The Trump Administration's federal hiring freeze officially took effect on January 23rd. This affects most government services, including Social Security. Here's what you need to know about how the Social Security hiring freeze affects those applying for disability.
Decisions on cases face delays due to a lack of staff.
Even though the Social Security Disability judge makes a decision on your claim, it can't move to the next step of the process until the decision writer is able to do a formal writeup of the case.
I have been told by the local hearing office that they have only 1 decision writer for 5 or 6 judges. Other hearing offices in the United States are in a similar situation. This inevitably results in delays for getting decisions out the door, which means delays on processing of awards.
A colleague from Chicago recently mentioned to me that the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) had planned to remedy this situation by hiring 450 new people, consisting of ALJs, decision writers, support staff, and other supporting roles. Another smaller hiring was set to follow that one. Unfortunately, this is now all on hold due to the federal hiring freeze.
Previously I was telling my clients to wait 12-15 months to hear back on their decision. As of last fall, I was telling them 15-18 months... before the federal hiring freeze.
The wait time has been getting longer and longer for Social Security Disability claimants due to a rising amount of disability claims throughout the country. The hiring freeze will only make it worse.
Claimants who are out of work and hoping for benefits will need to put together an extended survival plan.
I am currently advising claimants to make a plan for at least 2.5 years without income. It is impossible to predict which claims will take years to resolve and which will be resolved right away. For those whose claims take years to resolve, the delays in the system will only prolong the wait.
If you are waiting on your claim to be approved, my article Survival Guide While You Wait for a Decision on Your Social Security Disability Claim has many useful tips for cutting costs, making use of public resources, and stretching your budget.
If you are still thinking about submitting a Social Security Disability Insurance claim, my article, How to Transition From Work to Social Security Disability will be helpful to you as well.
Joni Beth Bailey is a Southern Illinois Social Security Disability representative.