The so-called “sequestration” cuts to the federal government have been in place since March 1, 2013. In the run-up to the cuts being implemented, President Obama warned of dire consequences, surely in attempt to prod the Republican House to take action. The Republicans called the President’s bluff, and with perhaps the exception of the airport delays, it appears there have not been a lot of negative effects. It is widely reported in the media that President Obama lost this game of chicken because most Americans have not been hurt by the sequester cuts.
That is not, however, the case for Americans seeking social security disability benefits. The Social Security Administration’s budget has been reduced by approximately 8%. Social security disability applicants and recipients should understand what the Sequester does and does not do. The Sequester does not affect the payment of the amount of social security disability benefits. Current beneficiaries will experience no delays or problems because the payment of benefits is automated. The Sequester does affect the offices and staff that administer those benefits, however.
Michael Astrue, the former Commissioner of Social Security, warned pre-sequester that processing time for disability claims will increase. Among his predictions:
- Customers calling the agency’s hotline could be placed on hold for 10 minutes — or wait 30 minutes in an office — before connecting with an agency employee.
- Social Security would cut roughly 5,000 positions through attrition, terminate more than 1,500 temporary employees and eliminate virtually all overtime under sequestration.
It appears that Commissioner Astrue’s prediction was correct. In my social security disability practice centered in Dallas Fort Worth I am noticing the following:
- Social security field offices are reducing their hours.
- Social security field offices are now even harder to reach.
- ALJ hearing waiting time is moving up.
Many clients have asked my opinion on whether the Sequester will affect the granting of benefits. I have not seen any marked difference in disability approval rates since March 1, 2013, and I doubt the Sequester will affect that because the Sequester cuts administrative expenditures; it does not reduce the fund from which disability benefits are paid. Given, however, that social security and disability determination services personnel will be expected to do more it is highly likely that the quality of disability decisions will be going down. In other words, more qualified applicants will be denied, and unfortunately more undeserving claimants will be added to the disability rolls.
As the social security disability assessment system continues to operate under increasing stress, it is vital that social security disability applicants secure experienced knowledgeable expertise in social security disability representation.