More than one year since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Social Security Administration remains largely closed to the public. SSA and advocates are continuing a shift toward video hearings when possible, and at the field office (FO) level, in-person services are available by appointment only and for dire need circumstances. Here are the key developments since our last update in January 2021.
EM Regarding Long-Term COVID-19
SSA has issued an Emergency Message (EM) regarding the adjudication of claims involving a diagnosis or allegation of COVID-19. See article on page 7 of this newsletter.
OHO Operations Continue
As of March 8, 2021, OHO has resumed issuance of dismissals for untimely filed hearing requests and failure to appear at a hearing. ALJs will now be required to develop the record for good cause by issuing a Request to Show Cause. See article on page 7.
As of March 2021, claimants can access exhibits through their mysocialsecurity.gov accounts
New e-1696 Form
SSA has a new electronic version of the Appointment of Representative Form, an e-1696. Per SSA, representatives can use this form to initiate an SSA-1696 notice of appointment online where they and their claimants can complete, sign, and submit the form electronically with no personal contact. This is a two-step process the representative must initiate. Once the claimant completes the second step and submits the signed document, the service will automatically route the document for processing.
As with many of these “innovations,” it may take time for Field Offices to learn how to effectuate the changes. Advocates who have tried to use the new form have run into difficulties. Shandanette Chase of Legal Services NYC shares this tip: open your e-signed PDF in Chrome to avoid needing to re-enter a password. Please keep us informed of other challenges – or successes – you encounter with this and other new technologies. See also the EM on the topic.
Clients should be reminded that receipt of unemployment benefits (UIB) will impact the amount of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) a person may receive. SSA counts UIB dollar-for-dollar against SSI benefits (after the $20 unearned income disregard) and does not apply the same favorable exemptions it applies to wages. However, SSA is rolling out a new policy to disregard federal COVID UIB as disaster and emergency relief funds and not count it as income or a resource (for a certain period of time).
With the dramatic increase in UIB claims, there have been multiple fraud schemes in which filers submit applications for UIB using other people’s information. SSA’s website provides steps to take if a client believes they are a victim of a fraud scheme.
Field Office Services
SSA is temporarily allowing people to mail in an original or certified secondary identity document with their paper SSN application (SS-5) if they cannot request a replacement SSN card online, or if they are unwilling or unable to mail the primary identity document. See the SSA COVID website for a list of documents. Acceptable documents for name changes are also listed. See EM 21018.
From December 2020 through March 2021, SSA mailed outreach notices to people it has identified as potentially eligible for SSI.
SSA has listed links to iAppeals and paper forms on its COVID website for all levels of appeals and waivers.
The Internal Revenue Service is issuing a third stimulus payment to recipients of SSI and Social Security Disability this month. Payments will generally issue the same way as benefits are paid. Prepaid debit cards will not be issued this round.
There are reports of SSA erroneously counting the stimulus payment toward the SSI resource limit. Advocates should look out for this issue and refer to EM 20014, which instructs that the funds are not to be counted for 12 months. Please also share any instances of these improper suspensions or overpayments with Michelle Spadafore at email@example.com.