Map of the Day: Disability Processing Times

Map credit: The Washington Post. Click on link to view the Post’s interactive version.

There’s a new crisis in the welfare state: longer waiting times for the processing of Social Security Administration disability claims. More than a million Americans wait in limbo, says The Washington Post. Though far from the worst, the slowdown in processing claims in Virginia — a state responsibility — has increased 129% between fiscal year 2019 and fiscal year 2022. Says the Post: The failure has left “thousands of poor disabled and increasingly desperate people without the benefits they need to survive.”

The article blames tight labor markets and staff shortages, obsolete technology, increasing medical evidence that must be reviewed, and shortages of physicians to review them. While the disability program is federally funded, states vet the claimants.

The COVID pandemic did not help matters. Most of the 14,400 state employees were sent home to work, says the Post. The SSA effectively closed down operations for months until laptops could be ordered and distributed. In the midst of the chaos, the SSA also implemented a new case-processing system, which required rejiggering of state processes.

I checked the Social Security data to see if part of the problem might have been a surge in the number of applications. But that doesn’t appear to be the case. Disability applications peaked at 1,926,000 in 2010 but have steadily declined year after year, almost like clockwork, to 1,211,000 in 2021. So, it’s not as if the system was overwhelmed by a flood of the disabled. The crisis appears to be a genuine bureaucratic meltdown in the face of the COVID pandemic and labor shortages.

Governor Glenn Youngkin made it a priority to address the backlog of unemployment-insurance applications brought on by the COVID epidemic. He should take a look at what’s happening with disability applications as well.