SSDI Backlog Creates Long Wait Times for Hearings

The Social Security Administration’s growing backlog of disability cases has ballooned in recent years, from about 695,000 in 2010 to more than 1.1 million in 2016. sand1

According to the Office of the Inspector General, that means the average processing time on Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) hearings went from 415 days up to 498 days. It’s not uncommon to hear of people waiting up to two years – just to get a hearing to decide whether they are eligible for benefits.

Congress has promised to take steps to reduce that backlog, but they have been saying that for years and the problem continues to worsen. 

Our Boston SSDI attorneys know that wait times at local offices are generally between one and two years. That’s a very long time to wait without any source of income.

There has not been a great fire to move the ball because there is a widespread misconception that SSDI is an “entitlement program.” The reality is, it’s only an entitlement in so far as people worked and paid into the system for years to earn it.

As far as the backlog, there are a myriad of theories of how best to address it. First, we have to understand what’s causing it.

The National Organization of Social Security Claimants and Representatives looked at the issue recently and identified four main contributing causes. Those are:

  • Higher numbers of hearing requests (driven by an increase of women in the workforce, an aging population and longer careers);
  • Lower productivity among judges. The SSA Office of Inspector General reported there had been a greater focus on the quality of decisions versus the quantity. That has resulted in an average workload reduction, from 1,200 cases per judge per year in 2012 to 750 per judge per year in 2015.
  • A decrease in decisions by senior attorney adjudicators, who previously had been ruling on more straightforward cases, rather than passing them off to an administrative law judge. This is largely due to a lack of funding and resources.
  • A decrease in the overall number of judges. More judges are retiring and they aren’t being replaced very quickly. The judges who do step into those roles take on a smaller number of cases when they are starting out and learning the ropes. Again, this can be directly correlated with a lack of funding and resources.

The number of people waiting for a hearing has ballooned to 1.12 million. At the top five hearing offices – Brooklyn, New York, Miami, Florida, Buffalo, New York, Ponce, Puerto Rico and Greensboro, North Carolina – the average wait time is 712 days. Just at those five offices alone, some 37,000 people are waiting for a hearing. That gives you a window into the severity of the issue.

When we zoom out to look at the bigger issue, the SSA reports that of 170 hearing offices, 165 of those have wait times that are more than 400 days.

That’s an extremely long time for someone to wait when they have worked their whole adult lives only to find themselves seriously injured or sick. They are waiting merely for an opportunity to present their case as they grow sicker and sicker.

The SSA has promised it is working to clear the backlog by 2020, but that’s still four years away. In the meantime, you will need a strong advocate if you are delving into this system. Our Boston SSDI lawyers can help.

If you or a loved one is seeking Social Security Disability Insurance in Boston, call for a free and confidential appointment at (617) 777-7777.

Additional Resources:

SSDI Hearing Backlog Exceeds 1.1 Million with Disabilities, Wait Time Nears Two Years For Tens Of Thousands, July 22, 2016,

More Blog Entries:

Attmore v. Colvin: SSDI Appeals, July 25, 2016, Boston SSDI Attorney Blog

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