The SSA has set a January 8 date for expanding its service hours to the public while continuing to emphasize the availability of online services that it has been pushing in recent years as a substitute for personal service.
The agency previously had announced its intention—but not a date—to restore full service hours on Wednesdays, which since 2012 have been restricted to 9 am to noon while on other business days they remain open until 4 pm. At the same time, the agency announced a cutback in the availability of telework for many employees, a shift of some employees to front-line service positions and an intention to hire 1,100 more processing center and teleservice employees.
“It is important to note that most Social Security services do not require the public to take time to visit an office,” the agency added. It cited available online services for current beneficiaries including starting or changing direct deposit and obtaining a proof of benefits, and services for those not yet drawing benefits including benefits estimate statements, replacement of Social Security cards, and application for benefits.
Several unions representing SSA employees have criticized the expansion of public office hours, saying that employees have used Wednesday afternoons to deal with claims-related matters. They more harshly criticized the cutback of telework, saying it was announced on short notice and could increase turnover, which would degrade customer service.
The inspector general’s office at the agency meanwhile recently again raised warnings about the agency’s growing workload as the large baby boom generation retires, at a time when a sixth of the agency’s own workforce is projected to retire within the next five years. Twenty-four percent of GS-15s and 30 percent of senior executives already are eligible, it said.