We are following through on our commitment to help folks who set a goal in their lives to achieve financial stability through Social Security benefits. But, to keep everyone safe, we needed to make some changes to the way that we carry out our advocacy.
All BLC staff are working from home. Our advocacy in Social Security cases can take anywhere from two months to seven years. With such a long process, it is imperative to stay diligent and responsive to government requests for information. This is as true when we are sheltering in place as it was pre-pandemic. This transition was not a difficult one for BLC staff because they already deliver services in the field at community partner locations. The hardest part about it for us is that we deeply miss seeing our clients and each other day-to-day.
Social Security is working remotely (and so are we). The messages about whether local Social Security offices and hearings offices were physically open to the public was inconsistent and changed daily in the early days of quarantine. There was very little formal communication coming from the agency, and staff were simply showing up at hearings and meetings only to find closed doors and no sign or instruction. For individuals who are unrepresented, this is compounding the challenges of engaging with the administrative appeals process. While clear guidance has been issued about what Social Security is and is not prioritizing, we are watching closely in each of our cases to ensure that adverse action is not being taken without due process. We are seeing inconsistencies in the application of the guidance and remain concerned about compliance with due process requirements by Social Security. Hearings are being continued or performed over the telephone when possible. All other work is happening via facsimile (you read that right) and electronically. Our primary method of communication with Social Security is via facsimile. BLC has spent decades building relationships with Social Security offices and workers for the purpose of ensuring due process and open communication. It will not be new for Social Security to experience us holding the line on these matters.
Intakes. BLC is still performing about a dozen intakes weekly. Anyone can contact us at 206-686-7252 to seek assistance in new and existing matters. Typically, many of our intakes are done on site at local shelters and human service orgs. Within the current pandemic, we are in contact with our community partners and they are relaying information to our homeless clients letting them know that we are watching their Social Security case and will let them know if something needs to be done in their case. But for now, we are encouraging our homeless clients to focus on safety and shelter.
We are standing with our community partners as they devote all of the energy within their incredible spaces to solving the public health problems with congregate shelters and safety for all. They are working incredibly hard and we are sincerely grateful for the life changing work that they do day and night.
Additional Work Flow. The Stimulus Payments made available because of the CARES Act were rolled out in a very disorganized fashion requiring an incredible amount of advocacy from people across the nation to address inequities in access to these payments. While some changes were made over the course of several weeks in response to our collective advocacy, there are still people who cannot access stimulus payments because of immigration status or other logistical factors. We have worked hard to cut through red-tape and provide additional individual advocacy for clients who did not or would not receive automatic access to Stimulus Payments. We have published guidance for all advocates to utilize, and we have contacted each of our clients that we have identified as needing to take extra steps to access stimulus funds and walked them through how to take action in their particular circumstances. Kudos to staff for taking this on and for our funders who have supported our efforts.
The Justice Bus. While the Justice Bus may play a crucial role in the eventual exit from sheltering in place, currently the Justice Bus is not delivering services in the field. We are keeping it in tip-top shape so that when it is time, it will be ready to hit the road. It is likely that the Justice Bus will be our first step in re-engaging in 1:1 meetings with clients when Governor Inslee’s order is lifted. Stay tuned. It’s interesting to think that just six weeks ago we hosted Council Member Joe McDermott’s key note address on the Justice Bus. Click here to take a look.
Give Big. If you are moved to do so, please click here to support us through Give BIG now through May 6th.
Be safe and be well,
Alex KF Doolittle