What is the SOAR Initiative?
If you’ve never heard of the SOAR initiative, you’re not alone. The SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access, and Recovery (SOAR) program helps adults who are unhoused or at risk of becoming unhoused apply for benefits from one of these Social Security Administration (SSA) programs:
- Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
The SSA created its SOAR initiative to overcome the high rate of denials for people experiencing homelessness. Research shows that only about 10% of unhoused adults who apply for the first time without assistance receive benefits. Many unhoused people may not have a permanent address or access to a phone or the internet, which can make communicating with the SSA harder. Additionally, some disabilities are cognitive, which can make it harder to understand or follow directions.
IMPORTANT: Almost 3 in 4 (73%) people who use SOAR initiative services for their initial applications receive benefits.
How Does the SOAR Initiative Help People?
SOAR representatives help you in the following ways:
- Collect and file medical records.
- Write and file a Medical Summary Report (MSR).
- Get an Acceptable Medical Source to co-sign your MSR.
- Complete a quality review of your application before you file.
IMPORTANT: Earning disability benefits is an important step toward securing or maintaining housing. The monthly checks can help you qualify for affordable housing, access medical and mental health services, and free up funds for daily living expenses.
Who is Eligible for the SOAR Initiative?
Adults, young people, and children can qualify for support. You must:
1. Have a disabling condition. You must live with one or more serious medical or mental health conditions and/or a co-occurring substance abuse disorder on the SSA list of impairments, and
2. Currently be experiencing or at risk of homelessness. The program uses the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s definitions for these terms:
- Experiencing homelessness ― Lacking or facing the imminent loss of a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence, qualifying under federal statutes like the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act or fleeing domestic violence.
- At risk of homelessness ― Having an annual income below 30% of the median family income for the area, insufficient resources, or support networks to prevent moving to an emergency shelter or place not meant for habitation, and exhibiting more risk factors of homelessness, including recent housing instability, or exiting a publicly funded institution or system of care, such as foster care or a mental health facility.
You may also qualify if any of the following provide you with support:
- VA’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families
- HUD-VA Supportive Housing
- Housing First
- Other permanent supportive housing programs available where you live.
PRO TIP: Review the full eligibility criteria because there are special requirements for each category.
Do I Need an Attorney?
No, but hiring an experienced lawyer can improve your odds of getting the benefits you deserve.
Studies show that:
- You’re almost three times more likely to get benefits within 6 months when a lawyer files your paperwork. In fact, the average time to get SSD benefits with a lawyer is 152 days (less than 6 months). People who apply on their own without a lawyer wait for 400+ days, on average.
- 58% of people who apply with lawyers get benefits on their very first try. However, just 20% of those filing claims on their own do.
- You’re 70% more likely to get benefits for mental health issues if you have a lawyer.
How Does the Process Work?
Once you enter the SOAR initiative, the process follows these steps:
- Initial meeting. At your SOAR intake, the caseworker asks you questions to learn more about you and your situation. This information goes on an Initial Meeting Worksheet. You sign releases that appoint the caseworker to act on your behalf and give them permission to access your medical history.
- Records requests. Your caseworker then requests medical records from two years before your disability began and older supporting documents. They use this information to confirm your symptoms are on the SSA’s Listing of Impairments. Then, they determine a course of action.
- SSA application. If your condition meets SSA requirements, your caseworker begins the online benefits application. The SSA requires filing this application within 60 days. IMPORTANT: If you don’t meet SSA requirements, then your caseworker can help you access other services.
- Weekly meetings. You and your SOAR initiative caseworker meet once a week to gather more information and work on the MSR. These appointments continue until your caseworker completes the online application and paper packet.
- Claim processing. The SSA and your state’s Disability Determination Services office review your claim. Then, they’ll notify your caseworker of their decision. If they approve your claim, the SSA directly deposits your benefit payments into your bank account. And if they deny you benefits, your caseworker will review the SSA’s explanation with you. You can then discuss your options to appeal.
What Other Disability Resources are Available for People in Need?
You may be able to speed up your benefits application process under certain circumstances.
- Have no food and can’t buy any because you don’t have enough money.
- Need medicine or medical care and can’t access it or pay for it.
- Become unhoused.
- Lack basic utilities (i.e., water, electricity, heat) needed to survive in your current home.
IMPORTANT: You must prove your dire need status. So if you exaggerate your case just to get benefits faster, the SSA may send you an overpayment letter demanding you pay them back.
About to turn 18 and unhoused after aging out of the foster care system? Then you can re-apply for SSI as an adult if you:
- Meet the adult eligibility requirements for physical or mental disabilities.
- Participate in an approved vocational rehabilitation program or special education program, such as an Individualized Education Program or a Plan to Achieve Self Support.
IMPORTANT: However, participation must begin before your 18th birthday.
Can I Get Free Expert Help Filing for Disability Benefits?
If the SSA denies your claim, your SOAR initiative caseworker can either help you appeal or find the support you need.
If you don’t work with SOAR, you can work with a disability lawyer without paying anything upfront.
IMPORTANT: If the SSA doesn’t award you benefits, then you owe your attorney $0. And if you’re successful, you only pay one small fee once your benefits begin.
Want to talk to a local claims expert for free, in private? Click the button below now to start your free online benefits quiz and see if you may qualify:
Margot Lester is the CEO of The Word Factory, a B2B & B2C content marketing agency that provides services for Fortune 100 brands, healthtech companies and SaaS developers. An award-winning business and brand journalist, she writes for daily and weekly newspapers and business journals, national magazines, in-flight publications and leading websites. Margot is also an in-demand writing coach and organizational communications trainer, helping individuals and teams write more effectively. Twitter/X: @word_factory LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/margotlester.