Diabetes, arthritis and open-heart surgery have kept Sherice Bennett from working, but she can't afford her medicine and became homeless while waiting for more than two years for a chance to convince a judge that she qualifies for federal disability benefits.
Maria Ruiz also is waiting to appeal her denial; meanwhile, she's been in and out of psychiatric wards since being diagnosed as bipolar, and hasn't been able to buy her meds since August.
Still others die waiting. One man had already been dead for two months this summer before his request for a hearing reached the desk of Miami Judge Thomas Snook. He ultimately approved the claim and the man's spouse will collect his benefits.
Overburdened administrative judges are working through huge caseloads of these appeals all over America, but Miami has the country's longest average wait for a hearing, at 22 months. And while they wait, many slip into poverty, burdening their families and dragging down the economy. ...
Delays in other cities are nearly as bad: Brooklyn, New York; Spokane, Washington; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and Fort Myers, Florida, have 20-month waits. Atlanta, Charlotte, North Carolina, Cincinnati, Baltimore and Chattanooga, Tennessee, are close behind with 19 months. The shortest wait time is eight months in Fort Smith, Arkansas. The national average is about one year and four months, according to the Social Security Administration, and petitioners typically wait another four to five months for a decision after the hearing. ...
The agency's current goal is to reduce the wait to 270 days or less by 2020. A pre-hearing triage program has begun, and the hiring of 400 more judges is planned by 2018.