Social Security to be First Government Agency to Use Nationwide Health Information Network
The Social Security Administration announced today that it will be the first government agency to utilize the Nationwide Health Information Network (NHIN). Beginning in early 2009, Social Security will receive medical records for some disability applicants electronically through the NHIN gateway.
"Social Security is proud to be a leader in the use of health information technology," said Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security. "This safe and secure method for receiving electronic medical records will allow us to improve our service to the public by cutting days, if not weeks, off the time it takes to make a disability decision."
Through the NHIN, Social Security will have instantaneous access to medical records. This will significantly shorten the time it takes to make a disability decision and make the process more efficient. Social Security uses individual medical records when making a decision for more than 2.6 million people who apply for disability each year. To make those decisions, Social Security relies on doctors, hospitals, and others in the healthcare field to provide medical records in a timely fashion. The NHIN will help ensure records are received timely by making it easier and less labor-intensive for medical professionals to submit records.
Social Security is working with MedVirginia, the North Carolina Healthcare Information and Communications Alliance, and Kaiser Permanente to implement the NHIN. In early 2009, the first real-world use of the system will begin between Social Security and MedVirginia.
The NHIN is an initiative of the Department of Health and Human Services and is supported by multiple government agencies and private sector entities. Please go to www.hhs.gov/healthit/healthnetwork/background/ for more information.
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Social Security Holds Third Disability Hearing on Compassionate Allowances
Experts Provide Testimony on Traumatic Brain Injuries and Stroke
The Social Security Administration, in conjunction with the United States Department of Defense, held a public hearing on Compassionate Allowances today at Ft. Myer in Arlington, VA. Senior executives from the Department of Defense and the National Institutes of Health joined Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, to hear testimony from some of the nation's leading experts on traumatic brain injury, the signature injury of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and stroke.
"Compassionate Allowances, which we launched last month with an initial list of 50 conditions, allows us to make disability decisions on certain categories of cases in a matter of days, rather than months or years," said Commissioner Astrue. "Today's hearing gives us additional insight into how we might better recognize and fast-track the disability applications of veterans and others dealing with the effects of traumatic brain injuries and strokes."
Compassionate Allowances are a way of quickly identifying diseases and other medical conditions that invariably qualify under Social Security's disability standards based on minimal objective medical information. Today's hearing is the third of four public hearings Social Security plans to hold. Previous hearings dealt with cancers and rare diseases and resulted in the nationwide launch of the Compassionate Allowances initiative in October 2008. See the press release at: www.socialsecurity.gov/pressoffice/pr/compassionate-allowances-1008-pr.htm
Please go to www.socialsecurity.gov/compassionateallowances for more information.
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Social Security's New Retirement Estimator Rated the Federal Government's Best Online Service
In the latest quarterly ratings of the University of Michigan's American Customer Satisfaction Index for Federal Websites, the Social Security Administration's new online Retirement Estimator ranked as the best in government. The Retirement Estimator debuted with a score of 90, the highest score in this survey and the second-highest score ever received by a government website. Several other Social Security online services also are rated among the government's top performers and equal to the highest caliber private sector sites, such as Amazon and Google.
"It's great to be recognized as the best, but we're not resting on our laurels," said Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security. "We will have a series of new services in the coming year, and we are also improving some of our already successful online services."
The new Retirement Estimator is available at www.socialsecurity.gov/estimator and gives the public the opportunity to run accurate, personalized scenarios for Social Security retirement benefits in a user-friendly way.
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Social Security Announces Nationwide Launch of Compassionate Allowances
Process Will Fast Track Applications For People with Cancers and Rare Diseases
Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, today announced the national rollout of the agency's Compassionate Allowances initiative, a way to expedite the processing of disability claims for applicants whose medical conditions are so severe that their conditions obviously meet Social Security's standards.
"Getting benefits quickly to people with the most severe medical conditions is both the right and the compassionate thing to do," Commissioner Astrue said. "This initiative will allow us to make decisions on these cases in a matter of days, rather than months or years."
Social Security is launching this expedited decision process with a total of 50 conditions. Over time, more diseases and conditions will be added. A list of the first 50 impairments -- 25 rare diseases and 25 cancers -- can be found at www.socialsecurity.gov/compassionateallowances.
Before announcing this initiative, Social Security held public hearings to receive information from experts on rare diseases and cancers. The agency also enlisted the assistance of the National Institutes of Health.
