A step has been added to the appeals process to receive Social Security disability benefits in Colorado, sparking criticism that the change adds delays to an already slow system.
Anyone who filed for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) in Colorado after January 1, 2019 will now need to go through the reconsideration process if their claim is denied.
The SSDI program provides benefits to people who have paid a certain amount to Social Security and who have a disability that prevents them from working for at least a year. There are several levels of appeal that people can make if their initial claim for benefits is denied.
In most states, applicants whose original applications were rejected can go through a reconsideration process, where they have 60 days to file an appeal with the Social Security Administration. If their appeal is rejected, they could then request a hearing before an administrative judge, who would decide their case.
In the 1990s, the Social Security Administration decided to remove the reconsideration step from the process in Colorado and eight other states. But in early 2019, the reconsideration stage was added to the appeals process in five states, including Colorado, to the frustration of local disability lawyers and advocates.
“[Reconsideration] adds more time to a system already waiting for many claims, ”said Mary Dale Walters, senior vice president at Allsup, a company that helps applicants navigate the approval process for people with disabilities.
Allsup is a national company, so its employees knew how to navigate the review process. But Walters said she worries the new step may throw a wrench into the process because Colorado state employees and disability attorneys won’t know how to handle it.
About 8,300 Colorado residents appealed the initial denial of their claim in the 2017 federal year, and 6,500 appealed in the 2018 federal year.
According to data for May, 7,400 Colorado residents are waiting to be heard by an administrative judge. This includes people who filed last year and were not reviewed, and people who filed this year and did.
Nationally, about 36% of people who apply for an SSDI in any given year will be granted benefits when they first apply. For those who request that their case be reconsidered, only 13% will have their refusals canceled. Of those who appeal their cases to an administrative judge, about 45 percent will receive benefits.
According to federal data, at the end of fiscal 2018, 129,000 people were at the reconsideration level. The government estimates that by the end of fiscal 2020, that number will have reached 233,000.
Brandon M. Selinsky, a lawyer with the Rocky Mountain Disability Law Group, said he disapproved of adding a reconsideration step to the process.
Selinsky practiced disability law in other states before Colorado, so he knew how to handle a reconsideration. But he said this step usually doesn’t help people get benefits and only increases the wait for applicants.
“It’s never good to expand a process where people are trying to get benefits to support themselves,” Selinsky said.