Spanberger Presses Social Security Administration to Address Backlogs & Delays Impacting Virginians

Current Average National Wait Times for an Initial Disability Decision, Reconsideration Decision, & Hearing Decision Range from 229 to 361 Days

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger yesterday pressed the Social Security Administration (SSA) to address backlogs and delays impacting Virginians after receiving an increase in casework requests related to SSA wait times on initial disability decisions, reconsideration decisions, and hearing decisions.

Over the last two years, Spanberger’s office has received a significant uptick in casework and heard from an increasing number of constituents reporting their inability to reach the SSA or receive disability determinations. The current national average wait times for an initial disability decision, reconsideration decision, and hearing decision range from 229 to 361 days. In some cases, these delays have had an impact on Virginians’ ability to meet immediate and urgent financial needs — including putting food on the table, paying bills, and making rent on time. The delays also make financial planning difficult for those who suddenly stop receiving benefits that they budget for and rely on monthly, because they must then file an appeal which often takes up to a year to resolve. Many of these Virginians are only able to work part-time and some cannot work at all due to their disability, so they have few other options to support themselves financially.

Since SSA Commissioner Martin O’Malley was sworn in, the SSA has made several agency-wide policy changes to support customers and employees — including optimizing workload sharing, updating their phone system to assist a high volume of callers, lifting an agency-wide hiring freeze, and launching an agency-wide, cross-cutting performance management program to accelerate the deployment of customer service improvements. Unfortunately, SSA delays, backlogs, and red tape continue to persist following these changes.

In a letter to Commissioner O’Malley, Spanberger conveyed constituent concerns regarding processing issues and difficulties reaching regional SSA offices. She also inquired about what further support and assistance SSA needs from Congress to address the issues. Additionally, she expressed appreciation for hardworking SSA employees in Virginia field offices and emphasized the burdens these issues have also placed on them. Spanberger also requested an estimated timeline on when the newly implemented agency-wide policy changes will result in improved outcomes.

“Over the last two years, an increasing number of Virginians have contacted my office desperate for assistance in getting a response from SSA on initial disability decisions, reconsideration decisions, and hearing decisions. Through our casework engagement, we have seen new applicants wait up to one year for an initial decision. We have worked with constituents who face perilous financial circumstances because of delays, or in some cases because of sudden stops to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) payments after years of receiving SSDI benefits each month,” wrote Spanberger. “I know you share my concerns about how these backlogs and delays cause devastating financial hardships for our most vulnerable neighbors, as well as undue burdens on our hardworking SSA employees. I applaud the regulatory updates, resource optimization, and system streamlining you have implemented to address these challenges since taking over as Commissioner at the end of last year.”

Her letter continued, “I appreciate the Social Security Administration’s commitment and hard work to provide an increasing population of Americans with the timely support and customer service they need to access their benefits. However, we must ensure that red tape, bureaucratic hurdles, and outdated processes do not impede our hardworking SSA employees from providing this crucial public service to our most vulnerable neighbors. Thank you for your attention to this issue.”

Click here to read the letter, and the full letter text is below.

Dear Commissioner O’Malley: 

Thank you for your leadership and dedication to serving Americans who rely on Social Security. I write with concerns about the Social Security Administration (SSA)’s current backlogs and delays, as well as challenges my constituents have faced in contacting the agency.

Over the last two years, an increasing number of Virginians have contacted my office desperate for assistance in getting a response from SSA on initial disability decisions, reconsideration decisions, and hearing decisions. Through our casework engagement, we have seen new applicants wait up to one year for an initial decision. We have worked with constituents who face perilous financial circumstances because of delays, or in some cases because of sudden stops to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) payments after years of receiving SSDI benefits each month. 

Furthermore, I have heard from constituents who are frustrated by the difficulties they have faced in reaching SSA by phone or in-person visits to resolve a range of other basic questions and issues. As you know, the current national average wait times for an initial disability decision, reconsideration decision, and hearing decision range from 229 to 361 days. These wait times are unacceptable, and I have heard reports from many Virginians who have experienced even longer delays than these national averages.

Additionally, I am concerned about how these challenges are impacting Virginia’s dedicated SSA employees — public servants who work long hours to ensure their fellow Americans receive the benefits and assistance they need. My staff have the privilege of working with many of these public servants. SSA employees are consistently quick to respond and diligent in resolving issues for my constituents as best they can, despite the significant barriers stacked against them in the form of pre-existing backlogs, growing caseloads, bureaucratic and administrative hurdles, and insufficient staffing levels across the agency.   

I know you share my concerns about how these backlogs and delays cause devastating financial hardships for our most vulnerable neighbors, as well as undue burdens on our hardworking SSA employees. I applaud the regulatory updates, resource optimization, and system streamlining you have implemented to address these challenges since taking over as Commissioner at the end of last year. 

In efforts to better understand the scope of SSA’s current backlog and wait time challenges, and to further assist SSA in tackling these challenges, I respectfully request responses to the following inquiries:

  • What is the current backlog of SSA cases in Virginia?
  • Does SSA have evaluation processes in place to analyze the effectiveness of the new policy changes enacted in recent months? If so, please describe.
  • Does SSA have an estimated timeline on when the new policies will result in improved outcomes (i.e. decreased backlogs and wait times)? 
  • Are there additional operational changes, regulatory updates, or other policies SSA is currently considering?
  • How can Congress support SSA to help cut unnecessary red tape, optimize efficiency, and improve functionality overall?
  • What further support does SSA require to solve these problems? 

I also understand that federal funding is a crucial factor in SSA’s staffing levels and day-to-day operations, which is why I advocate each year for increased funding to the SSA in the congressional appropriations process. I have also consistently pushed back against my colleagues in Congress who delay the process and prevent us from finalizing the budget on time for each fiscal year deadline. I will continue to urge my colleagues to deliver a Fiscal Year 2025 budget on time with the funding SSA needs to address the current challenges and continue serving Americans. 

I appreciate the Social Security Administration’s commitment and hard work to provide an increasing population of Americans with the timely support and customer service they need to access their benefits. However, we must ensure that red tape, bureaucratic hurdles, and outdated processes do not impede our hardworking SSA employees from providing this crucial public service to our most vulnerable neighbors.

Thank you for your attention to this issue.

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