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.
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.
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.