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ALERT: Social Security Administration Suspends In-Person Visits and Some Actions; and Warns of a New Scam – All Due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

ALERT:  Social Security Administration Suspends In-Person Visits and Some Actions; and Warns of a New Scam – All Due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Effective March 17, the Social Security Administration (SSA) closed all its local offices to in-person visits by the public (including hearings offices), indefinitely.  Social Security and SSI monthly benefits payments – by direct deposit and by mail – will continue to be made.

SSA announced that this suspension of face-to-face services, and other activities mentioned below, has been necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic; stating “This decision protects the population we serve—older Americans and people with underlying medical conditions—and our employees.”

The agency further announced that it will provide “limited, critical” services via phone, mail, and online, as its staff focuses their efforts “on serving people most in need.”  Pending in-person hearings will be rescheduled, and conducted telephonically.*

The agency encourages use of its online service (www.socialsecurity.gov/onlineservices), stressing the breadth of Social Security and Medicare actions that can be undertaken online (many or most of which require you to have a “my Social Securityaccount).   Regarding phone contact, individuals can call SSA’s National 800 numbers (1-800-772-1213; TTY, 1-800-325-0778); and/or their local office’s General Inquiry line.**

While SSA states that it will continue to take applications for benefits, and assist individuals already receiving benefits, the agency also says it is “prioritizing the critical claims first.”  Critical claims include: Medicare and Medicaid applications;*** Disability claims or the most severe disabilities (such as those involving terminal illnesses, “Wounded Warriors,” and “Compassionate Allowances”); and Representative Payee and other changes “that ensure [beneficiaries] continue to receive benefits.”

The agency separately announced it will be processing requests for new and replacement SSN cards.  To get a replacement card, you can go to www.ssa.gov/ssnumber to learn how.  Having a my Social Security account will be necessary.

SSA is also suspending certain actions, most notably:  continuing disability reviews (asking beneficiaries not to request medical information from their doctors); processing and collection of overpayments (“Where possible” [?]); and conducting Representative Payee accountings.

Finally, the agency has also issued a new Scam/Identity Theft Warning, entitled “What Should I do if I get a call claiming there’s a problem with my Social Security number or account.”  The human scum known as ‘scam artists’ and ‘Identity Thieves’ have for a considerable time now sought to steal such information, and are especially prone to do so when there is a well-publicized new action or policy by SSA.  The warning stresses that while SSA staff  may call you in certain situations, they will never: threaten you; suspend your SSN; demand immediate payments; seek payments by cash, gift card, pre-paid debit card, or wire transfer; or tell you there’s a problem with your SSN or account.

* To obtain (and update) more details about the topics highlighted here, readers can visit a new website SSA has established to focus on COVID-19 issues and policies.  Google “Social Security & Coronavirus.”

** The General Information numbers for the three local offices primarily serving residents of SCLO’s service area are:  Albuquerque (1-866-613-9961); Rio Rancho (1-866-530-7783); and Santa Fe (1-866-571-8130).

*** The reference to Medicaid applications is unclear, in that the NM Human Services processes Medicaid applications.  SSA processes all SSI applications, and all SSI beneficiaries in New Mexico automatically receive full-benefit Medicaid coverage. Perhaps the reference is to SSA’s processing of SSI application problems.

 

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