Compassionate Allowances is the second piece of the agency's two-track, fast-track system for certain disability claims. When combined with the agency's Quick Disability Determination process, and once fully implemented, this two-track system could result in six to nine percent of disability claims, the cases for as much as a quarter million people, being decided in an average of six to eight days.
"This is an outstanding achievement for the Social Security Administration," said Peter Saltonstall, President of the National Organization for Rare Disorders. "It has taken Social Security less than a year to develop this much-needed program that will benefit those whose claims merit expedited consideration based on the nature of their disease. Disability backlogs cause a hardship for patients and their families. Commissioner Astrue and his staff deserve our thanks for a job well done."
"Unfortunately, many hardworking people with cancer may not only face intensive treatment to save their lives, but they may also find themselves truly unable to perform their daily work-related activities and as result, may face serious financial concerns, such as the loss of income and the cost of treatment," said Daniel E. Smith, president of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. "The Social Security Administration's Compassionate Allowances program will help streamline the disability benefits application process so that benefits are quickly provided to those who need them most."
"This is America, and it simply is not acceptable for people to wait years for a final decision on a disability claim," Commissioner Astrue said. "I am committed to a process that is as fair and speedy as possible. The launch of Compassionate Allowances is another step to ensuring Americans with disabilities, especially those with certain cancers and rare diseases, get the benefits they need quickly."
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Social Security Continues to Make Progress Expediting Backlogged Disability Cases
Limited Resources Under a Continuing Resolution Could Slow Momentum in FY 2009
During a speech to the National Organization of Social Security Claimants' Representatives, Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, reported on the progress made in fiscal year (FY) 2008 in the agency's efforts to expedite backlogged disability cases.
"The plan we presented to Congress in May 2007 is working," Commissioner Astrue said. "We have moved quickly to utilize new technologies, improve our business processes and add new staff. Combined with the hard work of our employees and the support of Congress, we are clearly on the right track to providing Americans with disabilities the prompt service they deserve."
During FY 2008, Social Security hired 190 new Administrative Law Judges (ALJs), opened a National Hearing Center (NHC), eliminated virtually its entire aged case backlog of more than 135,000 cases waiting over 900 days for a hearing decision, and implemented a quick disability determination (QDD) process in all 50 states.
As a result of these and many other activities, the disability backlog at the hearings level, which had been growing at the rate of about 70,000 cases each year for most of this decade, grew by only about 14,000 cases.
"The hiring of 190 additional ALJs was critical but will not yield immediate results," Commissioner Astrue noted. It generally takes about nine months for new ALJs to become fully productive. With attrition and experienced ALJs being used to train the new judges, the agency actually had 46 fewer ALJs available in FY 2008 than the prior year. Despite this fact, ALJs held more hearings and issued more dispositions than in FY 2007. The agency exceeded its targeted goal by over 16,000 cases.
The opening of the NHC gives Social Security the capability to quickly and flexibly move cases and conduct video hearings in the cities with the worst backlogs. NHC judges initially focused their efforts on the backlogs in Atlanta, Cleveland, and Detroit – cities where claimants had been waiting the longest. Atlanta continues to be a focus for the NHC, along with Flint, MI and Indianapolis. The agency plans to expand the NHC in Falls Church, VA as well as open additional centers in Albuquerque and Chicago. In addition, the agency is working with the General Services Administration to establish new hearing offices in the most backlogged states: Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Michigan and Ohio.
Social Security completed the nationwide roll-out of the QDD process in February 2008 and it has proven to be an unqualified success. QDD cases now represent about three percent of all new claims. This means more than 75,000 people each year will have their cases allowed in about 8 days, something that was unheard of just a year ago. The QDD threshold has now been adjusted for 31 Disability Determination Services (DDS), and the agency plans to gradually increase the volume of QDD cases while maintaining the same level of quality.
Other accomplishments in FY 2008 include:
- More than 2.6 million initial disability claims processed;
- Approximately 560,000 reconsideration cases processed;
- Over 575,000 hearing requests processed;
- Over 83,000 Appeals Council Reviews processed;
- Implemented procedures to allow attorney adjudicators to issue fully-favorable decisions -- over 24,000 decisions issued;
- Implemented a process in which the hearing office returns specific cases to the DDS for review for potential allowance -- to date, DDSs have allowed about 24,000 cases;
- Improved the process to identify and expedite military casualty claims;
- Implemented the Request for Program Consultation process nationally to improve accuracy and consistency in the disability decision-making process; and
- Implemented a process that allows the public and third parties to file disability reconsideration and hearing requests via the Internet.
