The Social Security Administration says the agency’s administrative law judges (ALJs) should decide 500 to 700 disability cases a year. The agency calls the standard a productivity goal, but a lawsuit filed in April 2013 by the Social Security Judges against the Commissioner and the Agency claims it is an illegal quota that requires judges to decide an average of more than two cases per workday.
The lawsuit raises serious questions about the integrity of the disability hearing process by the very people in charge of running it. It comes as the disability program faces serious financial problems.
“I find it interesting that there is so much wringing of the hands about a judge who pays almost 100% of his cases, as if the agency didn’t know about it, as if the agency wasn’t complicit in it, as if the agency didn’t encourage it,” said Marilyn Zahm, a Social Security judge in Buffalo, NY who is an executive vice president of the Association of Administrative Law Judges (AALJ), the judges’ union.
Judge Zahm had a lot more to say in an interview in October 2009. (Read the entire interview starting at page 430 in my book, socialNsecurity, available at http://www.amazon.com/SocialNsecurity-ebook/dp/B006VOQIKK
Several current and former Administrative Law Judges (“ALJs”) testified before Congress that the Social Security Administration is purportedly pushing ALJs to award benefits (or grant benefits) in an effort to reduce the rather large backlog of disability claims in the system. This further feeds the misperception that ALJs are approving claims willy-nilly left and right. Just as there are Judges who have high approval rates or grant rates (the percentage of claims approved out of all claims disposed), there are Judges who have extremely low grant rates and deny the vast majority of claims that they decide.