I received an inquiry at my San Francisco office from a potential client who is interested in applying for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) My potential client is poor but his partner makes a lot of money and supports him. (I will call my potential client, “Jim.”) Jim and his partner are registered domestic partners in the State of California.
I was not concerned about the medical evidence when I received this call. What I first wondered was whether Jim was financially eligible. In order to be eligible for SSI, an individual must have a low income and few assets. Specifically, an individual cannot have more than $2,000 in resources. When an individual is married, the resources of his spouse are deemed to be his. A married couple may have up to $3,000 in resources and still be eligible for SSI.
The only good feature about the Defense of Marriage Act, (“DOMA”), is that it actually helps in a case like this in an odd way. DOMA states that the federal government recognizes marriage as between a man and a woman. Since the Social Security Administration is a federal agency, they only recognize this definition of a “married” couple. Homosexual couples are not considered married and thus the deeming provisions do not apply. Jim will be treated as a single individual even though he is in a domestic partnership. Although I want DOMA to be declared unconstitutional, for Jim ‘s purpose the current law is helpful. Because Jim is not married, the Social Security Administration does not deem his partner’s income to him. So although he and his partner are living like a married couple, the fact that their marriage is not recognized makes Jim eligible for SSI.
Even though Jim is eligible to apply, he most likely will not receive very much. If Jim is approved for SSI, the value of food and housing that he receives from his partner, may reduce his overall benefit amount.
Photo by Ambro.
California residents who are on SSI or other means tested programs may qualify for a free cell phone from Assurance Wireless. A government program, Lifeline Assistance, working through Assurance Wireless is working on giving out phones to those who are on SSI, Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (“SNAP”) or many other federal means tested benefit programs. Residents may also qualify based on having an annual income of less than $15,000.
Those who qualify for the program will receive a phone with 250 free minutes and 250 free text messages. The Lifeline Assistance program is available for only one wireless or wireline account per household.
Once on the program, individuals will have to annually confirm that they still participate in the federal assistance programs or that their income remains below $15,000.00.
There is no downside to this program. It will help those who are homeless or who do not have phones, to keep in touch with family, friends and their health care providers. To enroll, you may go to assurancewireless.com or call 1-888-898-4888.
For the remainder of 2012 I am going to post on what I have seen in the area of Social Security Disability law this past year both good and bad. One of the most interesting observations I have made in both cases from San Francisco and Vallejo is that there were quite a few that should have been granted at the initial stage of application but were not. Had my clients not appealed, they would not be receiving Social Security Disability today.
In all of the cases, the Social Security Administration sent my clients to a consultative exam performed by one of their physicians. The Social Security Administration sends applicants to consultative exams when they feel they do not have sufficient information from the applicant’s own doctors to make a decision. (See the regulations at 20 C.F.R. Section 404.1519a, “When we purchase a consultative examination and how we will use it.”) In each of my cases, the physician indicated that my clients would have restrictions physically or mentally due to their impairments. The restrictions that they found, in these particular cases, were so restrictive that they precluded my clients from their past work or other work. Yet, in each case, the Social Security Administration found a way to disregard their own doctor’s opinion. This is surprising because usually Social security’s doctors find that if a person is breathing, he or she can work. So, when a Social Security doctor finds the opposite, that a person has a lot of restrictions, you would think that Social Security would give it some more thought before denying the application.
Here is an example from a recent case. My client is under 50, has a 10th grade education, suffers from schizophrenia, paranoid. He also suffers from a shoulder injury which the Social Security consultative medical examiner determined would only allow him to do occasional reaching with the affected arm. Social Security’s consultative psychologist wrote an eight page evaluation. The length of this report is very rare coming from a doctor hired by Social Security. The consultative psychologist found that my client would have limitations in almost everything. For instance he indicated that my client could not perform detailed or complex work, would have difficulties performing simple repetitive tasks, would have difficulties completing a normal work day or work week, needed help with reading, writing, and arithmetic. The list went on. In my client’s case, the consultative examinations helped him to document his limitations. In fact he will win based on the findings from these examinations. If he had not appealed, we would have not known that the consultative examinations were helpful to him in establishing his claim for disability.
The lesson I learned from this case and the lesson that I wish to pass on is always appeal if you think you have a good case, even if a lawyer does not wish to take the case. You never know the reason why the Social Security Administration denies a case. (The reasons listed in decision notices are not the real reasons why a case is denied.) It is best to appeal and pursue your rights.