made a difference in their lives and the lives of their family and friends. For example:
- How did it feel to receive your first retirement check?
- Tell us if you received survivors benefits when a loved one died.
- How has the Social Security disability program helped you?
- How did a Social Security Administration employee go above and beyond to provide you with great service?
- Current and former Social Security Administration employees: Share your memorable stories of service.
Social Security also will soon launch a video contest "How Social Security Has Made a Difference in My Life." Submitted videos will be posted on the agency's YouTube channel and the winning video will be posted on www.socialsecurity.gov. Details of the contest will be posted on the website later this week.
Social Security invites the public to view a special photo gallery that takes them on a brief journey through the agency's 75-year history. The photo gallery is available at www.socialsecurity.gov/75thanniversary. A more extensive collection of history-related materials that presents both the institutional history of the Social Security Administration and the history of the Social Security program is available at www.socialsecurity.gov/history.
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Social Security Proposes Legislation to End Furloughs of Federally Paid State Disability Workers
Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, today announced that the agency is submitting legislation to Congress that would prohibit states, without the Commissioner's prior authorization, from reducing the number of state personnel who make disability determinations for Social Security or the hours they work below the amount the agency authorizes.
"It is long past time that states end these unconscionable furloughs and hiring freezes that needlessly harm citizens with disabilities," Commissioner Astrue said. "States realize no fiscal savings whatsoever from these actions and this legislation would prevent needless delays in the disability determination process. I am grateful for the President's support and urge Congress to move quickly to help us make this provision the law of the land."
More than a dozen states have implemented furloughs and hiring freezes that affect the federally paid state workers who make disability determinations for Social Security. The state agencies that employ these workers in their disability determination service (DDS) components receive 100 percent of their funding from the Federal government. Accordingly, states do not save any money by imposing furloughs and hiring freezes on federally funded employees. Rather, they slow benefits to some of the most vulnerable citizens - for example, furloughs in California in fiscal year 2010 delayed payment of over $11 million in benefits to more than 40,000 citizens with disabilities. State-imposed furloughs and hiring freezes also reduce state income tax revenue and increase unemployment in the state.
"The members of Local 1000 have always believed that furloughing federally funded positions doesn't make economic sense and that has been proven in California during these past 18 months that Governor Schwarzenegger has imposed furloughs on state employees," Yvonne Walker, President of Service Employees International Union Local 1000 said. "I applaud Social Security for initiating legislation that would prevent further bad economic policy from going forward. This provision will not only help DDS workers, but the claimants who rely on the services our members provide."
"We commend the Commissioner for his forceful and dedicated leadership in taking this bold action," said Susan X. Smith, President of the National Association of Disability Examiners (NADE). "Our members are witness to the impact the current economic recession has had for disabled citizens and we are working hard to meet the dramatic increase in claims for benefits. These furloughs further compound the problems faced by disabled citizens by creating unnecessary delays in the processing of their claims. NADE urges quick action with regards to this legislative proposal."
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Isabella Reigns as New Queen of Baby Names - Takes Top Spot on Social Security's Most Popular Baby Names List
Jacob Still Rules the Boys; Elvis "All Shook Up"
There's a new queen of baby names. Isabella took the crown from last year's winner, Emma, to claim the top girl baby name of 2009. Jacob continued his remarkable run by holding onto the top boy name for the 11th year in a row over a new number two for boys, Ethan. New to the top 10 this year for boys are Jayden and Noah, and for girls, Mia.
To see all the top baby names for 2009, go to Social Security's website www.socialsecurity.gov. Here are the top 10 boys and girls names for 2009:
|Boys: ||1) Jacob ||Girls: ||1) Isabella|
| ||2) Ethan || ||2) Emma|
| ||3) Michael || ||3) Olivia|
| ||4) Alexander || ||4) Sophia|
| ||5) William || ||5) Ava|
| ||6) Joshua || ||6) Emily|
| ||7) Daniel || ||7) Madison|
| ||8) Jayden || ||8) Abigail|
| ||9) Noah || ||9) Chloe|
| ||10)Anthony || ||10)Mia|
Baby Jacob and Baby Isabella issued a joint statement thanking Americans for "their support and good taste." They also urged fans to "check out www.socialsecurity.gov to learn about a new 'twist' in the law that may help an older relative or neighbor get an average of almost $4,000 of extra help with Medicare prescription drug costs."
