Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Are Social Security Disability Hearing Backlogs Being Reduced?

As of March 2009 Social Security has had a drop in the number of disability hearings pending for three straight months. However, the number of applicants requesting a hearing has increased this year. The probable culprit is the lagging economy and baby boomer generation. This year the number of hearing requests is up 10% compared to last year. More bad news, there is also an increase in cases at the lower levels compared to last year by about the same 10%. The majority of these cases at the lower level will begin to reach the hearing stage soon. This will cause increased pressure and backlog at the Social Security hearing offices. Now back to some good news. There is 90 more administrative law judges then there was last year. It has also been reported that the ALJ's have increased their production of hearing decisions. There has also been an increase in hearing decisions decided by attorney advisers before they are assigned to a judge. Unfortunately, I have more bad news to report. Although SSA statistics are showing that more hearings are being held, there appears to be a slowdown between the time of the hearing until the claimant gets the decision. One cause of this problem appears to be that there is a decrease in the number of decision writers compared to last year. The result of all this when factored together appears to be keeping the processing times about the same as they were a year ago at the hearing stage. From the time you request a hearing until you get a decision it still averages around 500 days. So although SSA should be commended on its efforts to reduce the backlog it appears the increase in cases is thwarting its efforts to do so. At least, the backlog does not appear to be getting any worse. This is of little comfort to those who have to wait for a hearing. This information was obtained from the NOSSCR Forum dated April 2009 and from SSA's official statistics.