At both the Portland, Maine ODAR and the Maine Disability Determination Services (DDS), the processing of disability claims has slowed measurably due to budget constraints. My understanding is that both these offices have hiring freezes, so that departing employees cannot be replaced.
This is particularly an issue at DDS, because turnover there was already high. It is a stressful job to be a disability examiner, and the pay, even though they are doing "federal" work, is on a state employee scale. The Maine DDS shipped hundreds of claims to the Social Security's Office of Medical and Vocational Expertise in Baltimore to help with its backlog, but DDS is still falling further behind. The staffing issues at DDS are hobbling its mission.
As for the Portland hearing office, it was #1 in the country back in 2009, with an average processing time of just 261 days. Now the average processing time has slipped to 365 days. This is due to staffing problems. The hearing office certainly has enough judges, but it takes hours of staff time to prepare a claim for hearing and to write the decision afterwards. And it is not just the Portland hearing office. Other ODARs are slowing as well, for the same reason.
All this is disheartening, because so much hard-fought progress had been made by the hearing offices to shorten waiting times and hasten decisions. Those gains are now being lost.