Cash Benefits

Social Security Retirement, Disability, and SSI Benefits: Changes under COVID-19

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Summary

Eligibility requirements for Social Security Retirement, Disability, Survivor and SSI benefits remain the same. However, since Social Security offices are temporarily closed, application procedures and scheduled appointments have been modified.

For additional updates, visit: https://www.ssa.gov/coronavirus for updates.

If you are a Benefits Plus subscriber, for additional information on Social Security programs, refer to Benefits Plus:

  • Cash Benefits, Social Security Retirement & Survivors Insurance,
  • Cash Benefits, Social Security Disability Insurance, or
  • Cash Benefits, Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

For Benefits Plus subscription information visit: https://bplc.cssny.org/home/subscription_options.

Social Security Offices Closures

LIMITED AVAILABILITY FOR IN-PERSON APPOINTMENTS

While in general, the Social Security Administration’s local offices remain closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic, on October 22, 2020, the Social Security Administration has revised its procedures for who is eligible for an in-person appointment. SSA will schedule an in-person appointment for those “in dire need situations.” SSA defines dire need situation as when an individual:

  • Is without food or shelter, including utilities, or is without medical care or coverage and need to apply for or reinstate benefits from SSA; or
  • Currently receives benefits from SSA and has an urgent need for payment to meet expenses for food, shelter or medical treatment, and the individual cannot receive a payment from SSA electronically.

In addition, SSA is prioritizing requests for in-person Social Security Number services for:

  • Individuals age 12 or older applying for their first SSN card;
  • Individuals who need to update or correct their SSN information (such as their name, date of birth or citizenship) to obtain income, resources or medical care or coverage or other services or benefits (for example filing a tax return, applying for housing, or seeking an Economic Impact Payment).

Individuals who do not fit into one of these priority situations should request a replacement SSN card through an online mySocialSecurity or by mailing an application for a Social Security card to their local office, along with original documents to prove their identity, which will be mailed back to the individual.

CONTACT VIA PHONE

SSA field offices may offer assistance via phone call for certain crucial services, including:

  • Reinstatement of benefits in dire circumstances
  • Assistance to people with severe disabilities, blindness or terminal illnesses,
  • People in dire need of eligibility decisions for Supplemental Security Income or the associated ongoing eligibility for Medicaid when returning to work.

Individuals should check SSA’s online field office locator for specific information about how to directly contact a local office. To locate the nearest local Social Security office, go to https://secure.ssa.gov/ICON/main.jsp.

In addition, individuals can call 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778). SSA is experiencing longer than normal wait times and asks the public to remain patient. SSA has changed their hours for the national number from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. local time to 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. local time.

MY SOCIAL SECURITY – ONLINE PORTAL

Applicants and current recipients are encouraged to use my Social Security, an online platform where users can access Social Security online services. Account holders have the ability to apply for retirement, disability, and Medicare benefits, check the status of an application, check their Social Security statement, change address, verify reported earnings, estimate future benefits, request a replacement Social Security Card, and more.

To create a mySocial Security account, go to https://www.ssa.gov/signin. There is also a user guide available at https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10540.pdf. For more information go to https://www.ssa.gov/myaccount/what.html#h0

Changes in the Application Process

Individuals are encouraged to apply for retirement, disability, and Medicare benefits online.

Applicants who are unable to use the online services should call the local Social Security office. Visit: https://secure.ssa.gov/ICON/main.jsp for phone numbers, or call the National Number, 800-772-1213. Please be aware that wait times may be longer than usual.

Changes for Social Security Scheduled Appointments

CONSULTATIVE EXAMINATIONS

SSA is not requiring applicants to appear in-person for consultative examinations during the emergency. SSA has instructed the various State Disability Determination Services to reschedule any case where a consultative exam has been canceled, once the COVID 19 emergency subsides.

OTHER SCHEDULED APPOINTMENTS

If an individual has a scheduled appointment during this emergency, SSA will call the individual to conduct business over the phone where possible.

Please note that SSA calls may come from a PRIVATE number and not from a U.S. government phone.

Changes in Social Security Required Activities

The following activities are suspended until further notice:

  • Continuing Disability Reviews (CDRs), both initiating new ones or completing current ones,
  • Processing and collection of overpayments,
  • Monitoring of and requiring accountings from representative payees,
  • Processing requests for information from third parties, although the site notes exceptions for appointed representatives and third parties.
Note

Former SSI recipients that require a separate Medicaid eligibility determination will have Medicaid coverage extended. No renewals or redeterminations will be required at this time.

Changes in Appeal Procedures

AVAILABLE HEARING OPTIONS

Social Security’s hearing offices were closed in March 2020 due to COVID-19. However, Social Security began to conduct hearings via telephone and then in December 2020 began offering online video hearings via the Microsoft Teams platform.

SSA will send claimants seeking a hearing the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency Hearing Changes notice informing the claimant of the hearing options available. Included in the notice is a the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency Hearing Agreement form indicating the available hearing options. Claimants must indicate their consent on the form and return to SSA. SSA also accepts verbal agreements to appear by telephone or video.

