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Ruppersberger calls for Social Security to address backlog in Md.

The Baltimore Sun

The Social Security Administration office that reviews claims for central Maryland has the third-longest delay in the nation, prompting Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger on Monday to call for the agency to craft a plan to address the problem.

"Some have had to file for bankruptcy, some have lost their homes, some have even died before getting even a penny of the benefits they were entitled to," the Baltimore County Democrat said.

Agency data show it takes an average of 17 months to get a hearing to review a disability denial in the Baltimore office, which covers reviews for much of the state. The office has 11,530 cases pending, more than in Miami, Philadelphia, Dallas and more than 150 other locations.

The backlog of disability claims has been a long-standing problem for the Woodlawn-based agency. In 2010, Social Security anticipated an increase in claims and set a goal of reducing the backlog to 525,000 by the current fiscal year.

But the agency's inspector general said in a report in April the target is unattainable and estimated a more realistic number to be 668,127.

Ruppersberger, joined by constituents who have waited for months for a hearing, said he sent a letter to the agency late last month asking that they craft a plan to address the backlog. He said Monday he has not yet received a response.

Data from the agency show the Baltimore office has among the longest processing times in the country, 520 days compared with a national average of 404. The average processing time in Shreveport, La., by comparison is 295 days.

The agency has argued for years it needs additional funding to address the problem and has instead received spending cuts from Congress. An agency spokesman was not immediately available to respond to Ruppersberger.

Social Security, which serves nearly 57 million beneficiaries, has been operating without a confirmed commissioner since Michael J. Astrue left early last year and the White House has declined to say when -- or whether -- President Barack Obama will nominate a replacement.

Acting Commissioner Carolyn W. Colvin, a former Maryland state official, has received praise for leading the agency through a period of congressionally mandated budget reductions, but outside experts have said the agency would be better served by a Senate-confirmed leader.

Ruppersberger is bringing attention to the issue days after Eric Shinseki resigned as secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs in part over delays for veterans seeking medical care.

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