Ability to Obtain Social Security Disability Representation Threatened

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As Congress fights along party lines to determine the budget for the 2012 fiscal year, new blows are delivered on a nearly daily basis to federal funding and programs. Social Security Disability claimants may have to prepare themselves for another potentially crippling blow, and law firms that represent these claimants, such as Disability Group Inc., may suffer the same fate.

As Congress fights along party lines to determine the budget for the 2012 fiscal year, new blows are delivered on a nearly daily basis to federal funding and programs. Social Security Disability claimants may have to prepare themselves for another potentially crippling blow, and law firms that represent these claimants, such as Disability Group Inc., may suffer the same fate.

Last week, as reported on the House Appropriations Committee website, the Republican-led House of Representatives passed Continuing Resolution HR1, which contains $61 billion in budget reductions. Next week, the bill will hit the Senate floor, where Democrats will fight to reject the Continuing Resolution’s cuts as it stands.

One such cut affects the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA). The EAJA allows people to apply for awards of attorney fees (up to $125 per hour) and other expenses associated with pursuing litigation against the government. EAJA applicants who win their cases against the government and who are eligible may receive their payments after the case closes. This is a vitally important piece of legislation that helps guarantee that citizens of any socio-economic stratum can address legitimate grievances against the government.

Amendment 195, introduced by Wyoming Representative Cynthia Lummis (R) and attached to the CR by the House, threatens the beneficiaries of the Equal Access to Justice Act by limiting its payments. "None of the funds made available by this Act [the Continuing Resolution] may be used for the payment of fees and other expenses under section 504 of title 5, United States Code, or section 2412(d) of title 28, United States Code," the amendment states. In plain terms, this would result in the temporary suspension of the payment of Equal Access to Justice Act fees.

The National Association of Social Security Claimants (NOSSCR) reports that, due to ambiguous language, the potential long term impact of the amendment is unclear. Rep. Lummis intimated that the EAJA payments would be put on hold for the remainder of 2011, and then unfrozen and paid out following the end of the current fiscal year. However, the phrasing of the amendment leaves it open to interpretation, which could lead to payments being held indefinitely, payments being dramatically reduced, or the elimination of payments altogether.

Any prohibition of EAJA fee award payments will undoubtedly make it difficult, if not impossible, for many Social Security claimants, as well as veterans, to find lawyers to represent them in federal court. This possibility weighs heavily on local and national Social Security Disability law firms across the country. “In my opinion,” writes attorney Douglas Brigandi of Bayside, New York, “it would be a travesty to allow this legislature to go forward and thereby deprive those individuals, who depend on the Social Security Act, the right to obtain these much needed entitlements.”

When the Continuing Resolution comes before the Senate next week, Democratic Senators are sure to take issue with many aspects of the bill. Amendment 195 will be only one of myriad points raised in contention as the political parties battle it out. With the country watching and depending on their government to avoid a total shutdown on March 4th, time can only tell what the outcome will be.

Disability Group Inc (http://www.socialsecuritylaw.com) was founded on the principles of dignity and respect. We are a national law firm focused exclusively on helping people receive the Social Security Disability benefits they deserve.

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Gilda Mehraban