SSA Calls For CR To Include $800 Million For Agency, Citing Disability Program Delays And Hiring Hurdles
The Social Security Administration (SSA) issued a fiscal year-end plea for $800 million, calling for Congress to include the funds in the anticipated Continuing Resolution (CR). A “Dear Colleagues” letter released September 14 said the funding would allow the agency to maintain current service levels without further deterioration of services until Congress delivers a Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 budget. The government’s 2022 fiscal year ends September 30.
The SSA has struggled to overcome the pandemic setbacks that affected its staffing levels, as well as those seeking Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. The disability backlog is growing at both the initial application and appeals levels at an alarming rate. Almost one million (928,222) initial applicants are waiting an average of six months for a decision that the agency typically processed in three or four months in recent years. Acting SSA Commissioner Kilolo Kijakazi has said that despite progress in reducing the persistent hearing backlog (coming within about 60 days of its 270-day goal), she expects hearing waiting time to balloon again to 570 days in FY 2023.
The letter said the SSA has lost approximately 4,000 staff compared to pre-pandemic levels, reducing its ranks to 56,000 and its lowest level in 25 years. A budget-induced hiring freeze further fuels the situation. Callers seeking disability, retirement and other assistance from the SSA National 800 call center experience an average 30-minute wait time and calls to field offices frequently go unanswered. In addition, state Disability Determination Services (DDS) offices have experienced high attrition rates at a time of escalating workloads.
Some of the agency’s challenges that burden its staff and SSDI/SSI applicants are self-inflicted. The SSA reinstated the reconsideration appeal for residents of 10 “skip” states, in part to delay claimants from seeking a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Currently, 235,110 disability claimants are waiting for a reconsideration decision, further stressing state DDS offices. The SSA also has severely restricted the number of on-the-record hearing decisions, which previously helped reduce staff workload and administrative costs, and cut short an eligible claimant’s wait time for a favorable decision. In addition, recently implemented agency policy requires many initial applicants to attest verbally by telephone that electronic documents submitted with an online application were authorized by the claimant.
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