SSA to Reopen Pandemic Assistance Cases

Empire Justice Center January 30, 2022

Over the course of the current pandemic period, many concerns have arisen about how several types of COVID-19 disaster assistance are treated when determining countable income or resources for Supplemental Security Income (SSI).  After changing its policy to exclude a broad array of disaster assistance, on December 9, 2021, SSA announced procedures to reopen hundreds of thousands of cases that had previously been denied prior to the change in policy. Emergency Message (EM) 20169, Instructions for Reopening and Reevaluating SSI Claims Denied due to COVID-19 Disaster Assistance. Claimants denied based on the receipt of disaster assistance will have the opportunity to see their claims reopened and reevaluated.


On July 23, 2021, SSA had issued EM 20014 (later updated to EM-20014 REV 4), Effect of COVID-19-Related Financial Assistance on SSI Income and Resources, which broadly expanded what SSA considered disaster assistance.  Among the types of assistance determined to meet the criteria for disaster assistance are both “regular” unemployment benefits and expanded or supplemental forms of unemployment such as Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) benefits and Lost Wage Assistance that are received during the pandemic period. In New York State, the pandemic period is defined as beginning in March 2020 and ongoing. For more guidance, see also EM-21050, Special Processing Instructions for Applying Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Income and Resource Exclusions to Pandemic-related Disaster Assistance.


The July 2021 issue of this newsletter has more details. As reported in October 2021, senior staff at SSA later reported to advocates that the agency has automatically processed and issued retroactive benefits to claimants previously underpaid due to receipt of pandemic assistance.


With the latest steps in EM-21069, SSA is addressing cases where a person was denied and where redress did not happen automatically because the case was closed.   SSA will send outreach mailers to approximately 144,000 individuals instructing them to contact SSA for reevaluation of their eligibility for SSI.  Mailers will issue to cases coded as having certain kinds of financial assistance. Denials may be reopened and revised within one year for any reason, and within two years for “good cause.” All these denials qualify for a “good cause” reopening under “an error on the face of the evidence” as described in POMS SI 04070.010.


There is no deadline by which individuals must respond and a person need not be identified or targeted with a mailer in order to qualify.  The EM states that “cases may remain reopened indefinitely, until resolved.”


Advocates should be aware that they will likely not receive notice after a denied claim.  There are exceptions for instances where the representative is requesting the reopening, or when there is other indication that they are still engaged in representation. The general policy, however, is that SSA will not honor as ongoing a prior representation in a claim denied since March 2020; the agency will require new authorization from the claimant and updated forms.


While the policy is welcome, remedying the cases of those previously denied remains an area of concern.  Advocates already report cases where this EM is not being properly applied, with eligible claimants being denied reinstatement by the field office and told instead to reapply, requiring additional advocacy by their representatives and in some instances intervention by SSA Regional Office staff.   Michelle Spadafore of NYLAG is tracking the implementation of the new rules and whether they are being applied correctly.  If you have any examples of these types of cases – both successful and unsuccessful – please share with her at mspadafore@nylag.org.


Curious to see more EMs? They are published periodically and available here.