Story of Justice: Rebecca Appeals during Covid-19
The Challenge: Rebecca received SSI benefits for severe schizophrenia for many years. When she moved to Georgia to live with her sister, the Social Security Administration reviewed her case. After having issues with her sister, Rebecca decided to return to Florida and notified the local SSA office of the change of address. Unfortunately, the hearing office in Georgia sent the hearing notice to the wrong address and Rebecca missed the hearing. The Judge dismissed her case and her SSI benefits stopped. The local SSA office referred Rebecca to Coast to Coast (CCLA,) but before Rebecca could meet with an attorney, the Covid 19 virus had recently closed both CCLA and Social Security offices..
Assistance: Social Security posted on their website that they would only work on Dire Need cases. The CCLA attorney contacted the Appeals Council office to explain the situation and the Judge’s dismissal. The attorney and Rebecca then spoke to the local office where a representative confirmed that Rebecca was not at fault. The attorney faxed an Urgent Request to the Appeals Council to vacate the Judge’s dismissal, but was told that the fax would not be retrieved because no one was in the office. The attorney then contacted the local office and was able to provide them with the pleading which was uploaded into an electronic system where the Appeals Council could see it. The attorney then requested that the Appeals Council do a Dire Need evaluation of Rebecca by phone. The Appeals Council found that Dire Need existed but said that it would take 6 weeks or more to get a review as there were thousands of Dire Need cases ahead of Rebecca’s.
Why it Matters:
At a moment when Rebecca had no money, no phone, her mental health was deteriorating, and her landlord had told her she should start looking for a homeless shelter, CCLA stepped in. The CCLA attorney continued to follow up with the Appeals Council and the local office in hopes of speeding up the process. Within two weeks a decision was made to vacate the Judge’s dismissal, order back benefits be paid, and reinstate full benefits for Rebecca. The CCLA attorney was able to contact the local SSA office and have the benefits reinstated the same day as the Appeals Council issued its order.