"The progress we have made is significant, especially since receipts at the hearings level were five percent higher than we expected in FY 2008. While the backlog grew slightly, the rate of increase in pending cases continues to drop," Commissioner Astrue said.
Looking ahead to FY 2009, Commissioner Astrue hopes the energy and talent of the new ALJs, the national rollout of Compassionate Allowances, and other initiatives will improve the quality of reviews and steadily reduce the number of pending cases starting this spring. However, he stated, "the effects of an extended continuing resolution are clearly slowing our progress. We simply cannot address the challenges we face without adequate and timely funding. Many things we need to do, such as increase support staff and add new hearing offices, will not happen if Congress fails to pass an adequate appropriations bill by March. Social Security is an agency of great skill and accomplishment and we are ready to work with Congress, the new Administration and all of our stakeholders to improve service to the public."
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Social Security Announces 5.8 Percent Benefit Increase for 2009
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.
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Social Security Asks Six States to Review Voter Registration Verification Procedures to Ensure Compliance with Federal Law
Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, on Friday contacted the Secretaries of State for Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Nevada, North Carolina and Ohio and asked them, based on extraordinarily high levels of requests to SSA, to review their procedures to ensure that they are fully complying with applicable federal laws relating to the registration of voters. Under the Help America Vote Act of 2002, most States are required to verify the last four digits of the Social Security number of only those new people seeking to register to vote who do not possess a valid State driver's license.
"It is absolutely essential that people entitled to register to vote are allowed to do so," Commissioner Astrue stated. "While there may well be legitimate explanations for the high levels of requests, I am confident that the States we have contacted will review their procedures promptly to ensure that they are in full compliance with federal law."
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Annual Columbus Day Weekend Shutdown of Social Security Computer Center Will Not Affect Timely Registration of Voters
For over fifteen years the Social Security Administration has scheduled a shutdown of its National Computer Center on Columbus Day weekend for repairs and maintenance; it has only been postponed once and that was due to special workloads created by Hurricane Katrina. The repair and maintenance is a major production for the agency's system and facility experts that involves scheduling of overtime for key staff, committing contractors to extremely tight turnaround times for the work, and other complexities. As the antiquated National Computer Center has frayed over the years, the importance of timely repairs and maintenance has increased significantly.
Among the many new responsibilities that Congress has added to Social Security's workloads is verifying a small percentage of voter registrations. This year there has been unwarranted concern that the annual shutdown will somehow interfere with voter registration. The system will be up and running until midnight Friday night, so there is plenty of time for voters registering Friday, October 10 to be verified. Voters registered on Saturday, October 11 or Sunday, October 12 can be verified starting Monday, October 13 at 5 a.m. EDT, more than three weeks before the election. When state and local election registrars are working on Columbus Day, Social Security systems will be available to verify registrations, and the agency will be providing its usual same-day service. The expected increased volume of transactions on Monday does not present a problem for prompt response.
Delaying the shutdown into 2009 would pose a small, but not insignificant, risk of a major interruption of service for the hundreds of millions of Americans who rely on our computer systems to provide retirement, disability and survivors benefits, Medicare benefits, employment verification and other services. We have recently indicated in our new strategic plan that Congress needs to support a new National Computer Center, which would help us provide services without interruption.
"As many Americans are enjoying Columbus Day weekend, the hardworking men and women of the Social Security Administration will be working intensely to satisfy every reasonable expectation of service, including voter registration verifications," Commissioner Astrue stated. "I regret that people unfamiliar with the facts of this situation have sought to create a partisan issue where there is none."
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Social Security Commissioner Releases New Agency Strategic Plan
Five-Year Plan Identifies Challenges and Goals for Agency
Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, today released the agency's new Strategic Plan. Using the motto, "Social Security Benefits America," the plan identifies the challenges the agency faces and the steps needed over the next five years to meet those challenges.
"The public expects us to get things done," Commissioner Astrue said. "This Strategic Plan charts the course that will enable us to maintain a strong level of performance on Social Security's core workloads and work toward long-term improvement of our service to the public."
