What is COVID-19 and how can I be affected if I am disabled?
Author: Attorney Lonnie Roach
COVID 19 is a serious threat to everyone, disrupting normal life for the entire population, but people with disabilities face unique challenges. We at Bemis, Roach & Reed hope that the following information will help you navigate these unsettling times.
What is COVID-19?
COVID-19 is a highly infection respiratory virus.
The virus spreads predominantly between people in close contact with each other through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Symptoms are mild to critical, including fever, dry cough and shortness of breath. Severe cases can develop into pneumonia, cause multi-organ failure, and death. While some individuals who test positive for COVID-19 may be asymptomatic, they can spread the virus and the elderly and individuals with underlying medical conditions such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and immune system disorders are particularly vulnerable. Those with disabilities can certainly be at heightened risk, so they, and those who care for them need to take extra precautions to avoid contact with the virus.
Covid-19 and Qualifying for Disability Benefits
Covid-19 is a serious health threat and has impacted every American’s daily life.
Most people infected experience varying degrees of symptoms including high fever, coughing and difficulty breathing, but while some cases of Covid-19 are severe leading to pneumonia and even death most symptoms last between 10 to 14 days and do not result in disability. In order to be considered eligible for Social Security Disability benefits, a person must have an impairment that lasts or is expected to last 12 months. If you are unable to work temporarily due to the virus, you may qualify for Supplemental Security Insurance or be eligible for unemployment insurance. For more information on unemployment benefits in Texas see Texas Unemployment Services ->.
How is the Covid19 crisis affecting the Social Security Administration and their processes?
Understandably, people with disabilities and others receiving Social Security benefits may be concerned about how the virus will impact payments and Social Security procedures.
Though all Social Security field offices are closed to the public until further notice, the Social Security Administration is continuing its services by offering assistance online and via telephone. Social Security is not accepting walk-in visits and has suspended in-person visits and hearings in field offices in order to protect the population it serves, mainly the elderly and people with underlying medical conditions.
The SSA’s page on the Covid19 ->
Social Security will continue to send all Social Security, SSI and SSDI payments electronically and through the mail.
In March 2013, a law went into effect requiring all Social Security benefits to be sent electronically, so if you are currently receiving payments by mail, you should sign up for direct deposit immediately. You can set up a direct deposit account online as well as complete a number of other tasks online:
- Explore benefits you may be eligible for at Benefits.gov
- File a claim for disability or Medicare benefits
- Check your application status
- File an appeal if you were recently denied disability benefits
- Print proof of your benefits
- Print an SSA-1099
- Request a Medicare replacement card
- Change your address
- Change your direct deposit account
In order to provide assistance efficiently, the Social Security Administration encourages people to view their website and use online services before calling.
However, some questions and issues are best discussed with a staff member. Though wait times may be longer than normal during this period, Social Security can help you:
- If you qualify for a Compassionate Allowance or Quick Disability Determination process
- If you qualify for immediate SSI payment because of severe disability
- If you have a terminal illness
- Resolve payment issues such as overpayment or not receiving payment
- If you are homeless or at risk of homelessness
- Schedule a telephone appointment to apply for disability
- Request to reinstate benefits
Social Security can also help you change your address or direct deposit account over the phone.
The SSA page for Direct Deposit
Document deadlines are being extended wherever possible.
If you must provide documents to Social Security, you should mail them or deliver the documents to your Social Security office when it reopens. Hearings will be held by phone; Social Security will contact you with the hearing date and time.
During this time Social Security will not be conducting any Continuing Disability Reviews (CDRs) and will contact individuals about their CDRs when Covid-19 subsides.
Additionally, Social Security with not be carrying out any of the following during this period:
- Processing and collecting overpayments
- Conducting organization or individual representative payee accountings
- Processing third-party requests for information
- Processing Freedom of information requests.
Beware of phone scammers who tell you that Covid-19 is terminating your Social Security benefits and trick you into giving your personal information.
Typically, Social Security does not reach out to beneficiaries over the phone. If someone calls you offering to reinstate your benefits, ask for their phone extension and then call Social Security’s customer service number, asking for that extension to confirm the caller’s identity.
At this time the future economic effects of Covid-19 are unpredictable, but it will not affect the amount of benefits.
What may change is the cost of living adjustment determined each year by Social Security. Spread of the virus has caused an increased demand for food and other household supplies while at the same time there has been a drop in crude oil prices. If there is an adjustment in income, the Social Security Administration will ensure that SSDI recipients can afford basic needs.
Congressional Stimulus Checks for the Disabled
With businesses closing, even temporarily and many people unemployed, recently Congress passed legislation to provide needed financial assistance to American families and individuals.
The bill also expands unemployment benefits to include the self-employed and part-time workers. Checks will either be mailed or deposited directly into a taxpayer’s account. How much an individual or couple receives depends on income, but most adults including those on Social Security Disability Insurance will receive $1,200 and all recipients must have Social Security numbers.
- Single adults with adjusted gross income of $75,000 or less will receive the full amount
- Married couples with no children and earning $150,000 or less will receive $2,300.
- Taxpayers filing as the head of a household and earned $112,500 or less will receive the full amount.
The stimulus stops for individuals earning $99,000 or more and couples with no children earning $198,000 or more.
