PITTSBURGH -- A proposed change to federal disability assistance would result in millions of more case reviews, likely cutting off many disabled recipients if the changes are enacted.
The federal government is accepting public comments on the proposal until the end of January.
Under the proposal, millions more reviews would be conducted and hundreds of thousands of people would have reviews more frequently.
"We think the real intent of this is just to be a backdoor cut to the program," said Jen Burdick, a supervising attorney with Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, who assists people applying for disability benefits.
Anyone applying for Social Security Disability Insurance, Supplemental Security Income or both already faces a lengthy and complex application process that can take years to complete. Once approved, recipients are already subject to what's called continuing disability review.
The proposal would create an additional review category where cases would be reviewed every two years.
Social Security officials declined to comment; the agency does not comment on any proposed rule making or legislation.
Critics say the agency has failed to provide any evidence or data about why it selected who would be subject to the new category, and the additional reviews will be a hardship to disabled individuals. They also fear it will lead to people losing benefits -- not because their conditions have improved and they can now work, but because of the administrative and paperwork hurdles it will create.
"While a requirement to complete paperwork and submit documentation at the risk of losing monetary benefits and health care would be challenging for anyone, it is likely more difficult, stressful, and time-consuming for disability beneficiaries, who as a group are older, poorer, and sicker than the general population," wrote Barbara Silverstone, executive director of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants' Representatives, which represents attorneys that represent claimants applying for disability benefits.
Those receiving such assistance often have barriers such as "unstable housing situations, intellectual disabilities, limited educations, inability to leave their homes, difficulty reading or writing, or other barriers to receiving, completing, and mailing back ... documents."