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Social Security Must Fix Long Lines: Lawmakers

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What You Need to Know

  • In high-demand areas many people have had to wait more than six hours in near 100-degree weather to get help, Neal and Brady said.
  • In Florida, some people slept outside the night before to secure a spot in line.
  • Lawmakers urged SSA to take additional action to address the safety needs of individuals seeking field office services.

Top lawmakers on the House Ways and Means Committee are pressing Acting Social Security Administration Commissioner Kilolo Kijakazi to explain the steps she’s taking to address long waiting lines at some offices around the country — which have included some individuals sleeping overnight and others fainting in the heat.

“After two years of field offices being closed to most visitors, many people are in urgent need of in-person service,” House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., and ranking member Kevin Brady, R-Texas, said Tuesday in a letter.

“However, due to COVID-19 safety precautions, the capacity in air-conditioned waiting areas and at service windows has been reduced, and when offices reach capacity, visitors line up outside,” the lawmakers wrote.

The Social Security Administration must ensure that visitors to SSA offices “are served effectively and safely, and are not waiting in line outside in the summer heat in many areas of the country.”

Neal and Brady said that while they appreciate the efforts SSA has taken to accept in-person visits and reopen field offices to the public in April 2022, “in some locations people have been standing outside in the heat for hours at a time, without the guarantee of getting their needs met.”

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Aging Committee Chairman Bob Casey, D-Pa., and 15 other senators called on the Social Security Administration in January to provide an update on its efforts to improve field office services amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In their letter, Neal and Brady cite news reports that have highlighted how, “in high-demand areas, many people, some of whom are elderly or have a disabling condition, have had to wait more than six hours in near 100-degree weather to get help, and in some circumstances, people have had to come back multiple days to get the service they need.”

At one SSA office in Texas, “an individual fainted outside while waiting for hours in the heat,” while in Florida, “some people slept outside the night before to secure a spot in line in hopes of obtaining an appointment the following day.”

SSA, the two wrote, has taken steps to improve waiting conditions at some offices, “such as providing canopies and access to restrooms and water fountains, but it is clear that more must be done.”

Reacting to Neal and Brady’s letter, Nancy Altman, president of Social Security Works, told ThinkAdvisor Wednesday: “No one should have to wait in long lines in the hot sun to get their earned Social Security benefits. The best way to eliminate these lines, while also protecting SSA workers and beneficiaries (who are primarily seniors and people with disabilities) from COVID, is for Congress to stop starving SSA, and direct it to open more field offices.”

Congress can fund SSA adequately, Altman said, “without adding a penny to the deficit. The cost of the field offices and all other expenses to administer Social Security comes only from its $2.9 trillion surplus.”

The agency now spends “only 0.6% of funds on administrative costs, far less than private sector counterparts,” she explained. “Yet, for over a decade, Congress has limited how much of the program’s own money can be spent on customer service. This has forced the agency to close offices, even as the number of beneficiaries increased as 10,000 baby boomers continue to turn 65 every day.”

The lawmakers urged SSA to take additional action to address the “safety needs of individuals” who are seeking field office services, and asked SSA to explain no later than Aug. 30 the:

  • Steps it’s taking to address the immediate safety needs of individuals who are waiting in dangerous environmental conditions;
  • How it plans to reduce wait times for in-person services; and
  • How many and what offices have had members of the public waiting outside for more than one hour at a heat index at or above 90 degrees since reopening to the general public.

(Image: Adobe Stock)