Social security and due process

WHEN any change in social security benefits or procedures is reported or even rumored, one can almost feel a wave of righteous indignation sweeping over the body politic. The New York Times reported yesterday that the Social Security Administration has drafted new rules to restrict appeals for people denied retirement, disability, welfare, or medicare benefits. The Times article suggested that the government is trying to improve its poor score - ``losing'' more than half the cases appealed - by changing the rules of the game. Moreover, it suggested that this is only one of many politically unpalatable initiatives the Reagan administration delayed in order to help elect George Bush.

A Social Security Administration spokesman counters that the goal is improving efficiency, not restricting benefits, and adds that the proposal, drafted by a low-level employee, is still in the very early stages; no political appointee has even seen it. Moreover, he takes issue with the Times article's implications on timing; the proposal has been in the first circle of review for two months.

Congressional aides and advocates for the elderly, however, take the view that there's no time like the present to nip a bad idea in the bud. They see the proposal motivated by the staff cuts planned for the next couple of years. They feel claimants should not have their access to due process restricted for lack of staff to process paper work.

The new proposals would require, for instance, that those appealing denial of benefits submit all evidence seven days in advance of a hearing before an administrative law judge. After all, these are people who will have to figure out which bus to take downtown to which forbidding-looking government office building. They can't summon legal counsel with one punch on a programmable phone.

The Reagan administration has had a long history of trying to trim the social security rolls.

If Mr. Bush really wants a kinder, gentler nation under his administration, here's an obvious place to start.

The standard should be simply that everyone who deserves benefits gets them, and that those who don't deserve them, don't. As the spokesman quoted above has noted, when a beneficiary in one of these cases wins an appeal, that doesn't mean the government loses.

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