In March of 2020, the Social Security Administration (SSA) did something virtually unthinkable: They closed the doors of the nation’s 1,200 or so field offices to all but “dire” cases and told anybody else who needed their services to conduct their business by email, electronic application or phones.
There’s no clear idea when they’ll reopen, either. While plans are in the works for what could best be described as a “soft” reopen after January 3, 2022, the details are still a little unclear – and nobody is 100% confident what will happen.
None of this has made filing for Social Security Disability (SSDI) benefits any easier over the last two years, nor is a reopening (however successful) likely to make things better.
Roughly half a million disabled people have likely gone unassisted
Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits have long been notoriously difficult to claim. With the office closures, it seems like many disabled people simply weren’t able to navigate the murky system. In many cases, people may have given up on their claims after an initial denial because they simply couldn’t figure out the appeals processes remotely.
The net result is that just one month after the field offices closed, applications by disabled adults fell 32%. Applications for disabled children (under the SSI program) fell 51%. Approval rates for the claims that were filed also fell, with 25% fewer SSDI claims and 30% fewer SSI claims being approved in fiscal year (FY) 2021 compared to approvals granted in FY 2019.
Reopening is unlikely to improve the situation for applicants, either. Once the doors of the offices do reopen, there may be a massive surge of new applications – and that will likely increase wait times and lead to rushed decisions (and unfair denials).
Given the situation, it’s more important than ever for every SSDI applicant to have experienced guidance with their claim. Wait times on reconsiderations and appeals are already lengthy, so you want to avoid any mistakes.