Disabled Americans Are Losing a Lifeline

By Jonathan Stein and David Weaver: For Complete Post, Click Here…

Biden can help.

At a time when the pandemic has hit the disabled and elderly the hardest, they also face the erosion of a critical income lifeline, Supplemental Security Income (S.S.I.). The program has collapsed during the pandemic: From July to November 2020, the Social Security Administration awarded benefits to about 100,000 fewer individuals compared with the same period in 2019. In July 2020 the agency distributed just 38,318 new awards — the fewest in 20 years of available data.

At this rate, more than 230,000 low-income disabled and elderly Americans will miss out on vital cash benefits and access to health care (via Medicaid, which S.S.I. recipients generally qualify for) in one year.

President-elect Joe Biden has proposed a number of policies to improve the lives of the impoverished and disabled. Notably, he would raise, for the first time in the half-century of the program, its payments to meet the poverty level in the United States. But he won’t be able to successfully implement them without addressing challenges that the pandemic and the Social Security Administration’s recent policy priorities have presented in recent months.

The immediate cause of this ongoing crisis is the closure of Social Security’s network of 1,200 field offices during the Covid-19 pandemic. Generally, the agency does not take online applications for S.S.I. benefits, leaving these disabled and elderly people with one primary service option: calling its overburdened general phone line. Further, the field offices were a source of information and assistance for millions of Americans, many challenged by cognitive, learning, language and poverty-related issues. More than 43 million individuals visited field offices in 2019. In short, it is now much more difficult for eligible disabled and elderly people to get the assistance they need to obtain S.S.I. payments, which average around $560 a month.

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