Social Security Outdoor Waiting Lines Literally Causing Seniors to Steam
By any standard, forcing people to wait outdoors in long lines for service in this summer’s season of heat waves is unacceptable. Yet Social Security offices around the country have been doing this regularly since reopening last spring from their extended Pandemic closures.
Social Security has been underfunded for years. Even though it hands out more than $1 trillion in benefits and has huge, although dwindling, trust fund balances, the program is treated like other agencies and its operating budget is part of the annual federal budget process. Social Security’s requests for more money to boost customer service are regularly caught up in Washington’s ideological “drain the swamp” gridlock.
Social Security operations are hardly flawless, but its service problems stem largely from having too little operating money and an aging workforce of experienced staffers who are hard to replace. The closure of its offices for the better part of two years created a backlog that proved hard to meet when offices reopened in April.
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During the intervening four months or so, 40 or more people have been lined up outside agency offices at 9 a.m. more than 90 times at some offices. Once you exclude weekends and other dates when offices are closed, this is virtually every day. Some of the problem is related to social-distancing protocols that limit how many people can wait inside an officer to get service. But the agency’s response to Congressional criticism indicates a failure to take common-sense steps to help those forced to wait – a group including many older Americans -- in often blistering temperatures.
In mid-August, the top members of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee – chair Richard E. Neal (D-MA) and ranking member Kevin Brady (R-TX) – asked the agency what it was going to do to ease the problem.
Last week, acting commissioner Kilolo Kijakazi replied with a laundry list of responses that had been pulled together in the previous two weeks. The agency will develop a plan to ease social-distancing rules, she said, and will rehire some retirees, assign more volunteers to busier offices, and suspend telework for some office employees so they can help meet on-site service demands.
“For those offices with visitors who need to wait outside, we are providing access to our bathrooms and water fountains. When possible, we are adding outdoor canopies and fans,” her letter added. “Additionally, we are reconfiguring our waiting areas to allow more people to enter the air-conditioned office.”
Really? It took a letter from Congress to generate these obvious responses?
When asked by Brady and O’Neal what guidance they should provide to their constituents, Kijakazi said, “Most Social Security services do not require a visit to an office. People can apply for benefits and much more online and over the phone. Throughout the pandemic, millions of people have successfully used our secure and convenient online services and received help by phone. People who have access to the internet should first try our online services before calling us or visiting an office.”
Hey, I like and use the Internet a lot. But it’s hardly a one-stop service for the often complicated benefit problems faced by new and existing Social Security beneficiaries.
While the agency did not have enough staff to meeting consumer needs, it did have enough people to count how many of those consumers had to wait in line at various times of the day. According to a table it provided to the Ways & Means leaders, a total of 216 offices (out of more than 1,200 nationwide) had lines of 40 or more (my italics) people a total of 4,461 separate times during the four-plus months its offices have been reopened.
I have condensed the table here, so you can see what this mess looks like on the ground. The offices and long-line occurrences are listed by state. Apologies for transcription errors and misguided translations of Social Security abbreviations. I’ve bolded offices with 25 or more incidents.
Alabama: Birmingham downtown (1); Mobile (1).
Alaska: Anchorage (1); Fairhope (1).
Arizona: Glendale (10); Mesa (15); Phoenix downtown (85); Phoenix north (4); Tucson (8).
California: Anaheim (10); Antioch (1); Bakersfield (7); Bakersfield East Hills (1); Burbank (1); Campbell (1); Chatsworth (8); Chula Vista (45); El Centro (14); Fontana (13); Fremont (4); Fresno (7); Garden Grove (12); Glendale (1); Hemet (21); Hollywood (1); Huntington Park (9); Inglewood (3); Lancaster (11); Long Beach (1); L.A. Westwood (1); Mission Viejo (15); Modesto (6); Moreno Valley (16); North Sacramento (11); Norwalk (1); Ontario (4); Oxnard (1); Panorama City (3); Pomona Valley (1); Richmond (1); Riverside (31); Roseville (2); San Bernardino (28); San Diego (2); San Jose east (11); San Marcos (2); Santa Ana (1): Southeast Fresno (1); Stockton (1); Torrance (10); University Village (1); Victorville (2); Walnut Creek (1); Watts (17); West Covina (1); West Sacramento (3); Wilshire Center (33).