A favorite feature of Social Security's baby names website is the "Change in Name Popularity" page. This year's winner for the biggest jump is Maliyah, which undoubtedly is related to the popularity of the First Family. Malia (the spelling used by the First Daughter), also is one of the top 10 fastest risers among girls names. Isla, the name of popular actress Isla Fisher (and wife of Sacha Baron Cohen -- aka Borat, which thankfully has yet to make the list) was the second fastest riser among girls. On the boy's side, Cullen had the biggest increase, likely attributable to the popular character Edward Cullen in the "Twilight" novels and movies. King came in as the number three top mover for boys, but more on Elvis later.
The girl's name Marely, which interestingly had the third largest increase last year, had the biggest drop this year from number 334 to 851. Mylee had the second biggest drop; Miley (as in Cyrus) also dropped in popularity. In the wake of controversies surrounding Lindsay Lohan, Lindsay dropped from number 381 to 524. Brett, Jonas and Alvin are among the boy's names with the largest decreases. With Brett, Social Security wonders if Americans are ready to retire the name (sorry Vikings' fans, we mean Jets' fans, um Packers' fans). And despite the soaring popularity of singing trios -- whether human brothers or the chipmunk variety -- fewer people apparently are willing to name their sons Jonas or Alvin.
With 69 baby Baracks born in 2009, Barack continues to move up the list to number 1,993 from 2,424 in 2008, and 12,535 in 2007, but still lags well behind First Dog Bo at 782.
Many patterns of recent years continued. Religious names continue to be very popular, including the girl names Heaven at number 275 and Nevaeh (Heaven spelled backwards) at 34. Messiah was number 663 for boys. An extraordinary 3.7 percent of the Top 1000 boy names rhymed with the word "maiden" and names associated with cities, states, or countries were popular, particularly for girls.
And for all of you Elvis fans out there, here's the annual update from Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue: Elvis slipped from number 713 in 2008 to 858 in 2009. Unconfirmed reports indicate he was "all shook up" by his 2009 rank, but pleased that Presley is number 268 for girls, and that King and Memphis landed at 462 and 605 for boys.
As the federal government's leading expert on baby names, Commissioner Astrue commented, "I have no idea what any of this means, but nonetheless urge you to go to our website www.socialsecurity.gov to have a little fun with baby names and to see if you can help an older relative or friend qualify for $4,000 of extra help with Medicare prescription drug costs."
The Social Security website offers lists of baby names for each year since 1880. Social Security started compiling baby name lists in 1997.
Be sure to check out www.socialsecurity.gov on May 14 to see the most popular baby names for each state, as well as an exclusive video of Chubby Checker counting down the most popular names of the past decade.
# # #
Note: Copies of most SSA press releases, as well as other Social Security information and statistics,
are available at SSA's Internet site, Social Security Online, at http://www.socialsecurity.gov.
SSA Press Office 440 Altmeyer Building 6401 Security Blvd. Baltimore, MD 21235
410-965-8904 FAX 410-966-9973
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# # #
Social Security's Online Services Take Top Three Spots in Customer Satisfaction Survey
Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, today announced that the agency's online services continue to be the best in government and exceed the top private sector sites in customer satisfaction. In the latest results from the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), Social Security's online Retirement Estimator and benefit application remain in the top spots, each with a score of 90, and the Help with Medicare Prescription Drug Plan Costs application placed third with a score of 87.
"Online services are vital to good public service and I am pleased that Social Security continues to provide the best in both government and the private sector," Commissioner Astrue said. "The Internet provides the public with the ability to conduct business at their convenience and at their own pace, without the need to take leave from work, travel to a field office, and wait to meet with an agency representative. It also reduces the time spent by our employees processing claims and frees them up to spend more time handling complex cases."
Social Security's three top-rated online services also meet or exceed the private sector's highest score, Netflix, with a score of 87. The ACSI notes that this shows "that government sites can satisfy visitors just as well as, or even better than, private-sector sites."
The ACSI is the only uniform, national, cross-industry measure of satisfaction with the quality of goods and services available in the U.S. According to ACSI, "Any website, whether in the private or public sector, that scores an average of 80 or higher can be considered superior in meeting site visitors' needs and expectations." Social Security's Business Services Online, with a score of 82, also meets this superior threshold.
To view all of Social Security's online services, go to www.socialsecurity.gov/onlineservices.
