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Democratic Lawmakers Warn Proposed Social Security Rule Could Be Illegal

  February 25, 2020 | By Erich Wagner, Government Executive

Several top Democratic lawmakers last week called on the Social Security Administration to abandon a controversial proposal to take some disability cases out of the hands of administrative law judges, suggesting the plan could violate federal law.

Last December, the agency proposed regulations that would allow appeals judges to hear standard disability cases, arguing that the plan would improve the speed at which the Social Security Administration reviews whether applicants are eligible for benefits. The union that represents administrative law judges fiercely opposes the change, noting that the process is currently historically fast, and arguing it is an effort to undermine their judicial independence.

In a letter to Social Security Commissioner Andrew Saul, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden and others urged the agency to withdraw the proposed regulations.

The lawmakers said that if implemented, the new rule would violate the Administrative Procedures Act, which requires adjudicatory hearings to be presided over by an administrative law judge, as well as lawmakers’ intent when Congress passed the law establishing Social Security disability benefits.

“While SSA claims that its regulations that have existed since 1940 permit the agency to adopt its proposed rule, SSA’s proposal is inconsistent with longstanding SSA practice,” they wrote. “Since 1940, SSA has not used the referenced sections of the agency’s rules in any substantial way. Instead, SSA has generally acted in accord with the APA and long recognized (through its well-established policies and procedures) that its hearings comport with the APA and must be presided over by an ALJ.”

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