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‘I can’t get no support from these guys’: closed Social Security offices pose a hardship for many

  February 9, 2022 | By Kate Giammarise, 90.5 WESA

On a recent weekday morning, Will Smith had walked to the small Social Security Administration field office on Fifth Avenue in downtown McKeesport to get his Social Security card.

He was met with a locked door and a sign telling him to use the agency’s website or to call a hotline.

“We will resume in-person service at this office when circumstances change,” the sign said.

“There’s nobody there. You can’t get in contact with them on the phone. They hang up with you,” Smith said, standing in front of the brick building with red, white, and blue tiles forming an American flag next to the door.

 “I need my Social Security card so I can get this job tomorrow, and I can’t get no support from these guys right here.”

He was hoping to start a job at a warehouse, he said, and needed the ID card.

“I’ve been doing this for about two weeks now to get inside of here, and I just can’t get in contact with these guys to get nothing done.”

Two years into the pandemic, the nation’s more than 1,200 Social Security field offices remain closed to walk-in service. There are limited visits by appointment only in certain circumstances.

The agency recently announced a tentative reopening plan with a target return date of March 30, though that appears to be contingent on further labor negotiations and the coronavirus receding.

Advocates and attorneys who help people apply for Social Security’s disability programs say while they understand the need for safety measures, the prolonged closures have been a hardship for people who depend on the agency and need in-person services.

In 2019, prior to the pandemic, more than 43 million people received services from a Social Security field office.

“When people are trying to interact with Social Security, it’s usually because something big and often because something hard is happening in their lives,” said Stacy Cloyd, director of policy and administrative advocacy at the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives. The organization is made up of attorneys and non-attorneys who represent people in Social Security disability claims.

“And so, Social Security is just one part of what folks are dealing with. They may be dealing with financial problems, medical problems, any number of other things that are going on, a death in the family. And so, getting help from Social Security is really important to making some of those problems less daunting. And when it’s not possible to resolve an issue with Social Security, it can lead to really big catastrophes in people’s lives.”

During the short time a reporter stood outside the McKeesport field office last week, several people, including Smith, came by hoping to receive services, unaware that the offices weren’t open to walk-ins.

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