Charlene Latsha hangs up on the Social Security Administration after a long hold.
Desperate to reach the government agency concerning her husband’s retirement application, Latsha, 70, of Pottstown, Pennsylvania,
has been disabled and unable to work for two years but cannot claim disability. But now that he is 65, the couple felt he should start collecting his monthly pension.
When Latsha tries to access her husband’s online account, she gets an “account suspended” notification.
She usually hangs up after 45 minutes or an hour on hold with Social Security.
You’re on hold forever,” Latsha remarked. “I’ve been attempting to contact them for three weeks.”
The additional cash from her husband’s benefits would be a “huge assistance” to their finances.
Latsha doesn’t blame the SSA.
“They’re not performing their job,” Latsha explained. “They just get a tonne of calls.”
On March 17, 2020, the Social Security Administration will switch to large phone and online services because of the Covid-19 epidemic Its 1,200 field offices have since offered limited in-person services by appointment only.
Customers frequently had to mail documents.
The Social Security Administration’s Inspector General determined that those processes were not always smooth.
A study revealed that the agency must enhance its processing of mail, including original documents submitted as proof of eligibility.
However, some months in 2021 had larger wait times for the Social Security 800 number. In January, the average wait was 40 minutes.
As chair of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security, John Larson, a Connecticut Democrat, wrote to Kilolo Kijakazi, acting commissioner of the Social Security Administration, in December, asking
“what actions the Social Security Administration is taking to strengthen overall customer service.”
“The Covid-19 pandemic has proved that there is often no replacement for specialized, in-person assistance,” Larson wrote.
In January, Kijakazi responded with a letter explaining the agency’s plans for a March 30 readmission date.
Assisting those who have trouble obtaining services and benefits such as the poor, homeless, mentally ill, or non-English speaking, by increasing on-site staffing and in-office visits.
‘It’s too late
Field offices will return in early April.
In the interim, the Social Security Administration urges anybody seeking assistance to visit its website.
We highly encourage the public to continue to use ssa.gov, call us for assistance if they cannot complete their business online, and arrange appointments in advance, according to a spokesman.
The problem is that there are no fast solutions for people like Erica Ellis, 43, of Virginia Beach, Virginia.
Dorothy Pritchett, 48, a Newport News, Virginia, schoolteacher, has been out of work since August due to a stroke.
Soon after, she applied for disability. Although the Social Security Administration website shows the benefits granted, her sister has yet to be paid.
“March comes around and she still hasn’t got her money,” Ellis added. “It’s too late.”
The encounter, coupled with Ellis’ own postponed disability claim, has made her doubt the program’s authenticity.
“I think they want you dead,” Ellis added. “They don’t have to give it.”
Without field offices, people who rely on government staff to explain their benefits are left in the dark,
says Mary Johnson, a Senior Citizens League Social Security and Medicare policy researcher.
They may be the only ones who can help with one of the greatest financial decisions a person will make in their lifetime, says Johnson.
Advocates for Social Security hope the epidemic will help raise awareness of pre-pandemic service inadequacies.
According to Nancy Altman, president of Social Security Works, the problem is a lack of field offices and staffing.
“The epidemic didn’t originate these issues, but it brought them to light,” Altman says.
Congress, which funds Social Security, may increase the amount it can spend on services without affecting its budget or delaying the expiration of funds used to pay payments, she added.
Increasing demand is expected as more baby boomers retire and others become eligible for survivor payments owing to Covid-19 fatalities.
“They should definitely raise financing now,” Altman added. “There is a need.”