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SSA’s COVID-19 Response Continues to Evolve

Empire Justice Center July 31, 2020

The physical offices of the Social Security Administration (SSA) have remained closed to the public since March 17, 2020, and for the past four months, claimants and advocates had adjusted to interacting with SSA strictly remotely.  There have been some developments with the SSA’s operations since the initial shutdown. Here are some of the most notable:

 

Good Cause Policy

 

After some urging for the agency to formalize its policy of applying liberal good cause during the pandemic, SSA issued Emergency Message (EM) 20010 SEN REV 3 on June 22nd on the topic.  It applies at all levels of SSA.

 

SSA states the EM is intended to “allow for the extension of automatic good cause.”  The actual EM has not been posted to SSA’s website, but SSA’s communications staff has stated that it reads as follows:

 

Extend good cause provisions in GN 03101.020 related to the timely filling of applications, the submission of evidence, appeals, hearings, redeterminations, and continuing disability reviews. Extend good cause during the pandemic, considering unusual, unexpected, or unavoidable circumstances beyond the claimant’s control that prevent timely action. Automatically extend these good cause provisions for information due after March 1, 2020.

 

Continuing Disability Reviews (CDRs) and Age-18 Redeterminations

 

SSA announced that starting May 8, it resumed processing all fully electronic age-18 redeterminations and medical continuing disability reviews (CDRs). It will, however, hold any CDR decision that will result in an adverse action such as cessation.

 

If an age-18 redetermination or CDR is at the hearing officer or administrative law judge level but the individual did not timely statutory benefit continuation (SBC) and wants to do so, the client should call the field office and request SBC with good cause for late filing.

 

Field Offices

 

SSA recently stated unofficially that there are plans for staff to return to the field offices on a volunteer basis by about September with appointment-only availability to the public.

 

SSA may be able to schedule an in-office appointment for critical situations that cannot be addressed online or by telephone. In-person service is by appointment only and for limited, critical situations. If SSA is requesting that your client send in sensitive and difficult to replace original documents by mail, ask SSA to schedule an appointment for the client to bring the documents in person.

 

Disability Determination Services

 

On March 30, 2020, SSA instructed the state Disability Determination Services (DDS) to cancel all scheduled Consultative Examiners (CEs) and not schedule or reschedule any new CEs until further notice.  We have heard some reports that IMA may be resuming scheduling in-person CEs.

 

New York’s Division of Disability Determinations (DDD) has begun scheduling psychiatric video CEs. SSA recently revised its POMS on psychiatric video CEs, POMS DI 22510.012 Use of Video Teleconferencing Technology for Psychiatric and Psychological Consultative Examinations (April 14, 2020).  (See page 8 of the April 2020 edition of Disability Law News.) A claimant’s consent is required for a CE to proceed by video.  Video CEs do not involve testing.

 

The New York City office of DDD has also reopened and decisions are being issued, sometimes without follow-up from where they were left off.  If you have cases pending at the DDS level, you should call the main line of Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (1-800-522-5511) to be connected with the assigned analyst on the case.

 

Resources

 

The DAP COVID-19 shared Google Drive continues to be available for you to consult for the latest weekly summaries and updates.  Subscribing to SSA’s Coronavirus website will also enable you to get up-to-date notifications of changes.