Spending Bill to Address the Hearing Backlog

May 30, 2018

Tucked inside the sweeping $1.3 trillion spending bill passed late last week by Congress was an item that has not been in a budget for nearly a decade: a funding increase for the Social Security Administration, an agency bedeviled by staff shortages that have contributed to a crushing backlog of disability claims stretching past 1 million.

The omnibus appropriations bill increased funding to the federal agency by $480 million, bringing its overall administrative budget to more than $12 billion. Roughly $100 million of the increased allocation will target the disability hearing backlog, in which claimants on average wait around 600 days for a judge to decide whether they will receive benefits including health insurance and a monthly payment.

The funding comes amid a hardening stance across the nation toward recipients of public benefits. Several states, including Kentucky and Arkansas, have moved forward with work requirements for Medicaid recipients, and the Trump administration has called for a dramatic slashing of the social safety net.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the ranking non-Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, and the leading proponent of the funding increase, said he became committed to securing additional money for the understaffed agency after reading an article last year in The Washington Post, which examined the personal cost of waiting for a disability decision and reported that 10,000 people had died waiting during fiscal year 2017.

“I could not believe that 10,000 people died,” he said. “It was beyond belief and unacceptable.”

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