"Mega Disability Agencies": Arkansas to Accept $9 Million in Federal Funds to Process Other States' Social Security Disability Claims
A couple of months ago I wrote about how many states have made the questionable decision to furlough Office of Disability Determinations workers (see my blog entry of May 18, 2009). In a letter to Governor Schwarzenegger of California, Senator Diane Feinstein called on the governor to cancel furloughs for employees paid with federal funds so payments to thousands of disabled Californians aren't delayed.
Last Friday, in what might be a consequence of that foolish decision by Governors throughout the country, a legislative panel of the Arkansas Legislature authorized Arthur Boutiette, the Director of the Arkansas Office of Disability Determination for Social Security, to accept $9 Million of Federal funds to process other states' disability claims. The money will pay for 150 new claims analysts to evaluate disability claims.
According to Mr. Boutiette, the Social Security Administration asked Arkansas for help because they have been "number one in the country the last four years in a row in quality. [Arkansas ODD has] one of the cheapest costs per case."
When asked whether Disability claims will be processed any faster, Mr. Boutiette stated that the 66 day average in Arkansas is faster than just about any other state. He also noted that it would take about a year to train the new claims workers and that he wants his "seasoned people" to handle Arkansas cases.
This is certainly good news for Arkansas. 150 permanent jobs is nothing to sneer at. I am, however, troubled with the feeling that the Arkansas ODD is focused on the speed of decisions. Nothing in this report tells me about the accuracy of the decisions made by the 'seasoned people' at the Arkansas ODD. Fast and cheap doesn't equate with accurate decisions, and it seems to me that when these new hires start to build their own caseloads in 12 months, they are also going to sacrifice the accuracy of decisions for quantity and efficiency, affecting not only the citizens of Arkansas but possibly also my own disabled clients in the New York metropolitan area.
In Fiscal year 2008 Arkansas DSS allowed 36.1% of all claims at the Initial Application and 11.1% of the denials where a Request for Reconsideration was filed. By contrast, New York DSS allowed 44.3% of Initial claims and 51.2% of Reconsiderations. New Jersey's allowance rate of 45% at the Initial level and 20.8% at Reconsideration is also significantly higher than that of Arkansas. As my partner Lew Insler said months ago, the New York and New Jersey DSS offices are starting to get it right when analyzing claims, but I fear that with the creation of this "Mega Disability Agency," there will be an increased number of denials for claimants in New York and New Jersey, who will be forced to wait even longer for a hearing as more cases are appealed.
Allowance data from SAOR (State Agency Operations Report) prepared on 12/12/2008; courtesy of NOSSCR Social Security Forum Vol 31, No. 2 (February 2009)