SSA Lapses Trigger Devastating Losses for Vulnerable New Yorkers

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The New York Legal Assistance Group and Queens Legal Services (LSNYC) have filed a complaint in the Eastern District of New York against the United States Social Security Administration (SSA). The lawsuit alleges that SSA’s New York City offices are violating essential rights of recipients of Social Security benefits under the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. As a result, hundreds—and potentially thousands—of disabled New Yorkers are losing income they rely on to buy food and medicine, pay rent and survive.

SSI provides a modest income to elderly, disabled, and blind Americans. The plaintiffs in this case allege that SSA’s New York City offices are illegally reducing or terminating benefits for recipients like them, resulting in serious harm.

“In New York City, SSA routinely disregards the rules that would allow SSI recipients to exercise their due process rights – namely the right to object to a planned action to reduce or terminate SSI benefits before SSA takes adverse action. As a result, benefits are reduced or terminated despite timely appeals, triggering a devastating loss of benefits for highly vulnerable New Yorkers,” said Michelle Spadafore, a supervising attorney at the New York Legal Assistance Group.

“The right to be notified and to have a fair process when essential benefits are being terminated is a long-established constitutional protection,” said Ann Biddle, Queens Legal Services Deputy Director. “Both federal and New York courts have upheld this right in cases starting with 1970’s Goldberg v. Kelly and we expect to achieve the same result here. Our 11 plaintiffs are representative of hundreds more vulnerable New Yorkers who follow the SSA rules and nonetheless lose their survival income.”

The story of Sylvia Fabelo is typical of those of many other SSI recipients who have suffered because of the SSA’s lack of timely documentation and responsiveness.  A disabled senior citizen, she has received SSI benefits – her only source of income – since 2013. With no notice, Ms. Fabelo’s SSI benefits were terminated as of February 1, 2015, and she was found to be overpaid for a period of five months because of income she received as a foster parent—even though SSA exempt foster care income, as it is designated for the care of a child. Although advocates succeeded in restoring her benefits after several months, she is still struggling with the debt she incurred during those months.