House holds hearing on Social Security judges

Two current and two former administrative law judges testified in front of the House of Representatives on June 27, in response to concerns that some judges are making it too easy to qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits.

Photo of Capitol dome and American flag in Washington DC
House Oversight Committee

The Social Security Administration has made significant progress reducing the wait times for benefits. Since 2007, the average processing time has dropped from 512 days to 375 days. Nonetheless, the overall number of people awaiting benefits has continued to increase, raising concerns that some judges are more concerned about reducing the backlog than properly analyzing the eligibility of recipients.

At the hearing, one judge characterized the system as “paying down the backlog,” while another judge told Congress that “the only thing that matters in the adjudication process is signing that final decision,” according to an Associated Press article. The hearing was held by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Of the 1,560 administrative law judges who have decided at least 50 cases since October, 195 judges approved benefits at least 75 percent of the time. However, many disability advocates argue that these statistics don’t tell the true story, noting that two-thirds of claims for SSDI benefits are initially rejected, though a higher percentage receive services on appeal.

During the past decade, the number of people receiving SSDI services has jumped from 7.6 million to almost 11 million. Another 8.3 million individuals receive Supplemental Security Income, a separate program for low-income people with disabilities.

While some argue that the spike occurred due to individuals seeking to leave the workforce amid the economic downturn, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office determined in a 2012 report that most of the changes are due to demographic changes.