The Impact of COVID-19 on Disability Hearings in the Bay Area

The shelter in place order that went into effect on March 17, 2020 impacts over 7 million people across six bay area counties. The order is expected to last until at least April 7, 2020. This is an uncertain time for everyone, especially our clients who have waited for years for their disability hearing and now face potential further delays due to the coronavirus.

This blog will provide updated information on the rapidly evolving COVID-19 situation and the way the virus is impacting the Social Security Administration’s Office of Hearings Operations (“OHO”).

This is the current status of the Social Security Administration’s operations as of March 18, 2020:

  • Office of Hearings Operations (OHO): Social Security issued a press release indicating that disability claimants with scheduled hearings would receive a call from their local hearing office offering the option of a telephonic hearing. If you do not want to proceed with your hearing via telephone, you have the option to postpone the hearing. Here is how we have seen this order play out across the different hearing offices:
    • San Jose OHO: All scheduled hearings should be considered postponed until further notice. A staff member from San Jose OHO will call every individual with a scheduled hearing to offer a hearing via telephone. The office is closed to the public.
    • Oakland OHO: No word yet on whether disability claimants will be offered the opportunity for a telephonic hearing. The office is closed to the public so do not go to the office for information.
    • San Francisco OHO: Attorneys are being asked to discuss waiving the right to appear in person before a judge for their clients who have hearings scheduled from April – May 2020. If the client elects to conduct the hearing telephonically, they must waive their right to 20 days notice for changing the time or manner of the hearing and rescind the VTC opt out, if applicable, and submit this waiver via written and signed statement. Disability claimants must be present in person with their attorney during the hearing It is unclear whether this violates the current shelter in place ordinance, the violation of which is currently a misdemeanor.
  • SSA Offices: All Bay Area Social Security offices have closed effective March 17, 2020. Online services are still operational. You can file a retirement application, a disability application, and print a benefit verification letter, among other things, without visiting a SSA office.

Social Security employees are teleworking and using their personal cell phones, so they will be calling from private numbers using *67. If you receive a call from a private number, remember that an SSA employee will never threaten you or ask for payment.

If you have any questions please call our office and ask to speak with an attorney about your situation.

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