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Social Security’s “Wet Ink” Signature Puts Disability Applicants at Risk

ink signature

The Social Security Administration has a wet ink requirement regarding applications submitted for disability claims.  This wet ink requirement means that an actual paper copy of the application with a signature must be submitted, rather than SSA accepting a digital signature.  

The application and review process for Social Security disability claims already tends to be complicated and lengthy. The current wait time for a disability hearing in Indianapolis is twelve months–and that doesn’t include the weeks or months waiting for the initial denial. This specific requirement is another step that can create an additional delay and burden for applicants. 

A paper copy with an inked signature is required, even though Social Security has a secure online application process with accessible digital signatures. Even disability applicants who use an authorized representative like an attorney or a disability advocate to file must sign and submit a paper copy. 

At Hensley Legal Group, we assist hundreds of Social Security recipients every year through the disability application process including the initial application, the reconsideration stage, hearings, and the months of waiting in between. We see firsthand how difficult it is for many of our clients to survive without benefits. 

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The wet ink policy puts disability applicants at risk

The wet ink policy disadvantages disability applicants in a few simple, but very real ways:

  1. Requiring a paper application unnecessarily creates additional risk to  immunocompromised applicants who cannot handle paper mail or are unable to leave their home should they need to go to the post office. 
  2. Mailing, filling out, and returning the application can add weeks to a lengthy process. During the COVID-19 pandemic, paper mail is quarantined for two days upon the arrival at Social Security offices, and delays can be even longer.
  3. Requiring a wet-ink signature hinders applicants who are unable to hold or use a writing instrument.

Applicants who use a disability attorney or authorized representative are three times more likely to be approved. There is little reason why an applicant with an authorized representative should be required to sign a paper application when online applications are more accessible, convenient, and secure. 

Requiring a wet signature is outdated

It is frustrating that the SSA has such an outdated wet ink policy that has a tendency to put vulnerable people at a disadvantage by not allowing the more rapid and convenient means of accepting a digital signature, especially when it is otherwise widely accepted as sufficient in today’s world for various other official matters and transactions. 

The wet ink policy goes against existing federal mandates designed to eliminate unnecessary paperwork and to make programs more accessible by switching to online forms. The Government Paperwork Elimination Act and Paperwork Reduction Act require federal agencies to accept e-signatures and electronic paperwork unequivocally, and the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act gives electronic signatures the same weight as handwritten signatures.

Most federal agencies have figured out how to follow these mandates and move procedures online safely and effectively, including the IRS and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Even Medicare accepts electronic applications. The SSA has truly no excuse for its noncompliance.

A lawsuit has already been filed on behalf of the National Federation of the Blind, seeking a court order to make the SSA accept e-signatures on applications. Blind applicants are also prohibited from applying for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) online as well, another discriminatory policy they seek to change with the lawsuit.

Social Security Disability is the only safety net for many Americans who are unable to work due to impairments beyond their control. There is no reason why an additional stumbling block of such height should be in place in getting an application started in the first place.

About Hensley Legal Group, PC

Hensley Legal Group, PC has handled Social Security disability, personal injury, and mass tort cases in Indiana for 21 years. The law firm has offices in Indianapolis, Fishers, Evansville, Muncie, and Merrillville. Lafayette will be their sixth office.