Among the many challenges facing the agency are the unacceptable backlog of disability claims and the aging baby boomer population who will be filing retirement and disability claims at an ever-increasing rate. To address these and other challenges, the plan concentrates on four specific goals:
- Eliminate the hearings backlog and prevent its recurrence.
- Improve the speed and quality of the disability process.
- Improve retiree and other core services.
- Preserve the public's trust in Social Security's programs.
Underlying each of these goals is a series of specific objectives and long-term outcomes the agency plans to achieve. The plan also notes the key foundational elements for achieving success: Social Security's employees and information technology.
"Our workforce is one of our greatest strengths," Commissioner Astrue said. "The challenges we face have not shaken our resolve to provide the vital services on which the nation depends. We also need to rigorously explore and wisely employ new technology. While we have effectively maintained and augmented our systems infrastructure, some of our key computer systems and our primary data center are more than 30 years old. A strong and modern infrastructure requires new investments in technology."
"Abraham Lincoln once said, ‘The best way to predict your future is to create it,'" Commissioner Astrue said. "This Strategic Plan charts the course we will need to take over the next five years to create our vision of the future. Working together with the President, Members of Congress and our stakeholders, we can provide world-class service for generations to come."
To read the full text of Social Security's Strategic Plan, go www.socialsecurity.gov/strategicplan.html.
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Social Security Checks Again Arriving Early in Gulf Coast States as Hurricane Ike Approaches
Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, announced that benefit checks are being delivered to Gulf Coast residents on Tuesday, before the anticipated arrival of Hurricane Ike and one day ahead of the regular payment date. More than 40,000 people in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida will receive their Social Security checks September 9th, rather than on Wednesday, the regularly scheduled payment day. At the end of August, the Social Security Administration took similar action to arrange for early delivery of nearly 400,000 checks ahead of Hurricane Gustav.
"Hurricane Ike, the second major storm to threaten the area in the last two weeks, has led Social Security to take the critically important step of sending early payments to people all along the Gulf Coast," said Commissioner Astrue. "People in these states who may not receive their checks early should not ignore evacuation instructions simply to wait for their payments. Anyone who does not receive a regularly scheduled payment from Social Security as a result of the hurricane can go to any open Social Security office and request an immediate payment. To find the nearest open Social Security office, call 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778). In the future, beneficiaries should be mindful that Direct Deposit is a more secure and convenient way to receive payments, particularly when natural disasters strike."
Social Security has worked closely with the U.S. Postal Service and the Department of the Treasury to make the early delivery of checks possible. People living in areas with the following first three digits in their zip codes will receive early delivery:
Texas 770-779, 781 and 783-785
The Department of the Treasury, through the Federal Reserve, has encouraged financial institutions in the Gulf Coast states to honor the paper checks as well as consider making Direct Deposit payments available as early as Tuesday, September 9th. The federal government has requested this for people in the affected states, but it is up to individual banks to choose to make these Direct Deposit funds available early.
Listen to or download Commissioner Astrue discussing early Social Security payments to people along the Gulf Coast
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Social Security Checks Arriving Early in Gulf Coast States
Money Will Get to Gulf Coast Residents Ahead of Hurricane Gustav
The Social Security Administration announced that benefit checks are being delivered to Gulf Coast residents today and tomorrow, before the arrival of Gustav and ahead of the regular payment date. Nearly 400,000 people in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida will receive their Social Security checks August 29th and 30th, rather than on September 3rd, the regularly scheduled payment day.
"It is critically important to get Social Security payments to people all along the Gulf Coast," said Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security. "Delivering these checks early to residents from Texas to Florida eliminates one concern people might have as they prepare for the storm. As beneficiaries take steps to ensure their own safety, this is one step we can take to help them in a difficult time. In the future, beneficiaries should be mindful that Direct Deposit is a more secure and convenient way to receive payments, particularly when natural disasters strike."
Social Security has worked closely with the U.S. Postal Service and the Department of the Treasury to make the early delivery of checks possible. People living in areas with the following first three digits in their zip codes will receive early delivery:
Texas 770-779 and 783-785
The Department of the Treasury, through the Federal Reserve, has requested that financial institutions in the Gulf Coast states honor the paper checks as well as consider making Direct Deposit payments available as early as Friday, August 29th.
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Estimate Your Social Security Retirement Benefits Online Now at www.socialsecurity.gov/estimator
Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, today unveiled a new online calculator at www.socialsecurity.gov/estimator that will provide immediate and personalized benefit estimates to help people plan for their retirement. The Retirement Estimator is tied to a person's actual Social Security earnings record and eliminates the need to manually key in years of earnings information.
