The long waiting period likely facing a Columbia, Missouri, resident who has been denied Social Security disability benefits to have a hearing before an administrative law judge is well-known enough that many Boone County residents have probably heard about it, even if they have no intention of applying for disability.
The problem seems to only be getting worse. After a person gets denied Social Security at the initial stage, which can take three or so months, he or she will have to first wait an additional three months for an internal “reconsideration,” even though the chances of reconsideration changing anything are slim. After that, SSD appeals to an administrative law judge are a person’s only chance at getting benefits, but getting in front of an ALJ right now takes on average 583 days; it will likely be 605 days by this fall.
According to one expert, the single best step the president and the Social Security Administration can take is hiring, and getting the Senate to confirm, a permanent leader of the administration, which the administration has not had since 2013. A new leader would, according to the expert, be able to articulate what the SSA plans to do to reduce the backlog and be convincing enough about his or her ability to do so as to persuade Congress to give the funding for it.
The expert said that another important step would be to simplify the hiring process for administrative law judges, as right now, the complexities of the current process have a chilling effect on getting ALJs with the right credentials and experience. Likewise, per the expert, Congress needs to quit focusing on notorious but isolated extreme cases of fraud and quit responding with ever more rules that the SSA will use to deny claims.
There are many reasons why there is a backlog right now, and some of these reasons are more economic in nature than anything else. The reality though is that many people suffer serious economic hardship during their wait for approval.