# # #
Social Security Releases Open Government Plan
Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, today announced that the agency has released its Open Government plan. The plan, available at www.socialsecurity.gov/open, reflects the agency's commitment to increase transparency, expand opportunities for citizen participation and collaboration, and make open government sustainable at Social Security. Three flagship initiatives are highlighted in the plan -- the Spanish-Language Retirement Estimator, Online Service Enhancement, and an Online Life-Expectancy Calculator. These initiatives support the agency's mission, goals, and objectives, as well as showcase the value of open government principles.
"I applaud President Obama's commitment to opening the federal government to the people it serves and I am especially proud of the three flagship initiatives we have chosen to implement by the end of this year," said Commissioner Astrue. "These initiatives signify Social Security's ongoing commitment to transparency, citizen participation, and collaboration as we improve the services we provide to the public."
Social Security's Spanish-language Retirement Estimator will be the agency's and the federal government's first-ever non-English interactive Internet application -- a tool that furthers transparency by offering the Spanish-speaking public an opportunity to get instant, personalized estimates of future retirement benefits. Last year, over three million people used the English-language version of this popular online service available at www.socialsecurity.gov/estimator.
As part of its Online Service Enhancement initiative, Social Security will unveil a new service-channeling tool that will help people more easily find the information and services they seek on the agency's website www.socialsecurity.gov. A key feature will be the opportunity to go online to schedule an in-office appointment for those who are unable to use our online services to conduct all of their business. This idea was submitted by Christie Dickson, an employee of Social Security, and was one of the finalists for the President's SAVE award. In developing this tool, the agency will collaborate with members of the public as well as with industry experts.
The agency also is developing an Online Life-Expectancy Calculator -- a simple, but important tool to assist the public with retirement planning. Many people substantially underestimate life expectancy, and this new online service will add a measure of accuracy to retirement planning by providing average life expectancies at different ages based on the person's gender and date of birth, and drawing on assumptions provided in the annual Social Security Trustees' report.
"I look forward to continuing to translate the values of open government into lasting improvements in the way the agency makes decisions, solves problems, and addresses its challenges," said Commissioner Astrue. "Social Security's flagship initiatives will improve our services and further break down barriers between the American people and their government."
Social Security encourages feedback on its Open Government plan. To view the plan and share your comments and ideas, please visit www.socialsecurity.gov/open.
# # #
The Cast of The Patty Duke Show Reunites to Tell Americans About New Online Medicare Application
Cast Reprises Original Roles in New TV Spots
Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, today joined award-winning actress Patty Duke and the cast of her hit 1960s sitcom, The Patty Duke Show, to unveil Social Security's newest online service - an application for Medicare benefits. This new online application, which takes less than 10 minutes to complete, is for people reaching the Medicare eligibility age of 65 who want to delay filing for Social Security retirement benefits. Currently about a half million Americans enroll in Medicare each year without applying for monthly benefits.
"Social Security's online services are the best in all of government and exceed the top private sector companies in customer satisfaction," Commissioner Astrue said. "The new Medicare application is a welcome addition to our suite of online services and will make it easier than ever to sign up for Medicare. I am thrilled that Patty Duke has once again volunteered to help us get the word out. The fact that this time her TV family has joined her makes this even more special and I thank William Schallert, Eddie Applegate, and Paul O'Keefe for their service to America. I also want to thank Dr. David Kessler, former FDA Commissioner, who appeared with Patty as a befuddled family physician in some of our spots."
To apply online for Medicare, go to www.socialsecurity.gov and choose Retirement/Medicare under the header, "Select Below To Apply For." You will be asked a brief series of questions. If you have a question or need additional information, there are convenient "more info" links. When you're done, just select the "Sign Now" button to submit the application. There are no paper forms to sign, and usually no additional documents are required. If more information is needed, Social Security will contact you by phone or letter.
For a variety of reasons, more and more Americans are choosing to delay receiving Social Security retirement benefits past the Medicare eligibility age of 65. Although the age to collect full retirement benefits used to be age 65, it is now age 66 for individuals just becoming eligible for retirement benefits and will eventually become age 67. Benefits can be increased by up to 32 percent if someone delays receiving them until age 70. To learn more, see our When To Start Receiving Retirement Benefits fact sheet at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10147.html.
"We are continuing to look for ways to improve our existing online services and to add new services that make it easy for people to do business with Social Security," said Commissioner Astrue. "Later this year, we will make our online Retirement Estimator at www.socialsecurity.gov/estimator available in Spanish, a first for the federal government. Providing the public with the best online services in the government and private sectors is one of our top priorities."
