The COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc worldwide in the realms of health care, education, the economy, and beyond. For seniors and people with disabilities across the U.S. who have limited income, the pandemic also had a particularly devastating impact on their public benefits.
Thanks to a recent landmark settlement following a class action lawsuit, these individuals may now begin to find some level of relief.
The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Program
For the lowest-income Americans, monthly payments from the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program provide critical financial support. Many rely heavily on this modest amount of income to make ends meet from one day to the next.
Yet more than 2 million SSI recipients found themselves cut off from these vital government benefits once the Social Security Administration (SSA) closed its offices for several months at the start of the pandemic in March 2020.
To qualify for SSI, an individual must have extremely limited resources. Generally, a person may not be eligible for these benefits if their income and assets exceed $2,000. Given the strict rules that are in place, even enrollees may see a reduction in their monthly benefit if at any point they receive unearned income.
When the SSA shut its doors in early 2020, many SSI recipients became unable to connect with SSA representatives. Some people stopped receiving monthly payments altogether, while others saw their benefits decrease. In certain circumstances, the SSA mistakenly overpaid some beneficiaries.
Waivers and Refunds: Fixing the Mistakes
In welcome news for millions of SSI beneficiaries, the SSA is now working to clear up its mistakes in the wake of a recent landmark settlement agreement, issued in late November.
Under the terms of the agreement, the SSA will automatically waive SSI overpayments for hundreds of thousands of individuals who received them. Starting in or around the spring of 2025, the SSA also will reach out to additional people who qualify for the waiver. In other cases, it intends to issue refunds automatically to SSI recipients over the next year or two.
“This settlement does what SSA should have done in the first place,” Michelle Spadafore, director of the Disability Advocacy Project at the New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG), said in a news release. The settlement, she said, will ensure that “SSI recipients are not penalized or denied benefits essential for their survival, as the result of circumstances that were outside of their control.”
NYLAG, nonprofit Justice in Aging, and law firm Arnold & Porter filed the class action lawsuit.