Waits for Disability Hearings are Longer

Waits for disability hearings have gotten worse. Recent reports from Social Security indicate that wait times from Hearing Request to actual hearing have gone up by 127 days since 2011, in spite of numerous initiatives to shorten that time. Keep in mind that the hearing request is the last stage of appeal, and is filed 6-12 months after the initial application. The 2015 wait nationally is 480 days.

Here’s a story out of Florida on the human cost of these delays:

Diabetes, arthritis and open-heart surgery have kept Sherice Bennett from working, but she can’t afford her medicine and became homeless while waiting 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. While they wait, many slip into poverty, burdening their families and dragging down the economy. Experts blame the number of aging baby boomers for the backlog, which piled up after the Social Security Administration got $1 billion less in funding than it sought for more staff.

The roughly $126 billion Social Security disability program, funded through payroll taxes, keeps many of America’s most vulnerable people off the streets by sending an average $1,165 monthly check to about 9 million permanently unemployed who qualified through prior work history. More than 8 million others qualify because they are low-income, and receive an average $540 a month. Both groups require medical proof that they can’t work.

A million hearings are pending, and it makes sense for applicants to keep pushing: Just under half of them eventually get the benefits, including millions who convince an administrative law judge on appeal that their disability makes a job impossible. Full story here: http://bigstory.ap.org/urn:publicid:ap.org:921e551096f449b5bbd1b946717de11c