Panic Street Lawyer: Can't find a better plan

Sunday, 06 October 2013 06:00 AM Written by  Jay Hornack

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I spent most of my week dealing with all of the frustrating things associated with relocation of a law firm office. That still made it a better week than the 7-day period the Social Security Administration is having.

On Tuesday October 1, the SSA was one the agencies whose operations were affected by the partial shutdown of the federal government. SSA had to develop a contingency plan to continue activities as of that date, because a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives could not come up with a better plan for stopping the rollout of the Affordable Care Act (a/k/a Obamacare) than to cause a lapse in appropriations.

SSA’s operations field offices and state disability determination services employees are continuing to process initial applications for Social Security disability insurance benefits, Supplemental Security Income benefits, and Medicare benefits. In addition, all hearings previously scheduled are expected to be conducted at SSA’s Offices of Disability Adjudications and Review (ODAR). However, claim records will not be prepared or developed, the ODARs will not be scheduling any new hearings before administrative law judges, and the Appeals Council in Falls Church, Virginia will not be reviewing any nationwide ALJ decisions.

Representing persons whose SSDI and SSI applications are wrongly denied is a large percentage of my private practice caseload. The partial SSA shutdown will cause further delays in the workup and consideration of my clients’ applications at the ODAR level. On Thursday October 3, I went inside the downtown Pittsburgh federal building and took an elevator up to the Pittsburgh ODAR office. I can confirm that ALJ hearings were still being conducted, although the number of SSA support staff employees had visibly diminished (the rest of the Pittsburgh’s Federal Building – save for the security personnel at the entrance to the building – had the feel of abandonment that day).

Despite the limitation of services in SSA’s ODARs, the SSA contingency plan states that monthly payments to and Medicare coverage for current beneficiaries will be made. As @fairflattaxnow ironically tweeted (and I favorited) Thursday, it is Social Security and Medicare that are “socialistic” whereas Obamacare is dominated by private insurers, hospitals and doctors. But Social Security and Medicare are also very popular, and so the House majority did not pick a battle with the President on those programs.

The fact of the matter is that the SSDI and SSI benefits program is the best plan we have to keep millions of people with disabilities from deep poverty and homelessness. Poverty rates are substantially higher for people who report significant disabilities but are not receiving SSDI benefits than for people who have been receiving SSDI benefits for at least five years (thanks to the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities – on Twitter at @ccd4pwd – for these facts with footnotes).

Would the House majority ever pick a battle with the President on Social Security and Medicare? Perhaps -- if these programs became less popular. And how could that happen? Perhaps if “the most successful news magazine in TV history” convinced enough viewers that the Social Security disability program was in an “alarming state,” had “exploded in size in the last four years,” and “could become the first federal benefits program to run out of money.” And that is exactly what “60 Minutes” is promising to report tonight (Sunday October 6).

In the same week that the Social Security Administration is forced to implement limitations in services, it is expected to respond to allegations that the U.S. disability system is the victim of widespread “gaming.” This sounds like a repetition of many of the myths and stereotypes of persons with disabilities which I discussed in an earlier PSL piece.

If you decide to tune in to “60 Minutes” this week (it looks like it will be in direct conflict with a Pittsburgh Pirates playoff game), check to see if the report mentions any of these facts (again, compliments of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities):

-- The Social Security Act’s disability standard is one of the strictest in the developed world;

-- Fewer than four in ten applicants for Social Security disability benefits are approved, even after all stages of appeal;

-- Demographic factors – such as a disproportionately older population – explain nearly all growth in Social Security Disability insurance;

-- The percentage of applicants awarded benefits has declined significantly during the recent economic recession, suggesting that applicants or benefits who did not meet Social Security’s strict disability standard were screened out; and

-- As the baby boomers age into retirement, growth in SSDI has already begun to level off and it is projected to decline further in the coming years.

SSA may not be in a position on Monday October 7 to respond to these allegations, and so it is up to the men and women who advocate for persons with disabilities to defend the U.S. disability plan and to defend it now. Otherwise, they may find that their bitter hands cradle broken glass of what was everything.

(Image: Social Security Administration's main campus in Woodlawn, Md. Patrick Semansky, Associated Press)

The Panic Street Lawyer is a personal opinion column by attorney Jay Hornack. Contact him right here at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and follow Jay on Twitter: @panicstlawyer

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