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Social Security cuts offices, hours

By Jennie L. Phipps · Bankrate.com
Wednesday, June 18, 2014
Posted: 5 pm ET

Since 2010, Social Security has closed 64 field offices (scroll all the way down to the bottom to see the list) and 533 temporary offices, reduced hours and gotten rid of more than 11,000 employees in its remaining 1,245 field offices. That's according to a report from the bipartisan staff of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, which held a hearing on Social Security's downsizing Wednesday afternoon.

© Claudio Divizia/Shutterstock.com

The committee found that the agency made decisions on cutbacks without first trying to figure out the impact on its 43 million annual customers, most of whom are between the ages of 60 and 69. The panel says Social Security also didn't ask how local officials thought the closings would affect usage of neighboring offices or what kinds of transportation options might be available to help people get there.

"[Social Security] failed to consult any local stakeholders and minimally consulted local agency management until after the commissioner agreed to close a field office," the report says.

Forgetting that many seniors aren't wired

The committee points out that while the agency has been trying to move as many users online as possible, it made these closing decisions without considering that more than half of people 65 and older don't have online access at home. Officials also disregarded that nearly a quarter of older adults report that health or other issues make reading difficult, the report says.

During Wednesday's hearing, Nancy Berryhill, deputy commissioner for the Social Security Administration, defended the online emphasis. “As customer expectations have changed, we need to balance those needs with the needs of those who prefer alternative options,” she said.

But William Meyer, founder and managing principal of Social Security Solutions, a Social Security advisory service that relies on sophisticated software to identify claiming strategies, pooh-poohs Berryhill's point of view.

"The Social Security Administration isn’t acknowledging that this retiree segment wants and needs  to talk to people on the phone," he says.  "Thinking that you can automate this and really help millions of people is just crazy. This is the biggest financial decision that most people make in a lifetime, and Social Security is going in the opposite direction of good customer service."

Sometimes, face-to-face is best

Meyer is particularly critical of Social Security's efforts to open automated kiosks in the front of some Social Security offices. "They did it with a  lot of pomp and circumstance that I believe was all done to to divert attention from these cutbacks," he says.

Even if you are inclined to conduct complex retirement planning business online, some Social Security transactions can best be handled face to face, says Joe Elsasser, a certified financial planner and creator of Social Security Timing, another service that calculates recipients' optimum filing strategy.

For instance, Elsasser says when people want to file for spousal-only or survivor-only benefits while allowing their own worker's benefit to earn delayed retirement credits -- a strategy  that can easily bring a married couple more than $100,000 in additional benefits during their lifetimes --  they should go to the Social Security office in person to make sure the paperwork is handled correctly.

The best times to go

Given the reduction in Social Security offices, Elsasser recommends that if you must go in person, do it when you are less likely to have to take a number and wait two or more hours. "Around the first of every month, getting service is really challenging," he says. "There are even big spikes in telephone wait times."

Instead, choose the "middle of the month and the middle of the week,"  he advises.

It is also smart to sign up for a My Social Security online account to get routine information.

Even when staffs were fatter, Social Security didn't give advice about benefit strategies. Understanding claiming options can make a huge difference in how much someone is able to get from the program. While Social Security does publish lots of information online, there are thousands of rules and regulations that affect benefit calculations. Getting expert help before you claim is the best way to ensure that you aren't leaving retirement money on the table.

Meanwhile, if you think Social Security should do a better job of helping its customers navigate the program, tell your congressional representative.

Social Security field offices closed since 2010

Ketchikan, Alaska Rumford, Maine Hugo, Oklahoma
Camden, Arkansas Hamtramck, Michigan Portland (Northeast), Oregon
Barstow, California Moberly, Missouri Klamath Falls, Oregon
Redlands, California Biloxi, Mississippi Somerset, Pennsylvania
Corona, California Burlington, North Carolina Philadelphia (North Central), Pennsylvania
Bristol, Connecticut Dickinson, North Dakota Philadelphia (Woodland Ave.), Pennsylvania
Norwalk, Connecticut Beatrice, Nebraska Jenkintown, Pennsylvania
Shepherd Park, D.C. Montclair, New Jersey Pittsburgh (Northside), Pennsylvania
Quincy, Florida Glen Rock, New Jersey Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania
Pinellas Park, Florida Amherst, New York Yauco, Puerto Rico
Palatka, Florida Grand Central (New York), New York Cayey, Puerto Rico
Moultrie, Georgia Williamsburg (Brooklyn), New York Hato Rey, Puerto Rico
Swainsboro, Georgia Kingston, New York Camden, South Carolina
Clinton, Iowa Bronx (Hub), New York Maryville, Tennessee
Chicago (West Town), Illinois Astoria, New York Memphis (East), Tennessee
Pittsburg, Kansas Rome, New York Midland, Texas
Louisville (West), Kentucky Chinatown (New York), New York Dallas (West), Texas
Bastrop, Louisiana East New York (Brooklyn), New York Houston (Downtown), Texas
Plaquemine, Louisiana Long Beach, New York Richmond (West), Virginia
New Orleans (Clearview), Louisiana Mount Vernon, New York Seattle (South), Washington
Chelsea, Massachusetts Glendale, New York
Greenfield, Massachusetts Euclid, Ohio

Source: U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging.

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208 Comments
Dixie Stoll
July 17, 2014 at 5:00 am

As long as Social Security dollars go to those who never paid anything in, those of us who worked all our lives and expect to see it at retirement just never will.

DarleneDeAngelis
July 16, 2014 at 8:18 pm

We need prayer now more than ever

Roxy
July 16, 2014 at 2:59 pm

And not publicized is the fact that SSA is rehiring people who retired from the agency but in most cases the rehires are supervisors who never did any actual work anyway.

Deb
July 16, 2014 at 12:03 pm

Wow is right! Unfortunately you are either very misinformed or just plain ignorant to the fact that having offices is what's drowning Social Security and they are looking out for the taxpayer by doing so "there to be more money to give to people who paid into the into the service"! And those "old folks" that built those computer's do probably use a computer and have internet access, but unfortunately those are few, if they are still alive!! You must have done a lot of research too see how far another office is at "each" location, which I serious think you didn't, but I may be wrong on that one. So happy to hear that those senior's with all this computer experience and can afford to have internet access and are still able to afford the gas and still be able to drive to these location's are doing well! I personally think you need to do a lot more research (like you did on the location's) on
where are social security dollars are really going to and how much is going there!

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