Despite efforts to beef up their claims processing staff, the Social Security Administration is not seeing any significant reduction in the disability claims backlog that has haunted the agency for years.
The SSA disability claims backlog currently stands at 780,000 claims, and is only expected to get worse. The agency believes that the recession is fueling higher than expected claims numbers. SSA expected Americans to file 400,000 less claims this year than they actually did, and at the current rate 700,000 more claims will be filed this year compared to 2008.
Another problem is that 10 states have furloughed thousands of SSA claims processors. The furloughs have caused controversy, since the salaries of these state SSA disability determination processors are paid for with federal money.
SSA’s inspector general estimates that the furloughs have denied needy disabled taxpayers and their families $126 million in benefits and has held up the processing of 69,000 claims. To solve the furlough problem, SSA may turn the state claims processors into federal employees. However, this solution would come at a steep cost.
There are no easy answers for the SSA and the disability claims backlog, but the SSA’s problems pale in comparison to the hundreds of thousands of disabled Americans and their families waiting in limbo for a claims decision. Considering that on average up to 65 percent of disability claims are denied the first time, it is going to be rough for many Americans this holiday season.