Senators seek details on SSA’s plan to modernize and simplify disability benefits applications

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Three Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee asked the Social Security Administration for details on improvements to the Supplemental Security Income application.

Three Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee are pressing the Social Security Administration for more details about its efforts to simplify the application for Supplemental Security Income, or SSI.

The benefit is for elderly adults, as well as adults and children with disabilities or blindness who meet certain low-income thresholds.

“SSI claimants face significant administrative barriers to accessing this critical lifeline,” Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Bob Casey, D-Pa., and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, wrote in an Aug. 8 letter to acting SSA commissioner Kilolo Kijakazi. 

“In addition to the program's stringent income and asset limits, the current SSI application form for evaluating non-medical eligibility criteria is over 20 pages long, and in paper form,” the letter continues. “It is more important than ever that the SSI program is modernized and accessible to all Americans…to expand access for disabled individuals seeking to apply for SSI benefits while lowering administrative costs.”

The agency plans to simplify the SSI application and roll out a process in the fall for “certain individuals” to apply online, according to public agency documents from June, but lawmakers want specifics like what executives are in charge of the efforts and details on user feedback SSA is getting during its testing process. 

Both human-centered design and expanding online services also feature in the Social Security Administration’s 2024 budget request as customer experience initiatives. The agency also hopes to undertake benefits awareness campaigns to increase uptake of SSI.

In coming years, SSA intends to increase the number of forms and services available online, including a “mobile-accessible online process for individuals applying for or receiving services to upload forms, documentation, evidence or correspondence,” the budget says. 

Already, the agency launched a redesigned website last year and has been reworking its continuing disability review process — required periodically for SSI recipients — by adding an online submission tool and shortening the form. It also set up an online protective filing tool in 2022 for people to establish a protective filing date for SSI, the first step in the application process.

The Social Security Administration’s budget request also flags policy and regulation simplification as part of its effort “to make it easier” for people to file for SSI.

The SSI program and application isn’t the only work SSA is doing to try to improve how people experience its services, as the agency is also trying to address wait times of over seven months for initial disability determinations, according to its fiscal 2024 budget request.

The senators want more information about the agency’s plans for the simplified SSI application, including a project roadmap, key deliverables for the coming years, projected milestones and budget information for the next five years.

SSA declined to comment to Nextgov/FCW for this story.