The Social Security Administration’s (SSA’s) field and hearing offices have been closed to the public since the beginning of the COVID-19 Pandemic in March. Although SSA announced in March it was halting work on certain workloads, including most non-disability issues, it appears work may be starting up in some of these areas. Also, the Division of Disability Determinations (DDD) is scheduling consultative examinations again. And SSA has acknowledged on its COVID-19 webpage that it will schedule limited in-person appointments at the Field Offices for critical situations. The Empire Justice Center has been sharing weekly COVID-related updates SSA status summaries, which can be found on our google drive.
But as other federal agencies begin to announce reopening plans, SSA has yet to indicate when it will reopen to the public. Neither SSA employees nor the unions that represent them have been informed of any reopening plans. As noted above, some employees have been asked to return to offices to help with mail and other emergency situations.
Union officials report that SSA employees have been highly productive while working remotely, and are advocating that they should be allowed to continue to telework for the foreseeable future. Ralph de Juliis, president of Council 220 of the American Federation of Government Employees, told Bloomberg News back in May that a permanent move to telework would enable a better distribution of workloads.
So what have SSA employees been doing while working remotely? According to recent statistics, the Appeals Council issued a record number of dispositions in April, May, and June 2020, and brought its pending number down to 85,712 from 121,308 in March. Additional SSA data shows NYS DDD, on the other hand, received almost 4,000 fewer claims in April 2020 compared to April 2019. It allowed, however, 61.6% of those claims in April 2020 as opposed to 42% in April 2019. And although it saw fewer reconsideration requests in April 2020 (639) than April 2019 (2,423), it approved 40.6% compared with only 14.3% in April 2019. How about the ALJs? Per SSA year-to -date SSA hearing decision data, 337,527 decisions have been issued in the first two quarters of the Fiscal Year, compared with 793,863 for the full FY 2019.