Sen. Sanders, Rep. Larson call for strengthening Social Security after GAO study examines disability wait times
Americans are dying by the thousands as they wait for a decision on whether they qualify for Social Security disability benefits.
That’s the finding of a brand new report issued last week by the General Accountability Office (GAO). The report, which was issued on the eve of Social Security’s 85th birthday, was requested by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. John Larson (D-CT). Sanders is the senior Democrat on the Senate Budget Committee, while Larshon chairs the House Ways and Means Social Security subcommittee.
The report, “Social Security Disability: Information on Wait Times, Bankruptcies, and Deaths among Applicants Who Appealed Benefit Denials,” looked at people who appealed an initial denial of their application for Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. It found:
More than 100,000 people died without receiving a final decision on their appeal for Social Security or SSI disability benefits, out of approximately 9 million who filed an appeal from Fiscal Year (FY) 2008 to FY 2019.
Approximately 50,000 people filed for bankruptcy while appealing for Social Security or SSI disability benefits, out of approximately 3.6 million who filed an appeal from FY 2014 to FY 2019.
From FY 2008 to FY 2019, most disability applicants who appealed an initial denial waited more than a year for a final decision. Median wait times reached a peak of 839 days – more than 2 years – for claims filed in FY 2015.
Sanders and Larson have introduced bills that would increase Social Security benefits by making the wealthiest pay their share and have called for an increase in administration funding. In contrast, the Trump Administration has sought to make it harder to qualify for disability benefits and is seeking to divert billions of dollars from the program.
“It is absolutely unconscionable that thousands of Americans suffer and die every year waiting for a final decision to get the modest Social Security benefits they need to survive. People with disabilities trying to access their earned benefits are forced to wait years before they even get a hearing,” said Sanders. “This report shows not only how critical Social Security can be to Americans with disabilities, but how dire the backlog is. Our job now is to stop Trump’s latest effort to defund Social Security. We must also increase benefits, make the filing process easier and eliminate these obscene wait lists of people trying, far too often in vain, to access their earned benefits.”
You can read the report here.