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Recent Personnel Shifts in the Social Security Administration May Signal Future Pro-Claimant Changes


Following a recent memorandum from the Department of Justice, President Biden ordered the removal of former Commissioner Andrew Saul on July 9, 2021. Reports indicate President Biden had requested the resignation of Saul and Deputy Commissioner David Black. David Black turned in his resignation, while Andrew Saul decline to do so. Andrew Saul’s time as the Commissioner of the Social Security Office was not without controversy.

Saul was appointed Commissioner by the former administration, to a six-year term that was due to expire in 2025. Many felt that Mr. Saul’s executive policies had made it more difficult for claimants to be found disabled. At this time many advocates are hoping the new Acting Commissioner will change the recently enacted executive policies.

These executive policies included a new rule that changed how the inability to communicate in English would be considered. Previous guidelines reflected that when a person with a disability is between the ages of 45 to 49 and suffers from an impairment that limits them to sedentary work, or is between the ages of 50 to 54 with an impairment that limits them to light work the inability to communicate in English would made it difficult to find employment. This change would make it harder for older people, with limited work history and language skills, to qualify for disability.

Further Saul had overseen finalizing a new regulation that has been accused of dramatically reducing due process protections for Social Security appeals hearings. This regulation allowed the Social Security Administration to use agency attorneys to preside over hearings, instead of the current independent Administrative Law Judges. Critics of this change argue that by having an independent Judge who was not a part of the organization who had issued the previous denials claimants are more likely to receive a fair hearing. By having the people who review a claimants denials be a part of the same organization that had issued the original denials could place them open to influence claims, and remove due process rights.
Another proposed rule change was adjusting the frequency of Continuing Disability Reviews (CDR). A CDR is typically held at least once every three years unless the requirements are waived, or the disability is permanent.

This rule change was proposed to make CDR’s more frequent. It was argued that in 2015 the near 2 million CDRs completed came with a present value of $14.3 billion in lifetime net Federal Program Benefits saved due to removing people from the program. This proposal was subsequently withdrawn by the new administration on January 22, 2021.

Saul had consistently argued for increasing efficiency within the Social Security Administration, and argued that the workforce, and work opportunities have changed.

Due to these changes Saul argued that outdated regulations should be revised. Saul also expanded the list of Compassionate Allowances to include Desmoplastic Small Round Cell Tumors, GM1 Gangliosidosis – Infantile and Juvenile Forms, Nicolaides-Baraister Syndrome, Rubinstein-Tybai Syndrome, and Secondary Adenocarcinoma of the Brain. Compassionate Allowances are a program that allows the Social Security Administration to quickly identify severe medical conditions and diseases that meet Social Security’s standards for disability benefits to avoid the need for the traditional lengthy application process.

Former Deputy Commissioner for Retirement and Disability Policy Kilolo Kijakazi is now serving as the Acting Commissioner of Social Security. While it may take some time to see what changes Kijakazi makes in his new role, many view this change in leadership will signal a reversal of recent regulatory changes and herald future changes that make Social Security available to disabled Americans unable to return to the workforce.

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