The erosion of funding for the Social Security Administration (SSA) has led to never-before-seen waiting times for people seeking disability benefits.
In August, disability benefits applicants were forced to wait more than six months before the SSA made its initial disability decision. That number – 198 days – marks an all-time high and is nearly three times higher than the waiting time from 10 years ago.
The problem boils down to funding.
In the past decade, the SSA has had to serve far more people with a budget that shrank by 14%. In addition, during that 2010 to 2021 period, Social Security beneficiaries soared 22% to more than 70 million people – including those seeking Social Security and Supplemental Security Income.
Congress could improve SSA’s situation with a continuing resolution, which would provide additional funding. A proposal in the works seeks to add $800 million to the SSA’s operating budget, boosting it by 6%. However, that amount remains less than the $1 billion sought by President Biden.
Employee departures remain another issue contributing to SSA’s problems. For example, the state divisions that make the initial disability decisions have a 25% employee turnover rate, contributing to the lengthier waiting times for decisions.
Also, SSA’s teleservices division has experienced the highest employee departure rate. This development has led to caller wait times of more than 30 minutes. Only 10 years ago, that wait time was three minutes.
Seeking a change
These long waits should not happen, but they continue. The American Association of Retire Persons (AARP) noted that the typical disability claimant must wait more than two years for a final decision from the SSA. During that waiting time, 10,000 of those applicants die without an answer. We need to change this.