Jul 30, 2006

Backlogs in Nevada

The Reno Gazette-Journal reports on growing backlogs in processing Social Security claims in Nevada. Because of workload pressures Nevada has stopped processing reconsideration appeals of Social Security disability benefits denials, with serious consequences for disability benefits applicants. The same thing is happening in many states. Other states have not stopped doing reconsiderations, but have merely slowed down.

Stopping or slowing reconsiderations is a short term way for Social Security to deal with a shortage of personnel. This is not something that can be continued for more than a few months before there are articles in newspapers all over the country. So what is the long term fix for the problem? At the moment there is none. Social Security's staff is projected to shrink by another 2,000 in fiscal year 2007, which begins in a little over two months. The number of disability claims being filed is increasing and will continue to increase for a decade or more as baby boomers age. The workload pressures can only get worse. The Disability Service Improvement (DSI) plan that will substitute Reviewing Officers (RO) for reconsideration will only make the problem worse, at least in the short run and probably the long run, since it will almost certainly take more staff for RO review than for reconsideration, and few outside the immediate circle of the Commissioner of Social Security really believe that the introduction of ROs will significantly cut the number of people requesting hearings before Administrative Law Judges (ALJs). Even if the RO program does somehow cut the number of people requesting ALJ hearings, the staff cutbacks and increased claim load already coming will completely overwhelm any increased efficiency.

Without significant budget increases, including increased staff, Social Security is heading towards massive problems. The only question is whether this will come to the public's attention as a sudden trainwreck or whether it can be managed so that the public only becomes aware slowly that the Social Security Administration has largely stopped processing appeals of disability claims. The answer to this question may depend upon which party is in control of Congress after this fall's election.

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