WASHINGTON — The Social Security Administration has agreed to apply a new, expanded definition of AIDS in determining who is qualified for disability benefits, Rep. Ted Weiss (D-N.Y.) said Tuesday.
The expanded definition, to be adopted Sept. 1, is expected to make more people eligible for the benefits, but officials said they are uncertain how many more.
Weiss, chairman of the House Government Operations subcommittee on human resources and intergovernmental relations, told a hearing on Social Security services that the agency "would be reversing its earlier decision" not to follow guidelines adopted by the federal Centers for Disease Control.
Social Security officials said about 14,000 people with acquired immune deficiency syndrome have qualified for Social Security or supplemental Social Security Income disability benefits.
To qualify for the disability benefits under the old system, a person had to have symptoms of the AIDS virus, as well as cancer or an "opportunistic" infection common in AIDS cases, such as pneumonia. Beginning in September, a patient will be qualified if there is either dementia or wasting syndrome present with the AIDS virus.
Also on Tuesday, the head of the Social Security Administration defended the agency against charges that services and morale are slipping since dramatic staff cuts under the Reagan Administration.
Commissioner Dorcas R. Hardy said the elimination of about 5,000 positions--a fraction of reductions expected eventually to total 17,000--has been achieved mainly through attrition and has not affected performance.
"Our processing time in some cases is significantly better. We do not see that our work load is increasing. Our waiting times are down," she told the panel.
As far as morale, she said, "clearly, we are changing. We are moving from manual to far more automated processes. That is difficult for some employees."
Hardy's testimony followed that of some whistle blowers--former district managers and legislators who said that Congress was not receiving accurate information about the performance of Social Security offices.
Weiss said his panel has received complaints from all over the country about Social Security services.