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Have a Social Security Question? Please Hold

  November 21, 2018 | By Mark Miller, The New York Times

When Brenda Holt learned that the federal government planned to close her local Social Security office, she swung into action.

That field office in Quincy, Fla., served Gadsden County in the state’s panhandle, where Ms. Holt is a commissioner; closing the office would force residents who needed help managing their benefits to travel 25 miles to Tallahassee.

“We are a rural community with many seniors and a very high poverty rate, and this really angered a lot of us,” Ms. Holt said. “We really felt like our community was being dishonored.”

Along with other community leaders, Ms. Holt mounted a campaign to save the office, proposing ways to the Social Security Administration to reduce expenses. But the Quincy office closed anyway, in March 2014 — a casualty of the cuts required by eight years of Congressional budget tightening.

For anyone without a car, public transportation to Tallahassee is severely limited: There is a once-daily commuter bus, Ms. Holt says, and it is often overflowing with riders.

Social Security did install a video kiosk in the Quincy library. That kiosk connects benefit claimants with the Tallahassee office; today, it serves 75 to 100 people daily during library hours. But it’s not a trouble-free solution, Ms. Holt said. “We have people who can barely read because of vision problems, or hearing problems. Video is not the answer for many of these people.”

Social Security has closed 67 field offices since fiscal 2010 in rural and urban areas alike. For the public, the cuts have meant less access to field offices, and ballooning wait times in the remaining 1,229 offices and on the agency’s toll-free line. It also has meant long delays in hearings on disability insurance appeals and in resolving benefit errors.

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