The Social Security Administration’s (SSA) CARES Plan Aims to Reduce Hearings Backlog
The SSA’s Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) has developed a strategy to attack the overwhelming hearings backlog and excessive processing times. At the close of 2015, over one million claimants were still awaiting Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) hearings, and the average claim processing time was 512 days.
In order to address the backlog and speed up claims processing times, ODAR developed the Compassionate and REsponsive Service (CARES) plan. The plan was unveiled in January of 2016, and the hope is that it will reduce the average processing time to 270 days by Fiscal Year (FY) 2020.
The CARES plan encompasses a number of initiatives designed to streamline and expedite claims processing. They include:
-Hiring 250 new ALJs each fiscal year between 2016-2018, for a total increase of 435 new ALJs by the end of FY 2018
-Hiring more Administrative Appeals Judges (AAJs)
-Hiring more ALJ and AAJ support staff
-Expanding AAJ purview in order to free up and allow ALJs to tackle the hearings backlog, which consists mostly of disability eligibility cases
-Growing the National Adjudication Team (NAT) from 20 attorneys to 60
-Fast-tracking the pre-hearing conferences pilot program
-Implementing more rigorous case-screening practices
-Increasing hearings volume by relying more on video hearings and expanding the number of spaces available for in-person hearings
-Digitize Appeals Council Requests for Review with an iAppeals system
Whether or not the CARES plan is successful depends on a variety of factors, including whether or not Congress is willing to provide adequate administrative funding.