The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare strongly objects to the scheduled closure of the Social Security Administration (SSA) field office at the Rotunda, which currently serves some 13,000 seniors, people with disabilities, and many other beneficiaries every year. If the office is shuttered as planned on June 21st, lower income Social Security and SSI (Supplemental Security Income) claimants may find themselves traveling up to one hour round-trip on public transportation to an alternate field office. Once they arrive at the nearest alternative location, they will experience an average two-hour wait (based on national data) in a crowded office where it can be difficult to locate a seat – an extra hardship for seniors and people with disabilities.
“Closing Social Security field offices like the one at the Rotunda causes undue difficulty for elderly and working class claimants who rely on public transportation,” says National Committee president and CEO Max Richtman. “This is a consequence of Congressional underfunding of the Social Security Administration from 2010-2017. Congress finally increased SSA’s operating budget this year. Despite the recent funding boost, SSA continues to close field offices, primarily in urban neighborhoods.”
The closure of the Rotunda office at 711 West 40th Street comes on the heels of others in heavily populated urban areas, including in Milwaukee and Chicago during the past year, and the announced closing of an SSA field office in Arlington, VA (also effective this June). Since 2000, SSA has closed nearly 125 field offices nationwide (65 of them since 2010). At the same time, thanks to Congressional budget cuts, the agency has been struggling to provide adequate customer service – with claimants experiencing long waits in crowded field offices, busy signals and interminable hold times on its toll-free phone line, and average delays of nearly two years for a Social Security disability hearing. With 10,000 Baby Boomers reaching retirement age every day, SSA has been strained beyond its limits.
One reason why SSA says it’s closing the Rotunda office in Baltimore is related to the purported inability of another government agency, the General Services Administration (GSA), to find an acceptable alternative location nearby – even though the current office is relatively small and only has a handful of staffers.
We’ve heard this same excuse offered as the reason offices in other cities had to be closed. If GSA, which is the federal government’s real estate agent, can’t find acceptable space for a Social Security office in a city with a 13 percent vacancy rate, then perhaps they should go into a different line of work. Instead of GSA, SSA should be given authority to serve as its own real estate agent,” said Richtman.
Richtman has sent a letter to Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) and Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), the chairperson and ranking Democrat on the Senate Committee on Aging, asking them to exercise their oversight authority over SSA regarding office closings. “The Social Security Administration [is]weakening its ability to serve the American people by systematically closing and consolidating its field offices,” writes Richtman.
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