As is often the case with Social Security, good news usually is followed by bad news. First, the good news: the number of cases awaiting Social Security hearings continues to drop. The bad news: the average time it takes for a claimant to receive a decision on a disability application continues to grow. As of March, the backlog of claims awaiting a hearing dropped below 1 million. The last time there were fewer than a million claims pending was November 2014.
The backlog decrease is largely due to declining numbers of hearing requests. So far in Fiscal Year 2018, there have been an average of 2,343 Social Security hearing requests each business day. That’s 141 fewer requests per day than 2017. The total number of hearing requests so far this year is 9.6% lower than at the same time last year.
The productivity of administrative law judges also has increased slightly, from 1.92 decisions per ALJ per work day in Fiscal Year 2017 to 1.97 decisions so far this year. In addition, Social Security has added 42 additional judges since the beginning of the year. Each judge receives 1.59 hearing requests per day and renders 1.97 decisions per day, resulting in a net reduction in the number of people waiting for a Social Security decision. However, as of February 2018, the average claim-processing time, from initial application to final decision, remains high at 607 days.
The increased processing time is primarily caused by a continued staffing deficit in decision-writing positions at Social Security. Social Security has tried pulling workers from other roles into decision writing, but that has caused slowdowns in other areas. The Social Security Administration continues to pay staff overtime in an effort to bring down the backlog, but overtime hours for the first five months of 2018 were down approximately 27.3% compared to last year. The $100 million in funds that Congress recently designated for backlog reduction may allow for increased overtime hours, but Social Security has not yet finalized its plan for spending the money.
Now more than ever, it is crucial that you have an attorney on your side when applying for disability. A hardworking, experienced attorney can help you avoid costly delays and even expedite your application if you meet certain criteria. If you are hurt, injured, or otherwise impaired, and you find yourself unable to work, contact Bailey & Galyen for a free case evaluation.