Those Challenging SSI Decisions Can Be Stuck in Limbo Due to Non-System for Managing Appeals

People with disabilities who have very low incomes and few assets may qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits that are designed to provide recipients with a small monthly cash benefit and, potentially, access to Medicaid. The Social Security Administration (SSA) runs the SSI program and is tasked with monitoring beneficiaries to ensure that they remain financially eligible for assistance.

As most SSI recipients know, even small changes in income or resources can trigger a loss of SSI benefits, so it is important for beneficiaries and their families to be ever-vigilant when it comes to finances. However, the SSA often makes mistakes, and when it does it is very difficult for a beneficiary to challenge the error because the SSA does not have a uniform system for tracking appeals.

If the SSA believes that a previously eligible beneficiary should have his benefit reduced or eliminated, it sends a notice to the beneficiary explaining the proposed change and the rationale behind it. If the beneficiary wishes to challenge the decision, he must file a request for reconsideration with his local Social Security office within 60 days, and if the beneficiary does not want his SSI benefit reduced while the appeal is pending, he must file the request within 10 days.

According to the National Senior Citizens Law Center (NSCLC), most SSI beneficiaries aren't represented by a lawyer when they file a request for reconsideration, and when they do file the request local Social Security offices don't have a system in place to log appeals upon receipt. As a result, quite a few requests for reconsideration disappear and aren't acted upon for months or sometimes years. In the meantime, the SSI beneficiary waits in limbo for a response from the SSA that might not be forthcoming. In some cases, Social Security offices tell beneficiaries that they cannot help them file requests for reconsideration, even though federal law requires them to provide this type of assistance.

The best way to make sure that you preserve your rights is to contact your special needs planner immediately if you receive any notice regarding your SSI benefits. You and your attorney can then decide on the best course of action to preserve your appeal and maximize your benefit while you wait for the SSA to act.

To read the NSCLC policy issue brief on this problem, click here.

Article Last Modified: 01/31/2014