COVID-19, Online Services, SSI

Letter to the Public on Service

March 17, 2021 • By

Reading Time: 5 Minutes

Last Updated: November 2, 2023

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

Commissioner of Social Security Administration (June 17, 2019 - July 9, 2021)


  1. Claudette h.

    Great improvements. One addition: consider how to deliver services to the elderly and disabled by not requiring in-person visits … covid or no covid.
    Experienced disabled standing in line for hours, waiting for their office to open… it was disheartening.
    Another add: abolish the requirement that restricts you to your local office. Allow visit to ANY social security office as long as it is in your state, just like dmv.

    • Vonda

      Thanks for your comments, Claudette. We value your thoughts and will use your suggestions to explore how we can further improve the services we offer. You can also submit feedback by visiting our Contact Social Security page. Once there, select the “Email Us” link. This will take you to the “Email A Question to our Support Team” form, where you can complete and submit a compliment, complaint, or suggestion.

  2. Dominador B.

    Me and my handicap wife took a vacation here in yhe Philippines we are still here because of the global pandemic.

    I received my SSS pensions by retirement and from the SEIU LABOR UNION Local 250 at Alameda Hospital in the city ofAlameda. My wife receives her Calpers Retirement pension. Since we have prolong stay i would like to change bank and if possible all our pensions be deposited into my Philippine bank account directly. My account there in the US is at Anthioch Unified School Federal Credit Union located in the City of Antioch California.

    • Vonda

      Hi Dominador, thank you for your question. To enroll in International Direct Deposit, select and print the appropriate SSA-1199 form. (It’s based on the country.) Fill out sections 1 and 2. Have your financial institution fill out section 3. Mail the completed form to the appropriate Federal Benefits Unit indicated on the form. We hope this helps.

  3. Evelyn M.

    I want to change my name and I’m told that one of the original documents that I need to mail in is my Driver’s License. Wait, what???? Then how do I legally drive? There needs to be a better way.

    • Vonda

      Hi Evelyn, thank you for your question. Check out our Social Security and Coronavirus web page for details on the documents you need to mail in with your Social Security card application to get a replacement card with your new name. We hope this helps!

  4. d k.

    Fantastic! The idea of telework and the changing of the workplace at SSA is just a few clicks away!

  5. Jyliy F.

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  6. Sha g.

    The IRS is informing recipients of ssa ssdi va and ssi benefits that we have not received our third stimulus payments because ssa has not provided them with that group information and they are waiting why is ssa not providing our information so we can get our checks we are hurting some lost many family members to covid being on benefits assisting with burials and etc… we need relief as well this group needs accurate updates is this true

  7. Chameka R.

    Great changes deserve appreciation
    Thanks SSA

  8. Jatinder k.

    I and my wife are both seniors lawful immigrants and have been trying to get replacement SS cards for last one year without success. I made numerous calls to local SSA office as well as on 800 numbers , but could not succeed in getting a F to F interview to show our documents. I was given to understand that our cards were mailed to us but we never received them. That is why I am not comfortable to send our passports and green cards by post lest they get lost too in mail. So please grant us an interview in our local office so that we can submit our SS 5 forms and show our documents. Thanks.

    • Vonda

      Hi Jatinder, thank you for your question. We are very sorry to hear about the difficulties you are experiencing in working with Social Security. Check out our Social Security and Coronavirus web page for details on getting help with your Social Security number. We hope this helps!

  9. Paul C.

    While I understand the goal of the office closures their are cases that can not be resolved that way. I personally have been trying to get my sons bithdate corrected in his file since September 2020. I have called the local office, as well as the national line an estimated 35 times. The issue is still unresolved and has been very frustrating to say the least. Emails have been sent to the local office requesting they give me a call at least 4 times in the past 2 months. I have not received 1 call back, and furthemore when I have spoken with local office people thier have shown little to no concern about getting my issue fixed. My 17 year old deserves better. Thanks

  10. Reynaldo


    • Ahmad I.

      Many thanks for the update. How about US Citizens working and residing overseas? I am a U.S. citizen who is about to retire and I am currently residing and working overseas and I have tried several times unsuccessfully to create my social security account simply because the app doesn’t accept the request to complete the information. Kindly advise

      • Vonda

        Hi Ahmad, thank you for your question. At this time you must have a U. S. mailing address to create or access your online account. The “my Social Security” authentication system requires address verification as one of the essential criteria for issuing an account. People with APO/FPO/DPO addresses can create an account overseas, but our system does not support registration and account creation for users with a foreign address yet.

        Even though you are unable to create a my Social Security account, you still may be able to apply for benefits online.

        We recommend that individuals living outside the United States contact the nearest Federal Benefit Unit in the area for any assistance related to Social Security programs and benefits. Also, our Office of International Operations home page provides more information to assist our customers living abroad.

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