As Social Security Customer Service Problems Persist, Congress Is Stepping In

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Ongoing customer service issues at the Social Security Administration have finally gotten bad enough that U.S. lawmakers decided to do something about it — but it might be a while before you see any significant improvements.

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Congress held a hearing on May 19 to identify ways to fix the SSA’s customer service fix problems, which mainly boil down to interminable wait times on the phone if you’re lucky enough to get through at all. Lawmakers from across the country and the political aisle have been hearing complaints from constituents, CNBC reported.

Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.) said at the hearing that many seniors in his district can’t even reach the SSA by phone.

“As a result, my elderly constituents end up calling my staff after many failed attempts to call the office at the Social Security Administration,” Kern said. “By extension, we have become the Social Security Administration call center.”

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the problems, but they’ve been around a lot longer than that. The SSA failed to provide adequate customer service even before the pandemic because the agency’s budget hasn’t kept pace with inflation, according to Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), chair of the House Ways and Means subcommittee on Social Security.

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Since 2010, Larson said, the SSA’s budget has fallen 14%, adjusted for inflation. Over the same time frame, it has been forced to make do with 13% fewer employees. The agency closed 67 field offices, cut its hours at existing offices and delayed technology and phone system upgrades — even as the number of beneficiaries rose by more than one-fifth over the past dozen years.

Poor customer service carries severe risks to Americans who depend on Social Security. Between fiscal years 2008 and 2019, more than 109,000 applicants for disability benefits died while waiting for appeals, according to the Government Accountability Office.

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While Congress looks for ways to fix the problem, there are steps you can take to ensure better results with your Social Security benefits. Here are a few of them:

  • Check the Social Security website before calling. The SSA.gov site has been expanded in recent years to handle a variety of different tasks, US News reported. Among the things you can do online are open a “my Social Security” account, apply for benefits, check the status of your application, estimate your retirement benefits, review your Social Security statement and earnings history, set up or change how your payments are made, print a 1099 tax form and request a replacement Social Security card.
  • Don’t call during busy times. Calling at the right time can lessen your wait considerably. In 2021, the months with the shortest wait time were April, with an average wait time of about five minutes; and August, with an average wait time of about six minutes. If possible, avoid calling during January, February and March. Wait times during these months averaged about 40 minutes in 2022. Mondays and Tuesdays tend to be the busiest days, so it’s better to call later in the week. You should also call later in the day when wait times are usually shorter.
  • Schedule an in-person appointment. If you can’t find what you need online, you can schedule an in-person or phone appointment by calling 800-772-1213 (TTY 800-325-0778) between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, or contact your local Social Security office.
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About the Author

Vance Cariaga is a London-based writer, editor and journalist who previously held staff positions at Investor’s Business Daily, The Charlotte Business Journal and The Charlotte Observer. His work also appeared in Charlotte Magazine, Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal and Business North Carolina magazine. He holds a B.A. in English from Appalachian State University and studied journalism at the University of South Carolina. His reporting earned awards from the North Carolina Press Association, the Green Eyeshade Awards and AlterNet. In addition to journalism, he has worked in banking, accounting and restaurant management. A native of North Carolina who also writes fiction, Vance’s short story, “Saint Christopher,” placed second in the 2019 Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. Two of his short stories appear in With One Eye on the Cows, an anthology published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2019. His debut novel, Voodoo Hideaway, was published in 2021 by Atmosphere Press.

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