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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

One out of 10 Social Security offices has closed since 2000

By Patricia Sullivan Washington Post

A series of shutdowns across the country by the Social Security Administration is causing major difficulties for the elderly, people with disabilities and other beneficiaries, activists and political leaders say.

The agency has closed about 125 of its approximately 1,250 offices since 2000 – a 10 percent reduction, part of what officials describe as a shift to greater use of online services in an era of budget constraints and a growing population of senior citizens.

In addition, all 533 Social Security Administration “contact sites” – locations that serve remote, rural populations on a weekly or monthly basis – also have closed, said leaders of the union that represents Social Security employees.

The number of Social Security office workers has dropped by 3,500 since 2010, and under the funding level proposed by the Trump administration, another 1,000 jobs would be lost, said Max Richtman, chief executive of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group. Congress cut the agency’s operating budget every year from 2010 to 2017, before increasing it this year, he said. But with 10,000 Americans turning 65 every day, the demand for Social Security services is not going away.

“Despite the recent funding boost, SSA continues to close field offices, primarily in urban neighborhoods,” Richtman said.

In Milwaukee, Mayor Tom Barrett, D, who served in Congress from 1993 to 2003, said he still can’t make sense of Social Security’s sudden decision early this year to close the only field office in the city’s heavily Hispanic and low-income south side.

Barrett said the GSA showed no interest in working with the city. It’s the first time in his 25 years as a public official that he has seen such an uproar over a federal office closing, he said.

Richtman said that in town meetings his group has organized throughout the country, Social Security beneficiaries routinely complain about understaffing at offices and long waits for service.

To prove it to Congress, he dialed Social Security’s 800-number as he waited to start his testimony before a House Ways and Means subcommittee on March 7. Ninety minutes later, he was still on hold.