The Social Security Administration (SSA) oversees a number of programs that provide financial help to eligible Americans, including Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), and Social Security retirement benefits. To increase access to these and other programs during the COVID-19 pandemic, the SSA recently launched an expanded outreach initiative aimed at vulnerable populations. These efforts are designed to make accessing Social Security benefits easier, specifically for those who are eligible for SSI or SSDI benefits.

Key Takeaways

  • Social Security programs, including Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, can provide financial relief for individuals who qualify to receive them.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has made accessing those programs and benefits more difficult for some Americans.
  • The Social Security Administration (SSA) is taking steps to improve outreach so that those who qualify for the SSI and SSDI programs can receive the help they need.
  • Outreach efforts include the launch of several new websites that can make it easier for friends and family members to assist others in accessing Social Security programs.

Social Security Outreach and COVID-19

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the SSA closed all offices to the public beginning in March 2020. Individuals already receiving benefits through Social Security and those interested in applying have been directed to use the SSA’s online services portal or to call their local Social Security office in lieu of in-person visits.

While these measures were implemented to protect the health of SSA employees and the individuals whom they serve, the SSA has recognized the need for greater outreach during the pandemic. Specifically, the outreach targets vulnerable populations, including individuals with low income, limited English proficiency, and mental illness, and those who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

To connect with people who need assistance from SSI or SSDI, the SSA announced several measures to further that goal. Those include:

  • Launching the People Helping Others website, which is designed to make it easier for anyone to help another person in accessing Social Security programs and services
  • Creating a separate outreach website that encourages the sharing of materials and information about Social Security programs with vulnerable populations
  • Launching an outreach website for faith-based and community groups to help promote Social Security programs to those in need
  • Supporting a national advertising campaign via TV, radio, and social media to direct parents of children with disabilities to the SSI website
  • Updating training procedures for community-based caseworkers to enable them to better assist people with applying for SSI benefits

Each of these initiatives is meant to help educate people about what benefits they may qualify for through SSI and/or SSDI and how to go about applying for them.

Note

You can apply for SSI over the phone by calling 1-800-772-1213 or the SSA’s TTY number, 1-800-325-0778, if you’re deaf or hard of hearing.

SSI and SSDI Benefits Explained

If you’re not familiar with Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability Insurance, then you may not be aware of the benefits that are available. But it’s important to understand that Social Security isn’t just for retirement.

Social Security benefits are paid out to you in retirement, and what you receive is based on your lifetime earnings. SSI benefits, however, are not based on your work history. Instead, they’re designed for people who are age 65 or older and have low income or are blind or disabled.

In terms of what you can receive through SSI, benefits include:

Tip

People who qualify for SSI benefits may also qualify for Social Security retirement benefits. You can apply for both using the same application.

The SSDI program provides income assistance to people with disabilities. This program pays benefits to you based on your and your family members’ work history. You must be able to provide proof of an ongoing disability to qualify for benefits through the program.

Important

If you have a disability but are still working, then you may not qualify for SSDI benefits if your earnings exceed a certain amount.

How to Apply for Social Security Benefits During COVID-19

The SSA’s outreach efforts are meant to make it easier to learn about and apply for SSI and SSDI benefits during the pandemic, particularly for those who may have limited access to Internet or phone service. If you believe that you may be eligible for SSI benefits, SSDI benefits, or Social Security retirement benefits, then you can apply for any or all of them by phone or online. Here’s more on what you’ll need to apply for SSI and SSDI benefits.

Applying for SSI Benefits

Before applying for SSI, the SSA advises reviewing the eligibility requirements first. Again, you’ll need to be blind, disabled, or at least age 65 and have a low income to qualify.

If you meet any of those requirements, then you can apply for benefits online, call the SSA’s toll-free number, or call your local SSA office. Note that someone can help you with completing your application by appointing them as a third-party representative.

To complete your application, you’ll need to provide:

  • Your name
  • Your date and place of birth and Social Security number
  • Name, Social Security number, and date of birth of your current or former spouse
  • Names and dates of birth for your minor children
  • Bank account information, including your account number and routing number for direct deposit of benefits
  • Names and contact information for your medical care providers
  • Details about the nature of your disability
  • Names of medications you’re taking and who prescribed them
  • Names and dates of any medical tests you’ve completed
  • Information about your prior year’s earnings
  • Name and contact information for your employer
  • Beginning and ending dates for military service, if applicable
  • Information about any workers’ compensation or government benefits that you already receive

Once you fill out the application with that information, you also need to provide supporting documentation. That includes:

  • Your birth certificate or other proof of birth
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status
  • U.S. military discharge papers, if applicable
  • W-2 forms and tax returns
  • Medical documentation of your disability
  • Proof of workers’ compensation or other government benefits that you receive

Note

When submitting a birth certificate and other documents (excluding W-2s, tax returns, or medical forms), the SSA requires originals, not photocopies.

Applying for SSDI Benefits

You can apply for SSDI benefits online after you complete the application checklist. This checklist tells you what type of information you’ll need to apply, including:

  • Your name
  • Date and place of birth
  • Name and date of birth for your current or former spouse
  • Names and dates of birth for minor children
  • U.S. military service beginning and ending dates
  • Employment and income details, including information related to self-employment
  • Bank account information
  • Information about the nature of your disability
  • Contact information for each of your healthcare providers
  • Job history
  • Information about your education and training

You’ll also need to complete a medical release form so that the SSA can review your medical history.

Once you submit your application for SSI benefits or SSDI benefits, the SSA will review everything to determine what you qualify for and what benefit amount you’re eligible to receive. Keep in mind that during this review period, you may be asked to provide additional information or documentation. Delaying or failing to do so could slow down the processing of your application or cause it to be denied.

Warning

The SSA advises people to be aware of coronavirus-related scams, including those that may attempt to trick you out of receiving Social Security benefits and/or economic impact payment benefits.