A Social Security Administration office in Sebring, Florida.
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The agency’s service difficulties date back to before the pandemic, said Maria Freese, senior legislative representative on the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.
“Social Security Administration has been underfunded, underfunded, for more than a decade as demands for services have increased,” Freese said.
What to expect at Social Security offices
Social Security is now taking steps to reduce its in-person wait times, especially at its busiest offices.
For offices where outside lines are necessary, Social Security provides toilets, water fountains and, in some cases, fans and outside canopies. The agency is also redesigning its waiting areas to allow more people to access its air-conditioned offices. It also expands the use of mobile check-ins for appointments that will allow people to wait in their cars or at other nearby locations.
The agency is also making other changes in an effort to speed up appointments.
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This includes referring clients for quick express interviews or for same-day or future appointments; check that visitors have the necessary information and documents; provision of deposit boxes for documents; give workload assignments to offices with less walk-in traffic; assign volunteers to busier offices; rehire retired employees; suspend teleworking for certain current employees; and increased overtime for occupied offices.
However, these are all “interim” changes, according to Freese.
“We think the agency needs more money,” Freese said.
“The consequences of years of underfunding are finally showing up in an agency that appears to all outsiders as if it’s dysfunctional,” she said.
Which locations had the longest waits
Along with its response to congressional lawmakers, Social Security also released data on the locations most frequently experiencing long wait times from April through August.
“This weekly data reveals that a very small percentage of our more than 1,200 field offices experienced queues of 40 or more visitors,” Kijakazi said.
The number of sites with more than 40 people waiting outside at 9 a.m. was 216, with a total of 4,461 occurrences during those months.
Locations with the highest number of occurrences – 94 – included Orlando, Carrollwood, Perrine and South Miami, Florida; the Twin Cities of Minnesota; southwest and northwest Houston and Pasadena in Texas; and Las Vegas. Sites with 93 occurrences included Hialeah and Little Havana, both in Florida.
The number of sites that saw more than 40 people waiting outside at 3pm was much lower – 37 – with 341 occurrences in total.
Locations with the most occurrences included Orlando, with 40; Little Havana, 37; Perrin, 33 years old; Southwest Houston, 31; Northwest and Southeast Houston, each with 27 in Texas; South Miami, 26; the twin cities, 23; and North Miami, 21, and South Broward in Florida, 13.
Recommended steps for better service
Social Security offices tend to be busiest in the mornings, early in the week and at the beginning of the month, Kijakazi said earlier this year as offices began to reopen.
In the recent letter to Congress, Kijakazi also reiterated that people might be able to get their needs met faster, whether online or over the phone.
Online services are available online at Socialsecurity.gov. By creating a My Social Security account, users can request a replacement Social Security card or SSA-1099 tax form, start or edit direct deposits, or print or download a benefit verification letter.
Telephone services also tend to be less busy at times. Wait times tend to be shorter before 10 a.m., after 4 p.m., later in the week or later in the month, Social Security said earlier this year.