Rate for Assessment on Direct Payment Fees to Representatives in 2008
SSA is announcing that the assessment percentage rate under sections 206(d) and 1631(d)(2)(C) of the Social Security Act (the Act), 42 U.S.C. 406(d), and 1383(d)(2)(C) is 6.3 percent for 2008.
Private Printing of Prescribed Applications, Forms, and Other Publications
We are issuing these final rules to adopt without change the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking published on August 16, 2007 at 72 FR 45991. These final rules amend the regulation at 20 CFR 422.527, which requires a person, institution, or organization (person) to obtain the Social Security Administration's (SSA's) approval prior to reproducing, duplicating, or privately printing any SSA prescribed application or other form whether or not the person intended to charge a fee. Section 1140(a)(2)(A) of the Social Security Act (the Act) prohibits a person from charging a fee to reproduce, reprint, or distribute any SSA application, form, or publication unless he/she obtains the authorization of the Commissioner of Social Security in accordance with such regulations as he may prescribe. (42 U.S.C. 1320b-10(a)(2)(A)).
Parent-to-Child Deeming From Stepparents
We propose to change the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) parent-to-child deeming rules so that we would no longer consider the income and resources of a stepparent when an eligible child resides in the household with a stepparent, but that child's natural or adoptive parent has permanently left the household. These proposed rules would respond to a decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Social Security Acquiescence Ruling (AR) 99-1(2) currently applies the Court's decision to individuals who reside in Connecticut, New York, and Vermont. These rules propose to establish a uniform national policy with respect to this issue. Also, we propose to make uniform the age at which we consider someone to be a ``child'' in SSI program regulations and to make other minor clarifications to our rules.
Privacy Act of 1974, as Amended; Alterations to Existing System of Records, Including New Routine Use
In accordance with the Privacy Act (5 U.S.C. 552a(e)(4) and (e)(11)), we are issuing public notice of our intent to alter an existing system of records entitled, the Visitor Intake Process/ Customer Service Record (VIP/CSR) System, 60-0350. The proposed alterations will result in the following changes to the VIP/CSR System: (1) Expansion of the categories of individuals covered by the VIP/ CSR System; (2) Expansion of the categories of records maintained in the VIP/ CSR System; (3) Expansion of the purposes for which we use the VIP/CSR System; and (4) Amendment of the record source categories covered by the VIP/ CSR System. We are also establishing a new routine use for disclosure of information maintained in the VIP/CSR System. The proposed alterations and new routine use are discussed in the SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION section below. We invite public comment on this proposal.
Revised Medical Criteria for Evaluating Functional Limitations Due to Digestive Disorders
On October 19, 2007, we published final rules in the Federal Register (72 FR 59397) revising the criteria in sections 5.00 and 105.00 of the Listing of Impairments in appendix 1 to subpart P of part 404 of our regulations (the listings), the sections that we use to evaluate claims involving digestive disorders. In those rules, we indicated that we would issue an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) inviting public comments on whether we should add a functional listing for digestive disorders, and if so, what functional criteria would be appropriate (72 FR at 59416). We are now requesting your comments and suggestions. After we have considered your comments and suggestions, other information about the functional effects of digestive disorders, and our adjudicative experience, we will determine whether it is appropriate to add a functional listing for digestive disorders. If we decide to add such a listing, we will publish for public comment a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that will propose specific revisions to the rules.
Privacy Act of 1974, as Amended; Alteration to Existing Systems of Records
As mandated by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in Memorandum M-07-16, recommended by the President's Identity Theft Task Force, and in accordance with the Privacy Act (5 U.S.C. 552a(e)(4) and (11)), we are issuing public notice of our intent to establish a new routine use disclosure applicable to SSA's systems of records listed below under section I of the Supplementary Information section. The proposed routine use specifically permits the disclosure of SSA information in connection with response and remediation efforts in the event of an unintentional release of Agency information, otherwise known as a ``data security breach.'' Such a routine use would serve to protect the interests of the people whose information is at risk by allowing us to take appropriate steps to facilitate a timely and effective response to a data breach. It would also help us to improve our ability to prevent, minimize, or remedy any harm that may result from a compromise of data maintained in our systems of records. We invite public comment on this proposal.
Privacy and Disclosure of Official Records and Information
We are revising our rules to allow us to better preserve the anonymity of, and to better protect the physical well-being of, our employees who reasonably believe that they are at risk of injury or other harm if certain employment information about them is disclosed. These changes in the rules are intended to ensure uniform application of the policy for at-risk employees. We are again requesting comments on these final rules because we revised the language of the proposed rules to clarify our intent.