To see all of Social Security's online services, go to www.socialsecurity.gov/onlineservices.
To view the new public service announcements featuring the cast of The Patty Duke Show, go to www.socialsecurity.gov/medicareonly.
# # #
Social Security Helps States with Mounting Disability Claims
Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, today announced that the agency's first Extended Service Team (EST) is open for business in Little Rock, Arkansas. The Little Rock EST will make disability decisions for state Disability Determinations Services (DDSs) that are most adversely affected by the flood of new initial disability claims resulting from the economic downturn and from counterproductive furloughs of employees at the state level. Later this year, Social Security will open additional ESTs in Madison, Mississippi; Roanoke, Virginia; and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The ESTs are in states that have a history of high quality and productivity, as well as the capacity to hire and train significant numbers of additional employees.
"The strategy behind ESTs builds on our success with National Hearing Centers, where cases are handled electronically from all over the country," Commissioner Astrue said. "These centralized units have reduced the hearings backlog and improved processing times at some of the hardest-hit hearing offices. This approach clearly works and extending it in this way can help us meet the challenge of unprecedented growth in our disability workloads."
Social Security expects to receive more than 3.3 million applications for disability benefits this fiscal year (FY), about 700,000 more than in FY 2008. In addition, more than a dozen states are furloughing federally-funded state workers who make disability decisions for Social Security. The combination of increased workloads and state furloughs has resulted in a growing backlog of initial disability applications in state DDSs.
"More Americans than ever are turning to us for help," said Commissioner Astrue. "I am grateful that Governor Beebe bucked the trend and recognized the value of more of our federally-funded jobs in his state. The opening of the Arkansas EST and our other planned expansions in Mississippi, Virginia, and Oklahoma will significantly benefit disabled workers and their families as well as create new job opportunities to these states during difficult economic times."
For more information about Social Security's strategy to address the unprecedented increase in disability benefit applications, go to www.socialsecurity.gov/legislation/testimony_111909.htm.
# # #
Social Security to Provide Helpful Health Care Information to Over 3 Million Disability Applicants Each Year
Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, today announced the agency is providing helpful health care information and website links to the more than three million individuals who apply each year for Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits. The website links take disability applicants to two U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) websites - www.healthfinder.gov where they will find information and tools to help them better understand and cope with their conditions; and www.healthfinder.gov/rxdrug where they may be able to get help paying for prescription drugs.
"This year over three million Americans will apply for disability benefits. Whether they meet the statutory test and qualify for benefits or not, almost all of them are facing difficult economic and medical challenges. One of the advantages of our fully electronic system is that our notices can provide applicants with valuable information provided by HHS that might help them make good choices faster," Commissioner Astrue said. "Twenty five years ago, I had the experience of filing for disability benefits on behalf of my seriously ill father. It would have been a blessing to have had easy access to this kind of important information."
The website at www.healthfinder.gov provides detailed information about specific diseases. For example, an applicant with breast cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, or other diseases can go to the site to gather information about diagnosis, symptoms, treatment, ongoing research, and local resources available to people with those diseases. The website at www.healthfinder.gov/rxdrug links people to the Partnership for Prescription Assistance, which directs people to information on reduced cost or free prescription drugs offered by drug companies, state and local governments, and local organizations.
The helpful health care links also are available on Social Security's website at www.socialsecurity.gov/applyfordisability.
# # #
Alzheimer's Association Gives Commissioner Astrue Humanitarian Award for 2010
The Alzheimer's Association today presented Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, with their 2010 Humanitarian Award. This honor is given each year to a public official who has made a significant contribution to help those who are struggling with Alzheimer's disease. In recognizing Commissioner Astrue, the Alzheimer's Association noted, "his exceptional leadership in creating the Compassionate Allowances Initiative and the decision to include early-onset Alzheimer's disease and other dementias in that initiative."
"Commissioner Astrue has worked tirelessly to ensure that disabled Americans receive the Social Security disability benefits they've earned in a timely way," said President Barack Obama. "I congratulate Mike for receiving this honor, and I know he joins me in admiration for the tremendous work that the Alzheimer's Association does every day."
Harry Johns, President and CEO of the Alzheimer's Association, stated "On behalf of all the individuals who now won't have to go through a long decision process and multiple lengthy appeals to obtain their benefits, the Alzheimer's Association is proud to honor Commissioner Astrue for establishing this initiative which helps to ease the burden of so many families."
