Congress Fails to Fully Fund SSA, Exacerbating Social Security Backlog

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The Social Security Administration is responsible for distributing a diverse array of benefits to millions of Americans. Although countless retired persons, disabled workers and other citizens depend on Social Security benefits to meet their day-to-day needs, some are forced to wait months or even years to begin receiving the benefits they deserve due to an overwhelming administrative backlog.Yet, this plight facing a wide swath of their constituents does not seem to deeply concern many Congressional leaders. Much to the chagrin of people with Social Security claims, Congress recently passed a fiscal plan that slashes the operating budget of the SSA, a move that could increase an already lengthy wait time for benefits.

SSA Struggling To Tackle Backlog That Averages Almost 500 Days

Even as Social Security claims are at an all time high and increasing, the federal government has made cuts to the already understaffed SSA. In 2009, the SSA finally saw a drop in the average processing time for disability claims, which had been steadily climbing for a decade. Still, the modest gains only brought the average processing time for disability claims down to 491 days — and there are obvious challenges inherent to waiting a year and a half to begin receiving benefits after being put out of work.

With a reduced staff and offices closing around the country, SSA employees have nonetheless been making commendable efforts to lower the burden imposed by long processing delays. The SSA has been implementing agency-wide streamlining strategies and asking workers to make personal sacrifices in the name of expedience. In addition, the SSA has been actively involved in the use of health information technology, which offers a range of high-tech solutions that can increase claims processing efficiency.

What Half A Billion Dollars In Cuts Looks Like

Social Security’s current operating budget is $11.4 billion. This budget covers the costs of administering all Social Security programs, and does not fund benefits.

The current SSA budget is $510 million less than the 2010 budget, even as benefit applications have risen steadily over the past five years. In light of the claims processing backlog, President Obama had asked for a modest increase to SSA funding. However, the cuts made by Congress mean the SSA will have to operate with nearly $1 billion less than the amount asked for by the President.

What do these budget cuts mean for the agency? Most SSA field offices are already closing earlier, at 3:30 p.m., to save on overtime costs. In addition, the SSA is set to lay off some 3,500 employees, with even more job cuts anticipated in the coming year. For those employees that remain with the agency, the equivalent of a month of mandatory furlough is expected to be imposed over the course of the year.

Essentially, the budgetary cuts mean the SSA will have to handle more work with fewer personnel. This could mean delays in receiving disability benefits for almost 300,000 individuals — some experts are predicting an increase of 30 days above and beyond the average 491 day backlog as a direct result of the SSA’s budgetary setbacks.

Get Help Expediting Social Security Disability Claims

With field offices closing earlier, you will have less time to apply for benefits, or to pursue an appeal of a denied claim. Fewer SSA employees mean you may have to wait longer to hear a decision on your disability claim, and your claim may not even initially receive the full attention it deserves. While some processing delays are an unavoidable aspect of your benefit application, a Social Security Disability attorney may help you circumvent many of the procedural obstacles that may keep you from receiving the benefits.

Considering the SSA backlog, it is important for your claim to get approved as early as possible. Approximately 70 percent of Social Security Disability claims are denied at the initial level — an attorney can help with your application, ensuring that it is both complete and persuasive. Many applications that are not filed with the aid of a lawyer lack essential elements, causing denial and a lengthy delay of benefits. If your claim has already been denied, your attorney can help you file a timely appeal and can argue for your case in front of an administrative law judge.

If you are facing a disability that prevents you from working, do not wait for the benefits you need. Contact a Social Security Disability attorney today, and start receiving your Social Security payments as soon as possible.