Jul 25, 2010

Backlogs In Wisconsin

From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
The wait times are getting shorter for out-of-work Wisconsin residents seeking federal disability benefits, but appeals offices in the state still have some of the longest waits in the nation.

The delays in Wisconsin are so serious that the federal Social Security Administration is opening a full-service appeals office in Madison next month to try to speed up the process for not just the capitol city but eventually Milwaukee and the rest of the state.

The often impoverished and disabled applicants seeking to appeal their denial of benefits in federal hearings in Milwaukee and Madison face average waits of a year and a half - an improvement over last year but still several months longer than the already lengthy national average of 435 days. Federal Commissioner of Social Security Michael Astrue called the delays "not at all acceptable."

"This shouldn't just help the current territory of Madison. It really will on a delayed basis help the entire state," Astrue said of the expanding office. "It's not going to change (the delays) overnight but I would think within six months the change should be pretty significant and within a year it should pretty be dramatic." ...

Wisconsin also continues to be one of roughly a dozen states that are furloughing state workers who make the initial decision on whether people qualify for benefits - even though it doesn't save the state any money because the workers are federally paid....

Astrue renewed his criticism of a decision by Gov. Jim Doyle's administration to furlough the bureau's federally paid workers amid the state budget crisis, even though it doesn't save the state anything. Astrue said the furloughs increases wait times for disabled applicants for benefits and on Friday he unveiled federal legislation that would ban the practice by states like Wisconsin.

Officials in the Doyle administration have defended their action, saying they are furloughing all state workers because it would be unfair to exempt any group of employees. Stephanie Smiley, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health Services, said that despite the furloughs, Wisconsin has been bucking the national trend by whittling down its own backlog of people waiting for an initial decision on disability benefits.

One hint for any newspaper reporter who happens to be reading this: Ask Social Security officials how much help Social Security's Chicago Region, which includes Wisconsin, is receiving from the Dallas and Philadelphia Regions, which have the lowest backlogs.

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