In a real pickle with SSI without legal representation.
January 15, 2015 2:56 PM   Subscribe

YANML, I understand. I'm just in a real pickle and would like advice/guidelines on any suggestions on what to do. More details in the fold.

Throughout this question, I don’t intend to sound overly dramatic or anything to that extent. I’m just very overwhelmed with the numerous situations that cropped up with SSI. A recent situation has happened with my SSI, which I consider an emergency, and I need help or advice. I understand you are not my lawyer. I did get legal aid last summer, but I cannot now. I will explain more below. It's been a domino effect.

To keep a very long, complicated story as short as possible, I stopped working December 2013. By May 2014, I was under $2,000 in my bank account, so I went to the local Washington DC (where I live) SSI office to reinstate my SSI. They restarted my SSI starting June 2014, and for some reason (even though I was over $2,000 at that time), the woman helping me said she would issue a back-pay for January through May 2014 and that the first installment ($2,063) would come in a few days.

I had mixed feelings about the back-pay, as I felt it was not legitimate (given me exceeding the resource limit in January), so I returned to the SSA office (after June; when I had received the June payment plus half of the back-pay), explained the situation to another representative, and even offered to pay back the back-pay if it was inaccurate. I was told it was accurate, given the system, and that I shouldn’t worry. Well, as I was well over $2,000 by the end of June (because of the June payment + backpay), my SSI was suspended in July. SSA insisted I was well over the resource limit. Additionally, I got an overpayment notice for the back-pay, plus the June payment. At that point, I felt overwhelmed, so I went to DC Legal Aid Society (free legal help) and asked for their help. LegalAid was able to only represent me to get my SSI reinstated (not for the overpayment), but during the process, SSA issued me July’s payment as a back-pay, PLUS the second installment of $2,063 for the original back-pay. SSA also reduced the original overpayment amount, and deducted it from my monthly payments, which I was fine with. I was confused as to why I was still issued the second installment of the back-pay (as, obviously, it was a mistake to begin with), but my lawyer advised me that it was what SSA felt was accurate, so I let it slide.

I continued to get SSI payments from August through December (with the overpayment deduction of 10%). In mid-December 2014, my online SSA account suddenly showed me as not receiving SSI. A call to the SSA 800# confirmed that my SSI was cut due to being over $2,000, and after explaining that my back-pay had an explicit exemption (and I had no source of income at all during 2014, other than SSI), he agreed and encouraged me to send in a letter of reconsideration to appeal the suspension. I sent it in certified mail right before I left to California for vacation (and I have proof of the delivery). I also got into touch with my previous lawyer, updating her about the situation.

When I returned to DC in late-December, there was no change or response to my appeal. I was also expected to pay the remaining overpayment balance right away. January 1st came and went without any payment. I then went to Legal Aid for an intake, as my lawyer wasn’t responding to my emails and I felt it was urgent (especially due to the previous overpayment balance being due in full, which I couldn’t afford). I explained the situation in full, as well as the fact that they did not respond to my appeal. I asked for representation again to get my SSI reinstated (as well as a retroactive payment for January), as I feel it’s very clear SSI is in the wrong (given the back-pays would not count as a resource until x month). The letter explaining the suspension of my SSI benefits said that starting June 2014, I was over the limit, all the way through December 2014. Some of the dates in the letter were inaccurate/off the mark, even having several months in the future (late 2015 and early 2016) listed as the reason I was ineligible.

I’m almost done, please bear with me, and sorry this is so long. I was told yesterday by my previous lawyer that they could not represent me due to low staffing, but they would be able to only ask at a meeting with SSA tomorrow whether or not SSA received my original appeal in December (as there was never a response). I felt that was a fair compromise, meeting me halfway at least, and we would go from there.

However, today, I’m in a blind panic. I got another letter from SSI (dated 1/6/15, well after my appeal was sent yet no response to that, hmmm?) stating that I owed them $5,047 for the SSI payments they paid me from June through December 2014, PLUS the original overpayment I was already paying ($734). I know this is a mistake, especially as the original two backpays weren’t expiring for exemption from the resource limit until late February and May 2015. If SSA made a mistake issuing the two back-pays, they would have just deducted as an overpayment (which they have been doing), but this was completely out of the blue. I was over $2,000 all through June to now, but that was because of the back-pays which exempted me from the resource limitation (even if it was erroneous).

Now, I’m in a real pickle. I have a bit over $2,000 right now (from since June), but soon will be going under that, due to rent and bills. If SSI had denied my appeal, my lawyer won’t be able to represent me. How can I get my SSI restarted? I feel thrown under the bus. Plus, I cannot afford $5,047+734, all at once (due 2/5/15). The whole thing has been a big mess. I did everything I could on my part; I didn’t lie to SSI or anything illegal like that. My rent is about $600 (including bills), so I need SSI.

