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SSA Officials Cite Importance Of Budget

2015 March 31
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by Steve Perrigo

The ability to hire administrative law judges (ALJs) this year is one factor in optimism shared by Social Security Administration (SSA) Acting Commissioner Carolyn Colvin during the 2015 Annual Social Security Law Conference, hosted by the National Association of Disability Representatives (NADR), March 22-25 in Austin, Texas.

Ms. Colvin said the agency plans to add 250 ALJs in fiscal year 2015. This is an increase from 70 judges hired in 2014, though the SSA ended FY 2014 with a net loss of 35 ALJs. Processing times also are expected to grow longer, approaching 500 days for SSDI hearings this year and next, and result in worsening backlogs until FY 2017, based on the SSA’s forecasts.

Several SSA officials attending the conference expressed optimism that the FY 2015 budget is helping address ongoing customer service issues, such as wait times and workloads. But the FY 2016 budget could be more restricted, depending on provisions outlined by the House and Senate.

Colvin also outlined several trends including an increasing number of video teleconferencing hearings and more full medical continuing disability reviews (CDRs) for SSDI recipients. The SSA also will continue to update disability-specific medical listings this year to incorporate medical advances, another SSA official reported.

Glenn Sklar, deputy commissioner of Disability Adjudication and Review, said the hearing backlog is still recovering from the increased demand for benefits from the recession that ended several years ago, the lack of funding to hire ALJs, and the government shutdown of 2013. On a positive note, he said, the oldest cases pending at the hearing level are approximately 700 days, compared to 1,000 days old when the agency faced another growing backlog from 2007-08.

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