Tuesday, November 18, 2008
A woman accused of helping her religious leader hide a decaying corpse on her toilet so they could continue collecting her Social Security was convicted of a misdemeanor in a deal for her to testify against the leader, a prosecutor said Monday. Tammy Lewis, 36, of Necedah, pleaded no contest to obstructing a police officer and fined $350 in a plea bargain that defers prosecution of more serious charges. Juneau County Circuit John Roemer ordered her to pay the fine within 60 days or serve a seven-day jail sentence.
Lewis and Alan Bushey, 58, were accused of hiding 90-year-old Magdeline Alvina Middlesworth's body on a toilet in Lewis' home after she died in March. Investigators said Middlesworth and Lewis were members of a religious sect Bushey led called the Order of the Divine Will.
Bushey told Lewis that God would revive Middlesworth, who friends and family said was from Washington state, investigators said. Lewis in May initially told a sheriff's deputy that Middlesworth was on vacation. The deputy later discovered the elderly woman's rotting body in Lewis' stench-filled home.
She also told authorities she was Middlesworth's power of attorney, and the older woman used all of her money to support their six-member religious group. Investigators believe Middlesworth's Social Security and annuity checks totaling nearly $3,000 were deposited after her death into a bank account she shared with Lewis.
As part of Lewis' plea deal, five other charges, including three felony counts of hiding a corpse and causing mental harm to a child, will be dismissed in two years if she cooperates with prosecutors and follows other court orders involving her children, District Attorney Scott Southworth said.
"We view her as a victim as well of Alan Bushey," Southworth said. "We also understand the power, the mental power, that Alan Bushey was exercising over her, the coercion he was exerting over her." A deferred prosecution agreement calls for Lewis to continue to receive mental health treatment and testify against Bushey in a trial set to begin in April, the prosecutor said. She and her two children, now ages 12 and 15, will be witnesses in the trial, he said.
Lewis' son told detectives Bushey told him demons were destroying Middlesworth's appearance as she decayed in the bathroom to make it look like she wouldn't rise from the dead, the criminal complaint said.
Source: AP/The Capital Times (Madison, WI), http://www.madison.com/tct/news//index.php?ntid=314772
Monday, October 27, 2008
Replacement rates are common and useful tools used by individuals and policy analysts to plan for retirement and assess the sufficiency of Social Security benefits and overall retirement income. Because the calculation and meaning of replacement rates differs depending on the definition of preretirement earnings, this article examines four alternative measures: final preretirement earnings, constant income payable from the present value of lifetime earnings (PV payment), wage-indexed average of lifetime earnings, and inflation-adjusted average of lifetime earnings (CPI average). The article also calculates replacement rates for Social Security beneficiaries aged 64–66 in 2005.
The Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) is a method of computing benefits for some workers who receive a pension based on non-Social Security covered work. At the end of 2006, about 970,000 beneficiaries, mainly retired workers, were affected by the WEP. This article provides a brief legislative history, describes the WEP computation, and presents statistical data about beneficiaries affected by the WEP.
The Railroad Retirement program was established in the 1930s. It provides retirement, survivor, unemployment, and sickness benefits to individuals who have spent a substantial portion of their career in railroad employment, as well as to these workers' families. This article describes the history, benefit structure, and funding of the Railroad Retirement program.
Canada's Public Pensions System is widely applauded for reducing poverty among the elderly. This article reviews benefits provided to Canada's older people and compares the Canadian system to the U.S. Supplemental Security Income program. Although Canada's system would probably be judged prohibitively expensive for the United States, the authors argue that there are nevertheless lessons to be learned from the Canadian experience.
Since its inception in 1981, Chile's system of mandatory individual retirement accounts has become a model for pension reformers around the world. A March 2008 comprehensive pension reform law made major changes that address some key policy challenges including worker coverage, gender equity, pension adequacy, and administrative fees. The cornerstone of the new law sets up a basic universal pension as a supplement to the individual accounts system.
