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NY Suit Contests Social Security Closures, Changes

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Tuesday, October 5, 2021   

NEW YORK -- Disability advocates and other groups are suing the federal government over the Social Security Administration's practices during the pandemic, including shuttering its local offices.

The challenge was filed on behalf of five New Yorkers who utilize Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which helps low-income older adults and people with disabilities.

In March 2020, Social Security, which administers SSI, closed all of its offices, making it difficult for recipients to report any financial changes. Six months later, the agency started to send notices to thousands of people telling them their benefits were going to be reduced due to overpayment, without giving them a meaningful chance to contest it.

Kate Lang, senior staff attorney for Justice in Aging, which represents the plaintiffs, said the office closure left many vulnerable people in the dark.

"People have difficulty communicating with Social Security and saying, 'This is a mistake. I'm still eligible for these benefits. I shouldn't be cut off,'" Lang explained. "We think that Social Security needs to recognize that the pandemic continues."

The federal government has 60 days from filing to respond to the lawsuit. Other organizations involved in the case include New York Legal Assistance Group and Arnold & Porter.

The suit also raised concerns over Social Security's streamlined waiver process, implemented in August 2020, which was meant to forgive financial penalties for overpayment during the first few months of the pandemic.

Danielle Tarantolo, director of the special litigation unit at New York Legal Assistance Group, said the waiver failed to address the pandemic-related SSI issues.

"Our clients tried repeatedly to take advantage of this streamlined process and get a quick waiver so that they could maintain their full benefits and over and over again, they were unsuccessful," Tarantolo recounted.

Representatives for the New York SSI recipients said they hope the lawsuit leads to Social Security revamping the waiver process to make sure that everyone who deserves one can get it. Social Security offices around the country remain closed to the public, except for emergency situations.

Disclosure: Justice in Aging contributes to our fund for reporting on Civil Rights, Health Issues, Senior Issues, and Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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