Social Security Union Favors No Return to Offices

Posted May 22, 2020 by Premier Disability Services, LLC®

Telework at the Social Security Administration (SSA) is boosting call center answer rates and otherwise improving customer service, the leader of a union that represents about 25,000 field office and call center workers says.

The agency should allow employees to continue teleworking to the maximum extent possible even after the Covid-19 pandemic abates, said Ralph de Juliis, president of Council 220 of the American Federation of Government Employees. The union is asking the agency to consider a plan that would allow the SSA to close most of its 1,300 field offices in the U.S. and save hundreds of millions of dollars on facility costs, he said. Though the agency has clashed with its unions in the past over telework, de Juliis said he’s hopeful agency officials are seeing the benefits now that most employees are working from home.

“If they want to go that way, they have the union’s support,” he said.

Call answer rates since the SSA began allowing most of its more than 55,000 employees to telework—including the field office and call center employees—are up from about 70% to about 95%, and employees for the first time in many years can schedule next-day phone appointments for many agency customers, he said. The agency has been able to safeguard customers’ sensitive personal information by using virtual private networks to encrypt communications, de Juliis said.

The agency told the union on Thursday, in response to a request for bargaining over a list of Covid-19 issues sent to the SSA on May 1, that it’s too early to make decisions about reopening offices, de Juliis said, adding that SSA Commissioner Andrew Saul hasn’t responded to an April 24 letter from the union outlining the plan to move to maximum telework on a permanent basis.

The Social Security Administration didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment on whether it would consider permanently moving to maximum telework or on service improvements that the union said had occurred during the first five weeks of nearly 100% telework.

 ‘Not a Perfect Match’

A professional group that represents attorneys and other advocates for Social Security recipients said the agency must maintain a strong physical presence for people who depend on its services.

The SSA “has done a good job of adapting to a very difficult situation, but the services that they are providing now are not a perfect match for the services they were providing before, some of which already had room for improvement,” said Stacy Cloyd, director of Policy and Administrative Advocacy at the National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives.

“Social Security beneficiaries are disproportionately older or have disabilities. Some are homeless,” Cloyd said. “We support people having options for accurate and timely services, but in-person services will need to be one of options for some people and some workloads.”

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SSA is Extending Deadlines During Pandemic

Posted May 15, 2020 by Premier Disability Services, LLC®

You may have received a letter from the Social Security Administration (SSA) about extending deadlines during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. During this pandemic, the SSA is extending deadlines for requests for information, evidence, or call-in letters whenever possible. The SSA will not take an adverse action because you did not respond to their request or provide evidence. They cannot make a decision in your case, however, until they have all the evidence they need in your file.

The SSA is also extending the time limits to appeal decisions. If the SSA needs a Consultative Examination (CE) to obtain additional evidence about your case, they will place your claim on hold until they are able to safely schedule appointments.

Additionally, the SSA has announced heat they are temporarily suspending work on continuing disability reviews (CDR’s) and appeals for continuing disability reviews.  Therefore, if you are undergoing a continuing disability review, you can also expect a delay in your case.

Despite these delays, it is important to be patient. The SSA remains open and has not shut down, unlike other governmental agencies or private businesses.  They continue to move forward, making decisions on cases, and holding hearings via telephone.

Premier is also still working at full capacity to manage our current clients’ claims and to take on new claims. If you or someone you know is unable to work due to a medical condition, please contact us for a free evaluation of your claim.

Contact our office today if you or anyone you know would like to learn more about qualifying for Social Security Disability benefits.

By: Joyce Trudeau of Premier Disability Services, LLC®


Tips to Help Stay Healthy While Going out in Public

Posted May 8, 2020 by Premier Disability Services, LLC®

Coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown restrictions are beginning to ease around the U.S. But whether the shops around you are open or closed, the risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19 will not completely go away until we achieve herd immunity or access to a vaccine. There are currently more than 3.3 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus around the world, and over 1 million of those are in the U.S.

Fortunately, there are measures we can take when leaving the house and coming in contact with people outside the household. Since this new strain of coronavirus is highly contagious and can be passed along by those who appear asymptomatic, it is important to stay alert.

  • Wear a face mask in public places – Six weeks ago, wearing a face mask when going out in public was purely voluntary. In many places, it still is, though the CDC now encourages it as a voluntary health measurein areas with high transmission rates, and in places where people can’t maintain social distancing of six feet. The recommendation applies to face masks and coverings you make at home or buy.
  • Don’t make shopping trips a source of entertainment – The point of shelter in place and stay at home efforts is to keep you from transmitting the virus to others or acquiring it yourself. Yes, that can be boring, but the list of COVID-19 symptoms is long and frightening for people who have it, even if they do recover, which can take weeks.
  • Use other body parts instead of finger tips – Any time you have to open a door, push a button, pull a lever or digitally sign for something, use a different body part instead. You can usually flip on a light switch or sink faucet with your elbow or wrist, and you can wrap the sleeve of your sweater or jacket around the handle of any doors you have to physically pull open. It’s easy enough to toss your clothing into the wash later rather than expose your skin now, especially if the chances you’ll use your hands to touch food items or your face is high.
  • Distance, distance, distance – Social distancing can mean anything from hunkering down at home and refraining from seeing outside friends and family in person to keeping a boundary between you and others when you do go out. The practice of keeping six feet away from those outside your home group extends to waiting in line at the grocery store, going on walks (you can momentarily walk in the bike lane if you’re careful about looking out for street traffic) and picking up food to go.
  • Engage in no-contact delivery – Keeping your distance means that you’ll need to get comfortable speaking through closed doors and hanging back rather than rushing forward to help the person delivering you packages, mail and food. For example, if you happen to be outside, it’s not rude to let the mail carrier walk all the way up to the front door and place the mail in the box rather than take it directly — it’s appropriately cautious for the times, and helps protect you and them by keeping your distance. Equally, if a food delivery person or neighbor drops something off, give a warm thank you through the closed door and wait for them to recede six feet before opening to door to thank them again and wave. They’ll appreciate your consideration and seriousness.
  • Continue washing your hands – Along with social distancing, washing your hands thoroughly is one of your best defenses against acquiring coronavirus. Give your hands a thorough scrub each time you get back. 20 seconds is the going recommendation, which may seem like ages, but if you wash slowly, it’s easy to do.
  • Stop handling cash – While it’s believed that the highest risk of acquiring coronavirus comes from person-to-person transmission, we do know that shared surfaces can harbor the virus. Play it safe by setting the cash aside for now and relying more on contactless payments such as Google or Apple Pay, Venmo, Paypal, or credit/debit cards.

We hope that these tips will help you stay safe and healthy as the country begins to reopen! You can also see more tips here:

Contact our office today if you or anyone you know would like to learn more about qualifying for Social Security Disability benefits.

By: Joyce Trudeau of Premier Disability Services, LLC®