Some excerpts from the written statements of witnesses at today's hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee:
- Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Larry Butler (31% reversal rate): "The Social Security disability programs are bankrupt. ... Is SSA managing the disability system for the primary benefit of genuinely disabled individuals and taxpayers or has the disability system became a “cash cow” for other “stakeholders” (attorney and non-attorney representatives, medical providers paid through the Medicare and Medicaid programs, pharmaceutical companies, and others)?... Did SSA management intentionally adopt or implicitly approve a policy now referred to as “paying-down-the-backlog” in order to reduce the backlog?
- ALJ Thomas Snook (30% reversal rate): I am a Judge in name – but no one works for me. Moreover, I am judge who, according to our Chief Judge, has no authority over the personnel in my courtroom. In fact, I cannot even set the time and place of a hearing. Former Commissioner Astrue took this authority away from me. ... An outstanding attorney who practices before me recently phrased it differently: “The disability system has turned into a cottage industry for certain claimants’representatives.” He was referring to large firms who use TV advertising and other methods to sign up clients. Claimants’ representatives collectively make $1.7 billion in fees annually. That is a large cottage industry. The largest claimants’ firm Binder and Binder was according to the Wall Street Journal was bought by a hedge fund. [Actually, a private equity firm. There is a difference. Hedge funds don't acquire businesses, just securities.] ... Social Security is an Agency that doesn’t listen to its judges. In fact, the line judges are union members because the Agency refused to talk to us.
- ALJ Drew Swank (16% reversal rate): Social Security disability programs, however, were never designed to be a safety net for the jobless or a substitute for unemployment insurance compensation. Furthermore, there is an inherent inconsistency with the notion that a person can switch back and forth between working when the economy is good and coll ecting disability benefits when the economy is bad. ... Working or not, disabled or not, people are increasingly seeing Social Security disability benefits as a relatively easy means of earning a lifetime of government payments, and a gateway to a host of other government entitlement programs. ... “Pay so they go away” has been an unsuccessful strategy in reducing the hearing backlog, and it will never work. For every individual improperly awarded disability benefits, there will be an incentive for others who likewise do not qualify to apply for them as well — adding to the backlog.