Plan Ahead To Avoid Long Lines
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Like many businesses and organizations, Social Security had turned to options like online and telephone services to conduct its operations during the pandemic. Those options are still available. Nevertheless, people in rural areas and those without access to transportation or technology have struggled for help with Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income .
To avoid waiting in line, I strongly encourage people who can, to use our online services at www.socialsecurity.gov, call us and schedule appointments in advance rather than walking in without an appointment, said Kilolo Kijakazi, Social Securitys acting commissioner, in a statement. Social Security warns that it is currently having problems with its phone systems. You may experience service issues, including poor call quality, dropped calls and long wait times.
Senator Collins Urges Social Security Administration To Immediately Reopen Field Offices
Washington, D.C.U.S. Senator Susan Collins wrote to Social Security Administration Acting Commissioner Kilolo Kijakazi to urge her to immediately reopen the SSAs field offices that have been closed for more than two years. In January, the SSA indicated that it was planning reentry of its teleworkers on March 30 and anticipating that field offices would resume in-person services to the public in early April. However, the agency has still not provided a specific date in April that the field offices will reopen to the public.
It has now been two full years since the SSA suspended in-person services because of the COVID-19 pandemic,Senator 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.
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The pandemic forced an abrupt closure by the agency last March of its network of more than 1,200 field offices, which provide assistance on retirement and Medicare claims. The offices also assist on applications for Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income , the benefit program for low-income, disabled or older people. In 2019, the offices had 43 million visitors, but since the pandemic began nearly all public service has been available only online, and by phone and mail.
Earlier this month, the agency announced tentative plans for employees to return to their office posts on Jan. 3, 2022, with managers reporting to work in December. The agency also will continue to allow telework to varying degrees for different jobs.
Social Security describes the phased re-entry as an evaluation period, and Mark Hinkle, press officer, said via email that some aspects of the shift still must be determined in negotiations with unions that represent the agency workforce – including the reopening date. The agency also will be phasing in its plans to allow walk-in service at the offices, beginning in January, he said. Currently, in office, in-person service is available only by appointment and only for limited, critical issues.
Processing of Social Security retirement benefits and Medicare claims has not been impaired during the office shutdown, agency records show. But there was a sharp drop in 2020 in benefit awards for SSI and disability insurance .
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Read More On Social Security
For instance, a person could make an in-person appointment if the individual was without food or shelter, including utilities, and the person needed to apply for or reinstate benefits.
The SSA has also been prioritizing in-person visits for Social Security information.
The SSA has stated that individuals age 12 or older applying for their first SSN card and others who need to update or correct their SSN information will be seen in person.
Meanwhile, as things currently stand, everyone else now also has the ability to make an in-person appointment and to visit the office.
Social Security Offices: When Can I Visit An Agent In Person Again
Social Security offices have been closed nationwide since March 2020, but the Social Security Administration announced that it plans to reopen offices in early April. However, there is currently no exact date when offices will reopen.
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Because of the pandemic, most Social Security services have only been available online, by phone and mail. In-person visits were only by appointment and limited to critical issues. As in-person services are expanded, the SSA encourages you to continue to go online, call for help or schedule appointments in advance.
During the pandemic, millions of people used our secure and convenient online services and received help by phone and in our offices by appointment, the SSAs acting commissioner said in a statement, as reported by AARP. For people who can access our services online or by phone, we ask that they continue to do business with us online or by phone and schedule an appointment, when possible, which will better allow us to timely serve people who cannot use those options.
If you need help from Social Security, the SSA said that the best way to get it is at ssa.gov. You can also call their national number or your local Social Security office for help. For quick access to a representative on the national number, it is recommended to call early in the day or later in the afternoon . Its also less busy later in the week, Wednesday to Friday, and later in the month.
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Ssa Offices Expected To Reopen March 30
After being off-limits to most members of the public since March 2020, Social Security Administration offices are set to reopen on March 30, 2022, barring an unexpected snag in negotiations with unions representing agency workers or a major change in the pandemics course.
I am very pleased to share that we have successfully reached agreement with our three labor unions on our reentry plan, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Kilolo Kijakazi said in a statement.
