In connection with the President’s direction to expand government services to underserved communities, the Social Security Administration recently announced its “Equity Action Plan.”
The presidential directive instructed all Federal agencies “to pursue a comprehensive approach to advancing equity for all, including people of color and other people who have been historically underserved, marginalized, and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality.”
SSA’s Acting Commissioner, Kilolo Kijakazi, stated that system barriers may prevent people from accessing Social Security programs and this plan was aimed at reducing those barriers. Social Security’s Equity Action Plan includes:
There has been a significant decrease since 1987 in data related to race and ethnicity. Because of that gap, it is not possible for the SSA leadership to monitor fair treatment of people of color. Therefore, as part of this plan, SSA will increase collection of race and ethnicity data.
SSA also recognized that, despite more than 1,200 field offices, there are still regions in the country where access to an office required lengthy travel, and the office hours made access difficult for working people.
In addition, the complexity of the Supplemental Security Income application discourages many applicants, especially when they cannot get to a local office for personal assistance. The goal, according to the summary, will be to simplify online forms to make it easier to file a SSI application.
The Press Release also noted that while African Americans are more likely to have a disability, they are less likely to be approved. Research will be done related to African Americans access to attorney representation and to have applications approved. SSA will research whether African Americans have the same access as White claimants to representation, whether representation makes a difference, and to work to expand access to representation for disability applicants.
Another issue noted by Social Security is the gender designation on forms being limited to male and female. Also, people trying to change their sex-designation face significant hurdles. SSA will explore self-attestation for sex records.
Last, SSA is trying to expand research and grant opportunities for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Serving Institutions. Apparently, the amount of research dollars going to these groups has been disproportionately low. The agency will try to “promote our contracting opportunities to small and disadvantaged businesses, which include woman-owned small businesses, service-disabled veteran-owned businesses, and small business contractors in Historically Underutilized Business (HUB) Zones.
As Social Security continues to crawl out of the pandemic, we are still working to win benefits
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