Tampa, FL (Law Firm Newswire) June 15, 2016 - The Social Security Administration (SSA) is planning to change how it handles some disability benefits appeals in an effort to reduce the claims backlog. A Senate oversight subcommittee held a hearing on May 12 to discuss SSA adjudication and appeals judges.
The agency is transferring the responsibility for thousands of pending cases in certain categories from administrative law judges (ALJs) to federal administrative appeals judges (AAJs) and attorneys from the Social Security’s Appeals Council. They will deal with non-disability related appeals, such as those involving an applicant’s income, age or citizenship status.
“The SSA has a responsibility toward the public to do all it can to reduce the wait time for a hearing decision,” said David W. Magann, a prominent attorney in Tampa, Florida, whose firm specializes in Social Security disability law. “However, diverting cases from the ALJs may not necessarily be the best way to ensure claimants get fair hearings. Hearings are extremely important for those seeking disability benefits as they offer individuals a chance to make their case in person.”
Agency attorneys do not have the same independence from the SSA that ALJs do. Independent judges are protected from agency demands by the Administrative Procedure Act. They are exempt from being disciplined by the SSA for overturning too many denials.
The SSA has been seeking to hire more ALJs as part of its overall strategy to reduce the disability claims backlog which has crossed the 1.1 million mark. People are having to wait an average of over 17 months for a decision. The agency currently has 1,506 ALJs and needs an additional 400. However, it is facing a shortage of qualified applicants.
“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,” said a subcommittee press release. Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., subcommittee chairman, questioned the SSA’s strategy to deal with the backlog. Among the concerns expressed were the possibility of class-action lawsuits, being required to have ALJs rehear cases heard by agency lawyers, and ending up with a larger backlog.
The Association of Administrative Law Judges also opposed the plan, saying it undermines the importance of impartiality in the federal appeals process in ensuring each case gets a fair hearing. Association president Marilyn Zahm told the subcommittee the plan would do nothing to decrease the backlog of pending cases.
David W. Magann, P.A.
156 W. Robertson St.
Brandon, FL 33511
Call: (813) 657-9175
4012 Gunn Highway #165
Tampa, Florida 33618
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