Social Security benefits filter - next step I should take?
March 6, 2014 9:10 PM   Subscribe

I worked for an year and an half, and am under California SSI. They want to meet me for a review. Problem: I'm in DC, I'm not receiving SSI. More details inside.

So, long story short, I'm Deaf, and was approved and considered disabled by SSI and received SSI benefits over the past 10 or so years. Almost two years ago, I found a job, and was wanting to estrange from SSI anyway (I felt it was time for me to get a full adult job).

After I started working, I cut SSI off, but kept my case open in case the job didn't work out and continued to send them paystubs every month. At that time, it was still the California SSI, while I was working (and living) in DC. The paystub clearly indicated my address in DC. I didn't get any payments during I was working, anyway (except for one erroneous payment, which I quickly paid back). After I stopped working at that company, I let the California SSI office know that I had stopped working with them, but that I had too much in my bank account (over $2000, which is the resource limit) and that I would let them know once I fell under the limit.

March rolled around, and I'm still doing fine financially so far, not needing SSI, but I got a letter from the California SSI office (mailed to my mailing address in California, which is on their record) saying that they needed me to come in for an appointment with the SSI office there, in California, and that they needed me to come in to keep my case open.

This is the juncture where I'm not sure what to do. Technically, I'm still considered residing in California (despite my job paystubs showing my DC residency address). I was thinking about going to the local DC SSI office, explaining the situation (that they knew I was working in DC, but I've decided to continue living in DC and want to transfer my SSI to DC), then go from there.

Problem? My friend suggested SSDI, and said I may be eligible for SSDI. Obviously, none of us have the answer to that, but that friend (who does know the Social Security system well, based on numerous experiences she had) suggested I withdraw a large amount from my bank account to bring me down to being under $2,000 so I could get SSI/SSDI right away. I don't think that's the best idea because:

a) It's A LOT of money (think a few thousand). I don't feel comfortable with a boatload of cash.
b) It may technically be considered fraud in a way - because I'm withdrawing a huge amount of cash to meet the eligibility requirements. They probably have technology that can track that kind of thing down, anyway?

I'm just not sure what to do. The letter of review also mentioned showing verification of residency/rent for the past two years, although I don't know what that has to do with anything, as I wasn't even receiving SSI for most of that time - my case was just open in the system.

The appointment is supposed to be today. I just got the letter in the mail today (forwarded). I'm at a loss what to do, I don't understand the SSI/SSDI system that well, and truth be told, I'd kind of rather get another job (which I'm currently trying to find) and not depend on the government for my income, but it's nice to have that safety nest. After all, my only disability is my Deafness, and that doesn't really prevent me from much. If I just close my SSI case in California, it'd take a long time to become accepted again, should I need SSI in case I can't find a job.

Anyone who has experience navigating the SSI/SSDI system, advice would be appreciated. I know you're not a lawyer/SSI/Uncle Sam, but thank you in advance.
posted by dubious_dude to Law & Government (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
a) It takes a long time for SS to kick someone off the rolls, even if you don't answer their phone calls or letters. Since you've been totally on the up-and-up, there's no trouble for you to get into. If you just don't show up for the appointment, nothing bad will happen to you, even if you don't contact them. At worst they'll declare you ineligible for future benefits, but since you haven't been receiving them you're fine.

b) Since you're not currently receiving benefits, you can just contact them and let them know you won't be able to come to the review. They have the option to do some of it by phone if you really want to do the review, but if it were me I'd probably just tell them I'm not coming and let them do what they will.

c) You may qualify for expedited reinstatement of benefits if you should ever need them again, or at least need them again within a certain period of time.

d) How much have you worked? There are specific requirements for number of social security credits required to receive SSDI. You can check your Social Security Statement to see if you'd qualify and for how much.

e) Don't do anything like withdrawing money without talking to a lawyer. There are some legitimate ways to do spend-down, and there are ways that make the government think you're committing fraud. You definitely don't want to fall into the latter category.

f) Using the "my Social Security" portal I linked above you can also change your address with them.

If it were me, honestly, I'd probably change my address online and blow off the review unless I thought I would want to receive benefits again pretty soon.
posted by katemonster at 9:57 PM on March 6, 2014

Response by poster: @katemonster - I worked for 1 1/2 years - if you need any other information, let me know. I'm not sure how to check that - it's all a bit confusing. I also can't access the website now, as it's not online (it's open only during business hours).

So, based on what you said, it would be best to just ignore the letter? The letter did mention that if, by a certain date in March, if they don't hear from me, they would close my case? And, they go on to say that this is a very important letter.

I may be taking the letter a bit too literally - it could just be them making it sound extremely urgent and important, but at the same time, this is my first time facing this situation, so...
posted by dubious_dude at 10:04 PM on March 6, 2014

I'm not sure "best" is the word I'd use, but "closing your case" is pretty much the worst they can do to you, and it's not that bad. It won't be a black mark against you or anything, it just means you won't be eligible to receive benefits without reapplying -- but you can always reapply when your situation changes. And yeah, they use the urgent and important language, but I haven't seen them follow through on it very quickly.
To allay your concerns, "best" might be to contact them and let them know that a) you've moved and b) you won't be coming in for the review, and that if that means they close your case you're okay with that (assuming you are okay with that).
Here's a bit of info on how many quarters you need to have worked to qualify for SSDI; I'm not sure how it works when it's a lifelong condition, but once you can log in to the portal it'll tell you specifically what your eligibility is.
But basically, don't stress too much about this. You're not doing anything wrong if you don't do the review, you've been scrupulous about reporting your wages and not receiving SSI when you were working, and you can reapply if your case gets closed and you need benefits later.
posted by katemonster at 10:24 PM on March 6, 2014

>My friend suggested SSDI, and said I may be eligible for SSDI.

