After closing more than 1,200 field offices in March 2020, the Social Security Administration (SSA) announced in January 2022 that it would be bringing employees back to offices at the end of March.
While services continued uninterrupted during the two years offices were shuttered, approximately 90% of SSA employees were working remotely, causing a large backlog of unprocessed mailed applications and requests, according to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG).
According to a new report by the OIG to address whether the Social Security Administration was effectively dealing with its mail processes during the COVID-19 pandemic, things are seemingly getting better since workers have returned to their workplaces.
The SSA claims to have eliminated a backlog of more than 9,000 unprocessed mail documents identified during an investigation conducted by the OIG in 2021 and has established procedures and guidelines to better manage its mail workload, per CNBC.
This new report follows recommendations listed in a July 2021 interim OIG report which identified numerous SSA processing issues, including “backlogs of unprocessed applications for new or replacement Social Security cards and remittances or un-negotiated benefit checks; large quantities of undeliverable mail, some of which were over one year old; and original documents stored in unsecure locations.”
The OIG’s Social Security Administration’s Mail Processing During the COVID-19 Pandemic audit did not examine the equally important problem the SSA had with answering an overwhelming amount of phone calls requesting information during the pandemic, per CNBC.
As of January 2022, the OIG report found that 99% of SSA offices were meeting the recommended new timeliness guidelines but, according to representatives from the National Council of Social Security Management Associations, following these was hindering employees’ ability to complete their regular workloads.
As a result, the OIG has recommended further mail processing initiatives that the SSA is considering, including the introduction of software and equipment to alleviate manual processing, outsourcing some mail sorting and responding work to contractors and increasing the use of centralized printing services.
Complaints of backlogs at government agencies are a given, but remote work and pandemic regulations exacerbated the issue significantly. Regarding the SSA, government representatives have already taken the agency to task for inadequate service.
Back in April, three U.S. representatives — Ways and Means Leader Kevin Brady (R-Texas), Subcommittee on Social Security Leader Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) and Subcommittee on Oversight Leader Tom Rice (R-S.C.) — addressed constituent concerns and processing delays by sending an official letter to Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) requesting immediate discussion on the issue.
This was after Democratic representatives pressed President Joe Biden in a letter requesting him to create a “Beneficiary Advocate” position in the SSA, as posted on the National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare website.
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