On October 26, NOSSCR interim CEO David Camp testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on behalf of our members and their clients — people who apply for Social Security disability and the legal professionals they hire to represent them in the complex process.
Camp’s testimony outlined commonsense improvements to the SSA application process that would — with no additional funding — expedite the process for the people who need it, enable their representatives to work for them more effectively, and make more efficient use of SSA resources.
Thanks to the thoughtful feedback from our members and their clients, we know that the process of applying for SSA benefits — as well as appointing a representative to assist with the complicated procedures — is cumbersome and slow, full of inefficiencies and antiquated requirements. As a result, benefits are delayed for the people who need them — and the most vulnerable populations are hit the hardest. SSA applicants, and those working on their behalf, deserve better.
“I paid into this system for nearly three decades. And now, despite all my medical records, doctors’ letters and forms, it is assumed that I’m just faking it. And I am one of the lucky ones. I had the savings and resources to survive. But even so, being “lucky” meant gutting my retirement fund so we had something to live on. If I hadn’t been able to do that, my family would have been homeless.”
— SSA Claimant Eligible for Compassionate Allowance
David Camp, interim CEO of NOSSCR, testified before the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee to make the case that something has to change immediately. By making a handful of attainable, commonsense changes, SSA can dramatically improve the services it provides to claimants while also streamlining the agency’s work processes. What’s more, the changes we propose — which could dramatically improve claimants’ experience and quality of life — would require no additional funding. Our recommendations are as follows:
The challenge: Disability claims are reviewed in a first step (“initial”) and then the process is repeated in a second step (“reconsideration”). SSA tested eliminating the reconsideration stage in ten states for twenty years — and it worked. Reconsideration is little more than a “rubber stamp” that must be endured before moving on to a hearing before a judge. The processing times have continued to grow for this unnecessary step, from 158 days in 2021 to 210 days in 2023. The slowdown is even worse in some states. Reconsideration takes more than 300 days in Florida and South Carolina. NOSSCR’s members know that the findings at reconsideration are absurdly identical to those made at the initial stage — meaning the extended wait is entirely unnecessary.
Our proposed solution: Abolish reconsideration. There is no need to make claimants wait hundreds of days for a meaningless duplication of SSA’s findings. Reconsideration is costly to SSA, wastes staff time, and serves no significant purpose for the process.
The challenge: The methods used by SSA to verify claims, which are meant to facilitate accurate evaluations of claimants, often hinder the process. Third party Consultive Examiners (CEs), who are not familiar with claimants’ medical histories, frequently generate unreliable reports resulting in delays or unjust rejections. This lack of efficiency within the CE program has led to costs surpassing $300 million in 2021.
Our proposed solution: Increase reliance on the expert opinion of an applicant’s treating medical provider to make determinations.
The challenge: The SSA web portal shows different claim status info for claimants and representatives. Claimants see an ambiguous “% complete” progress meter without specific milestones, while representatives can’t view this status at all, causing confusion and frustration.
Our proposed solution: Combine the claimants’ and representatives’ views to display the same information in the same way. Additionally, update the format to give an accurate reflection of the claim status. This will reduce user confusion and conserve backend maintenance resources.
The challenge: Many SSA beneficiaries, such as those who are homeless, struggle with the requirement of a physical address to create a mySocialSecurity account to access electronic services.
Our proposed solution: Implement practical changes for vulnerable applicants. For years, SSA allowed faxed applications, benefiting especially those seeking Supplemental Security Income without the means to visit SSA offices. Without warning, SSA recently stopped honoring faxed applications. We propose that SSA simply return to a policy that functioned effectively.
The challenge: SSA allows for electronic signatures on many forms — but still verifies those signatures over the phone, which is time-consuming and unnecessary. What’s more, some staff incorrectly reject electronic signatures based on outdated guidelines.
Our proposed solution: Remove the phone verification step entirely. This change will streamline the process, saving time and resources while adhering to updated provisions.
The challenge: SSA currently acknowledges individuals, but not organizations like law firms, as representatives. This can be problematic for professionals taking a team-based approach to serving these applicants. The existing process for multiple representatives from a single firm to assist a client is complex and burdensome.
Our proposed solution: Allow law firms to register with SSA. This change will alleviate the administrative burden on SSA and improve representation for applicants.
The challenge: Many claimants applying for disability benefits are overwhelmed by the application process and seek the professional help of NOSSCR’s members. However, designating that legal representation involves an inordinate amount of paperwork and long waiting times for confirmation. For example, representatives face the risk of being locked out of SSA systems if they check representation status early, which can result in delays as they wait to regain access to SSA systems.
Our proposed solution: Enable electronic verification of representation without burdensome documentation and unjustified lockouts.
The challenge: Currently, representatives can only get updates on claim status from SSA over the phone — one case at a time. This limitation leads to repeated long wait times on calls. With minor adjustments to SSA’s secure websites, the agency can reduce the need for phone calls and optimize resources.
Our proposed solution: Expand representative access to include initial and reconsideration claim status information in an existing secure portal. This simple change will dramatically reduce the demand on SSA call centers while equipping representatives with the information they need to serve clients effectively.