Budget Agreement Funding Could Reduce Social Security Disability Backlog

The bipartisan agreement to raise the caps on discretionary spending in 2018 and 2019 reportedly calls for higher funding for the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) operating budget, which is starved for resources after years of cuts, to improve customer service. SSA’s budget shrank by 11 percent between 2010 and 2017, after adjusting for inflation — even as SSA’s workload grew as baby boomers reached their peak years for retirement and disability. When lawmakers write agency funding bills based on the agreement, they need to fulfill their commitment and provide SSA with a significant increase to undo the damage from those cuts.

One consequence of the cuts is that over 1 million people await a final decision on their application for Social Security Disability Insurance — after paying into Social Security their entire career — or their application for Supplemental Security Income disability benefits. They wait an average of nearly two years for decisions on their appeals, a record delay.

The workers affected by the SSA backlog, who have appealed SSA’s rejection of their initial disability application, come from all walks of life and all over the country

  • The backlog hurts taxpayers who have worked for decades. In California, the Orange County Register profiled a 62-year-old disabled worker who paid into Social Security since he was 15; six years after a catastrophic workplace accident and after exhausting his employer’s disability benefits, he’s still awaiting a decision. An Ohio woman with 35 years of uninterrupted employment has already waited for two years for a final decision and will likely have to wait another year, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. DI beneficiaries have extensive work histories: the average beneficiary has 22 years of work experience, and those disabled at age 50 or later average more than 30 years of work.