Social Security Claims Data Exchange Announcement
The Social Security Administration (SSA) is pleased to announce that, in 2008; the agency will develop and implement a Beta test of a web service which will allow the submission of Initial-level claims, including Disability applications and Adult Disability Reports, from companies who assist the public with filing for benefits. In 2008, SSA plans to develop the web service to initially collect data on the Internet Social Security Benefit Application and Disability Report. Note that when a third party submits an application, SSA must contact the claimant before it is considered valid. In the initial phase, organizations will be able to submit claims data in bulk and receive a confirmation of receipt of the submitted data. In subsequent phases, the systems interface will also include the ability for organizations to check on the status of previously submitted claims information. SSA would like to extend an invitation to companies who assist individuals with their Social Security benefit applications, to participate in this web service claims data exchange Beta test. The Beta test is structured to use the ``consolidator'' model, where the participating company serves as a conduit to receive claims data from their client base and electronically transfer the data to SSA. After the initial disability claims data collection effort in 2008 is evaluated, SSA will add functional capabilities in future years to collect data on electronic appeal forms and integrated claims applications. This multi-year initiative will provide a comprehensive systems interface for companies to send claims data (including Title II Retirement and Spouse application data, disability data, and medical evidence) to SSA on behalf of their clients. The envisioned long-range solution beyond 2008 is a web service that will facilitate the collection of data through the entire life-cycle of Internet applications, including Title II and Title XVI initial claims and appeals.
Compassionate Allowances for Rare Diseases; Office of the Commissioner, Hearing
We are considering ways to quickly identify diseases and other serious medical conditions that obviously meet the definition of disability under the Social Security Act (the Act) and can be identified with minimal objective medical information. At present, we are calling this method ``Compassionate Allowances.'' We plan to hold four public hearings over the next year. The purpose of this first hearing is to obtain your views about the advisability and possible methods of identifying and implementing compassionate allowances for children and adults with rare diseases. We will address other kinds of medical conditions in later hearings.
Supplementary Agreement on Social Security Between the United States and Sweden; Entry Into Force
The Commissioner of Social Security gives notice that on November 1, 2007, a supplementary agreement will enter into force which amends the Social Security agreement between the United States (U.S.) and Sweden that has been in effect since January 1, 1987. The supplementary agreement, which was signed on June 24, 2004, was concluded pursuant to section 233 of the Social Security Act. When the original agreement was concluded, Sweden had a two-tier Social Security system that consisted of an earnings-related, defined- benefit program and a residence-based, flat-rate benefit program. Recent Swedish legislation restructured the system. People born after 1953 are now covered by a program consisting of three components. The new Swedish system includes an earnings-related, defined-contribution benefit program administered by the government, a program of individual investment accounts, and a guaranteed minimum pension payable if income-based pensions and certain other income fall below specified levels. The primary purpose of the supplementary agreement is to conform the Swedish benefit provisions of the original agreement to Sweden's new Social Security system. The supplementary agreement also changes the provision that authorizes SSA to take into account Swedish periods of coverage in determining eligibility for U.S. Totalization benefits so that it refers to periods under the new Swedish pension program rather than the old program. The new Swedish Social Security law allows people to qualify for most benefits with very little coverage credit. It is not expected, therefore, that many people will need to have their U.S. and Swedish coverage credits totalized to become eligible for most Swedish benefits. The supplementary agreement provides that U.S. Social Security benefits will not be counted in applying pension offsets that normally reduce the amount of Swedish disability benefits. Thus, the supplementary agreement will provide U.S. workers enhanced disability benefit protection under the Swedish system at little, if any, additional cost to the U.S. Social Security system. In addition to the changes in the U.S. and Swedish benefit provisions, the supplementary agreement updates several other provisions to take account of amendments to both U.S. and Swedish laws and to conform the wording of the agreement to the more recent Totalization agreements concluded by the United States. Other changes in the agreement are merely clarifications to reflect the manner in which the agreement is currently applied. Individuals who wish to obtain copies of the supplementary agreement or want general information about its provisions may visit the Social Security Administration's Web site at https:// www.socialsecurity.gov/international or may write to the Social Security Administration, Office of International Programs, Post Office Box 17741, Baltimore, Maryland 21235.
