“Thank you for your interest in the Social Security Administration and for reading this Open Letter to the Public to learn more about what we are doing to improve service.
A Little about Me:
I have been frequently asked why, at age 73 with a loving wife of 51 years, a beautiful family, and a successful business career, I would want to take on the responsibility and stress of running a huge government organization that affects nearly every American. My answer is simple. I took the job as Commissioner of Social Security because I saw that this very important agency faced an increasing number of challenges. Millions of Americans depend on SSA to do our job well, each day, no excuses—because when we don’t, people suffer. I took the job because SSA must dramatically improve customer service for you, your loved ones, and everyone who depends on our programs.
What is My Plan?
When I speak to groups of SSA employees, to my senior managers, and to external groups including Congress, they ask what I plan to accomplish. It is no secret that the government is full of bureaucratic processes. There are Agency Strategic Plans, Annual Performance Plans, Budget documents for this and future years, IT strategic plans, and any number of internal organization planning documents. I understand that these writings serve to provide direction and transparency, but I doubt most employees or members of the public read them. I am hopeful that this letter will answer your questions in a straightforward and easy to follow way.
My plan is rooted in common sense. SSA has many departments and over 60,000 employees who perform millions of functions each year. But, whether it is issuing retirement checks, processing disability claims, or providing Social Security cards, our fundamental mission is to ensure timely and accurate service for the public. My plan is to emphasize and restore fundamental public service so that when you call us, we answer timely. When you come to our offices, we serve you timely. When you apply for benefits, you receive a timely answer from us and, if you are approved for benefits, you receive a timely check from us. Some SSA employees and the three unions who represent them may suggest we simply want to push employees even harder. I’ve run enough businesses and organizations to know that no employer gets 100% from every employee every day—there is always room to improve. Over the past 5 months, I have met with and observed many, many SSA employees. Let me tell you what I determined: they care. They are just as concerned and stressed about work piling up as I am. They dread the feeling of coming into work knowing the public will line up and wait far too long for correct answers. That is demoralizing. I don’t want our excellent employees to feel beaten down or think that headquarters fails to appreciate their challenges. By getting wait times down, we allow our employees to do their work in a better environment where they can focus on the action in front of them not the piles of work around them.
As important as it is to serve you timely, we need to serve you well. We need to evaluate how we train our employees, review their work and give feedback, and appropriately simplify our policies to be easier to implement and understand. I have reviewed audits and noted that we consistently receive poor marks in certain areas. You should expect that we will properly pay benefits to only the folks who are entitled to them and we should always pay them the correct amount. That is important not only for stewardship but also to each of you who receives a check from us. I also cannot ignore the message from significant workloads like litigation, which can occur when we do not properly apply policy. Yes, we must address the affected cases but we must also fix the root cause. Getting things wrong has been very costly to us. It is time to invest in ensuring we get things right.
Part of the answer is technology. However, before we can readily implement more efficient systems, we have to fix some core issues. Did you know we store a beneficiary’s address in something close to 20 different systems? If you move, we can change your address in one place but that may not change it in the others. We are working to fix this and other problems. Our new approach will not look at our services from our vantage point, such as using a specific system to complete a singular action we are working on in the moment. We will look at our work from your perspective. Meaning, if you go online and then call us and then come in to an SSA office, our employees will know that history and you don’t have to start from square one each time.
However, technology alone is not the solution. Sure, many people like the idea of going online for convenient service and we need to modernize and meet that need. But, many other people need a little extra help, a little more information, maybe even some reassurance from an expert. Thus, we need a responsive workforce. We already have people who care deeply about our mission and the public. Now we need to have enough folks to meet the demand so that they can spend the time they need to handle each customer’s need correctly. We need to implement additional quality checks so that we can let our employees know when they misapplied a policy or missed a key issue. Our employees want this feedback. We need to give our employees what they need to get you the right result.
We need to assess how we do our work, how we use technology, and how we empower our employees at SSA. All of those things are complicated, but they are necessary to accomplish my plan for SSA. What is the plan? We are going to work every day to improve the public service you receive from us. As I said, common sense.
What happens next?
