Published on: May 20, 2020
If you have a Social Security disability hearing, then you already have plenty on your plate. While this is a great opportunity to advocate your case in front of an administrative law judge (ALJ), it can be intimidating.
Now, with COVID-19 temporarily closing both state and federal level courts and disrupting everyday life for thousands of people, you may be wondering, “Will my Social Security disability hearing be affected by COVID-19?”
What Happens to Social Security Applications Submitted Before the Pandemic?
If you applied for Social Security benefits before the COVID-19 crisis, you can still keep updated on your status, your social security disability hearing results, and any further action with the SSA’s online portal. With new expanded services, you can now apply for disability benefits online and check the status of your application.
Through online services, you can also appeal both medical and non-medical decisions and check up on your Social Security disability appeal status from anywhere.
Keep in mind that your status updates or services, such as card replacement, may take longer than usual due to the closure of physical offices and staff layoffs. The delays may be similar to the effect of a government shutdown; although actually SSI and SSDI benefits will not be adjusted and will continue as normal, complications from office closures and staff downsizing will likely delay hearing appeals and the new applicant process.
Can I Still Apply for SSI/SSDI Benefits During COVID-19?
Despite the disruptions caused by COVID-19, it should not bar you from applying for the SSI or SSDI benefits that you may deserve. You can still and should apply for SSI/SSDI benefits during COVID-19.
Although most in-person meetings, appeals, and applications are unable to occur due to the closure of many state’s Social Security offices, online resources for filing for Social Security benefits are still available. With the SSA’s online portal, you can virtually apply and access your application status, along with other services to assist you in your application such as the benefits estimate calculator. If you need assistance, you can contact your local office to speak with an agent on the phone. Remember that wait times may be longer than usual due to the demand.
Keep in mind that as of March 18, 2020, the SSA is extending their deadlines for necessary documentation and other information. For the most part, COVID-19 will not affect current SSI and SSDI beneficiaries. Once you are approved, you should receive your SSI and SSDI benefits as you would without COVID-19.
How Will COVID-19 Affect Social Security Disability Claims at the Hearing Stage?
Since courts are indefinitely closed due to COVID-19, Social Security disability hearings are one of the most affected of SSA’s services. As hearing offices are closed to the public, all in-person hearings before an administrative law judge have been canceled. If you had an appointment for a Social Security disability hearing, you will be contacted to have the choice for a telephone hearing.
You have the choice to decline a telephone hearing; postponements are being granted to those who would rather wait to have an in-person Social Security disability appeal. If you do decide to postpone your hearing until the courts open up, however, know that it could be some months before they have a scheduled hearing date.
How Will COVID-19 Affect Appeals Council and Federal Reviews?
If you do not agree with your Social Security disability hearing decision, you can request a review from the Appeals Council. If your case is chosen to be reviewed, the Appeals Council will either review your case itself or give it to an administrative law judge for reconsideration.
You can request a hearing with the Appeals Council online through the SSA services portal, or by calling the SSA and filing it over the phone though it is encouraged to use the online services currently due to the longer than average wait time for phone applicants.
If you do not agree with the decision of the Appeals Council, you can continue through the last level of the appeals process and file a civil suit with a federal district court. As of right now, filing a suit for federal review is not available online.
Remember, be wary of scammers trying to take advantage of the COVID-19 crisis and posing as SSA employees. The SSA will not suspend disability benefits because of office closures. You should report any fraudulent activity to the SSA if you receive an email or letter containing such a threat of any of the following:
- Threatening arrest or legal action
- Offering to increase benefits
- Demanding payment via retail gift cards, prepaid cards, and wire transfers etc.
- Asking for gift card numbers over the phone
- Requesting cash to be mailed
- A caller saying there is a problem with your Social Security number or account.
By doing so, you can help protect others from the scammer in the future.
Need help navigating Social Security benefits during the coronavirus crisis? The team at Disability Experts of Florida is here to help! Reach out and let us know what you need help with.