Amendments to the Administrative Law Judge, Appeals Council, and Decision Review Board Appeals Levels
We propose to include in parts 404 and 416 of our rules many of the hearing level procedures now in place for disability cases in the Boston region. This change will expand those rules nationwide and apply them to hearings on both disability and non-disability matters. We expect these rules will make the hearings process more efficient and help us reduce the hearings backlog, which has reached historic proportions, thereby benefiting all individuals requesting a hearing. We also propose to amend our rules governing the final level of the administrative review process to make proceedings at that level more like those used by a Federal appellate court when it reviews the decision of a district court, to establish procedures for appeals to that level, and to change the name of the body that will hear such appeals from the ``Appeals Council,'' or the ``Decision Review Board'' in the Boston region, to the ``Review Board.'' Consistent with the change to a more truly appellate process, we suggest limiting the circumstances in which new evidence may be added to the record during the appeals process. We also propose circumscribing the time period covered in any subsequent administrative hearing on remand from the Review Board or a Federal court to the time period covered by the first administrative law judge's (ALJ) hearing decision in the case.
Office of the Commissioner; Cost-of-Living Increase and Other Determinations for 2008
The Commissioner has determined (1) A 2.3 percent cost-of-living increase in Social Security benefits under title II of the Social Security Act (the Act), effective for December 2007; (2) An increase in the Federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) monthly benefit amounts under title XVI of the Act for 2008 to $637 for an eligible individual, $956 for an eligible individual with an eligible spouse, and $319 for an essential person; (3) The student earned income exclusion to be $1,550 per month in 2008 but not more than $6,240 in all of 2008; (4) The dollar fee limit for services performed as a representative payee to be $35 per month ($68 per month in the case of a beneficiary who is disabled and has an alcoholism or drug addiction condition that leaves him or her incapable of managing benefits) in 2008; (5) The dollar limit on the administrative-cost assessment charged to attorneys representing claimants to be $79 in 2008; (6) The national average wage index for 2006 to be $38,651.41; (7) The Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) contribution and benefit base to be $102,000 for remuneration paid in 2008 and self-employment income earned in taxable years beginning in 2008; (8) The monthly exempt amounts under the Social Security retirement earnings test for taxable years ending in calendar year 2008 to be $1,130 and $3,010; (9) The dollar amounts (``bend points'') used in the primary insurance amount benefit formula for workers who become eligible for benefits, or who die before becoming eligible, in 2008 to be $711 and $4,288; (10) The dollar amounts (``bend points'') used in the formula for computing maximum family benefits for workers who become eligible for benefits, or who die before becoming eligible, in 2008 to be $909, $1,312, and $1,711; (11) The amount of taxable earnings a person must have to be credited with a quarter of coverage in 2008 to be $1,050; (12) The ``old-law'' contribution and benefit base to be $75,900 for 2008; (13) The monthly amount deemed to constitute substantial gainful activity for statutorily blind individuals in 2008 to be $1,570, and the corresponding amount for non-blind disabled persons to be $940; (14) The earnings threshold establishing a month as a part of a trial work period to be $670 for 2008; and (15) Coverage thresholds for 2008 to be $1,600 for domestic workers and $1,400 for election workers.
Revised Medical Criteria for Evaluating Digestive Disorders
We are revising the criteria in the Listing of Impairments (the listings) that we use to evaluate claims involving digestive disorders. We apply these criteria when you claim benefits based on disability under title II and title XVI of the Social Security Act (the Act). The revisions reflect advances in medical knowledge, methods of evaluating digestive disorders, treatment, and our program experience. We are also removing listings that are redundant because they only refer to other listings, and we are making other conforming changes.
Technical Updates to Applicability of the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Reduced Benefit Rate for Individuals Residing in Medical Treatment Facilities
This document contains a correction to the final rules that were published in the Federal Register on September 5, 2007 (72 FR 50871). The final rules amended our regulations to reflect two provisions of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 that affect the payment of benefits under title XVI of the Social Security Act (the Act). One of the provisions extended temporary institutionalization benefits to children receiving SSI benefits who enter private medical treatment facilities and who otherwise would be ineligible for temporary institutionalization benefits because of private insurance coverage. The other provision replaced obsolete terminology in the Act that referred to particular kinds of medical facilities and substituted a broader, more descriptive term.
Amendments to the Quick Disability Determination Process
We are amending our regulations to extend the quick disability determination process (QDD), which is operating now in the Boston region, to all of the State disability determination services (DDSs). We also are removing from the QDD process the existing requirements that each State DDS maintain a separate QDD unit and that each case referred under QDD be adjudicated within 20 days. These actions stem from our continuing effort to improve our disability adjudication process.
