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SSA’s Colvin Warns Of ‘Public Service Crisis’

2016 June 3
by Steve Perrigo

Several SSA officials, including Acting Commissioner Carolyn Colvin, spoke Thursday at a semiannual conference to approximately 700 members of the National Organization of Social Security Claimant Representatives (NOSSCR).

Colvin opened by assuring the group of the Disability Insurance Trust Fund’s solvency until 2022. She noted SSA Chief Actuary Stephen Goss has scored approximately 100 recommendations and proposals from a variety of sources and is “optimistic” Congress will come together in a bipartisan manner for a long-term solvency solution.

She and other SSA officials  spent the majority of time discussing challenges the beleaguered agency faces such as:

Budget – The budget situation for 2017 remains uncertain, and she expects to start the fiscal year (FY) in October working under a Continuing Resolution, which means operating with flat funding.

Hearings backlog – The hearing process is experiencing an “urgent public service crisis, where too many people die before their hearing decision is made, or they lose their home, or face other significant economic consequences that we should not be tolerating.” By the end of fiscal year 2016, their goal is to clear all pending cases that have been at the hearing level for longer than 795 days.

ALJ staffing – The hearings backlog is not something they can “staff their way out of” as there are fewer ALJs now than there were in 2012. SSA hired 200 new ALJs in FY 2015 and have hired 52 more this fiscal year . They hope to hire a total of 250 by the end of September, but acknowledged they may fall short due to hiring challenges with the Office of Personnel Management’s selection process.

Fraud – Colvin said despite the perception that waste, fraud and abuse are rampant, there is no data to support that assertion. While acknowledging that some fraud does still exist, the agency is increasingly committed to finding it through the addition of Cooperative Disability Investigations (CDI) units and a doubling of Continuing Disability Reviews this fiscal year.

Also speaking was SSA’s Deputy Commissioner of the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR), Theresa Gruber. ODAR locations around the country administer SSA’s final two administrative appeals levels: hearings before ALJs and the Appeals Council.

Gruber reiterated the challenges facing her department, blaming a lack of adequate, sustained funding, “There is a direct correlation between funding, staffing and our production.” She acknowledged that 1.1 million pending hearings is a record high, and she does not foresee that dropping below 1 million until fiscal year 2018. Processing times last month reached 543 days, while the fiscal year-to-date average is 522 days, both also record highs.

 

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