C.B.’s Story: A Tireless Fight for Child’s SSI Benefits

C.B.’s Story: A Tireless Fight for Child’s SSI Benefits

C.B. is a young woman who spent most of her childhood suffering from severe asthma and living in homeless shelters because of the Social Security Administration’s improper denial of SSI disability benefits and egregious administrative delays.

C.B. was born prematurely and treated for six weeks in intensive care. Beginning at age three she was diagnosed with chronic asthma. C.B. and her mother resided in homeless shelters, and on an ongoing basis C.B. suffered from asthma attacks requiring emergency room treatment and high doses of steroidal medications. SSI benefits can be essential for providing a safe living environment for an asthmatic child in a financially needy family. The monthly benefit is modest, but it can enable the family to afford an apartment with adequate living space in a clean and safe building, while the environment of a homeless shelter may actually exacerbate the child’s condition.

When C.B. was five years old, her mother applied for children’s SSI benefits on her behalf. The application was denied, as was a request for reconsideration and an appeal before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Acting without counsel, her mother requested review at the highest administrative appeals level─the Appeals Council, which found that the ALJ did not properly consider the evidence and sent the case back for another hearing. The same ALJ conducted the second hearing, taking more than two years to issue a decision and again denying C.B.’s claim.

Unable to secure the desperately needed SSI benefits on her own, C.B.’s mother came to PFCR for help. PFCR appealed the ALJ’s second decision to the Appeals Council, which after more than a year decided to leave the ALJ’s decision in place. PFCR then filed a federal court action in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. Based on the errors committed in the case, the government agreed that another hearing was needed. PFCR represented C.B. at the remand hearing, which was conducted by the same ALJ who had already denied C.B.’s claim twice. After two years the ALJ issued a third decision denying C.B.’s claim. PFCR again sought review from the Appeals Council, which delayed two and a half years before remanding the case for a fourth hearing.

When C.B. appeared for the fourth hearing, more than eleven years had elapsed since her initial SSI application and she was seventeen years old. As a teenager her asthma had gradually improved, but she had never received any SSI benefits for the time when her severe asthma left her disabled. At the hearing, the agency’s medical expert agreed that C.B. was disabled for an eight-year period during her childhood, and the ALJ awarded her benefits for that period of time.

After four administrative hearings, four administrative appeals, and a U.S. District Court action, PFCR was finally able to obtain for C.B. the SSI benefits she had wrongly been denied. While the Social Security Administration’s systemic delays prevented C.B. from receiving those benefits during childhood, when she needed them the most, PFCR was ultimately able to vindicate her rights and secure a lump sum award of retroactive benefits to support her in successfully transitioning into adulthood.

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