Closed Social Security Offices Impede SSI Application Process – Community News
Social Security

Closed Social Security Offices Impede SSI Application Process

SSI provides a guaranteed minimum income to people with very limited resources who are disabled, blind, or 65 years of age or older. More than half of SSI recipients in 2019 had no other source of income.

Nearly 2.3 million of all recipients are 65 and older. Those under the age of 65 are eligible for SSI’s disability provisions, which means they have a physical or mental disability that is expected to last at least a year or result in death.

Sometimes an applicant can start the submission process online but must work directly with a Social Security representative to complete it. Online-only applications are only available to people who are disabled or blind, ages 18 to 64, who have not applied for or received SSI benefits in the past, have never been married, and are applying for Social Security Disability Insurance at the same time ( SSDI), the other benefit that SSA offers to people with disabilities.

So practically speaking, few people — and none 65 and older — can apply for an SSI online. They must call for an appointment and wait for their application to be completed in a phone call with an SSI specialist at Social Security.

“The [SSA] website takes over 150 different forms,” said Kate Lang, senior Washington staff attorney at Justice in Aging. The National Nonprofit is a legal advocacy organization for older adults. “The SSI application is not there. It’s not a self-help form.”

Houston attorney Maria Pantoja helps people with disabilities apply for SSI in her work with Lone Star Legal Aid, the fourth largest provider of free legal aid in the country.

“You can call so many times and you can’t reach anyone,” she says. “Unfortunately, it’s a hit or miss.”

One of her clients, Denaja Copes of Houston, says her diagnosis of sickle cell disease and seizures prompted her to apply for SSDI and SSI benefits at age 18. She was rejected. Then, last year, just before the pandemic, Copes, 21, started the process but didn’t get very far before the coronavirus shut down everything.

Pantoja helped Copes navigate the phone application. Copes received approval for SSDI benefits in September and was later approved for SSI as well.

“Sometimes it was 10 minutes on the phone or sometimes an hour,” Copes says. “It was a bit difficult because sometimes they call you to say I had an appointment and [I] didn’t know I had one.”