The COVID-19 crisis has forced much of the world to change how it conducts business, and the Social Security Administration (SSA) is no different. For the majority of people already receiving benefits, there will be no changes to life as usual. For those who are seeking benefits from SSA, there are important changes to the process.
SSA Offices are Closed
- As of Tuesday March 17th the Social Security Administration (SSA) closed all of its local offices to the public. Many are running on a skeleton crew to continue to process applications, appeals, and payments. The only difference claimants may experience is that anything they might have normally done in person will now need to be done by telephone or online. For example, when a claim is opened, SSA may mail documents to sign rather than ask for in-person signing.
NOTE: Please consult with your attorney/representative when you receive documents by mail to ensure they are authentic. While there are no current reports of fraud, it does not hurt to be certain that what you are signing and returning is genuine and going to the correct recipient.
- The SSA has some of its offices assisting with other geographic areas that have been most affected by COVID-19.
- SSA employees are in what’s called “Alternative Duty Station,” which essentially means they have been issued laptops and are working remotely or from home, even judges.
- The SSA is hoping that claimants will opt for telephone hearings when possible, as it will help reduce the possibility of a backlog of cases. Attorneys representing claimants were asked to encourage them to accept telephone hearings, but the decision ultimately rests with the claimant.
SIDEBAR/BREAKOUT: SSA has a policy of not calling people by telephone out of the blue. Please know that, if you have a new or pending disability claim, it would not be unusual for you to hear from them. This does not mean, however, that you should let your guard down. SSA has a security protocol in place to ensure that when you call them, or when they call you, they can verify your identity.
Because of this, you should know that they will ask you at least two or more questions (such as your mother’s maiden name or where you were born). Expect them to ask these questions as it is their policy. For your safety, SSA has published a fact sheet about their telephone calls.
Disability Determination Services Continues Operating
- Once SSA has taken a claim or processed a first appeal, the case is then sent to Disability Determination Services (DDS) to make the medical determination if a claimant is or is not disabled under the Social Security Act.
- All DDS offices are closed until further notice.
- Those with cases in process will continue to receive mailings and telephone calls related to their case if it is at the initial level or the request for reconsideration level. You may receive telephone calls from the Disability Examiner about your case. Again, if you have a pending case you should not be surprised if you receive a call about your impairment(s), work history, or activities of daily living.
Cases Continue to Be Heard
- The Office of Hearing Operations handles cases at the Hearing level. Judges and their staff are continuing to review cases and exhibit evidence.
- For the foreseeable future, cases will be heard by phone.
- Administrative Law Judges will be hearing cases from their homes as of March 30 using special telephone and recording equipment. Those claimants who decide to accept telephone hearings should expect those hearings to take place as originally scheduled.
- Claimants do not have to wait to be called, if you are scheduled to have your hearing by telephone, you can call the hearing office at the scheduled time of your hearing or you can wait to be called. Expect the phone lines to be very busy.
- Judges are not required to waive the 5-day rule requirement for submission of evidence, but have been asked to be understanding of the situation. (Regulations require claimants or their representatives to submit evidence to the judge five business days prior to the hearing.)
An experienced Social Security Disability attorney will be able to help you understand the rules and ensure your case is properly presented.
We Are Still Open, and Continue to Work Social Security Cases for Our Clients
The Law Offices of James Scott Farrin continue to operate through the COVID-19 crisis, though our methods have changed. Our offices are currently open by appointment only, and much of our staff is working remotely to follow appropriate social distancing recommendations for the health of the community as a whole.
If you believe you are entitled to Social Security and/or Disability benefits, call 1-866-900-7078 immediately, 24-hours a day, for a free case evaluation. We’re still here for you, and ready to fight for your rights!