Applicants to the Disability Insurance (DI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs often wait months to get a decision on whether their impairment qualifies them for benefits. Applicants that appeal unfavorable determinations may wait over a year for a final decision. This chapter explores trends in disability decision processing times at the various levels of adjudication.
Chart 10.1: Average Processing Time for Initial Disability Claims, by Program – Fiscal Years 1991 to 2015
Chart 10.2: Disability Applications Pending in State Agencies at Year End – Fiscal Years 1989 to 2015
Chart 10.3: Average Hearing Level Processing Time – Fiscal Years 1990 to 2016
Chart 10.4: Disability Cases Pending in Hearing Offices at Year End – Fiscal Years 1990 to 2016
Chart 10.5: Appeals Council Disability Case Processing Times – Fiscal Years 1993 to 2016
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Mouse over charts to see data points.
Processing time shown represents the time from the date of the application to the date that an award or denial notice is generated. It includes field office, processing center, and state agency decisions. This chart reflects processing times only for cases processed by state Disability Determination Services agencies (DDS) at the initial adjudicative level and does not include reconsiderations or higher appeals.
The number of claims pending at State agencies soared between 1989 and 1992, largely due to a recession, the Supreme Court’s Zebley decision (which liberalized the definition of eligibility for children), and changes in SSA’s regulations for determining whether an individual has a disabling impairment. Although the pending workload declined briefly in the mid-1990s, it began to grow again in the late 1990s. The spike in the pending workload in 2009 and 2010 reflects the increase in initial claims likely due to economic conditions.
Average hearing office processing times for Social Security and SSI cases (nearly all of which are disability cases) soared in the mid-1990s, as the initial claims filed in the early 1990s made their way through the system. After falling to 274 days in 2000, processing times rose every year before beginning to fall again in 2009. The increase in processing times roughly corresponds to increases in the number of hearing receipts since 2001. In 2013, processing times began to increase again.
Mirroring the increase in processing times, the size of the pending workload in hearing offices rose steadily from 2000 through 2008 before falling in 2009 and 2010, but began to rise again after 2010. Both processing times and pending levels are substantially higher than they were in the mid-1990s and before.
Appeals Council processing times have varied greatly over the years, increasing from 150 days in 1993 to close to 500 days by 2000, before falling back down to around 200 days in 2006. In 2012, average processing time at the Appeals Council level was 395 days, its highest level since 2003. Since 2012, Appeals Council processing times have been relatively stable. In 2016, the average processing time was 389 days.