Larson Opening Statement at Social Security Subcommittee Hearing on Examining Changes to Social Security’s Disability Appeals Process
(As prepared for delivery)
Thank you Chairman Johnson and let me add how nice it is to be back in the Sam Johnson Hearing Room. What a wonderful tribute to our Chairman and his years of service to this nation and to Congress.
I’d also like to thank our witnesses for being here today, especially to Lisa Ekman from the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities Task Force on Social Security.
Millions of Americans rely on Social Security for basic income when they retire, or if they become severely disabled and can no longer work. Social Security is also there to help widows and children who have lost a parent. There is no private plan on the market that can compare.
Since 2010, the number of beneficiaries has grown by 15 percent as the baby boomers reach retirement age, but Social Security’s operating budget has fallen by almost 10 percent, after accounting for inflation. This has made it nearly impossible for the Social Security Administration to provide the service that beneficiaries have paid for and earned. For example, the wait for a hearing is about 600 days – that is unacceptable and the American people deserve better.
In addition, we are deeply concerned about the impact of some of the changes the Social Security Administration has been making without Congressional approval, including changes to its regulations and administrative procedures. These have had a cumulative effect of putting a thumb on the scale against workers getting access to the benefits for which they meet the eligibility criteria that are in the law.
I have strong concerns about Social Security reinstating the flawed reconsideration appeals step in the 10 states that currently do not have it. Rather than imposing this flawed process in the remaining 10 states, Social Security should instead work with Congress on ways to improve the first step in the appeals process, so that severely disabled workers who meet eligibility requirements can be approved for their benefits without having to endure a lengthy appeals process.
I also want to express my strong objections to the Administration’s recent executive order that is likely to politicize the appointment of the judges who hear disability appeals. The Social Security Administration employs the vast majority of federal Administrative Law Judges, or ALJs. Last year, they issued over 685,000 benefit-eligibility decisions.
The neutrality of ALJs is crucial to all Americans and their families. About a quarter of disability beneficiaries are able to receive their earned benefits only because their case was heard by a qualified, impartial ALJ.
ALJs should not be politically chosen. Instead, they should continue to be selected under long-standing merit-based procedures that are designed to promote only the most qualified and impartial Judges. It is my belief that any American who has contributed to Social Security throughout their working life deserves an impartial hearing before a highly-qualified and independent judge, rather than a political appointee.
Finally, I’d like to enter into the record a 2016 letter signed by the then-Ranking Members of all committees with jurisdiction over Social Security, objecting to a series of rules changes that were proposed and later adopted over our objections.
With that, I thank the Chairman for calling today’s hearing on this incredibly important topic and I look forward to hearing from all our witnesses.