The process to apply for disability benefits is changing for Pennsylvania, Alabama, Michigan, Missouri and Alaska residents this year. New disability applicants in those states should learn how and when the new claim steps will affect them personally below.
Pennsylvania Disability Applicants Began New Claims Process on April 1, 2019
April 1 saw a new step added for SSD applicants in PA: reconsideration. Until now, first-time applicants denied benefits in PA could request an appeals hearing. Starting this month, those claimants must start their appeals with reconsideration. It’s a step that may get some applicants with appealed claims approved faster. For others, however, reconsideration adds another 100 days to their claim processing times. Right now, Pennsylvania takes 673 days (22.5 months) on average to process disability claims. The average wait time for an appeals hearing is now 20.7 months (621 days). Adding the reconsideration step puts PA’s average processing time closer to 2 years and 3 months, on average. What’s more, the SSA’s Chief Actuary estimates about 7,500 disability applicants will withdraw claims because of this new step.
Alabama, Michigan Residents Start New Reconsideration Claims Process on October 1, 2019
Disability applicants in these two states can expect similar changes to the SSD claims process starting on October 1. The SSA estimates claims at the reconsideration level will rise from 129,000 to 177,000 nationwide by then. Let’s look at how adding this step back into the claims process may affect SSD claims in these two states:
- Alabama disability applicants currently wait 17.3 months, on average, to present their case at an appeals hearing. Across this state, Administrative Law Judges deny just over 1 in 3 appealed claims (34%), but approve almost half (46%). Disability claim approvals at the reconsideration stage are typically lower than initial filing and appeals hearing stages. However, Alabama claimants denied at reconsideration will wait another 3 months, on average, for an appeals hearing.
- Average claim processing time for Michigan disability applicants is now 586 days, on average (19.5 months). Once reconsideration adds another step between the initial filing and appeals hearing stages, wait times will grow much longer. If your claim isn’t approved the first time, your appeal starts with reconsideration. Right now, people with appealed claims must wait 18.1 months (543 days) to get their cases heard before a judge. How will reconsideration impact those average wait times? We should know more when the newest numbers come out in 2020.
Missouri Disability Applicants Regain Reconsideration Appeals Step on January 1, 2020
The SSA chose to stagger its reconsideration rollout across five states, and Missouri’s begins in 2020. At January’s start, all disability applicants in this state not initially approved for benefits start their appeals with reconsideration. In 2016, about 11.2% of appealed SSD claims nationwide won benefits during reconsideration. This state already has a long processing time (633 days, or 21.1 months) for SSD claims. For many Missouri disability applicants, reconsideration may work better. Right now, MO judges deny more appeals than they approve (40% vs. 38%). And that’s after SSD claimants wait an average 18.8 months for hearings!
Alaska Disability Applicants Start Reconsideration Process Last on March 1, 2020
In December 2017, disabled workers in Alaska were the smallest SSD beneficiary group. (Just 12,317 Alaskan disabled workers got SSD payments.) Unfortunately, Alaska still has a fairly long claim processing time: 536 days, on average. And the 16-month average wait to get your appeals case heard right now isn’t surprising. That’s because there are only two appointed judges in Anchorage working appeals. Appealed claims have dismal chances for approval in Alaska, too. Judges approved just 17% of cases for SSD benefits in 2018, denied half (50%) and dismissed one-third (33%). Will reconsideration make it easier for Alaska disability applicants to get approved on appeal? Only time will tell.
What Reconsideration Means For Disability Applicants In All Other States
The SSA only approved 1 in 5 first-time SSD claimants in 2017. The remaining 80% either appealed, or gave up. Nationwide, the SSA approved about 75,000 reconsideration claims that year (about 3.5% of those filed). Adding reconsideration for these five states may help some applicants secure benefits faster. The SSA hopes that reinstating reconsideration will cut hearing wait times down significantly in those states. Their goal is to reduce hearing decision wait times from 600 days to 270, on average, by 2021’s end.
You May Qualify for Legal Assistance
Want to know the best way to ensure you get benefits the first time you apply? Get a Social Security disability lawyer to help file your claim! These attorneys work on contingency, so you’ll pay nothing for help filing your benefits application. Right now, the SSA denies 2 in every 5 applicants for filling out the claim forms wrong. But having a lawyer file your claim makes you 3x more likely to get SSD benefits on your first try! In fact, most people who qualify for legal assistance through our website receive $12,000 in lump-sum backpay, on average, as well as monthly benefits.
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Mandy Voisin is a freelance writer, blogger, and author of Girls of the Ocean and Star of Deliverance. As an accomplished content marketing consultant, mom of four and doctor's wife, Mandy has written hundreds of articles about dangerous drugs and medical devices, medical issues that impact disabled Americans, veterans' healthcare and workers' compensation issues since 2016.