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Baltimore City Paper
June 22, 2011

Wait for Social Security benefits is getting longer
By Edward Ericson Jr.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) may be losing its battle against the backlog of disability cases, according to an analysis of its data by a New York-based nonprofit. “In particular, the data show that while progress had initially been made, the hoped for reduction in backlogged matters ground to a halt in the last 12 months,” a report by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) says. “Since then the number of pending cases grew by 5 percent. More success has been achieved in reducing average wait times.” The Social Security Administration is headquartered in Woodlawn. Maryland currently has more than 7,000 pending disability cases, according to TRAC’s data, a figure that appears to put it on the lower end of the spectrum among states. Astrue also moved the goalposts, according to TRAC, which is headquartered at Syracuse University and, since 1989, has used private grants to pursue Freedom of Information Act requests of federal agencies. “In 2007 [SSA] set a goal of permanent elimination of the ‘backlog’ by 2012, modified during 2008 to eliminating it by 2013,” TRAC’s report, which is available online at tinyurl.com/trac2011, says. “Up until May 2007, a ‘backlog’ had been defined as anything over 300,000 pending cases. Then the SSA’s definition was changed and the agency said it would consider the backlog eliminated when the pending cases were brought down to 400,000. In September 2008, the backlog elimination target was raised again to 466,000.” But it is not possible to understand a city’s disability caseload without taking into account the number and percentage of cases transferred in and out of the local office. The SSA is moving cases from office to office, and sometimes state to state, in order to reduce the dockets. Many hearings are now conducted via videoconference, TRAC reports. “Transfers have become such a huge tool in their attempts to even out workloads,” Long says, “that you can’t just assume that growth or decline is related to cases coming into that office any more.” Baltimore transferred 941 more cases into its court than it transferred out last year, the data show, while offices as diverse as the Bronx, N.Y., Charleston, S.C., and Cleveland, Ohio, transferred thousands out of their jurisdictions to relieve the backlog. Cleveland transferred more than 5,000 cases out of its jurisdiction, Detroit more than 4,700, and Orlando, Fla., more than 3,500. According to the TRAC report, “in [fiscal year] 2010 the volume of transfer activity was equivalent to almost half of the number of new appeals that were filed that same year.” “We think of this as an insurance program for people who become disabled,” Long says, “and it doesn’t do much good if you have to wait forever to become qualified.

Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, Syracuse University
Copyright 2011
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