Access full bulletin: http://www.ssa.gov/policy/docs/ssb/v68n2/index.html
Friday, October 17, 2008
From the Social Security Administration:
Monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income benefits for more than 55 million Americans will increase 5.8 percent in 2009, the Social Security Administration announced today. The 5.8 percent increase is the largest since 1982.
Social Security and Supplemental Security Income benefits increase automatically each year based on the rise in the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W), from the third quarter of the prior year to the corresponding period of the current year. This year's increase in the CPI-W was 5.8 percent.
The 5.8 percent Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) will begin with benefits that over 50 million Social Security beneficiaries receive in January 2009. Increased payments to more than 7 million Supplemental Security Income beneficiaries will begin on December 31.
Some other changes that take effect in January of each year are based on the increase in average wages. Based on that increase, the maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax (taxable maximum) will increase to $106,800 from $102,000. Of the estimated 164 million workers who will pay Social Security taxes in 2009, about 11 million will pay higher taxes as a result of the increase in the taxable maximum.
Information about Medicare changes for 2009 can be found at www.medicare.gov.
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
Dick Kaplan's article entitled “A Guide to Starting Social Security Benefits,” has just
appeared in the Journal of Retirement Planning (July-Aug. 2008) and is
available at: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1192902
Abstract: When a person should begin taking Social Security retirement benefits is a critical question for planning one’s retirement. This article explains the various factors at play in determining the optimum starting point, including: longevity considerations; spousal implications, whether for a previously employed or a previously unemployed spouse; the impact of post-retirement employment; the availability of health insurance prior to Medicare eligibility for the worker and the worker’s spouse; alternative sources of retirement income, including distributions from retirement savings plan assets and lifetime liquidation of nonretirement assets (and the pertinent income tax ramifications); and anticipated investment strategies.
Friday, July 18, 2008
Scare Tactics: Why Social Security Is Not in Crisis
Opponents of Social Security have been striving to convince American workers, especially young adults, that Social Security will no longer exist by the time they retire. Phrases such as "imminent crisis" and "unmanageable costs" lace this rhetoric. To a large extent, this alarmism is voiced by those who are hostile to government and therefore favor replacing all or part of one of this nation’s most successful and essential programs with private investment accounts. Bernard Wasow demonstrates why the "crisis" in Social Security is actually quite manageable. Originally published in 2004, this document was updated in July 2008.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
The SSA's Office of the Inspector General has published a report on financial institutions that have been charging service fees for garnishing accounts holding Social Security funds. Federal law prohibits involuntary alienation of SS funds on deposit except in very limited circumstances. Here's a summary of the report:
"The objective of our review was to determine whether financial institutions (FI) were
deducting service fees and garnishments from beneficiaries’ direct deposit, personal
accounts. This report contains information related to the 12 largest FIs and a sample of
13 small-, medium- and large-sized FIs that received electronic deposit of payments to
Social Security beneficiaries in the United States from September 1, 2006 through
August 31, 2007. Specifically, this report contains information on
• the number of FIs that allowed the garnishment of Old-Age, Survivors and Disability
Insurance (OASDI)1 and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI)2 payments;
• the number of accounts upon which garnishment-related fees were imposed and the
total dollar amount of fees charged to these accounts as a result of the garnishment;
• the types of fees these FIs charged beneficiaries."
Read the report here: http://www.ssa.gov/oig/ADOBEPDF/A-15-08-28031.pdf
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
The government plans to announce today that it will offer MasterCard debit cards to the estimated 4 million Social Security recipients who don't have bank accounts. Instead of getting a paper check, a recipient's monthly benefit would be electronically transferred, at no cost, to the debit card's balance. Using the card to make purchases ould be free, as would one ATM withdrawal a month. Switching from paper checks to the debit card would save recipients -- and taxpayers -- a fair amount of money. It costs the government 88 cents more to send a paper check than it does to transfer money electronically. And people without bank accounts pay on average $6 to cash a check, according to the Treasury Department.
