Social Security Disability Applicants’ Access to Professional Representation Act
The Social Security Disability Applicants’ Access to Professional Representation Act (H.R. 4532), introduced by Representative John Tanner, would make permanent a provision increasing access to professional representation for disability claimants, especially the most impoverished ones.
For many years, attorneys who represent Social Security disability claimants have been able to have their fees withheld from the claimant’s past-due benefits and paid directly to the attorneys by the Social Security Administration (SSA). By providing a way to ensure that attorneys are paid if the case is successful, this system ensures that disability applicants have access to legal representation, which is important in the complex appeals process. The fees are limited to 25 percent of the claimant’s past-due benefits, subject to a dollar cap (currently $6,000), and are only paid if the claimant wins.
In 2004, Congress adopted a provision expanding this fee-withholding system in two ways: (1) it was extended to Supplemental Security Income cases; and (2) it was extended to qualified non-attorney representatives. However, these changes were temporary and would expire on March 1, 2010. This bill would not only make these changes permanent; it would also increase the SSA’s administrative efficiency, as professional representatives can help ensure that cases are properly prepared before a hearing is conducted. This bill would save approximately $3 million in FY 2010 and $55 million over 10 years due to user fees paid by the representatives.