On March 17, 2020, the Social Security Administration closed all its offices to the public for in-person services due to the coronavirus pandemic.
For those who were accustomed to receiving face-to-face service to address issues with or questions about their benefits, this has been a massive shift in how they interact with the federal agency.
More than one year later, the pandemic is officially still ongoing — but the strict lockdowns and business closures that we saw last spring have eased considerably. With restaurants and retail stores operating mostly as normal, you might wonder, are Social Security offices open too?
The questions I’m starting to hear now are along the lines of, “Are Social Security offices open for any services?” But maybe the one we should really be asking is more like, “When will Social Security offices open again?”
If you were eager to communicate in person with the SSA, you may need to wait a little while longer still. Social Security offices generally remain closed as of May 2021… but there may be a few circumstances that allow for in-person service.
Are Social Security Offices Open for Any Services?
There are a few limited cases where you may be able to schedule a one-on-one meeting at your local Social Security Administration office. These meetings are by appointment only, and appointments are only granted in critical circumstances.
Appointments are generally granted if:
- You are without food or shelter, including utilities, and need to apply for or reinstate benefits.
- You are without medical care or coverage and need to apply for or reinstate benefits.
- You currently receive benefits and have an urgent need for payment to meet expenses for food, shelter, or medical treatment, and you cannot receive the payment electronically.
- You are age 12 or older and applying for your first Social Security card.
- You need to update or correct your Social Security information (such as your name, date of birth, or citizenship) to obtain income, resources, or medical care or coverage, or other services or benefits (for example filing a tax return, applying for housing, or seeking an Economic Impact Payment).
If your situation falls outside of these circumstances, you’ll have to conduct your business online or over the phone. Thankfully, this doesn’t need to be as tedious as it may seem — and it is possible to receive good service even if Social Security offices aren’t open for in-person meetings quite yet.
Over the past several years, the Administration worked hard to expand the services they offer online. You can now apply for retirement, disability, and Medicare benefits online, check the status of an application or appeal, print a benefit verification letter, and a lot more.
There’s Good Reason for Social Security Offices to Open ASAP
That being said, reopening Social Security offices as soon as possible needs to be considered a priority. While services are available via the phone, that doesn’t help much unless you have a good computer with a strong internet connection in your own home.
The continued closure of Social Security offices under most circumstances does present a major challenge to the hundreds of thousands of individuals who may lack access to a computer, internet connection, or don’t have a reliable phone number or mailing address.
The decreased lack of access to the local SSA offices has been blamed for the decrease in Social Security benefits applications. Since the closure of offices, newly awarded SSI applications are down 30%.
Critics of the SSA office closures say that this is a sign of a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable population: those with low income and disabilities.
When Will Social Security Offices Open Again?
Unfortunately, the real answer to “When will Social Security offices open again?” may be never, at least in some cases. A permanent closing of most of these offices could be the eventual outcome, even as the pandemic fades into the rearview mirror.
This could become even more likely if a proposal from one of the big Social Security employee’s unions gets their way.
This proposal is coming from the National Council of Social Security Administration Field Operations Locals. They represent nearly 29,000 social security employees which means they represent half of all the SSA employees.
But perhaps more importantly, they are an affiliate of the American Federation of Government Employees. This union covers 700,000 government workers, which gives them a loud, powerful voice. When they speak, many politicians pay close attention.
The union sent a letter to the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration to make their request very clear. “Teleworking should be the Agency standard, with all case work that can be handled ‘virtually’ required to be handled via telephone and internet,” part of the letter stated. It continued, “Following the IRS model, a single field office should be opened in every congressional district for necessary in-person meetings, trainings, etc.”
Right now there are 435 Congressional Districts. If there was only one field office for each district, the Social Security Administration would need to permanently close more than two-thirds of its current offices.
If the Administration truly mirrored the IRS’ model for field offices, you’d only have about 300 locations. Needless to say, that would be a massive shift in how the Administration delivers their service.
What Do You Think of Proposals to Permanently Close SSA Offices?
So now I’d like to hear from you. Do you think closing most of the Social Security offices is a good idea? I’d like to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
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