Retirement & Financial Planning Report

The top two members of the Senate Special Committee on Aging have asked the SSA and the GSA to explain the rationale behind continued closings of SSA field offices at a time when some 10,000 people a day are turning age 65 and the need for the agency’s services is growing.

The agency has closed more than 120 offices, or about a tenth, since 2000 and service hours at remaining offices “have also been cut while wait times have risen and hearing backlogs have grown,” said a letter to the two agencies from Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Robert Casey, D-Pa.

The SSA has been closing and consolidating offices for several reasons, including funding restrictions and a move toward providing services online rather than in person. However, the senators wrote that “It is our view that the availability of conveniently located and adequately staffed Social Security field offices is crucial to providing good service.”

“Within these local offices are helpful and knowledgeable staff who are available to assist the public in filing claims for benefits,” and closing them is especially burdensome for members of the public who have trouble traveling long distances such as those with disabilities or those who rely on public transportation, they wrote.

“Particularly concerning are reports that in at least some of the locations where offices were closed, the reason cited for the closure was the inability of GSA to locate acceptable real estate within the geographical area served by the closed or consolidated offices. This is reportedly the case even in areas where there were significant vacancy rates in commercial real estate,” they wrote.