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SSA Report: Increased Optimism For Hearing Backlog Reduction and Shorter Waiting Times

2019 March 28
by Steve Perrigo

With the Social Security Administration’s release of its Annual Performance Plan/Report for Fiscal Years (FY) 2018-2020, agency officials have provided more insight into the shifts within the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program, including results from its efforts to reduce the hearing backlog.

SSA officials appear confident that they will have reduced the hearing backlog by the end of FY 2021, and project a national average 270 days wait for a hearing, amid efforts that cut the current pending caseload in half. FY 2019 is targeted to have a backlog of 591,000 claims and national average wait time of 515 days, with those figures dropping to 385,000 pending claims and 390 days by the end of FY 2020.  The backlog peaked at over 1.1 million pending claims in 2016, and an average waiting time for a hearing over 600 days.

At the same time, the number of claims pending Reconsideration will increase as 10 states add this appeal to the SSDI review process. SSA estimates claimants pending at Reconsideration will rise from 115,028 in FY 2018 to 158,000 in FY 2019, and then 233,000 in FY 2020. However, wait times will remain relatively stable, increasing from 103 days in FY 2018 to 105 days in FY 2019 and FY 2020.

The number of initial disability claims pending is expected to remain flat at 565,000 from FY 2018 to FY 2019, but then rise 24% to 700,000 in FY 2020. The SSA states in the report that some estimates have been revised due to SSA Chief Actuary projections.

Additional developments affecting the SSDI program include:

  • Video Hearings: SSA plans to expand video hearings network to ”balance workloads nationally and provide more timely service to claimants served by hearing offices with the longest wait times.”
  • Workforce changes: The SSA reports anticipating higher call volumes, attrition rates, and new hires that are not yet fully productive in FY 2019, which will affect productivity, including speed of answer (13 minutes in FY 2019) and agent busy rates (9%). SSA predicts more than 21,000 employees will retire by fiscal year-end 2022. As of September 2018, SSA had 62,519 employees.
  • Legislative proposal for retroactive benefits: The SSA proposes to “Reduce 12-Month Retroactive DI Benefits to Six Months.” Currently new SSDI beneficiaries are eligible for 12 months of benefits before the date of their application, depending on the date they became disabled. The agency reports this measure would save $316 million in program outlays if enacted.
  • Expand case triage prior to hearings: The SSA’s Proactive Analysis and Triage for Hearings (PATH) began in April 2017, and identifies cases most likely to be fully favorable before reaching an administrative law judge (ALJ). The SSA reports incorporating the National Adjudication Team (NAT) with the PATH, and automating this process in FY 2020.

Find the SSA’s budget overview and performance plan online.

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