No. If you're able to work, you are not eligible. And SSDI is not means-tested. If you have lots of money in the bank, but you're unable to work within SSDI criteria, you can receive early social security benefits.

More: taking money out of the bank and stuffing it in a mattress doesn't change the fact that it is an available resource. That suggests illegal efforts to hide it.
posted by yclipse at 4:26 AM on March 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Unless you have a work history of approximately 10 years, you are not eligible for SSDI.

SSI is terrible with the income restrictions. I know people do all kinds of things to keep themselves under the 2,000 limit for it, but they are illegal and if found they will take your money back and require you to pay. OF course, if your able to work, then great! You don't need it. If you are having a lot of difficulty working SSI may be for you.

In addition SSI does open you up for rehabilitative services to find jobs and job coaches, which may be really useful for you at this time.

The state thing is really a red herring; people transfer cases all the time. Unless you were getting general assistance and not SSI, then that isn't true. SSI is that same everywhere in the US, just the state office manages it. Notify them, get your case transferred and meet at the new office.

I am concerned because you are unemployed. SSI takes years to get depending on the state and getting it back can be really difficult. If you can keep your case open you should do it.
posted by AlexiaSky at 5:04 AM on March 7, 2014

"The letter of review also mentioned showing verification of residency/rent for the past two years"

They likely used a general template that has to be relevant for a lot of cases/people for that letter, hence the language.

"They probably have technology that can track that kind of thing down, anyway?"

Every single banking transaction is recorded and visible on your bank statement. I am not sure if you ever have to present a bank statement to prove eligibility, but you mentioned they need other documents as proof. Just wanted to point out that they don't need any special technology, it's automatically recorded. I assume they could obtain that info directly from the bank, if they suspect fraud, but can't cite the relevant section of the law for this.

Now there certainly are legit ways to get down below 2K, like debt repayment, bigger purchases, down payments, medical or other bills etc. Other than that, as AlexiaSky says: "people do all kinds of things to keep themselves under the 2,000 limit".
posted by travelwithcats at 5:24 AM on March 7, 2014

Just to make clear, I am not advocating in any way that you should withdraw money. If there is no reason for you to spend it, don't. Hiding it to meet the limit value is fraud.
posted by travelwithcats at 5:36 AM on March 7, 2014

Residency is kind of important as you are not eligible for SSI unless you reside in the US. Residency also determines what location your case is served at. Even moving across the city can get you into a different office. The rent thing is important because they do a calculation and can decrease the amount you receive based if you don't pay rent or if somebody pays your rent for you. Generally this doesn't happen but I have heard of cases where it has.
You also may be able to do a re determination over TTY and mail. But you have to contact them ASAP.
posted by AlexiaSky at 5:45 AM on March 7, 2014

Oh sorry to post multiple times. You may be able to contact a local agency to get some assistance navigating this process. IIt's convoluted and many people need help with it.
posted by AlexiaSky at 5:47 AM on March 7, 2014

>Technically, I'm still considered residing in California

>It may technically be considered fraud

The word "technically" almost never adds anything to a statement about the law. It usually indicates that you're pretending something is true that is not in fact true. Drop the word "technically" and read your argument again. You live in DC and you're contemplating committing fraud.

>After all, my only disability is my Deafness, and that doesn't really prevent me from much. If I just close my SSI case in California, it'd take a long time to become accepted again, should I need SSI in case I can't find a job.

So, you're not seriously disabled, but you want to keep the SSDI as a substitute for unemployment insurance.

I'm posting to comment on how your language seems to contradict your legal arguments. Do as you want, but consider that maybe you're uncomfortable in this situation (your convoluted effort to keep yourself in SSDI) because it runs contrary to your personal values.
posted by JimN2TAW at 7:32 AM on March 7, 2014 [3 favorites]

Technically, I'm still considered residing in California (despite my job paystubs showing my DC residency address).

Where did you file your state taxes? There are very few cases where this would be true. Being a Congressional representative domiciled in DC is one. Otherwise, you are a DC resident. You lost your DC job? You should file for DC unemployment insurance.
posted by fontophilic at 8:42 AM on March 7, 2014

Another SSDI recipient here. If you want to put off the issue, I think it's safe to wait until the second letter arrives.

SSI is a federal program, but most states (including Calif and DC) add a state supplement. So where you live does affect the amount SSI pays. Details in this booklet, designed to educate folks who work with many SSI recipients.

A disability lawyer could help you, but they mostly work with SSDI, taking 1/3 of the beneficiaries' payments for life. Paying a personal lawyer up front for advice might also work.
posted by Jesse the K at 6:44 AM on March 8, 2014

I'm not sure where you're getting that info, Jesse the K, as many lawyers do help with SSI, and for SSI/SSDI they are limited to 25% of past-due benefits to a maximum of $6,000.
posted by katemonster at 8:28 AM on March 8, 2014

I practice disability law, but don't consider this as legal advice.

It can take a long time to reopen an SSI case if you close it. You'll have to reapply for disability benefits and it's possible that DC or California could reevaluate the case and deny it. This would force you to appeal the denial through the administrative process. It usually takes about 2 years to work through this.

Even if you withdrew the cash and hid it in your mattress, you would still need to report it as an available resource. Failure to disclose a large amount of cash on hand could be fraud. If you actually received SSI payments while working, then that could also be an issue.

You may still qualify for SSDI, but it's going to depend on your age and work history.

Your best bet right now is to be honest with SSA and play by their rules. If you run into a bureaucratic wall, you may want to contact an attorney who practices disability law.

Note: katemonster is correct--Max fee for a Social Security case is 25% of past-due benefits with a cap of $6,000.
posted by Dignan at 1:01 PM on March 14, 2014

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