[Congressional Record (Bound Edition), Volume 147 (2001), Part 16]
[Extensions of Remarks]
[Pages 22947-22948]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office, www.gpo.gov]



                         HON. ROBERT T. MATSUI

                             of california

                    in the house of representatives

                       Friday, November 16, 2001

  Mr. MATSUI. Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today to join with Congressman 
Clay Shaw, the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Social Security, to 
introduce legislation regarding the fees owed to attorneys who 
represent disability claimants before the Social Security 
Administration (SSA). Our Subcommittee has held a number of hearings on 
the attorney fee process and this bill would make several needed 
changes to this system that would improve the attorney payment system 
and thereby expand access to professional representation among 
disability claimants.
  Under current law, when an attorney successfully represents a Social 
Security disability claimant and that claimant is entitled to past-due 
benefits, SSA retains a portion of those past-due benefits in order to 
pay the attorney for the services he or she provided. Specifically, SSA 
withholds and pays directly to the attorney 25 percent of past-due 
benefits, not to exceed a cap of $4,000. (Under an alternative 
procedure, SSA approves a fee for which an attorney submits a petition 
detailing the specific charges, but in such cases the fee that is paid 
directly to the attorney by SSA out of past-due benefits cannot exceed 
the lesser

[[Page 22948]]

of 25 percent of the past-due benefits or $4,000.) This system of 
direct-payment, which is only available to attorneys representing 
applicants for Social Security disability insurance benefits, helps to 
promote access to representation by assuring that attorneys receive 
payment for their services while protecting beneficiaries by capping 
allowed fees.
  Professional representatation is a valuable--and indeed vital--
service. The disability determination process is complex. Claimants 
without professional legal representation appear to be far less likely 
to receive the benefits to which they are entitled. For example, in 
2000, 63.6 percent of claimants represented by an attorney, but only 
40.1 percent of those without one, were awarded benefits at the hearing 
  This legislation makes three important changes to the attorney-fee 
  It raises the cap on the allowed fee to $5,200. Although SSA has 
regulatory authority to increase the $4,000 cap, it has failed to 
exercise this authority and delayed raising the cap for too long. This 
legislation would statutorily adjust the cap for inflation since 1991.
  It extends the direct-payment system to attorneys representing 
claimants for Supplemental Security Income. Without direct fee payment, 
SSI claimants are often unable to obtain needed legal representation, 
as there is no way for attorneys to be assured of payment for their 
services. Such claimants are often particularly in need of professional 
assistance, as they have no other sources of income to fall back on 
should their claim for disability be wrongly denied.
  It caps the processing fee deducted from the attorney's payment at 
$100. Since the adoption of the processing fee in the Ticket to Work 
and Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999 (P.L. 106-170), our 
Subcommittee has conducted two hearings on the long delays involved in 
paying attorney fees. We have had some success in speeding up payment, 
but there remains much room for improvement. It is only fair to cap the 
processing fee if SSA cannot assure timely payment of fees. Hopefully, 
this cap, in combination with the other provisions of the bill, will 
also mitigate the loss of experienced representatives from the 
disability bar, who have been forced to close their practices as a 
result of delays in fee payments and the imposition of the processing 
  In closing, I look forward to working with Chairman Shaw on this 
piece of legislation in the same bipartisan manner that characterized 
our successful efforts on the Work Incentives Improvement Act, the 
repeal of the retirement earnings test, and our ongoing efforts to 
protect the security and privacy of Social Security numbers. With this 
sort of collaboration, I am certain that we can pass this bill as well, 
thereby improving the fairness of the attorney-fee payment system and, 
more importantly, ensuring that disability claimants have qualified and 
reliable attorneys to whom they can turn for assistance.