Social Security disability claimants have the right to appeal the denial of benefits. However, there are over one million hearings are pending across the United States for applicants seeking to convince administrative law judges that they are entitled to disability benefits to escape poverty.
Delays span from 19 to 22 months in some U.S. cities with other claimants waiting up to two years for a hearing. The average wait is 16 months in this country.
The $126 billion Social Security Disability program, funded from payroll taxes, is intended to aid the nation’s most vulnerable citizens with medical conditions with an average monthly check of $1,165. Nine million of these recipients are unemployed and suffer from medical conditions causing an inability to work. Another eight million qualify for an average of $540 per month because they have low incomes.
SSA tried to address this delay three years ago by limiting ALJ caseloads. However, judges reportedly felt pressure to approve more cases which require less time and paperwork which led to a large increase in the program’s overall cost. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee claimed that hundreds of ALJs were rubber-stamping approvals for SSD benefits which cost billions of dollars. Its investigation also claimed that only four judges were responsible for $4 billion in costs since 2005.
The delay is attributed to aging baby boomers and the SSA receiving $1 billion less in funding it requested for additional staff. Certain Judges were even criticized for taking the time to review large medical records. A little less than half of all applicants eventually receive benefits.
The Obama administration claims that there are no signs of judges rubber-stamping cases. It said that overall approval rates went from 56 percent in 2011 to 2015 but these assertions were not verified.
The SSA set a goal of a maximum 270-day wait time by 2020 to address this problem. It began a pre-hearing triage program and intends to hire 400 more judges by 2018. Video hearing and sharing dockets with lighter caseloads have also helped.
This delay is not only inexcusable but delays entitled applicants from receiving important life-sustaining benefits even after many applicants paid required payroll taxes. Legal assistance may help overcome this delay and assure that applicants’ rights are protected.
Source: US News & World Report, “Some struggle to live while waiting more than 2 years for Social Security disability hearings,” By Kelli Kennedy, Nov. 28, 2015