It’s a new year, but there’s still no sign of Social Security reopening offices to in-person disability hearings anytime soon.
This is not the situation anyone expected when offices closed in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Most attorneys and staff expected that we would be back to business as usual in a few weeks.
If I had to guess, I’m optimistic that we will see in-person hearings resume in some capacity in late summer or fall 2021, when it is expected that the coronavirus vaccine will be widely available to anyone who wants it.
Based on past communications from Social Security, I also wouldn’t be surprised if we see a phased reopening. By that, I mean, we could see some states and regions begin in-person hearings, while others continue to do hearings by phone.
Even into late 2021 and 2022, it might make sense for Social Security to let claimants opt out of in-person hearings if they are concerned about contracting the virus, so we might still be dealing with telephone hearings for quite some time.
In the meantime, we remain in something of a holding pattern. Social Security is still letting claimants opt out of telephone hearings for an in-person hearing, whenever those might resume.
Generally, it’s still a good idea to go forward with the phone hearing because it could still be a long wait to see a judge in real life, however, there may be strategic reasons to seek a hearing delay, such as lack of medical evidence, work activity, or an upcoming change in age category, so it’s important to discuss this issue with your attorney ahead of your hearing.