The Social Security Administration has announced a cost of living increase (COLA) of 1.3% for the 70 million Americans receiving Social Security Retirement, Survivors and Disability insurance benefits, as well as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits in 2021. Social Security benefits are adjusted annually when the cost of living, as measured by the Department of…
In 2018 Social Security launched a multi-year modernization program to improve services on line, by telephone & in the local Social Security Field Offices. On July 16, 2020, Social Security Commissioner, Andrew Saul, issued an update on the progress of the plan. While, the COVID 19 pandemic has delayed implementation of some portions of the…
Spring 2019 Newsletter An Opioid Story I’ve changed his name. Let’s call him Gerald. He was a laborer. And by that I don’t mean that he just did physical work. He was a card-carrying member the Labor’s Union local. And that meant a lot to him. I represented him for Social Security disability and Michigan…
Winter 2018 Newsletter Congress, Once Again, Sets Its Sights On SSA Periodically, Congress will decide to “streamline” or “reform” Social Security, especially disability, in order to “ensure the future of the benefits’: In September that came around again. Hearings were held on September 6, 2017 before the House Ways & Means Committee regarding how eligibility…
It would have been hard to imagine the changes in our lives in just a few weeks due to the COVID 19 pandemic. Restaurants, bars and “non-essential” businesses have closed. Millions have been laid off. There aren’t sporting events or entertainment of any type. As of April 20th, over 41,000 deaths were attributed to the virus, nationwide.
Changes have come to the Social Security Administration, as well. I had my last “in person” Social Security hearing on Friday, March 13th. The next week on March 17th the SSA closed all of its offices to the public. This included both the Field Offices and Office of Hearings Operations locations. In person hearings will not be held “for the foreseeable future”, according to the Deputy chief Administration Law Judge.
Disability & SSI Claimant’s whose cases were scheduled for April have been offered 2 choices. They can have a telephone hearing on the date of the scheduled hearing or an adjournment until the OHOs reopen. I do not expect the OHOs to reopen until June, at the earliest.
I am contacting clients with scheduled hearings, as their hearing dates approach, to discuss these options. On especially strong cases, and those with favorable judges, I am recommending the telephone hearing. I have had 3 thus far, with 2 more scheduled here in April.
The 3 hearings I’ve had went smoothly. They were, essentially, 5-way conference calls. The judge was in his or her home, my client in his or her home, I was in my home, the vocational expert witness was in his or her home and the hearing monitor in his or her home. Social Security has no objection to the Claimant and representative being in the same location, but does not recommend it.
I did have one hearing scheduled with an interpreter postponed by the judge. Hard to argue with that.
Adjourned hearings will be scheduled after the crisis passes. Given that OHOs are already scheduled into July it seems unlikely any adjourned hearings will be scheduled before August.
Cases are at the Appeals Council are supposedly going forward as well, however, it does not appear the fax machines are being tended, so any new submissions are encouraged to be by mail.
As for the state Disability Determination Services, the case workers are working remotely but were not answering calls or returning them until the week of April 20th. The DDS workers have now obtained cell phones and are returning calls. It remains to be seen how the work load is handled.
As is always seems to be the case, disasters are visited disproportionally upon the disadvantaged and that appears to be the case with COVID 19, as well. If you have specific questions regarding these issues, do not hesitate to contact me.