With the spread of COVID-19 (the Coronavirus), many businesses and offices across the U.S. have temporarily shut down, causing much uncertainty. For the thousands of Americans who need retirement, disability, and Medicare benefits, the closing of the Social Security Administration’s field office network will likely feel overwhelming.
The closure, which began Tuesday, March 17, also includes offices that hear appeals for disability insurance. Though the offices are closed until further notice, there is good news for the agency’s more than 69 million beneficiaries: their benefits will not be impacted. Service will remain available online as well as via a toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213.
Since most of the 61,000 Social Security employees are working from home, common services including assistance with replacing a Social Security card, helping individuals with their claims, and checking on the status of an individual’s appeal will continue to be offered; just not in-person.
Only a few particular services will be offered in-person and must be sought in advance by calling ahead. Such services include:
- Assistance to those with severe disabilities, blindness, or terminal illness;
- Reinstatement of benefits in very ominous circumstances; and
- Help to those in serious need of eligibility decisions pertaining to Social Security Income or Medicaid.
The decision to stop seeing people in-person was based on the advocacy of unions representing Social Security employees, which claimed that if the offices remained open they would pose a massive health risk to employees and the public at large. Additionally, a majority of individuals these offices see on a daily basis are those who are already at the highest risk of contracting the virus.
So How Can You Receive Social Security Help?
- Those who need to visit their local office in-person can call and request an appointment.
- Those who need to enroll in Medicare can obtain free counseling from the national network of State Health Insurance Assistance Programs (SHIP).
- Those who already had an office appointment or appeal scheduled will be contacted by Social Security to reschedule.
It is important to keep in mind that you may receive a call from a private number, as many employees do not have government-issued numbers and will be using their personal lines.
However, it is extremely important that you don’t give your personal information to scammers who are posing as government employees. To discern whether or not the caller is legitimate, keep in mind that the Social Security Administration typically reaches out via mail – not the phone.
The agency will generally only call you if you have requested to be called back or if you have recently applied for benefits.
How Can You Do Your Part?
- Remain patient if calling Social Security. Phone representatives must prioritize urgent requests (e.g. missed benefit payments and changes to direct-deposit).
- If you can, conduct what you need to online. You must first set up an account, which will allow you to perform many tasks and may have the answers to your questions.
For a Medicare helpline, you can call the nonprofit Medicare Rights Center for free at 1-800-333-4114. Additionally, for updates from the Social Security Administration pertaining to the Coronavirus you can visit the SSA website.
As always, our team at Carter Mario remains deeply committed to our clients and will be available for you 24/7. We can always be reached at (203) 806-9256. Additionally, current clients can access our client portal at any time to upload documents and to view any updates on their cases. We hope that you and your loved ones stay healthy and safe.