SSA faces significant workload increases that have not been matched by increases in administrative resources. Beneficiaries often wait months for an initial determination and another year for a decision at the next level of review. The bottleneck is at the hearings level, where applicants can present their case to an administrative law judge. And despite efforts to streamline and improve the process, backlogs and waiting times have increased since 2000. SSA data as of the end of May 2016 indicate that the number of cases waiting for a hearing decision was 1.1 million. Average processing time was 526 days.
Social Security Disability Insurance Administration and Financing: Policy
SSDI should continue as a critical wage replacement system for people (and their families) who are unable to work because of a medical impairment.
AARP supports sufficient funding to strengthen the administrative capacity of the SSA so it can meet the needs of SSDI applicants and beneficiaries. (For a further discussion of the agency’s administrative budget, see the discussion on Social Security in Chapter 2, Budget and the Economy.)
SSA must have sufficient resources and staff to ensure stable, effective management of the disability programs. Any additional administrative responsibilities given to SSA must be accompanied by sufficient funding.
SSA resources and staff must be adequate to provide:
- adequate customer service for applicants and beneficiaries through such means as reducing wait times at offices and on the phone lines, and providing assistance in completing accurate and adequate applications;
- a timely, fair, and accurate disability determination process;
- accurate information to disability program applicants and beneficiaries and prompt action, including with respect to benefit adjustments when beneficiaries work;
- timely and predictable review of the continuing disability of those on the rolls; and
- adequate fraud detection and prosecution.
Data collection and research
SSA should collect and report sufficient data to ensure program integrity, to allow for research about the impact of the program, and to monitor the experience of applicants and beneficiaries. Such information would include program data by age, race, ethnicity, gender, and primary language.
SSA should have explicit authority to carry out research and demonstration projects, including projects that waive SSDI procedures or requirements, to improve system processes and outcomes.
To prevent imminent, significant benefit reductions to SSDI beneficiaries, most of whom are older Americans, the Old Age and Survivors Insurance Trust and the Disability Insurance Trust Funds should rebalance assets, as well as dedicated payroll tax revenue, to ensure benefit payments continue without disruption or reduction.
SSA should employ additional technology and data analytics to improve its ability to perform its administrative functions in an efficient manner that ensures program integrity.