The Social Security Administration (SSA) has proposed new rules that would eliminate the right of claimants to opt out of video teleconference (VTC) hearings, or object to them within thirty days of being scheduled. The proposed rules, Setting the Manner for the Appearance of Parties and Witnesses at a Hearing, were published in the Federal Register on November 14, 2018. The rules would also allow SSA to choose the manner in which witnesses appear, preferably by telephone. And they would allow SSA to give only 20 days’ rather than 75 days’ notice of a rescheduled hearing.
SSA expects “this proposed rule will ensure that as we expand our ability to conduct appearances by VTC, we are able to schedule hearings more fairly and efficiently.” Anyone who has represented a claimant at a VTC hearing might beg to differ that the VTC hearings are fairer and more efficient. And anyone who has tried to represent a claimant with only 20 days’ notice would not agree it was fair or efficient. Since many of our clients come to us after their hearings have been adjourned for representation, this proposed change is particularly ominous.
Comments on the proposed changes were due January 14th. Two hundred forty-two comments were submitted, many in opposition to the changes. NOSSCR submitted very comprehensive objections, as did the ALJ union. The Empire Justice Center also submitted comments. Let’s hope SSA reads them!