Bias claims draw focus of SSA Administration's new process will probe charges

October 30, 1992|By Knight-Ridder Newspapers

After years of pressure from lawyers for the poor and disabled, the Social Security Administration today was to make public a new process for investigating allegations that an administrative law judge has shown bias.

This is the agency's first effort to deal comprehensively and publicly with what has proven to be a limited but persistent problem: allegations that some of the agency's 854 judges routinely allow their prejudices to influence decisions on who is entitled to disability insurance benefits.

The policy was being published in the Federal Register, the government's bulletin of regulations, and is to be posted in every Social Security hearing office.

Louis D. Enoff, Social Security's acting commissioner, yesterday reaffirmed the agency's commitment to treating benefit claimants fairly and responding to complaints about judges.

Advocates for the disabled have complained that some agency judges seem to have a "general bias" against disability applicants that leads them to deny benefits without regard to the evidence.

The advocates contended that Social Security officials have been protective of the agency's judges, have been reluctant to investigate or discipline them and have had no formal process for addressing complaints.

Mr. Enoff defended Social Security's handling of previous bias allegations and maintained that any experienced lawyer would have known how to raise allegations of bias.

"We were wrong in not publicizing the policy, we were wrong in not centralizing the policy and we've done both of those things now," Mr. Enoff said. "You have to realize that we're breaking new ground here."

Mr. Enoff said the agency would propose a permanent policy for dealing with bias allegations in six months.

Social Security has been under pressure from a Senate Government Affairs subcommittee to respond to newspaper and congressional reports detailing the problem of bias.

A General Accounting Office report made public in May concluded there was evidence Social Security has consistently denied disability benefits to black applicants more frequently than to whites.

Social Security's disability insurance program last year pai$28.7 billion to about 4.35 million disabled American workers.

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