Starving the Beast

Starving the Beast


It is no surprise to our clients and others that SSA offices have failed, or more accurately, have been unable to provide quality service to the public. What is clear from the data is that Congressionally-mandated budget cuts over many years are the reason for SSA’s problems. At a time when Baby Boomers have reached their disability and retirement years, the core operating budget for SSA has declined 11% from 2010 to 2017, adjusted for inflation. Remarkably, SSA employee numbers are down significantly: for example, the number of SSA employees in California has dropped 13.89 percent from 2010 to 2017. As a result:

  • SSA field offices have reduced the hours they are open to the public.
  • The average hold time for SSA’s phone service has jumped from three minutes in 2010, to 16 minutes in 2017.
  • At the disability hearing level, claims for Social Security disability insurance benefits have actually declined by 150,000 over the last two years, yet because of the delays in evaluation of those claims caused by budget cuts, the number of cases awaiting adjudication have risen:
  • From 2010 to 2017, the number of cases waiting for an administrative law judge hearing in the U.S. rose by more than 300,000, to 1.14 million.
  • The average processing time for a Social Security Disability Insurance hearing are at record levels. The processing times nationally rose to 633 days in September 2017 from 543 days in October 2016. In San Francisco, in October, 2017 the time is now 553 days; and in San Jose, the time rose to 607 days. Oakland is 598 days; San Rafael 674; Sacramento 571; Stockton 609.
  • Most tragically, it was recently reported by SSA that 10,002 people died in the U.S. in fiscal year 2017 while waiting for their administrative law judge decision.

These are the real-life consequences of political decisions to cut budgets of the Social Security Administration. Many people, including our clients, have gone bankrupt, become homeless, and otherwise suffered severely while waiting for justice in their disability appeals. The solution is to require those in power in Washington to show compassion for their constituents by reversing the SSA operational budget cuts so that adjudication of disability appeals can be carried out in a reasonable time. Write to the Congressional leadership and your local member of Congress and request action to lift the budget cuts that are impacting the ability of SSA officials to do their jobs.

(Many thanks go to the Orange County Register for its excellent reporting which recently outlined the declining state of service by the Social Security Administration, and the Office of Hearings Operations.)

Source: Orange County Register, Nov. 27, 2017.