Understand Award and Denial Letters

The Social Security Administration (SSA) and the Alaska Department of Public Assistance (DPA) usually take several months to decide on your applications. If they determine you have a disability, low income, and low resources, you may qualify for SSI and/or APA benefits.

After looking at your applications, SSA and DPA separately send you award letters or denial letters for the two benefits. These letters can be confusing. If you have questions about the SSI decision, call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 or 1-800-325-0778 (TTY). For APA, contact your Division of Public Assistance (DPA) office.

If you disagree with a decision, you can file an appeal.

Understanding an Award Letter

An award letter should tell you:

  • How much you’ll get in benefits each month
  • When the benefits will be paid
  • How much you’ll get in retroactive (past) benefits, based on the date you applied
  • When Social Security will review your medical condition again — usually three to seven years after you start getting benefits
    • Note: If you get APA, the Division of Public Assistance may do annual reviews of your situation.

After you get your award letters, your SSI and APA benefits go into your bank account automatically each month. If you don’t have a bank account, you can have your SSI benefits put onto a Direct Express debit card that you can use in stores to make purchases. For APA, you can choose to get checks instead of direct deposits.

Understanding a Denial Letter

A denial letter should tell you why your application was turned down. The most common reasons are:

  • You didn’t present enough medical documentation of your health condition or Social Security doesn’t think your medical condition is bad enough to keep you from working.
    • If the letter says your doctor, psychiatrist, or school did not send records they were supposed to send, you can get these reports and submit them yourself when you file an appeal.
  • You have more resources than the $2,000 limit ($3,000 for couples).
  • Your total countable income is too high for you to qualify for SSI or APA.
  • You have more earned income than the Substantial Gainful Activity level of $1,220 per month.

Note: When you apply for SSI, Social Security also checks to see if you qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). If you get an SSDI denial letter, it does not mean you’ve been turned down for SSI benefits. Read the letter carefully — an actual SSI denial letter says “Supplemental Security Income” at the top.

Filing an Appeal or for a Fair Hearing

If you feel that a decision is incorrect, you can file an appeal. You have to file separate appeals for SSI and APA:

For APA: Contact your Division of Public Assistance (DPA) office and ask for a fair hearing in writing. You can use the Fair Hearing Request form. (This form is also included on the back of the DPA denial letter.) You have to ask for a fair hearing within 30 days of the denial.

Tip: If your disability makes it hard for you to ask for a Fair Hearing in writing or to fill out the Fair Hearing Request form, you can ask DPA for a reasonable accommodation. If you need help asking for a Fair Hearing, you can contact the Disability Law Center of Alaska.

For SSI: You can file your appeal online or call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 or 1-800-325-0778 (TTY) and ask them to send you an SSI appeal form. If you file online, you need to mail or deliver any new information about your situation to Social Security.

File your appeal quickly:

  • You have 60 days from the date you get a denial letter to file an appeal. If you don’t appeal within 60 days, you may not be able to appeal.
  • If you are already on SSI and are appealing a change in your benefits amount or an overpayment notice, appeal within 10 days. If you do, you might keep getting the same SSI benefits amount until Social Security decides on your appeal.

Note: Social Security figures that you get a letter within five days after they sent it.

If your SSI application is denied and you disagree with the decision, file an appeal. Do not just fill out the application forms again — that would be refiling. If you appeal and win, you get benefits for the entire time since the date you first applied. If you refile, your application date starts over and you don’t get any past benefits you might have gotten.

The appeal process

There are four levels to the appeal process. If you do not agree with the result at any level, you can appeal to the next.

  1. Reconsideration: A person at Social Security who wasn’t involved in the first decision looks at your application. This is a written appeal, so you don’t have to go in front of a judge. Give Social Security any new information you have about your case.
    • Note: In Alaska, if you appeal a disability determination, there is no reconsideration. You skip straight to a hearing.
  2. Hearing: If the reconsideration is denied, you can ask for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. You can bring witnesses to help make your case. Consider having an attorney or representative help you.
  3. Appeals Council: Social Security’s Appeals Council reviews your case if you appeal the decision the Administrative Law Judge made. The Appeals Council can accept the judge’s decision, decide the case for itself, or send it back to a different Administrative Law Judge for another hearing.
  4. Federal Court: If the Appeals Council decides against you, you can file a lawsuit in federal court.

For any level beyond the reconsideration, you may want to get help from a lawyer. The Disability Law Center of Alaska (1-800-478-1234) and Alaska Legal Services are statewide legal resources that can help.