Since March 2020, the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) hearing offices have remained closed due to Covid-19. SSA is currently offering hearings in disability claims by phone since March 2020 and by video since May 2021. The telephone hearing does not require anything special but for a telephone line (either cell phone or landline). The video hearings require one to download specific software and have a strong internet line so that the video can work without interruptions. You are not required to have your hearing by phone or video and have the right to request that your disability hearing be conducted in person. However, since SSA’s hearings office are not open, it may be months before you are able to get an in person hearing.
Many federal agencies submitted their return-to-office plans to the White House budget office on the July 19, 2021 deadline, laying out how they would begin to phase out remote work for hundreds of thousands of employees after Labor Day, with a full return to federal offices planned by the end of the year. However, to date, SSA has NOT submitted its reentry plans to the White House.
There are many issues that the new Commissioner, Kilolo Kijakazi, who has only been on the job for two weeks, is evaluating before the reopening plan happens. She said, “[R]ight now, I am spending much of my time listening to and learning from agency experts. I am meeting with labor unions this week. I also want to hear from you, staff and managers alike. I am relying on you to help identify what we can improve, recommend solutions, and bring about change that helps us serve the public better.”
So for now, you will not have an in person hearing any time soon. If I was a guessing person, I think we will see in-person hearings resume in some capacity in early winter. 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. However, in most cases, it’s still a good idea to go forward with the phone hearing because it could still be a long wait to have an in person hearing. You can always discuss this issue with your attorney ahead of your hearing.