(WASHINGTON) — The National Social Security Council today accused the Social Security Administration (SSA) of trying to implement an adversarial process that it says will limit the number of people eligible for disability benefits. The Council released its assessment, in the form of testimony submitted to Congress, of proposed changes to the Social Security disability claims process being advanced by Commissioner Jo Anne Barnhart and questioned why the process of developing the proposal has been so secretive.
The Council warned that the proposed changes would eliminate two of the three procedures that claimants now have to appeal their claim if it is denied and would make the process more litigious by, for all practical purposes, making representation by an attorney a requirement of a successful claim.
"Unfortunately SSA chose to ignore a highly efficient pilot program that cut processing time in half while maintaining sterling quality service," said Council President Witold Skwierczynski. "It is a mystery why SSA refuses to acknowledge such a widely praised pilot program."
Skwierczynski added that a more transparent process, one that is clear and open about the burden of proof expected of claimants, would make the entire process more efficient. Skwierczynski said that he is not surprised the proposal fails to make meaningfully positive changes to the disability claims process or raise staffing levels to handle increased work loads. "That’s what happens when you refuse to consult with the people who actually do the work," said Skwierczynski.
In testimony submitted to Congress, Skwierczynski said that the process of developing the proposed changes did not include:
"meaningful two-way communication. In fact, senior SSA officials in the Regions had no idea what the proposal would look like. Very few officials at Headquarters were involved. There were no drafts shared with these Agency leaders for comment, as had been done in the past when SSA developed major policy initiatives. Instead, AFGE learned that the central design team was a small one, and its members were sworn to secrecy."
Skwierczynski’s testimony also addressed a plan to implement term disability benefits as a demonstration project (i.e., pilot program):
"SSA now identifies time-limited benefits as a specific demonstration project. The union believes SSA intends to implement this program nationally on a widespread basis. It is the union’s understanding that Martin Gerry, Deputy Commissioner of Disability, was instrumental in the institution of time limited benefits in many of the state and federal Welfare reform laws."