Social Security Administration Commissioner Michael Astrue has criticized California's furloughs of Disability Determination Services. DDS employees are state employees, but SSA pays for their salaries and benefits. (FILE PHOTO)
A California judge has declared the furloughing of state Social Security Administration employees "arbitrary, capricious and unlawful" and ordered the state to stop the furloughs.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger plans to appeal the Dec. 31 ruling by Alameda (Calif.) Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch and has no plans to stop the furloughs that started in January 2009.
"The governor's authority to furlough state workers is clear. … The governor does not believe state workers should be shielded from the same economic realities every California family and business will be facing," said Rachel Arrezola, a spokeswoman for Schwarzenegger. The ruling upholds lawsuits by three California state employee unions to stop the furloughs.
The agency's Disability Determination Services employees are considered state employees even though their salaries and benefits are paid by the Social Security Administration. The employees evaluate medical records and claims of Americans applying for disability benefits to determine if they qualify.
The furloughs jeopardize the state's ability to provide services for the public, including issuing disability checks and drivers' licenses, the judge wrote.
"While the national average processing time for reconsiderations of disability determinations has increased by about 3 percent, the California average processing time has increased 22.3 percent since the implementation of furloughs," he wrote.
Other states furloughing DDS employees include Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio and Oregon.
SSA Commissioner Michael Astrue decried the furloughs. If those affected employees are not working, SSA does not give the state money to pay them, so California has saved no money by furloughing them, Astrue argued.
"California's furlough of DDS employees costs the state $849,000 per furlough day in administrative funding," Astrue said in a statement issued Monday. "More importantly, each furlough day results in a delay costing California's disabled citizens over $420,000 in much needed Social Security benefits."
Schwarzenegger has defended the furloughs as a matter of fairness. Exempting one group of state workers from furloughs would be demoralizing and wrong, he said.
Astrue has asked Schwarzenegger not to appeal the judge's ruling, but that seems unlikely. Arrezola said the furlough lawsuits are expected to go all the way to the California Supreme Court.