Right now, SSA’s Office of Systems is working with public and private sector experts to modernize our technology infrastructure so that we can serve you more efficiently and with greater accuracy. At the same time, we are shifting resources to the front lines of our public service operation. Our Office of Operations manages nearly all of our public facing services like the field offices in your communities and the National 800 Number. It is logical and appropriate that we focus on these offices first. Some people may believe that is a “hiring freeze” but I call it “smart hiring”—sending our resources to the front lines where you benefit most. Dependent on our final appropriation for fiscal year 2020, we are targeting additional hiring in these public service offices, and I have already directed that SSA hire 1,100 more people to do this work. During a time of more constrained resources, the agency closed field offices early on Wednesdays. We are ending that practice to provide you with additional access to our services. We are also ending a telework pilot, which was implemented without necessary controls or data collection to evaluate effectiveness or impact on public service. I support work-life balance for SSA employees consistent with meeting our first obligation: to serve the public. A time of workload crisis is not the time to experiment with working at home, especially for the more than 40,000 employees who staff our public facing offices.
Modernizing technology and getting more employees back into the offices are critical first steps. We will take additional steps to chip away at our current wait times; however, the first obvious move is an infusion of resources into key offices, increasing the availability of those offices to the public, and holding all of our employees accountable. We know how important our work is and understand the consequences of poor service.
You will hear from me again with straightforward information about our progress. I appreciate your patience as we work to improve our performance in service to you.”
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David Black was sworn in today as Deputy Commissioner of Social Security to a term that expires on January 19, 2025. He will also serve as the Secretary to the Social Security Board of Trustees.
“David is a dedicated public servant who brings a wealth of knowledge to this position,” said Andrew Saul, Commissioner of Social Security. “I look forward to working closely with David to address challenges, more effectively carry out our mission, and improve Social Security services to the public.”
A Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, Mr. Black has dedicated his career in service to others. He has served in the Army for nearly 30 years, as both an enlisted soldier and an officer, and deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, where he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal. Mr. Black brings a vast amount of civilian federal experience. Prior to his nomination, he served as the White House Senior Advisor for Social Security. Previously, for nearly a decade, Mr. Black was General Counsel for Social Security. He also worked with the U.S. Department of Education as the Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Office for Civil Rights.
The Social Security Administration administers the Social Security retirement, disability and survivors insurance programs that pay over one trillion dollars annually in benefits to approximately 64 million beneficiaries, as well as the Supplemental Security Income program that provides cash assistance to more than 8 million people with limited income and resources. The agency has a national workforce of about 63,000 employees and 1,500 facilities across the country and around the world.
Mr. Black is from North Dakota. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree, cum laude, from the University of North Dakota. In 1996, he received a Juris Doctor from the University of Minnesota Law School. He and his wife, Hollie, have three children.
To get more Social Security news, follow the Press Office on Twitter @SSAPress.
Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for nearly 69 million Americans will increase 1.6 percent in 2020, the Social Security Administration announced today.
The 1.6 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) will begin with benefits payable to more than 63 million Social Security beneficiaries in January 2020. Increased payments to more than 8 million SSI beneficiaries will begin on December 31, 2019. (Note: some people receive both Social Security and SSI benefits). The Social Security Act ties the annual COLA to the increase in the Consumer Price Index as determined by the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Some other adjustments that take effect in January of each year are based on the increase in average wages. Based on that increase, the maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax (taxable maximum) will increase to $137,700 from $132,900.
Social Security and SSI beneficiaries are normally notified by mail in early December about their new benefit amount. Most people who receive Social Security payments will be able to view their COLA notice online through their mySocial Security account. People may create or access their mySocial Security account online at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount.
Information about Medicare changes for 2020, when announced, will be available at www.medicare.gov. For Social Security beneficiaries receiving Medicare, Social Security will not be able to compute their new benefit amount until after the Medicare premium amounts for 2020 are announced. Final 2020 benefit amounts will be communicated to beneficiaries in December through the mailed COLA notice and my Social Security’s Message Center.
The Social Security Administration and its Office of the Inspector General (OIG) announced the expansion of its successful anti-fraud initiative, the Cooperative Disability Investigations (CDI) Program. CDI Units identify, investigate, and prevent Social Security disability fraud. Three new statewide offices recently opened across the country, in Bismarck, North Dakota; Boise, Idaho; and Helena, Montana. In addition, the Puerto Rico office has expanded their investigative scope to include cases in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The CDI Program helps to resolve questions of potential fraud before benefits are ever paid. The innovative initiative continues to be successful by bringing together personnel from Social Security, its OIG, State Disability Determination Services (DDS), and local law enforcement agencies to investigate and analyze suspicious or questionable Social Security disability claims. CDI Unit efforts assist disability examiners in making informed decisions, ensure payment accuracy, and generate significant taxpayer savings, for both Federal and State programs.
