Higgins Work to Reduce Backlogged Cases Gets Results
Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-27) today announced that the federal Social Security Administration has confirmed they will hire two additional judges, as well as additional personnel, for the Western New York region to begin to address severe backlogs in Social Security caseloads for our region.
“This decision will greatly assist thousands of Western New Yorkers who deserve better from their government. After years of allowing this severe backlog, an average of 669 days in the Buffalo area office, to continue to build, I am pleased to see that the Social Security Administration has finally heeded the calls of so many of my constituents to provide more boots on the ground to help citizens with their claims. This is a positive first step in correcting the severe backlog and I hope is that these much-needed hires will take place as quickly as possible,” said Higgins.
Outraged by the numbers included in the March 2008 Social Security Administration (SSA) hearing office report, Higgins wrote a letter to Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue insisting on more Administrative Law Judges in the Buffalo-area hearing office. The Buffalo-area office service area includes: Erie, Chautauqua, Niagara, Genesee, Ontario, Monroe, and Cattaraugus counties. According to SSA, the additional judges would be hired in the Rochester satellite office, where 40% of the backlog originates.
“Currently, judges and their staffs who are already overworked must spend precious work time driving back and forth across the region to hear cases in Rochester. These hires will alleviate the strain the judges feel and allow them to focus more on the backlogs in the Buffalo area,” Higgins said.
Congressman Higgins has long supported increased funding for the Social Security Administration. In January, Congressman Higgins introduced H.R. 5110, the Social Security Customer Service Improvement Act which if enacted would provide Members of Congress with detailed information on the operation and staffing of Social Security offices in their districts and around the country. Members of Congress should have ready access to this type of information, not only because it is exactly the type of information necessary to measure the effectiveness of government agencies, but also because when citizens aren’t treated properly at their local Social Security office, they immediately reach out to their local Member of Congress for expedited assistance.
Higgins added, “The SSA still has a long way to go in addressing this problem – that’s why I introduced legislation that would make the agency more accountable to these backlogs and why I will continue to make sure that wait times only continue to decrease, and decrease steadily. Frankly, I remain troubled by the extent to which the SSA allowed the situation to get so bad in the first place.”
As of April 2008:
• It takes 653 days (nearly two years) for the average Western New Yorker to have their SSA case heard and processed in the Buffalo Hearing Office, one of the worst processing times in the country.
• Administrative Law Judges in Buffalo have some of the largest caseloads in the country, with an average of 842 cases pending before each judge.
• 47% of the SSA cases in the Buffalo Hearing Office have been pending for over a year, among the highest percentages in the country. The average age of all claims pending is 365 days.