Friday, February 1, 2019

SocialSecurity Defrauds Another Widow(er)


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Social Security Defrauds Yet Another Widow(er) -This Could Be You!

A bunch of American dollars in denominations of 100 dollars notes rolled up and held together with a simple rubber band with two stack of american dollars in denominations of 100 dollars isolated on a white background.Getty
Social Security just defrauded Seattle-based William Shimeall of tens of thousands of dollars in widower benefits based on a decision by Social Security's Administrative Law Judge Glenn G. Myers.
Bill's story is instructive. It teaches us a lesson we all should already know - You can't trust anything the Social Security staff tells you. Nor can you rely on them to keep you from doing something that can only lower, potentially dramatically, your future benefits.
It also teaches us a new lesson. Social Security's self-appointed "judges" aren't, apparently, sworn to uphold justice. Instead, they appear sworn to uphold Social Security's patently fraudulent decisions no matter the size of the swindle.
Here are the facts. Judge for yourself.
Bill Shimeall turned full retirement age on August 3, 2015. Around that time much was written, including by me and my co-authors in our book, Get What's Yours - the Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security, about the file and suspend option which let eligible disabled children and spouses collect child and spousal benefits without forcing the primary earner to file before age 70 and accept permanently reduced benefits.

Some high-earning spouses were also able to use this mechanism to collect spousal benefits while waiting to collect their own highest retirement benefit. People in the Obama Administration decided, with no hearings or actual evidence, that this was, on balance, a boondoggle for the rich. So in November 2015, the Democrats in the House let House Republicans rewrite the law and hide the changes inside the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015.
I saw a draft of the bill on a Sunday. The vote was scheduled for later that week. The next morning I posted a Forbes column pointing out that the new Social Security provisions would mean benefit cuts in six months for lots of people. Within a few hours of the appearance of the column, there were two highly complex amendments passed by Congress that included grandfathering clauses, some of which still pertain to millions of people, by the way.


In any case, the new law with its complex amendments went into effect in November 2017. Then Social Security's headquarters sent misleading instructions to staff all around the country about the new  provisions. Through December, January and February of 2016, I kept getting emails from people saying they had read my columns, which said X, but that Social Security staff were saying not X. I started writing these mistakes up on a weekly basis hoping someone at Social Security was monitoring my columns and would fix things. Sure enough, in February 2016, senior staff at Social Security set up a conference call with me. During the call, I explained what the new law actually said and how it differed from what had been stated in the instructions. Within hours of the call, new instructions were issued. But the damage had been done. People continued to be misadvised by Social Security staff for months all over the country.
Bill appears to have been one of them. He went into his local Lynnwood Social Security office, located near Seattle, Washington, in early April 2016 to discuss filing and suspending his retirement benefit so his ailing wife could start collecting a spousal benefit while waiting for her disability benefit to be approved. Bill was under the impression that by going into the office and calling Social Security before the April 29, 2016 deadline he would be viewed as having met the deadline and be given more time to complete the paperwork. April 29th was the deadline for people who were grandfathered to file and suspend and have others collect benefits on their work records. We can still file and suspend. What we can't do, if we filed and suspended after April 29, 2016, is let others collect benefits on our records while our own retirement benefit is in suspension.
Bill spoke with several different people at the Lynwood Office that day and in the ensuing weeks. Each told him something different. In any case, in early May, Bill, thinking he was grandfathered because he had gone into the Lynwood Office to discuss filing and suspending before April 29th, proceeded to file and suspend.
Thereafter, Bill had lots of confusing back and fourths with the folks at the Lynwood office to find out why his wife's spousal benefits hadn't started. But by October, his wife had been granted disability benefits, so he stopped worrying about getting her spousal benefits.
In June 2017, Bill's wife died. Bill then applied for his widower's benefit believing a) he would receive his full widower's benefit of $944 a month and b) that he could wait until 70 to collect his own age-70 retirement benefit. Instead of receiving the $944, Bill was awarded $18 per month in widower's benefits. Why? Because he had filed for his retirement benefit back in May 2016. It didn't matter that his benefit was in suspension. Nor did it matter that his filing for and suspending his retirement benefit could never have helped his wife get spousal benefits under the new law.
No, Bill had filed for his retirement benefit, so Social Security treated him as if he were actually collecting his retirement benefit and since his retirement benefit exceeded his widowers benefit he was to receive the difference, if positive, between his widower and retirement benefit. I.e., he was to receive zero. The fact that Social Security decided he was owed $18 per month was another mistake.
Bill appealed the decision saying he had been mislead by Social Security when he filed and suspended. He hadn't been told that doing so could wipe out his potential widower benefit. Given his wife's physical condition, potentially losing his widower's benefit was a real possibility. But no one at the Lynnwood office told him this in either April or May. Indeed, in early May, before filing, he contacted a top Seattle financial planner, Julie Price, who warned him that he might endanger his potential widower benefit if he filed and suspended and that he should come see her. Bill didn't want to spend the money on outside advice, so went with what the Lynnwood staff were saying and weren't saying.
What the staff should have told Bill was, It's past the April 29, 2016 deadline. You and your wife have absolutely NOTHING to gain by your filing and suspending and potentially some $40,000 to LOSE in widowers benefits if she passes in the near term.
But the staff didn't tell Bill any of this. Instead they sat back and helped him shoot himself in the head by filing and suspending, whose sole impact, they knew or should have known, would only serve to eliminate his widower's benefit were his wife to die before he reached 70.
"Judge" Myers looked at the evidence and decided that Bill had, in fact, been warned about a possible widower's benefit issue by, get this, Julie Price and should have followed Julie's advice, not what the Lynnwood staff Social Security were and weren't saying. I.e., Bill, according to the "judge," should have followed the advice not of the Social Security professionals, but of a financial advisor whom Bill didn't know.
Based on Bill's "mistake" in relying on Social Security, he, not Social Security was at fault and he must suffer the consequences. This was the 'judge's" ruling.
The injustice here is staggering. Just think about this. Due to the Lynnwood's office's clear mistake (It should have refused to process Bill's request unless he signed a paper stating that filing could only hurt him financially.), the Judge Myers not only defrauded Bill. He also defrauded Bill's wife. She worked her entire life, paid Social Security taxes her entire life, only to have those taxes be confiscated by incompetent bureaucrats and a judge who seems not to understand the requirements of the word justice.
Bill is not alone in being defrauded by the Social Security system. Social Security's Inspector General's Report of ( of February 14, 2018 documents the routine failure of Social Security staff to provide proper guidance to actual, let alone near-term prospective widow(er)s).
I wrote about this report last year. And I wrote about the problem of Social Security's defrauding widow(er)s back in 2015 based on a courageous Social Security whistle blower's inside account. Social Security has the ability to go back and determine how much money they stole from people by letting them make filing decisions or making those filing decisions for them when such decisions could only work to their detriment. Once that determination is made, Social Security should provide restitution of such stolen benefits to participants or their survivors.
But back to Bill and "Judge" Myers. Any decent Social Security judge would conclude that if the staff assists someone in filing a claim that can only lower their benefits in the future and can never raise them, under any circumstance, that the staff has clearly made an error, to put it mildly. In this case, the judge should withdrawal the filing even if it's beyond the 12-month withdraw deadline, of which Bill was also not informed.
Judge Myers, it's time to reverse your decision and stand up for the millions of widows and widowers who have been terribly defrauded by Social Security staff, either knowingly or accidentally, over the years via staff-assisted or unilateral staff decisions that served only to financially injure actual or prospective widow(er)s.
Follow me @kotlikoff To safely raise your living standard and assess your investment risk, check out MaxiFi and my company. Pls pose Social Security questions at Ask Larry.
I am a professor of economics at Boston University, a Fellow of the American Academy, a Research Associate of the NBER, and President of Economic Security Planning, Inc. -- a company that markets personal financial planning tools at,,...

