If you are having a problem with Social Security or another government agency, your Congressperson’s office can be a huge help (sometimes) and no help at all (other times). Your Senator’s office can also be a huge help (sometimes).
Before contacting your Congressperson or Senator, take a look at this list of How Your Congressperson Can (and Can’t) Help to make sure the kind of problem you are having is the kind of problem they can help with.
If you are in one of those situations where a Congressperson can help, here’s some tips for making it work:
💠 Write a letter – Here are some real life letters that really worked. (If you don’t like letters, you can just call and keep calling)
💠 Don’t be shy – Don’t be scared of contacting the office of your senator and congressperson. There is a special person on the staff there who is there to help people like you. That is their job!
💠 Don’t be intimidated – Don’t worry, you won’t need to talk directly to your congressperson or senator. You will be talking to someone on their staff who is there to help people like you.
💠 Keep it brief – The person who reads your letter gets a lot of mail. A LOT of mail. A lot of mail and a lot of phone calls. Don’t try to tell them your entire life story with all your difficulties and woes. Be brief and clear. Let them know your problem and your request.
💠 Keep it simple – The more complex and confusing your story is, the less like you are to get help.
💠 Keep it realistic – Your congressperson won’t go to the moon and back. But they will do you a ten-minute favor. A good one-sentence request is “Could you please contact Social Security on my behalf and ask them _________.”
💠 Try both your congressperson and your senator. Some people have luck with one and not the other.
💠 Where to contact. You can contact them on the phone or you can send an email through a form on their website or you can visit their office in person. Or you can do all three! Locate Your Senator and Locate Your Congressperson.
💠 Try Both – Try both Senator and Congressperson. Sometimes one will help more than the other.
💠 Find the Assistance form. Many of these websites include a special “assistance request” form you can use. It may be called something like “help with a federal program” or assistance with “government programs”. When you go to the contact page, look for something like this. It may help make sure your request gets read and goes to the right place.
💠 Don’t listen to Social Security or Medicaid – if they tell you there is nothing you can do. Sometimes this is true, sometimes not. Many of the things Social Security says over the phone are weird or wrong.
💠 Find the right person. The person who answers the phone may be a goalie/intern whose goal in life is to keep you from getting help. You can try asking for the name of the staff person who handles Social Security inquiries or public requests, and call back and ask for that person.
💠 Persist, persist, persist. Some lucky ducks just call their congressperson one time and get help just like that! But it usually ain’t that way. Call each place at least five times. If you decide to send a letter, keep calling and saying, “Did you get my letter?” until they find it and read it. Or you can visit their office. If someone is not helpful, you can ask to speak to a supervisor to see if they can help.
If You Are In Financial Crisis
💠 If you are homeless, say the word “homeless” a lot. If you are homeless or becoming homeless or in danger of homelessness, keep saying this. Tell them if you have children and your children may become homeless.
💠 Show proof if possible. If you have an eviction or foreclosure notice, tell them this or show them the letter. If you are staying with a friend or family member who has asked you to leave, you can ask them to write a letter to you stating when you must leave, or when you will be evicted if you don’t start paying rent. If you are staying at a shelter or program that has a time limit and you will need to leave, you can ask for this in writing.
💠 Stick to the three biggies. The three biggies are: No food, no medical care, no housing. If you have any of these problems, or you are about to have any of these problems, your congressperson may be able to help. Don’t say you can’t pay your cell phone bill or your car insurance. They will not care.
💠 If you are waiting for a hearing. You can write a dire needs letter to your ODAR office. Then contact your congressperson to ask if they can inquire about your dire needs request. This may draw more attention to your request. Ideally, enclose a copy of an eviction or foreclosure notice when you write ODAR. It is very difficult to get dire needs status without this.
If You Have Been Waiting Longer Than Average
💠 You can tell your congressperson the average wait time and tell them how long you have been waiting. Here are the typical wait time for decisions, hearings, and first checks.
“Social Security told me “no longer than 90 days.” When I hit the 120 day mark, I contacted my Senator’s office. All I had to do was send a simple email and sign a release. That sure put a fire under them to get things done. One week later, Social Security finished processing my paperwork. One more week, and they released the backpay.” ~Lnstevens
If Social Security Made an Administrative Mistake
💠 Try to be clear and specific about the mistake they made. For example, if they put someone else’s medical records in your file, this is clearly and administrative mistake. If you submitted an important form, and they lost the form, that is an administrative mistake. If possible, try to show written proof. For the example above, you could show the receipt that you submitted the form.
“Seven months of phone calls and field office appointments at Social Security got me nothing. After getting some good advice here, I started calling the congressman’s office until I reached the staff member responsible for Social Security inquiries. She called on my behalf that same day, and four days later the money was deposited. I was persistent but always extremely courteous with everyone I spoke to, they are usually overwhelmed with backlogged work, and respond well to calmness and respect.” – Rosewell
“My Congressman’s office was invaluable when I was told I had to pay back $6000. In this case, it involves SSDI where a mistake was made by an employer and I found no recourse even after appealing numerous times, they said I owed the money. The Congressman’s office saw I had no money to pay and cut through red tape.” – Sharon B.