With the coronavirus pandemic beginning to wind down across Ohio, a sense of normalcy is finally returning to the state. In an effort to get more Ohioans to return to work, Governor Mike DeWine recently announced that the state is ending its participation in a federal program that provides an extra $300 per week in unemployment benefits.
“Current SSD claims are taking sometimes less than a year to get from filing to hearing, whereas previously, the process would typically take more than twice that long,” says Josh Graham.
For people with health problems that prevent them from working, the end to federal unemployment benefits is not welcome news. However, they may qualify for another federal benefits program—Social Security Disability (SSD)—which has seen claims dip during the pandemic, and is currently processing claims faster than it has in a long time.
Time is always of the essence when filing for SSD benefits. The end of COVID unemployment benefits means that SSD claims—and processing times—will increase. There’s no better time than right now to file for federal disability benefits. Whether you’ve already filed for benefits and were denied, or you need help filing a new claim, Graham & Graham’s Ohio SSD lawyers are here to help.
Typical SSD Claim Processing Times By Application Stage
Social Security Disability provides a monthly compensation benefit and Medicare insurance to people who have medical conditions that will likely prevent them from working for a year or more. Around 8 million Americans receive disabled worker benefits from Social Security, but those benefits are hard-won. The SSD program has very specific eligibility criteria and notoriously long waiting periods. Claimants should plan on the following processing times at each stage of the application process:
- Initial Application: Once you file for benefits, Social Security typically makes a decision within four months.
- Reconsideration: Roughly two-thirds of applicants have their initial claim denied. During the reconsideration phase, your claim is reviewed a second time. This usually takes about as long as the initial application (around four months).
- ALJ Hearing: A denial at the reconsideration phase leaves only one option: filing a request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). While it can take months to receive a hearing date, around half of claims are approved at this level.
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New Claims and Wait Times Down
The SSA, long plagued by a backlog of claims, had a chance to dig itself out during the pandemic because many out-of-work people had access to COVID-related unemployment benefits that were easier to obtain. But Graham & Graham SSD attorney Joshua Graham cautions that, as these unemployment benefits are phased out, SSD claims are likely to surge back to pre-COVID levels.
“Behind the scenes, filed SSD claims are down over the past year and a half,” says Josh. “The thought behind that is COVID unemployment benefits have satisfied folks enough to keep them from filing claims. Obviously, those unemployment benefits will end at some point, and the thought then is claim numbers will increase drastically.”
In the meantime, there is a narrow window to get in SSD claims while claims are down and processing times are faster.
“SSA has caught up on a lot of the backlog that’s been present for many years, resulting in claims that are processed much quicker,” says Josh. “Current claims are taking sometimes less than a year to get from filing to hearing, whereas previously, the process would typically take more than twice that long.”
As of July 2021, the average wait time in Ohio for an AAJ hearing is 11 months, federal data shows. That’s less than the national average of 11.8 months. And depending on your location, wait times may be shorter. For example, according to SSA, the current hearing wait time in Cincinnati is 7 months. In March 2019, the wait time in Cincinnati was 18 months. Approximately 45 percent of Ohio SSD cases that reach an administrative judge are approved.
DeWine Ends Federal COVID Unemployment Benefits
To Josh’s point about COVID benefits coming to an end, Governor DeWine announced that Ohio will stop participating in the federal government’s supplemental jobless program on June 26. The program, which gave an extra $300 a week in unemployment benefits, had been available since 2020 as part of pandemic stimulus measures.
The governor said his decision is intended to address labor shortages now that many businesses are reopening. But it may have the unintended consequence of forcing some workers back into the Social Security system. Some workers are actually suing DeWine for ending the federal unemployment benefits, claiming that, without them, they will be unable to pay for rent, utilities, food, and other basic needs. Under the CARES Act, the benefits are not scheduled to expire until September 2021.
Don’t Delay. File Your SSD Claim Now.
The temporary reduction in SSD claim processing times won’t last forever. Already, the writing is on the wall that waiting times are set to increase. Filing a claim or appeal now, rather than waiting a month or two, could make a huge difference in how quickly you start receiving benefits.
This is the best time in years to file for disability. If you have questions about the claims process, or need help filing your claim, reach out directly to Josh Graham (email@example.com) or contact our office for a free case review.