The AFGE Social Security Council expressed concerns today about plans by the Social Security Administration (SSA) to reduce the number of hours at field offices open to the public. According to the agency’s announcement, as of November 19, 2012, offices that now close at 3:30 pm will close at 3:00. Offices will close at noon on Wednesdays beginning on January 2, 2013.
“This decision is a deliberate attempt by Commissioner Astrue to deny Social Security beneficiaries and the public access to critical information they need to successfully navigate the System” said Council President Witold Skwierczynski. “46 Social Security Offices have been closed over the past 21 months, field office staff have been cut, and over 300 contact station around the country have closed. The pattern is clear, SSA is saying to the public, ‘we are getting out of the service business, you’re on your own’.
Under Commissioner Astrue, the Agency has pursued an aggressive agenda of moving all applications, benefit inquiries and other questions onto the internet. “The problem is that they are moving so quickly, they are leaving thousands of people behind. These are people who were denied benefits or received lower benefits that they were eligible for because they did not have access to a SSA claims representative who could guide them through the claims process. The internet is an important tool for SSA but it should not be used as a vehicle to deny Americans the benefits to which they are entitled” said Skwierczynski. Many claimants are unable to navigate complex retirement and disability applications on the Internet and require face to face service to properly complete their applications. Reduced service hours will force the public to fend for themselves on the Internet. Union surveys of employees who review Internet claims indicate that those who file on the Internet often make errors that can cost permanent loss of thousands of dollars of benefits.
The Union has urged the Agency to seek alternatives to cuts in the field office structure including eliminating a bloated management structure that includes unnecessary layers of management and 42 all management offices that cost millions in rent and perform no direct service for the American public. Reducing office hours while keeping unnecessary offices for high graded managers who do not take or review claims is a sign of misplaced government priorities said Skwierczynski.
“Finally, we have heard recently that SSA plans to spend $55 million to build a fence around the headquarters building. Apparently even when the nation is overwhelmed with debt, SSA can find money when it wants to” Skwiercznski concluded.
The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is the largest federal employee union, representing 625,000 workers in the federal government and the government of the District of Columbia. For the latest AFGE news and information, follow us on Facebook and Twitter.