According to the San Francisco Gate, a new amendment introduced by Wyoming Representative Cynthia Lummis (R) seeks to freeze the Equal Access to Justice Act, at least temporarily, which could threaten claimants seeking Social Security benefits. The Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) of 1980 allows individuals, small businesses, non-profits and other to collect attorney fees if they successfully sue the Federal Government when the government has wronged them. The program is under criticism for its lack of monitoring of payments and for allowing non-profit environmental groups to abuse the law as a regular source of funding.
Lummis spoke on the House floor about challenges and fairness of EAJA, and the government’s lack of keeping records on who is receiving payments and how much since 1995. Lummis claims 14 environmental groups successfully recovered $37 million by filing 1,200 lawsuits. Freezing or temporarily ending the payment system would be helpful in short-term aiding of paying for the federal government’s operations. Legislators have yet to come to full terms of budget cutting and prevent a looming government shutdown.
The Equal Access to Justice Acts allow people to apply for attorney fee awards, up to $125 an hour, and other legal expenses associated with pursing litigation, such as in a case of appealing Social Security benefit claim denials. The program allows individuals of any socio-economic status to address legitimate grievances against the government. It may also prevent Social Security Disability claimants from finding lawyer to represent them in federal court.
According to Lummis, Amendment 195 would place on hold payments for the remainder of 2011, and then unfrozen and paid out the following end of the fiscal year. However, the amendment’s phrasing leaves open questions, which could lead to payments being held indefinitely or dramatically reduced.