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Lawsuit victory ensures vulnerable people won’t lose benefits

Published on March 28th, 2014

In a very interesting story out of the state of Oregon, the Social Security Administration found itself hauled into a federal courtroom this week to answer a lawsuit alleging that its recent actions were going to result “in the imminent suspension of life-sustaining benefits” for well over 400 people.

According to reports, federal authorities recently shut down a Portland-area non-profit called Safety Net, which acted as a “payee,” meaning it would manage the disability benefits (pay bills, issue checks, etc.) sent directly to it by the SSA on behalf of its many disabled and otherwise vulnerable clients.

The closure, which was prompted by an investigation into mismanaged funds, created a very significant problem for Safety Net’s 1,000 clients, as they would now need to find a new payee by the end of the month or else face the potential loss of their disability benefits.

While Social Security workers attempted to contact Safety Net’s clients via phone call and letter to inform them of the necessity of finding a new payee, these efforts were inherently flawed.

That’s because the overwhelming majority of these clients are homeless, such that they don’t have a permanent address to receive mail or phone calls, or suffer from physical disabilities that make it virtually impossible to arrange transportation to the local Social Security Agency in a short amount of time.

“There are some people that are homeless, they may be staying in a shelter, they may be staying with friends, a lot of people do have apartments, some people move, some of them are going to be homebound,” said one county employee.

Recognizing that hundreds of people were apt to inadvertently forfeit their only source of funds to cover food, rent and other basic necessities, Disability Rights Oregon, a nonprofit, and five former Safety Net clients filed the aforementioned lawsuit against the SSA, alleging that the agency had failed to protect the access of Safety Net clients to their disability benefits.

In a hearing held this week, a federal judge agreed with the plaintiffs, holding that the SSA cannot leave the 400-plus former Safety Net clients with the onerous task of finding a new payee in such a short amount of time and must do so on their behalf in order to ensure there is no disruption in disability benefits.

It remains unclear how the SSA is planning to manage this task, but advocates for the disabled are understandably breathing a sigh of relief knowing that no one will be left out in the cold.

While there is no question that managing SSD benefits can prove to be difficult, the process of securing them can sometimes prove even more difficult. Accordingly, those with questions about securing these benefits should strongly consider speaking with an experienced legal professional.

Source: The Oregonian, “Safety Net of Oregon investigation: Social Security Administration must find new payee for agency’s former clients, judge rules,” Kelly House, March 26, 2014; KGW, “Lawsuit: Disabled should keep SS benefits,” March 24, 2014

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