“Social Security has zero tolerance for fraud and we are committed to detecting and preventing it. Our CDI Program serves a vital role in that commitment,” said Andrew Saul, Commissioner of Social Security. “We diligently work at the national and local levels to stop fraud and carry out our mission of delivering quality Social Security services to the public.”
The CDI Program consists of 46 units covering 40 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. territories. Social Security and OIG have opened several units in the last few years as they work together to provide CDI coverage for all 50 states by 2022.
“We are pleased to announce this expansion of the CDI Program as we move closer to our goal of covering all 50 States. CDI has a significant impact on the integrity of Social Security’s disability programs, and is an important resource for those making disability determinations,” said Inspector General Gail S. Ennis. “This initiative is successful at preventing fraud in part due to the vital role of interagency partnerships, so we welcome Idaho, Montana, and North Dakota as they join this effort.”
Since 1997, when Social Security and OIG established CDI, its efforts have contributed to $4 billion in projected savings to Social Security’s programs, and $3 billion in projected savings to other Federal and State programs. For more information, please visit the OIG website and Social Security’s anti-fraud website at www.socialsecurity.gov/antifraudfacts/.
To get more Social Security news, follow the Press Office on Twitter @SSAPress.
The Social Security Administration today announced the first potential group of selected participants for its new electronic Consent Based Social Security Number (SSN) Verification (eCBSV) service. The agency will roll out the service to these users in June 2020, and plans on expanding the number of users within approximately six months of the initial rollout.
“Our new electronic SSN verification service will help to reduce synthetic identity fraud by comparing data provided electronically by approved participants with the agency’s records,” said Andrew Saul, Commissioner of Social Security. “This will provide fast, secure, and more efficient SSN verifications for the financial services industry and customers using their services.”
Social Security is creating eCBSV, a fee-based electronic SSN verification service, to allow select financial institutions and service providers, called “permitted entities” and including subsidiaries, affiliates, agents, subcontractors, or assignees of a financial institution, to verify if a person’s SSN, name, and date of birth combination matches Social Security records. Social Security needs the person’s written consent and will accept an electronic signature in order to disclose the SSN verification to the permitted entity. eCBSV returns a match verification of “Yes” or “No.” eCBSV does not verify a person’s identity.
The 10 participants selected for the initial rollout are:
American Express Travel Related Services Company, Inc.
Capital One Services, LLC
Computer Information Development, LLC
Discover Financial Services
Early Warning Services, LLC
Experian Information Solutions, Inc.
ID Analytics, LLC
Navy Federal Credit Union
Each of the service providers selected can serve up to 20 permitted entities, with the potential of 124 permitted entities participating in the initial rollout.
This announcement does not affect the existing Consent Based SSN Verification service.
Andrew Saul, Commissioner of Social Security, today announced four new Compassionate Allowances conditions: CDKL5 Deficiency Disorder, Pitt Hopkins Syndrome, Primary Peritoneal Cancer, and Richter Syndrome. Compassionate Allowances is a program to quickly identify severe diseases and medical conditions that meet Social Security’s standards for disability benefits.
“Social Security’s highest priority is to serve the public and we are committed to ensuring Americans with disabilities receive the benefits they are eligible for,” said Commissioner Saul. “For over a decade, our Compassionate Allowances program has helped us accelerate the disability process for people who are likely to get approved for benefits due to the severity of their condition.”
The Compassionate Allowances program identifies claims where the applicant’s condition or disease clearly meets Social Security’s statutory standard for disability. Due to the severe nature of many of these conditions, these claims are often allowed based on medical confirmation of the diagnosis alone. The list has grown to a total of 237 conditions, including certain cancers, adult brain disorders, and a number of rare disorders that affect children. To date, more than 600,000 people with severe disabilities have been approved through this fast-track policy-compliant disability process.
The agency incorporates leading technology to identify potential Compassionate Allowances and make quick decisions. When a person applies for disability benefits, Social Security must obtain medical records in order to make an accurate determination. Social Security’s Health IT brings the speed and efficiency of electronic medical records to the disability determination process. With electronic records transmission, Social Security is able to quickly obtain a claimant’s medical information, review it, and make a determination faster than ever before.
