Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are critical lifelines for millions of people with disabilities. However, more than a decade of underfunding has made it extraordinarily difficult for people to access the vital benefits they need to survive. Applicants and beneficiaries must navigate woefully inadequate interpretation services, an outdated phone system, complex eligibility requirements, and other barriers in the application process. As a result of these longstanding issues and office closures during the pandemic, the Social Security Administration (SSA) issued over half a million fewer SSI awards than if awards had continued at pre-pandemic levels. This sharp decline has disproportionately impacted Black and Brown people. Nowhere have SSI recipients been hit harder than Pennsylvania, which saw the largest percentage decline of all 50 states, with SSI awards falling over 26% from 2019 to 2020.
Now that local Social Security Offices have reopened, SSA must immediately prioritize its resources so that it can implement policies, training, and consistent oversight to provide access for all. In April 2022, SSA released an Equity Action Plan in an attempt to reduce barriers and ensure that everyone has access to its services. Unfortunately, this plan does not come close to addressing the critical issues that deny access and create inequities in Social Security disability benefits. Indeed, the Equity Action Plan does not propose any real improvements to accessibility for hard-to-reach communities, nor does it acknowledge barriers to language access or propose solutions to address those barriers.
SSA’s inability to appropriately serve disabled people with intersectionally marginalized identities represents a crisis in equitable access to disability benefits. In this report, Community Legal Services of Philadelphia (CLS) calls on SSA to address the barriers that prevent people from accessing life-sustaining Social Security disability benefits.
Learn more and read the full report here.