Social Security Field Offices Closing, Reducing Services

Many people are asking, “Why is it so difficult to make an appointment with the Social Security Administration?”

Social Security, considered by many to be one of the better government agencies in terms of public service, has been quietly cutting personnel and closing its field offices at a time when Baby Boomers are retiring at record numbers.

According to a report by the Senate Special Committee on Aging, Social Security has closed 64 field offices and 533 temporary mobile offices since 2010. In addition, SSA reduced its office hours by closing its offices on Wednesdays to “process paperwork and reduce backlog”.

Social Security would like to eventually close all field offices, according to the Senate committee who cited an unpublished strategic plan prepared by the SSA called “Vision 2025”. The plan proposes that interaction with the SSA should shift from face-to-face services to online services over the next 11 years.

Some services that participants took for granted, like the ability to order hard-copy benefits verification statements, were halted. It wasn’t until a public outcry led by many financial advisers forced the SSA to reinstate hard copy statements which are now sent once every five years to those participants that haven’t enrolled in the SSA online service.

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These cutbacks of services can hurt the very people that the Social Security Act of 1935 was originally designed to protect, particularly retirees and those contemplating retirement. The local Social Security Office has been a tremendous resource for those who require assistance navigating the benefits and paperwork necessary when electing many of the programs that the SSA oversees.

Here are 3 reasons why it’s important for the Social Security Administration to maintain a presence in your community.

Social Security is complicated

While Social Security today administers many more services than just retirement benefits, the options available for retirement benefits are complicated enough. A local field office can be a helpful resource to understand the complex variations of benefits that retirees will have to decide upon – many of them irrevocable.

Many Boomers prefer face-to-face contact

The move by SSA to migrate most of their customer service duties to online representatives may hurt those who are not computer savvy or live in rural locations that do not have adequate internet coverage. For those individuals, a local Social Security field office is their only connection to the benefits that they are entitled to.

But more important than access is the perception of privacy. Many Baby Boomers who can navigate the internet reasonably well remain suspicious of using the technology for their most personal interactions, preferring face-to-face contact with another human being when discussing their benefits.

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You paid for it

Technically speaking, the government considers Social Security benefits an “entitlement” paid for by the current workforce to benefit the currently retired. But the term “entitlement” is considered insulting by many who consider their benefits an asset – something they have spent their entire working life paying for.

While the SSA continues to cut back on their services, your contribution into the system hasn’t. According to Dave Ramsey, “All the money you’ve paid into Social Security through your whole life, you need to double that because your employer has matched you.” That’s a lot of money into a system that is eliminating services.

“Customers”, as the SSA is fond of calling us, should demand better service for the costs we pay. But many understand that the “customer” model is a euphemism since there are no other competing organizations offering the same types of benefits.

One thing to keep in mind is that SSA representatives – whether in person or on the phone – cannot make recommendations concerning the dozens of options available to each retiree. Those questions are best answered with the assistance of a qualified financial adviser who is experienced in social security claiming strategies.

How can you help save your local Social Security Office? Make your voice heard! Contact your local congressional representative and let them know before it’s too late.

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