If the claimant consents, SSA will inform the claimant of the scheduled date and time of the hearing via the U.S. postal service. Claimants must be available at the scheduled time to participate in the hearing. SSA will conduct both telephone and online hearings in the same manners as they conduct in-person hearings.

These hearing options are not mandatory. Claimants who decline an online video hearing can choose to appear at a hearing by telephone. If the claimant does not want a telephone hearing, SSA will delay the hearing until their hearing offices reopen. However, at this time SSA is unable to estimate how long their offices will remain closed.

Claimants who initially decline the offer of a telephone or online hearing and who subsequently change their mind may contact their local hearing office to have their hearing scheduled. Claimants may call the SSA helpline 1-800-772-1213 Monday through Friday 8 am to 5:30 pm EST to locate the hearing office.

ONLINE VIDEO HEARINGS

The online video option is a secure online platform. To be eligible for this option, the claimant must have a computer, a laptop, an Apple or Android tablet, or a Smartphone that has a microphone, camera and speakers, is connected to a high-speed Internet connection or WI-Fi data connection and can download and install the MS Teams application.

Claimants will need access to e-mail so SSA can send the hearing link that will connect the claimant to the hearing. Claimants will receive an e-mail reminder a few days prior to their scheduled online video hearing.

SSA has made an Online Video Hearings User Guide. For more information on Online video hearings, visit: https://www.ssa.gov/appeals/hearing_video.html.

Claimants who changed their mind about having a video hearing can contact their local hearing office at the number providing in their hearing notice.

CLAIMANT REPRESENTATIVES

Claimants with an appointed representative should notify SSA whether the both the representative and the claimant agree to appear on the online video. Representatives should provide this notification electronically by uploading it directly to the electronic record using Appointed Representative Services.

On May 21, 2020, SSA announced temporary instructions during the COVID-19 crisis for documenting the appointment of a representative during an appeals proceeding before SSA. Claimants may use the SSA Appointment of Representative form, 1696, available at https://www.ssa.gov/forms/ssa-1696.html or provide another form of written verification and submit to SSA. Appointed representatives and other individuals can find dedicated numbers to fax their documents electronically (eFax) at the Social Security’s Office locator at https://www.ssa.gov/locator (under the “Locate An Office By Zip” tab). Individuals can also obtain these numbers by calling SSA at 1(800) 772-1213.

When SSA receives an appointment of representative document and the claimant’s original signature does not appear to be a wet signature, they will make three attempts to contact the claimant to verify their identity and confirm the signature. If SSA is able to verify the identity and signature, they will process the appointment. If SSA cannot verify the claimant’s signature, they will return the paperwork to the person who submitted it and indicate they are not recognizing their appointment as representative. If a new appointment and a fee agreement are submitted together and the claimant’s signature is identical on both documents, SSA will accept the fee agreement with no additional attestation only if the claimant verbally accepted the signature on the notice of appointment.

SSA also has temporary procedures in place permitting claimants to appoint a representative verbally during a “remote” telephone hearing with an administrative law judge. However, the claimant must subsequently submit a written notice of appointment. In this situation, SSA also will accept an alternate format of the claimant’s signature on the written appointment notice.

For more information visit: https://secure.ssa.gov/apps10/reference.nsf/links/05212020012614PM.

WITNESSES

Claimants should notice their Hearing Office prior to their online video hearing if they would like to have a witness testify. The Hearing Office’s phone number is included in the notification of hearing date. Hearing witnesses, such as medical or vocational experts, may participate by phone only.

Scammers

The Social Security Administration reminds everyone to be aware of scammers who try to take advantage of the pandemic to trick people into providing personal information or payment via retail gift cards, wire transfers, internet currency, or by mailing cash, to maintain Social Security benefit payments or receive economic impact payments from the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

How COVID-19 Cash Aid Impacts Social Security and SSI Benefits

CORONAVIRUS ECONOMIC IMPACT PAYMENTS

Payments received by the individual will not count as income for SSI, Social Security Retirement, Disability, Survivor or Dependent benefits.

For SSI recipients, payments are excluded from resources for 12 months.

LOST WAGES ASSISTANCE PROGRAM

The additional supplement of $300 per week to individuals receiving unemployment benefits is considered emergency assistance and therefore will not count as income or a resource for SSI.

For more information on the lost wages program refer to COVID-19 Resources, Expansion of Unemployment Insurance, Lost Wages Assistance Program.

PANDEMIC UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION

Social Security Retirement & Disability Insurance Beneficiaries

Income from pandemic unemployment compensation is not counted against Social Security insurance-based beneficiaries.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

The $600, as well as the PUA benefit amount, will count as unearned income for SSI purposes, thus it is very likely that many beneficiaries will have their SSI benefits suspended. However, SSI recipients will not lose their Medicaid coverage while in receipt of the additional $600, at least for the duration of the coronavirus emergency.

Once the extra $600 ends on July 31st, and as long as the regular PUA benefit amount does not make them ineligible, SSI recipients can have their SSI benefits reinstated.

For more information on the expanded unemployment benefits refer to COVID-19 Resources, Expansion of Unemployment Insurance.