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Negotiations with the unions on details like hours of operation will conclude by March 1, allowing 30 days to plan for the office re-entry, The New York Times reports. Under the agreement, all employees and visitors must wear masks in Social Security facilities, regardless of vaccination status.
This agreement will allow all the parties to wait and see what happens with the latest wave of the pandemic, Rich Couture, chief negotiator for the American Federation of Government Employees, told the Times. Hopefully it subsides, but if it doesnt, we can take further action to postpone the reopening if necessary.
The SSA had earlier announced a plan to reopen its offices in January, but the plan was scuttled when the agency and unions disagreed over specifics.
What To Know About Hearings
If you are thinking about appealing a decision, or you have an appeal pending, we want you to know you have options that could help you have your hearing sooner.
- We resumed offering some in-person hearings and we continue to offer hearings by online video and by phone. Online video hearings and telephone hearings are convenient, safe, and secure. .
- We continue to increase the number of in-person hearings. As our capacity grows, we will move to a more normal scheduling process.
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Policymakers Must Act To Address Social Security Service Crisis
The Social Security Administration faces a customer service crisis, caused by over a decade of austere administrative funding and compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. After SSA suspended in-person service for two years, when many applicants and beneficiaries struggled to access service, it recently reopened its doors to the public. But it did so underfunded and understaffed, and SSAs customer service crisis will only worsen unless policymakers increase the agencys resources in 2023.
Social Security’s operating budget has been starved for over a decade. The 2011 Budget Control Acts strict caps on discretionary funding led to cuts in SSAs operating funds. And even though budget caps are no longer in effect, SSAs operating budget increased only $275 million this year over last a small fraction of the Presidents request, or of the initial amounts proposed by congressional appropriators. And its well below the expected inflation rate for 2022.
Since 2010, SSAs operating budget has shrunk 17 percent counting inflation, and its staff by 13 percent. Some 1,400 staff departed in 2021 alone, at a time when budget shortfalls forced SSA to freeze hiring, and SSA expects to lose another 4,500 front-line employees this year. SSA staffing is already at its lowest level in 25 years. At the same time, SSAs workloads have expanded dramatically, with the number of Social Security beneficiaries increasing by 11 million or 21 percent since 2010.
Social Security Offices Finally Announce Reopening Date
After being closed for more than two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Social Security offices are set to reopen in April 2022.
The Social Security Administration announced earlier this year that it would reopen its offices for most in-person functions after being closed for two years. The announcement in January said that the offices would open in late March or possibly in early April. However, the agency did not announce a specific date, leading to Sen. Susan Collins to write a letter to SSA last week asking for a specific date that the offices would reopen.
Now, we have the reopening date. The SSA announced Monday that it will reopen on Thursday, April 7.
I am pleased to announce that local Social Security offices will restore in-person services, including for people without an appointment, on April 7, 2022, SSA acting commissioner Kilolo Kijakazi said in the Monday announcement.
The agency reiterated that online services and phone calls remain the most convenient ways to reach the agency even with the offices open again.
To avoid waiting in line, I strongly encourage people, who can, to use our online services at www.socialsecurity.gov, call us, and schedule appointments in advance rather than walking in without an appointment, Kijakazi said in the release. Phone appointments can save you a trip to a busy office. I thank the public for your patience as we work to increase service.
The agency also warned of long wait times on the phone.
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What You Should Know Before You Visit
If you visit an office, please keep these very important points in mind:
- You must complete a to see if it is safe for you to enter an office.
- Everyone must wear a mask. We will provide a mask if you do not have one.
- Hand sanitizer is available.
- You may need to wait outside because space in our offices may be limited. Please plan for the weather.
- We ask that you come alone unless you require help with your visit. If you require help, we can only permit one adult to join you. Children are allowed.
- If you do not have an appointment, you should expect long lines, especially during the busiest times in our offices: Mondays, the morning after a Federal holiday, and the first week of the month.
Social Security Offices Expected To Reopen Soon
For the first time in two years, Social Security offices nationwide are set to open their doors.
