Nearly two years after the Social Security Administration closed its 1,200 field offices to the public in March 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the agency says it has no plans to reopen its doors for in-person meetings any time soon.
“We want to give you an update on our preparations for returning our employees to local Social Security offices, a process called reentry,” the agency said in a statement issued on its website Wednesday.
“You may have seen a proposed reentry date of Jan. 3, 2022, in the draft reentry plan that we provided to our unions, or in the media,” the statement said. “While some executives reentered on Dec. 1, we have not set a reentry date for the rest of the agency.”
In May 2021, SSA unveiled a new “express interview” process to help individuals apply for original or replacement Social Security cards and submit necessary proof of identity in person. But the majority of the public must continue to rely on the agency’s revamped and expanded online services to apply for Social Security and Medicare benefits and to access related critical information, such as estimates of future benefits.
“The best way to reach us is online at SSA.gov, or by calling our National 800 Number (800-772-1213) or a local Social Security office,” the SSA said in the statement issued Wednesday. “At this time, please remember that we can only provide in-person service by appointment only for limited, critical issues.”
The agency said it continues to hold voluntary hearings by online video and phone and is taking steps to increase in-person help for people unable to complete their business online or by phone.
More than 64 million retirees, disabled workers and their families receive Social Security benefits each month. A lot of them have questions, but many of their calls go unanswered.
At the request of Congress to evaluate SSA’s telephone service during the pandemic, an internal investigation found that the Social Security Administration received over 151 million calls at its field offices and the national 800-number during fiscal year 2020 (Oct. 1, 2019 to Sept. 30, 2020). SSA handled over half of those calls through a combination of calls answered by SSA employees and addressed by automated services, the audit found.
“The increase in field office calls resulted in increased busy messages and wait times toward the end of FY 2020,” the report said. “SSA adjusted national 800-number operations during the pandemic to reduce wait times and the number of callers who receive a busy message,” the report said. “National 800-number performance began to decline toward the end of the fiscal year, though it was still better than pre-pandemic performance.”
To reduce wait times, improve caller experience and ensure more calls are handled, SSA hired additional 800-number staff, modified automated service options and plans to implement a new telephone system, the audit report said.
But if you’re looking for an in-person meeting with SSA, you’ll have a long wait.
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Andrew is half-human, half-gamer. He’s also a science fiction author writing for BleeBot.