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Social Security roundup: 2021 in review

By Lauryn December 14, 2021

In the face of yet another year ravaged by the global pandemic, the Social Security Administration (SSA) spent 2021 continuing to provide benefits, services, and support for those in need of them. Despite efforts to provide services accurately and timely, it was a challenging year for Social Security as inventory levels increased and the backlog of cases burgeoned. With all appointments – including appeals and hearings – only being conducted over the phone or through a video platform, many individuals were unable to properly take advantage of services offered.

In the middle of working through cases and attending to the needs of the public, there was a shake up at Social Security as the Commissioner was relieved of his position. Additional insight into the behind-the-scenes operations also painted a grim picture of what Social Security looks like with most of its staff working from home. There were many stories that came out of Social Security this past year, and we have highlighted just a few of them here.

President Biden selects Kilolo Kijakazi to serve as acting commissioner
In July 2021, President Biden removed Social Security Commissioner, Andrew Saul, from his position. Saul had been highly criticized throughout his term, dating back prior to the pandemic when he revoked Social Security’s long-standing work from home options for employees. As the pandemic hit, Saul was slow to react to inventory management issues, resulting in considerable backlogs at both the Initial and Reconsideration levels. While the search for a new commissioner is completed, Kilolo Kijakazi was appointed as Acting Commissioner.

OIG issues a report on SSA management of mail during the pandemic
The Office of the Inspector General released an interim report in August 2021 regarding the management of mail during the COVID-19 pandemic. The findings of the report posed a grim look at how mail operations have been managed since the SSA suspended most in-person services due to the burgeoning pandemic. The report found that Social Security does not have or maintain a system of managing incoming, outgoing, or pending mail. Also identified as specific issues of concern including unprocessed applications for new or replacement Social Security cards, a backlog of remitted benefit checks, and hundreds of thousands of unattended-to, undeliverable pieces of mail.

Social Security announces a 5.9% Cost-of-Living Adjustment for 2022
Many Social Security beneficiaries eagerly anticipate the announcement of the Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) that will increase their monthly benefits starting the next year. In early October, a historic 5.9 percent increase was announced for all Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) beneficiaries – including any dependent beneficiaries – for the December 2021 payment. Over 64 million beneficiaries are expected to receive an approximate additional $100 per month because of the announcement. This is the highest rate increase in decades, with the last time the increase exceeding 5.9 being back in 1982.

For the second year in a row, the Social Security landscape was marked by change. At The Advocator Group (now operating as Brown & Brown Absence Service Group), we remain committed to monitoring developments closely and will communicate any changes or announcements that come from Social Security that may impact our clients. Should you have any questions about any recent announcements from Social Security, you may reach out to your local Social Security office, or to The Advocator Group directly for additional information.

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