January 30, 2020
Commissioner Andrew Saul
Social Security Administration
6401 Security Boulevard
Baltimore, MD 21235-6401
Re: Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Rules Regarding the Frequency and Notice of Continuing Disability Reviews, 84 Fed.Reg 36588 (November 18, 2019), Docket No. SSA-2018-0026
Submitted via www.regulations.gov
These comments are submitted on behalf of the National Council of Disability Determination Directors (NCDDD).
The National Council of Disability Determination Directors is a voluntary professional organization for the Directors and managerial staff of the Disability Determination Services (DDS) offices located in each state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Our goals focus on ensuring accurate, timely, and cost-effective decisions for people who apply for disability benefits, or whose continued medical eligibility for benefits is under review. NCDDD’s mission is to provide the highest possible level of service to persons with disabilities, to promote the interests of the state operated DDS’s and to represent DDS Directors, their management teams and staffs. DDS’s work with SSA in administering the disability programs. As administrators who run the disability programs for SSA on a day-to-day basis, we have the capacity to provide what we believe to be invaluable insights on the effective operation of those programs and their continuing challenges.
NCDDD has significant concerns about SSA’s proposal to perform more Continuing Disability Reviews (CDR’s), more frequently. We have many questions around funding, staffing, and the cost effectiveness of more frequent CDR’s.
Operationally, state DDS’s are still adjusting to the loss of the Single Decision Maker authority, loss of Disability Examiner Authority for Quick Disability Determinations, reinstatement of reconsideration, and the implementation of the Disability Case Processing System (DCPS). DDS’s are understaffed and facing high attrition. Disability Examiner staffing levels are critically low. Case processing times are increasing now, and with additional CDR’s, service delivery to claimants and beneficiaries will suffer.
Ultimately, SSA determines the DDS’s funding and staffing levels, but no one controls DDS receipts, except in the case of CDR’s. If the staffing levels are not sufficient to address the uncontrollable receipts, then claims must sit until there is adjudicative capacity to assign them to an examiner. The DDS’s cannot decline case receipts, nor does the DDS have the authority to strategically increase and develop staffing without SSA funding.
It is critical to understand that all states are not the same, and with inadequate funding, the staffing disparity from state to state becomes increasingly problematic and results in inconsistent service.
The history of backlogged CDR’s, should be a point of reference. Several times in the last three decades, CDR’s were delayed due to lack of funding, and each time it was a struggle to get them “current” again. Absent sufficient funding, the proposed changes could very well result in a resumption of backlogged CDR’s. Pending and future initial, reconsideration, pre-hearing and disability hearings workloads would also be impacted. Sustained, adequate and dedicated program integrity funding is necessary, along with sufficient administrative funding for processing the initial and reconsideration workloads.
The DDS’s need time to prepare and train staff on the proposed changes as early as possible. It generally takes several years before new examiners have sufficient training and experience to process CDRs. Currently, there is inadequate infrastructure to handle additional cases. The longer the delay before DDS’s have hiring authority, the harder and longer the recovery.
NCDDD continues to seek SSA support and funding for proactive, strategic hiring as soon as possible to mitigate attrition, increased workloads and the negative effects of hiring freezes and policy changes.
We suggest that SSA continue to develop and implement strategies that will provide for quality services to the public now and in the future as opposed to creating additional workloads that cannot be processed with existing staffing levels and funding.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on these proposed regulations.
Liz McLaren, NCDDD President,