Social Security Prepares To Reopen More Than 1,200 Field Offices After Two-Year Closure during Pandemic, Allsup Reports
Allsup applauds reopening, highlights critical role for representatives to get your Social Security Disability Insurance benefits approved, as SSA begins effort to restore in-person services
Belleville, Illinois — March 25, 2022 — The Social Security Administration is reopening more than 1,200 field offices, allowing Americans to get in-person services for the first time in over two years, according to Allsup, which has helped more than 350,000 people to receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits nationwide after work-disrupting disabilities.
The SSA has announced a revised, tentative plan for re-entry, meaning a return to in-person services in early April 2022. Though doors will be open, SSA staff will return gradually to Social Security field offices and more than 160 hearing offices nationwide.
“It’s an incredibly important transition for the SSA, which is likely to see formidable workloads in order to fully restore in-person services to the level they existed prior to the pandemic,” said T.J. Geist, Allsup principal advocate.
“We anticipate many people have been struggling with SSA COVID 19-related emergency policies and procedures, diminished mail processing, and online and phone-based services. The agency’s offices will feel the effects once they reopen,” Geist said. “In addition, the SSA is determining if and how many employees will telework, either part-time or full time, which will affect in-person service levels.”
The Social Security Disability Insurance program, in particular, has been extremely hard for individuals to navigate as a result of office closures. This has affected incoming and pending claims, the speed of disability determinations, disability appeals and hearings, Geist added.
“The reopening of SSA offices can’t come soon enough, especially for former workers with disabilities,” said Mary Dale Walters, Allsup senior vice president of strategic communications. “Social Security disability applications by Americans have declined substantially due to lack of access. Critical documents – in print or digital form – are not being processed in a timely way, and decision wait times have increased—all creating a hardship for thousands of people in need of benefit income. This means an experienced SSDI representative like Allsup will be even more vital to moving applicants’ claims through the disability process.”
The SSA has experienced a significant backlog in processing applications and reconsideration appeals. The backlog of pending initial applications needing a decision has risen by 25%, from 593,944 to nearly 740,000 by the end of FY 2021. Processing times for those applications have also increased, taking 52 days longer on average for the SSA to process initial claims in 2021 than it did in 2019. This delay has also caused drastic real-world effects as incoming applications declined nearly 16% and phone calls increased by millions per month on average. See the related infographic, “U.S. Workers’ Least Understood Insurance Policy.”
“Allsup has been closely monitoring the impact on those it represents as well as the SSA, and would rank this as the most significant disruption in delivery of critical services we’ve seen during our 38 years as a representation organization. It’s tough on the agency and its employees, and the result is many individuals and their families have been pushed into greater financial distress as they deal with worsening health conditions and no ability to work,” Walters said.
In order to more efficiently serve the growing needs of the public in this trying time, Allsup recommends that the SSA incorporate the following into their re-opening plan.
- Focus on reducing wait times. The agency should reestablish policies and strategies that reduce wait times for each level of the SSDI application and appeal process.
- Partner with third-party providers. The workload facing the SSA’s office workers, even when offices are fully operational, will be daunting. Telling disability applicants about the help of third-party representatives, in the same way the IRS works with tax preparers, can make a significant difference.
For disability applicants to get through the SSDI process, including the application and appeals, more easily, it’s important that individuals with severe medical conditions:
- Confirm they are eligible for SSDI here.
- Hire a disability representative like Allsup to assist you when you are ready to apply for benefits because you are 23% more likely to get approved. This also means reducing waits by approximately 316 days by avoiding a hearing.
- By the time claimants get to a hearing 8 out of 10 have a representative, so it’s vital to get help early and realize a 50% higher likelihood of getting benefits early and with Allsup.
To hear from an Allsup customer about his experience, watch this video.
See the related infographic, “U.S. Workers’ Least Understood Insurance Policy.”
Help Filing Disability Claim and Appealing a Denial
For help with your Social Security disability claim, visit Allsup.com/apply-for-ssdi or call 1-800-678-3276.
Allsup and its subsidiaries provide nationwide Social Security disability, veterans disability appeal, return to work, and healthcare benefits services for individuals, their employers and insurance carriers. Allsup professionals deliver specialized services supporting people with disabilities and seniors so they may lead lives that are as financially secure and as healthy as possible. Founded in 1984, the company is based in Belleville, Illinois, near St. Louis. Learn more at Allsup.com and @Allsup or download a free PDF of Applying for Social Security Disability Insurance: Getting It Right The First Time.