The Social Security Administration wants to put their own lawyers, and not independent judges, in charge of hearing appeals.
During his final weeks in the White House, President Donald Trump and his administration are trying to push through regulations that make it harder for people applying for disability benefits to appeal rejections.
Beginning next month, the Social Security Administration (SSA) can use its own lawyers to consider appeals, instead of administrative law judges who work independently from the department. Before, administrative law judges were the only people who were allowed to respond to appeals, and advocates say they are the only people qualified to hear such cases.
If the new regulations are pending when President-elect Joe Biden takes office, he could halt its implementation. But rewriting a new rule or asking Congress to nullify the existing one can take some time, and people struggling through the pandemic need help right away.
According to the Huffington Post, the new regulations proposed by the Trump administration are universally disliked by disabilities advocates and communities. Agencies are required to consider public input as part of their rulemaking process.
A similar situation occurred at the Department of Agriculture last month when the Trump administration tried to cut food benefits in the midst of the pandemic. A federal judge ended up blocking that change, and a similar situation could arise with the Social Security Administration’s new rule.
“[Appealing a denial] is often the first time that the claimant has the opportunity to make her case about her disability to an actual human being,” wrote the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities about the new regulation earlier this year. “The importance of receiving a fair hearing in which the adjudicator impartially and dispassionately applies law and policy to make an accurate and timely decision cannot be understated. Such an adjudicator must be as independent as possible from the agency for which it is making determinations.”
The Consortium goes on to note that the only real reason the SSA wants to implement this new rule is for increased flexibility. The SSA has claimed that the agency needs more people who are able to handle these claims, as it is expecting a large influx of appeals.
“SSA fails, however, to demonstrate a need for additional flexibility… In addition, the rule is so vague that it is impossible to determine when SSA would exercise this authority or how it would decide to do so,” The Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities wrote.
House Democrats have also come out against the proposed rule. They added an addendum to an upcoming appropriations bill that would prevent the SSA from implementing its proposals. The appropriations bill and addendum could become law if they are voted on to avoid a partial government shutdown on Dec. 11.
“The Social Security Administration should rescind this proposed rule and use the extensive flexibility it already has in the hearing process to adjust workloads should the need arise in the future,” the Consortium wrote.