Jun 28, 2012

Yesterday's Social Security Subcommittee Hearing

     The written statements of the witnesses at yesterday's hearing before the House Social Security Subcommittee are now available online. In some cases I summarize what I found interesting in the written testimony. In other cases, I just quote. In one case, I express disagreement and dismay.

Commissioner Astrue:
     Sets forth interesting historical information about Social Security's involvement in providing hearings for disability claimants and especially about "well-intentioned initiatives" to meet the demands for hearings. A footnote mentions that the Senate Appropriations Committee's bill to fund the agency for Fiscal Year 2013 would require the agency to submit a report by November 1, 2012 on withholding the identity of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) until the day of a hearing. However, there is almost no chance that a full year appropriations bill covering Social Security will be passed by November 1, 2012. 
     According to the Wall Street Journal, Astrue told the Subcommittee orally that without agreement in Congress to protect Social Security's operating budget from the sequestration required by the budget deal the agency will have to lay off 1,000 of its employees.

Panel 2:

Ethel Zelenske , Director of Government Affairs, National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives, on behalf of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities Social Security Task Force

ALJ D. Randall Frye, President, Association of Administrative Law Judges:
For many reasons, Americans are living longer and healthier lives. The nature and scope of work performed by the American people is significantly different than 40 years ago. There are far fewer unskilled jobs in the market place and few jobs that require significant physical activity. As a result, application of the Agency’s Medical Vocational Guidelines (grid rules) oftentimes forces the ALJ to award benefits when jobs are available that claimants could perform. In our view, this approach to evaluating disability is out of date and should be eliminated. Rather than using these outdated guidelines, judges should rely on vocational testimony. At a minimum, the grid rules should be revised to reflect the increased life span of Americans
     This is self-contradictory as well as contrary to the experience of anyone involved in Social Security disability adjudication. If there are fewer unskilled jobs, wouldn't that be a reason to make it less difficult to get Social Security disability benefits instead of more difficult as Frye says? Few jobs that require significant physical activity? What about people who work in nursing homes, people who clean offices and hotels, salesclerks and cashiers, truckers, people who mow and blow, mechanics, people engaged in building trades, etc.? Don't these require significant physical activity? Aren't there more than a few of them? I sure see a lot of these people in my office. I would think that Frye would see a lot of them appearing before him.

Jeffrey Lubbers, Professor, American University Washington College of Law

Musty ideas. Still bringing up his plan for a "non-adversary Counselor." Still thinks former Commissioner Barnhart's Disability Service Improvement was a great idea. I don't know if there is anyone else on the planet who would agree with him on either point. Still wants to establish a Social Security Court. I suppose there are others who agree with him on this but not many.

Richard J. Pierce, Jr. , Professor, The George Washington University Law School
There are two major problems with the social security disability decision making process. First, the SSA disability program has become increasingly and unsustainably generous. ...

Second, there is a large disparity in the rates at which benefits are granted by the Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) who have the final say in the SSA decision making process in the vast majority of cases. ...

I recommend that Congress eliminate the role of ALJs in the disability decision making process. ...

I recommend that Congress limit the fees that can be earned by lawyers and other professional advocates for SSA disability advocates. The Supreme Court has upheld a fee limit of $10 for advocates for VA disability benefits, so Congress has broad discretion to limit the fees of advocates for SSA disability benefits.


Anonymous said...

Right. Limit fees so that claimants cannot get professional representation and social security pays out less claims. The VA did away with the fee limits. Why do the claimants have to pay for the poor mismanagement of the "fund" that was addressed in the 1980's? People pay (in SSDI cases) over a lifetime of work only to find out that the goalposts have been moved when they ask the government to pay out on their promises.

Nobbins said...

I wouldn't mind some commentary on Peirce's remarks, or do you feel you've addressed them enough already in previous posts?

Anonymous said...

In re: Peirce's testimony, unless there's a huge amount of substance to support what Charles quoted...which strikes me as highly unlikely...commenting on these rank opinions isn't worth the effort it would take. For him or anyone else.

Anonymous said...

A token $10 fee would be idiotic, but there was not valid reason for raising the fee to $6000. Ten years ago the fee was $4000, which was more than adequate considering how little is expected of representatives and considering Social Security disability is a high volume practice where you are generally going to win two-thirds of the case at the hearing level.

Anonymous said...

Oh Charles, again with your anectdotes and impressions as fact.

Sure, you see tons of people who do hard work. That's because you're in the business of representing people who disproportionately do hard work. Statistics don't lie, and I think it's beyond question that the jobs in this country -- percentage-wise -- are becoming less demanding physically and more demanding skill-wise.

But I guess reality doesn't matter, just your impressions you get from the folks walking through your door...