SSA Internal Report on Hearings Backlog

Posted December 22, 2014 by Premier Disability Services, LLC® On November 10, 2014, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released a report on its findings regarding the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) management and performance challenges for 2014.  One major challenge identified in this report is the growing number of cases backlogged at the hearing level.

According to the report, the backlog of hearing cases in 2010 was 705,000 cases.  The backlog will have grown to 977,000 cases by the end of 2014.  To put that into perspective, there are almost 1 million cases backlogged at the hearing level.  The national average wait time for a hearing is currently 12 months.  In some states, such as Florida, the average wait time can stretch to almost 2 years.  SSA attributes much of the backlog to the continued growth in the number of hearing requests despite the loss of Administrative Law Judges (ALJ) to attrition and retirement.  SSA has also experienced delays in hiring new Judges.  These factors combine to create higher caseloads for active ALJs which lead to longer wait times for claimants.

Ironically, despite the continued growth in backlogged cases, SSA has essentially eliminated the Senior Attorney Adjudicator (SAA) program.  This program allowed SAAs to make favorable decisions on claims prior to a claimant’s hearing.  The SAA program significantly reduced the wait time for claimants and largely contributed to reducing the backlog for ALJs.  However, the number of SAA decisions has reduced from 54,000 cases in 2010 to just 1,900 in 2014.  Despite the success of this program for both claimants and SSA, it has been predominantly abandoned.

For 2015, it will be interesting to see how SSA addresses the issue of the growing backlog at the hearing level.  The OIG report stated that SSA has taken steps to reduce the backlog by hiring new ALJs, identifying opportunities for greater efficiencies in their own processes, and refocusing the work of Senior Attorney Adjudicators to help reduce the growing backlog.

By the time most claimants reach the hearing level, their impairments have usually prevented them from working for a year or more.  At this point, they can least afford to wait for a decision.  It is our sincere hope that the findings in this report cause SSA to take the issue of backlogged hearings seriously and results in this becoming a top priority for 2015 and beyond.

By: Devon Brady of Premier Disability Services, LLC®