Source/more: LA Times, http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-debit10-2008jun10,0,27432.story
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Social Security Reform: Possible Effects on the Elderly Poor and Mitigation Options
April 04, 2008
|>Open CRS (User submitted)|
Summary: Social Security has significantly reduced elderly poverty. The elderly poverty rate has fallen from 35% in 1959 to an all-time low of 9% in 2006, in large part because of Social Security. If Social Security benefits did not exist, an estimated 44% the elderly would be poor today assuming no changes in behavior. The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, also provides benefits to the poorest elderly, many of whom do not qualify for Social Security benefits. However, despite these programs, about 3.4 million elderly individuals remained in poverty in 2006. The Social Security system faces a long-term financing problem. The Social Security Trustees project cash-flow deficits beginning in 2017 and trust fund insolvency in 2041. Many recent proposals to improve system solvency would reduce Social Security benefits in the future. Benefit reductions could affect the lowincome elderly, many of whom rely on Social Security benefits for almost all of their income. Such potential benefit reductions could lead to higher rates of poverty among the elderly compared to those projected under the current benefit formula. Because the low-income elderly are especially vulnerable to benefit reductions, many recent Social Security reform proposals have included minimum benefits or other provisions that would mitigate the effect of benefit cuts on the elderly poor. This report analyzes the projected effects of four possible approaches to mitigating the effects of Social Security benefit reductions on elderly poverty in 2042, the first full year of projected trust fund insolvency. The options are compared to a payable baseline, which assumes current-law benefits would need to be cut across the board to balance Social Security's annual income and spending at the point of insolvency. The four options examined are (1) a poverty-line Social Security minimum benefit; (2) a sliding-scale Social Security minimum benefit; (3) a povertyline SSI benefit; and (4) a poverty-line SSI benefit with liberalized eligibility.
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Comptroller General David Walker on Monday "chided" Congress for "ignoring the long-term financial crisis" for entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, CongressDaily reports. In an interview with National Journal Group writers and editors, Walker, who will leave his post next week, said that Congress is "doing nothing about the $53 trillion hole" in funds for entitlement programs during the 21st century. Walker recommended that the next president appoint a bipartisan commission to develop a proposal to address the issue and submit the plan to Congress. In addition, Walker recommended a "mandatory reconsideration trigger" for a reduction in Medicare spending in the event that spending for the program increases at a higher rate.
Under current law, the president must propose legislation to revise Medicare when trustees estimate for two consecutive years that general fund revenue would finance more than 45% of total program costs within seven years. The law does not require a reduction in Medicare spending. Walker said, "We write a blank check for (health care)," adding, "There is no other country in the world dumb enough to do that."
Source/more: KFF Daily Health Policy Report, http://kaisernetwork.org/daily_reports/rep_index.cfm?DR_ID=50917
Monday, February 11, 2008
President Bush's fiscal 2009 budget proposal will help the Social Security Administration tackle staffing shortages and a backlog on retirement and disability claims, the agency's commissioner said this week.
The president requested $10.3 billion for Social Security's administrative expenses, a $580 million increase over what Congress appropriated in fiscal 2008. The funding boost would be the largest increase the agency has received in a decade, and will help offset significant backlogs in claims, said SSA Commissioner Michael Astrue.
"The Social Security Administration is now at a crossroads," Astrue said. "Due to the aging of the baby boomers, we are facing an avalanche of retirement and disability claims at the same time that we must address large backlogs due to years of increasing workloads and limited resources."
The number of workers receiving Social Security retirement benefits is expected to increase by 13 million over the next decade. At the agency's Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, there is a backlog of 750,000 hearing requests, up more than 300,000 since 2000. Over the last seven years, processing times for disability hearings have grown by 200 days, burdening disabled workers and their families, Astrue said.
Many of SSA's problems stem from the 4,000 jobs eliminated in the past two years. The result is longer wait times and more customers. Astrue said more than half of the people who call agency field offices now receive a busy signal. "Adequate funding is critical for fiscal 2009 and must be sustained in the years ahead," he said. "Without it, SSA's service crisis will deepen at a time when our aging population is increasingly counting on Social Security programs."
