COVID-19, Online Services, SSI

Letter to the Public on Service

March 17, 2021 • By

Last Updated: April 2, 2021

A photo headshot of SSA Commissioner Andrew SaulI want to update you about how things are going at the Social Security Administration.

About a year ago, I took the unprecedented step to close our offices to the public. I did this to keep our employees and you—the public we serve—safe.  As we enter year two of the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccines and other precautionary measures give us cause for hope. For now, we will continue our current safety measures as described in our COVID-19 Workplace Safety Plan. This plan is iterative, and we will update it as we receive additional government-wide guidance and information from public health experts in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Like many businesses and organizations, the pandemic has forced us to adapt. I want to thank our employees for their willingness to embrace innovative ways of working while we continue to deliver our mission. As we examine our work in a new light, we are asking which lessons learned could improve service beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

We understand that the public wants to engage with us on some matters in person, and our local offices are integral to our communities. We also know that not everyone can conveniently come to us in person and that when you do visit, you want the process to be efficient. For example, we may need evidence from you, but we do not need to interview you in person. We are currently testing drop box and express appointment options for the public to bring in documentation.

Often, you only need to know your Social Security number and do not need a physical Social Security card. However, if you do need to replace your card, we are testing video appointments if you need a new Social Security card but do not need to change any of the information in our records. Although ideas like these began as solutions during COVID-19, we are considering how they could improve service in the future.

Some of these concepts also allow us to consider how we might continue to use telework, something that most organizations and companies have depended on during the COVID-19 pandemic, to drive longer-term operational efficiencies like reducing space. We could use those savings to provide you more online service options and hire more people to serve you more quickly as well as to retain outstanding employees. We will continue to engage our managers, employees, and unions on ways we could use telework to improve customer service and other issues.

We often note that Social Security touches the lives of nearly every American. Be assured that as we continue to evolve, we are committed to serving everyone including our most vulnerable populations who often require in person assistance. We are working with the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, claimant advocates, and other organizations to ensure our services are accessible to people with low income, limited English proficiency, mental illness, or facing homelessness. We recently added online tools and information pages to our website including:

As we contemplate the future, we are delivering now. To help improve deteriorating service, we have added over 6,000 frontline employees to help you. We decreased the average wait to talk to our 800 Number agents by one-third and reduced the agent busy rate by over 50 percent in the last two years, and our 800 Number agents handled 1.6 million more calls than they did a year ago.

During the pandemic, we shifted service to the telephone where local office employees answered 13 million more calls last year than they did in fiscal (FY) 2019. They answered your calls in under 3 minutes on average compared to an average wait of nearly 24 minutes in FY 2019.

For individuals who were denied benefits and requested an appeal, we quickly shifted to holding hearings by telephone at the start of the pandemic and then added online video hearings. During the pandemic, we have continued to reduce the number of people waiting for a hearing to 376,000 at the end of February 2021, the lowest level in nearly 20 years. We reduced the average wait for a hearing by over 9 months in the last two years. If you are still waiting for a hearing, please consider scheduling by telephone or video. You can find out more information about telephone hearings and video hearings.

The pandemic has significantly disrupted parts of our disability process, particularly at the state Disability Determination Services (DDS) that make disability determinations for us. We have provided the DDSs with additional hiring and overtime to help address a significant increase in pending initial disability cases. The DDSs have been able to reduce the number of people waiting for a decision on initial disability claims by about 100,000 cases since the height of the pending cases in August 2020. In order to make initial disability decisions as quickly as possible, and to reduce the burden on the medical community still stressed from the pandemic, we have focused our limited resources on completing initial requests for disability benefits and have reduced the number of continuing disability reviews we are conducting.

We have made some notable improvements to our online services:

  • Our redesigned Retirement Benefits Portal helps you prepare and apply for retirement benefits, with clearer, simplified information.
  • We improved our registration process for our online my Social Security account – more than one million people will register for an account this month.
  • Our Message Center allows people with a my Social Security account to access notices online instead of by mail.
  • We implemented an online payment option for people to repay debts to Social Security.
  • We expanded our online Social Security card replacement service to almost all states. If you need to replace your card, you can request a replacement through your my Social Security account if you:
    • Are a U.S. citizen age 18 years or older with a U.S. mailing address;
    • Are not requesting a name change or any other change to your card; and
    • Have a driver’s license or a state-issued identification card from one of 45 participating states or the District of Columbia. If your state does not yet participate in this service, check back soon. More states are added regularly.

The entire team at Social Security is working hard to serve you. We thank you for your patience during the COVID-19 pandemic and we look forward to welcoming you back in our offices when it is safe to do so. We also look forward to continuing to improve all of our service channels to provide you with convenient options to do business with us.


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About the Author

Andrew Saul, Commissioner, Social Security Administration

Andrew Saul, Commissioner, Social Security Administration

Commissioner of Social Security Administration

Comments

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  1. Cindy

    I have trouble understanding a lot of things on websites because I have to go back and forth. It would help me out a lot if I had someone to show me in person and explain everything about different options. People need this service opened back up, if people can go to restaurants and every where else then why can’t you open and help people like me that need your help in person.

    Reply
  2. Bruce H.

    Using the website, my wife tried to apply on line for retirement benefits. She had no problem applying for medicare but the SSI system asked a few questions then rejects her application saying questions she answered did not match information. The only questions she made any new response to was she was not blind or dying and the system kicked her out. We called an SSI rep. but the representative could not find any errors but she now has to wait a month to be able to speak to someone to apply on the phone. Is there another way to make this work? The delay will could cost us thousands of dollars.

