Applying to Collect Social Security Disability? You Might Not Survive the Wait

Social Security and retirement incomeDespite reforms in the United States for healthcare and Social Security, disability payouts still have a long way to go, according to U.S. News and World Report.

Recent research shows that Americans are waiting nearly two years just for an initial disability hearing to present their cases. The longest wait times are found in Miami, where it can take as long as 22 months before an administrative judge sees the case.

Some are even dying before their cases are heard. One man in Miami had been dead for two months before Miami Judge Thomas Snook received the man’s case. The man’s spouse will now collect his benefits instead.

Yet for those who are still living, disability payments are vital in paying for healthcare and living costs.

Many, like 58-year-old Sherice Bennett, have been left unable to work and need Social Security disability benefits to buy medicine and put a roof over their heads. Bennett has diabetes and arthritis and has also had open-heart surgery, but she ended up homeless during the two years she waited for her disability hearing.

Cases such as these fall through the cracks in a system with huge caseloads. Experts also point to aging baby boomers for creating the backlog, while the Social Security Administration had its funding slashed by $1 billion recently.

This despite President Obama’s recent signing of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, which, according to MarketWatch, extended the solvency of the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) Trust Fund. The $126 billion program is paid for through payroll taxes.

The legislation also helped prevent further troubles for the Social Security Disability program and its recipients, otherwise all beneficiaries would have faced a 20% cut in benefits near the end of 2016.

The need for SSDI can arise for a variety of reasons. Some people are born with permanent disabilities, whereas others may get injured at work or out in public; of those who experience slip, trip, and fall accidents, 22% wind up spending more than 31 days away from their jobs.

The nine million permanently unemployed Americans who claim Social Security benefits receive an average $1,165 from the program per month; the eight million or so individuals who work part-time and/or are low-income receive $540 per month. However, both groups still have to provide medical proof that they are unable to work full-time.

Just under half of those cases will receive benefits eventually, including the millions more who go through the appeals process after getting denied initially.

Although Miami ranks the worst for wait times, Brooklyn, NY; Spokane, WA; Milwaukee, WI; and Fort Myers, FL all have waits of 20 months. Disability applicants wait 19 months if they live in Atlanta, GA; Charlotte, NC; Cincinnati, OH; Baltimore, MD; or Chattanooga, TN. Fort Smith, AR, has the shortest wait time at eight months.

The average wait time for a hearing is one year and four months, and following that, applicants wait another four or five months for a decision after the hearing. On top of that, the Social Security Disability attorneys applicants hire are often powerless to speed up the process.

Bennett, whose son quit attending college to help pay her rent after she was evicted, said that the system “doesn’t work.”

“No one should have to wait two years for a hearing,” she told the Associated Press. “We have criminals that wait less time than that. These are people that are sick and have paid into the system.”

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