Social Security disability benefits may be essential for recipients’ daily expenses. However, over one million claimants are awaiting a hearing to determine whether they meet eligibility requirements.
This wait is sadly unnecessary. Most SSD claims are initially rejected but most claimants who file appeals are ultimately awarded benefits. The Social Security Inspector General reported that 7,400 claimants on waitlists died in 2016 before a ruling was issued on their appeal because the average delay is two years.
The Social Security Administration provides benefits to approximately 10.5 million recipients. Another 8 million recipients receive disability benefits from the Supplemental Security Income program which provides benefits to low-income individuals who do not meet Social Security eligibility requirements. These programs paid $197 billion in benefits in 2016 which is much less than the benefits under SSA’s retirement program. Monthly benefits of $1,037 cannot keep a family of two out of poverty.
A physician must certify that a claimant’s disability is severe enough to keep them from working. The disability must last for at least one year or lead to death. If a claimant cannot perform their current job, SSA officials must determine whether they can engage in new employment. Claimants must first apply to the Florida agency that works with the SSA. Across the country, similar state agencies approve an average of one-third of the applications.
Next, a claimant may file an appeal with an administrative law judge. The delay begins at this phase because there are 1.1 million claimants awaiting a hearing. This is a slight decline from 2016 but a 31 percent increase from 2012.
The SSA announced it hired 500 more ALJs and over 600 support staff to help reduce this backlog of pending cases. It is also enlarging its program of expediting benefit awards to claimants with cancers and other serious illnesses.
Advocates, however, claim that budget cuts over five years harmed efforts to reduce the agency’s backlog. The SSA budget was $12.6 billion in 2016 which was the same amount allocated in 2011. However, additional 6 million people received retirement or disability benefits in 2016.
A claimant seeking SSD benefits should seek legal representation to help assure that they present sufficient information supporting their claim and meet SSA requirements. A lawyer can help assure that a claimant is afforded their rights.
Source: The Denver Post, “Social Security disability backlog tops 1 million; thousands die on waitlist,” By Stephen Ohlemacher, Associated Press, Sept. 18, 2017