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U.S. Senator on Social Security: "I would say the system is rigged"

Published in Blog on July 17, 2017 by Convention Of States Project

In the wake of mounting allegations of corruption and incompetence inside Social Security Administration disability review offices, a Senate panel is seeking answers.

Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., noted that over the past four years Congress has appropriated “significant resources” so SSA could hire more administrative law judges (ALJs) to address its massive backlog of disability claims. Yet, the agency has been unable to hire sufficient numbers of judges to tackle the cases, which topped 1 million last year.

“But instead of hiring more ALJs, in a misguided effort to expedite the adjudications process, SSA is in the process of moving tens of thousands of pending cases from ALJs to non-APA (Administrative Procedure Act) attorney examiners, who are regular employees of the agency and lack the requisite decisional independence,” Lankford said.

The SSA has proposed removing two classes of benefits claims hearings from the responsibility of its administrative law judges, transferring them to federal administrative appeals judges and attorney examiners with Social Security’s Appeals Council.

“This change would impact tens of thousands of cases, potentially depriving individuals of their right to a decision by an independent judge free from undue agency influence,” states a subcommittee press release.

“This SSA proposal raises important questions about whether cases heard by non-APA attorneys constitute a violation of the Administrative Procedure Act,” Lankford said.

Social Security Administration Deputy Commissioner Theresa Gruber told lawmakers that the agency is looking at best business processes.

“(It’s about) how can we best support our decision-makers, our administrative law judges,” Gruber said. “How can we leverage video so we can erase service backlogs from state to state.”

Ranking subcommittee member Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., wasn’t buying it.

“I would say the system is rigged,” Heitkamp said. “Why not hire ALJs? That’s the disconnect for us here.”

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