After a 20-month shutdown because of the pandemic, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has proposed opening its more than 1,200 field offices across the country starting January 3, 2022, for in-person, walk-in services.
The proposed reopening is good news for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) applicants who have experienced longer processing times for applications and hearings due to the COVID-19 office closures since March 2020.
Access to services and payments
After COVID-19 forced an abrupt shutdown of its offices, the SSA has been conducting business online, over the phone, and by postal mail. Notwithstanding the office closures, Social Security payments should not have been disrupted.
Despite the shutdown, you should have continued receiving payments via direct deposit (or paper check or Direct Express debit card) at the same time of the month as usual.
How to get an in-person appointment until offices reopen
The agency recommends conducting services online, as wait times to speak with a representative have been longer than pre-pandemic times. Starting in October 2021, field offices have offered in-person services by appointment only for the most vulnerable individuals and for very limited, critical purposes.
Until normal operations resume, you can call your local Social Security office to see whether you qualify for an in-person appointment. Typically, people who qualify are without food, shelter, or medical benefits.
During the closure, disability appeal hearings have been conducted over the phone or online video. Individuals who prefer an in-person disability hearing have had the option to postpone them until normal office operations resume, so there may be a backlog of these hearings from January 2022.
Reopening and evaluation period
The SSA reopening plan will begin with senior leadership returning to the office on December 1, 2021, and other employees on January 3, 2022, contingent upon an agreement with union workers for new health and safety standards to protect workers and the public.
The agency will also conduct a six-month evaluation period to review and adjust its personnel and operational policies to improve its services. Except in limited exceptions, employees must have met the fully vaccinated requirement by November 22, 2021.
According to the SSA reopening plan, masks will be required with certain limited exceptions. If you cannot wear a mask, you must inform staff when making the appointment so that alternative arrangements can be made (such as telephone service or contactless document drop-offs).
Online benefits applications
Applications for Social Security benefits can be made online at www.ssa.gov using a free My Social Security account. As always, the application process can be complex, confusing, and time-consuming, so if you have any questions, it is a good idea to consult with an experienced lawyer who can help navigate you through the benefits process.
The experienced team of disability lawyers at Hunter & Everage in Richmond, Virginia, and Charlotte, North Carolina, can help you receive the SSDI and SSI benefits you’re entitled to. Give us a call today to tell us about your situation and learn how we can assist you.