Social Security’s Office of Inspector General (“OIG”) recently released a report entitled, “Opportunities and Challenges for SSA.” OIG’s terminology for the title of the report is too nice, in my opinion. It should be called “Grim and Dismal outlook for the Social Security Administration.”
The OIG notes that the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) is understaffed and underfunded. As such, the SSA has had to give priority to some tasks while giving less attention to others. It is not new to consumers and advocates that the OIG reports that under-funding, increased workloads, and the economic downturn “have resulted in severe backlogs in some critical workloads – and unacceptably long wait times for customers who seek SSA’s assistance at some of the most challenging times of their lives.”
The report examines SSA’s multiple program areas. I will highlight some of the items of interest.
National 800 number
The report notes that the Social Security Commissioner has reported a deterioration in the service provided by the SSA’s staff when consumers call the national 800 number. This is not surprising and mirrors my own experience when I have tried calling that number. “The Commissioner indicated nearly 15 percent of callers to SSA’s National 800 number receive a busy signal. As a result, many of the customers who were unable to conduct their business over the National 800 number chose to go to their local field office, which contributed to the higher field office waiting time.” The OIG recommends that the SSA receive funding to better support the 800 national number.
Field Office Wait Times
The Commissioner recently testified that in fiscal year 2008, the field offices served 854,000 visitors a week. In February 2009 field offices saw an average of 940,000 visitors a week. If any of you have been to a local field office lately, you know from first-hand experience that you experienced a long wait. The OIG recommends that SSA receive funding to staff the field offices.
Finally, what we know is happening is that waiting times at ODAR are getting longer. The report states that the current case backlog is about 765,000 which has resulted in individuals waiting on average about 500 days to receive a disability decision. “Wait times for a decision have increased by about 200 days in the last 7 years.”
The report notes that with funding SSA has received this year, they plan to hire 157 ALJs and support staff to assist.
While recommending ways the SSA can reduce inefficiency and fraud in some areas, the OIG also recommends that SSA be more fully funded in order to better serve the public. Unfortunately, given the current economic situation, it does not appear that SSA is going to receive what it needs in the immediate future.