Past recipients of the Alzheimer's Association's Humanitarian Award include President Ronald Reagan, Senators Arlen Specter, Tom Harkin, Mark Hatfield, Barbara Mikulski, Jay Rockefeller, Charles Grassley and Blanche Lincoln, Representatives Steny Hoyer and Edward Markey, and Josefina Carbonell, Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary for Aging.
To learn more about Social Security's Compassionate Allowances initiative, go to www.socialsecurity.gov/compassionateallowances.
To read the Alzheimer's Association announcement, go to www.alz.org/news_and_events_03082010.asp.
# # #
Social Security Hearings Backlog Falls to Lowest Level Since 2005
Pending Cases Drop Below 700,000; Processing Time Down 72 Days
Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, today announced that the number of disability hearings pending stands at 697,437 cases -- the lowest level since June 2005 and down more than 71,000 cases since December 2008, when the trend of month-by-month reductions began. In addition, the average processing time for hearing decisions has decreased to 442 days, down from a high of 514 days at the end of fiscal year (FY) 2008.
"We have decreased the number of hearings pending by almost 10 percent over the last 14 months and cut the time it takes to make a decision by nearly two and a half months. This remarkable progress shows our backlog reduction plan is working," Commissioner Astrue said. "With ongoing support from the President and Congress as well as the efforts of our hardworking employees, I am confident the hearings backlog will continue to diminish."
Social Security has actively addressed the hearings backlog and increased the capacity to hold more hearings. The agency hired 147 Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) and over 1,000 support staff in FY 2009, and has plans to hire an additional 226 ALJs this year. The agency now has four National Hearing Centers to help process hearings by video conference for the most hard-hit areas of the country. The agency also has aggressive plans to open 14 new hearing offices and three satellite offices by the end of the year. The first of these offices was opened in Anchorage, Alaska on February 19, 2010.
For more information about Social Security's hearings process and backlog reduction initiatives, go to www.socialsecurity.gov/appeals.
# # #
Social Security Commissioner Astrue Calls for Prompt State Assembly Passage of Bill Ending Furloughs of Federally-Funded State Employees
Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, today called for the California State Assembly to quickly pass Senate Bill 29. This bill, which already has passed the State Senate, would end the practice of furloughing Federally-funded state employees, a practice recently held to be illegal by a California superior court judge.
About 1,500 employees in this category are responsible for reviewing applications for Social Security disability benefits in California. California's taxpayers, state employees, and disability applicants all are harmed by these furloughs, and no one benefits. Each furlough day costs the state about $850,000 in administrative reimbursements and delays the payment of over $420,000 in much needed Social Security benefits to residents' with disabilities.
"Furloughing disability examiners is incomprehensible under any circumstances, and it is callous in a recession of this magnitude," Commissioner Astrue stated. "Congress authorized half a billion dollars under the Recovery Act to hire staff to reduce disability backlogs, and California is thwarting Congress by unilaterally reducing staffing in a punitive way that also hurts the State's coffers."
"It is time for Governor Schwarzenegger to renounce his failed furlough policy by withdrawing his veto threat of Senator Steinberg's Bill 29 and by declining to appeal the decision in the furlough lawsuit. Fairness, compassion, and common sense all require that result."
# # #
Social Security Adds 38 New Compassionate Allowance Conditions Expansion Will Speed Benefits to Thousands of Americans with Disabilities
Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, today announced that the agency is adding 38 more conditions to its list of Compassionate Allowances. This is the first expansion since the original list of 50 conditions - 25 rare diseases and 25 cancers - was announced in October 2008. The new conditions range from adult brain disorders to rare diseases that primarily affect children. The complete list of the new Compassionate Allowance conditions is attached.
"The addition of these new conditions expands the scope of Compassionate Allowances to a broader subgroup of conditions like early-onset Alzheimer's disease," Commissioner Astrue said. "The expansion we are announcing today means tens of thousands of Americans with devastating disabilities will now get approved for benefits in a matter of days rather than months and years."
Compassionate Allowances are a way of quickly identifying diseases and other medical conditions that clearly qualify for Social Security and Supplemental Security Income disability benefits. It allows the agency to electronically target and make speedy decisions for the most obviously disabled individuals. In developing the expanded list of conditions, Social Security held public hearings and worked closely with the National Institutes of Health, the Alzheimer's Association, the National Organization for Rare Disorders, and other groups.
