About the SSI/SSDI Overpayment Pro Bono Project
The SSI/SSDI Overpayment Pro Bono Project was developed so that volunteer attorneys can represent low-income disabled individuals who receive benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA) and are in jeopardy of losing their disability benefits due to the collection of an alleged overpayment by SSA.
A typical case in this Project will involve a beneficiary who receives cash payments through the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program and has incurred an alleged overpayment of benefits. SSDI is an entitlement program that provides income to workers who become disabled, and to their dependents and survivors. SSI is a needs-based program that provides a basic income for people with disabilities who meet specific low-income guidelines or who have a disability but do not meet eligibility requirements for receiving SSDI. It is also possible for a beneficiary to receive both SSI and SSDI. It is fairly common for SSI and SSDI recipients to receive a notice that they have received benefits to which they were not entitled. This is called an "overpayment."
Overpayments can occur for many reasons, but one of the most common triggering events is a beneficiary’s returning to work. Overpayments often occur in return-to-work cases because the rules for counting income are so confusing that beneficiaries, as well as SSA staff, often misinterpret the rules. Usually, SSA will require the recipient to pay back any overpaid benefits, and SSA will reduce the current benefits until the money is paid back. A reduction in benefits can be devastating to these disabled beneficiaries, who survive on extremely limited income, primarily the Social Security payments.
This Project focuses on helping beneficiaries through two specific procedural methods of relief:
- Filing an appeal, in which the beneficiary disputes SSA's position that an overpayment of benefits occurred; and
- Requesting a waiver, in which the beneficiary acknowledges the overpayment, but has valid grounds to ask that SSA not proceed with a collection of the debt.
Your Role as a Project Volunteer
Volunteers will provide a vital service to disabled individuals by protecting the modest benefits on which they depend, often their only source of income, and by helping to navigate a complicated and often frustrating bureaucratic system.
Project volunteers will advocate on behalf of disabled individuals by gathering information, drafting letters, making phone calls and by presenting information at meetings or hearings in person with SSA. Volunteers will gain experience in written and oral advocacy, negotiation, and navigating administrative agencies. While cases vary, the average case requires between 10-25 hours over a period of several months.
Training and Support for Volunteers
Project volunteers will work on their cases in collaboration with staff attorneys from one of the following legal aid organizations:
- Health and Disability Advocates
- Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago
- Equip for Equality
- AIDS Legal Council of Chicago
In addition to in-person support, volunteers have access to substantive written materials available on the Project's homepage, SSI/SSDI Overpayment Pro Bono Project. In addition, information about Social Security is available by searching IllinoisProBono.org.
You may also watch a video training led by Tom Yates of Health and Disability Advocates that gives an overview of Social Security benefits and overpayments, SSI/SSDI Overpayment Cases Training video.
Currently, the SSI/SSDI Overpayment Pro Bono Project is in a pilot program. Kirkland & Ellis, LLP is has graciously agreed to participate as the Project’s pilot pro bono partner. In the coming year, we plan to expand the volunteer opportunities. If you are interested in getting involved or have questions about the Project, contact Kelly Tautges of The Chicago Bar Foundation.