Tag Archives: poverty

Jessie Holds Court

people, children, technology, friends and friendship concept - hJessie was smaller and younger, but had by far the best ideas, so she was the ringleader.

We lived near a school that sometimes was in session when ours was not.  The school had large-windowed classrooms at its basement level, and if you were a little kid standing outside one of those windows, it was as if you were on a stage, framed in a veritable proscenium arch, optimal for entertaining the captive inhabitants of the classroom therein.

Think of the possibilities.

Once when they were in session, but we were not, Jessie had us dress up “like the girls fromTwo Little Girls Vintage Photograph Little House on the Prairie,” go to the school where we crawled to the window and looked with exaggerated longing into a classroom full of kids about our age.  We were not disruptive.  We were just there … sitting.   Jessie pretended to take notes on a pad of paper.  When the teacher eventually came to shoo us away, Jessie, stuttered out a wistful protest in the most hammed-up, corn-pone delivery imaginable … “we … we … we just want to learn.”

Brought-the-house-down.   Even the teacher.

Ha-ha-ha!  A delightful little childhood story from back in the day when families had five and six and nine kids apiece, and instead of having a helicopter for a mom, our perfectly competent mothers locked us out of the house with the admonishment to “go play.”  You heard the click of the lock, and you went off to … play.  Your mother went into the house to get after her work, and did not feel the least bit of guilt over the transaction.  Those were the days.

I could go on and on with adorable stories of tender childhood adventures and pranks, but as I people, children, misbehavior, friends and friendship concept -think of them … now with the sensibilities of an adult … I realize that a lot of what we did, and thought nothing of at the time, were actually pretty awful things.  No need to plead the 5th given that the Statutes of Limitation run by the time your moms pass on.  But no kidding … we did some pretty awful things.

Here’s one:  the church at the end of our block had a little yard with a swing set, slide and sandbox.  While playing in the sandbox one summer afternoon, Jessie and I discovered a door to the church had been freshly painted bright red.  It was beautiful and fresh and wet … and there we were … with the sand.  Though unimaginable to me now, we threw sand on the door and ran away laughing ourRed Door horrible little heads off.

Ha-ha-ha!  A delightful little childhood story from back in the day. Adorable little rascals, weren’t we?  

Devils more like.

And another:  we found an unlocked window which was a reliable way into the church building and snuck in on Saturdays to play in a classroom set up for Sunday school.  We played with toys and pretended to be teachers writing arithmetic problems and spelling words on the chalkboard.  Nothing profane.  But when we found a utility closet with a sizeable store of Dawn dishwashing detergent, we squirted whole bottles of it in a hallway, ran back and forth to a drinking fountain getting mouthsful of water and spitting them onto the floor creating a dastardly Slip-n-Slide that certainly was an hours-long horror to clean up. 

I knew it was wrong.  But the clean up was the only thing I considered … and then disregarded.  

Were there consequences my ten-year old self wouldn’t have considered?  Did an elderly person happen upon our handiwork and become injured by it?   I don’t know.   Jessie and I went Senior Woman Enjoying Cup Of Tea At Homeblissfully on our way.  Now, too late, I wonder.

In my early adulthood, I had a delightful, elderly neighbor who occasionally invited me in for tea and a chat.  She was mugged on her porch and in the violence was pushed to the ground and broke her pelvis.  It was shocking the degree to which her quality of life abruptly declined.  She was left quite depleted and depressed for the remainder of her days.

The muggers, she said, were “just teenagers.”

She recognized their acts were borne of youthful indiscretion. Indiscretion with a clear and direct potential for the debilitation that occurred though.  Squirting slippery detergent on a floor is not the same as a mugging.  I will restrain myself from obnoxious over-piety to equate them.  But the effect, for all I know, could well have been the same.

Making decisions with inadequate information are unavoidably how all decisions in youth are made.  And they’re often bad decisions.  Many of mine were.

I confess that not only did I make decisions with inadequate information, but I also unconsciously gave too muchTeenage girl depression - lost love - isolated on white backgrou weight to banal personal concerns – my standing among peers, and my fear of crossing Jessie. 

Jessie might have been the ringleader because she had by far the best ideas, but also because she was a bit of a devilish little bully if you didn’t go along with them. 

Disability determinations are often unavoidably made with inadequate information too.  Medical records are necessarily the primary source of information used to determine whether a claimant is disabled.  Medical records almost never directly address how patients function.  And in most cases how a person functions is  the only relevant issue to the question of disability.  