Colorado: Aurora (18); Colorado Springs (15); Lakewood (16); Louisville (1).
Connecticut: Torrington (1).
Delaware: Wilmington (1).
District of Columbia: DC downtown (2).
Florida: Allapattah (67); Carrollwood (94); Clearwater (2); East Hillsborough (4); Ft. Lauderdale East (20); Ft. Lauderdale west (38); Fort Myers (43); Hialeah (93); Jacksonville south (76); Kissimmee (1); Little Havana (93); Little River (46); Miami north (87); Miami south (94); Naples (46); New Port Richie (1); north Broward (12); Ocala (6); Orlando (10); Orlando SSCC [Social Securtity Card Center] (94); Pensacola (1); Perrine (94); Port St. Lucie (22); Sarasota (1); south Broward (87); Tampa (40); West Palm Beach (92); Winter Haven (1).
Georgia: Decatur (1); Gwinnett (92); Marietta (5).
Guam: Guam (1).
Hawaii: Kapolei (1).
Illinois: Chicago near northwest (1); Chicago north (1); Mount Prospect (35); Waukegan (2).
Indiana: Indianapolis northeast (3).
Iowa: Des Moines (1); Ottumwa (4).
Kansas: Wichita (6).
Kentucky: Florence (1); Lexington (1).
Louisiana: Baton Rouge (8); Orleans west (1); Shreveport (1).
Maine: Waterville (1).
Maryland: Camp Springs (1): Greenbelt (24); Rockville (37); Silver Spring (2).
Massachusetts: Malden (3); Worcester (6).
Michigan: Ann Arbor (1); Farmington (1): Grand Rapids (4); Pontiac (2).
Minnesota: St. Paul (1); Twin Cities SSCC [Social Security Card Center] (94).
Missouri: Springfield (26).
Nebraska: Omaha (1).
Nevada: Henderson (92); Las Vegas (94); north Las Vegas (90); Reno (47).
New Jersey: Clifton (3); Hackensack (11); New Brunswick (10); Paterson (1).
New Mexico: Albuquerque (16); Las Cruces (7).
New York: Brooklyn New Utrecht (9); Flushing (1); Freeport (6); Gloversville (1); Manhattan SSCC [Social Security Card Center] (1); New York downtown (1); New York uptown (3); Patchogue (2); Riverhead (2).
North Carolina: Asheville (2); Charlotte (41); Fayetteville (5); Greensboro (8); Raleigh (12).
Ohio: Cincinnati north (1); Columbus north (1).
Oklahoma: Moore (17); Oklahoma City (4); Tulsa (76).
Oregon: Beaverton (8); Medford (1); Portland east (4).
Pennsylvania: Reading (1).
Puerto Rico: Arecibo (9); Caguas (2); Carolina (4); Manati (38); Mayaguez (11); Ponce (21); San Juan (1); San Patricio (1); Toa Alta (2).
South Carolina: Columbia (13).
Tennessee: Memphis (1).
Texas: Angleton (1); Austin (92); Brownsville (1); Cleburne (1); Conroe (42); Corpus Christi (12); Dallas north (75); Dallas Oak Cliff (41); Dallas Pleasant Grove (40); Denton (14); Eagle Pass (1); El Paso (92); El Paso downtown (27); Fort Worth (37); Fort Worth south (11); Georgetown (84); Houston northeast (92); Houston northwest (94); Houston southeast (55); Houston southwest (94); League City (3); Lubbock (8); McAllen (31); McKinney (55); Mid Cities (90); Mission (1); Odessa (48); Pasadena (94); San Antonio central (66); San Antonio northwest (43); San Antonio south (17); Temple (13).
Utah: Salt Lake City (1).
Virginia: Alexandria (39); Fairfax (35); Manassas (37); Norfolk (1); Virginia Beach (1).
Washington: Bellevue (34); Burien (1); Everett (2); Kent (12); Puyallup (32); Seattle metro (1); Spokane (4); Tacoma (5); Yakima (8).
Philip Moeller is the principal author of the Get What’s Yours series of books about Social Security, Medicare, and health care. @PhilMoeller