The Social Security disability hearing backlog and average wait time decreased at a national level in 2020, but not every state saw an improvement.
March 2021 hearing data show that former workers with disabilities have vastly different appeal experiences depending on where they live, says Allsup, a nationwide provider of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) representation and veterans disability appeal services.
Allsup has helped more than 350,000 people obtain SSDI since it was founded in 1984. An analysis of Social Security Administration (SSA) hearing records from September 2020 to March identified the states where residents struggled the most to obtain a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ) and noted several areas of concern:
- Longest wait time for a disability hearing (days): Hawaii (470), Nevada (455), Washington (439), Colorado (411), California (402), New Mexico (384), Arizona (380), Puerto Rico (377), Oregon (368), Kansas (356)
- Most people waiting for their disability hearing: California (35,297), Texas (26,068), Florida (20,998), Pennsylvania (16,869), New York (16,569), Georgia (12,550), North Carolina (12,348), Ohio (12,240), Alabama (10,960), Missouri (10,435)
Find the analysis online: Allsup State-by-State Disability Backlog Report.
Further analysis shows that backlogs and long wait times of individual offices within states are even more disparate. “The SSA has taken measures to improve the SSDI hearing level, including the $100 million that Congress appropriated in the 2018 spending bill to specifically lower the hearing backlog,” said Mary Dale Walters, senior vice president at Allsup.
“Despite the national average hearing wait time decreasing by 111 days and 157,000 fewer people in the backlog, many hearing offices and states are still lagging,” Walters said. “Eight out of the top 10 offices with the longest wait times were located in the SSA’s Region Nine, which includes California, Arizona, Hawaii, and Nevada. The Tacoma, Washington, office had the longest hearing wait time in the country, with residents waiting 497 days for a hearing, the equivalent of 16 months. In contrast, Evansville, Indiana, had the shortest wait in the nation, averaging 196 days for a hearing.
Every Day Counts
In a recent survey of its customers, Allsup found that many individuals suffered severe medical and financial strain while waiting extended periods for benefits. Just over 40% borrowed money from friends or relatives, 26% missed credit card or loan payments, 40% saw their primary illness worsen, and 65% experienced anxiety or depression.
“When you are suffering from a medical disability, every day counts. Each extra day a former worker seeking benefits must wait means a greater risk of foreclosure, growing debt, and damage to their health due stress and financial circumstances. Over the last decade, 110,000 people died while waiting for benefits,” noted Walters.
The value of using an expert SSDI representative
Using a representative when you first apply for benefits, Walters said, can “improve the likelihood of obtaining SSDI benefits early and avoiding long wait times.”
“The appeals process is very different than the initial application, and it is extremely challenging to navigate without the advantage of an expert guide,” Walters said. “You need someone you can trust with your personal story, who understands your medical history and can effectively explain how your disability has disrupted your life and ability to work.”
In 2018, the National Organization of Social Security Claimants' Representatives analyzed SSA data and found that individuals who used a representative at the hearing level were four times more likely to be approved for benefits than those who did not use one. And 54% of individuals who did not use a representative were denied benefits.
Representatives can also confirm the likelihood of eligibility for SSDI before individuals plunge into the process without a clear understanding of the complex rules related to vocational grids, age, work history and medical listings. Representatives are especially valuable as SSA has suspended in-person hearings for those held by video or telephone. These hearings, which typically have lower approval rates and can be more intimidating for the individual, require special preparation and guidance as multiple participants are scattered across multiple locations.
Eligibility for SSDI
Individuals can use the online tool empower by Allsup® to find out their likelihood of qualifying for SSDI benefits, including if they have filed an appeal. They can also request help and start their appeal with Allsup as their representative, which has average hearing approval rates above 70% (compared to only 45% nationwide).
Those who are eligible for SSDI must have worked at least five of the past 10 years, paid FICA taxes, be under full retirement age (65-67), and have a critical medical condition (including terminal illnesses) that prevent them from working for at least 12 months.
Find more information by visiting FileSSDI.Allsup.com or call 1-800-678-3276.
Allsup and its subsidiaries provide nationwide Social Security disability, veterans disability appeal, return to work, and healthcare benefits services for individuals, their employers and insurance carriers. Allsup professionals deliver specialized services supporting people with disabilities and seniors so they may lead lives that are as financially secure and as healthy as possible. Founded in 1984, the company is based in Belleville, Illinois, near St. Louis. Learn more at Allsup.com and @Allsup or download a free PDF of Applying for Social Security Disability Insurance: Getting It Right The First Time.