Social Security Wait Times Indicate Need for Funding — What’s Being Done To Fix Growing Issue?

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If you recently filed a Social Security Disability Insurance claim, you could have a long wait ahead to see if you’re approved. The average wait time for initial disability decisions hit an all-time high of 198 days in August, according to a letter AARP sent to Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Sept. 15. That’s nearly three times longer than a decade ago.

SSDI claims aren’t the only Social Security services facing delays. The administration’s 800 number has wait times as long as 31 minutes, 10 times longer than a decade ago. And the typical disability claimant can expect to wait more than two years for a final decision, according to the letter. More than 10,000 people die each year while they are waiting for an answer.

Experts see the problems being caused by a lack of funding. In its letter, AARP urged Congress to “provide no less than Acting SSA Commissioner Kilolo Kijakazi’s request for FY 2023, $15.356 billion.”

Acknowledging that Congress did provide some additional funding to the SSA in 2022, AARP pointed out that the amount provided was “far less than the amounts needed to cover uncontrollable increases in its fixed expenses.”

AARP blames the lack of funding, along with an increased number of claims, for the decline in customer service from the SSA. Additionally, high employee turnover rates lead to long phone wait times and other delays. During the pandemic, hiring freezes caused a 7% decline in staffing. SSA staffing sits at its lowest level in 25 years, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

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In addition to requesting increased funding for the SSA, AARP sent a letter to Kijakazi to address long lines at field office and other customer service issues.

Meanwhile, Kathleen Romig, director of Social Security and disability policy for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, wrote an article on the organization’s website calling for “anomaly provisions” that would increase SSA’s annualized operating budget by 6%.

With no appropriation bills in place for the 2023 fiscal year, which begins October 1, Congress will have to pass a continuing resolution to prevent a partial shutdown of SSA services, which could be catastrophic given current delays. If such a resolution passes with anomaly provisions, it could mean a temporary budget increase of $800 million for the CCA.

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