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SSA’s Final Rule on Manner of Appearance a Huge Win for Claimants and Reps

Wednesday, December 18, 2019  
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SSA has retained the ability of a claimant to appear in person rather than by VTC. The rule takes effect 30 days from today.

Here is an excerpt from the discussion of the rule:

Not allowing the parties to a hearing to
opt out of or object to appearing by VTC

Comment: Multiple commenters stated that claimants should continue to have the option to opt out of or object to appearing by VTC in favor of appearing in person. Some commenters noted that when we revised our rule related to VTC hearings in the past, we specifically declined to require claimants to appear by VTC. The commenters maintained that our current policy works well and should not be changed.

Response: We acknowledge the commenters’ near-universal preference for our current policy, which allows a party to a hearing before an ALJ to opt out of appearing by VTC. In response to this expressed preference, in the final rule we retained the regulatory provision allowing a party to a hearing before an ALJ to opt out of appearing by VTC, as it currently appears in §§ 404.936(d) and 416.1436(d). The AC will continue to follow all the rules that apply to ALJs when they remove a case.6 However, we maintain our position, which we stated in the NPRM, that an individual’s decision to decline appearing by VTC can adversely affect the efficiency of our hearing process, and may result in a longer wait time for the individual’s in-person hearing.

While we are retaining the opt out provision, we note that VTC technology is expected to help us reduce imbalances in the wait time among hearing offices. As well, the use of VTC technology allows us to shift cases in which the claimant did not object to appearing by VTC from overburdened hearing offices to hearing offices with fewer requests for hearing pending per ALJ. We anticipate that the effect of these process improvements will be to improve the balance across the country and decrease the total number of cases pending at the ALJ hearing level, thereby providing claimants with more timely hearing decisions and benefit payments to individuals whom we find entitled to disability benefits.

And, from the Ways and Means Committee:

Neal, Larson, and Davis Statement on Final Social Security Administration Rule Regarding In-Person Appeals Hearings
Dec 17, 2019 Press Release
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard E. Neal, (D-MA), Social Security Subcommittee Chairman John Larson (D-CT), and Worker & Family Support Subcommittee Chairman Danny K. Davis (D-IL) issued the following statement after the Social Security Administration (SSA) posted its final rule regarding the manner for the appearance of parties and witnesses at appeals hearings when an initial application for Social Security benefits is denied:

“We are relieved to see that the Social Security Administration listened to the public’s outcry and to our February letter and preserved the constitutional right to due process for millions of Americans who earned Social Security protection through a lifetime of work. Video hearings before SSA Administrative Law Judges are inferior to in-person hearings – they are less fair and less efficient, and they potentially limit judges’ abilities to accurately assess the impact an individual’s impairments have on his or her ability to work. Individuals who request a hearing before an ALJ currently wait two to three years, or longer, from the time they first file their application to the time they receive a hearing decision. It is simply wrong to deny them the opportunity for a face-to-face hearing, when so much is on the line and they have endured so many months without income and in ill health. Fortunately, this final rule ensures that workers will be guaranteed a chance to make their case as fully and effectively as possible.”

 

Thanks to Jeanne L. Morin, Public Policy Advisors, and our whole Advocacy team for their work on this and other important issues. You do a great job for us!



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