The president's budget proposal is $100 million less than the figure Astrue cited during congressional testimony as necessary to fully restore workforce cuts and invest in technology. Nevertheless, the commissioner said Monday that the proposed boost would greatly help the agency attack many of its most pressing challenges.
Sunday, February 10, 2008
This classic work by the indefatigable Dick Kaplan is a must-read for talking heads, law profs, and anyone else who thinks they know what's up with the Social Security.
Abstract: Few federal programs are as well known and as widely misunderstood as Social Security, despite its national prominence in matters both political and economic. As efforts to reform this creation of the Great Depression era are likely in the coming years, this article examines the principal myths surrounding this program to set the stage for evaluating possible revisions. The myths considered in this article include the following: (1) there is a trust fund, (2) Social Security does not increase the federal budget deficit; (3) retirees are only recovering their own money, (4) Social Security will not be there when one retires, (5) retirement benefits are proportional to one's lifetime earnings, (6) Social Security favors two-income married couples, (7) Social Security favors long-lived marriages, (8) one could do better investing directly, (9) working after retirement makes financial sense, and (10) retirement benefits are taxed more heavily than other pension payments.
And for some interesting info on how to fix the SS "crisis", see Jon Formans VCPPTs (very cool power points): http://tinyurl.com/384g39
Sunday, February 3, 2008
In a report on the Netherlands, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) says that the Netherlands should soften its redundancy laws and raise its pension age. Both measures are intended to keep more people in work. The OECD points out that while pension age in the Netherlands has been the same for 50 years, life expectancy during the sameperiod has increased by more than six years. The Dutch government is not in favour of raising pension age, but the OECD rEdit HTMLecommends increasing it gradually to 67. The organisation also thinks that job protection laws hamper the flow of workers in the labour market. The relatively strong position of employees means that job seekers have a harder time finding work.
Robert M. Ball, an indefatigable champion of Social Security who was present practically at its creation in 1935 and rose in the bureaucracy to become its commissioner under three presidents, has died. He was 93. Ball, a resident of suburban Maryland, died Tuesday night after a brief illness, according to the National Academy of Social Insurance. Ball was the founding chairman of the organization. Active virtually until his death, Ball was a key player on a package that rescued Social Security from financial ruin in 1983 and as recently as last year was writing alternatives to President Bush's proposal to privatize the program, an approach that Ball abhorred. "No individual has done more to advance American social insurance programs than Robert M. Ball," said Lawrence Thompson, chairman of the National Academy of Social Insurance. "He led the Social Security program for more than 20 years, and he has been its most influential and articulate advocate, architect and philosopher."
Source/more: LA Times.
Monday, January 28, 2008
Around 2.7 million people have incorrect Social Security payment information on a needed tax document, the Social Security Administration said Thursday as the agency moved quickly to mail out corrections. The document affected is the Social Security Benefit Statement, or Form SSA-1099. That document is needed by Social Security recipients to complete their federal income tax return and to find out whether their benefits are subject to income tax. The Social Security Administration mailed those statements to 53 million people in January. It goes to people who received a Social Security payment during the previous calendar year. The agency said a computer programming error caused Medicare Part C and/or Part D premium deduction amounts, and some garnishment deduction amounts, for 2006 to be included in the amounts reported for 2007. That meant the "Benefits for 2007" fields, which are boxes 3 and 5 of the SSA-1099, and the "Description of Amount in Box 3" field had incorrect amounts for the affected people. Corrected SSA-1099s and an apology will be in the mail by Friday, the agency said. The programming error also has been fixed. The corrected SSA-1099 will have "Corrected Notice" on the envelope and "Corrected Tax Information" on the SSA-1099 itself in red typeface.