Worst case scenario? I can just cut SSI altogether, have my parents dip in my college fund and pay SSI the whole thing to make them go away, find a job as a waiter or Starbucks or something until I find a job. Problem? I’m with a job agency paid by my DC VR (vocational rehabilitation counselor) searching for a job. They’re known to be really good. If I get a job, they can’t help me (nor can VR), so I can’t find a better job.

I feel really, really screwed right now, and just in over my head. Sorry if my “sensationalism” tone came across that way, or again, overly dramatic. That’s not my intention. It’s scary not knowing what’s next. I emailed my lawyer about the recent letter from SSI (overpayment of $5,047) and she said that wasn’t unusual given the suspension, and that she would let me know what SSA says tomorrow re: received my appeal or not from December.

At this point, it just seems like I have nobody else to really turn to, especially as Legal Aid doesn’t seem to be able to help me (other than checking on the status of the reconsideration). I’m in a blind panic, but I’m trying to take it step by step. I could really use some help/advice (and believe me, I know you’re not my lawyer/not a lawyer), and this place has always been a great help to me.

Oh? And thanks to MedicAid, I’ve finally began therapy (which I really need). I’m afraid that’ll be cut now, thanks to the whole SSI mess (I got MedicAid through SSI).

Thanks. Sorry for the length; I really tried my best to keep it as concise and brief as possible. If you need any clarification, please ask.
posted by dubious_dude to Law & Government (9 answers total)
Can you get a politician to look at this? Does a local newspaper have an ombudsman? Getting outside eyes on this might get you some traction. Politicians handle all kinds of requests for their constituents.
posted by SyraCarol at 3:46 PM on January 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

SyraCarol (or anyone who can answer) - how would I get started with that? I live in DC, which technically doesn't have representation, so I'm not sure which representative to contact. Also, what newspapers would be best?

If anyone else can have any good resources to point at, other than Legal Aid Society, or even a way to convince Legal Aid to help, that would be great. I really feel in over my head at this point and it feels too overwhelming to think.
posted by dubious_dude at 5:53 PM on January 15, 2015

Washington, D.C. has no official representatives in Congress, but it has a boatload of law schools, and many with clinical programs that can help the poor. These come up on short investigation:

G.W.University Public Justice Advocacy Clinic

Washington College of Law - Disability Rights Clinical program
contact: Christin Mitchell, Sr. Administrative Assistant
posted by yclipse at 7:42 PM on January 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

yclipse - thanks for the link! Upon more investigation, it looks like the first link (GW) is more related to employment/unemployment help, and the second one, could be a possibility. But, how about a politician? Any ideas for that?

posted by dubious_dude at 7:48 PM on January 15, 2015

You should reach out to your DC councilmember's office to see if they can connect you with any resources at their disposal.
posted by evoque at 8:05 PM on January 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Good suggestions so far. My legal aid office in PA normally doesn't thoroughly handle SSI overpayments, but I know we have helped people with OPs get on fairly reasonable payment plans (sometimes as low as $10/mo). You might want to ask your representative Legal Aid, along with the other resources you contact, whether that's a possibility? Might not work, but it's worth a shot.

I also wanted to assure you that you should remain eligible for Medicaid even if your SSI is suspended. Since DC has expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, resources shouldn't factor into your Medicaid eligibility, and as long as your income doesn't exceed 138% of the Federal Poverty Income Guidelines (about $1342/mo), you'll continue to qualify.
posted by black_lizard at 6:32 AM on January 16, 2015

Seconding contacting Norton's office. You may also want to check with Bread for City's legal clinic.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 6:38 AM on January 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

You said your lawyer would let you know today if they received the appeal, so hopefully that small thing resolves ok for you

Otherwise, I would write everything you wrote here as accurately and concise as you can. collate all the notices the also have sent then go back in, physically, to the office and ask them specifically. Tell them your confusion and anxiety and financial situation. Bring an advocate if you can, this can be anyone - even just there to give emotional support. I would press them to let you know what you need to do right now, and a time-line on longer term fixes.
The $5,000 thing, yes contest it. But if they insist then ask/have them withdraw it in small increments from future benefit payments.
It generally is a lot harder for people to be impersonal and dismissive to people face-to-face.

And definably contact Norton, I'm pessimistic if they/she'll be any help but I could be wrong and it is most certainly worth a shot.

Longer term:

There are some decent informational resources here

As to what to do with large back payments in the future (if they occur): there are trust funds that can be set up that sorta remove these large funds from counting as a resource. Generally there are guidelines as to what you can use that money for but it is a handy way to set aside resources so you don't run into this crap. I am not sure who does this in the DC area but you could ask these people ARC-DC if they have suggestions. They do primarily serve folks with DD so may not be a direct assistance, but perhaps - they do administer these Trusts here in MN, if not there they could likely direct you to someone else.

There is some potential light at the end of the tunnel going forward, Obama just signed the ABLE Act into law which means sometime later this year, or early next (as soon as the IRS figures out the details) it will provide some relief to the idiotically low resource limit for some people, I don't know if you'll qualify for this in the future or not but here's a general overview: ABLE.
posted by edgeways at 8:44 AM on January 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

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