Even diligent scrutiny of every shred of medical evidence can leave a decision maker at an honest wobble as to whether the records prove up a disability or not.  (I attempt to get at this in If it may please the court, I’d like to whisper sweet nothings in your ear.)

The concern is whether decision-makers left in the lurch after all the evidence is considered would slip into using generalized information to make specific decisions in particular cases.

In Scheherazade’s Superpower, I mentioned that a dissenting opinion in a U.S. Court of Appeals case stated that when medical records are unclear, decision-makers are justified to tip the scales in favor of an assumption that a claimant is likely feigning the disability. The case cited a story of fraud.   (Ghanim v. Colvin763 F.3d 1154 (9th Cir. 2014)) 

This is the kind of generalized information I mean.  

It’s jarring to read this advice in case law, but … I rather appreciate the honesty.

EscapingThe stories of fraud, even when true, represent a tiny fraction of the scope of the disability program.  

Nonetheless, the stories are a huge embarrassment to the Administration, to its decision-makers, to private attorneys representing disabled claimants, and to the claimants themselves.  

Everyone is injured by fraud.  Everyone is implicated by fraud.  

Everyone.  Everyone.  Everyone.  Even all the law-abiding everyones. 

With the rise of stories of fraud in the press, and the documented decline in awards of benefits to claimants, one wonders whether these variables are merely correlated, or whether the rise of the stories is a cause of the decline.  The Ghanim case would suggest there is at least some causation. 

One wonders whether, in addition to Social Security’s stringent standard of what must be proven to obtain disability benefits, if claimants’ burden now also includes overcoming the presumption they are frauds at the outset. 

This would make obtaining benefits, even when truly disabled, quite a bit morePocket Watch Swinging On A Chain Black Background difficult.  Especially so if the burden wasn’t stated, but just hypnotically played itself out in the background of decision after decision after decision after decision.

Shhhh ….  When I snap my fingers, you will see fraud everywhere … when I snap my fingers you will see fraud in everyone … shhhh … decide … shhhh … decide … shhhh … decide.

The Social Security Administration is responding to fraud aggressively.  And they should.   They have increased the numbers of fraud units nationwide.  And they have announced it will be responding to fraud … even before it happens … by the use of predictive analytics.  

Predictive analytics allows fraud investigators to predict who might be a “risky person” in an effort to prevent fraud.  Preventing crime before it occurs makes sense.  Right? 

But using predictive analytics to implicate specific persons before commission of  a criminal act … that’s a bit like … like Spielberg’s film, Minority Report where crimes are foreseen by psychic “pre-cogs,” and prosecuted in advance of their occurrence!  

Tom Cruise at the Los Angeles Premiere of 'Valkyrie'. The DireTom Cruise playing the Chief of Pre-Crime bursts into a home, cuffing a suspect saying … “by mandate of D.C. Pre-crime Division, I’m placing you under arrest for the future murder of Sarah Marks, that was to take place today ….” 

It all made a kind of sense until the pre-cogs foresaw Cruise’s character planning a murder of a person he didn’t even know.

Predictive analytics would not be used to prosecute crimes before they’re committed, but would be used, according to Social Security’s Acting Commissioner Carolyn Colvin, to prevent fraudulent applications from being processed.”  

It’s unclear what … “preventing fraudulent applications from being processed” means … but it sounds like it’s … finally an articulation that claimants, or at least some of them, do have the burden to overcome a presumption they are frauds at the outset … before their applications for benefits are even processed, much less adjudicated.  

It’s jarring to hear this from the Commissioner, but … I rather appreciate the honesty.

people, children, television, friends and friendship concept - tWe need … to think this through.  We need to make informed, fully-conscious decisions.

At any rate, Jessie and I were darn lucky there wasn’t a Juvenile Pre-Crime Division back in the day. Although, in our case, we would assuredly have deserved whatever pre-punishment we got.

All people have an interest in disability determinations being made correctly.  The integrity of the program depends on it.

The devils, as always, are in the wayward little rascally details.

An Orientation to Social Security Disability Programs – Part II

bigstock-Urban-Poverty-42792958Social Security’s second disability program is “Supplemental Security Income.”  Supplemental Security Income is almost universally called “SSI.”

SSI is a poverty program.  To receive SSI, you must show that you are “disabled,” but also that you are “poor,” as defined by Social Security.  It is exclusively for people who are both disabled and poor.

