Lawmakers call for safety upgrades as people face long lines ‘outside in the heat for hours’ at Social Security offices

Personal Finance

People stand in line at a Social Security Office in Pasadena, California.
Mario Anzuoni | Reuters

People who face long waits for service at the Social Security Administration’s field offices have had to contend with one more complication this summer — intense heat.

That prompted leaders of the House Ways and Means Committee to send a letter to the Social Security Administration on Tuesday asking the agency to take action to address the safety needs of people who are seeking in-person help.

“Although most SSA field offices can assist visitors, in some locations people have been standing outside in the heat for hours at a time, without the guarantee of getting their needs met,” wrote Reps. Richard Neal, D-Mass., and Kevin Brady, R-Texas, in a letter addressed to Kilolo Kijakazi, acting commissioner of the Social Security Administration.

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Neal is chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, while Brady is the committee’s Republican leader.

The letter went on to detail uncomfortable situations people who are seeking help have been put in, citing media reports, including elderly or disabled individuals waiting more than six hours in temperatures close to 100 degrees. The conditions led one individual to faint in Texas, lawmakers noted, while other people in Florida slept outside the night before to secure their spots in line for the next morning. In some cases, people have had to come back on multiple days to get their needs addressed.

“We strongly urge SSA to take additional action to address the safety needs of individuals who are seeking field office services,” Neal and Brady wrote.

Long waits for service in person, by phone and mail

Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, left, holds up a ‘Simple, Fair ‘Postcard’ Tax Filing’ card next to ranking member Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., during a markup hearing in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 6, 2017.
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The field office waits follow the federal agency’s formal reopening in April, after it had mostly shuttered to in-person visits in response to the Covid-19 pandemic starting in 2020.

Those seeking help have also complained of long waits while calling the agency’s 800 telephone number. Meanwhile, the Social Security Administration Office of the Inspector General has also called on the agency to address inefficiencies in processing mail, which has led to backlogs in processing certain applications.

Gripes about long waits come as no surprise to Richard Fiesta, executive director of the Alliance for Retired Americans, a grassroots advocacy organization, who said he has heard similar stories to the ones detailed in the letter.

The delays can be attributed to a confluence of events dating back years, he said. That includes the closing of Social Security field offices, which are now down to about 1,200 from well over 1,600. The number of people reaching retirement age has dramatically increased as the baby boomer population ages. The Covid-19 pandemic further complicated the challenges the Social Security Administration faces.

“It’s been a real tough toxic soup of trying to get service for the public from Social Security,” Fiesta said.

The fiscal 2023 budget seeks an additional $1.8 billion over last year’s request that is aimed specifically at improving Social Security’s field, telephone and state disability services.

“That’s a positive,” Fiesta said. “We hope Congress enacts it.”

‘Plan ahead and do as much research as you can’

Getting prompt and reliable service from a program that is funded by workers’ paychecks should be a given, Fiesta said.

For now, there are steps people who are seeking help may take to try to minimize their wait times.

“Plan ahead and do as much research as you can on what questions you will have,” Fiesta said.

It’s been a real tough toxic soup of trying to get service for the public from Social Security.
Richard Fiesta
executive director of the Alliance for Retired Americans

Before visiting Social Security offices, people should still reach out online or by phone first, Kijakazi urged earlier this year as offices began to reopen.

“To avoid waiting in line, I strongly encourage people who can to use our online services at www.socialsecurity.gov, call us and schedule appointments in advance rather than walking in without an appointment,” Kijakazi said in a statement. “Phone appointments can save you a trip to a busy office.”

Also, be aware: If you show up at a Social Security office without an appointment, you may experience delays or longer wait times.

It may also help to time your visits or phone calls to hours or days when Social Security offices tend to see less traffic. The offices tend to be busiest first thing in the morning, early in the week and early in the month, according to Kijakazi.

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