After Reconsidering The Reconsideration Step, SSA Added It Again To The 5-Step Process

Changes in Social Security disability application process affect Louisianans

 Administration has recently implemented changes to their Social Security Disability Income application process, including the reinstatement of the reconsideration step in the claim application process in five states, with Louisiana among them.
The SSA removed the reconsideration step from the claim application process in ten states in 1999, and is adding it back now as part of an effort to save money. Some filing for disability may benefit from reconsideration, but others will see longer delays in claim processing.
“What people basically need to know is that starting January 1, Louisiana applicants see a new step in the process of filing for SSDI,” said Mike Stein, assistant vice president of Operations Strategy and Planning with Allsup, an organization that helps claim applicants navigate the process.
Reconsideration takes places after an initial application has been denied, which happens in two out of every three claims. For the 13 percent of people who get accepted after reconsideration, this step saves them time and saves the government money. The other 87 percent of applicants will continue to the appeal process, so reconsideration effectively adds three to six months processing time to their claim,” Stein said.
Part of FICA taxes workers pay each year funds SSDI benefits, as sort of a long term insurance program for workers who become injured beyond their ability to continue working.
“There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about the program,” Stein said. “People think it’s easy to get on and the government just gives away money, but it’s actually a very stringent program. It’s only open to people who have paid in through their taxes and have been injured in a serious and long term way. So, most of our clients are people who have been dealt some of the worst hands anyone can be dealt, from a medical standpoint.”
After a worker is injured and files a claim with the SSA, an initial determination is made after four to six months, with about 34 percent of claims approved on average. For nearly twenty years, Louisiana claimants moved from an initial rejection into an appeal process, held before a judge, with wait times that currently average around 450 days. Rejected claims filed after January 1 will now move into the reconsideration phase prior to an appeal process.
“Back in the late 90s, the SSA looked at the reality that only 13 percent of applications were accepted following reconsideration and decided to see if they could save money, or speed things up, by eliminating that step,” Stein said. “The Trump Administration now says it has research indicating it could result in a net savings to keep reconsideration.”
SSDI appeal hearings are expensive, requiring judges, vocational and medical experts and travel budgets.
“The Trump Administration says that 13 percent less appeal hearings could save money,” Stein said. “For the people who see their application granted during reconsideration, this will also save time. The vast majority of people will see additional time and paperwork as part of their SSDI claim process.”
There has been some controversy surrounding the introduction of the SSA’s new policy. During a congressional meeting of the House Ways and Means Committee last summer, several members objected to the reinstatement of the reconciliation process, and acting SSA commissioner Nancy Berryhill signed a letter along with eleven members of Congress arguing that “there is little evidence to show that reconsideration is a meaningful step in the disability appeals process.”
Despite some resistance to recent changes, the Trump Administration has nominated a new commissioner to head the agency – Andrew Saul and plans to move forward.
“They have a roll out schedule in place and we can expect to see more changes in April and October, and well as early next year. These changes can make an already complex situation more confusing, and we just encourage people to hire someone knowledgeable to try and shorten what will already be a long time without income after an injury,” Stein said.
28th January 2019 
By Meghan Holmes
Contributing Writer
The Social Security