"The diagnosis of Alzheimer's indicates significant cognitive impairment that interferes with daily living activities, including the ability to work," said Harry Johns, President and CEO of the Alzheimer's Association. "Now, individuals who are dealing with the enormous challenges of Alzheimer's won't also have to endure the financial and emotional toll of a long disability decision process."
"This truly innovative program will provide invaluable assistance and support to patients and families coping with severely disabling rare diseases," said Peter L. Saltonstall, President and CEO of the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD). "On behalf of those patients and families, I want to thank Commissioner Astrue and his enthusiastic team for creating and now expanding a program that will have a direct impact on the quality of life of thousands of individuals."
"The initiative not only assists those whose applications are quickly processed, but also assists those whose applications need more time and attention from SSA adjudicators," said Marty Ford, Co-Chair, Social Security Task Force, Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities. "We are pleased to see today's expansion and look forward to working with Commissioner Astrue on further expansion of this decision-making tool and other ways to expedite determinations and decisions for disability claims."
"We will continue to hold hearings and look for other diseases and conditions that can be added to our list of Compassionate Allowances," Commissioner Astrue said. "There can be no higher priority than getting disability benefits quickly to those Americans with these severe and life-threatening conditions."
Social Security will begin electronically identifying these 38 new conditions March 1.
For more information about the agency's Compassionate Allowances initiative, go to www.socialsecurity.gov/compassionateallowances.
New Compassionate Allowance Conditions
- Alstrom Syndrome
- Amegakaryocytic Thrombocytopenia
- Ataxia Spinocerebellar
- Ataxia Telangiectasia
- Batten Disease
- Bilateral Retinoblastoma
- Cri du Chat Syndrome
- Degos Disease
- Early-Onset Alzheimer's Disease
- Edwards Syndrome
- Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva
- Fukuyama Congenital Muscular Dystrophy
- Glutaric Acidemia Type II
- Hemophagocytic Lymphohistiocytosis (HLH), Familial Type
- Hurler Syndrome, Type IH
- Hunter Syndrome, Type II
- Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis
- Junctional Epidermolysis Bullosa, Lethal Type
- Late Infantile Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscinoses
- Leigh's Disease
- Maple Syrup Urine Disease
- Merosin Deficient Congenital Muscular Dystrophy
- Mixed Dementia
- Mucosal Malignant Melanoma
- Neonatal Adrenoleukodystrophy
- Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscinoses, Infantile Type
- Niemann-Pick Type C
- Patau Syndrome
- Primary Progressive Aphasia
- Progressive Multifocal Leukoencephalopathy
- Sanfilippo Syndrome
- Subacute Sclerosis Panencephalitis
- Tay Sachs Disease
- Thanatophoric Dysplasia, Type 1
- Ullrich Congenital Muscular Dystrophy
- Walker Warburg Syndrome
- Wolman Disease
- Zellweger Syndrome
# # #
Social Security Launches New Open Government Webpage
Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, announced that the agency has a new Open Government webpage available to the public at www.socialsecurity.gov/open. The new webpage serves as the portal for all agency activities that support the President's Transparency and Open Government initiative.
"Our new Open Government webpage gives Americans an opportunity to give us their ideas on how we can become a more open and transparent agency," Commissioner Astrue said. "They will be able to post their ideas on transparency, participation, collaboration, and innovation that should be included in our Open Government Plan. I encourage everyone to visit our webpage and submit their ideas, read and discuss what has been posted, and vote on the ideas that have been submitted."
To submit ideas, click on the link at the top right of the webpage that says, "Share your ideas on our open government plan." After agreeing to the terms of participation, the link will take you to a webpage that asks for ideas on how Social Security can:
- work better with others inside and outside the government;
- solicit feedback from the public;
- improve the availability and quality of information;
- be more innovative and efficient;
- create an Open Government Plan.
Social Security's new Open Government webpage also provides easy access to important agency information such as the Agency Strategic Plan, Freedom of Information Act Report, as well as program laws and regulations. The webpage includes links to the datasets that were published last month on www.Data.gov. The agency will publish its Open Government Plan in April.
# # #
Statement of Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, Commending the President's Fiscal Year 2011 Budget Request
By requesting $12.5 billion for Social Security's administrative expenses, an eight percent increase over the previous year, President Obama has again shown that he clearly understands the workload challenges we face. The additional funding is critical to our efforts to continue driving down the hearings backlog, something we were able to do in fiscal year 2009 for the first time in over a decade. This funding also will allow us to process an increasing number of retirement and disability claims, and improve our aging infrastructure.
