Social Security's Disability Backlog: Economic Stimulus Package May Help

The average time it took to process a claim for benefits with Social Security Administration (SSA) in November and December 2008 was 480 days. The Newark, NJ district (covering northern New Jersey) did somewhat better, ranking 58th out of 447 districts nationwide, with an average processing time of 447 days. Looking only at disability claims, however, the processing times are significantly worse. It took SSA 811 days to completely process a disability claim from the date of application to the date of denial or the date that benefits were paid if the claim was approved, including payment of past due benefits. Similarly poor is the time SSA took to process a hearing to completion: The average processing time from the date a hearing request was filed to the date that the administrative law judge issued a decision is 482 days. However, the total number of pending cases reached a record all-time high of 768,540 in 2008. And it could get worse soon. SSA is beginning to experience an unexpected increase in applications as a direct result of the current economic downturn. SSA now estimates that more that 500,000 additional disability claims and several hundred thousand retirement, auxiliary, and Medicare claims will be filed over the next two years. These workload increases are in addition of SSA’s planned projections for higher workloads due to the aging of the Baby Boomers. SSA’s cost to process the additional claims will amount to more than $960 million. If he recession is longer or deeper than projected, the number of claims could rise even more.

The economic recovery bill passed by Congress includes several provisions to address the dramatic increase expected in SSA claims:

  1. $500 million to help SSA process the steep rise in disability and retirement claims and to prevent existing backlogs from getting worse.
  2. $400 million to modernize SSA by replacing the 30 year old National Computer Center. SSA is expected to surpass its capacity to electronically store agency records as early as 2012.
  3. $4.2 million to help the 7.5 million aged, blind and disabled beneficiaries receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits by providing one additional SSI payment in 2009 equal to the average monthly federal payment under the program (approximately $450 for an individual and $630 for a couple).This one-time payment will serve as an immediate economic stimulus.

Hopefully, the increased funding from the economic recovery bill will help SSA meet the challenge of a significantly increased workload and improve claim processing time.

Source: January 2009 Edition of the NOSSCR Social Security Forum (Website: National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives)