A House subcommittee has moved to soften a program that is pushing thousands of people off the Social Security disability rolls.
The program involves stepped-up review of disability cases--about 500,000 are to be reviewed this year--to find out if those on the rolls remain qualified to receive benefits. So far disqualification rates have been running about 30 percent, and this has produced a flood of protest mail to Capitol Hill and charges of haste and unfairness.
"I think we've got a pretty good, balanced bill," said Chairman J.J. Pickle (D-Tex.) as the Social Security subcommittee wound up voting Thursday on a measure allowing benefits to continue for up to six months for a person who has been receiving monthly Social Security disability insurance checks but is disqualified from the program because he or she is found recovered sufficiently to work.
The bill also would allow an individual to keep collecting benefits, after being initially ruled ineligible, while pursuing the first appeal allowed by law (called reconsideration), although he would have to pay back these benefits if he lost his appeal. The individual would be given six months instead of 60 days to apply for reconsideration.
And it would forbid the government to backbill an individual for years of benefits if, for example, it found in 1982 that he had actually ceased being eligible in 1978.
The bill would also raise the current $300-a-month limit on how much an individual can earn without being disqualified to $340 and increase it annually to keep pace with the rise in wages in the economy as a whole.
While providing these improvements, the bill also tightened some of the procedures used to determine eligibility. It provided that administrative law judges, who have been criticized as too lenient in granting benefits when people appeal from turndowns by state disabiliity agenies, must use the same tough legal rules as the state agencies. And it stipulated that the judges cannot accept new evidence in hearing appeals unless the evidence could not have been presented at the state agency level. However, a provision to increase the number of quarters of recent work required for eligibility was dropped.