    Reply
    • Vonda

      Hi Bruce, thanks for using our blog. If unable to apply online, you do need to call and make an appointment. However, a protective filing date is established when you call to make the appointment so that you do not miss out on any benefits. We hope this helps!

      Reply
  3. Joie

    Need to know when SS office in Merrillville, IN will reopen for walk-ins (to walk into). Thank you. Need an idea of how soon this will happen.

    Reply
    • Vonda

      Hi Joie, thanks for using our blog. Check out our Frequently Asked Questions web page for details on how we are still able to provide critical services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Continue to check the Social Security and Coronavirus web page for updates. You may select Subscribe to receive alerts from us when we add or change information. We hope this helps!

      Reply
  4. Bobbi Jo Horton

    Due to a divorce I need to change my name and get a new SS Card. I see that I need to mail my divorce degree which grants the name change and also my driver license for identification. Why am I expected to send my original drivers license? How can I drive without it?

    Reply
    • Ann C., Public Affairs Specialist

      Hi, Bobbi Jo. Thanks for your question. We temporarily expanded our policy to accept secondary identity documents. Read our recent blog to see other proofs you may use when applying by mail. We hope this helps.

      Reply
      • Bobbi Jo Horton

        Thank you for responding to me. I do not have any of the secondary identity documents. The only documents that I have are my driver’s license and my divorce decree approving the name change. I just renewed my driver’s license. Can’t I send a copy of it? It is the only ID that I having showing my name, address, and birthdate.

        Reply
        • Ann C., Public Affairs Specialist

          Hi, Bobbi Jo. No, we cannot accept photocopies or notarized copies of documents. Thanks!

          Reply
  5. Brenda D

    I am sending this request through this blog since I have called the Social Security Administration (SSA) several times and have not received an amended SSA-1099. In 2020 I applied for social security benefits but withdrew my application. I received payment for one month after I withdrew. I returned the payment to SSA on Oct. 23, 2020 and my check was cashed by SSA on Dec. 17th 2020. I received a 1099 for 2020 from SSA which did not reflect the payment that I returned.
    In an effort to obtain a corrected 1099, I followed up with the SSA on the following dates as described below:
    • Feb. 9, 2021, spoke with SSA representative and requested for a revised 1099. She told me that it may take 30 days to receive a revised document.
    • March 15, 2021, spoke with my local SSA office. She was not able to find documentation of my request from Feb. 9th. She then proceeded to send another request.
    • On Mar. 30th spoke with SSA office. She was able to see my request from Feb. 9th. She stated that a new 1099 was created but it did not reflect the payment which I sent back to SSA. This 1099 is unchanged from the original. She was able to confirm my returned check which was cashed by SSA in Dec 2020. She proceeded to send another request to the Payment Center. She stated that the Payment Center does not have a phone number and I will be unable to explain it to them directly.
    • On April 8th, spoke with my local SSA office. The representative was very conscientious and was able to find all the documentation of my calls to SSA. He found that within about 2 days of my request, there is documentation that the request was completed. Once again, none of the 1099 documents reflect the returned payment which was cashed by SSA in the 2020 tax year.
    • On April 8th, the Easton representative once again requested for another revised 1099.
    • On April 12th, I received a 1099 in the mail without acknowledging my repayment or an explanation of the unchanged document.
    The agents I have spoken with were able to find the payment which I returned. Yet, there has been no explanation regarding the lack of acknowledgement of my repayment. We are awaiting the amended return or an explanation of the absence of my repayment under Box 4 of SSA-1099 in order to file an accurate tax return for 2020.

    Reply
    • Ann C., Public Affairs Specialist

      Hi, Brenda. We are sorry to hear about your experience. For your security, we do not have access to private information in this venue. We ask that members in our Blog community continue to work with our offices with specific concerns. You can call us at 1-800-772-1213, Monday through Friday, between 8:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m., for assistance. Generally, you will have a shorter wait if you call later in the day. You can also contact your local Social Security office. You can ask to speak to a supervisor on your next call. We hope this is resolved soon.

      Reply
  6. Pamela

    My stepson got a termination of benefits on March 15th, 2021. We delivered the response and asked for an immediate reinstatement on Friday, April 2nd. We have not heard from the people in Oroville, CA. Even before sending in the reinstatement request our son and us tried to get someone to speak to by phone. The wait time was over 2 hours and non less than an hour. When someone did call our son, they asked what he wanted and after he told them, they just hung up on him. Our son has autism and so we help him with these issues. We finally got hold of someone but it took 3 SS representatives before we got one that was helpful and knew what she was talking about. So, I guess my question is: how long is the wait time for a response to my son’s appeal request? When are the wait times going to get better on the phone?

    Reply
    • Ann C., Public Affairs Specialist

      Hi, Pamela. We are sorry to hear about your son’s experience and situation. For his security, we do not have access to private information in this venue. We ask that members in our Blog community to continue to work with our offices with specific questions. He can ask to speak to a supervisor on his next call. We have also referred your concerns to our Operations Staff. We hope this is resolved soon.

      Reply
  7. Niki Perez

    It’s stated that the number of CDR’s have been reduced due to Covid. But what guidelines does SSA put in place to choose who will be receiving CDR’s?
    Thank you.

    Reply
    • Ann C., Public Affairs Specialist

      Hi, Niki. Thank you for your question. The Social Security Administration reviews cases from time to time to make sure the individuals receiving checks are still eligible to get them. The review depends on how severe your medical condition is and the likelihood it will improve. Generally, if medical improvement is possible, we will do a continuing disability review (CDR) approximately every 3 years. If not, we may review it less frequently. For more information about continuing disability reviews, visit here. We hope this helps.

      Reply

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