"Deciding when to retire is one of the most important and difficult decisions many people face," Commissioner Astrue said. "The Retirement Estimator greatly improves the information available when trying to decide the right time to retire. It is simple, easy-to-use and will provide highly accurate benefit estimates for those nearing retirement age. For younger workers, it will provide valuable information to help them plan and save for their retirement."
The Retirement Estimator is interactive allowing the user to compare different retirement options. For example, a person can change retirement dates or expected future earnings. Individuals also can print out up to three different scenarios at one time, in addition to information about their benefits at age 62 (current age if older), full retirement age and age 70.
Best of all, the Retirement Estimator is secure. The only thing it provides online is retirement benefit estimates. It does not show the earnings record information on which the final benefit estimate was calculated, nor does it reveal other personal information.
"The Retirement Estimator is just one of many things we are doing to make more information and services people need available over the Internet," Commissioner Astrue stated. "We recently unveiled a new home page at www.socialsecurity.gov that reduces visual clutter and is easier to navigate. Since its release, we have received many positive comments. In the fall, we will introduce the public to our next initiative: a total overhaul of our online retirement application that will reduce the average filing time from 45 minutes to about 15 minutes. These initiatives will help us better handle the baby boomer wave and make it easier for the public to do business with us online."
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Social Security Announces Improvements to the Ticket to Work Program
The Social Security Administration issued final rules designed to improve the Ticket to Work program. The changes will improve the effectiveness of the Ticket program in assisting beneficiaries with disabilities who want to work.
"These rules outline a new and improved Ticket to Work program and are based on learning from our experiences, listening to input from interested parties, and responding to their suggestions," said Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security. "Beneficiaries with disabilities will have greater flexibility and expanded choices in obtaining the services they need to attain their employment goals."
The new Ticket to Work program rules:
- Include more beneficiaries under the Program--The population of individuals eligible for a Ticket is expanded to include beneficiaries who are expected to medically improve.
- Increase incentive payments for Employment Networks (ENs)--The new rules modify the EN payment systems to create greater financial incentives for service providers to participate, which will improve beneficiary access to services and expand the pool of quality providers available to serve beneficiaries.
- Increase the value of the Ticket--The rules for Ticket assignment are changed to enable beneficiaries with disabilities to take advantage of a more effective combination of services from both State Vocational Rehabilitation agencies and ENs.
- Synergize efforts--The new rules promote better alignment of the Ticket to Work Program, the Work Incentives Planning and Assistance Program, the Protection and Advocacy for Beneficiaries of Social Security Program, and other Social Security work incentive initiatives.
"Thus far, the results of the Ticket to Work program have been less than everyone expected and clearly less than Congress intended," Commissioner Astrue said. "We need to monitor the results of today’s regulation closely, but it is highly likely that Congress will need to revisit the statute in the next few years in order to achieve the goals that Congress intended."
In preparation for the new Ticket to Work program, Social Security is undertaking a major recruitment effort to increase the number of organizations functioning as ENs. Social Security also is initiating targeted outreach to promote the Program to more beneficiaries and to encourage their participation. In addition, Social Security is presenting at national and state conferences and bringing beneficiaries and ENs together at local Work Incentives Seminars (WISE events) throughout the country.
The Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999 established the Ticket to Work and Self-Sufficiency Program. The purpose of the Ticket to Work program is to expand the universe of service providers available to beneficiaries with disabilities who are seeking vocational rehabilitation, employment and related support services. These service providers are available to assist beneficiaries in obtaining, regaining and maintaining self-supporting employment. Available in all 50 States and the US territories, the Ticket to Work program is an important component in a coordinated series of work incentives and initiatives that are designed to help overcome barriers to employment often experienced by beneficiaries with disabilities.
The final rule, 20 CFR Part 411, can be accessed through the Federal Register online at www.regulations.gov.
For general information about the Ticket to Work Program, visit Social Security's website--The Work Site: www.socialsecurity.gov/work .
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Pop Culture Makes Mark on Social Security's Most Popular Baby Names List
Elvis Rises to Number 676
Continuing a popular Mother's Day tradition, the federal government's top official for baby names, Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, today jointly announced with Parade magazine the most popular baby names for 2007. Parade also is highlighting the Social Security Administration's Mother's Day campaign to inform people with limited income about the extra help available with their Medicare prescription drug costs. That extra help is worth up to $3,600 per year.
