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Lawmakers decry huge backlog of Social Security disability claims

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On Tuesday, leading House and Senate Democrats called for a drastic increase in funding for the Social Security Administration to grow staff, improve technology and expand other investments as the agency faces a massive backlog of disability claims.

The top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, meanwhile, called for “serious bipartisan reforms” to address poor customer service and the explosion of pending claims at the agency.

The Capitol Hill’s calls to action follow a Washington Post report Monday about a crisis at little-known state offices that process claims for both Social Security disability programs.

“Legislators on both sides are aware of the Social Security Administration’s backlog and poor customer service, and are demanding answers about it and the dismay of its workforce,” said Rep. Kevin Brady (Texas), the rank republican. on the ways and means committee, said in a statement. “Labour issues seem to be getting worse, which is terrible news for older people and people with disabilities. Ultimately, the outdated disability process continues to struggle and needs serious bipartisan reform.

State Social Security offices — located in 50 state capitals, the District and Puerto Rico — have reached breaking point as caseloads have piled up during the coronavirus pandemic, and employees at low-wage reviewers have resigned en masse, fleeing jobs that have become untenable. More than a million Americans with disabilities, many of them poor and elderly, are waiting months or years to find out if they will receive benefits. Processing times have doubled in some states and nearly tripled in others.

“These benefits are vital for people with severe disabilities, helping them live with dignity and pay for food, housing, transportation, heating and air conditioning, medical costs and other basic expenses,” said a joint press release from the representative. John B. Larson (D-Conn.), chair of the House Ways and Means Social Security subcommittee, and Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.), who leads the subcommittee on supporting workers and the family, citing The Post report.

“Any delay in access can be extremely detrimental to people with severe disabilities living on the edge,” the lawmakers said.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) denounced the of the “unacceptable” delays faced by disabled Americans “in even knowing if they are eligible for benefits.” He pledged to improve service across the Social Security system by working to bolster the agency’s workforce, simplify complicated benefit claims and “give Social Security the resources it needs.” needs to help Americans receive their earned benefits in a timely manner.”

The push for a bigger budget comes as House and Senate negotiators race to agree a bipartisan deal to fund the federal government for the rest of the fiscal year before a temporary budget expires on May 16. december. Social Security officials, frustrated that Congress approved less than President Biden had requested for the last fiscal year, have sounded the alarm over their financial struggles since – citing more than two decades of budget cuts as the number of retired baby boomers has increased.

While the current draft plan was being negotiated in September, Social Security took the unusual step of asking Congress for an additional $800 million, citing “delays in services and long waits for health care decisions.” disability”. Lawmakers approved half of the request, which translated to about $85 million through Dec. 16.

Agency leaders renewed their call for more funding ahead of Thanksgiving with a missive on the Social Security website aimed at advocates who work with the agency, policymakers and lawmakers. “We want to provide you with fast, high-quality, and accurate service,” read the title of a Nov. 17 article by Jeff Nesbit, deputy commissioner of communications.

“We have faced years of underfunding,” Nesbit wrote, citing a 7% decline of 4,000 employees across the agency since before the pandemic. “We are also experiencing historically high levels of employees leaving the agency as employees take on unreasonable workloads given the staffing shortage. As we lose employees, our service deteriorates further.

During that period, an additional 3,950 examiners working in state offices quit or retired, Social Security officials said.

Nesbit also wrote that claimants with disabilities “wait an unacceptable average of over six months for a decision on an initial disability claim and over 30 minutes to speak to a representative on our national 800 number.” Without additional funding in fiscal year 2023, Social Security would have to freeze hiring, cut overtime, and cut funding for its technology investments, he wrote.

Even if Congress passes legislation known as the Omnibus Spending Bill before the end of the year, Social Security is unlikely to receive the full $14.8 billion sought by President Biden. for fiscal year 2023 – a proposed increase of $1.4 billion over current funding. The House and Senate appropriations committees approved an increase of about $1 billion in July.

It is unclear, however, whether Congress will agree on enough spending priorities to pass a new budget before the end of the year. That would leave Social Security and the rest of the government with a full-year interim measure at current funding levels. The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is preparing for such a scenario with proposals for additional funding for several agencies over current levels. In the case of Social Security, the request would grant the full $800 million boost the administration was seeking in fall, according to an OMB document circulating Tuesday on Capitol Hill.

Without the extra money, “additional demands on [Social Security] would result in significantly longer wait times and reduced service levels for the public,” the document states.

Kathleen Romig, director of social security and disability policy at the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, described the dysfunction highlighted in The Post’s report as both a short-term and long-term challenge. which can only be partially solved by increased funding.

“If Congress doesn’t act, the very serious problems of the Disability Determination Service offices would get much worse,” Romig said. “It would be a disaster for benefit claimants.”

However, she described a “very complicated problem with multiple dimensions” that Social Security must tackle in the long term.

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