For more than a year, state workers who go through disability applications were ordered by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to take two or three unpaid days off each month.

That's a practice that disability advocates say has hurt disabled workers and state employees but hasn't helped the state.

But it's a practice that could continue, though to a lesser degree, after Schwarzenegger leaves office.

"As of Nov. 30 of this year, 84,000 initial applications for SSDI have been delayed" because of the furloughs, said Dan Allsup, communications director for Allsup Inc., a firm specializing in claims for Social Security Disability Insurance, or SSDI. "That's more than $23 million in monthly benefits that have been held up."

In December 2008, amid a state budget crisis, Schwarzenegger ordered most California state employees to take two unpaid days off each month. In June 2009, he ordered a third furlough day per month.

Those furloughs applied to state workers in the Department of Social Service's Disability Determination Service Division - the workers who process applications from Sterling and other workers seeking disability benefits - even though those workers' salaries are paid through federal funds, not state funds.

"The state of California never saved any money by furloughing those employees," said Lowell Kepke, a spokesman for the Social Security Administration's San Francisco regional office. "That has been brought up to the governor's office, and it was never changed."

The furloughs are now down to one day per month rather than three, but the Social Security Administration still has a backlog of about 30,000 applications. For now, the administration is sending about 1,400 applications per week to processors in other states.

While Schwarzenegger held a firm line on the furloughs, Kepke said the Social Security Administration has sent a letter to Gov.-elect Jerry Brown, asking him to ensure that SSDI processors are "exempt from any sort of furloughs or pay freezes or overtime restrictions."

It's not clear, though, if anything will change under Brown's leadership. Brown spokesman Evan Westrup pointed out that the once-per-month furloughs are now part of a new contract between the state and the union representing SSDI processors and that undoing those furloughs could require renegotiating that contract.

"It would be premature to discuss furloughs and contract negotiations before the governor-elect takes office," Westrup said.

In the meantime, though, Allsup said it's frustrating for the disabled to wait longer than they should have to for their applications to be processed.

Allsup said the SSDI application process now takes between two and four years to complete.

Allsup said a survey of his firm's clients showed that the long wait time for approval of SSDI benefits takes a toll on many families.

"Thirty-five percent drained their savings or retirement accounts, 24 percent lost their health insurance and another 14 percent missed mortgage payments," he said. "Six percent were foreclosed upon."