Critics Rip Social Security Policy on Disability Reform

Associated Press

The Reagan Administration is taking a hard-hearted approach to disability reform and is still trying to circumvent appeals court rulings, lawmakers and advocates for the disabled said today.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said he wished that the Department of Health and Human Services showed “one-third as much compassion for the disabled as the Pentagon shows for ashtrays and toilet seats.”

Rep. James R. Jones (D-Okla.), chairman of the House Ways and Means subcommittee on Social Security, questioned Martha A. McSteen, the acting commissioner, at a hearing about the steps her agency is taking to carry out disability reforms Congress ordered last year.

Jones and most of the witnesses also attacked Health and Human Services Secretary Margaret M. Heckler’s announcement Monday of a concession on the Administration’s controversial approach to appeals court rulings.


For years Social Security has followed a policy of “non-acquiescence” with some circuit court rulings it disagreed with. It would grant benefits to the person who won the appellate ruling but not to others in the same circumstances living within the court’s jurisdiction.

Heckler said Monday that, henceforth, administrative law judges will be empowered to give claimants the benefit of appellate rulings within their circuit.

However, state agencies that handle the initial claims and the first level of appeal will not be authorized to grant benefits based on appellate decisions. Only those who press their case before an administrative law judge will be able to take advantage of those rulings.

Jones told McSteen, “It totally ignores what Congress was very specific about last year” in instructing Heckler to comply with rulings her department did not appeal.


McSteen said the new policy was an attempt to reconcile “our efforts to have a uniform standard” and to abide by circuit court rulings. Instructing the thousands of state disability examiners about appeals court rulings “would just add to the confusion of the whole process,” she said.