Nov 15, 2012

Why Are ALJs Denying More Cases?

     The November 2012 issue of the Social Security Bulletin, the agency's really wonky scholarly publication, has an interesting article (really, it is interesting!)  Factors Affecting Initial Disability Allowance Rates for the Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income Programs: The Role of the Demographic and Diagnostic Composition of Applicants and Local Labor Market Condition by Kalman Rupp.  Rupp finds that the rate of approval of disability claims at the initial level goes down during recessions and that this decline cannot be explained simply by an increase in the number of disability claims. The evidence suggests that in recessions Social Security makes it harder for people to qualify for Social Security disability benefits at the initial level.
     Rupp did not look at decisions at the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) level. I hope that either he or someone else takes a look at what happens during recessions at the ALJ level. The rate at which Social Security ALJs allow disability claims has plummeted over the last four years or so. Attorneys who represent Social Security disability claimants have been perplexed by this since the common perception has been that, if anything, the cases have gotten stronger as the baby boomers have aged and as it has become harder for claimants to win at the initial level. Attorneys have theorized that the change had something to do with the ALJ selection process, ALJ training or a set of data that Social Security now provides to ALJs showing each one how he or she compares to other ALJs in their office, their region and the nation on productivity and allowance rate. Press reports about an ALJ in West Virginia who was approving almost all of the cases he heard have also been blamed but those reports didn't start until well after the decline in ALJ allowance rate started. Those on the inside have denied that anything has been done that was intended to affect ALJ allowance rates or that should have had such an effect.  Could it be that the explanation for what has happened at the ALJ level lies in the fields of psychology or sociology, that ALJs have collectively and unconsciously reacted to the recession by being harder on disability claimants?


Somebody Unimportant said...

No - more people who are laid off and can't find work or do not want to find work apply, and are not qualified for disability.

Anonymous 42 said...

Mr. Hall, you seem to be ignoring the contributions of senior attorney advisors. If 40,000 or 50,000 cases are paid each year by senior attorney advisors, that means there are 40,000 to 50,000 fewer favorable cases for ALJs to issue. ALJ approval numbers have no choice but to fall when so many of the pays are siphoned off by the senior attorneys.