Backlog of Cases Awaiting Hearing is Reduced

Congressman John Tanner (D-TN), Chairman of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security, today praised the Social Security Administration (SSA) for the success of its efforts to reduce the unprecedented backlog in disability appeals hearings. Over the course of fiscal year (FY) 2009, the number of pending disability hearings declined for the first time, from 760,813 at the beginning of the year to 722,822 at the end. The average waiting time also declined, from 514 days in FY 2008 to 491 days in FY 2009.

“Social Security’s disability hearings backlog has skyrocketed in recent years due to a lack of resources,” Chairman Tanner stated. “This has caused untold hardship for hundreds of thousands of Americans with severe disabilities, who must often wait years to receive benefits for which they are eligible. Eliminating this backlog has been a top priority of this Subcommittee. I am very pleased that, due to the increased funding Congress provided and the concerted efforts of the Social Security Administration, we have finally turned the corner, and are now seeing the backlog go down for the first time in many years.”

From 2000 to 2008, the number of people awaiting a hearing on their disability claim more than doubled, from about 310,000 in 2000 to more than 760,000 by the end of FY 2008. The primary reason was severe underfunding even as SSA’s workloads continued to climb. In 2007, Congress committed to providing the resources needed to address this urgent problem. For the first time in many years, Congress provided SSA with additional funding for FY 2008 and 2009, beyond the level requested in the President’s budget, so that SSA could begin to hire the staff needed to reduce the backlog.

The recession brought a steep increase in disability applications, threatening backlog reduction efforts. To allow SSA to process these increased claims and keep on track with the backlog reduction plan, Congress provided $500 million in funding in theAmerican Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The increased funding allowed SSA to hire 190 additional Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) in FY 2008 to conduct hearings, and an additional 147 ALJs in FY 2009, as well as critically-needed support staff for these judges. SSA plans to hire 226 more ALJs, plus support staff, in FY 2010, increasing the size of its ALJ corps to 1450. The agency also plans to open 18 new full-service hearing offices by the end of FY 2010.

Assuming that adequate funding is provided, SSA projects that it will eliminate the hearings backlog by the end of FY 2013.