Federal leaders warn new influx of people at Buffalo office could exceed fire code occupancy limits
Following a call with Social Security Acting Commissioner Carolyn Colvin, U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer and Congressman Brian Higgins are insisting the Social Security Administration halt all plans to close the field office in Amherst.
"Closing the Amherst Social Security office is quite simply a lose-lose for Western New Yorkers," Schumer said. "First, it will make it more difficult for thousands of seniors who depend on the Amherst office to get access to the services they deserve. And second, what small savings might be realized from the consolidation would have to be immediately spent modifying the Buffalo office to meet the increased demand. The most logical and efficient choice - both for the Social Security Administration and for Western New York seniors - is to reverse course, and keep the Amherst office open."
"The Social Security Administration is trying to fit a size 10 foot into a size 7 shoe, potentially violating fire codes or pushing the public out the door and into the street to wait for service," Higgins said. He has introduced the Social Security Administration Accountability Act, which brings transparency to the Social Security field office closure process. "From the beginning, this closing has been rammed through without a care or at least clear understanding of the specialized needs of the populations served at the Amherst site or the functionality of the Buffalo office in terms of capacity and accessibility."
Earlier this week, the Buffalo Fire Department conducted a visual inspection of the public waiting area at the Social Security field office in Buffalo. According to New York state building codes, the maximum capacity of the public assembly space is not to exceed 49 people. Currently, the waiting area reaches or exceeds 49 visitors regularly. Walk-in traffic is expected to increase with the consolidation of the Amherst office into the Buffalo site. The SSA may be able to make facility changes to increase capacity, but that would require a permit, architectural plans and review by inspectors prior to authorization.
On Jan. 14, the Social Security Administration notified employees and congressional office of plans to close the Amherst field office on March 28. Following public objection that this timeframe does not meet SSA's own standard for 90-day notice, the closing date was changed to April 25. Upon closing, Amherst SSA staff and visitors would be redirected to the Buffalo field office.
In addition to potential code violations, the senator and congressman have fought the closing due to serious concerns about the impact it would have on very unique populations served at the Amherst site, particularly seniors, students and people with disabilities. The Amherst office works closely with: People Inc., an agency that helps to manage cases for 900 individuals with disabilities; the University at Buffalo, whose 5,200 international students rely on the Social Security office for necessary paperwork for on-campus employment or obtaining a New York state driver's license; and 17 of the 36 nursing homes in Erie County, which are located in the Town of Amherst. A person living in Amherst taking public transit would have to take a bus, rail and walk more than a quarter-mile to reach the Social Security office in Buffalo - a trip that could take more than an hour one-way.
On March 4, Schumer and Higgins requested a meeting with the acting commissioner to raise concerns about the closing of the Amherst Social Security office. After attempts to schedule an in-person meeting fell through, the group settled on a conference call, which took place Thursday.