A group of more than a dozen senators has pressed the SSA to improve customer service, saying that while the agency had customer service issues predating the pandemic, “COVID-19 has amplified and exacerbated these gaps in service for all, particularly for those whose sole source of income is Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, or both.”
They said that while the initial closing of the agency’s 1,200 field offices, and the later shift to in-person service by appointment only, was necessary, “SSA has a responsibility and a duty to provide timely and quality service to the public, whether it is provided online, via telephone, or in-person.”
The letter cited difficulties members of the public have experienced due to the limited in-person access, including unanswered calls to field offices and the national 800 number; inconsistency among offices of in-person appointments; availability for those appointments that “appears to favor those who have reliable telephone or Internet access, leaving out at-risk groups”; problems the public has experienced related to providing the agency with the original documents it requires for some purposes; backlogs in SSI and disability benefits applications; and more.
While most prior complaints to the SSA—as well as to some other agencies, particularly the IRS—about customer service in a high-telework environment have come from Republicans, the letter is notable because it is bipartisan in nature. It includes the Democratic chairmen of the Finance Committee, which oversees the SSA, and the Aging Committee, Sens. Ron Wyden of Washington and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania.
The agency recently announced an agreement with its unions to have more employees onsite for more often starting at the end of March.