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The Social Security Administration’s Informal Policy Statements, Part 1

The Social Security regulations, found in the Code of Federal Regulations, form the basis of the Social Security disability program and describe how the Social Security Administration will determine whether someone is eligible to receive disability benefits. In addition to these regulations, SSA occasionally publishes rulings in the Federal Register. These Social Security rulings are official interpretations of the regulations, and they are binding on all components of SSA.

Aside from the regulations and the rulings, there are agency manuals and memoranda that explain how SSA is supposed to handle various issues. The most important of these is the Program Operations Manual System (POMS), a handbook intended for use by SSA employees and state agency employees who make low-level disability determinations (these are the people who will approve or deny your application for New York disability benefits at the first level).

POMS is so large that a copy kept in three-ring binders would fill a small bookshelf. Because it was so much work to keep printed copies up-to-date, SSA no longer makes it available in print. Instead, the complete POMS can be read online, but only by SSA employees. An abridged public version of POMS is available at the SSA website.

SSA says that the public version of POMS is “identical to the version used by Social Security employees except that it does not include internal data entry and sensitive content instructions,” but people who have compared the public and non-public versions of POMS say that there are many useful sections left out of the public version that are neither internal data entry matters nor sensitive content instructions. These missing sections include Q-and-A’s and detailed examples of qualifying medical impairments. The POMS is considered binding only below the hearing level. It is not binding on administrative law judges.

Continue to The Social Security Administration’s Informal Policy Statements, Part 2.