Social Security advocates are relieved that President Biden has fired Trump’s SSA Commissioner, Andrew Saul – although he insists his dismissal was illegitimate and vowed to stay on the job. That may be difficult now that the administration has taken steps to “off-board” Saul, including cutting off his access to the agency’s computers.
“I’m here to do the job,” Saul said from his home in Katonah, N.Y., where he had led the agency since the Coronavirus pandemic forced most operations to shift in March 2020 to remote work, “but I can’t do anything with the communications shut down.” – Washington Post, 7/13/21
The new acting commissioner, Kilolo Kijakazi, has taken the helm at the Social Security Administration until a permanent nominee is named. Advocates say that she has been briefed on the agency’s “top priorities,” including re-opening SSA field offices that have been shuttered since the pandemic began.
Acting SSA Commissioner Kilolo Kijakazi wins praise from Social Security advocates
Advocates for the seniors and people with disabilities lauded President Biden’s firing of Saul, a holdover from the Trump administration who worked to undermine Social Security. National Committee president and CEO Max Richtman issued this statement on Monday:
“The Social Security Commissioner should reflect the values and priorities of President Biden, which include improving benefits, extending solvency, improving customer service, reopening field offices, and treating SSA employees and their unions fairly. That was not the case with former Commissioner Saul and we look forward to President Biden nominating someone who meets that standard,” – Max Richtman, President and CEO, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare
Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Chairman of the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, vowed to work with Saul’s replacement to protect and expand the Social Security benefits that millions of Americans earned and rely on, improve administration of the Supplemental Security Income program, restore a productive relationship with the Social Security Administration’s employees, and more:
“Social Security is the bedrock of our middle class that Americans earn and count on, and they need a Social Security Commissioner who will honor that promise to seniors, survivors, and people with disabilities… I look forward to working with Acting Commissioner Kijakazi, who shares our commitment to protecting and expanding Social Security.” – Sen. Sherrod Brown, 7/12/21
Senator Brown detailed some of the actions that Commissioner Saul took that harmed Social Security beneficiaries:
*Making it even harder for older, severely disabled people to access the essential income they’re qualified to receive.
*Dramatically reducing due process protections for benefit appeals hearings by allowing SSA agency attorneys, instead of administrative law judges, to preside over appeals hearings.
*Providing beneficiaries with almost no relief from harsh requirements to repay extra benefits paid due to SSA action during the COVID-19 pandemic, through no fault of the individual.
*Throwing people off benefits by significantly increasing the number of disability case reviews resulting in an estimated $2.6 billion in benefit cutoffs.
According to Senator Brown, Saul and his former deputy commissioner David Black routinely attacked federal employees by imposing “harsh” terms on unionized SSA employees, vigorously enforcing Trump’s anti-union Executive Orders and eliminating telework for employees despite the health risks.
Saul’s treatment of the administrative law judges (ALJs) who adjudicate Social Security disability hearings drew the ire of the profession’s union. The union’s president, Melissa McIntosh, says that Saul’s dismissal is a relief for workers claiming Social Security disability benefits:
“Commissioner Saul authorized no-holds-barred union busting at SSA, as well as the dismantling of America’s safety net. We pledge our support for Acting Commissioner Kijakazi, and are committed to assisting her in strengthening and protecting the integrity of Social Security disability hearings.” – Melissa McIntosh, President, Association of Administrative Law Judges (AALJ)
Social Security advocates are praising acting commissioner Kijakazi, who holds a PhD from George Washington University and worked on policy at the Ford Foundation, Urban Institute, and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. They say she will bring “much-needed change, spirit and enthusiasm to SSA.”