Social Security Delays of Disability Claims Violate Due Process Rights

April 23, 2008 12:00 am

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With backlogs mounting, mandatory employment verification proposals would cripple SSA’s ability to process disability claims

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Contact: (202) 675-2312 or media@dcaclu.org

WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union commends the House Ways and Means Committee for holding a hearing today on the backlog of Social Security disability claims. The ACLU has submitted a written statement to the committee.

Social Security disability backlogs are at an all-time high, with the average wait time lasting 499 days and in some regions upwards of 700 days. At the same time, the Social Security Administration (SSA) staffing levels are at their lowest levels since 1972. All this translates into unreasonable delays in Social Security disability claims processing, with thousands of people with disabilities facing tremendous economic hardship including bankruptcy, homelessness, and in some cases suicide.

At a time when Congress should be focused on clearing up the Social Security disability backlogs, Some members of the House of Representatives are pushing a vast increase in the workload of the already overburdened SSA – mandatory verification of every worker in the U.S. Two House bills would require the SSA to check and verify every person’s ability to work, including U.S. citizens and permanent residents. The Secure America Through Verification and Enforcement Act of 2008 (H.R. 4088) and the New Employee Verification Act of 2008 (H.R. 5515) would both institute compulsory verification mandates on all employers in the U.S., and would penalize innocent workers who have flawed Social Security records due to database errors. The SSA database has a 4.1 percent error rate, with the vast majority of errors involving U.S. citizens’ records.

According to Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office, “Now is not the time for Congress to impose a radical new verification regime that would cripple the SSA’s ability to process disability and retirement claims. Over 750,000 people with disabilities are awaiting Social Security determinations, with many waiting longer than 500 days. The first wave of baby boomers has reached retirement age and they depend on timely Social Security checks. Our country is in perilous economic times, with many Americans facing job loss and home loss. A mandatory electronic employment verification system would harm the elderly, people with disabilities, and millions of hard-working American workers. The ACLU urges Congress to reject mandatory electronic employment verification.”

Adds Joanne Lin, ACLU Legislative Counsel, “Although mandatory electronic employment verification may seem attractive on its face, it actually would result in a nightmare for millions of innocent U.S. citizens who will be fired or not hired because of database errors. Most Americans with mistakes in their Social Security files don’t even know about the errors because it doesn’t affect their daily lives. But under a mandatory employment verification regime, when everyone’s ability to work and support their families hinges on the accuracy of SSA records, you can bet that SSA and congressional offices will be swamped by irate Americans caught up in the ‘no-work’ list.”

The submitted statement to the committee can be found at:
/disability/gen/34979leg20080423.html

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