Reviews of Social Security disability rolls to find whether any beneficiaries have improved enough to be removed from the list and go back to work are expected to resume in January, press spokesman Jim Brown said yesterday.
The reviews, initially ordered by Congress in 1980, were halted by Secretary Margaret M. Heckler in April 1984 after protests that procedures were archaic, unfair and in need of revision.
Under the Social Security disability program, persons under 65 who are found too disabled to work in any job are eligible for monthly Social Security payments.
In 1980, when benefit rolls totaled 2.9 million disabled persons plus 1.7 million dependent wives and children, the General Accounting Office estimated that as many as 584,000 of the disabled were not really too ill to work. Congress as a result ordered periodic reviews of the rolls.
From March 1981 to June 1984, about 1.2 million persons were reviewed and 491,000 of them were ordered removed from the rolls. After appeals, 291,000 were restored, leaving a net of about 200,000 who lost benefits.
The reviews, however, led to a storm of protest from beneficiary spokesmen and members of Congress. They argued that people were being taken off the rolls on the basis of superficial examination of medical records, in some cases without opportunity to present their arguments face to face, and in many cases without adequate opportunity even to present medical documents.
Many states, which handled some of the reviews for the government, refused to continue processing them under existing rules. Federal courts in many areas ruled that the procedures were contrary to the basic Social Security disability law.
Congress, as a result, passed legislation in 1984 to make it harder to take people off the rolls. The new law requires that medical improvement be shown before a person can be removed. Proposed Social Security Administration regulations spelling out exactly how the law is to be administered have been in dispute for many months. Spokesmen for the disabled have charged they are more restrictive than Congress intended.
Brown said a final version of the regulation is expected in December and resumption of the disability reviews in January.
Eileen Sweeney, an attorney with the National Senior Citizens Law Center, said yesterday she has "serious reservations" about the fairness of the latest version of the regulations and predicted continued protest when reviews are resumed.
But Heckler has told department officials she deems the rules "compassionate and fair."