If you are claimed as a dependent on another person’s tax return you are not eligible, even if you are an adult, and families with two children and earning $218,00 or more are not eligible. The stimulus checks are a one-time payment and not income, but technically a tax credit for 2020 taxes.
You can get your check directedly deposited into your bank account if the IRS has that information.
Those payments should arrive before April 24th. If the IRS doesn’t have that information paper checks will be mailed after the 24th and may take months to arrive. If you did not file income tax for 2018 or 2019 you can go here Enter Bank Information – > to enter your bank account information. If you did file a tax return but still need to supply the IRS with your bank account information you can go here Enter Bank Information – > to enter your bank account information.
The latest reports say if you are receiving SSDI and did not file a tax return in 2018 or 2019 and use direct deposit you should receive your check in late April.
Medical Services and Supplies for the Disabled
Because of the rapid spread of the virus, many cities and states have issued shelter-in-place orders, allowing only essential businesses and services to remain open.
The lack of testing kits, masks, ventilators and other medical equipment has placed exponential stress on the medical community, forcing doctors to attend to only the most urgent cases. Advocates for people with disabilities are concerned that some disabled people may be discriminated against. In response, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights issued guidelines and warned “persons with disabilities should not be denied medical care on the basis of stereotypes, assessments of quality of life, or judgments about a person’s relative ‘worth’ based on the presence or absence of disabilities.” Regular appointments with your medical providers may be canceled or postponed and in some circumstances, appointments by telephone may be scheduled. If you have a medical concern, or become ill, call your medical provider for instructions before going to a clinic.
How can I prevent contracting or spreading COVID-19?
The guidelines to prevent contracting COVID-19 are the same for everyone, but they are especially important to people whose health is compromised and rely on others, such as a caretaker, for assistance in daily life:
- Stay home as much as possible and limit necessary trips to grocery stores, banks, the post office, etc. as much as possible
- Practice social distancing (keep 6 feet away from other people)
- If you are sick, stay home
- Avoid contact with people who are sick
- Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing
- Wash hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If this is not possible, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol
- Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands
- Ask visitors to wash their hands
- Wipe down and disinfect surfaces and devices like an iPhone or iPad
If you have symptoms of COVID-19, and may have had contact with a person with COVID-19, call your health care provider or local public health department before seeking medical care so that appropriate measures can be taken.
If you have been denied disability don’t give up! Contact a Disability lawyer at 512-454-4000 for a free consultation and get the benefits you deserve.
What can I do to make sure I have the support I need?
A person with a disability can feel isolated even under normal circumstances.
While social distancing is recommended to prevent the spread of COVID-19, there are some preparations you can make to stay safe and make sure you get the support you need.
- Sign up for emergency warnings in your city or county
- Know who to call if you feel sick
- Identify people in your community who can provide you with support if you need it and know their contact information
- Find out what remote services are being offered by your doctor, such as video appointments
- Have medications and other medical equipment delivered to your home
- Find out what services your caregiver will provide during a quarantine event
- If your caregiver is unable to come, find out who to call to receive services and other resources available to receive the support you need
Where else can I find help?
Cities have closed schools, libraries and other public services temporarily in an effort to contain the spread of the virus, but many organizations, though closed to the public, are still operating.
Disability Rights Texas, a federally designated agency that advocates for people with disabilities in Texas, has created a special webpage on their website with information regarding COVID-19. Go here -> Their offices with be closed to the public, but staff members may be reached during normal business hours by phone.
Meals on Wheels of Central Texas plans to continue delivering meals to their clients and can provide clients with shelf-stable meals in the event of a region-wide quarantine.
Meals on Wheels Covid19 Information ->
HEB grocery stores offer home and curbside delivery of foods, products, and prescriptions which may be of use.
There is a small cost for delivery of $5.00. Everyone needs to have enough food and household supplies and home delivery or curbside is a great way to avoid possible exposure to the virus. Their curbside delivery is free presently as well and offers contact-less delivery to your car while you wait. Order on-line and set up a delivery time. Be aware however due to increased usage the delivery times often involve a two week wait. HEB is also now temporarily offering free home delivery on pharmacy prescriptions in select areas.
If you are sick and do not have health insurance, CommUnityCare Texas can provide guidance and care. See their website CommUnityCare Texas -> or call them at 512-978-9015.
Additionally, the City of Austin Public Library is still serving residents through its Virtual Library providing access to e-books, audiobooks, e-learning, entertainment, magazines and newspapers, homework help, and research and databases.
Covid19 Austin Library Information ->
Even though we all need to practice social distancing now, perhaps more than ever, it is important not to isolate yourself from friends, family and colleagues.
If meeting in person is prohibitive, stay in touch with others through email, phone and Skype.
Covid-19 has presented unprecedented challenges for everyone.
Bemis, Roach and Reed is open and we are working to serve you and ensure you get the benefits you deserve. Though we are not currently receiving clients at our offices, we are scheduling phone conferences and meetings and ready to respond to all your concerns during this challenging time.
Disability benefits are an important source of income for those who are unable to work. If you are not able to work due to accident or illness, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability or Long Term Disability benefits. If you have applied for benefits and been denied, contact the attorneys at Bemis, Roach and Reed for a free consultation. Call 512-454-4000 and get help NOW.
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