North Carolina General Assembly Legislative Update: May 30, 2024

by NCRGEA Lobbyist Jessica Proctor

2024 Legislative Update

Legislators began the week with a busy three days of committee meetings and votes. The week stalled abruptly due to the death of Rick Moore, a King’s Mountain councilman and father to House Speaker Tim Moore. The Senate held committee meetings Tuesday but canceled meetings Wednesday and Thursday, as the late Mr. Moore’s funeral was held Wednesday, May 29. The House canceled its week Tuesday, including voting sessions previously scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday.

COLAs

Currently, there are three bills appropriating both a percentage cost of living adjustment (COLA) and a lump sum appropriation. SB 805 and House companion bill 934, “Make State Employment Great Again”, has a one-time, $100,000,000 bonus line item for retirees S805v1.pdf (ncleg.gov); H934v1.pdf (ncleg.gov). House Bill 930 H930v1.pdf (ncleg.gov) provides a 3 percent recurring adjustment for both state and local retirees, with a total price tag of $231,000,000. All three bills have passed first reading and are currently scheduled in the respective chamber’s rules committees.

Other Bills Affecting Retirees

Last week, three bills pertaining to retirees passed two committees and the House, with one sent to the Senate by special messenger. Two of the bills were technical. The other, HB 1020, Retirement Administrative Changes Act of 2024, has varied changes in current retirement policy. This includes expanding eligibility for participation in the state’s supplemental retirement plan (401k), tightening penalties for employers that submit late contributions, and ending retirement payments for persons also receiving subsequent severance.

In its original form, Section V of the bill pertained to tightening payroll and pension deduction requirements for both retiree and active associations, sunsetting groups that had: a) membership of less than 2,000 and b) had not deducted in December 2023. The NCRGEA Government Relations team and others worked together to have this language stricken from the bill. The bill is now in Rules and Operations and its latest edition may be found here: H1020v3.pdf (ncleg.gov).

House Bill 237, “Unmask Mobs and Criminals,” dramatically changed form from its original House version, only to have the House non-concur when the bill returned from Senate passage. While many provisions of the bill returned masking policy back to pre-COVID status, opponents of the bill say the bill reaches too far, restricting masks for persons with health issues. The bill is now considered dead, with opposition from both parties.

Another healthcare bill passed the Senate Healthcare Committee recently, and now rests in Senate Finance. HB 681: Healthcare Flexibility Act H681v2.pdf (ncleg.gov) originally passed the House in 2023 with unanimous, bipartisan support. Its latest version includes revised physician interstate licensure compact language and adds other healthcare policy priorities of the Senate.

These include:

• Ability for nurse practitioners with 4,000 hours of practice experience to be eligible to apply for full practice authority.
• Prohibition of facility fees for treatments performed in a non-hospital setting.

While running skeletal sessions for the remainder of the week, the legislature will fully return Monday, June 3.

To learn more, use the NCRGEA Bill Tracker powered by FastDemocracy.

Social Security is Changing How They Collect Overpayments

Wednesday, March 20, 2024 | SSA Press Release

Social Security

Social Security Commissioner Martin O’Malley today announced he is taking four vital steps to immediately address overpayment issues customers and the agency have experienced. Commissioner O’Malley testified before the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging and the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance (excerpt):

“For 88 years, the hard-working employees of the Social Security Administration have strived to pay the right amount, to the right person, at the right time. And the agency has done this with a high degree of accuracy over a massive scale of beneficiaries. But despite our best efforts, we sometimes get it wrong and pay beneficiaries more than they are due, creating an overpayment.

When that happens, Congress requires that we make every effort to recover those overpaid benefits. But doing so without regard to the larger purpose of the program can result in grave injustices to individuals, as we see from the stories of people losing their homes or being put in dire financial straits when they suddenly see their benefits cut off to recover a decades-old overpayment, or disability beneficiaries attempting to work and finding their efforts rewarded with large overpayments. Innocent people can be badly hurt. And these injustices shock our shared sense of equity and good conscience as Americans.

We are continually improving how we serve the millions of people who depend on our programs, although we have room for improvement, as media reports last fall revealed. We have also embarked upon a deep dive into the extent of the overpayment problem at Social Security, the root causes of these administrative errors, and the steps we can take as an agency to address these individual injustices.

Our deeper understanding of the complexities of this problem has set us on the following course of action:

  1. Starting next Monday, March 25, we will be ceasing the heavy-handed practice of intercepting 100 percent of an overpaid beneficiary’s monthly Social Security benefit by default if they fail to respond to our demand for repayment. Moving forward, we will now use a much more reasonable default withholding rate of 10 percent of monthly benefits — similar to the current rate in the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program.
  2. We will be reframing our guidance and procedures so that the burden of proof shifts away from the claimant in determining whether there is any evidence that the claimant was at fault in causing the overpayment.
  3. For the vast majority of beneficiaries who request to work out a repayment plan, we recently changed our policy so that we will approve repayment plans of up to 60 months. To qualify, Social Security beneficiaries would only need to provide a verbal summary of their income, resources, and expenses, and recipients of the means-tested SSI program would not need to provide even this summary. This change extended this easier repayment option by an additional two years (from 36 to 60 months).
  4. And finally, we will be making it much easier for overpaid beneficiaries to request a waiver of repayment, in the event they believe themselves to have been without any fault and/or without the ability to repay.

Implementing these policy changes — with proper education and training across the people, policies, and systems of the agency — is an important but complex shift. And we are undertaking that shift with urgency, diligence, and speed.

I look forward to working with Members to discuss ideas that could address the root causes of overpayments.”

Social Security launched a comprehensive review in October 2023 of agency overpayment policies and procedures to address payment accuracy systematically. (See Learn about Overpayments and Our Process | SSA and Press Release | Press Office | SSA). These changes are a direct result of the ongoing review. Additionally, the agency recently announced it is working to reduce wage-related improper payments by using its legal authority to establish information exchanges with payroll data providers that will significantly reduce the number of improper payments, once implemented. (See Press Release | Press Office | SSA for more information). The agency will continue examining programmatic policy and making regulatory and sub-regulatory changes to improve the overpayment process. More details on these updates will be shared as they become available.

To watch the testimony and read Commissioner O’Malley Statement for the Record, visit Keeping Our Promise to Older Adults and … | Senate Committee On Aging and Hearing | Hearings | The United States Senate Committee on Finance.