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Social Security Administration Supplemental Security Income Terminations


Problem Statement

For many years, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has incorrectly assessed people getting Supplemental Security Income (SSI), who qualify for the program depending on their finances. The asset limits for SSI are notably strict, and prevent disabled and elderly people from saving money and building financial security—people must have less than $2,000 in “countable resources” (or $3,000 for a couple).

The technology used by the SSA to check assets caused additional issues: When the first day of the month fell on a weekend or holiday, the system would deposit money early, but would fail to consider that deposit’s timing when doing an asset check. The early deposit then counted towards someone’s assets and the system terminated benefits if the total amount went over the limit. Sometimes the system would retract deposits. This happened to thousands of people, most of whom did not understand that the termination was in error so they could appeal it. New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG) sued the SSA in 2018 and settled two years later, forcing SSA to fix the system and prevent automatic terminations.

Status of Issue

Advocates from NYLAG filed a class-action lawsuit, Ershteyn v. Berryhill, based on SSA’s violation of Social Security law and due process and equal protection. SSA’s practice of wrongfully denying benefits to recipients of Supplemental Security Income resulted mainly from flaws in its computer system. A critical issue during the settlement was how to fix the computer system and how long it would take. NYLAG contacted Upturn for assistance in reviewing technical documents about the system. With Upturn’s assistance, NYLAG was able to secure a settlement that required the fix to be implemented on a significantly shorter timeline. The fix prevents caseworkers from moving forward with a case termination if they have not properly accounted for early deposits.

NYLAG’s Complaint

NYLAG press release: SSI Recipients’ Benefits No Longer Wrongfully Terminated

NYLAG press release: NYLAG Sues To Stop Widespread Social Security Mistake That Harms Recipients

Key Parties Involved & Contact

Primary Advocate Contacts: Elizabeth Jois, Michelle Spadafore, Danielle Tarantolo

Social Security Administration


Related Resources

Public Records Request Guide

This guide will help you think through how you can use public records requests to help find out why the state decided to implement a benefits technology system, how they implemented it, and how they are using it.

Fair Hearing Guide for Attorneys

A guide attorneys and advocates for using the fair hearing process to both challenge benefits tech decisions and gather information for further advocacy.