Andrew M. Saul was sworn in today as the Commissioner of Social Security at the agency’s office in Washington, D.C. He will serve a six-year term that expires on January 19, 2025.
Commissioner Saul expressed his gratitude at being chosen to serve as the Commissioner of Social Security. “The Social Security programs touch the lives of almost every American – serving in this position is a tremendous privilege and an awesome responsibility,” said Commissioner Saul. “I am humbled by the opportunity to help the agency to deliver critical services to the American people.”
Commissioner Saul brings a vast amount of experience to the position. At the federal level, one of Commissioner Saul’s greatest achievements was his work with the Federal Thrift Investment Board (FTIB). In 2002, Commissioner Saul became Chairman of the FTIB, which administers the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP). The TSP provides military and federal employees the opportunity to save for additional retirement security. Commissioner Saul led the board to modernize systems and restructure executive staff. Through effective changes, he increased participation and reduced participant costs.
In addition to his federal service, Commissioner Saul has served and worked within numerous state and local governments, non-profit organizations, and private sector businesses. He started his career in the private sector, growing and managing two large publicly traded apparel chains for over 20 years. He served as Vice Chairman and Chairman of the Finance Committee of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, New York’s regional transportation system and the country’s largest public transportation network. He also served as Vice Chairman of the Mount Sinai Health System and Chairman of its Audit and Compliance Committee. In addition, he was a Trustee and Chairman of the Audit Committee of the National Gallery of Art. He formerly served as a board member of the United Jewish Appeal Federation of New York.
Commissioner Saul will be responsible for administering the Social Security retirement, disability and survivors insurance programs that pay over one trillion dollars annually in benefits to approximately 64 million beneficiaries, as well as the Supplemental Security Income program that provides cash assistance to more than 8 million people with limited income and resources. The agency has a national workforce of about 63,000 employees and 1,500 facilities across the country and around the world.
Commissioner Saul is from New York. He is a graduate of the Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania, and serves on its Board of Overseers. He and his wife of over 50 years, Denise, have two adult children and three grandchildren.
Liam and Emma are once again America’s most popular baby names in 2018. This is the second time Liam is atop the boys list and the fifth year in a row for Emma. Two long timers on the list, Jacob and Abigail, toppled out of the top 10 for the first time since 1992 and 2000. There are two new names in this year’s top 10—Lucas for the first time ever, and Harper makes her way back on the list.
Here are the top 10 boys and girls names for 2018:
While you are there, Acting Commissioner Nancy A. Berryhill encourages everyone to enjoy the baby names list and create a mySocial Security account at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount. mySocial Security is a personalized online account that people can use beginning in their working years and continuing while receiving Social Security benefits.
Social Security beneficiaries can have instant access to their benefit verification letter, payment history, and complete earnings record by establishing a mySocial Security account. Beneficiaries also can change their address, start or change direct deposit information, and print a replacement SSA-1099 online. People receiving benefits can request a replacement Medicare card online.
People age 18 and older who are not receiving benefits can also sign up for a mySocial Security account to get their personalized online Social Security Statement. The online Statement provides workers with secure and convenient access to their Social Security earnings and benefit information, and estimates of future benefits they can use to plan for their retirement.
Additional Baby Names Information:
Social Security began compiling the baby name list in 1997, with names dating back to 1880. At the time of a child’s birth, parents supply the name to the agency when applying for a child’s Social Security card, thus making Social Security America’s source for the most popular baby names.
Each year, the list reveals the effect of pop-culture on naming trends. Royalty seems to have influenced parents in 2018.
Meghan was the fastest rising girls’ name, moving 701 spots to number 703 from number 1,404 in 2017. This jump speaks to the popularity of Meghan Markle, an American who joined the royal family when she married Prince Harry in 2018. Tune in next year to see how newborn Archie influences Moms and Dads in 2019. The name Archie actually reappears in the top 1,000 in 2018 for the first time since 1988, and he will likely continue climbing up the list after the latest royal news.
Winter is coming for “Game of Thrones” fans. The name Yara voyaged 314 spots from number 986 in 2017 to number 672 in 2018 on the girls’ side. Followers of the hit HBO show know this probably is due to Yara Greyjoy, a character on the popular series.
