Crowe & Shanahan
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Unintended consequences?

The federal government is a large organization. It employees more than 2.6 million workers, and more than 4.1 million if you include the military. Many of those jobs demand advanced degrees, including doctors, scientists and lawyers. This means federal payroll makes up a significant part of the federal budget. And this makes it an attractive target when it comes to attempting to save money from that budget.

Congress has occasionally mandated hiring freezes as a way of preventing increases in spending for the federal payroll, and the Trump Administration has imposed a blanket freeze on hiring, which included employees of the Social Security Administration. This hiring freeze will likely have negative consequences for disabled workers who are applying for Social Security Disability benefits, as this will mean fewer employees to process their applications and fewer Administrative Law Judges (ALJ) to handle their appeals from denials.

Bloomberg suggests that last year's average delay of 526 days for a hearing with an ALJ is likely to grow this year due to the ban on hiring. While the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the agency that is responsible for hiring federal workers has some exceptions, it none would seem to apply to SSA.

The prohibition is only supposed to last 90 days, but OPM is to develop a plan to reduce federal employment, which may be difficult as the federal workforce has been steadily shrinking during the last few years and agencies such as SSA have been particularly hard hit. As Americans age, more are requiring services from the retirement and disability programs administered by SSA.

With fewer employees and more work, delays have been rampant and worsening. If OPM's plan does cut SSA's workforce, the consequences are likely to be ever greater delays, which will work real hardships for disabled workers, who are often in great need of SSD benefits. Many applicants may find it helpful to obtain legal counsel during this process, to minimize errors and mistakes that could lead to denials and force them to wait even longer for their benefits.

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