Filed September 16, 2021 in the United States District Court Eastern District of New York
The Social Security Administration wrongfully reduced and discontinued SSI benefits for thousands of people during the pandemic while the agency’s offices were closed, leaving the plaintiffs with no way to engage with the agency to get their benefits reinstated.
In March 2020, SSA closed its field offices in response to the COVID 19 pandemic. The agency had no remote work plan so at that time the agency stopped processing information from recipients about their finances and stopped sending notices of benefit changes.
Beginning in September 2020, agency workers begin working remotely and resumed sending notices of reduction and termination of benefits to thousands of people. With offices closed, it was extremely difficult, if not impossible, for recipients to resolve problems with those notices. The Social Security Administration issued an interim rule in August 2020, due to the national emergency, that was intended to create an easier process to waive certain overpayments during the early months of the pandemic. However, the agency didn’t inform people the no-fault streamlined waiver even existed, and the waiver only covered the first six months of this ongoing pandemic.
If an individual did learn about the waiver, they still faced extreme barriers and difficulties reaching employees of the agency to resolve problems, especially for those without access to technology or the internet. Many people lost benefits or had them reduced. In some states, losing SSI benefits can also lead to losing Medicaid. The New York Legal Assistance Group, Justice in Aging, and the law firm Arnold & Porter filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of five SSI recipients challenging the agency’s unlawful practices.
Plaintiffs are asking Social Security to fix the Agency’s new no-fault streamlined waiver for overpayment, so that it applies to everyone impacted by the National Emergency related to the COVID 19 pandemic. Plaintiffs also want SSA to halt overpayment recoupment during the time their field offices are closed and ensure that all recipients have an effective way to engage with the agency.