Staffing Shortages Cause Hearing Waits, Say Oregonian Investigative Reporters

In this week’s (Portland) Oregonian, investigative reporters search out the causes of the enormous backlogs in waits for hearings. Rare interviews with sitting judges reveal the staffing shortages that keep them from being fully productive:

The slow pace of a few judges and an overwhelmed staff at Portland’s Social Security hearing office are key reasons that people seeking disability benefits here endure some of the longest waits in the nation.

Across the country, it takes an average of 480 days to get a judge’s ruling on a Social Security disability claim — but 650 days if your case is in Portland.

The problems in Portland reflect a broader national crisis, according to Social Security Administration records obtained by The Oregonian under the Freedom of Information Act. Only about half the agency’s administrative law judges meet its minimum goal of clearing 500 cases a year. Only three of nine Portland judges hit that mark in recent years, agency records show.

Last year, according to the national records, 132 of the agency’s judges — about 11 percent — failed to reach even half of the agency’s goal, dragging out appeals of disability claims as people faced financial ruin, got sicker and even died waiting. See first article in the series here:

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