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Letter to the Senate Budget Committee

Letter to the Senate Budget Committee

KERRY URGES BUDGET COMMITTEE TO HELP ADDRESS SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY WAITING LISTS

Facing Record Backlog of Disability Cases, Kerry, 41 of Senate Colleagues Urge Adequate Funding for Social Security Administration

Senator John Kerry today, along with 41 of his colleagues, sent a letter to the Senate Budget Committee urging it to provide an additional $350 million for the Social Security Administration (SAA) to address the enormous waiting times for thousands of Social Security disability benefits applicants. The funding would reverse cuts in services to the public in SAA field offices.

As of January 2008, about 751,000 disability cases are awaiting a hearing on appealed claims, compared to 312,000 cases just 8 years ago. Nearly 300,000 of these appeals are more than one year old. Furthermore, approximately 91,000 veterans have pending hearings. Currently, the average processing time for a hearing is over 500 days, up about 200 days from 2000.

"These horrifically long waiting times are a huge concern to many people in Massachusetts and across America, and can cause serious financial burdens to many in need," said Senator Kerry. "Reducing these backlogs and waiting times will directly help our constituents and I strongly urge my colleagues on the Budget Committee to help bring much needed relief to those who need it most."

The text of the letter is as follows:

The Honorable Kent Conrad The Honorable Judd Gregg
Chairman Ranking Member
Senate Committee on the Budget Senate Committee on the Budget
United States Senate United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510 Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senators Conrad and Gregg:

We respectfully request that the FY 2009 Budget Resolution recommend $350 million above the President's Budget request of $10.327 billion for the Social Security Administration's (SSA) administrative expenses. Last year, the Senate approved as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2008 as much as $363 million additional dollars that will allow Social Security to begin to reduce the enormous waiting times for many disability benefit applicants to have their benefits approved, and to reverse cuts in services to the public in SSA field offices.

Currently, many applicants to the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program and the disability portion of the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program face significant delays before receiving benefits. Indeed, waiting times can exceed three years in some cases. Such delays create serious or desperate financial situations for the applicants and their families. According to the SSA, about half of these waiting times result from the Agency's huge backlogs of initial claims and hearings before Administrative Law Judges.

As you know, these waiting times are a major concern for many of our constituents and are a constant source of casework in Senate offices. As of January 2008 nearly 751,000 cases are awaiting a hearing on an appealed claim, compared to 312,000 cases at the beginning of FY 2000. Nearly 300,000 of these appeals are over one-year old. Approximately 91,000 veterans have their hearings pending. The average processing time for a hearing is currently over 500 days, up about 200 days from earlier this decade.

In recent years, Congress has increased the SSA's responsibilities. Today, the SSA is required to evaluate Medicare beneficiaries' incomes in order to determine whether they need to pay increased Part B premiums. The SSA is also responsible for implementing a low-income subsidy program to help individuals with limited incomes and assets obtain Medicare Part D coverage. Furthermore, the implementation of the Intelligence Reform legislation has increased SSA's workload.

The President's recommendation for SSA's funding for FY 2009 and the additional funds received for 2008 will begin the process of reducing the backlogs, but are not enough funding to make the progress that is needed. Under SSA's long-term plans, it would still take five years to eliminate the backlogs altogether. Moreover, the President's Budget proposes to defer work on other important workloads, such as initiating repayments of amounts that beneficiaries have been overpaid. For these other workloads, the Budget falls $140 million short of what is needed even to operate at the same deficient processing rates as last year. Furthermore, the President's Budget does nothing to improve other inadequate levels of service to the public in SSA's field offices, such as the inability to get through to the office on the telephone and the long waiting times for walk-in customers.

We also suggest that the funding level for SSA's administrative costs assumed in the Budget Resolution include funding for program integrity views to assure that only qualified individuals receive Social Security and Supplemental Security Income program benefits. Ultimately, conducting a greater number of these Continuing Disability Reviews (CDRs) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) redeterminations will reduce benefit payments to ineligible individuals and save substantially more money than they cost. CDRs detect payments in SSA's disability programs to beneficiaries who are no longer disabled, and these reviews save $10 for each dollar spent. SSI redeterminations review the eligibility of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) beneficiaries each year. Seven dollars is saved for every one dollar spent on these redeterminations.

Providing SSA with the amount of funding requested by the President -- plus an additional $350 million -- accomplishes two objectives. First, more funds can be used to reduce backlogs of disability cases and shorten waiting times for disability benefit applicants. Second, because CDRs and SSI redeterminations save more than they cost, the adoption of both of these proposals in the Budget Resolution will result in lower Federal deficits, not higher ones. We believe this is a win-win proposition for everyone.

Thank you in advance for your consideration of this important issue.

Sincerely,

John Kerry Olympia Snowe
Max Baucus Edward Kennedy
Daniel Akaka Evan Bayh
Jeff Bingaman Joseph Biden
Barbara Boxer Sherrod Brown
Maria Cantwell Robert Casey
Hillary Clinton Norm Coleman
Susan Collins Christopher Dodd
Elizabeth Dole Byron Dorgan
Russ Feingold Dianne Feinstein
Daniel Inouye Tim Johnson
Herbert Kohl Frank Lautenberg
Patrick Leahy Carl Levin
Joseph Lieberman Blanche Lincoln
Claire McCaskill Robert Menendez
Barbara Mikulski Ben Nelson
Barack Obama Mark Pryor
John Rockefeller Ken Salazar
Charles Schumer Gordon Smith
Jon Tester George Voinovich
Ron Wyden Richard Durbin


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