Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a federal program that pays benefits to adults with disabilities who have limited income and resources, and who have little or no work history.
Adults with a work history might also be eligible for Social Security Disability (SSD). The Social Security Administration (SSA) runs both programs. While there are differences in the two benefits, the rules for being found “disabled” are the same for both. Learn more about eligibility and how the process works below.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, you can apply over the phone at 800-772-1213, and some people can apply online. SSA can tell you if you qualify to do this.
From December 2020 through March 2021, SSA is mailing outreach notices to people who may be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments. SSA established a dedicated phone line with a team of specialized workers to help people who receive this notice. They are supposed to help callers find out if they can get SSI and help with SSI applications. SSA also has a separate phone number for people to call who need help in Spanish.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, you can apply online, or over the phone at 800-772-1213.
SSA will consider you “disabled” if you have a physical and/or mental condition that:
SSA will need to see your medical records. You can get them or you can ask SSA to help you get your medical records from past & current clinics and hospitals; your lab test results and results from tests like MRIs, CAT-Scans, X-rays, EKGs; and letters or reports from doctors or psychiatrists treating you that state the diagnosis, symptoms, findings, medications and their side effects, and how your medical condition causes you to have difficulty in working or doing other life tasks.
During the application process, a State agency that SSA works with uses doctors called “consultative examiners” who write reports for SSA. SSA might send you an appointment with one of these doctors. If you are scheduled to see a mental health doctor it can be done remotely by video. If you are scheduled to see a physical doctor, you will be scheduled for an in-person appointment. If you choose not to go due to COVID concerns it could affect your application negatively. Click here for the providers’ safety guidelines.
If your application is denied, you will receive written notice. If you want to appeal it, you must file a Request for Reconsideration within 60 days of the date of the denial notice, plus 5 days for mailing. You can file it online or over the phone at 1-800-772-1213 If your Request for Reconsideration is denied, and you want to appeal that denial, you must request a “hearing” within 60 days of the date of the denial notice, plus 5 days for mailing. All forms for appeals can be found online or you can get the proper form from your local SSA office.
Your disability file is sent to the hearing office that handles the borough where you live. Eventually, you will receive a notice of hearing with a date and time to appear at the hearing where you will get the chance to explain to an administrative law judge (ALJ) why you feel that you are disabled.
It may take a long time before your hearing is scheduled. While you wait, you should continue to go to treatment and should comply with the treatment.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, currently hearings are being held by telephone. You have the right to say you don’t want to have a hearing by phone and wait instead for an in-person hearing. It might be a long time before in-person hearings are held. Soon, SSA will start to have video hearings instead of telephone hearings.
You should make a copy for yourself and then send by mail or by fax the evidence to the hearing office. You must do this at least 5 days before the hearing. If you cannot get the medical or other evidence in time, then you must notify the judge at least 5 days before the hearing to explain that despite your efforts, you were unable to get the evidence. If you are unable to get the evidence yourself, tell the judge that you need help to get it.
Yes. While in some cases, an ALJ might approve benefits just by reading the file, this rarely happens. In most cases you will have to tell the judge about your medical conditions and what you have difficulty doing every day because of them.
You can appeal the decision within 60 days of the date of denial notice plus 5 days for mailing, of the Unfavorable or Partially Favorable Decision. You can do this online or by writing a letter to SSA’s Appeals Council. The address is in the notice of your child’s decision. You should explain why you think the judge was wrong. If you have a new report from your child’s doctor about the disability you discussed at the hearing (not a new disability), you can send it in with your appeal letter. Or, you can re-apply for SSI at your local office. Please note: generally, you cannot do both. In most cases, you must either appeal or re-apply.
Since the Appeals Council provides the final decision by SSA, if you lose and want to appeal further, you will have to file a case in federal court within 60 days of the date of denial notice plus 5 days for mailing.
But you can also reapply for benefits using one the ways listed above.
Unlike after a hearing you don’t have to choose between appealing and reapplying.
Maybe. Periodically, SSA conducts “continuing disability reviews” to see if you are still disabled or if your condition improved enough to allow you to work. You will receive notices about this from SSA. SSA cannot stop your benefits without letting you know and giving you a chance to appeal.
You should continue to go to your doctor appointments. If you can’t go, call your doctor(s) and reschedule. You should take your medications as prescribed. If you have a problem with the medication, discuss it with your doctor. It is important for your health and to show that you are compliant with your doctor’s treatment plan.
The information in this document has been prepared by The Legal Aid Society for informational purposes only and is not legal advice. This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. You should not act upon any information without retaining professional legal counsel.
Last Updated: 9 February 2021
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