The House Social Security Subcommittee held a hearing today on the backlogs in adjudicating disability claims. Here are a few excerpts from the
Bob Filner, Congressman from California:
While some states have exempted Disability Determination Service (DDS) employees from the furloughs at the urging of the Social Security Administration, the State of California has not exempted DDS employees. This is despite the fact that DDS employee salaries are fully funded by the Federal Government. ...
The unnecessary furloughs for California DDS employees are pushing back the decisions on individuals’ benefits by months and harming thousands of disabled residents who are needlessly waiting for their claims to be processed. ...
Current federal law allows the Social Security Administrator to federalize DDS employees if a state “substantially fails” to live up to its responsibilities to process claims. I will soon introduce The Don’t Delay Services Act, which is intended to prevent state furloughs of DDS employees.
My bill would deem furloughs of DDS employees a “substantial failure”, triggering the provision of existing federal law that allows SSA to federalize DDS. As drafted, the Don’t Delay Services Act would not change any provisions of federal law concerning the rights and protections of these workers.
Michael Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security:
During this difficult economic crisis, Americans are turning to us for help more than ever before. In FY 2010, we expect to receive 1.2 million more claims than we received in FY 2008. I weighed the risks of an uncertain budget against the need to sustain our progress and decided to authorize our components to continue hiring and working maximum overtime during the continuing resolution (CR). Therefore, we are using the multi-year Recovery Act funding to help sustain our momentum this fiscal year during the CR. ...
By the middle of next year, seven new [hearing] offices will open in Michigan, Ohio, Georgia, North Carolina, and Indiana, our five most congested states. With plans for 25 new hearing offices, 7 new satellite offices, and scores of office modifications and expansions, we are adding the space we need to address the cases that continue flooding in. ...
We are testing a new, more sophisticated screening tool to identify cases for senior attorneys to review. We used predictive modeling to help us determine the proper balance between the number of attorneys screening cases and the number who are writing decisions for ALJs. Based on our analysis, we are identifying 100 senior attorneys to work in a virtual screening cadre to review the disability hearing backlog for potential allowances. ...
As we increase our capacity to hear and decide cases, we must consider the resulting workload for the Appeals Council (Council). The Council’s receipts are outpacing dispositions, with an almost 16 percent increase in receipts in FY 2009 over FY 2008. We expect that receipts will continue to increase by another 12 percent in FY 2010. ...
We expect nearly 700,000 more initial disability claims in FY 2010 than we received in FY 2008. We simply do not have the capacity to process all of the incoming applications with the same timeliness of the past year. ...
Recently, however, we have paid the price for the growth in workloads and tight budgets. Resource limitations have reduced the number of CDRs and SSI redeterminations we can handle. ...
With the President’s FY 2010 budget, we plan to hire a total of about 7,500 employees, which will allow us to maintain our staffing levels in our front-line operational components and add 1,400 employees in the DDSs and 1,300 employees in our hearing offices.
Barbara Kennelly, Acting Chair of the Social Security Advisory Board:
It is only a matter of time that the surge in initial claims is felt in ODAR. If the traditional waterfall of appeals occurs, about 45 percent of those denied at the initial level will request reconsideration, and then approximately three-quarters of the individuals who are denied at the reconsideration level will appeal to the ALJ. It takes about 250 days, on average, for an initial claim that has been appealed to reach ODAR and then several more months before the case is on an ALJ’s desk. This means that the increased caseloads in the DDSs will begin to materialize in ODAR in the second half of 2010 or in early 2011.
Beth Bates, attorney from Jackson, TN, on behalf of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities:
I am honored to testify today but am saddened that the reason is because my clients have waited so long and endured many hardships before receiving the disability benefits to which they are entitled.
Patrick O'Carroll, Inspector General, Social Security Administration:
The Commissioner has made significant efforts to limit the impact of furloughs, and was able to make some progress. He contacted all of the State Governors and many State legislators. Vice President Biden wrote to the National Governors’ Association, and there was even litigation in California that sought to preclude furloughs.
As a result of these and other efforts, two States exempted their DDSs from State employee furloughs, and three States partially exempted DDS employees, saving another 11,000 cases and $24.4 million from being delayed. Several more States fully or partially exempted DDSs from hiring restrictions. Additionally, SSA hired 192 new staff for Federal units that process initial claims, and transferred cases facing delays from States to those Federal units to ensure timelier processing.
Ann Roberts, Vice President National Council of Disability Determination Directors:
Transferring work from state to state or to other components is both politically sensitive and frequently a technologically challenging venture that needs to be considered cautiously.
Larry Auerbach, Administrative Law Judge, on behalf of the Federal Bar Association:
Our testimony today advances five recommendations:
1. State Disability Determination Services should be provided significantly enhanced resources.
2. SSA should continue to hire Administrative Law Judges and support staff, and add needed hearing offices.
3. SSA should continue to develop and implement improved technological and other initiatives.
4. New efforts are needed to accomplish the Commissioner’s goal of making the right decision at the earliest possible stage.