11 Jan 5 Tips for Navigating SSDI and SSI During the Pandemic
Navigating Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Social Security Income (SSI) applications and appeals during a pandemic is challenging. Here are five tips to help you get your benefits during this unprecedented time.
1. Access Social Security Administration (SSA) Online Services
SSA is the federal agency that oversees SSI and SSDI. SSA closed its doors to the public on March 17, 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While much of the national economy has reopened, SSA continues to offer only online and phone services with limited in-person exceptions.
Getting through to SSA by phone has been difficult due to their increased call volume. SSA readily admits that only about 51% of calls to their offices were able to be handled by field agents. Those lucky enough to get through to a live agent face long hold times. Thankfully, SSA does offer online services.
You can file a claim for SSDI benefits online. Unfortunately, you cannot file for SSI online at this time; you have to call SSA at (800) 772-1213, or contact your local SSA office, to file for SSI.
Thankfully, you can appeal BOTH SSDI and SSI denials online. During the online appeal process, you are even able to upload medical records and other documentation in support of your appeal.
2. Dust Off Your Fax Machine & Fax Your Documents to SSA
Believe it or not, one of the easiest ways to submit documents to SSA during the pandemic is by fax.
SSA does not allow its employees to email with the public. This leaves the telephone, snail mail, or fax, as the only way to communicate with SSA beyond the limited online services discussed above.
Faxing also provides people with a time-stamped receipt, so it offers a form of proof of delivery. This is useful if you are approaching an appeal deadline.
In order to determine the phone and fax number of your local SSA field office, simply type in your zip code: secure.ssa.gov/ICON/main.jsp.
If you don’t have a fax machine, you may be able to use one at a local office supply or mail store (e.g., Staples, FedEx, UPS).
3. Use Certified Mail to Ensure Timely Delivery
SSA has been struggling with its mail service since the start of the pandemic. As the majority of SSA employees continue to work from home, SSA is relying on a few crucial workers to come into the local offices and log in the mail every week. Certain SSA field offices are months behind in mail processing.
SSA only provides claimants with 60 days, plus 5 mailing days, to appeal a denial of benefits. If you are not comfortable appealing a decision online, or your type of appeal is not eligible for an online appeal, then you will want to either fax your appeal to SSA, or send your appeal to SSA by certified mail. Certified mail provides you with a tracking number to prove that you submitted the appeal within the 65 days deadline.
But, don’t pay extra money to have an SSA employee sign for the package. Most field offices don’t have an employee available to sign for the delivered package, so requesting a signature confirmation may delay delivery.
4. Ask to Speak to Your Local SSA Office’s Manager
It can take SSA up to nine months to make a decision on your initial SSDI and/or SSI application. If you have been waiting more than nine months, feel free to ask to speak to a manager at your local field office.
SSDI claims are also called Title II claims based on how this benefit is listed in the Code of Federal Regulations. Managers at the SSA field offices who oversee the SSDI department are therefore called “Title 2 Supervisors.”
SSI claims are also called Title XVI. Managers at the SSA field offices who oversee the SSI department are called “Title 16 Supervisors.”
5. Ask Your Member of Congress for Help
If you are struggling to get help from your local SSA field office, you have the right to ask your elected officials for help. Remember your elected officials work for you!
Your Member of Congress can make an inquiry to SSA for you. Find your Representative by typing your zip code here. You can email or call your Representative’s District Office to ask for help with SSA, or any other federal agency that has failed to adequately help you.
While we all look forward to the day when SSA opens its doors to the public again, it is important to know there are still some useful ways to get help with SSDI and/or SSI benefits during this pandemic.
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Triage Cancer is a national, nonprofit providing free education to people diagnosed with cancer, advocates, caregivers, and health care professionals on cancer-related legal and practical issues. Through events, materials, and resources, Triage Cancer is dedicated to helping people move beyond diagnosis. For more information about disability insurance, see our free Disability Insurance Resources.
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