Sunday, September 27, 2009

Social Security Runs Amok

From the Wall Street Journal Online. Social Security Owes 'Fugitives' Millions (This link will probably expire within the week, but I have included the full article below)

A federal judge approved a civil-court settlement requiring the Social Security Administration to repay $500 million to 80,000 recipients whose benefits it suspended after deeming them fugitives.

The supposed fugitives include a disabled widow with a previously suspended driver's license, a quadriplegic man in a nursing home and a Nevada grandmother mistaken for a rapist.

They were among at least 200,000 elderly and disabled people who lost their benefits in recent years under what the agency called the "Fugitive Felon" program. Launched in 1996 and extended to Social Security disability and old-age benefits in 2005, the program aimed to save taxpayers money by barring the payment of Social Security benefits to people "fleeing to avoid prosecution."

But some federal courts in recent years have concluded that most people the agency identified as fleeing felons were neither fleeing nor felons. The problem: Social Security employees relied on an operations manual stating that anyone with a warrant outstanding is a fugitive felon, whether the person is actually fleeing or attempting to avoid being captured.

The Social Security Administration, which neither admitted nor denied wrongdoing as part of the settlement, declined to comment.

The National Senior Citizens Law Center, an advocacy group for the elderly and disabled, sued the Social Security Administration in an Oakland, Calif., federal court last year on behalf of people denied benefits, and asserted that most warrants -- some decades old -- were for minor offenses and most people were unaware they existed.

Roberta Dobbs, a 75-year-old widow in Durant, Okla., who uses a wheelchair and is tethered to an oxygen tank, was deemed a fugitive in 2006 because of an outstanding 2001 warrant issued in California following a traffic accident while Mrs. Dobbs was moving from her home. Her benefits were cut off for three years, forcing her to rely on friends, family and charity.

Some "fugitives" were victims of mistaken identity. To identify felons, the agency cross-checked its database with databases of old warrants obtained from various law-enforcement agencies. If a match was found -- of a person's first and last name, and either Social Security number or date of birth -- the person was deemed to be a fugitive and his benefits suspended. The program didn't compare middle initials or gender.

Willie Mae Giacanni, 79, a retiree near Reno, Nev., was informed by the Social Security Administration in 2006 that her $350 a month benefit would be suspended because of a warrant outstanding in New York, a state she has never visited.

She said she "called different precincts," trying to find out what she was wanted for. A detective told her the warrant was for Willie Frank Thomas, who was wanted for kidnapping and rape in 1972. Although Mrs. Giacanni's first husband's surname was Thomas, and the suspect shared her birth date, he had a different Social Security number, middle name, gender and race, according to the New York City Police Department's fugitive-enforcement division.

The detective sent Mrs. Giacanni a letter to give to the Social Security office, stating that the warrant wasn't for her, but the agency wouldn't accept it. Mrs. Giacanni sought help from a legal-aid attorney, who got the matter resolved. The agency declined to comment.

Even if people succeeded in clearing their warrants, the SSA had maintained they shouldn't have been paid benefits while the warrant was outstanding, and pursued them for the "overpayment." Mrs. Dobbs ultimately got her warrant vacated with the help of a legal-aid lawyer in 2008, but the Social Security Administration said it wouldn't resume her benefits until she repaid $11,802 for benefits she received in 2005.

As part of the settlement, the agency agreed to drop its claims for "overpayments."

After the NSCLC sued the agency, the SSA agreed in April to a proposed settlement to suspend benefits only for people who are charged with escape or flight to avoid prosecution. Under the pact, SSA stopped suspending benefits and agreed to repay benefits suspended between January 2007 and April 2009.

Most repayments will begin to go out late this year. Mrs. Dobbs received $37,970.

People whose benefits were cut off before 2007 could reapply for benefits, but would receive retroactive payments only to April 2009. An estimated 120,000 people fall into this category, said Gerald McIntyre, a lawyer for the NSCLC.

The settlement is good news for Catherine and James McMahon, a retired nurse and teacher in their 60s, who unsuccessfully applied for Social Security disability benefits for their son, James Jr., who was struck by a truck and paralyzed in 2006.

The couple was told their son, who resides in a nursing home, was ineligible for benefits because of a 1991 warrant. "It had something to do with a late night college party," said Mrs. McMahon. Her son, now 35, thought the matter was resolved after several court dates.

Now her son will receive about $735 a month in benefits, retroactive to early 2007. The money will help provide for his two young children, whom the McMahons are raising.
I have heard from reliable sources that the Social Security Administration has been seeded with Bushies fundamentally opposed to its basic mission and not just in the political positions. These people really want you to believe that "Government is the problem".

(BTW I am told that 'amok, amuck' is the only Malay word adopted into standard English vocabulary)


Andrew G. Biggs said...

Bruce, Unless things have changed radically since my departure, I really doubt your source regarding Bushie seeding is all that reliable.

Bruce Webb said...

Based on her resume I'll take that chance. All I'll say that it is someone who was close to Bob Ball.

It is also backed up by the impressions of a 30 year veteran of Social Security who ended up in mid-management.

There are stories that several senior people at SSA resisted putting up Obama's official portrait in their offices for some time after the inauguration. Stories I have no reason to doubt.

Andrew G. Biggs said...

Hey, I didn't have a picture of Dubya in my office (but don't tell anyone...).

coberly said...


in any case you can see why some people don't trust the government.

as to the Bush seeds... maybe. when i worked for Foodstamps it was under the Reagan administration and we certainly had a policy to treat the clients as badly as possible, even to violating our own written rules.

I didn't blame it on Reagan at the time, but it did nothing to help my view of human nature, and does give me a slight resistance to the liberal urge toward government solutions, even when i agree that a solution is necessary and only the government can manage it.

Anna Lee said...


Somehow I find it strange for you to try to argue that moles were not inserted into SSA when you are living proof that this was the case. Perhaps, in your case, your reputation preceded you so that no one was duped by the appointment, however, just because your non-confirmed appointment didn't dupe anyone doesn't mean that moles with lesser visibility weren't successfully embedded in SSA and other agencies that provide analysis and reports on SSA. And yes, it doesn't mean that they were but tigers leave tracks in the mud. If and when they petrify, affecting the programs or operations, the tracks will be uncovered but the putrefied petrification will remain.

I think Obama showed his inexperience with the federal government when he didn't take a look at the placement of moles early on. I don't know if Bush did or not because Clinton probably left some too.

coberly said...

well heck, Anna

i find it hard to believe conscious agents of one conspiracy or another were left behind for the purpose of sabotaging the new administration.

more likely the old administration hired the people it liked, people like them, and those people keep their jobs by inertia or civil service rules, and they act like what they are because that's what they are.

as far as Social Security is concerned, there is plenty of evidence that people at the very top of the Obama adminstration think just like the people at the top of the Bush administration.

I ran (whiplash alert) into an article the other day that explained the significance of the current cash flow problems at SS in terms of the government's public borrowing. this is not the way i look at Social Security at all, but if it is the way Congress and other high enders look at the world, it would be very hard to change their minds (they see Social Security as a problem in public finance. i see it as more like an insurance contract between workers... that public finance has nothing to do with it. but you can see why they don't even hear me when i try to explain it to them.)

coberly said...


it turns out that hayo mackamak is Chinook, not Malay

so when the high muckety mucks run amuk they are celebrating cultural diversity.