The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare strongly objects to the scheduled closure of the Social Security Administration (SSA) field office in Arlington, VA, which currently serves some 25,000 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 two hours 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 in Arlington 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, when Congress finally increased rather than cut SSA’s operating budget. Despite the recent funding boost, SSA continues to close field offices, primarily in urban neighborhoods.”
The closure of the Arlington office 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 the Hampden neighborhood of Baltimore (also effective this June). Since 2000, SSA has closed nearly 125 field offices nationwide. At the same time, thanks to 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 the 800 phone line, and average delays of nearly two years for a Social Security disability hearing. With 10,000 Baby Boomers reaching age 65 every day, SSA has been strained beyond its limits.
“We view the availability of conveniently located and adequately staffed Social Security field offices as crucial to maintaining public support for Social Security itself,” says Richtman. “If the public perceives their Social Security offices are being closed and service diminishing, their support for Social Security could deteriorate. Claimants must be able to access well-staffed Social Security field offices without traveling long distances or spending an undue amount of waiting time collecting their earned benefits.”
Richtman has just sent a letter on behalf of the National Committee to Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Bob Casey (D-PA), the chair and ranking Democrat of the Senate Committee on Aging, imploring them to look into the recent field office closures.
As a former staff director of the Aging Committee, I know full well how effective the committee has been in overseeing federal agencies and programs and in identifying problems affecting older people and finding solutions. Therefore, we ask that the Special Committee on Aging hold hearings that focus on the need for high-quality service from SSA and the vital importance of a strong and vibrant network of local field offices. – Max Richtman’s letter to Sens. Collins and Casey, 4/26/18
Read the full letter here.