SSA Sends Hundreds of Thousands of Potentially Misleading Letters

The Social Security Administration seems to have sent my office a letter for each pending appeal where we are waiting for a hearing with an Administrative Law Judge. The dozens and dozens of letters were all the same, except for the names and addresses. Each letter begins by saying that SSA "is changing our regulations to make our Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) hearing procedures consistent nationwide. The letter goes on to refer to an enclosure that "lists the rules that will affect the handling of your case if it is still pending on [May 1, 2017.]"

While it is nice to receive an update regarding "KEY CHANGES TO OUR RULES BEGINNING MAY 1, 2017" the downside is that the letter is misleading. The letter refers the reader to 20 CFR 416.1535(b), where "you can read more about our regulatory requirements." Unfortunately, 20 CFR 416.1535 is [Reserved]. This means there is no 20 CFR 416.1535(b). A portion of the letter is below, along with a screenshot of SSA's own website showing there is no 20 CFR 416.1535(b), as found at https://www.ssa.gov/OP_Home/cfr20/416/416-1535.htm.
Even though this may seem like a minor mistake, it has the potential to confuse people seeking disability benefits. Imagine that 70% of people actually read the letter, and 10% of those people try to find out what 20 CFR 416.1535(b) actually says and how it applies to their cases, that is tens of thousands of people nationwide. If those individuals are not represented, that could result in a ton of unnecessary calls to SSA.

Perhaps the good news is that SSA states that if you miss the deadline to submit evidence, the ALJ may still consider the evidence if SSA's own action mislead you.

The Grand Rapids ODAR office has over 6000 cases awaiting a hearing. Mount Pleasant has over 7000 pending cases, and Lansing has over 5000. SSA's reference to 20 CFR 404.935(b) does point to an actual regulation, but it covers only Title II disability cases, and not Supplemental Security Cases under Title XVI. I would bet that SSI cases, when compared to RDSI cases, or concurrent cases, are the least likely to have a representative.

Thomas Golden

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Lowell, Michigan

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