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Johnson Opening Statement at Hearing on Determining Eligibility for Disability Benefits: Challenges Facing the Social Security Administration

September 06, 2017

WASHINGTON, D.C. – House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson (R-TX) today delivered the following opening statement at a Subcommittee hearing entitled “Determining Eligibility for Disability Benefits: Challenges Facing the Social Security Administration.”

CLICK HERE to watch the hearing.​

“Good morning and welcome to today’s hearing on the challenges Social Security faces when deciding if a person should receive disability benefits.

“Since I’ve been Chairman, I’ve held 18 hearings, including today, on the Disability Insurance program on one topic or another.  That’s a lot of hearings.  But the Disability Insurance program is too important for Social Security not to get it right.

“Americans pay taxes on their hard-earned wages for the promise of future Social Security benefits when the worker retires, is unable to work due to a disability, or dies.   These benefits are an important part of a family’s financial security and Americans rightfully expect that when they apply for benefits, if they are eligible, that they will receive them quickly.  But for those applying for disability benefits, that isn’t the case.

“Today, over 1 million people are waiting for a hearing with a Social Security Administrative Law Judge, and on average these folks will wait around 600 days to get that hearing.  That’s nearly two years!  And that’s after waiting almost four months on average for an initial decision, and more than three months for a second look, known as reconsideration.  While not all of them will qualify for benefits, all of these people deserve an answer in a timely fashion.  And for those who don’t qualify for benefits, these long wait times make getting back to work even harder.

“With backlogs at record highs, it is more important than ever for Social Security to ensure that its Compassionate Allowances program is working as intended.  The Compassionate Allowances program was created in 2008 as a way to help those with the most severe impairments jump to the front of the line.  But as we will hear today, this program doesn’t always work the way it should.

“It’s clear Social Security has serious problems when it comes to making sure people get the disability decisions as quickly as possible.

“But Social Security’s problems in the Disability Insurance program are more than just long wait times.  Since 2003, Social Security’s disability programs have been on the GAO’s high risk list in large part because Social Security continues to rely on outdated criteria to determine eligibility for disability benefits.  While some progress has been made, there is more work to be done to modernize Social Security’s disability programs.

“And we know more money isn’t the answer.  This year, the SSA received $90 million in dedicated funding to address the disability backlog, yet wait times continue to grow.  The SSA used some of this funding in much needed information technology improvements that should pay dividends.

“The Social Security Administration must find ways to be more efficient and modernize the Disability Insurance program.  Today we are going to hear about how Social Security plans to do just that.  This won’t be easy work and there is plenty to do.

“Social Security needs more than just a plan to fix this – it needs real leadership.  This is in large part a management problem.

“Since 2013, Social Security has had an Acting Commissioner.  In February, Ranking Member Larson and I, along with our colleagues from the Human Resources Subcommittee sent a letter to President Trump asking that he nominate a Commissioner without delay.  Social Security needs a Senate confirmed Commissioner who can lead the agency and focus on providing the service Americans expect and deserve.

“Social Security provides important benefits that many Americans rely on.  With the right leadership and a good plan, Social Security can get back on the right track.  But until then, this Subcommittee will keep asking tough questions about how to get this done.  The American people deserve nothing less.”