Social Security field offices closed but you may still apply for disability

SSA closed

I drove by the Vallejo field office the other day and saw this sign that the field office is closed.  It is closed just like all of the field offices across the United States.  Nevertheless, you may still apply for disability online.  While applications may not be processed as quickly as we would like, they are only going to get slower if the pandemic becomes worse and/or the economy collapses.  I urge you to apply now if your are disabled.   If you would like assistance, please feel free to call my office.

The hearing offices are also closed to the public, but nevertheless, they are proceeding with hearings.  Hearings are now telephonic.  It is likely to be this way for some time.  While it is still possible to object to a telephonic hearing, you are unlikely to have an “in-person” hearing for a long time.  I have long objected to video hearings or telephonic hearings but now it is matter of having the case heard .  We all have to accept this reality, for now.

Social Security needs to take corrective action to reduce overpayments

An overpayment is messy.  It results when either the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) makes a mistake or when a claimant fails to notify the SSA about income or resources.  Either way it is messy.   The SSA then takes action to recover the over payment.  Usually they wait too long and by the time the SSA requests it, they are claiming that the claimant owes thousands of dollars.  Usually claimants do not have the money to pay it back and attorneys are reluctant to take a case because there is not a way for the claimant to pay the overpayment, much less an attorney.

Certainly not all overpayments are the SSA’s fault and it does take time to track them down.  Nevertheless, the longer the wait, the more it costs the claimant and in the end, the American tax payer.

The Office of the Inspector General (“OIG”) for the Social Security Administration recently released a report, Concurrent Beneficiaries Improperly Receiving Payments in Excess of Federal Limits.  (Concurrent beneficiaries are those who are eligible for both SSI and Disability Insurance benefits.)  The OIG reviewed the records of 14,800 concurrent beneficiaries.  Out of that group, they found:

  • 246 concurrent beneficiaries received combined payments in excess of Federal limits for undetermined reasons;
  • 2,349 concurrent beneficiaries received combined payments in
    excess of Federal limits because of system-related payment
    computation errors;
  • 152 additional concurrent beneficiaries received combined payments in
    excess of Federal limits because of system-related payment
    computation errors that had been previously reported to the SSA in a prior audit .  In 2011, SSA reported it had taken corrective action to resolve these errors. However, payment errors on these records persisted.

The good news is that the problem numbers seem small when considering that the OIG reviewed the records of 14,800 people.  The bad news is that even though the numbers are small, they add up.  The OIG estimates these errors resulted in approximately $3.4 million in improper SSI payments. If the Agency does not correct these errors, they estimate it will issue approximately $2 million in additional excessive SSI payments to these beneficiaries over the next 12 months.

Thoughts on applying for SSDI after the end of DOMA

Rally at front of Vallejo City Hall
Rally at front of Vallejo City Hall

“Are you married?”  This is the question I asked today of my client when we were filling out her form for disability insurance benefits.  In the past, I would not bother asking that question when my client was in a same-sex relationship; I always indicated “single,” on the application.  Today I paused.  I asked my client and her partner when they got married.  It turns out they were married in California during that short window of time in 2008 when it was legal.  Now it is legal again.

The US Supreme Court today struck down the Defense of Marriage Act  (“DOMA”), a law that denied federal benefits to same-sex partners.  They also found a ban on gay marriage to be unconstitutional by deciding that supporters of Proposition 8 did not have standing to appeal a federal district court ruling that struck the ban down.  By their decision, the
justices permitted a  lower-court ruling to stand that had found the ban
unconstitutional.  It is a coincidence that I happened to see my clients today, on the same day the Supreme Court issued their decisions.

I later had to call Social Security about this case.  The claims representative asked me why my client was not applying for SSI.  I explained that her partner was working and earned too much money – was over the resource limit.  I could tell he was puzzled by all of this.   Well, you take the bad with the good. Some individuals who may have otherwise been eligible for SSI because they were indigent, may no longer be if they are married and their partner is working.

My client does not want to be applying for disability at this point in her life.  She would be rather be working and she is extremely depressed.  Nevertheless, saying that she was “married,’ brought a smile to her face.  Mine too.