The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the Social Security Administration (SSA), which administers SSI and SSDI benefits, to work remotely which may affect some services, but ongoing payments for existing claims should not be affected. On March 17, the SSA closed its field and hearing offices to members of the public. However, SSA employees are continuing to work on critical cases to ensure that disability claims are reviewed and payments continue. The SSA is prioritizing processing:
- Applications for claimants who are terminally ill, Wounded Warriors, and other serious cases
- Changes to direct deposit, reports of death, changes of representatives, and changes of address
- “Dire need” cases for individuals who are homeless or are at risk of becoming homeless if they do not receive monthly disability benefits.
Potential Issues for New Claimants
New claimants who do not meet the criteria above may experience application processing delays. For example, hearing offices are closed to the public, therefore, hearings were postponed and may be conducted telephonically rather than in person. Moreover, government offices are working in partial shifts, some at home, some in the office, which can result in further processing delays. However, these issues are proceeding on an office-by-office basis. New claimants should check with their local field office for instructions.
Direct Deposit and Mail Payments
Claimants whose applications have already been processed and those who are receiving their payments are not affected. Payments should not be affected if recipients get their benefits by direct deposit. Some delay in mailed disability checks should be expected, however, because the postal service is experiencing reduced service hours per instructions from the new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy. Postal workers may not work overtime to ensure mail is delivered on time and postal offices will close early. The Postmaster General circulated a memorandum instructing postal workers to leave undelivered mail on the post office floor for delivery the following day.
Effect of “Stimulus” Checks
Earlier this year, the Treasury disbursed payments of $1,200 for individuals and $2,400 for eligible married couples as part of the CARES Act. The SSA will not count stimulus checks as income for the purpose of assessing eligibility for Social Security disability. Therefore, recipients of these stimulus checks can freely spend them without concern that their benefits may be reduced.