Social Security Disability During the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic

How to handle social security disability and the social security administration during the outbreak.

On March 17, 2020, when governmental policies adjusted to the realities of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, all Social Security offices were closed to the public. Some Social Security staff shifted to working from home. Our Social Security Disability law offices have still helped clients with online applications and appeals for Social Security benefits. Wait times to call SSA, however, have clocked in at over 90 minutes. Calls to SSA about stimulus checks have been highly discouraged.  In our law firm’s experience so far, pending applications and reconsideration level decisions have come in, but those cases needing a consultative examination have been postponed indefinitely—causing delays.

Social Security Hearings

As of this writing, Social Security hearings have shifted from in person hearings at Social Security hearing offices to hearings held by telephone. A small number of hearings have been postponed so far during this emergency transition due to a lack of hearing monitors, people who record the hearings.  Clients with telephone hearings have remained in their homes and completed their hearings this way.  Make sure cell phones are charged before these hearings!

At the beginning of the phone hearings, Social Security Administrative Law Judges will ask if appearing by phone is OK with you. If you are uncomfortable with a phone hearing, you can tell the judge and your hearing will be postponed. Before the pandemic, postponed Social Security hearings in the upper Midwest and elsewhere could take four months or more to be rescheduled. Since the pandemic, our law offices estimate rescheduled hearings will likely take 6 months or more. We are entirely unsure about this timeline, though, given the uncertainties surrounding the pandemic. We recommend to our clients to appear by phone. Social Security hearings are not about showing evidence, they are about discussing how your medical conditions limit your day-to-day activities. Our attorneys contact our clients before hearings to discuss these and other issues under our current reality.

Hoglund disability attorneys appearing by phone for Social Security hearings have made arguments, handled questioning, and dealt with other aspects of our hearings without incident. Hearings so far still last the typical duration, about 45 minutes depending on the judge.

 

Stimulus Checks

The CARES Act will pay “recovery rebates” of up to $1,200 per adult and $500 per dependent child, phasing out gradually starting at individual incomes of $75,000 or more. Those receiving Social Security Disability Insurance should receive rebates. Those receiving SSI will also likely receive these rebates, but details are being worked out. The rebates are being structured tax rebates and should not be taxable. The rebates will likely not count as a “resource” for SSI purposes for the 12 months from receipt.  Details are also being hashed out to help those receiving VA Disability payments.

 

Unemployment Insurance

We are advising our clients with pending Social Security benefits claims who work part-time to apply for unemployment benefits on a case-by-case basis with the same considerations as before the present pandemic. Receiving unemployment now may not require looking for other work, which is usually the point of contention at Social Security hearings. In our experience, there has been less scrutiny of unemployment benefits at Social Security hearings over the last few years due to the realities of those facing mounting bills and uncertain medical conditions. Receiving unemployment benefits during this pandemic should raise fewer, not additional, issues for our Social Security clients at hearings.

 

Medicare

Those with Medicare insurance, including Social Security Disability recipients, should be able to receive a 3-month supply of prescriptions (other than controlled substances) under new federal mandates.  This helps those needing isolation avoid having to go to pharmacies for medication refills.