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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
Dee
July 16, 2014 at 11:53 am

Well our social security is not the governments to take. It is our hard earned money that we have put aside for when we do retire. But by the way the government has mishandled our mlonies by the time I am old enough to retire, there will be none left for me to get. So why should we (under 60) be required to still pay into social security, when it is more and more evidient I will have not to collect.

Char
July 16, 2014 at 10:30 am

Wow, what a lot of haters! People so busy being mad at the government, they don't recognize when someone makes a GOOD move to save taxpayers hard earned money.
I don't know anyone who works at Soc Sec, even though I feel bad when anyone loses their job, but hey, we need to be fiscally responsible with Social Security money. You only need half a brain to understand that IT COSTS MONEY to have a physical office site. The building costs, lighting, heating, air, electric, and the people who work in the office. It's a LOT of money to pay when Soc Sec should keep their overhead costs as low as possible because money should be available to the people who paid into Soc Sec. Closing some offices is a GOOD move as it means someone at Soc Sec is looking at how much money is being spent on administrative costs (building, utilities, employees) and reducing expenditures so there's MORE MONEY TO GIVE TO PEOPLE WHO PAID INTO THE SERVICE.
I looked at the list and most if not all of the offices being closed have another SocSec office within 20 miles or less. Maybe people should actually think about the article and ask "Is this reporter telling the whole story or leaving out half the truth so they can get public outcry!" It's called think for yourself.
It's sad a bunch of people who worked for social security at those offices that are closing are losing their jobs, but maybe we don't need that many people working in the government.
By the way, someone in government is trying to do the right thing, cut government spending SO THE TAXPAYER GETS THEIR RETURN ON THEIR SOCIAL SECURITY. Some of the commenters about government taking and taking DIDN'T EVEN READ THE ARTICLE. The reason we are sinking fast in this country is people are so busy shooting off their mouths, they don't even recognize a good thing when it happens.
Instead of being MAD AS HELL, maybe someone should be congratulating the government person in social security administration who made the bold decision to save money and close some offices. By the way, the author of this article is way off base about older people not having access to online services like us "old folk" are too feeble to have a computer? A lot of us "old folk" were building computers long before you wet-behind-the-ear reporters knew the difference between WiFi and waahh-waahh. There are lots of ways to contact social security besides a walk-in office. Public libraries have free computers and internet access, people have phones, mail service. READ people, we don't have time for ignorance and jumping to conclusions.

Don
July 16, 2014 at 9:41 am

Willie got it right at the top. Our society, even our very culture is in a self destruct mode. There is a reason why a country/culture makes its way to the top. And the primary reason is Liberty and Freedom to create a society where the individual citizen acts in a responsible way for what is best for him and his fellow citizens/neighbors/community. Roy also makes a good point when our government has lost its accountability. Our vote no longer reaches the PEOPLE who make our laws (the bureaucrats). And it doesn't matter any longer which party is in office, because the government is going to do what it wants anyway (Progressivism). Hold onto what you've got/earned for as long as you can.

Willy
July 12, 2014 at 10:37 pm

There is really nothing I can say that hasn't already been posted.
How do we stop the greed? I worked hard for a long time to have what I do. And am thankful. I constantly pay more for everything but do not make any more. A case of the poor becoming more poor
while the rich get richer. What can you do? I love America but am afraid the self destruction will not end.

lee
July 12, 2014 at 10:29 pm

I have worked all my life loved working I enjoyed it however over 2 years ago I got ill with many different issues and still not totally resolved if ever today. I never ask for anything yet I had to file for disability and of course got denied awaiting appeal and hope and pray I would be approved . outward seem to look ok but inside and issues that I have not able to do what I use to and try to do it which gives me problems .

has our leaders forgotten us, and give to everyone else than to hungry children,seniors,, and in between. help America . we can't continue to help everyone else when there hungry, unemployed , seniors did there time get nothing . our leaders make a lot of money more than workers yet they have nothing to worry about. let be fair. and make it right for America workers.
at this time when we need the benefits they take them all away but give to other countries. really America needs help leaders stop thinking of themselves. please help us stop this farce. and help .

