Study suggests Social Security Disability appeals backlog growing

The Social Security Administration implemented efforts four-and-one-half years ago to reduce the backlog of Social Security Disability appeals cases, but despite the Administration’s best efforts a recent study suggests the backlog has grown over the last year because of a jump in new applications. Over the past two years, the Social Security Disability Income program has struggled to handle the wave of new applicants for disability benefits. The wave of new applicants is likely related to the slow economic recovery.

The study that reviewed the number of Social Security Disability backlog cases was conducted by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. The study found there were 735,660 appeals still pending in the current fiscal year. In comparison, the number of backlog cases during the 2010 fiscal year was 705,367. According to the report, the average applicant waiting for their appeal will wait 369 days. The longest wait period was 514 days in 2008 and the current wait period is an obvious improvement; however, the wait period still takes over one year.

Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue took issue with the study and said the report is misleading as to the true number of backlog appeals. Commissioner Astrue acknowledged the agency has struggled to meet the additional 200,000 applicants over the last two years. The agency has established the time period of 270 days as the normal processing time period. Any case that takes more than 270 days is considered by the agency to be backlogged.

More than 500,000 applicants wait less than 270 days for their appeal case to be heard while around 214,000 applicants wait more than 270 days. The goal of the agency is to hear all appeals cases within 270 days.

The 270-day deadline was chosen to allow applicants to gain legal representation or advocates to guide them through the appeals process. The agency expects the large number of applicants to continue but is faced with budget cuts this year and expects budget cuts next year as well.

Source: The Washington Post, “Progress on disability benefit backlog disputed,” Lisa Rein, 6/19/11


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