Please click on the Most Popular Baby Names link at Social Security's website -- www.socialsecurity.gov -- to see the top baby names for 2007. The top ten boys and girls names for 2007 are:
|Boys: ||Girls: |
Emily has topped the list since 1996. Jacob has done so since 1999. Elizabeth returns to the top ten after a two year absence.
In addition to a list of the 1,000 most popular boys' and girls' names for 2007, the website has a list of the top 100 names for twins born in 2007. Jacob and Joshua are again the most popular twin's names.
The Social Security website offers lists of baby names for each year since 1880. Social Security started compiling baby name lists in 1997.
Although "American Idol's" Sanjaya did not influence this year's list, other young celebrities influenced the naming of American children. The 2007 success of popular race car driver Danica Patrick undoubtedly inspired her first name moving from number 352 to number 307. Similarly, the name of the first pick in the 2007 NFL draft, Oakland Raiders' quarterback JaMarcus Russell, rose from number 914 to number 743 on the boys' list.
Shiloh, the youngest daughter of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, debuted on the list at number 804. Maddox, the name of their oldest child, has seen steady gains since first appearing on the list in 2003 at number 583 and now ranking at number 226. Suri, the name of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes' daughter, did not make the list. But Britney Spears' second son is named Jayden, which ranked at number 18. Miley is new to the girls' list this year, entering fairly high at number 278, attributable to the popularity of teen sensation Miley Cyrus.
For reasons likely to puzzle baby name experts around the world, American parents have become infatuated by names, particularly for their sons, that rhyme with the word "maiden." These names for boys include: Jayden (No. 18); Aiden (No. 27); Aidan (No. 54); Jaden (No. 76); Caden (No. 92); Kaden (No. 98); Ayden (No.102); Braden (No.156); Cayden (No.175); Jaiden (No.191); Kaiden (No. 220); Aden (No. 264); Caiden (No. 286); Braeden (No. 325); Braydon (No. 361); Jaydon (No. 415); Jadon (No. 423); Braiden (No. 529); Zayden (No. 588); Jaeden (No. 593); Aydan (No. 598); Bradyn (No. 629); Kadin (No. 657); Jadyn (No. 696); Kaeden (No. 701); Jaydin (No. 757); Braedon (No. 805); Aidyn (No. 818); Haiden (No. 820); Jaidyn (No. 841); Kadyn (No. 878); Jaydan (No. 887); Raiden (No. 931); and Adin (No. 983). This startling trend was present, but less pronounced, with girls names: Jayden (No. 172); Jadyn (No. 319); Jaden (No. 335); Jaiden (No. 429); Kayden (No. 507); and Jaidyn (No. 561). Social Security spokesman Mark Lassiter indicated that the agency would resist any legislative efforts to standardize the spelling of these names.
Experts also may be surprised by the extent to which American parents are naming their daughters after spiritual and philosophical concepts. One of the most popular names for girls (rising this year to number 31) is Nevaeh, which is "Heaven" spelled backwards. The variant Neveah came in this year at number 891 and Heaven is number 263. Also represented were: Destiny (No. 41); Trinity (No. 72); Serenity (No. 126); Harmony (No. 315); Miracle (No. 461); Charity (No. 673); Journey (No. 692); Destini (No. 914); and Essence (No. 930). Cutting against this trend was Armani (No. 971).
American parents were far less likely to name their sons in this way, although the 2007 boys' list does include Sincere (No. 622) and Messiah (No. 723).
Finally, Commissioner Astrue expressed his approval that Elvis has risen 85 spots from number 761 to number 676 and noted, "It is further proof that Elvis is not dead." He further urged everyone celebrating Mother's Day to "please go to www.socialsecurity.gov to find out more about prescription drug extra help, direct deposit and our easy-to-use online applications."
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Social Security Holds Second Disability Hearing on Compassionate Allowances - Agreement with National Institutes of Health Announced
Experts Provide Testimony on Evaluating Cancers
The Social Security Administration held its second public hearing on compassionate allowances - a way to expedite the processing of disability claims for applicants whose medical conditions are so severe that their conditions obviously meet Social Security's standards. At the hearing, Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, announced that the agency had entered into a first-of-its-kind agreement with the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NIH will provide technical assistance to Social Security to help ensure that elements of the compassionate allowance initiative are based on sound, up-to-date medical science.