Technical Updates to Applicability of the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Reduced Benefit Rate for Individuals Residing in Medical Treatment Facilities
We are revising our regulations to reflect two provisions of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 that affect the payment of benefits under title XVI of the Social Security Act (the Act). One of the provisions extended temporary institutionalization benefits to children receiving SSI benefits who enter private medical treatment facilities and who otherwise would be ineligible for temporary institutionalization benefits because of private insurance coverage. The other provision replaced obsolete terminology in the Act that referred to particular kinds of medical facilities and substituted a broader, more descriptive term.
Privacy Act of 1974, as Amended; Computer Matching Program (SSA/Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Match Number 1307
In accordance with the provisions of the Privacy Act, as amended, this notice announces the renewal of an existing computer matching program that SSA is currently conducting with OPM.
Privacy Act of 1974, as Amended; Computer Matching Program (SSA/Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA)-Match Number 1309
In accordance with the provisions of the Privacy Act, as amended, this notice announces the renewal of an existing computer matching program that SSA is currently conducting with VA.
SSA Implementation of OMB Guidance on Nonprocurement Debarment and Suspension
The Social Security Administration (SSA) is moving its regulations on nonprocurement debarment and suspension from title 20 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), chapter III, part 436, to title 2 of the CFR, subtitle B, chapter 23, part 2336. In 2 CFR part 180, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) provides guidance for Federal agencies on the government-wide debarment and suspension system for nonprocurement programs and activities. SSA is implementing regulations covering policies and procedures for nonprocurement debarment and suspension by adopting OMB's guidance in 2 CFR part 180 and adding some provisions that are specific to SSA. The new part in 2 CFR will be substantively the same as the prior nonprocurement debarment and suspension regulations that set forth common policies and procedures that Federal Executive branch agencies use in taking suspension and debarment actions (the common rule). However, 2 CFR will consolidate all of the Executive agencies' regulations in one location so that they are easier to find. This regulatory action is an administrative simplification that makes no substantive change in SSA policies or procedures for nonprocurement debarment and suspension.
Demonstration Project on Direct Payment of Fees to Non-Attorney Representatives
In prior notices published in the Federal Register, we provided guidance on the requirements for participation in the Non- Attorney Direct Payment Demonstration Project mandated by Section 303 of the Social Security Protection Act of 2004 (SSPA). In this notice, we are announcing that we are revising our earlier guidance in two respects. First, we have decided to replace the requirement that insurance policies must be underwritten by a firm that is licensed to provide insurance in the State where the individual practices with a requirement that the underwriting firm be legally permitted to provide insurance in that State. This change will allow us to accept insurance policies offered by ``surplus lines carriers.'' Second, we are changing the manner in which we will make open-book reference materials available to test-takers.
Private Printing of Prescribed Applications, Forms, and Other Publications
The current regulation at 20 CFR 422.527 requires a person, institution, or organization (person) to obtain approval from the Social Security Administration (SSA) prior to reproducing, duplicating, or privately printing any application or other form prescribed by the Administration. Such approval has been required whether or not the person intended to charge a fee for SSA's application(s) or other form(s). Section 1140(a)(2)(A) of the Social Security Act (the Act) prohibits a person from charging a fee to reproduce, reprint, or distribute any SSA application, form, or publication unless he/she obtains the authorization of the Commissioner of Social Security in accordance with such regulations as he may prescribe. (42 U.S.C. 1320b- 10(a)(2)(A)). This proposed rule would implement section 1140(a)(2)(A) of the Act by adding SSA's publications to the pre-authorization requirement identified in 20 CFR 422.527 and by establishing that SSA's authorization is required only when the person intends to charge a fee. The proposed rule also would prescribe the procedures a person who intends to charge a fee must follow to obtain SSA's written authorization prior to reproducing, reprinting, and/or distributing SSA's applications, forms, or publications.
Proposed Suspension of New Claims to the Federal Reviewing Official Review Level, Changes to the Role of the Medical and Vocational Expert System, and Future Demonstration Projects
We propose to modify our disability administrative adjudication processes to suspend new claims to the Federal reviewing official (FedRO) level, now operating in the Boston region. Claims already received will continue to be processed by the FedRO and a related component of the disability determination process, the Medical and Vocational Expert System (MVES), commonly known as the Office of Medical and Vocational Expertise (OMVE). We also propose to remove the MVES/OMVE from the disability adjudication process for new claims. We are making these proposals to ensure that we continually improve our disability adjudication process. Lastly, we are requesting comments on using the MVES/OMVE to develop and manage a national registry of experts.
