Spotlight on PATH Practices and Programs: SSI/SSDI, Outreach, Access, and Recovery (SOAR)
While many PATH consumers are eligible for social security benefits, navigating the paperwork and other necessary documentation is a daunting task. SSI/SSDI, Outreach, Access and Recovery, or SOAR, is an initiative that providers use to help facilitate the process of enrolling consumers in SSI or SSDI benefits. This PATH Spotlight has tips for fostering a SOAR initiative in your community.
Application processes for SSI and SSDI are complicated and require extensive documentation that even individuals who are housed may have difficulty completing. Those who live on the street or in shelters often do not have the skills or access to the resources necessary to complete the application process. Homeless services workers can, and do, assist with applications, but sometimes without a strong understanding of the application and determination process. Even they have difficulty with the process and have low rates of success.
SOAR has several components, but when most people think of SOAR they think of the Stepping Stones to Recovery training. This training provides comprehensive training on the eligibility rules, application process, clinical and functional documentation, and strategies for communicating with both Social Security and the agency that is making the medical disability determination. The training significantly improves the worker’s ability to complete successful SSI/SSDI applications and avoid appeals.
Below are tips to help implement SOAR in your state:
For more tips and to learn more about how PATH programs implement SOAR download the full PATH Spotlight
- Additional technical assistance is necessary. When the training is over and staff return to their organizations, it is useful to have someone who they can turn to when questions arise. In some states, the state coordinator is the appropriate contact, while other states have individuals designated to provide technical assistance for SOAR.
- Take the application process at the consumer’s pace. Some people will need time to engage with the PATH worker before they are ready to apply for benefits. It is important that the PATH worker allow the consumer to set the pace. When the time is right, PATH workers can meet the person in a setting that is comfortable for them.
- Organization and accountability are key to getting off to a good start. Some individuals who have received SOAR training are not completing SSI or SSDI applications. Sometimes this is because staff do not have time to complete benefits applications. Other reasons may include a lack of a community plan to clarify roles and responsibilities. Clear structures should be in place at both the state and local level so efforts can be coordinated and effective.
- A strong relationship with the Social Security office can go a long way. A service provider can work with the local Social Security office to identify someone to work specifically on applications for people experiencing homelessness. This will speed up the application process, because the Social Security office will have an understanding of the specific issues relevant to this population. In some states, SSI/SSDI applications are flagged as SOAR, Social Security meets with the state SOAR team on a quarterly basis, and Social Security staff attend SOAR trainings. In other states, Social Security has an agreement to expedite the appeals process for SOAR applications.
- Documentation is important every step of the way. Accurate records must be kept in order to craft a strong narrative for the application and to track results. Organizations should stress the importance of accurate record keeping and, in some states, “flagging” the applications as SOAR applications. Only with accurate records will programs be able to produce high success rates and document their results.
For additional technical assistance regarding SOAR contact the SOAR Technical Assistance Center
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Newton Centre, MA