"The agreement with NIH is very exciting news," said Commissioner Astrue. "It represents an unprecedented level of cooperation between two of the nation's largest institutions serving people with disabilities."
The hearing, held today in Boston, featured some of the nation's leading oncology experts presenting testimony and sharing their views about the best ways to determine compassionate allowances for children and adults with cancers. Once implemented, Social Security can quickly target the most obviously disabled individuals for allowances based on confirmation of the diagnosis alone; for example, acute leukemia, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and pancreatic cancer. The agency plans to begin piloting compassionate allowances later this year and plans to hold two more public hearings on the initiative as well.
"It is a moral imperative to reduce the disability backlogs, which have caused an incredible hardship for applicants and their families," Commissioner Astrue said. "With the help of NIH, we are starting to bring our disability standards more in line with current medical and scientific standards. As a result, the most severe cases will be allowed much quicker and earlier in the process."
To learn more go to www.socialsecurity.gov/compassionateallowances for testimony from many of the cancer experts and to view a webcast of the hearing.
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Social Security Board of Trustees: Some Improvement in Long-Range Financing Outlook but Deficits Continue
The Social Security Board of Trustees today released its annual report on the financial health of the Social Security Trust Funds. While the key dates for program costs exceeding tax revenues and Trust Fund exhaustion remain unchanged, the 2008 Trustees Report shows improvement in the projected long-term financial status of the Social Security program from last year -- particularly in the latter half of the long-range projection period. This improvement is principally the result of methodological changes for projecting certain aspects of immigration.
In the 2008 Annual Report to Congress, the Trustees announced:
- The projected point at which tax revenues will fall below program costs comes in 2017 -- the same as the estimate in last year’s report.
- The projected point at which the Trust Funds will be exhausted comes in 2041 -- the same as the estimate in last year’s report.
- The projected actuarial deficit over the 75-year long-range period is 1.70 percent of taxable payroll -- down from 1.95 percent in last year’s report.
- Over the 75-year period, the Trust Funds would require additional revenue equivalent to $4.3 trillion in today’s dollars to pay all scheduled benefits.
"Social Security is at a crossroads. We face enormous challenges to shore up the system," said Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security. "I will continue to work with President Bush, Congress and our stakeholders to develop policy solutions. I also look forward to working with the next administration, since the challenges that face the Social Security system will undoubtedly require a bipartisan and multi-year effort."
Other highlights of the Trustees Report include:
- Income including interest to the combined Old-Age and Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) Trust Funds amounted to $785 billion ($656 billion in net contributions, $19 billion from taxation of benefits and $110 billion in interest) in 2007.
- Total expenditures from the combined OASDI Trust Funds amounted to $595 billion in 2007.
- The assets of the combined OASDI Trust Funds increased by about $190 billion in 2007 to a total of $2.2 trillion.
- During 2007, an estimated 163 million people had earnings covered by Social Security and paid payroll taxes.
- Social Security paid benefits of $585 billion in calendar year 2007. There were almost 50 million beneficiaries at the end of the calendar year.
- The cost of $5.5 billion to administer the program in 2007 was a very low 0.9 percent of total expenditures.
- The combined Trust Fund assets earned interest at an effective annual rate of 5.3 percent in 2007.
The Board of Trustees is comprised of six members. Four serve by virtue of their positions with the federal government: Henry M. Paulson, Jr., Secretary of the Treasury and Managing Trustee; Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security; Michael O. Leavitt, Secretary of Health and Human Services; and Elaine L. Chao, Secretary of Labor. The two public trustee positions are currently vacant.
The 2008 Trustees Report will be posted at www.socialsecurity.gov/OACT/TR/TR08/ by Tuesday afternoon.
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Social Security Offers Positions to 144 Administrative Law Judges
New Hires a Key Step in Reducing Agency's Backlog of Disability Cases
Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, today announced that the agency has begun making offers to 144 of the 175 new Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) it will hire this fiscal year. Due to litigation and budget cuts, the agency has about ten percent fewer ALJs than it did a decade ago. During that same time, the number of cases waiting for a hearing decision has more than doubled.
