Social Security Administration Spent $30 Million in Stimulus Money To Hire 585 New Bureaucrats to Certify New Disability Recipients Who Can Be Paid Not to Work
A report from the SSA's Office of the Inspector General says that the SSA's Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) hired 35 new administrative law judges and 550 staffers to determine whether people are eligible to recieve federal disability payments for not working.
The report, titled “The Office of Disability Adjudication and Review’s Staffing Plans Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act,” says: “The Agency’s staffing plan noted that, ‘Hearing offices will hire 550 support staff as well as 35 additional ALJs (administrative law judges).'”
The report, released the last day of 2009, adds: “However, the Agency’s staffing plan did not provide additional details on the allocation of such staff to States or even regions even though ODAR had management information that clearly indicated which hearing offices and regions required staff.”
The GAO discovered that SSA intends to spend another $93 million hiring more additional staff qualify people for disability payments in 2010. “While not explicitly stated in the staffing plan, in discussions with SSA staff, we learned that another $93 million will be allocated to ODAR in FY 2010,” the report says. The report adds: “We believe this information should have been included in the plan.”
Nick Millanek, an OIG audit manager, said retiring baby boomers, the downturn of the economy, and retiring ODAR employees explain the need for the hiring increase.
“The economy went really bad, and so people who were working with disabilities figured that ‘You know, I’m getting laid off, so I’m going to file for disability. And so Social Security had this huge surge in claims from people who were working that got laid off and now they’re claiming they can’t go back to work even if they wanted to because they’re disabled,” he said.
Millanek also said that due to years of low funding, many offices were understaffed. Hence, claims kept “backing up and backing up,” resulting in a substantial pending workload.
SSA anticipates a deluge of claims due to the economy, Millanek said.
“They’re also estimating, with the downturn of the economy, how many more claims they’re going to receive this year and next year,” he said.
In the Washington, D.C., office, salaries range from $34,000 to $89,000 a year, Millanek said.
Sandra Fabry, director for the Center for Fiscal Accountability at Americans for Tax Reform, called SSA’s use of stimulus funds for ODAR a “bad deal for taxpayers on both ends.”
“You’re paying money on the front end to make these hires and are obligating taxpayers at the same time to pay millions and millions more on the recipients’ side,” she said.
Bottom line, Fabry said, the move by SSA grows the scope of government in both spending and “dependency.”
“What we’re doing,” Fabry said, “is growing government, growing government spending, and not just for this year, but going forward, too, as we’re going to have to be spending much more on those disability payments.”
Fabry acknowledged the claims back-log, but questioned whether or not this is a good use of taxpayer dollars, adding that even though SSA can claim to have created myriad jobs, more government jobs are “certainly” not the sort of jobs America needs.
“We’re certainly not creating private sector jobs, which is what we need to be doing right now,” Fabry said.
Millanek, meanwhile, said that the majority of jobs are at the lower end of the pay scale since they may be doing lower-skilled work and have only a high school diploma.
ODAR has ten regional offices, 146 hearing offices (including five satellite offices) and four national hearing centers. There are approximately 1,300 administrative law judges and 6,100 support staff in the field organization.
In 2009, ODAR processed approximately 660,800 hearing dispositions with an average processing time of 491 days, ending the year with about 722,800 pending cases.