Disability Benefits, Debt, And Long COVID:

I have received SSI for the past six years due to my physical disability. SSI allows me to pay my rent and other bills. Applying for benefits and getting them can be a lengthy process. Millions of Americans are now living with the effects of Long COVID, and are trying to receive benefits.

According to T.J. Geist, a director at Allsup, an Illinois-based firm that helps people apply for Social Security, around 5% of new disability claims filed in recent months involved individuals living with covid. Similar figures have been reported by other firms. Approximately 40,000 disability claims mentioning COVID-19 have been received nationwide, according to the Social Security Administration, although it did not indicate how many of those claims have been approved.

When Josephine Cabrera Taveras contracted COVID-19 in the spring of 2020, she had no idea that the illness would render her unable to work for two years and put her family at risk of being homeless.

Taveras, a mother of two from Brooklyn, New York, says that her battle with long-term COVID has left her struggling with severe symptoms, such as respiratory problems and arthritis, which have kept her from returning to the workforce as a nanny. Taveras and her family are struggling to pay their bills. They cannot work and are not eligible for government assistance. She applied for SSDI last October, but it was denied; she is now appealing.

Unfortunately, this is common. Approximately 65% of all disability claims filed with the Social Security Administration are denied on the first application. In addition, in August of this year, the Social Security Administration’s average wait time for an initial disability determination hit an all-time high of more than six months, or 198 days. It is nearly three times longer than it was a decade ago.

According to a National Bureau of Economic Research study published in September, approximately 500,000 are out of work due to the long-term effects of COVID-19. The annual cost of lost wages is estimated to be around $170 billion. COVID-19 has also led to mounting debt for some people. Kirby Orr caught COVID-19 in December 2020. She was the sole provider for her family and had two jobs in nursing.

At the beginning of 2021, she stopped working as an on-call acute psychiatric nurse at Providence Portland Medical Center. She couldn’t do a physically demanding job since she was out of breath. She continued to work part-time in Kaiser Permanente Northwest’s addiction medicine department for about a year after that.

Orr and her wife couldn’t afford the dramatic pay cut. They had van payments, kids to feed, and rent to pay. They maxed out their credit cards, but that was a high-interest trap. They ultimately took out loans totaling $50,000. They immediately paid off some debt. Things gradually improved over time. Orr switched to a full-time position at Kaiser around a year into long COVID. However, the family still pays $800 a month for the loans they took out in 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating for millions of Americans. COVID-19 has caused some people to have challenges with activities of daily living and working. Some people will be unable to return to the workforce due to their ongoing symptoms. The United States government should not make it so difficult for people to get the help they need when they are dealing with a heartbreaking new reality.


Davidson, Kate. “Lost Wages and Mounting Debt: The Economic Blow of Long Covid-19 in Oregon.” Oregon Public Broadcasting, PBS, 17 Oct. 2022, https://www.opb.org/article/2022/10/17/coronavirus-covid-19-long-illness-fatigue-symptoms-oregon/.

Konish, Lorie. “As Social Security Disability Application Wait Times Hit Record High, Experts Say It’s a Sign the Agency Needs More Funding.” CNBC, CNBC, 16 Sept. 2022, https://www.cnbc.com/amp/2022/09/16/long-social-security-service-waits-signal-need-for-more-funds.html.

Ladyzhets, Betsy. “People with Long Covid Face Barriers to Government Disability Benefits.” Kaiser Health News, Kaiser Family Foundation, 9 Nov. 2022, https://khn.org/news/article/long-covid-barriers-government-disability-benefits/.

Trudeau, Joyce. “Does Social Security Disability Deny Everyone the First Time They Apply?” Disability Secrets, Nolo, 21 Jan. 2022, https://www.disabilitysecrets.com/does-social-security-deny-you-the-first-time-you-apply-for-disability.html.

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