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Pennsylvanians’ long wait on disability would worsen with Social Security changes | Opinion

  February 15, 2019 | By Dwight Evans, Brendan Boyle, and Jennifer Burdick, for the Inquirer

Adrianne Gunter’s multiple sclerosis had gotten so bad, she could no longer work or go to school. Desperate to make ends meet, she applied for Social Security disability benefits. Despite her well-documented illness, the Social Security Administration initially turned down her application, and she had to file an appeal. After waiting a burdensome 788 days for a hearing, and depleting all of her savings, she was finally able to argue her case before a judge, who agreed her disability was severe enough that she could not work.

Adrianne had to wait two long years before she could qualify for the disability benefits that she needs to survive. Unfortunately, for many other people struggling to get by, the wait time could get even longer in 2019, if Social Security forces Pennsylvania to introduce a new step to the appeals process for disability determinations, called reconsideration review.

When someone applies for Social Security disability benefits, the case is first evaluated by a state disability agency. If the state agency finds that the person does not have a disability, the person can request a hearing before a Social Security judge. Reconsideration review is a mandatory second review by the state agency before the person can request a hearing. This second review does not usually involve any new evidence or contacting a claimant — it is often just a “rubber stamp” of the first decision, delaying the person’s opportunity to make a case directly to a judge.

Social Security allowed Pennsylvania to abolish the reconsideration review step years ago. But starting in April , Social Security is planning to add reconsideration back to the appeals process. As a result, Pennsylvanians with disabilities will have to appeal not once, but two times before getting to talk to a judge about their disability claims.

Social Security says that reconsideration will allow some applicants to receive decisions sooner. But the percentage of people who will receive an earlier decision as a result of reconsideration review is very small, around 12 percent, per the agency’s numbers.

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