For seventy-five years, Americans have depended on Social Security. We know that millions of Americans continue to count on us to provide them with the service they need and deserve. It is critical that Congress enact President Obama's budget proposal in a timely manner.
For more information about the President's 2011 budget request for Social Security, visit www.socialsecurity.gov/budget.
# # #
Social Security Awards Nearly $20 Million in Recovery Act Contracts For Electronic Medical Records
Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, today announced that 15 healthcare providers and networks have received $17.4 million in contract awards to provide electronic medical records to the agency. These electronic medical records, which will be sent through the Nationwide Health Information Network (NHIN), will significantly shorten the time it takes to make a disability decision and will improve the speed, accuracy, and efficiency of the disability program.
"Using health information technology will improve our disability programs and provide better service to the public," Commissioner Astrue said. "We've seen a significant increase in disability applications. To process them, the agency sends more than 15 million requests annually for medical records to healthcare providers. This largely paper-bound workload is generally the most time-consuming part of the disability decision process. The use of health IT will dramatically improve the speed, accuracy, and efficiency of this process, reducing the cost of making a disability decision for both the medical community and the American taxpayer."
The contract awards are funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. They will require awardees, with a patient's authorization, to send Social Security electronic medical records through the NHIN. The NHIN, a safe and secure method for receiving access to electronic medical records over the Internet, is an initiative of the Department of Health and Human Services supported by multiple government agencies and private sector entities.
For the last year, Social Security has been successfully testing health IT to obtain electronic medical records. Disability applications processed with electronic medical records from the test sites in Massachusetts and Virginia have significantly reduced processing times. Some decisions are now made in days, instead of weeks or months. Social Security expects to receive more than 3.3 million applications in fiscal year (FY) 2010, a 27 percent increase over FY 2008.
Contracts were awarded to the following organizations:
- Cal RHIO, San Francisco, CA - $1,625,000
- CareSpark, Kingsport, TN - $1,363,000
- Center for Healthy Communities, Wright State University, Healthlink, Dayton, OH - $999,000
- Central Virginia Health Network/MedVirginia, Richmond, VA - $1,139,000
- Community Health Information Collaborative (CHIC), Duluth, MN - $977,000
- Douglas County Individual Practice Association, Roseburg, OR - $502,000
- EHR Doctors Inc., Pompano Beach, FL - $1,000,000
- HealthBridge, Cincinnati, OH - $1,400,000
- Lovelace Clinic Foundation (LCF), Albuquerque, NM - $1,083,000
- Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation, Marshfield, WI - $998,000
- Memorial Hospital Foundation & Memorial Hospital of Gulfport Foundation, Inc., Gulfport, MS - $1,100,000
- Oregon Community Health Information Network (OCHIN), Portland, OR - $284,000
- Regenstrief Institute, Inc, Indianapolis, IN - $350,000
- Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), Reston, VA - $1,587,000
- Southeastern Michigan Health Association, Detroit, MI - $2,988,000
More information on Social Security's use of health IT is available at www.socialsecurity.gov/hit.
# # #
Social Security Makes New Data Available to Public Commissioner Astrue Applauds President Obama's Transparency and Open Government Initiative
Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, today announced that the agency is making new data about beneficiaries and the agency's disability and hearing processes available to the public. The new data supports the President's Transparency and Open Government initiative and is available at www.data.gov.
"I applaud President Obama's commitment to creating an unprecedented level of openness in government and the new datasets we are posting far exceed what was asked of us," Commissioner Astrue said. "Social Security has always valued transparency and sought to give the public user-friendly information about our programs. Each year we send millions of Americans personal information about their Social Security contributions and potential benefits. Our website www.socialsecurity.gov has a wealth of information about our programs and the Social Security trust funds. I hope the new data we are making available will lead to a better understanding of our operations and the important role we play in people's lives. I look forward to engaging Americans in the business of their government."
Here are a few examples of the value of the Social Security datasets available today:
- Researchers can find out about the work-related experiences of our beneficiaries receiving Social Security disability benefits and give us policy guidancefor our disability programs.
- The public can see information about hearings workloads and a breakdown of the types of decisions made by Administrative Law Judges.
- Researchers can study the effects of current and proposed legislative and program provisions.