Improvements to the Ticket to Work and Self-Sufficiency Program
We are proposing to revise our regulations for the Ticket to Work and Self-Sufficiency Program (Ticket to Work program), authorized by the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999. The Ticket to Work program provides beneficiaries with disabilities expanded options for access to employment, vocational rehabilitation, and other support services. The program is an important part of the comprehensive SSA work opportunity initiative which is focused on helping beneficiaries with disabilities who want to work to do so. We are proposing revisions to our current Ticket to Work program rules to simplify and improve the definition of ``using a ticket'' and our related requirements for measuring ``timely progress toward self-supporting employment.''
Amendment to the Attorney Advisor Program
We are announcing this interim final rule to modify, on a temporary basis, the prehearing procedures we follow in claims for Social Security disability benefits or supplemental security income (SSI) payments based on disability or blindness. Under the interim final rule, we may allow certain attorney advisors, under managerial oversight, to conduct certain prehearing proceedings, and where the documentary record developed as a result of these proceedings warrants, issue decisions that are wholly favorable to the parties to the hearing.
Temporary Extension of Attorney Fee Payment System to Title XVI; 5-Year Demonstration Project Extending Fee Withholding and Payment Procedures to Eligible Non-Attorney Representatives; Definition of Past-Due Benefits; and Assessment for Fee Payment Services
We are issuing these final rules to adopt without change the interim final rules published on April 5, 2007 to reflect in our regulations three self-implementing statutory provisions in the Social Security Protection Act of 2004 (SSPA) and three related self- implementing provisions in earlier legislation. These earlier provisions are in the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990 (OBRA), the Social Security Independence and Program Improvements Act of 1994 (SSIPIA), and the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999 (TWWIIA).
Sixty-Month Period of Employment Requirement for Government Pension Offset Exemption
To implement section 418 of the Social Security Protection Act of 2004 (SSPA), we propose to revise our regulations to explain that a State or local government worker will be subject to the Government Pension Offset (GPO) provision under title II of the Social Security Act (the Act), if any part of the last 60 months of government service was not covered by Social Security. We also propose to replace the words ``receiving'' and ``received'' with the word ``payable'' when referring to the eligibility to or payout from a government pension. This wording change will make the regulatory and statutory language consistent and help clarify when the GPO is applicable. In addition, we propose to revise our regulations to reflect a separate 60-month requirement that was made applicable to Federal employees by a 1987 law.
Under titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (the Act), we pay benefits to individuals who meet our rules for entitlement and have medically determinable physical or mental impairments that are severe enough to meet the definition of disability in the Act. The rules for determining disability can be very complicated, but some individuals have such serious medical conditions that their conditions obviously meet our disability standards. To address these individuals' needs, we strive to provide not only responsive, but also compassionate, public service that ensures the most severely disabled in our society who meet the Act's requirements are awarded benefits quickly. To that end, we are investigating methods of making ``compassionate allowances'' by quickly identifying individuals with obvious disabilities. The purpose of this notice is to give you an opportunity to send us comments about what standards we should use for compassionate allowances, methods we might use to identify compassionate allowances, and suggestions for how to implement those standards and methods.
Social Security Ruling, SSR 07-01p; Titles II and XVI: Evaluating Visual Field Loss Using Automated Static Threshold Perimetry
In accordance with 20 CFR 402.35(b)(1), the Commissioner of Social Security gives notice of Social Security Ruling, SSR 07-01p. This Ruling clarifies how we use automated static threshold perimetry to determine statutory blindness based on visual field loss.
Amendments to the Quick Disability Determination Process
We propose to amend our regulations to extend the quick disability determination process (QDD), which is operating now in the Boston region, to all of the State disability determination services. We also propose to remove from the QDD process the existing requirements that each State disability determination service maintain a separate QDD unit and that each case referred under QDD be adjudicated within 20 days. These proposed actions stem from our continuing effort to improve our disability adjudication process.
Protecting the Integrity of Social Security Numbers (SSNs)
SSA is proposing to change the way that we assign SSNs. We intend to eliminate the geographical significance of the first three digits of the SSN (the ``area number'') by no longer allocating entire area numbers for assignment to individuals in specific States. Instead, the SSN will be randomly assigned from the remaining pool of available SSNs, and the first three digits of the SSN will no longer have any geographical significance. We believe that by changing the way we assign the SSN we will ensure that there will be a reliable supply of SSNs for years to come. Additionally, we believe that this will also help reduce opportunities for identity theft and SSN fraud and misuse. We specifically invite comments to help us determine whether this change would have any unanticipated effects on the public.
Technical Amendments To Correct Cross-References; Correction
This document contains corrections to the final regulations published in the Federal Register of Thursday, March 29, 2007 (72 FR 14669). The regulations were intended to correct incorrect cross- references in the CFR.