To determine whether a person is poor enough for SSI, Social Security looks at “resources” (or assets), and income (earned and/or unearned).

A potential SSI recipient cannot have more than $ 2,000.00 in personal resources and still receive SSI.  Period.  This is a hard-line rule.  It does not matter how severe the disability is, or how hard-luck the story, a person with $ 2,000.00 or more in assets is simply too wealthy to receive SSI.

Resources are cash, bank accounts, stocks, bonds, certificates of deposit, life insurance with a cash-surrender value, personal property, automobiles (apart from one you need for transportation) and real property that the disabled person does not live in.

Resources is an all-or-nothing proposition.  If you have over $ 2,000.00 in resources you get no SSI whatsoever.  Period.

To illustrate the point from real life, I once had a client who was 52 years of age, mentally retarded, and had a severe heart condition.  This client had never been able to live independently, had always lived with parents, and had never been able to work.  When the client was an infant, the client’s father had purchased a life insurance policy with a cash surrender value of over $ 2,000.00.  The policy was just sitting there, but made the client “over resource” and therefore, ineligible for SSI benefits.

The inquiry about income is not as cut and dried as the all-or-nothing proposition of resources.  Income does not necessarily preclude receipt of SSI benefits, but having any will almost always cut the benefit amount.  The SSI benefit is cut based on the amount of income and the type of income, that is, whether it is earned income or unearned income, or “in-kind” support, such as being allowed to live in a relative’s home rent free.

To determine how reductions in SSI benefits are calculated, let’s start with the full SSI benefit before reductions – $ 710.00 per month.  This is the most an SSI recipient can receive in 2013.  SSI recipients cannot request a higher benefit amount based on financial hardship or severity of a disability.

Social Security reduces SSI benefits for unearned income by subtracting $ 1.00 for every $ 1.00 received from any other source – after the first $ 20.00.  Social Security will not reduce the benefit for just $ 20.00 received from an outside source in a given month, but after that first $ 20.00, the benefit is reduced dollar-for-dollar.  The thinking is that if a disabled and impoverished person has other support, such as from family, then the SSI program, and therefore taxpayers, do not have to provide it.

So, if an SSI recipient is given $ 100.00 for his or her birthday, Social Security would reduce the SSI benefit for that month by $ 80.00.  ($ 100.00 – $ 20.00 = a reduction of $ 80.00.)

The formula for calculating reductions of SSI benefits when the income is earned, i.e., as the result of work activity, is a tad more complicated, and is designed to incentivize working.  The hope is that the disabled person could find his or her way into the world of work, and into financial self-sufficiency.

For earned income, the first $ 85.00 of gross wages (not take-home pay) is exempt.  But, after that, Social Security subtracts .50 cents for every $ 1.00 of gross wages earned from the benefit.  The rule is : 50% reduction of SSI for earned income, after the first $ 85.00 of gross wages.

So, if an SSI recipient earns $ 100.00 (gross), Social Security would reduce the SSI benefit for that month by $ 7.50.  ($ 100.00 – $ 85.00 = $ 15.00, divided in half = $ 7.50.)

The formulation for earned income incentivizes work, gently pulling the support away from the disabled person as their earning power increases.

But, it is fraught with cumbersome requirements that disabled SSI recipients report their earnings to Social Security monthly – which creates headaches for SSI recipients, and for the Social Security workers who must recalculate benefits monthly based on the fluctuating monthly earnings of SSI recipients who are attempting to work.  Many believe that Social Security is automatically notified of workers’ earnings because Social Security payroll taxes are being withheld, but that is not true.

SSI recipients must also report to Social Security any changes in their living circumstances or marital status because those events could change the amount of the SSI benefit properly to be received.  For example, if an SSI recipient were to marry and the spouse was working, the SSI benefit would be reduced based on the spouse’s income.

Living on even the full SSI benefit amount of $ 710.00 per month is difficult, and many SSI recipients live on reduced amounts.  Furthermore, SSI benefits do not have Medicare health insurance coverage.  So, not only are recipients of SSI surviving on a very thin, fixed income, they do not have health insurance through Social Security.  It is not an easy life.

In my experience, recipients of SSI are grateful for the basic support it provides, but by no means would choose it if they were able to work.  Life on SSI is not an enviable life.  It is an impoverished, difficult life – not in the least enviable.  The idea that people are clamoring for this modest benefit, and willing to commit fraud for its acquisition is not borne out in reality.