A report from the Senate Special Committee on Aging has found a disturbing trend in the operation of field offices of the Social Security Administration (SSA). Or, perhaps more accurately, the non-operation of field offices, due to the SSA closing them.
At a time when the SSA is facing more demand for its services, it is shuttering more offices, in addition to reducing hours and leaving more customers to wait on the phone.
The agency which is responsible for handling both the Social Security retirement program and the complex Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program, has been trying to make it seem as if most of their users can be shifted over to the internet.
This seems to ignore the reality that for many, computers and the internet may not be “user friendly” or affordable. And many of those Americans make up a large part of the SSA’s clientele.
In addition, the report found that the agency often closed offices in an almost random manner, and with no consultation of the local stakeholders.
One office was closed in Florida, with the assumption that people could easily visit a different office. But they failed to investigate that there was no public transit between the locations.
For the elderly or disabled, who need to speak with a representative in a field office or are waiting for a SSDI hearing on their benefit application, the wait is likely to be long.
Changing demographics mean the pressure on the agency is increasing. An official noted that they have experienced “a staggering 27 percent increase,” in retirement claims.
At the same time, the SSA’s budget has been cut and their workforce reduced by 14 percent. The push to computers and the internet may be cost effective, but is most helpful to the young who have little need for the SSA’s services.
Source: The New York Times, “Social Security Agency Cuts Services as Demand Grows, Senate Report Says,” Robert Pear, June 17, 2014