First of all, I’d like to compliment you on your commitment to serving the homeless population of Northeastern Ohio. In working with the Northeastern Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH), I have recognized the dedication and compassion of NEOCH staff and partners in their efforts to meet the needs of the people they serve. Like you the Social Security Administration (SSA) takes seriously its goal of providing world class service to people from all walks of life. Recent surveys show that we are doing a good job in that area.
USA Today recently quoted a public survey showing that SSA has a very high customer satisfaction rating. In fact, the public rated SSA as the top federal government agency for courtesy and efficiency. I hope that by sharing some general information about disability and other programs that SSA administers, readers may understand more about what sometimes seems to be a complicated process. The Social Security Administration operates two major programs: Social security insurance (retirement, disability and survivors benefits) and supplemental security income (SSI). Although beneficiaries apply for Medicare health insurance through SSA, the health care financing Administration Department of Health and Human Services administers Medicare.
Social Security pays benefits to workers and their families based on the social security taxes a person pays during his or her working years. SSI payments are made to aged, blind and disabled individuals who have little or no income and few resources. While social security benefits are paid from the Social Security trust funds, SSI payments come from the general revenues of the U.S. government.
Medicare is a Federal Health Insurance program for people 65 years and older. In addition Medicare covers certain disabled persons under age 65 and persons of any age with end stage kidney disease. Medicaid is the largest source of funds for medical care to our Nation’s poorest people. It is a cooperative endeavor between each state and the Federal Government,
In Ohio, Medicaid is administered by the state (though the county Departments of Human Services.) Most people who are entitled to SSI are also entitled to Medicaid. If a person also has Medicare coverage, the state may pay the monthly insurance premium (which would otherwise be deducted from the social security check). A pamphlet called Medicare Savings for Qualified Beneficiaries is available by calling social security’s toll free number 1-800-772-1213. It explains that the state sometimes will pay for Medicare costs for certain elderly and disabled persons with low incomes and very limited assets. In Ohio eligibility and application rules are determined through the County Department of Human Services.
When a disabled person applies for social security or supplemental security income (SSI), a claims representative asks many questions about the applicant’s life (i.e. work history, information about illnesses and medical records). The medical portion of the claim is then sent to the disability determination service. In Ohio that office is located in Columbus. Teams of claims examiners gather the evidence from doctors, clinics and hospitals. Physicians then review the evidence to determine if the illness is totally disabling.
In Ohio the average waiting time for a disability decision is about 120 days. SSA is currently working on redesigning the disability process. When this new system is in place, it will dramatically reduce the amount of time it takes for a disability decision resulting in better customer service and a smoother process. When homeless people contact us to file a claim its important that we know how to reach them in the future. We ask for phone number of shelters, case workers friends or relatives where they might obtain messages or be reached directly. In turn the applicant is given the phone number of the representative handling his or her claim and asked to report any changes that occur (i.e. change of address, treatment by a new doctor.).
Each year, 60 million people phone our toll free number and 24 million people visit one of our 1,300 field offices across the nation. Employees are trained to respond compassionately to each customer. Written information, video training, and open dialog in staff meetings stress the importance of respect, effective communication, and assessing needs. Information sharing with other agencies help employees stay attuned to other available social services (i.e. First Call for Help, Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, County Human Services Department and crisis hotlines).
Annually Social Security shares public information in the community through such avenues as the Homeless Stand Down the Black Expo, and town hall meetings. In October, a team of 25 SSA employees raised over $3,000 and walked in the American Heart Association’s Heart Walk. Earlier this year, SSA employees gave the highest percentage of contribution to the Harvest for Hunger campaign. I look forward to a continued partnership with NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine. If there are other fund raising or volunteer events for the homeless SSA wants to be a part of them. Best wishes for continued success in the new year.
Linda L. Barrett, Public Affairs Specialist, (SSA )
Editor’s Note: This letter was written in response to a series of critical stories that the Homeless Grapevine has written in regards to homeless people receiving Social Security. In Issue 22, Brian Johnson, a homeless epileptic, talked about his difficulty in getting Social Security. The Grapevine staff wrote to Social Security officials asking a series of questions about why the bureaucracy was so immense for people attempting to get SSI. We asked why it seems that it takes a lawyer to get a person on disability, and we asked if the money spent on screening people for eligibility and detecting fraud saves more money than it costs. This is the letter we received back. It seems that it is going to be just as difficult getting an answer as it is to get on disability. We shall continue to try.
Social Security Administration
Numbers of SSA Beneficiaries and SSI Recipients in Cuyahoga County:
Type of Payment Number of Recipients Total dollars paid
Social Security 264,441 $187,123,000
(Retirement Disability & Survivors)
SSI 40,644 $15,502,000 (Blind, Aged & Disabled)
*** Statistics as of December 1996
Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine published 1998 Issue 24