The other day, I was reading The Plain Dealer article Social Security's Disability Program is Hurting, by Robert Samuelson. To give you a flavor of it, he writes:
Social Security's disability program is a political quagmire - and a metaphor for why federal spending and budget deficits are so difficult to control...Social Security collides with the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, which aimed to keep the disabled in jobs. Guess which prevails. One program, Social Security, pays the disabled not to work; the other, the ADA, simply encourages their work. Money wins...For many recipients, the disability program is a form of long-term unemployment insurance...The Social Security Administration initially rejects about two-thirds of applications, but about half of these are appealed by lawyers and other professional advocates before administrative law judges, where the approval rate is between 60 percent and 75 percent...It's also lucrative. Lawyers and other advocates are entitled up to 25 percent of back benefits up to $6,000 per case...The built-in bias for the status quo reflects the reality that the various parts of government are understood, defended, and changed mainly by those who benefit from their existence. However strong the case for revision (and it is powerful here), it is tempered by political inertia. What's sacrificed is the broader public good. The quagmire is of our own making.
So, thank you Mr. Samuelson for this inspiration. My response would go something like this:
Anyone who shares Robert Samuelson’s view that “Social Security pays the disabled not to work” and needs “tougher eligibility standards” hasn't met my clients. Many are broken and spent at 54, reluctantly admitting they’re not ‘between jobs’ anymore as they resort to filing for disability.
Anyone who suggests that lawyers like me and my local comrades perpetuate the status quo, “resist big changes,” and clog the system with people who are not “genuinely disabled” all to pad our lucrative practices hasn't written a ‘dire need’ letter for a deli-worker about to lose her house, or shared such stories for NOSSCR’s Congressional hearing testimony.
We commend Kendra Kleber, Cleveland’s Chief Judge--and everyone high and low who helped her make that first notice now read: “You should expect to wait 9-12 months for your hearing,” instead of 18-24 as before! Since our firm does not decline SSI (not enough work credits) and CDB (disabled adult children) cases, we often fall shy of the maximum $6,000 fee when we win, and remember, work for free any time we lose. Disabled workers and their advocates just don’t deserve Mr. Samuelson’s charge that we “sacrifice the broader public good” for our own benefit.
- Posted by Attorney Mary B. McKee