May 10, 2020

Another Question Or Two

     Some claimants whose cases have already been scheduled for a hearing by Social Security are declining the offer of a telephone hearing. That leaves a hole in the schedule of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Are hearing offices trying to fit the cases of other claimants who haven't already been scheduled into those holes? I think the answer is generally no so my next question is, why not? 
     Let me spell out what may be obvious to many readers. I'm pointing out a possible flaw of centralized scheduling -- inflexibility.


Anonymous said...

It's not inflexibility as much as it is lack of time due to other duties. Scheduling multiple ALJ schedules and coordinating with multiple experts (VEs and MEs), most of whom appear across multiple hearing offices, isn't what I'd consider to be an easy task in the best of times. You seem to have a naivete about how complicated a scheduler's job is.

Keep in mind that this was thrust upon them at the last minute almost two months ago. A lot of office resources were used to keep current hearings going by contacting reps and trying to chase down unrepped cases so that judges could keep current dockets going. Offices are catching up now and reps/claimants seem to be more willing to take phone hearings as it has become clearer that this is the business process for the indefinite future. What was once a 40-50% acceptance rate for my hearings has jumped up to 70-80% going forward.

So, with just under two months' experience as of today, hearing offices, reps, and the CSU have a better grasp of how this (hopefully) temporary process is going to work. Hearing offices are contacting reps to confirm phone hearing availability, and CSUs are still doing their time consuming job of scheduling claimants' hearings while taking into consideration rep availability, VE schedules, and ALJ hearing dates.

But for May and June hearings, offices are still treading water in terms of rep and claimant acceptances about a week before scheduled hearings. Unrepped claimants are hard to track down, which really shouldn't be hard to explain to anyone reading this blog. Because of that, it's not really possible to backfill cases a week out.

Some reps have been proactive in their cases and gotten acceptance from their clients with letters submitted into files that they will proceed by phone 2-3 weeks ahead of the hearing. Most in my area seem to be waiting until they're called by the office before doing any client contact. I'm not sure I've seen any proactively submit a 75-day waiver in their cases for clients who would accept phone hearings. Not saying it's never happened, but I've yet to hear of it. So it's not as if hearing offices are being given a ton of advanced notice of those who won't proceed.

So what you seem to be asking is why CSUs aren't backfilling slots a week or two out when hearing offices aren't getting nays from reps and claimants (or even hearing from them at all) until then. Then CSUs have to contact reps a week or two ahead of the available slot to see if they and their clients are willing to take a phone hearing at the last minute (which doesn't happen instantaneously), get the notice waiver into the file, notify VEs and/or MEs, etc. And keep in mind this is only for the months of May and June since only those individuals who accept phone hearings are being scheduled for July and beyond at this point.

This isn't the inflexibility of CSUs. This is the practicality of the times and reality of having only so many hours in a day to do your job and then survey the reps and claimants to check on availability. If you think things would be different with a local scheduler when hearing office staff have had chunks of their workday/workweek taken up by having to run recording equipment at home, then you really have little idea of how the scheduling process works and has worked.

Anonymous said...

Backfilling less than 30 days before the hearing is up to individual office support staff, not the CSU.

With all hearings being held now by phone, office support staff are also serving as hearing reporters.

With this extra burden, the office support staff has no time left over to work on cases in POST, even, thanks to chasing down tomorrow's phone hearings and recording today's hearings. No time at all to backfill. None. Cases can't get from POST into ALPO and ALJs are left with nothing to adjudicate.

Gruber et al have spent years hollowing out OHO. This is the end result. Lots of work to do, and nobody left to do it. The war on ALJs is also in its endgame, so OHO in general seems to be focusing on reducing staff and getting rid of those who ended the pre-2020 backlog, rather than serving current customers.

Bottom line, backfilling is very very hard to do under these circumstances.

Anonymous said...

I had three cases that were originally set for July scheduled instead for April and May due to filling in holes in the schedules. My clients (and I) were happy to waive the 75 day rule.

Anonymous said...

I have had cases moved up due to last minute openings in a Judge's schedule, so it does happen. It seems to happen with specific judges pretty regularly, so it may be the ALJ - or someone in their staff is being proactive.

I get that this is difficult - but I dont understand the comment above that it is hard due to having to schedule the VE. I mean, the VE is there all day for all of that ALJ's hearings, so...It's not like you have to go find a new ve for that case.

Anonymous said...

To: 10:26 AM

The vocational expert needs to do a little preparation. The hearing offices used to send the v.e.s the entire file, at first paper and then later a disk. For several years the v.e.s have been sent the E section of exhibits only.

As an attorney I would rather have a prepared vocational expert as opposed to one "shooting from the hip."

Anonymous said...

I recall we've had a few offers, maybe 2 or 3 cases, to fill holes, with OHO requesting we file 75-day waivers if we are interested. The calls were from local OHO, not central. So either our local OHO is rebelling against central or else central gave some authority to the local OHOs to fill the gaps. I suspect the former.

Tim said...

1:23 PM How much preparation does it take to WAG someone's "skills" based upon a couple of job titles and then give 3 fake jobs to a hypothetical? Most of the "jobs" are going to be low skilled and sedentary or low skilled and light duty. You don't even have to give real jobs and codes. The Federal Judge will find the one you "meant." Just give a "no jobs"`to the strictest limitations RFC and 3 to the rest. The ALJ will "pick" the one he wants.

Anonymous said...

I have seen more OHOs pressuring to make early decisions on telephone hearings. Early on in March, they were were OK with a little delay in agreeing to a telephone hearing. Now, many are demanding making a decision months in advance. Not sure if this will help scheduling. But they have been pretty pushy.