Gola McKinney
July 12, 2014 at 10:09 pm

Our government is so totally and completely corrupt that it may be beyond saving! I hope not -but the words "Service" and "Love of Country" seems to be completely unknown to those who now hold office. These words have been replaced by a selfish desire for money, power, and re-election! Everything, that those now in office do, is based upon these selfish desires! If we are to save our Nation, our people must come together and act quickly! First, forget party ties -they no longer mean anything and it's just a way to control us. We must vote together! Vote Them All Out! Start with those in office for 35-40 years! LET'S DO IT!

Lawrence Jose Sinclair
July 12, 2014 at 10:01 pm

I've been around long enough to know that the government is a one-way process: takers, not givers.. my dad served in two wars, came back from Korea mentally disabled, left our family and we got absolutely nothing. "veteran" here means "all used up" to them. It's disgusting how much money I gave them over 52 yrs of work, and what a paltry return I've gotten, and they act like they owe us nothing. Leave it to some elected officials, whose party I won't mention, and they'd take away ALL our social security and expect us to work (at minimum wage, too) until we drop dead. These goons become dictators, because we aren't allowed to APPROVE their legislation, voting them out after 2-4 yrs is TOO LATE. We need a gov't where reps are picked at random like juries, can't serve but once, so NO corruption, NO wasted campaign money, and mandatory prison for anyone caught taking bribes or kickbacks, esp. for defense contracts. This "government by corporations" has to stop eventually, or you'll have two countries: the military protecting the feds in DC, and "everybody else". Socrates was put to death by Athenian supporters of democracy for saying "democracy won't work b/c the average citizen doesn't have the integrity nor the intelligence to select the right leaders". On top of that, the best people would NOT serve anyway, like Gandhi in India. Only power-hungry people seek positions of power, so politics is self-negating as a means of attaining justice and dignity for citizens.

Susan
July 12, 2014 at 8:11 pm

Many of these rural regions have older residents who are no able to do things online. Navigating the web is (and can be) complicated for folks who barely know how to send an email, much less how to obtain information re. their SS. Shame on the federal government for not taking into consideration the needs of the poor, elderly and disenfranchised. Many of the residents of these smaller towns must rely on relatives--who may be older residents themselves. Whose going to help these people? Many people do not have transportation or even can afford to pay someone to drive them to the nearest office to take care of this very important business. What good is all of the technological advances when the most vulnerable segment of society is unable to utilize it when it is most needed. Shame, shame, shame on the federal government for kicking these poor souls to the curb and under the bus.

roy
July 12, 2014 at 6:59 pm

what good is voteing someone into office if they dont do what the majority of the people want. these jerks think they can do what they want. time for the people to take back this country. why should our children depend on charity to eat when our country feeds every other countrys children. charity begins at home. stop forighn aid and take care of our people.

Richard
July 12, 2014 at 5:15 pm

The comments I read today really expresses my exact feelings. Some of the other problems, are these companies hiring non-citizens, or people who are not documented to work in this country. They have a law against it, but many of our GREEDY, LYING, HIPOCRYTICAL, WORE OUT THERE WELCOME, SO-CALLED POLITICIANS, are afraid to enforce it. They say, “Let them all come through”. They are so concerned for themselves and their crooked friends, that they don't give a hoot about LONGTIME, HARDWORKING people that are paying for these insane decisions they make. They say, "It's not coming out of my pocket, so why should I care, as long as I get mine". Two terms for all of them!! Then they get the heck out!! I don't mind helping people, but I have to take care of my own house first. What does it look like for me to pay all of my neighbor's bills, and let my family suffer? That's what those nuts are doing to us. Vote them out!! Vote them out!! Vote them out!!

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