The Appropriations Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives passed its FY23 ‘Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Funding Bill’ last week. This is the bill that contains funding for the work of the Social Security Administration (SSA).
NOSSCR was pleased to see that the SSA received an increase in funding for the Limitation on Administrative Expenses (LAE). However, the increase was not enough to address the challenges the agency is currently facing. The increase of just over $1 billion was $331 million less than the Biden Administration had requested.
NOSSCR and others advocated for report language on key topics to be added to the bill and was pleased to see these addressed in the committee’s report. While the report language is not binding, its presence serves as a clear message that House members want to see the SSA act on these issues. The below language is directly from the report:
Administrative Appeals Hearings
The Committee continues to consider the Final Rule ‘‘Hearings Held by Administrative Appeals Judges of the Appeals Council’’ (85 Fed. Reg. 73138, December 16, 2020) to be an unjustified erosion of due process for individuals who are appealing a denial of Social Security or SSI benefits. As part of a beneficiary’s right to an impartial appeal process, an on- the-record hearing, conducted by an impartial judge with decisional independence, must be conducted in accordance with the Administrative Procedure Act to ensure due process, without agency interference, or political bias. Replacing this appeals step and the role of independent administrative law judges (ALJs) with SSA employees jeopardizes the independence of the process. In light of the harm that would be caused by this policy change, the Committee strongly urges SSA not to exercise this authority.
The Committee remains concerned about the time it takes SSA to effectuate favorable SSI and/or SSDI disability determinations and requests a briefing on the issue within 30 days of receiving the report on Disability Determinations as requested in House Report 117–96.
The Committee believes that quality representation in matters with SSA assists claimants and beneficiaries, and can also help SSA work more accurately and efficiently. The Committee appreciates that the Commissioner is raising the cap on fees payable via fee agreement, and encourages the Commissioner to index the cap to account for inflation in future years.
The Committee appreciates that SSA has resumed in-person hearings, and reiterates its support for SSA allowing a claimant to choose to use video and telephone hearings on a voluntary basis or to have an in-person hearing or proceeding if the party chooses to do so.
The next step for the legislation is a vote by the full U.S. House of Representatives although there is not yet a date scheduled for that to take place. NOSSCR also continues to monitor discussions in the U.S. Senate as that chamber has yet to take up its own appropriations legislation.
As is true most years, Congress is unlikely to complete its appropriations process prior to the end of the fiscal year on September 30. They are expected to pass a Continuing Resolution to fund the government through at least the November election period.
The July issue of The Forum will include a more thorough analysis of the House Appropriations Report. In the meantime, you can read the SSA’s budget request and its supporting technical materials.