Board of Directors 2014-2015
President Robert McDowell Elizabethtown, KY
Vice President Steve Skinner Redding, CA
Secretary Philip Litteral Ashland, KY
Treasurer Michael Wener Memphis, TN
LEGISLATIVE UPDATE BY JEANNE MORIN
Directors-at-Large Karen Starr Grand Rapids, MI
Greg Cates Memphis, TN
PO Box 96503 #30550 Washington, CSU DC 20090-6503
Patty Sexton Wauna, WA
GAL PHILIP LITTERAL NADR National Office
Barbara Manna Pittsburgh, PA
NADR National Office
Administrators Eva Sirman 202-822-2155 firstname.lastname@example.org
Julie Phelps 202-822-2155 email@example.com
PO Box 96503 Washington, DC 20090-6503 N 822-2155 ATIONA Phone: (202)
L ASSOCIATION OF DISABILITY REPRESENTATIVES
LEGISLATIVE UPDATE FROM JEANNE MORIN PUBLIC POLICY ADVISOR NADR’s legislative committee traveled to Washington, D.C. in September for two days of meetings with SSA officials and congressional staff concerning Social Security’s disability programs. Here is a summary of those visits. In our meeting with senior SSA officials we learned that modernization of the disability program is an agency priority. They noted that Commissioner Saul is focusing money and resources on service issues, including the 800 number and IT solutions, adding that upgrades to the Registration Appointment and Services for Representatives (RASR) platform is expected to centralize and streamline representative workloads. The next planned upgrade is to provide access to the folder at the initial and reconsideration steps, but they provided no time frame for completing this. With regard to WorkTrack, they took note of our report that documents are being held up in the fax queue. They confirmed that the process is still a manual one, and encouraged NADR to provide information on where there are habitual problems. They asked that representatives give SSA three days to process documents after submitting them. They told us that they plan to propose changes to the vocational guidelines concurrently with issuing a regulation to replace the Dictionary of Occupational Titles with the Occupational Information System. They described the Vocational Regulation Modernization (VRM) as a regulatory change that will look at age, education and work experience and factor in part-time v. full-time work, and noted that all options are on the table. There is no set time frame, but they indicated that the plan is to published proposed rules during FY 2020. The public will have an opportunity to comment on any such rule before it can be adopted in final form.
SSA acknowledged that the proposals in previous President’s budget requests to do away with fee withholding for representatives would require a statutory change that has not gained traction in Congress. On a related note, they have asked a technical expert panel to look into whether changing the structure of the representative fee would create more complete filings, and speculated that granting access to the file at the initial and reconsideration levels could be part of a demonstration project on changing the payment structure. Commissioner Saul wants to continue to speed up the reduction in wait times and the hearings backlog and eliminate wait-time disparities. The average wait time was 506 days in September, which is a threemonth decline from the beginning of the fiscal year. They are on track to reduce the wait to 270 days by 2021, but noted that the COSS wants to reduce the time even further. SSA believes that video hearings are central to eliminating wait time disparities, either at a National Hearing Center or another hearing office. They asserted that a claimant’s ability to opt out of a video hearing is part of the problem and noted that San Francisco has the highest wait times. Within the next nine months, 20 offices will be able to say how long an individual request for a hearing will take to get that hearing. Video is key to bridging that gap, they believe. Thirty percent of hearings are now done by video, and they are looking to increase capacity. They reported that they have closed 30-35 video hearing sites that didn’t meet standards and asked NADR to keep providing information on inadequate hearing sites. We reiterated our concern about the quality of video technology and encouraged ALJ training on operating video equipment. NADR LEGISLATIVE NEWSLETTER
LEGISLATIVE UPDATE We raised concerns about implementation of Centralized Scheduling Units. They acknowledged that there have been some issues as the system is adopted, but believe that ultimately it will provide consistency, a more standard business process and better allocation of resources. They invited NADR to participate in a focused CSU discussion during which they will provide a point of contact representatives can go to with issues. That discussion is scheduled for mid-November. Their ultimate goal is a single hub for submitting scheduling information that will be available to all CSUs. This will allow CSUs to see where representatives are scheduled in other regions. They could not provide a timeline for implementation, but said they should have one in a couple of months. We again expressed frustration about the representative referral lists not conforming to SSA policy. SSA officials asserted that they should be policy compliant and consistent at field offices, hearing offices and DDS’s. She welcomed examples of how they should be organized and committed to look into the matter, which we are working on providing.