"The hiring of these new ALJs is a critical step in our plan to reduce the backlog of disability cases," Commissioner Astrue said. "They represent one of the largest investments in ALJs this agency has ever made. When these ALJs are fully-trained, and combined with the other steps we are taking, we will be able for the first time in this decade to reduce the number of cases waiting for a disability hearing. I can hardly wait for them to start."
The new ALJs will be brought on board in phases with the first hires reporting for duty in April, when they will begin an intensive orientation and training program. While initially handling a reduced docket, newly hired ALJs should be scheduling a full docket of cases by the end of the year.
"I have been very impressed with the caliber of the candidates eager to take on the challenging role of a Social Security ALJ," Commissioner Astrue noted. "These new ALJs are top-notch legally and comfortable working in an electronic environment, which is of utmost importance as we strive to increase the efficiency and productivity of our ALJ corps."
Hiring of additional ALJs is only one component of the plan the agency has put in place to reduce the backlog of disability cases. The agency also continues to make progress in many other areas including opening the National Hearing Center, completing the nationwide roll-out of the Quick Disability Determination process, implementing compassionate allowances and eliminating aged cases. More information about Social Security's plan is available at www.socialsecurity.gov/disability under the heading What's New.
"In May of last year, I presented Congress with a detailed plan to reduce the backlog of disability cases," Commissioner Astrue said. "I am pleased to report that, with the strong support of the President and Members of Congress from both parties, we have been able to move forward with that plan. I urge Congress to continue its support with timely action on the President's fiscal year 2009 budget request for Social Security. A delay in fully funding the President's request will undermine the many positive steps we have taken this year."
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Nation's First Baby Boomer Receives Her First Social Security Retirement Benefit
Kathleen Casey-Kirschling, the nation's first Baby Boomer, today made history as the first of her generation to receive a Social Security retirement benefit. Having applied online for benefits at www.socialsecurity.gov, Ms. Casey-Kirschling, who was born at one second after midnight on January 1, 1946, today received her first payment by direct deposit.
"Like many of her fellow boomers, Kathy leads a full and busy life," said Jim Courtney, Social Security Deputy Commissioner for Communications. "By choosing direct deposit, Kathy's benefit is safely and conveniently deposited into her bank account. No matter where in the country - or the world - Kathy is, her money is as close as the nearest ATM or just a mouse click away through online banking."
As the nation's first Baby Boomer, Ms. Casey-Kirschling is leading what is often referred to as America's silver tsunami. Over the next two decades, nearly 80 million Americans will become eligible for Social Security retirement benefits, more than 10,000 per day on average. Ms. Casey-Kirschling is setting the example for millions of her fellow boomers by receiving her retirement benefits in the safest, most convenient way possible.
"Direct deposit is a win for everyone," said Judith R. Tillman, Commissioner of Treasury's Financial Management Service (FMS). "For the last three years, Treasury has led a campaign called Go Direct to educate Americans about the many benefits of direct deposit. We at Treasury congratulate Kathy on receiving her first Social Security payment and on her decision to Go Direct."
Direct deposit eliminates the risk of lost or stolen checks, reduces fraud, helps protect against identity theft and gives people more control over their money. Direct deposit also saves taxpayers millions of dollars. In fact, according to FMS, if every current federal benefit check recipient switched to direct deposit, it would save taxpayers about $130 million a year.
At an event today in Vero Beach, Florida, Social Security also premiered a new video public service announcement, featuring Ms. Casey-Kirschling, that promotes filing online for retirement benefits. (View the video)
"Kathy is a trendsetter for her generation," Social Security's Courtney said. "Just as she led the way by filing for her benefits online, we hope she leads the way for baby boomers to receive their benefits by direct deposit."
For more information about direct deposit, go to www.socialsecurity.gov/deposit or visit www.GoDirect.org. To learn more about Social Security's online services, go to www.socialsecurity.gov/onlineservices.
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Statement of Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, Commending the President's Fiscal Year 2009 Budget Request
By requesting $10.46 billion for Social Security's administrative expenses, the President has demonstrated with this budget proposal that he supports our efforts to drive down the disability backlog with faster and more accurate decisions. With a six percent increase over our 2008 appropriation, which would be the largest increase this agency has received for some time, we also can significantly improve the service in our field offices and teleservice centers.
I urge Congress to enact this budget proposal, and to do so as soon as possible. Any delays would severely undermine what the President wants to achieve for all Americans with his request for Social Security.
For more information about the President's 2009 budget request for Social Security, visit www.socialsecurity.gov/budget.
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