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Spike in disability claims clogs system

Michael J. Astrue, Social Security commissioner. Michael J. Astrue, Social Security commissioner.
Associated Press / May 10, 2010

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WASHINGTON — Nearly 2 million people are waiting to find out whether they qualify for Social Security disability benefits. It will be a long wait for most, even if they eventually win their cases.

The Social Security system is so overwhelmed by applications for disability benefits that many people are waiting more than two years for their first payment. In Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, and other states, the wait can be even longer.

The Social Security commissioner, Michael J. Astrue, says the delays are unacceptable, particularly for people who have paid payroll taxes for years to support the system and now are unable to work because of debilitating medical problems. Astrue has had some success in reducing a case backlog that has plagued the system for years. But a spike in new applications, linked to the recession, threatens to swamp the system again.

Claims typically increase in a bad economy because many people who worked despite their disabilities get laid off and apply for benefits.

About 3.3 million people are expected to apply for benefits this year. That’s 300,000 more than last year and 700,000 more than in 2008.

State agencies overseen by the Social Security Administration will deny nearly two-thirds of those claims.

Astrue’s goal is to clear the backlog of appeals hearings by 2013.