Recent Social Security Administration Battles
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By Scott B. Elkind, Esq.
As of late, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has been embattled due to a serious
of serious accusations.
First and foremost is the unprecedented rise in disability applications which has the
disability benefits system facing insolvency by 2017. Although SSA could not have anticipated
a 50% increase in applications from a decade ago, it was very aware that the aging baby boomer
generation would be applying in record numbers during this time period. What was not
anticipated was a slowed economy, forcing many workers out of their jobs. Many of these
workers enjoyed accommodated positions as a result of long tenure in their past positions.
Unfortunately, new employers are not as tolerant of employees who need special treatment when
younger, healthier (and lower compensated) employees can be obtained readily. This situation
has left these older, sick employees with no alternative but to file for disability benefits.
It remains to be seen how Congress will address this problem as Social Security has
traditionally been viewed as the “third rail” of American politics. In the end, Congress must act
to either (1) add new restrictions so as to limit the amount of disability cases approved; or (2)
approve increased funding to cover the projected shortfall in benefits to be paid. If new funding
is not approved, the political backlash could prove harmful. To deny disabled people their
disability not only undermines their expectations, but also will put a burden on the social welfare
systems of the separate states. To increase funding creates the problem of cutting other
government programs or increasing revenue (taxes). Either way, this will be a political hot
potato worthy of great debate, consternation, and posturing by our elected officials.
SSA has also taken issue with a recent Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse
analysis undertaken by Syracuse University. This report revealed that there are significant
disparities between administrative law judges in making disability decisions. The Social
Security Commissioner, Michael Astrue, stated that “outliers” in the survey were the reason for
this finding. This controversy has been further magnified by the possible prosecution of a West
Virginia Administrative Law Judge for approving too many disability cases, resulting in a
Congressional hearing on the subject (although judges approving minuscule numbers of
disability cases have not been similarly investigated). The Syracuse report also noted a
significant increase in pending appeals, jumping up to nearly 741,000 as of 3/31/11.
Commissioner Astrue pointed to his achievement in shortening waiting times for hearings as the
means for resolving this enormous backlog of cases, stating that SSA is not “faltering.”
These controversies will not go away anytime soon as the claims are inundating SSA
who is faced with a continued exiting of older, experienced employees from its ranks and
unresolved budgeting dilemmas.
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