Earlier this week, several administrative law judges working for the Social Security Administration were called to testify before Congress as part of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s investigation into the Social Security Disability Insurance program.
The program now has a record number of recipients in the United States — with nearly 11 million people getting SSDI benefits — which is why the committing is looking into the judges’ high approval rates. According to some of the administrative law judges who testified, they feel pressure from the SSA to approve as many applications as possible in order to help reduce the system’s backlog of cases.
However, Social Security officials say the reason the number of Americans receiving SSDI benefits has increased by 44 over the past decade has to do with demographic changes including the aging baby boomer population, who don’t yet qualify for retirement benefits and are more likely to suffer a disabling injury or condition with age.
SSDI benefits are for workers with disabilities that prevent them from maintaining their jobs full-time and are expected to last at least a year or result in death. The claims process begins with an application to a local Social Security Administration field office.
About two-thirds of those claims end up being rejected, but the process doesn’t have to stop there. An applicant who has been denied benefits can then ask to have their claims reconsidered. If the claim is denied again, the applicant can then appeal the decision to an administration law judge.
According to data, administrative law judges end up approving about half of the cases that go before them. Some judges have records of approving more than 75 percent of the cases that they see. A union representing the administrative law judges said they are expected to decide between 500 and 700 cases per year, which they say impairs their ability to do a thorough job.
It is anticipated that the SSDI trust fund will run out by 2016, which would mean recipients could see a reduction in their monthly payments if Congress does not take action. This committee investigation is likely the first of many efforts made to better understand how the SSDI program works and ways it can be improved.
Source: The Washington Post, “Judges tell lawmakers they are pressured to approve Social Security disability claims,” June 27, 2013