Social Security Offices Under Fire: Summer Heat Wave Prompts Safety Concerns

Wooden thermometer with red measuring liquid showing high temperature over 36 degrees Celsius on sunny day on background of apple tree.
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The combination of hot weather and ongoing customer service issues at the Social Security Administration has created a worrying problem this summer: safety concerns over Social Security customers who must stand in the heat waiting to get into field offices.

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The matter is of such concern that leaders of the House Ways and Means Committee sent a letter to the SSA this week requesting that it take action, CNBC reported.

The bipartisan letter, addressed to SSA Acting Commissioner Kilolo Kijakazi, noted that “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.”

The letter was sent by U.S. Reps. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), chair of the House Ways and Means Committee; and Kevin Brady (R-Texas), the committee’s Republican leader. It listed various problems Social Security customers have faced this summer — including waiting more than six hours in 100-degree heat.

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Some customers in sweltering Florida slept outside a field office overnight to secure spots in line for the next morning. In other cases, customers have had to come back on multiple days to get their needs addressed.

SSA field offices reopened in April 2022 after being shuttered for most of 2020 and 2021 because of COVID-19, leading to a huge backlog of unprocessed applications and requests. It hasn’t helped that the agency has faced budget cuts in recent years that permanently closed hundreds of offices.

Although service has slowly improved since then, the SSA still faces staffing challenges and a backlog of unfinished work. This means not only long lines at field offices but also long waits reaching customer service reps on the SSA’s 800 telephone number.

“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 in the letter.

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As CNBC noted, the SSA Office of the Inspector General has also called on the agency to address inefficiencies in processing mail to reduce application backlogs.

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The fiscal 2023 federal budget has earmarked an additional $1.8 billion over the previous year’s request to improve Social Security’s field, telephone and state disability services. For now, however, Social Security recipients are advised to take certain steps to minimize their wait times. This includes planning ahead before visiting a field office. Kijakazi has recommended first trying to have issues resolved online or by phone. If you must visit an office, try to get an appointment first to reduce the chance of having to wait in line a long time.

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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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