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Social Security Administration Struggles to Catch Up with Applications

Throughout the country, applicants for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits face a process that is time-consuming, confusing, and that is accompanied by a wait time that usually stretches for months or even years. However, Social Security Administration officials claim that the Social Security Disability application wait time has decreased in cities across the country as a result of an increase in staff numbers and a rapidly progressing move from paper toward electronic records and application processing.

In 2008, the Social Security Administration reported a 770,000 case backlog nationally, which was the largest backlog in the agency's history. Citing several consecutive years of budget cuts and the growing number of baby boomer applicants, the agency took steps to reduce this number. Additional administrative law judges and other staff were hired to handle the case load. In addition, national hearing centers were created, at which cases are heard remotely through live video conferences.

In addition, the agency began to shift cases from paper records to computers, and also took steps to make the application process easier for the most severely disabled. Now, computers can give automatic approvals for applicants with one of 88 severe conditions. The wait time for such applicants is approximately two weeks.

However, for most applicants, the wait time remains painfully long. Nationally, there are still 700,000 backlogged hearings waiting to occur. Wait times for applicants vary based on location, but in the Social Security Administration's downtown Atlanta office, applicants should expect to wait an average of 366 days to resolve a claim. Although this is down from the office's peak high of 900 days, it is still far away from the agency's goal of 270 days. However, as the recession continues and more people file for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits, this goal may be many years in the future.

Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Some gains made on Social Security backlog", Russell Grantham, 1 November 2010

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