Social Security Urged to Immediately Reopen Field Offices

Social Security Urged to Immediately Reopen Field Offices

Lawmakers such as Susan Collins have been pushing for more details from the agency, citing potential delays and backlog issues.

For two long years, the doors at Social Security Administration (SSA) field offices have been shuttered, cutting off a vital resource for millions of Americans who rely on Social Security benefits. These offices are slated to reopen to the public sometime in April, but the SSA has yet to provide a specific date.

Due to this uncertainty, some lawmakers are now taking a more proactive approach to get some answers. One example is Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who recently wrote a letter to SSA Acting Commissioner Kilolo Kijakazi pressing her to immediately reopen the field offices. “It has now been two full years since the SSA suspended in-person services because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Collins wrote.

“While the SSA reportedly submitted its reentry plan to the Office of Management and Budget in July 2021, it has still failed to fully reopen its offices to the public. The resulting disruptions to millions of Social Security beneficiaries are especially difficult for individuals and seniors in rural areas who do not have reliable telephone or internet access and experience mail backlogs and delays in receiving benefit payments,” she continued.

Similar sentiments were shared recently by Nancy Altman, the president of Social Security Works.

“It was wrong to keep them closed (to all but those deemed to be in dire need) for so long. Post offices never closed. Like them, Social Security’s field offices provide essential services. Those two years of closed offices weren’t just an inconvenience; the long closure inflicted real harm,” she wrote in an op-ed for The Hill.

“Claims for disability benefits plummeted, at a time when they should have skyrocketed, given the pandemic. Important research has found that closing just a single office causes significantly fewer claims by people who would have qualified for benefits, had they applied,” she added.

Disaster Awaits?

Altman was also concerned about what might happen when the field offices eventually reopen.

“The reopening may be rocky—or worse,” she said. “There may be very long lines; there may be people who wait and wait but are not served. People may be forced to wait outside in the rain. If things go horribly wrong, there could even be violence, committed by people who are desperate.”

Funding Help Is Coming

In an effort to vastly improve the SSA’s pandemic-hit services, the Biden administration recently earmarked $14.8 billion, 14 percent higher compared to last year, for the agency in its $5.8 trillion fiscal 2023 budget.

According to The Motley Fool, “the extra money going into Social Security … would be to beef up field offices and add staff to cut down on customer service wait times and help more people access the help they need.”

In addition, part of the funds would go toward Social Security fraud prevention.

Ethen Kim Lieser is a Washington state-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.

Image: Reuters.