One of the most frustrating elements of applying for Social Security disability benefits is the layers of administrative red tape that an applicant needs to navigate and all of the time that it takes to get a decision on an application. Dealing with a disabling injury while going through the hassle only compounds the aggravation. The current state of the economy and vast number Social Security benefit applications suggests that the situation will not improve any time soon.
A new report issued by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a Syracuse University data analysis organization, revealed that as of May 27, 2011 the number of Social Security applicants waiting for their appeal hearings reached 740,998. This figure shows over a five percent increase in unresolved cases over the past year. Analysts attribute the increase in applications partially to the inability of those with disabilities to find jobs in a weak economy.
Social Security Administration Commissioner Michael Astrue downplayed the importance of the increase in the number of applicants waiting for decisions on their applications, pointing instead to the SSA’s improved time in disposing of cases in a final resolution. Ethel Zelenske, government affairs director for the National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives, agreed with Astrue, noting that even though the SSA is receiving more applications, it is processing them faster – which ultimately benefits the applicants.
Both Astrue and Zelenske admitted that the SSA’s processing time may slow in the face of recent budget cuts, however. The SSA was supposed to receive $200 million to help address the backlog of applications but the federal government diverted those funds in a stopgap measure to prevent a government shutdown in the spring of 2011. Additionally, the SSA’s 2011 budget was supposed to increase to $12.4 billion, from $11.4 billion in 2010, but has not. The SSA had to delay plans to open eight new hearing offices as a result of the funding cuts.
Astrue acknowledged that the funding cuts may prevent the SSA from reaching its goal of reducing waiting time on cases from the current average of 376 days to 270 days by 2013. If the SSA cannot keep making progress on its goal to reduce overall time that it takes an application to reach a final disposition, the backlog will grow even more since the increase in applications shows no signs of abating.