July 6, 2016
The Advocator Group regularly attends the National Organization of Social Security Claimant Representatives’ (NOSSCR) biannual conferences, which are frequently attended by high-ranking officials from the Social Security Administration (SSA). Speaking at the June conference in Miami Beach were Carolyn Colvin, the acting commissioner of SSA, Theresa Gruber, Deputy Commissioner of the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, Jack Allen, Deputy Chief Administrative Law Judge, and Florence Felix-Lawson, Division Chief Administrative Law Judge.
The overarching tone in SSA’s presentations was about budget challenges. SSA is currently mired in historical backlogs and, because it is an election year, they do not anticipate an increase in appropriations for Fiscal Year 2017 (which begins in October). SSA is predicting that Congress will pass a Continuing Resolution and leave the work of a new appropriations bill to the next Congress. In the meantime, SSA’s fixed costs will rise again (rent, payroll, etc.).
In January, SSA released a plan to address the historically high number of claims awaiting a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) and the high wait times which are now averaging nearly 550 days. The plan, which they are calling A Plan for Compassionate and Responsive Services or CARES Plan, maps out a strategy to reduce the wait time to 270 days, mostly through ALJ hiring. The plan relies on adequate funding from Congress; however, 6 months in to the plan, adequate funding is not anticipated. Therefore, claims that are pending as well as wait times are expected to go up in the near term.
We will continue to share updates about these plans and developments as more information becomes available and Congress makes these key decisions.
Nothing in this post is intended as advice or a suggestion to elect or not elect to claim benefits of any kind, including Social Security benefits, nor is it intended as financial advice in any way. The decision to claim benefits is a personal one that is contingent upon each individual’s unique circumstances.