In September 2017, the backlog of SSDI benefit applications exceeded 1 million and the estimated wait for benefits grew to more than 2 years. This severe backlog means that many applicants will die before their application is approved and benefits are distributed. In 2016, investigations by the Social Security inspector general showed that there were more than 7,400 applicants who died before their benefits were approved and paid.
Why the Wait?
Approximately 10.5 million individuals receive Social Security Disability Benefits, and another 8 million receive Supplemental Security Income. In 2016, the Social Security Administration paid over $197 in disability payments, however, the average benefit recipients receive is a mere $1,037 per person.
The SSA budget is just over $12.6 billion, which is approximately what it was in 2011. Since then, the agency has experienced a significant increase in the number of applicants coupled with an increasing number of claims denials. This has resulted in a 31% increase in the backlog in processing appeals since 2012. In 2017, the average wait for a hearing was 602 days. This is a significant increase over the average of 365 days in 2012.
Social Security Administration Response
The SSA is responding to the backlog by hiring an additional 500 administrative law judges and 600 support staff. This will raise the total number of judges to approximately 2,100. Each judge had been set a quota of 500 cases per year to adjudicate. This leaves them less than 2.5 hours per case. In theory, this will expedite the process and improve the agency’s ability to process appeals from individuals who have been denied their SSDI benefits. In addition to hiring more personnel, SSA is also expanding their programs for expedited payments for presumptive disabilities including terminal illnesses such as cancer, blindness, strokes, paralysis, etc.
Assistance that Matters
Because of the complexities of the process and the potential for claims denial, many applicants hire outside help to process their application and handle the appeals process. Recent studies indicate that up to 80% of individuals filing an appeal for benefits rely on the help of social security lawyers to receive their benefits for these reasons.