Appropriations Committee staff acknowledged that SSA needs adequate administrative funding in order to improve customer service and assure timely decisions and payment of benefits. However, they indicated that the FY 2020 Labor/HHS Subcommittee allocation, which includes SSA’s administrative budget, is expected to be extremely tight, assuming they can reach agreement to conference full-year appropriations bills. The federal government currently is operating under a Continuing Resolution that extends FY 2019 funding levels through November 21st. A deal seems unlikely before then; the question at the moment is whether a second CR will extend funding authority for a few weeks or take current funding levels into next year. Under any scenario it appears unlikely that SSA’s administrative budget will keep pace with inflation next year. We are fortunate to have established long-term relationships with the key staffers who advise Congress on Social Security issues. We will continue to stay in touch with them and report to you on congressional activity affecting the Social Security Administration and its disability programs.
On Capitol Hill, we met with senior congressional staff for the authorizing and appropriations committees with jurisdiction over SSA. House Ways & Means Social Security Subcommittee staff indicated that scheduling a mark-up of Chairman Larson’s (D-CT) Social Security 2100 Act and getting it to the House floor this year is the top priority. There was bipartisan, bicameral agreement that having a confirmed Commissioner should improve the operations and communication at SSA. We expressed our support for legislation introduced in both Houses to strengthen and improve Social Security, and in particular its disability programs.
NADR LEGISLATIVE NEWSLETTER
NADR’S GAL GOES TO WASHINGTON: FROM THE PRESIDENT This September past, I found myself visiting the Capital in an unfamiliar role – questioning my path, and even wondering about the purpose of our efforts before SSA and Congress. To be sure, I’ve been steeped in the process of meeting Deputy Commissioners and Congressional Staff for a while now. Ever since President Skinner, in his wisdom, began dragging me along on these visits five or so years ago, it’s been my good fortune to learn from the best. In fact, on the overwhelmingly momentous issue of direct fee payment, my early visits were with “Mr. Demo Project”, Art Kaufman; and “Mr. Public Law”, Scot Whitaker. In the arena of representing the interests of Members, you can’t hope for more effective corner help than that! Add to that the boundless wisdom and skill of our Public Policy Advisor, Jeanne Morin; the “Face of NADR”, Eva Sirman; and the sage advice of former SSA Commissioner, Lou Enoff! What a high-powered team! We could accomplish anything, right? (Meh). Often, we barely treaded water. Then Mr. Astrue’s term expired. Then Lou Enoff retired. Then bicameral priorities changed. I’ve sometimes defended our Washington and Baltimore trips against implied suggestions that they amounted to mere Quixotic tilts for patronage. A major goal of our engagement is to show SSA that we are the good guys, and that— without us—their jobs would become much more difficult, and claimant’s rights would suffer. But there are ebbs and flows to our successes. There are visits wherein SSA seems to genuinely listen and respond to our questions and concerns. After other visits it has felt as if we were merely tolerated, fortunate to hold our place. Our trips to The Hill, therefore, grow increasingly vital — providing an ear when we claim that SSA should remain accountable to claimants as well as trust funds. Suddenly, some of our Hill visits took on a more urgent air.
But now SSA has a confirmed Commissioner. They have a new headquarters office in D.C. Is that a tick of the pendulum I sense, swinging ever-so-slightly back in our direction? Time will tell. We had a much more productive and hopeful discussion this year, I believe. Going to SSA for marginal progress around the edges of our mounting problems -- does it help? Does keeping our faces in front of the ever-shifting personnel of Congressional staff pay dividends? As NADR’s first ever Government Affairs Liaison, I presume it’s part of my job to help make sure both answers are YES. You can read Ms. Morin’s excellent summary of all our meetings herein. In fact, you’d better. We are in this together, and without YOU – The Member – there’s no affair for me to “liaise”. (Yeah, I made that word up). For lack of participation, you’ll find the “SSA Problem Form” departing from our website, perhaps in favor of some more targeted, single-issue surveys. But the fact remains – we can sometimes help a little if we know what’s most important to you. Not at all if we don’t. Thankfully, Scot Whitaker remains here – still volunteering as your Legislative Chair! And President Cates has stepped skillfully into his role as leader of our little band of advocates. Christopher Mazzulli, your SSA Ombudsman Chair, has already attained “superstar” status at SSA Central Office. With this team, there is hope! So, I’ve (finally, and once again) concluded that – yes, we must go. It will be my honor to help take your lumps (and your swings) in the whack-a-mole arena of Washington. Philip Litteral, Government Affairs Liaison NADR LEGISLATIVE NEWSLETTER
NADR MENTORING GUIDE (For MENTO R
S and MENT
Board of Director s 2014-2015 President Robert McDowell Elizabethtown, KY Vice President Steve Skinner Redding, CA Secretary Philip Litteral Ashland, KY Treasurer Michael Wener Memphis, TN Directors-at-Large Karen Starr Grand Rapids, MI
NADR would like to thank the chair of the Mentor Guide Sub-Committee, Earline Marchand, and the following folks on her Committee for their hard work on the production of the NADR Mentoring Guide.
