By Rep. Jackie Walorski
The Social Security Disability Insurance program (DI) was created 61 years ago with a worthy goal: to create a backstop to help workers pay bills and make ends meet if an illness or injury leaves them unable to work for a year or more.
Unfortunately, bureaucracy, mismanagement, and a lack of permanent leadership at the Social Security Administration (SSA) have greatly reduced the program’s effectiveness. As a result, the wait time for a hearing decision by an administrative law judge on eligibility for DI benefits has seen a steady, crushing uptick. In fiscal year 2012, the average nationwide wait time for a hearing decision was 353 days. Now? It’s 605 days.
The average worker applying for DI benefits has paid into the program for 22 years. However, 1.1 million Americans are stuck in this outrageous backlog, with devastating consequences. The person’s health worsens. Their financial situation deteriorates as they draw down their savings or turn to family and friends to help pay bills. Sadly, thousands die waiting – just over 10,000 people died before getting a hearing in 2017. This is unacceptable. Congress has provided the SSA $90 million to address the backlog, most of which will be used to hire much-needed judges and support staff. However, even with this infusion of funds, the SSA estimates the backlog won’t return to reasonable levels until 2022.
… While there’s plenty of blame to go around for this crisis, there are also reasonable, affordable, and workable options to help people with legitimate, qualifying disabilities get decisions faster and more efficiently. I look forward to working with my colleagues on the Ways and Means Committee as we continue to explore sensible reforms to improve the DI program and eventually eliminate the backlog.
Read the rest of the op-ed here.