Sanders, Larson Call for Strengthening Social Security After GAO Study Examines Disability Wait Times

WASHINGTON, August 13 – Today, Senate Budget Committee Ranking Member Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee Chairman John B. Larson (D-Conn.) responded to new findings from a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study they commissioned which found that thousands of American die or go bankrupt waiting to receive their disability benefits each year.

“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.”

“On the eve of Social Security’s 85th anniversary, people are relying on their Social Security benefits now more than ever. I appreciate GAO’s efforts in conducting this study. It is unacceptable that thousands of severely disabled Americans are dying or filing for bankruptcy while waiting for their benefits. I’m proud that the House has passed a FY 2021 Labor-HHS Appropriations package that includes $50 million for the Social Security Administration to continue to reduce these harmful delays. However, Americans are now facing a new threat: President Trump is attempting to defund Social Security, by unilaterally deferring and pledging to ‘terminate’ the program’s dedicated funding source if re-elected. This is a reprehensible move, especially in the midst of a pandemic. I’m proud to work with Ranking Member Sanders to strengthen the program for all Americans and fight against the Trump Administration’s cruel move to undercut Social Security,” said Larson.

The study, “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.  

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is critical to Americans who can no longer work because of a medical condition. Nearly 10 million disabled Americans and their dependents survive on a monthly benefit that averages only $1,124 from SSDI.  To claim these modest benefits, the U.S. has some of the most stringent eligibility requirements in the world. An American entering the workforce today has about a 1 in 4 chance of becoming disabled before reaching retirement age.

Senator Sanders and Representative John 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.

Read the report here.