Should I Bother Applying for OPWDD Benefits During COVID-19?

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Many people are under the assumption that government agencies at all levels are still under temporary lockdown restrictions and are not functioning. The reality is actually the opposite. For families considering applying to New York State’s Office of People with Disabilities (OPWDD), now is a very good time to begin this process.

Just like many private businesses, the OPWDD offices have pivoted to carrying out their operations virtually and are communicating with families through email and in some instances by phone from remote locations. Case workers and teams are still collaborating and trying to process applications, distribute benefit payments and coordinate services.

Starting the Process Virtually

The first step in applying to the OPWDD has traditionally been the Front Door information orientation session. Families can still attend the Front Door, but now the reservations are done by email, and the sessions are all given online through Webex. So happily, a trip to an OPWDD branch is no longer necessary. Likewise, anyone who needs to attend a Self-Direction orientation session can do so through the Webex platform.

The eligibility teams at the OPWDD are, for the most part, sticking to the required 30-day determination period. They are responsive to questions and are holding reviews and hearings.

Available Services May Vary

Care managers at Care Coordination Organizations are accepting new clients, but be aware that the menu of available services from agencies has become somewhat limited by the pandemic crisis, which we hope will be temporary.

Anyone needing new or updated evaluations should not have a problem finding a clinician who can administer the testing, primarily remotely.

Availability of Other Offices

Local field offices for Social Security may be physically closed, but anyone can apply for benefits by scheduling a phone interview that covers all the necessary information in about two hours.

Medicaid offices are not physically open but services are available by phone. They are maintaining continuity, but expect the processing times to take as long as, if not longer than, before.

Questions?

If you have any questions about applying for OPWDD benefits or the types of services that are available during the pandemic, please visit the OPWDD website or reach out to Mallory Stehle, the 14Y’s Associate Director of Youth Programs and Inclusion Initiatives, at MStehle@14StreetY.org.

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