Action follows Social Security advisory board’s recommendation
Congressmembers Brian Higgins (NY-26), Gwen Moore (WI-4) and Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee Chair John Larson (CT-1) are calling on the Social Security Administration to maintain a strong national network of field offices that tens of millions of Americans rely on each year for information about Social Security services and administered benefits.
In a letter to SSA Commissioner Saul, Reps. Higgins, Moore and Larson wrote, “Given that field offices are a key part of SSA’s service to the public, we urge you to demonstrate your commitment to customer service by maintaining a robust nationwide network of field offices, and by ensuring better transparency, public engagement, and use of evidence, including on potential adverse impacts of closures, in decisions around field office services.”
This call comes after the Social Security advisory board released a report questioning the process used by the SSA in deciding to close field offices and urging for clarity and increased transparency. In the report, the board defends the use of field offices as an “integral component of the SSA’s service to the public” stating that, on average each business day, around 173,000 people visit and 233,000 call SSA’s field offices.
Higgins, who serves on the House Ways and Means subcommittee on Social Security, has objected to SSA decisions to close offices available to serve residents. The SSA moved forward with its plans to close the Amherst field office in 2014 and closed an office in Cheektowaga in 2008. Field offices remain in Niagara Falls, West Seneca and Buffalo. More than 100 field offices have closed nationwide over the last 20 years.
Higgins said, “Social Security field office closings have been arbitrary and ill-conceived, leading to access challenges for many who need the services most, including seniors and people with disabilities. Many of the programs and procedures that fall under the SSA can be confusing and oftentimes navigating the bureaucracy requires face-to-face communication that only field offices can provide. The impact on communities and the residents an office serves must be a primary factor in any restructuring decisions.”
Moore said, “Each year, tens of millions of Americans visit field offices. I hope the SSA will consider the report’s findings and use the information to make changes that protect services to our constituents and ensure Social Security field offices are utilized to best serve their beneficiaries.”
Chairman Larson said, “Field offices are vital for serving the public, including our most vulnerable beneficiaries. Tens of millions of Americans each year visit these offices. Social Security is an earned benefit. We need to ensure we are doing everything we can to provide Americans with the customer service they deserve. The Social Security Administration must take the report’s finding into account and maintain a robust national network of field offices – not close them!”
Recently, Higgins authored H.R. 3905, the Social Security Administration Accountability Act, which requires transparency on backlogs and ensures communities have a voice in field office closings.
The Social Security advisory board is a bipartisan, independent federal government agency established in 1994 to advise the president, Congress, and the commissioner of Social Security on matters of policy and administration of the senior, survivor, disability and the supplemental security income programs. The board has seven members, appointed by the president, Senate and House of Representatives.