The Social Security Administration is expected to reopen more than 1,200 field offices starting March 30 under an agreement reached this month with the unions representing workers for the agency. However, the exact date could still change since negotiations are ongoing and the situation with the pandemic continues to evolve.
The agency closed its offices across the country to the public in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time, Social Security officials said the move was intended to protect the agencys employees as well as its beneficiaries, many of whom are at high risk from the virus.
Since that time, nearly all of the agencys business with the public has been handled by phone, online and through the mail.
The Social Security Administration had planned to reopen its offices Jan. 3, but the move was delayed amid concerns from unions.
Under the new agreement, all employees and visitors will be required to wear masks in Social Security offices, whether or not they are vaccinated.
This agreement is only the first step, but we now have a path forward to begin reopening SSA offices and worksites in a manner that protects both the health and safety of employees and the public we serve, said Rich Couture, chief negotiator for the American Federation of Government Employees, one of three labor unions representing Social Security workers.
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Column: What To Expect When Us Social Security Field Offices Reopen In April
The good news: The sprawling network of more than 1,200 Social Security field offices around the United States will reopen to the public in early April after a two-year COVID-19 shutdown. During that time, nearly all public service has been available only online, and by phone and mail. Millions of Americans who need in-person help from the agency can now start to get it.
The bad news: The Social Security Administration is bracing for a crush of office visitors. Along with the pent-up demand created by the long shutdown, the agencys national toll-free number has been experiencing problems, with some callers getting busy signals or abrupt disconnections, which an SSA spokesman confirmed. The phone system problems are expected to increase demand further in the initial weeks of the reopening.
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The return to office comes at a time when the SSA was working to replace staff lost during the pandemic. But hiring has been frozen due to a lower-than-expected operating budget signed into law last week as part of a $1.5 trillion U.S. government spending bill for 2022. The SSA budget rose by $411 million to a total of $13.3 billion – less than half of what the Biden administration had requested.
Our 2022 funding level will complicate our efforts to improve services to the public, although we remain committed to doing so, said Mark Hinkle, the agencys press officer, via email.
Senator Calls For Immediate Social Security Office Reopening
Sen. Susan Collins notes that while the offices are set to open in early April, there has not been a specific reopening date announced.
The nations Social Security offices, which have been mostly closed for nearly two years as a result of the pandemic, are set to reopen in early April after the main unions that represent the agencys workers reached an agreement with the Social Security Administration earlier this year.
One senator is now calling for more clarity on the opening of the offices.
Sen. Susan Collins on Tuesday sent a letter to the Social Security Administrations acting director, Dr. Kilolo Kijakazi, asking for clarity on when SSA offices will actually open again. The press release announcing the letter called for an immediate reopening of the offices, while the letter itself only uses the word immediate to refer to the call in December, and instead says the offices should reopen as quickly as possible.
Collins, following up on a letter she wrote late last year along with two other Republican senators, notes that while the offices are set to open in early April, there has not been a specific reopening date announced.
Collins also identified herself as one of the 70 million Americans who receive benefits from the SSA.
Also this week, an op-ed in The Hill called for the White House to prioritize Social Security, as the offices begin their reopenings.
This week, the president asked for an increase in funding for the Social Security Administration.
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Is Ssa Finally Reopening
Social Security Administration offices have been generally closed to in-person services since March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, with no walk-in service at all and an extremely limited number of field office appointments available based on dire need. Hearings have been held either by telephone or via Teams. After some indication of a January-based reopening of offices to the public that was retracted in December, it looks like SSA is finally moving towards reentry.
On January 20, 2022, Acting Commissioner Kilolo Kijakazi announced the agency has reached agreement with its three labor unions on a reentry plan. The following day, the Acting Commissioner provided a few more specifics. According to a January 21st announcement, SSA is planning reentry and implementation of telework schedules for most employees on March 30, 2022. Local offices will restore increased walk-in service in early April, although the public will still be encouraged to conduct most business on-line and schedule appointments. Limited in-person hearings with management judges will begin in March with plans to expand in the spring and early summer.
In addition, the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents employees in OHO, has also negotiated an agreement that increases telework opportunities, extends scheduling flexibility, and ensures safety. It is not yet clear, however, when that reentry process will begin.