Only 900-Day Wait for Social Security

In May 2007, Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue announced plans to reduce the backlog of hearing requests. When he made that announcement there were 63,000 disabled individuals who had been waiting for over 1,000 days to get benefits. A further 138,000 had been waiting for over 900 days. That is over 200,000 individuals who had been living on air, like saprophytic plants, for more than two and a half years!

Since then, Social Security has made “significant progress” with a number of initiatives outlined in the Commissioner’s plan. He claims that aggressive new approaches include increasing efficiency, improving business practices and expanding use of automation. This progress included hiring 133 Administrative Law Judges for 64 locations, opening the National Hearing Center and reducing the number of aged cases.

“Opening the National Hearing Center” means that great numbers of applicants will no longer get to see an administrative law judge. They just get a video conference with a judge in Falls Church, Virginia.

Care to see the progress for yourself? The numbers speak for themselves. Read the semiannual report at:

Everyone should take a look at this and write his, her, or its congressman, congresswoman, or congressother, and senator. This is pitiful. After crowing triumphantly about eliminating the 1,000-day cases last FY and reducing the 900-day cases from 135K to 50K by March, Mr. Astrue, throws in some meaningless graphs and bureaucratic nonsense to give the impression that he is bringing the situation under control. It is pure, unadulterated mendacity by misdirection.

SSA does not say anything about the mean or the median wait times, nor does it say whether those are declining. He does say that applications are up, so myopic concentration on only the oldest of the old cases will provide no improvement with new cases on the increase. Furthermore, it will be at least two more years before SSA cracks the two-year barrier. Is this acceptable? There is no mention of how all these old cases were finalized. There was a June political cartoon that showed a fat Burmese general allowing a civilian to die of starvation, then stating that the problem was solved because the civilian was no longer hungry. Is this the same thing? How many of these 900-day cases were “resolved” by the death of the applicant?

Finally, it will be observed that they claim to have eliminated 63,000 1,000-day cases last year and 80,000 of 138,000 900-day cases this year. If there were 63,000 1,000-day cases and 138,000 900-day cases, and this is a geometric progression, there may be as many as 500,000 800-day cases and Lord knows how many 700-day cases. So far they have been picking low-hanging fruit. It’s going to get a lot tougher to bring the numbers down as they go along.

This does not represent any real progress. Once again, more pressure needs to be brought to bear on this surly, bloated bureaucracy to determine eligibility for badly-needed benefits in a reasonable length of time. Would a one-year time limit be unreasonable? Ask a person who is unable to work due to a serious disability whether a year without income is a problem. If eligibility cannot be determined within a year, benefits should be granted on a temporary basis. Paying benefits to presumably eligible applicants is a lot lighter burden on the government than trying to live like an orchid on a piece of wood is for applicants.


John B. Payne, Attorney
Garrison LawHouse, PC
Dearborn, Michigan 313.563.4900
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 800.220.7200
©2008 John B. Payne, Attorney