Yesterday, Legal Aid and the DC Chapter of the Association of Pro Bono Counsel (APBCo-DC) officially launched a new, exciting project with a successful and well-attended training hosted by Covington & Burling. The Social Security Project for Effective and Efficient Determinations – better known as the “SPEED Project” – is a joint initiative designed to leverage significant pro bono resources to provide free assistance to low-income individuals who are unable to work due to a disability and who have pending claims for Supplemental Security Income / Social Security Disability Insurance (SSI/SSDI) benefits.
Yesterday’s kick-off training was well attended by more than 40 lawyers and legal assistants from ten major law firms across the city. Legal Aid will begin referring cases to SPEED Project volunteers this month.
APBCo-DC developed the SPEED Project in response to Vice President Joe Biden’s challenge to APBCo chapters nationwide to develop initiatives that would expand access to justice in their own communities.
Each year, about 6,500 District of Columbia residents file applications for SSI/SSDI benefits. Many SSI/SSDI claimants have a difficult time navigating this process on their own, which contributes to a high rate of initial denials for claims that are ultimately deemed meritorious several years later. To illustrate, roughly 60% of claimants are denied at the initial application level, while nearly 70% of claimants succeed on appeal. Unfortunately, the appeals process often takes more than two years, forcing many claimants to wait far too long before receiving these critical benefits for which they are eligible.
SSI/SSDI claimants who are represented by counsel undoubtedly have a much greater chance of success. By stepping in early in the process, pro bono volunteers can greatly increase the likelihood that eligible individuals will secure SSI/SSDI benefits without having to spend years pursuing an appeal.
Thank you to the SPEED Project volunteers for showing your commitment to and enthusiasm for this project! Through this project, we hope to make a critical difference in securing SSI/SSDI benefits as soon as possible for some of the most vulnerable residents in DC.