On March 17, 2020, the Social Security Administration decided to temporarily close all field offices due to the coronavirus outbreak. For the time being, no Social Security office in the United States will accept in-person appointments or walk-in visitors. However, people interested in disability benefits can still access vital SSA services through one of the following ways instead:
- Having a legal representative file your disability benefits application, check your claim’s status or handle your appeal in a timely manner
- Visiting SSA.gov’s online web portal
- Calling 1-800-772-1213 to contact the SSA by phone toll-free (TTY: 1-800-325-0778)
It’s unclear how long these coronavirus office closings will stay in effect. Below, we’ll address some concerns from people worried about getting disability benefits during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Social Security Office Closings Won’t Stop You From Getting Your Monthly Benefit Payments
Scammers are sending out letters saying that unless you call a specific phone number, you’ll stop getting Social Security payments. This is not true. Social Security’s Inspector General, Gail S. Ennis, recently issued a press release about the scam. If you get a letter, call, text or email that fits this description, report it to the SSA here.
How Long Does It Take to Apply for Disability Benefits Over the Phone?
If you planned to apply for disability benefits in person at your local Social Security office, we have good news. Those office employees still answer your phone calls and provide critical support services to those in need. When calling the SSA’s national, toll-free numbers, automated telephone services should help reduce your time spent on hold. To speak with an employee at your local Social Security office, you must call the general inquiry (GI) line instead. Visit the Social Security office locator page, type in your ZIP code and then click the “locate” button. You should see the GI phone number displayed on the next page.
In FY2019, anyone calling the SSA’s 1-800 national number waited an average of 20.4 minutes before speaking to a person. In fact, the SSA received almost 33.5 million calls that year (250,000 per day)! Depending on which disability benefit you’re applying for, expect it to take 91-130 minutes total over the phone. That’s about how long the application process takes in person at your local Social Security office. We recommend blocking off a three-hour period to complete your disability application by phone.
Applying for Disability Benefits or Checking Your Claim’s Status Online
You can, of course, apply for disability benefits online through the SSA’s website. Be aware, though, that applying online won’t increase your chances for approval or get your benefits paid any faster. (Filing through a lawyer makes you 2x more likely to get approved the first time than applying on your own.) Once you’ve created your SSA.gov account, you can save your progress as you go and check your claim status anytime. However, you’ll still need to wait 3-5 months, on average, to hear back from the SSA.
How Might Social Security Office Closings Impact Disability Approval Wait Times for New Applicants?
The average Social Security disability claim-processing time in 2020 is 132 days. Now that Social Security offices nationwide are closed, we expect average wait times to grow longer in the coming weeks. What’s more, that 132 days is how long it takes from the date you apply to hear whether you’re approved or denied. It’s not how long the average person waits to get approved for benefits, in other words. If you apply on March 1, 2020 and the SSA approves your claim, expect your first payment in August 2020. However, if the SSA denies your claim, you still have 60 days to appeal.
Reconsideration is the first appeal stage, and it adds another 103 days to your overall wait time. If your first appeal succeeds, you’ll wait an average of 235 days total for approval. Add in some time to file your appeal, and you’ll likely get your first SSD payment in November or December 2020. And if the SSA denies your request for reconsideration? Then your wait time grows much longer, unfortunately. Every state has its own court calendar, and you’ll have to wait months or years to schedule an appeals hearing. If you get to this stage, expect to wait anywhere from 1-3 years to plead your case before a judge.
No matter how strong you think your disability claim is, talk to a lawyer before you apply. Every disability lawyer works on contingency and offers free, no-obligation consultations to answer all your claim questions. Attorneys won’t charge anything up front to file your SSD application. If the SSA denies your claim, then you owe $0 in legal assistance. And if you do get approved for benefits, then you’ll only pay a small, one-time fee.