Long Waits for Hearing Persist

Social Security (SSA) has experienced a chronic and growing hearing backlog, and increased case processing times in recent years. This causes people to wait longer for decisions. SSA’s pending hearing backlog grew from about 694,000 cases at the end of June 2010 to approximately 1 million at the end of June 2015 – the latest statistic available. Average processing time on hearings has also increased from 415 days in June 2010 to 498 days in June 2015, that is nearly 17 months to wait on average after a hearing is requested, which is the second or third level of appeal.

SSA efforts have not been successful in eliminating the pending hearings backlog nor reducing average processing time to their goal of 270 days. As of March 2015, SSA had about 1 million claims awaiting a decision, and the processing time was approximately 450 days. They have identified four factors that contributed to this worsening situation: (1) an increase in hearing requests, (2) a decrease in administrative law judge (ALJ) productivity, (3) a decrease in senior attorney adjudicator decisions, and (4) a recent decrease in the number of available ALJs.

Of the 38 hearing backlog initiatives from 2007, 18 (47 percent) were ongoing, such as hiring new ALJs and reducing aged cases. Seventeen (45 percent) had been accomplished. For instance, SSA successfully created five new National Hearing Centers. However, SSA was unable to accomplish three (8 percent) initiatives. For instance, SSA canceled its e-pulling and auto-scheduling initiatives. SSA managers we interviewed stated the most important initiative was hiring additional ALJs. They also cited initiatives related to electronic processing, aged cases, video hearings, and ALJ productivity for their effectiveness.

Bottom line: the unconscionable waits continue.