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SSA Temporarily Suspends Wet Signature Requirements for Online Applications

2020 May 19
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by Mary Dale Walters

The Social Security Administration (SSA) told the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia on Monday, May 18, 2020, that it would temporarily allow the use of electronic signatures on some key forms submitted by initial disability applicants. The agency decision, effective “no later than May 22, 2020,” was in response to a request for a preliminary injunction by the plaintiffs in the National Federation of the Blind, et. al v. Andrew Saul.

The temporary policy change would suspend the SSA’s “wet” signature requirement on its Appointment of Representative (1696) and related Fee Agreement forms required only for SSDI and SSI claimants with representatives submitting an initial application for benefits online. The decision comes as the agency works to ensure access to services during the coronavirus pandemic. Though requested by the plaintiffs, the agency has not paused beneficiaries’ wet signature requirements for Continuing Disability Reviews (CDR), noting it has suspended initiating these during COVID-19.

An Allsup analysis suggests that approximately 27% of the approximately 2 million initial SSDI applicants have a representative. About 56% of all disability applicants utilize the online application, including a large majority of representatives who SSA request adopt the process. Singling out those claimants who seek a representative to help confirm likely eligibility, collect necessary data and provide guidance through the complex disability program could delay applicants by weeks, or more during the current health crisis.

The SSA has been under pressure from representatives, the Office of Management and Budget, disability organizations, and others to adopt electronic signatures in response to COVID-19 and in its effort to modernize service delivery overall. However, the agency recently re-stated the requirements in its Program Operations Manual System (POMS). Claimants, beneficiaries, and representatives may use electronic signatures for a large number of other SSA forms, such as those related to disability appeals.

The temporary suspension outlined in the SSA’s declaration to the court includes supplemental steps that claimants and their representatives may need to take by telephone to ensure proper processing of the forms. Not addressed in the suit is the agency’s administration of the iClaim form for online applicants whose wet signature on the attestation also can slow online applications.

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