JULY 2021 UPDATE
It’s now been well over a year since the Social Security Administration closed its hearing offices due to the Covid-19 pandemic and began holding all hearings over the phone or video, and there’s still no clear timetable for when in-person hearings will resume.
Federal agencies were required to submit return-to-office plans to President Biden earlier this month, but SSA, which recently saw the firing of its commissioner, still hasn’t submitted its plan, according to The Washington Post.
Complications for claimants
Advocates for the disabled have pushed for the reopening of these offices as disability applications have dropped over the last year since many applicants have little or no access to the internet to file their claims.
But complicating matters has been the spread of the delta variant of the novel coronavirus, which has led to a surge of new cases and hospitalizations. New infections had been on the decline earlier this year as vaccines became more widely available.
When Will In-Person Disability Hearings Resume?
Social Security has started to schedule hearings for November 2021, and so far all of these hearings will be by telephone or Microsoft Teams (if requested by the claimant).
It now seems unlikely that we’ll see the return of in-person disability hearings this year, but with the rising number of Covid-19 cases, declining vaccination numbers, and no solid plan from the federal government about how to further combat the pandemic or reopen its offices, it’s not even clear when we might see in-person hearings resume in 2022.
At this point, that means that opting for a phone or video hearing is almost certainly the best choice in most cases, though there may be certain situations where seeking a delay for an in-person hearing could work to your advantage, so it’s important to discuss this with in-depth an attorney before your hearing.
Original post from January, 2021
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.