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Nationwide Settlement Grants Millions of Dollars to Supplemental Security Income Beneficiaries Harmed During Pandemic

Settlement Comes After Class Action Lawsuit Filed by NYLAG, Justice in Aging, and Arnold & Porter Alleged that Pandemic-Related Administrative Errors and Shutdowns led the Social Security Administration to Charge Low-Income Recipients with Overpayments

Millions of low-income older adults and people with disabilities who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and who had their benefits reduced or discontinued during the pandemic are entitled to millions in overpayment waivers and other relief as a result of a settlement finally approved on November 20, 2023 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York in a nationwide class action lawsuit filed by New York Legal Assistance Group, Justice in Aging, and Arnold & Porter.

Administrative shutdowns and other factors during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic shut out millions of people with low incomes from accessing the Social Security Administration (SSA) during a time of nationwide economic hardship. SSA reduced or discontinued millions of individuals’ SSI benefits, deepening stress and financial strain for those most harmed by the pandemic.

Specifically, in March 2020, the Social Security Administration (SSA) closed its field offices in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and halted its manual processes for reducing or discontinuing benefits for SSI recipients. As a result, many recipients struggled to report changes to their finances that could impact the amount of benefits they received, and others had bigger overpayments accrue due to this delay in processing. Others, such as eighty-three-year-old plaintiff Betti Rodnyanskya, were unable to withdraw funds from their bank accounts due to health concerns and stay-at-home orders during the pandemic, leading them to accrue funds that affected their eligibility.

In September 2020, even as SSA offices remained closed and inaccessible to recipients, the agency resumed assessing overpayments against SSI recipients—meaning that SSA found someone to be ineligible for SSI in one or more of those months—and reducing their benefits going forward. Thousands of people who relied on SSI benefits to meet their basic needs lost some or all of their limited income. In states that did not have Medicaid continued coverage during the pandemic, many also lost access to health care in the midst of this deadly health crisis because SSI eligibility is tied to Medicaid eligibility.

This settlement will provide automatic remedies to nearly a ​​quarter million SSI recipients, who will have back benefits credited to their accounts without having to take any action.

“This settlement does what SSA should have done in the first place: make sure that SSI recipients are not penalized or denied benefits essential for their survival, as the result of circumstances that were outside of their control,” said Michelle Spadafore, director of the Disability Advocacy Project at the New York Legal Assistance Group. “This settlement provides crucial relief by putting money back into the pockets of SSI recipients who are still recovering from the tremendous challenges they faced during a global pandemic.”

The settlement will also provide needed relief to nearly 2 million more recipients by clarifying the standards by which they can request that overpayments that arose during the pandemic be forgiven.

“This landmark settlement agreement is important recognition of the tremendous hardship SSI recipients faced during the early days of the pandemic, and in managing COVID throughout the public health emergency,” said Regan Bailey, litigation director at Justice in Aging. “Overpayments incurred during this time should be reviewed in context – with SSA offices closed, many government offices closed – it was virtually impossible to conduct business with the Agency.”

“This settlement is meaningful for the millions of older adults and people with disabilities whose already vulnerable state was amplified when the Social Security Administration denied them an important safety net during one of the most challenging times in human history. We are thus incredibly pleased that this case has been settled and feel blessed to have been able to support the men and women whose income, healthcare, and lives were disrupted during the pandemic,” said Arnold & Porter partner Sheila S. Boston, who served as pro bono counsel.

“SSI is the only option I have to provide for myself and my children. When I stopped receiving benefits, I didn’t know how I would pay my bills, buy food, and make ends meet,” said Tosha Adams, one of the plaintiffs in the case. “It was very stressful and scary, especially at the start of the pandemic. I’m very happy that, with this settlement, SSA is now aware of its mistakes and in the future no one else will have to go through what I went through.”

Justice in Aging, The New York Legal Assistance Group, and the law firm Arnold & Porter filed this nationwide class action lawsuit on behalf of five SSI recipients challenging these unlawful practices. The certified class includes all individuals with an SSI overpayment incurred between March 2020 and April 2023.

​​​​​​​Read our Fact Sheet about what information advocates and SSI recipients can expect to hear from the Social Security Administration as a result of this settlement agreement.

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