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Retirement Planning > Social Security

Filner: Federalize California SSDI Operation

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A lawmaker wants to help the Social Security Administration take control of the Social Security Disability Insurance claim system in states that furlough SSDI employees.

Officials at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services say they will be depending on state governments to help implement the health insurance distribution exchange provisions of the new Affordable Care Act, the ACA temporary risk pool provisions for people with health problems, and other ACA provisions.

The SSDI program is an example of an existing program that relies on cooperation between officials at an HHS arm – the Social Security Administration – and state governments.

The SSA covers the cost of paying the benefits, and it pays the cost of processing and reviewing claims.

The people who review the claims are state employees with salaries paid by the federal government, rather than federal employees.

That arrangement is leading to serious problems in some states, witnesses testified Tuesday at a House Ways and Means Committee Social Security subcommittee hearing.

Some states are coping with fiscal crises by laying off employees, or furloughing employees periodically without pay.

The SSA has persuaded officials in states such as Colorado, Michigan, Nevada and New York to exempt SSDI disability determination service employees from furlough programs, SSA Commissioner Michael Astrue testified.

Today, 16 other states – including states such as California, Hawaii, Ohio and Wisconsin — have implemented furloughs that affect DDS employees, Astrue said, according to a written version of his testimony posted on the Social Security subcommittee website.

California furloughs DDS employees 3 days each month.

That will delay payments of $11 million in disability benefits to about 40,000 residents, Astrue estimated.

“We see many clear signs of the deterioration in service,” Astrue said. “In spite of the hard work of the dedicated DDS employees, the number of initial claims currently pending in California rose about 37% higher over 2008 levels.”

Rep. Robert Filner, D-Calif., talked about reports that disability applicants are sent 30-page forms to complete, then face denials when the forms are not completed and returned within 20 days.

“This is inhumane and unacceptable treatment of our disabled, many of whom are children, the elderly, and veterans who have nobly served this country,” Filner said. “Some are mentally ill, homeless, or blind. The very nature of their disabilities prevents them from complying with the enormous tasks being demanded of them”

Before the California furloughs were implemented, disability claims were assigned to an analyst within 48 hours, but now, cases may wait 2 months before being assigned to an analyst, Filner said.

The 40,000-case backlog does not count “the cases that have been assigned to phantom staff in order to give the appearance that the cases are indeed being processed when they actually are not,” Filner said.

Federal law already lets the SSA federalize disability determination service employees if a state “substantially fails” to live up to its responsibilities to process claims, Filner said.

To help SSA officials, Filner has drafted a “Don’t Delay Services Act,” Filner said.

The draft act would cause disability determination system employee furloughs to trigger the provision that lets the SSA federalize the disability determination service, Filner said.


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