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Can Lawmakers Reduce the Social Security Case Backlog?

The House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security held hearings this month on the on the backlog of Social Security Disability Cases.  According to the committee, the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) disability claims backlogs have grown to unprecedented levels, with more than 1.3 million Americans currently awaiting a decision regarding their claim.  In addition, these backlogs are especially severe for the more than 765,000 Americans who have had their cases denied at an earlier stage of the process and have requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).  These individuals now wait an average of 532 days for a decision on their appeal.


Contributing to this backlog has been a 20% increase in SSD claims and a loss of experienced, well-trained staff at the SSA.  A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report issued in December 2007 stated that the backlog was due to substantial growth in the numbers of disability claims, staff losses and turnover, and management weaknesses.  In addition, the GAO found that 72% of the claims are held up at the hearing stage.


Congress has also been blamed for some of SSA’s problems, as they’ve cut the Administration’s budget over the years and added additional responsibilities to the already overburdened agency.  However, last year Congress provided $150 million more for the SSA’s administrative funding than the President requested.  This money was to be used to tackle the backlog and staffing issues at SSA.


Regardless of who is at fault, this is a very serious issue for disabled Americans who rely on disability benefits to provide cash for living expenses when they can no longer work.


Reducing the backlog


Earlier this year, SSA promised to take steps to reduce the number of existing hearings backlogs:

  • Updating medical eligibility criteria
  • Expediting cases where eligibility is clear
  • Improving the electronic processing system
  • Focusing on resolving claims at the hearing level through a number of targeted actions
  • Automating file assembly at the hearings level
  • Allowing electronic signatures on approved cases
  • providing for employees’ shared access to the folder
  • Expanding Internet support and functionality for claimants or their representatives


Lawmakers, however, have remained skeptical.  Concerns have been expressed that the agency’s plans for hiring support staff are not sufficient to address the large hearings backlog, that planned automation improvements will not meet expectations, and that an overemphasis on speed could degrade quality or compromise program integrity.


Focus of the Congressional hearing


The hearing before the subcommittee focused on:

  • The performance of SSA’s hearing offices
  • Factors that affect productivity
  • Initiatives SSA is taking to increase efficiency and productivity
  • Other approaches to improving productivity without compromising the quality and impartiality of decision-making or the due process rights of claimants


It remains to be seen if anything will come of this hearing.  If you are struggling with a Social Security Disability Claim, please contact the law offices of Markhoff & Mittman.  Our attorneys can help you receive the assistance that you need to move your case forward.


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