Senators, watchdog hit Social Security over closed offices and poor service

The Social Security Administration (SSA) is getting heat from inside and outside the agency stemming from scores of field-office closures and poor customer service.

Bipartisan leaders of a special Senate committee want Social Security to explain why so many facilities have been shuttered, while a new internal watchdog report documents long processing times at hearing offices.

In letters to SSA and the General Services Administration (GSA) on Monday, Sens. Susan M. Collins (R-Maine) and Robert P. Casey Jr. (Pa.), the chairwoman and ranking Democrat, respectively, of the Senate Special Committee on Aging said, “as some 10,000 seniors turn 65 each day and file for Social Security and Medicare, we should be expanding access to services, not reducing access.”

Instead, Social Security has closed about 125 field offices since 2000 and, the senators said, “service hours at field-office locations have also been cut while wait times have risen and hearing backlogs have grown.”

That was detailed in an SSA inspector general’s report that examined two regional Social Security hearing offices and found both had “high average processing times (APT), had below-average staffing levels, low morale, and issues with telework, claimant representatives, and the quality of the support staff’s work.”

The regions were New York, which covers 16 offices in New York, New Jersey and Puerto Rico; and Atlanta, with 37 offices in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, and Tennessee.

These regions “had a disproportionate number of the lowest-ranking hearing offices in terms of average processing time,” Acting Inspector General Gale Stallworth Stone said in a letter with the report. In fiscal 2016, 88 percent of the offices in the New York region had above-average processing times, as did 65 percent of the Atlanta region, a trend that continued through fiscal 2017.

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