On August 14, 2019, SSA issued Social Security Ruling 19-3p, “Titles II and XVI: Requesting Reconsideration or Hearing by an Administrative Law Judge.” The new SSR outlines the options for appealing a decision at the reconsideration or ALJ level by paper or electronically via iAppeals. The SSR has raised concerns that claimants who use iAppeals will be adversely affected, particularly those who are unrepresented.
According to SSR 19-3p, it is a “claimant’s choice whether to use” a paper or electronic filing process. However, iAppeals includes additional filing requirements compared to a paper appeal. These requirements are beyond what is set forth in the regulations, which simply permit a claimant to appeal by filing a written request, without the need to use a specific form.
In iAppeals, SSA has merged the questions used in the standard appeal request forms (Forms 561 or 501) with those in the Disability Report Form (Form 3441). As a result, a claimant “must complete the full electronic appeal application in order to file the appeal electronically.” SSR 19-3p states there are “flexibilities” in the process, such as the option to leave certain items blank, request more time, or save a partially completed appeal and return to it later. These features, however, do not eliminate what is a clear risk to claimants who will think they appealed by having initiated a process online but who in fact did not submit a full and complete request.
Moreover, the SSR notes that paid representatives have an affirmative duty to use iAppeals. SSA states further that paper appeals filed without the additional information in the disability report will be accepted but may be met with a delay in processing. The SSR does not apply at the Appeals Council level because SSA “do[es] not need the same type of information when processing requests for review by the AC.”
Advocates should take care when using iAppeals to ensure their appeals are “perfected” and also look out for unrepresented claimants who may be hurt by the policy.