Source/more: Ap/Google, http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5jdO6jPNnbdyp3dwoArVlnfCtJdnwD8UCI0TO0
Friday, October 26, 2007
This event examines advocacy for older Americans by the National Senior Citizens Law Center the Center for Medicare Advocacy. Panelists discuss continuing challenges facing older Americans.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Come January, Social Security benefits for nearly 50 million Americans are going up 2.3 percent, the smallest increase in four years. It will mean an extra $24 per month in the average check, the government announced Wednesday. The cost of living adjustment means that the monthly benefit for the typical retired worker in 2008 will go from $1,055 currently to $1,079 next year. The adjustment, announced by the Social Security Administration, will go to more than 54 million Americans. Nearly 50 million receive Social Security benefits and the rest get Supplemental Security Income payments aimed at helping the poor.
Source/more: Minneapolis Star Tribune, http://www.startribune.com/484/story/1490199.html
Official announcement from the SSA: http://ssa.gov/pressoffice/pr/2008cola-pr.htm
2008 Social Security Fact Sheet: http://ssa.gov/pressoffice/factsheets/colafacts2008.htm
Monday, October 8, 2007
Deteriorating health and declining incomes threaten the welfare and security of many people as they enter old age. Nearly 80 per cent of older persons living in developing countries (about 342 million people) lack adequate income security, a figure that could, according to the World Economic and Social Survey 2007 (http://www.un.org/esa/policy/wess), rise to 1.2 billion by 2050 if pension coverage does not keep pace with demographic changes. The Survey suggests that a minimal universal social pension provides the surest way to tackle the problem. Universal pensions would provide a floor below which nobody could fall. Moreover, they could provide the basis for a more comprehensive pension system which may consist of a mixture of public and private initiatives adapted in accordance with existing country practices, financial circumstances and equity considerations.
Tackling Insecurity in Old Age: The Challenge of Universal Pensions
Tuesday, August 7, 2007
Before every holiday, Shmuel Reiner goes to wealthy families in the Haifa area and collects food for other Holocaust survivors less fortunate than he. Yesterday, the 70-year-old joined dozens of other survivors and some 3,000 other Israelis in a march from the Knesset to the Prime Minister's Office, to protest the government's treatment of survivors who, in Reiner's words, "don't even have a cucumber in the refrigerator." Waving a small Israeli flag, Reiner, who survived the hell of Czernowitz as a child of eight, ascended the podium to address the demonstrators, and declared: "I'm proud of the State of Israel, but ashamed of its leaders. My heart aches over the fact that the government has brought those survivors still capable of standing on their feet to demonstrate here." Miriam Yahav, 78, of Be'er Sheva, drew media attention two-and-a-half years ago when, at a ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, she screamed from the dais: "Why did they make me an orphan? Why did they burn my family and my people?" Yesterday, she was once again asking why - but this time, of Israeli governments, past and present.
Source and more at Haaretz.com, http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/890276.html
Disabled by an enlarged heart and unable to work, welder David Olson, 54, waited almost two years to be approved for Social Security disability payments. In July, he was found dead in his recliner at his Montana home. Gerald Keyes, a 59-year-old former City of Milwaukee garbage collector, sits in his living room behind his line of prescription drugs last week. Keyes has been waiting for over a year for his Social Security benefits to kick in. His sister, Nancy Olson, 53, of Milwaukee, fears help might come too late for her, as well. She is on continuous oxygen because of a rare lung disease caused by inhaling microscopic spores of a fungus. Olson is part of a nationwide backlog of more than 749,000 seriously ill people who say they are unable to work and are awaiting a decision on disability payments. She's been waiting almost two years. Workers who have paid Social Security taxes but are unable to work until retirement are eligible for subsidized health insurance and a stipend that averages about $979 a month. "I have nothing, absolutely nothing," said Olson, a former school photographer, who is living in a friend's home. "I paid into the system since I was 16 years old. I am in dire straits. It hurts now when I need help and there is no response." Her brother was approved for benefits just before he died. He "never even got a check," she said. The situation is acute in Milwaukee and getting worse. Last month, 10,956 people were waiting for a hearing to determine whether they qualify for the benefit. That's up about 19% since September 2005 and a historic high, according to records obtained by the Journal Sentinel. The average wait is 651 days
More in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, http://www.jsonline.com/story/index.aspx?id=642700