SSA Again Cuts Field Office Hours, Services
By Steve Kofahl
Social Security Administration (SSA) field office hours and services will be cut again in 2014, according to SSA plans released in December 2013. In announcing the plans to shut down the field offices on Wednesdays, leaving four-day office hours of 9a.m.-3p.m., the SSA also reported that its Benefit Verification Letter Program and Social Security Number Printouts would no longer be handled by community field offices. What do these cutbacks mean for seniors and low-income benefits.
Benefit Verifications Letters (BVL)
In the fiscal year ending September 2013, the agency issued over 5.5 million benefit verification letters to field office visitors. Low-income beneficiaries most often need this proof of income so that they can be certified or re-certified to receive assistance from other federal, state, and local government agencies, and non-profit organizations. Without a BVL, many beneficiaries may be denied essential needs like housing, energy, clothing and food.
Instead of having field offices issue BVLs, SSA wants beneficiaries to register for a “MySocialSecurity” account (the SSA online “self-help” program for SS recipients), request a benefit verification letter online, and print it themselves.
Or they may call the Agency’s toll-free number, and wait 5-7 days to receive one in the mail, a delay that can cause a real hardship.
Registration can be a difficult process, access to established accounts is too-often blocked, and many low-income people do not have a computer and printer. Computers and printers at libraries and other public locations are not secure. SSA claims that data exchanges with other government agencies limit the number of printed benefit verifications that are needed, but many providers do not have access to the data, and some who have access don’t know how to interpret the information.
(Slated to go into effect September/October)
Social Security Number Printouts (SSNP)
While SSA wants people to print out their own Benefit Verification Letters, they don’t want anyone printing out Social Security Numbers. SSA issues 6 million SSNPs each year, to low-income beneficiaries who need them to qualify for assistance, get a driver’s license, state ID card, or a job.
SSA instead wants people to get a replacement SS card, a process which takes minimally 7-10 days. SSA says that agencies and organizations can verify SSN online, but there is a fee involved, and the “verification” is not always accurate. More importantly, a significant number of citizens and lawfully-admitted immigrants are incorrectly identified as not authorized to work, and, as a result, can be fired if their employers fail to give them a chance to correct the error with SSA and/or U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. (Slated to go into effect June-July)
Closing field offices, slashing services and hours to the most vulnerable should be the last things SSA does to save costs. Join Social Security Works and other advocate organizations working to stop these latest cuts by voicing your disapproval to your Congressional delegation.
Steve Kofahl is President of American Federation of Government Employees Local 3937 representing Social Security workers regionally and is a PSARA Executive Board member.