Backlog in decisions on claims for Social Security disability benefits continues

Processing times for Social Security determinations have reached intolerable levels. For instance, the average processing time for cases at the hearing level has increased dramatically since 2000, when the average time was 274 days. In the current fiscal year, SSA estimates that the average processing time for disability claims at the hearing level will be 535 days, nearly twice as long as in 2000. There is wide fluctuation, with some offices over 700 days and others even over 800 days.
Why the backlog? There are two main reasons:
1. Inadequate Funding of SSA’s Administrative Expenses. The primary reason for the continued and growing disability claims backlogs is that SSA has not received adequate funds for its management costs. Between FY 2000 and 2007, Congress appropriated less than both the Commissioner of Social Security and the President requested, resulting in a total administrative budget shortfall of more than $4 billion. The dramatic increase in the disability claims backlog coincides with this period of under-funding the agency, leaving people with severe disabilities to wait years to receive the benefits to which they are entitled.
This chronic underfunding has resulted in fewer staff to carry out the work that is critical to the public and people with disabilities. SSA estimates that in FY 2009 it will have a staffing deficit of essentially 8,100 full-time staff just to return to FY 2007 staffing levels for workloads. Staffing levels throughout the agency are at the lowest level since 1972.
2. Increasing Demands From SSA’s Other Work. SSA has many mandated responsibilities. Workload increases for the following services are due to the aging of the population and the expanding scope of SSA’s work:

  1. Paying benefits;
  2. Issuing Social Security cards;
  3. Processing earnings for credits to worker’s records;
  4. Responding to questions from the public on the 800-number and in the field offices;
  5. Issuing Social Security statements;
  6. Processing continuing disability reviews (CDRs) and SSI eligibility redeterminations;
  7. Administering components of the Medicare program, including: subsidy applications, calculating and withholding premiums, making eligibility determinations, and taking applications for replacement Medicare cards.