(WASHINGTON)—The National Social Security Council of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) voiced concern over an Administration plan to change the process by which Social Security and SSI disability cases are periodically re-evaluated. The plan is expected to be unveiled by JoAnne Barnhart, the Commissioner of Social Security, this Thursday, September 30 before the House Ways and Means Subcommittees on Social Security and Human Resources (1100 Longworth HOB, 1 PM).
"We have concern that this plan, sold under the guise of reform, could effectively end disability benefits for millions of Americans who have received benefits for just two years," said Witold Skwierczynski, president of the National Social Security Council.
Skwierczynski explained that preliminary information the Council has obtained suggests that the plan could require disability recipients to either re-apply for benefits or go back to work after just two years of receiving disability benefits. In contrast, under current law the disabled have their cases reviewed on a regular basis depending on the severity – usually every one, three or seven years. Those who have shown medical improvement or are able to work will often see their payments stopped, but their Medicare and Medicaid benefits may continue for several more years. The system was designed to help the disabled get medical care at a time when it was difficult or impossible for them to obtain private health insurance.
"As a former Social Security disability examiner, I understand that this plan could force the disabled out of the disability system and eliminate appeals rights on determinations of disability status," said John Gage, AFGE national president.
Skwierczynski explained that high-ranking members of SSA have been working on the proposal for several months, rarely sharing the specifics with anyone outside the agency. Although officials with the National Social Security Council have repeatedly asked for clarification since learning of the plan in May of this year, no additional information has been provided.
Family benefits, paid to the spouses and children of disabled workers, could also be affected under the plan. According to the Social Security web site, there are 6.1 million disabled workers in this country with an average monthly benefit of $866. Dependents number 1.7 million.
The American Federation of Government Employees is the largest federal employee union, representing 600,000 workers in the federal government and the government of the District of Columbia.