WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to review a case that could open disability benefits to many more Americans.
If the government loses, it could cost $80 billion nationwide over the next decade to cover more people, the Social Security Administration said.
In the case, the court will consider a ruling in favor of a former Virginia school teacher with schizophrenia. Because the teacher had gotten a job as a grocery store stocker, he was turned down for disability benefits.
But the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that Cleveland B. Walton still had a permanent impairment and should be entitled to government help.
About 2 million Americans apply each year for disability benefits under two Social Security programs, Title II and XVI.
Since 1965, the government has been rejecting claims from people who were able to work within one year of suffering a disability, ranging from mental impairments to physical injuries like the loss of a limb.
Lawyers for the Bush administration said that since 1965 millions of claims have been turned down because of that 12-month threshold. They said the number of requests for help could dramatically increase, and that the total cost could be even higher than $80 billion over the next 10 years.
The December 2000 appeals court ruling "fundamentally misconstrues the Social Security Act, converting programs that were intended to address long-term disabilities into short-term disability programs," the administration argued.
Walton said the government was overestimating the cost of paying claims like his. He said other courts have also questioned the government's system of awarding disability.
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