For the boys, Genesis is the fastest rising name for 2018, shuffling his way 608 spots to number 984 from number 1,592 in 2017. There has been a resurgence of classic names in the top 10 baby names in recent years, so perhaps Genesis is a harkening back to the classic English rock band led by Phil Collins. Speaking of Genesis, award winning Grammy singer and coach on "The Voice," Alicia Keys named her son Genesis after his birth.
The Social Security Board of Trustees today released its annual report on the long-term financial status of the Social Security Trust Funds. The combined asset reserves of the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance and Disability Insurance (OASI and DI) Trust Funds are projected to become depleted in 2035, one year later than projected last year, with 80 percent of benefits payable at that time.
The OASI Trust Fund is projected to become depleted in 2034, the same as last year’s estimate, with 77 percent of benefits payable at that time. The DI Trust Fund is estimated to become depleted in 2052, extended 20 years from last year’s estimate of 2032, with 91 percent of benefits still payable.
In the 2019 Annual Report to Congress, the Trustees announced:
The asset reserves of the combined OASI and DI Trust Funds increased by $3 billion in 2018 to a total of $2.895 trillion.
The total annual cost of the program is projected to exceed total annual income, for the first time since 1982, in 2020 and remain higher throughout the 75-year projection period. As a result, asset reserves are expected to decline during 2020. Social Security’s cost has exceeded its non-interest income since 2010.
The year when the combined trust fund reserves are projected to become depleted, if Congress does not act before then, is 2035 – gaining one year from last year’s projection. At that time, there would be sufficient income coming in to pay 80 percent of scheduled benefits.
“The Trustees recommend that lawmakers address the projected trust fund shortfalls in a timely way in order to phase in necessary changes gradually and give workers and beneficiaries time to adjust to them,” said Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security. “The large change in the reserve depletion date for the DI Fund is mainly due to continuing favorable trends in the disability program. Disability applications have been declining since 2010, and the number of disabled-worker beneficiaries receiving payments has been falling since 2014.”
Other highlights of the Trustees Report include:
Total income, including interest, to the combined OASI and DI Trust Funds amounted to just over $1 trillion in 2018. ($885 billion from net payroll tax contributions, $35 billion from taxation of benefits, and $83 billion in interest)
Total expenditures from the combined OASI and DI Trust Funds amounted to $1 trillion in 2018.
Social Security paid benefits of nearly $989 billion in calendar year 2018. There were about 63 million beneficiaries at the end of the calendar year.
The projected actuarial deficit over the 75-year long-range period is 2.78 percent of taxable payroll – lower than the 2.84 percent projected in last year’s report.
During 2018, an estimated 176 million people had earnings covered by Social Security and paid payroll taxes.
The cost of $6.7 billion to administer the Social Security program in 2018 was a very low 0.7 percent of total expenditures.
The combined Trust Fund asset reserves earned interest at an effective annual rate of 2.9 percent in 2018.
The Board of Trustees usually comprises six members. Four serve by virtue of their positions with the federal government: Steven T. Mnuchin, Secretary of the Treasury and Managing Trustee; Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security; Alex M. Azar II, Secretary of Health and Human Services; and R. Alexander Acosta, Secretary of Labor. The two public trustee positions are currently vacant.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) and its Office of the Inspector General (OIG) launched a joint Public Service Announcement (PSA) campaign addressing a nationwide telephone impersonation scheme. Social Security and the OIG continue to receive reports from across the country about fraudulent phone calls from people falsely claiming to be Social Security employees. Calls can even “spoof” Social Security’s national customer service number as the incoming number on the caller ID. The new PSAs will air on TV and radio stations across the country to alert the public to remain vigilant against potential fraud.
“We urge you to always be cautious and to avoid providing sensitive information such as your Social Security number or bank account information to unknown people over the phone or Internet,” said Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security. “If you receive a call and are not expecting one, you must be extra careful – you can always get the caller’s information, hang up, and contact the official phone number of the business or agency the caller claims to represent. Do not reveal personal data to a stranger who calls you.”
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 or promise a Social Security benefit approval, or increase, in exchange for information. In those cases, the call is fraudulent and people should not engage with the caller. If a person receives these calls, he or she should report the information to the OIG Fraud Hotline at 1-800-269-0271 or online at https://oig.ssa.gov/report.
“These calls appear to be happening across the country, so we appreciate SSA’s partnership in this national public outreach effort,” said Gail S. Ennis, the Inspector General for the Social Security Administration. “Our message to the public is simply this: If you or someone you know receives a questionable call claiming to be from SSA or the OIG, just hang up.”