Social Security has long-term financial challengers but the agency that administers it faces more immediate problems, according to a bipartisan report.
Sixty-four Social Security offices have closed since 2009, despite an ever-increasing backlog of applications for benefits, MarketWatch reports. The Senate Special Committee on Aging discussed these findings earlier this week.
Only 1,245 offices are currently operational in the country as of 2014, since 533 temporary mobile offices have also been closed, and of the offices still remaining, availability hours have been significantly reduced.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) is in its largest five-year decline since it was created 79 years ago. Aside from offices, over 11,000 workers have been laid off in the last three years.
“They don’t do any kind of analysis on what would happen to a community when their field office closes, including figuring out how the most vulnerable populations would make their way to the next-closest office,” said Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, chairman of the Aging Committee.
Other senators are similarly skeptical of whether the internet is a viable replacement, as many seniors are reportedly unable to conduct business online.
Office closures appear to have been conducted without any insight as to whether or not remaining offices are adequately accessibly by public transit, and so senators have called on the committee to design a uniform policy for closures.
But Nancy Berryhill, agency deputy commissioner for operations, is confident that online services are easing the transition.
‘‘We also understand, however, that customer expectations are evolving due to changes in technology, demographics and other factors,” said Berryhill. To further promote how easy the online application process is, the SSA last year featured a series of strange YouTube videos with cats wearing fedoras.
Accordingly, the report states that the SSA will discontinue in-person Social Security number printouts by August 1, 2014, since “nearly half of all retirement applications were filed online in FY 2013, up from 6 percent 10 years earlier.”
Online access is not without risk, however. Tens of thousands of Americans have reported fraudulent creation of my Social Security accounts, and the online system operates only in English.
Security restrictions have been added in response, but have come with the unintended consequence of locking out legitimate users, further compounding the problems the SSA has to face moving forward.
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