Officials: Keep Social Security disability review office in Brooklyn

April 8, 2016 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
U.S. Reps. Hakeem Jeffries joined representatives from Brooklyn Legal Services and community advocates on Wednesday to urge the Social Security Administration to keep its disability review office in Downtown Brooklyn. Photo courtesy of Reps. Hakeem Jeffries Office

Jeffries: Move is ‘Unacceptable, unnecessary and unconscionable’

Thousands of disabled Brooklynites will have a hard time getting to hearings on the status of their disability claims if the Social Security Administration moves its disability review office out of Downtown Brooklyn, says U.S. Reps. Hakeem Jeffries (Bedford-Stuyvesant- Cobble Hill-Coney Island) and Yvette Clarke (Crown Heights-Flatbush-Park Slope).

The officials joined legal and community advocates on Wednesday to urge the agency to reconsider its plan to relocate its Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) from 111 Livingston Street in Downtown Brooklyn to 201 Varick Street in Manhattan. Social Security plans to make the move on September 9.

“The decision by the Social Security Administration to abandon the residents of Brooklyn is unacceptable, unnecessary and unconscionable,” Rep. Jeffries said in a statement. “The largest borough in the city deserves its own hearing office and we will not rest until the effort to move the office is reversed.”

People receiving disability payments suffer from disabling conditions. With limited accessible transportation options, moving the office to Manhattan will create unnecessary difficulties for them, says Rep. Clarke.

“Forcing Brooklyn residents to travel to a proposed Manhattan location fails to take into account that Social Security and Disability recipients currently face many physical and physiological challenges that make any form of travel difficult,” Clarke said.

She called on Regional Commissioner of Region II, Federick Maurin, to reconsider the proposal “in an inclusive and transparent manner.”

Tanya White, director of Disability Advocacy for Brooklyn Legal Services, said that Social Security should not “close its doors” to sick Brooklyn residents.

“The decision to shift crucial services from Brooklyn to Manhattan has no clear community benefit and exposes already vulnerable people to unnecessary pain and hardship,” White said in a statement. “Requiring chronically ill, disabled adults and children to travel to Manhattan for hearings will significantly increase travel time and expense simply to have their claims heard.”

The Brooklyn office issues close to 3,000 decisions per year and currently has approximately 5,550 people awaiting hearings, according to Brooklyn Legal Services. This represents roughly 15 percent of all of the decisions in the U.S., according to figures provided by Social Security Administration. It can take more than a year to schedule a hearing.

According to a letter sent to Social Security Administration by Reps. Jeffries, Clarke and Nydia Velazquez (Bushwick-Red Hook-Brooklyn Heights), the agency says it will set up a Brooklyn satellite office in the near future.

“It is not clear what the scope of this satellite office would be. However, any Brooklyn based ODAR office that does not allow for in-person hearings would be unacceptable,” the officials said in the letter.