Applicants waiting to find out if they’ve qualified for Social Security disability (SSD) benefits for illness or injury are not spending as much time on hold as they once did. However, a new report says that wait times, which currently average about one year, may soon be extended because more Americans are filing for benefits.

The pending caseload for Social Security disability and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) has increased to more than 740,000. According to a recent article from USA Today, part of the reason for the hike in pending cases may be the recession-induced lack of jobs for disabled people.

The study, carried out by researchers at the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), suggests that the steady rise in claims may reverse the Social Security Administration’s so-far successful efforts to reduce waiting times for benefits decisions.

During the height of the economic recession in 2008, benefit processing exceeded 510 days. Between October of last year and April 2011, the waiting time was cut to an average of just 367 days, a figure which SSA officials have said they plan to reduce to just 270 days over the next two years.

The TRAC report noted that the volume of pending SSA benefits cases are different from state to state. Between March of last year and March of 2011, Georgia was one of the top three states with the greatest increase in Social Security Disability claims.

The combination of benefits paid to SSD and low-income SSI recipients this year is expected to reach $180 billion, covering more than 18 million people. The process for securing Social Security Disability benefits begins with a local review that can be appealed to one of 1,400 SSA judges if a claimant is twice-denied.

Source: USA Today, “Backlog grows for Social Security appeals,” Kevin McCoy, 19 June 2011