The Social Security Administration is instituting a new process for the representatives who handle hearings for Social Security Disability claimants to submit their availability for hearings before Administrative Law Judges, with the goal of increasing efficiency and accuracy in scheduling hearings. This is known as the Enhanced Representative Availability Process (ERAP). Social Security’s External Liaison Unit (ELU) will enroll representatives in ERAP over the next several months. Representatives must first request a Designated Scheduling Group (DSG), which they will utilize in the scheduling process. ERAP will soon replace the regional office availability submission process. Representatives will then begin submitting availability to the ELU.
What You Need To Know About The New Scheduling System
The new scheduling system will allow Consolidated or Solo availability submission. A solo practitioner would submit Solo availability or essentially his or her own availability. A firm with many representatives could submit Consolidated availability and the availability of many representatives, allowing for more efficient case scheduling. Firms offering Consolidated availability would do so with various representatives being part of a DSG. A solo practitioner would have only one person as a member of the DSG.
ERAP is intended to allow for the scheduling of hearings for firms that use subcontractors to cover hearings and for firms that list a partner at the firm as a principal representative for all cases, but the partner does not attend hearings. Such a partner should include himself or herself as affiliated with the DSG, but would only provide monthly availability for representatives who cover hearings. A firm utilizing subcontractors should indicate the number of subcontractors available but does not need to provide names.
If a DSG has cases in multiple regions, availability must be provided separately for each applicable region via e-mail to the appropriate e-mail address. However, Practitioners should be careful because schedulers will consider availability regionally and not consider availability in other regions when scheduling cases. Submission of duplicate availability for multiple areas could lead to double booking. While a representative can contact the hearing office if double booked and request a change in the time or place of the hearing, this is inefficient and could create an overall delay for other claimants waiting on a hearing date.
What is the “first in, first out” (FIFO) Process
Cases will still generally be scheduled pursuant to the “first in, first out” (FIFO) process under HALLEX I-2-1-55. As before, representatives should not communicate over e-mail with a claimant’s personally identifiable information (like a Social Security number). These types of individual scheduling questions should be done over the phone. E-mails to the ELU with personally identifiable information of the representatives can be sent to the ELU with encryption, pursuant to instructions found at: https://www.ssa.gov/appeals/documents/email_encryption_instructions.pdf
Availability for the DSG for a Target Scheduling Month (TSM) can be submitted as soon as it is ready, but it needs to be submitted by the applicable deadline for the TSM. Currently, Social Security is asking for the availability of a DSG five months before the start of the TSM. Any changes in availability should be submitted to the ELU as soon as possible.
Only daily caps may be submitted for individual representatives to limit the number of hearings. Monthly caps may be submitted for an entire DSG.
Overall, this seems to be a step towards more efficient scheduling. The process should reduce the overall amount of time Social Security employees take to schedule hearings while allowing for individual inquiries regarding specific issues, as the new system still allows for some direct communication with hearing offices over scheduling matters. Perhaps the best aspect of this new scheduling system is that is in line with how representatives are currently practicing, with multiple representatives being part of one firm or with other representatives using subcontractors to cover hearings. Solo practitioners should be able to utilize this system, as well, efficiently. As more and more hearings are done by video or over the phone, this system should add to the efficiency gains from these processes.
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