Greg Cates Memphis, TN
Please consider signing uptio as a Mentor or a NADR Na
Patty Sexton Wauna, WA
Barbara Manna Pittsburgh, PA
NADR National Offi ce Administrators Eva Sirman 202-822-2155 firstname.lastname@example.org Julie Phelps 202-822-2155 email@example.com g
NADR PO Box 96503 Washington, DC 20090-6503 Phone: (202) 822 -2155 Fax (972) 245-67 01 Web Site: www.n adr.org
nal Office PO Box 96503 #3 0550 Washithrough reading the guidelines. ngton, DC 2009 0-6503
We are hopeful that this will be another invalualbe NADR member benefit. Mentor Guide Sub-Committee Earline D. Marchand Carol Balderee Sherrell Rodgers Steven Gragg Brandy Bowdry Dedra Wood NADR LEGISLATIVE NEWSLETTER
NADR LEGISLATIVE NEWSLETTER
NADR LEGISLATIVE NEWSLETTER
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NADR LEGISLATIVE NEWSLETTER
CSU (CENTRALIZED SCHEDULING) UPDATE NADR’s legislative team met via conference call last month with representatives of SSA’s Office of Hearing Operations to discuss issues associated with implementation of Centralized Scheduling Units nationwide. SSA officials acknowledged that the transition has been challenging, but asserted that taking scheduling from the local level to centralized units eventually will be more efficient and consistent. They said they know there have been glitches along the way and welcomed specific examples of problems representatives encounter. They indicated that they are working to make the process consistent from one CSU to the next. For example, they plan to provide email addresses and phone numbers for a contact person in each CSU that representatives can contact if there is a scheduling issue and will issue a Point of Contact list for the manager in each office. They also plan to bring consistency to how far in advance CSUs ask for representatives’ availability and when that information is due. We began our portion of the conversation by noting that scheduling in the Atlanta East CSU is working well. Proposed schedules are sent out to representatives, who are given 10 days to notify them of any conflicts. Those issues usually are addressed within 24 hours. SSA thanked us for the feedback and noted that they are looking for best practices that can be shared with the rest of the country. We noted several issues that arise when representatives deal with CSUs in different regions. SSA acknowledged that this is a major hurdle, and they are encouraging CSUs to talk among themselves to resolve scheduling issues. They said that, in addition to contact information for each CSU manager, representatives will be provided with regional contacts who can assist when conflicts between regions arise. They said they are encouraging regions to meet with their representative community to talk through the CSU process. They indicated that Region VII does this on a regular basis and it seems to be working. We asked what to do when a conflict comes up after a representative has submitted their availability but before a hearing has been scheduled for that date. SSA is developing a Standard Operating Procedure to direct regional units to monitor the representative mailbox, note any changes in availability, and send the
representative a confirming email. If the CSU is notified before a hearing is scheduled, no explanation is needed for a change in availability. We raised concern about some CSUs scheduling the wrong representative in a firm for a hearing, particularly when representation changes between the initial and hearing levels. SSA said that as long as the ERE is updated that should not happen, and indicated they will stress to offices the need to timely annotate e-folder transactions in CPMS to assure that scheduling reports are accurate. We also noted that some CSUs assume that any representative in a firm can represent a claimant rather than scheduling based on the appointed representative’s availability. SSA said that offices should be scheduling based on the primary representative, and indicated that they will direct offices to put on a fast track for correction instances in which the wrong representative is scheduled for a hearing. They noted that, eventually, there will be a CSU hub that will allow all offices to see each other’s schedules, but there is no time frame for this to be in place. In the meantime, they have developed Data Access Report Tracking (DART) to identify potential booking problems. SSA indicated they are aware of the need to factor in travel times between hearing offices when scheduling representatives and are working to transfer local institutional knowledge to the CSUs. We also noted that morning or afternoon preferences for hearings when travel is involved are being ignored, resulting in unnecessary overnight travel for the representative. SSA agreed to address this issue with the CSUs. We also asked that the time of the hearing be added to the spreadsheet in ERE, and SSA agreed it would be helpful and said they will take it up with IT. NADR President Greg Cates thanked SSA for taking the time to talk with us and to listen to our concerns. He asked that, just as SSA has asked representatives to be patient with CSUs as they get up to speed, SSA be patient with representatives as they adapt to the new process. SSA agreed, saying that representatives are a major stakeholder and a direct line to 80 percent of all claimants. CSUs need to understand that representatives are a key part of the scheduling process and integral to meeting the claimants’ needs. NADR LEGISLATIVE NEWSLETTER
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