Congressional Hearing on Disability Backlogs

Congressman Michael R. McNulty (D-NY), Chairman, Subcommittee on Social Security of the Committee on Ways and Means, today announced that the Subcommittee will hold a hearing on the Social Security Administration (SSA) disability claims backlogs. The hearing will take place on Wednesday, February 14, 2007.

The workload of SSA has grown significantly in recent years due to the aging of the population and new workloads such as those resulting from the Medicare Modernization Act (P.L. 108-173) and the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (P.L. 108-458). However, due to funding constraints affecting SSA’s administrative budget, these increasing workloads are not being effectively addressed. The agency has done much to employ scarce resources efficiently, re-engineering work processes and increasing overall productivity by more than 13 percent from 2001 to 2006. Even with these improvements, however, there is a growing concern about the effect of staffing declines and other resource shortages on service delivery to the American public.

Nowhere is the situation more grave than in the processing of applications for disability benefits. Due to large and increasing backlogs, severely disabled individuals can wait years to get the benefits they need for basic economic survival. At the end of fiscal year 2006, about 1.3 million people were awaiting a decision on their initial claim or appeal for Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits.

The President’s FY 2008 budget request would provide a modest funding increase. However, given rising fixed costs and other factors, this would not be sufficient to maintain current staffing levels, which had already declined by 8 percent from FY 2006 to FY 2007. Thus, the disability backlog is projected to increase under the President’s FY 2008 budget to almost 1.4 million cases.

This hearing will focus on the disability claims backlog, including how the delays impact individuals who have applied for disability benefits; the effect on other critical agency workloads, including program integrity activities; steps SSA has taken to date to resolve the backlogs; and options for addressing the problem.

In announcing the hearing, Chairman McNulty said, “The current delays in receiving disability benefits are completely unacceptable. Americans who have worked hard and paid into the system should not have to wait for years to get benefits they have earned and desperately need. SSA must have sufficient resources to give the American people the service they deserve.”

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