The Social Security Administration announced its plan to hire 250 new Administrative Law Judges per year to help reduce the backlog of Social Security disability hearings. Currently, over one million claimants nationwide are in the pipeline waiting for their Social Security disability hearings to be held. In April 2016, the average national waiting time for a hearing was 506 days, or 16 months. In California, the waiting time was even longer, averaging 517 days, or 17 months.
Acknowledging that this waiting time is too long, and that the public deserves timely and high-quality hearings and appeal decisions, Social Security has begun to implement a plan to reduce the wait time for hearing decisions. The plan, called “Compassionate and Responsive Services,” or “CARES,” includes a number of key initiatives. One such initiative is the hiring of up to 250 additional Administrative Law Judges per year. Social Security hopes that the hiring and retention of new judges will help reduce the waiting time for SSDI and SSI hearings to 270 days by fiscal year 2020. This goal has been described by Social Security as a “critical priority.”
Other Social Security CARES initiatives include:
- Increased staffing of hearing offices through the hiring of several thousand new employees between now and fiscal year 2018;
- Establishment of a National Adjudication Team which allows experienced attorneys to issue fully favorable, on the record decisions;
- Expanded use of video hearings, reducing ALJ travel time and giving claimants more convenient and timely hearing options;
- Implementing a Pre-Hearing Conference pilot program;
- Conducting Inline Quality Reviews to ensure fairness to claimants in the hearing process;
- Access to Electronic Folders for medical and vocational experts;
- Appointed Representative Services, providing claimants’ representatives with access to their clients’ electronic folders through a secure SSA website; and
- Use of Electronic Bench Books for administrative law judges to capture hearing notes and pre-hearing file reviews.