A General Accounting Office sample of people purged from the Social Security disability rolls found that benefits were restored on appeal to about half, and only a handful of the rest were able to find employment, Sen. John Heinz (R-Pa.) said yesterday.
Heinz said the high rate of reinstatement in the sample showed that procedures used to order people off the rolls on grounds that they are well enough to work are fundamentally unsound and wrong.
The sample consisted of 100 persons chosen at random from about 134,500 initially ordered off the rolls from April, 1981, to August, 1982.
It showed that half the 100 had been reinstated on appeal and only seven of the remainder had full-time jobs.
Nationwide, initial termination notices were sent to 445,505 persons from March, 1981, to August, 1983, as part of a review that has brought a storm of protest from the disabled and many members of Congress.
"In one breath, SSA tells people the traumatic news that they will lose their benefits, and then SSA turns around, after much bureaucratic effort and great emotional and financial hardship on the beneficiary, and tells at least half these people that they are indeed eligible for benefits after all," said Heinz, who requested the GAO report.
The report is the latest shot in a continuing battle over the reviews of disability rolls, which were first ordered by Congress in 1980.
In another development, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) and senior committee Democrat Russell B. Long (D-La.) sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Margaret M. Heckler saying that the administration has an obligation to force the states to continue conducting the reviews under rules laid down by HHS.
Under existing law, initial disability determinations are made by state disability agencies, which are reimbursed by the federal government.
But because of widespread protests, 17 states either have stopped cutting people off or are using rules more lenient than those of HHS.
In some cases, the governor, the state agency or the state legislature has decided to stop following HHS rules or to stop processing cutoffs; in others, a court has given such an order.
In 10 other states, HHS has ordered the review process suspended following an unfavorable court ruling. Dole and Long said that, if necessary, HHS could move in and make the initial determinations itself.
Meanwhile, congressional maneuvering continued over a bill sponsored by Rep. J.J. (Jake) Pickle (D-Fla.), which will go to the House floor shortly as part of the big tax bill.
The Pickle proposal would ease procedures in the reviews, at a cost estimated at from $1.4 billion to $3.4 billion over the next five years.
Dole and Long are said to be concerned about the cost of the changes. There is a chance that a similar measure, sponsored by Sens. William S. Cohen (R-Maine) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.), will be offered as a floor amendment to some other bill if they can't work out a compromise with Dole.