Earlier this year, the Social Security Administration issued a Policy Interpretation Ruling for claimants seeking reconsideration of a decision made in the review process. The agency specifically addressed how the federal regulations for reopening a claim should be used when a decision hinges on a federal law that is later determined to be unconstitutional. The need for this Policy Interpretation came about following two Supreme Court decisions, Defense of Marriage Act in United States v. Windsor, 133 S. Ct. 2675 (2013) and Obergefell v. Hodges, 135 S. Ct. 2584 (2015). It may have an impact on Massachusetts Social Security claimants.
The two main programs of the Social Security Administration (SSA) are Title II and Title XVI. Title II benefits are ones from the Social Security Disability Insurance program, paid to individuals insured under the Social Security Act based on their payments into the system through the tax on their earnings. These payments can also be made to a particular set of disabled dependents. Title XVI benefits are better known as SSI, or Supplemental Security Income, and they are paid to disabled people who have limited income and resources. Much of the focus on whether an individual qualifies for Social Security benefits centers around whether or not she or he meets the medical criteria to be considered disabled. However, a claimant must also fall into the categories set by the SSA. The two Supreme Court cases above allow a greater amount of individuals to qualify as a disabled widow or widower, or as a dependent of a deceased insured parent.
Normally, if the claimant objects to the decision or determination of the agency, she or he can lose the right to another review if the appeal is not made within the listed time period. The decision or determination is then final. Exceptions to finality exist, and cases may be reopened under limited circumstances. The cases can be reopened for “good cause” at the agency’s initiative or by request of the party for revision. Agency regulations guide the grounds for reopening and whether or not there are deadlines to follow.