By Peter Morley
When you cope with severe medical conditions, as I and millions of Americans do, the person who sits in the Oval Office is more than just a trivial matter — the president’s decisions are a matter of life and death.
President Donald Trump’s attitudes about Americans with disabilities are well-known, most notably with his mocking of a reporter for a condition he was born with.
On a tactical level, Trump’s administration is seeking to eliminate some independent reviews of Americans’ disability claims. For decades, administrative law judges have ruled on these disability cases. In a dramatic change, the current leadership wants to instead hire politically connected lawyers as employees to make decisions about who receives a Social Security disability check.
The National Council on Disability found that “people with disabilities live in poverty at more than twice the rate of people without disabilities.” And these are the people Trump thinks are cheating the system.
Read their own words: The president’s former chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, said, “[Disability] is a very wasteful program, and we want to try and fix that.”
Trying to “fix” the safety net by destroying its independence is a severe mistake. This is akin to letting the wolf into the hen house. As we’ve seen throughout Trump’s tenure, he and his appointees will bend the law to fit their vision of what they think is right.
A key question is: Who is entitled to Social Security Disability Insurance? The answer is: Every worker, because we’ve paid into it.
My multiple illnesses cut short my career as a research analyst. But I’m grateful that disability payments were there for me when I needed them.
President-elect Joe Biden offers a fresh approach, but it’s essential that we hold him and his administration to their promises. The Biden campaign website states that he’ll break down the barriers to access for people with disabilities for any “needed long-term services and supports.”
I know Biden means this because a fellow disability advocate spoke to him one-on-one about it during an event late last year. Biden said, “You tell them I am with them.” This was when Biden’s campaign was faltering and it looked like he had little hope.
Yet now that he’s been victorious, Biden doesn’t need to feel alone in keeping this promise; He’ll find a lot of support in Washington. In the House, a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers introduced the Administrative Law Judge Competitive Service Restoration Act, which aims to keep the process fair and impartial.
In the Senate, Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) have introduced a similar bill to block any changes that violate the law and erode due process for Americans with disabilities.
There’s another development to share. The Biden plan promises that his administration will work to get Americans their Social Security support as well as their Medicare benefits as soon as they qualify.
The administrative law judges on duty right now across the United States have succeeded in eliminating a backlog of cases. We owe them a debt of gratitude for their dedication to carefully reviewing and deciding on each case while understanding the need to get applicants the answers they need.
Of course, the judges don’t approve disability payments for every person who applies. But the current system does treat everyone with honor and respect — their voices are heard. A worker can go away confident in knowing that the process is fair, even if he or she is upset with a denial. The scale is not tipped in favor of denial, as some Republicans want, versus approval.
This is the beauty of the American system that Trump refuses to understand. I hope you and your loved ones will never need to be on disability. But do know it’s there for you, and we’re counting on Joe Biden to keep it that way.
Peter Morley is a patient advocate based in New York City; he has testified numerous times before congressional committees regarding patient rights and needs.