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Speeding Things up at Social Security

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by Lisa Ruby, MPLP Public Benefits Attorney

In order to address the increasing number of pending applications for Social Security and SSI benefits, the Social Security Administration (SSA) is implementing strategies to expedite processing of new applications. Hearing requests in Michigan are processed in the regional office in Chicago, which currently has the distinction of being the slowest regional office in the country in terms of the average number of days it takes to process a claim – 590 days. Within that office, Michigan hearing offices have a short range of processing delays, with the Lansing office being the shortest at 601 days and the Grand Rapids the longest with an average processing time of 656 days. As grim as those figures may appear, they represent a two-month decrease in the past 60 days. Other statistics show that the total number of pending cases has increased to the second highest level ever at 766,905. SSA has hired an additional 62 administrative law judges (ALJs) to tackle this increased caseload.

In addition to the hiring of ALJs, the SSA has created a new category of eligibility. The Compassionate Allowances initiative began in October, 2008, and is meant to identify and quickly process claims for applicants whose conditions are so severe that they obviously meet the disability standards. An initial list of 50 conditions has been published and can be found at: www.socialsecurity.gov/compassionateallowances. Some of the conditions listed include types of cancers, Lou Gehrig’s disease and various tumors. The SSA website states “Compassionate allowances are a way of quickly identifying diseases and other medical conditions that invariably qualify under the Listing of Impairments based on minimal objective medical information. Compassionate allowances will allow Social Security to quickly target the most obviously disabled individuals for allowances based on objective medical information that we can obtain quickly. Additional information on how Compassionate Allowances will be processed can be found in the POMS at DI 23022.080 through DI 23022.345.