A Bush administration official says tight budgets are hurting government efforts to speed up reviews of government disability benefits claims.

Social Security Administration Commissioner Michael Astrue said today during a House Ways and Means Social Security subcommittee hearing that the SSA needs 150 more administrative law judges and a total of more than 750 new staff members to speed up efforts to serve the 700,000 Americans who are awaiting hearings on Social Security and Supplemental Security Income disability program claims.

In addition, Astrue would like to see the government get more work out of its administrative law judges by having many of them hold electronic hearings from a central location, rather than presiding over conventional hearings at each of the SSA’s 141 hearing offices.

Today, because of the hearing backlog, many seriously ill and disabled applicants have to spend years struggling to collect and keep collecting government disability benefits.

“The members of this committee have been great about making our case with others in Congress, and I ask you not only to continue your efforts, but to expand them,” Astrue said at the hearing, according to a written version of his remarks. “We need your help.”

Meanwhile, in Boston, an SSA pilot program that tries to automate and accelerate the disability benefits determination program for applicants with clear-cut disabilities has succeeded at deciding 97% of the cases within the required 21-day time limit, Astrue said.