- People who have requested a hearing on their disability claim can estimate the amount of time they may have to wait for the hearing to be held and for a decision.
- The public can see general information requested under the Freedom of Information Act.
"These new datasets are just the beginning of our efforts. In February we will launch our Open Government webpage that will include improved access to our data in a variety of formats. In April we will publish our Open Government plan," said Commissioner Astrue. "Let me also reassure all Americans that while our goal is to become more open and transparent, we will continue to vigilantly protect the personal information the public entrusts to us. We will ensure that transparency does not put that information at risk."
To read the President's Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government, click here.
# # #
Chubby Checker and Social Security Commissioner Astrue Announce a New "Twist" in the Law Changes Make it Easier to Qualify for Extra Help with Medicare Prescription Drug Plan Costs
Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, and Chubby Checker, Grammy Award winner and rock and roll legend, today launched a new campaign to inform millions of Americans about a new "twist" in the law that makes it easier to qualify for extra help with Medicare prescription drug costs. The extra help program currently provides assistance to more than nine million senior and disabled Americans -- saving them an average of almost $4,000 a year on their Medicare prescription drug plan costs. To apply for extra help, there is an easy-to-use online application available at www.socialsecurity.gov.
"The changes in the Medicare law that take effect this month will allow hundreds of thousands of Americans who are struggling to pay their prescription drug costs to get extra help during these tough economic times," said Commissioner Astrue. "I am thrilled that Chubby Checker has volunteered to help us spread this important message through a new television, radio, and Internet spot as well as pamphlets and posters."
"Listen up, America! For 50 years, people of all ages and backgrounds have danced the Twist," Chubby Checker said. "Now it's important everyone learn about this new twist in the law. Check it out at www.socialsecurity.gov."
To qualify for extra help, people must meet certain resource and income limits. The new Medicare law eases those requirements in two ways. First, it eliminates the cash value of life insurance from counting as a resource. Second, it eliminates the assistance people receive from others to pay for household expenses, such as food, rent, mortgage or utilities, from counting as income. There also is another important "twist" in the law. The application for extra help can now start the application process for Medicare Savings Programs -- state programs that provide help with other Medicare costs. These programs help pay Medicare Part B (medical insurance) premiums. For some people, the Medicare Savings Programs also pay Medicare Part A (hospital insurance) premiums, if any, and Part A and B deductibles and co-payments.
To learn more about the extra help program and to view the new TV spot featuring Chubby Checker, go to www.socialsecurity.gov/extrahelp.
# # #
Social Security Administration Praises Court Ruling on "Illegal" Furloughs in California
Asks Governor Schwarzenegger to Accept Ruling and Congress to Increase Oversight
Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, issued the following statement regarding two recent decisions of the California Superior Court for the County of Alameda:
"When it comes to the furlough of state employees whose jobs are paid for by federal funds, California Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch ruled state officials have 'abused their discretion'and that 'such a policy is arbitrary, capricious and unlawful.' I could not agree more.
For more than a year, I have made the case that these furloughs cost states money, hurt their most vulnerable citizens, and harm hard-working civil servants. California's furlough of Disability Determination Service (DDS) employees costs the state $849,000 per furlough day in administrative funding. More importantly, each furlough day results in a delay costing California's disabled citizens over $420,000 in much-needed Social Security benefits. For the sake of the citizens of California, I call on Governor Schwarzenegger to reject his own failed policy and not appeal the court's ruling.
Social Security funds 100 percent of DDS employees' salaries as well as all overhead costs -- about $2 billion nationwide this year. These funds cannot be used by the states for any other purpose, so states do not save a single penny by furloughing employees in the DDSs - they only slow getting benefits to the disabled, unduly harm its civil servants, and cost the state needed tax revenue. Nevertheless, about a dozen governors are imposing similar across-the-board hiring freezes or furloughs that also affect DDS employees. I sincerely hope Congress will use its oversight authority to investigate not just California, but the other states that are using -- or have used -- furloughs and hiring freezes for positions that are fully funded by the Social Security Administration and other federal agencies."
To read the entire decision in Service Employees International Union Local 1000, and Yvonne Walker v. Arnold Schwarzenegger, et al., click here.
To read the entire decision in Union of American Physicians and Dentists v. Arnold Schwarzenegger, et al., click here.
To read the California Senate Office of Oversight and Outcomes report on Furloughs in Federally-Funded Benefit Programs, click here.
To read a letter from Vice President Biden to the Governors, click here.
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