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Why Disability Applicants Are Suing the Social Security Administration

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Posted: May 13, 2020 11:45 AM
Why Disability Applicants Are Suing the Social Security Administration

Source: AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

Per its policy, the Social Security Administration is refusing to accept electronic signatures for disability claims. With the coronavirus pandemic making that mandate ever more dangerous, a handful of plaintiffs are now suing the agency to change its policy.

Timothy Cole, who has non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, argues that the safest way for him to file his claim is from his home. He is joining three other plaintiffs, along with the National Federation of the Blind, in suing the Social Security Administration in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Mr. Cole and three other plaintiffs, along with the National Federation of the Blind, are suing the Social Security Administration in federal court. They seek a court order requiring SSA to allow e-signatures on applications rather than requiring a "wet-ink" signature when the applicant is using an attorney or other authorized representative. SSA does not require wet-ink signatures for applications for some benefits when an authorized representative is not being used by the applicant. The suit contends that the requirement has always been discriminatory, but during the COVID-19 pandemic it also endangers the health and even the lives of applicants, as even SSA has recognized in quarantining its own mail for two days and shutting down its field offices.

William Ashlock, 60, Cole's fellow plaintiff, has a similar predicament. Plagued by pain and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, he is concerned by the SSA's demands.

"When I was released from the hospital, the doctors said it might not be a good idea to go to a shelter at the moment because of the pandemic," Ashlock said in a statement for the court. "I am trying to stay on my own as much as possible to avoid COVID-19."

The lawsuit also asks the court to order the SSA to allow blind people to fill out the application for Supplemental Security Income online.

"The Social Security Administration regularly interacts with hundreds of thousands of blind people and other consumers with disabilities," said Mark Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind. "Yet policies like this one persist, despite the fact that the SSA has both the authority and the capability to accept electronic signatures. It is both unlawful and unconscionable that this agency continues to place blind and disabled consumers at a severe disadvantage, especially during a life-threatening global pandemic. Government should innovate, not discriminate."