SSA is Dedicated to Helping the People We ServeReading Time: 5 Minutes
Last Updated: September 12, 2022
There are few, if any, federal agencies that positively impact the lives of the American people to the extent that the Social Security Administration (SSA) does. Millions count on SSA—retirees who worked hard their whole lives, people who are no longer able to work due to disability, and many more. SSA’s programs touch the lives of almost every person in the nation. SSA employees work diligently to ensure that they receive critical benefits and other services, and it is my honor and privilege to lead them in their efforts.
We are nearing the end of the fiscal year (FY). While this past year has not been without its challenges, I’m proud to say that our accomplishments have far exceeded anyone’s expectations.
Like the rest of the world, SSA continues to work its way out of the COVID-19 pandemic and adjust to our new reality. We briefly suspended in-person services in our offices in March 2020, though soon resumed to help customers with critical needs, by appointment only, throughout most of the pandemic. Our employees worked hard to maintain services and assist the public, despite not being able to physically work from their offices. Between March 2020 and April 2022, our frontline employees handled more than 168 million calls to our National 800 Number and local Social Security offices across the country. In April 2022, we safely resumed in-person services nationwide for everyone, with or without an appointment.
Our reentry was a clear success. We followed the science and public health guidance to minimize risks to our employees and visitors. We engaged early and often with our employee unions to meet our bargaining obligations. In fact, we were one of the first federal agencies to reach agreements with all our unions on reopening our offices. In addition, we reached 47 mid-term agreements with our labor unions. More recently, we secured collective bargaining agreements with two of our unions and will soon begin renegotiation with our third.
Throughout our reentry, we communicated frequently with our customers, advocate groups, and the media to alert the public that we had resumed in-person service and share our health and safety protocols. Signage placed outside our offices reinforced our protocols and offered alternate ways to get help. By sharing our masking and physical distancing requirements before people visited our offices, we helped set expectations and reduced customer frustration.
Although relatively few of our 1,230 local offices initially experienced long lines, usually early or late in the day, this was primarily caused by the high demand for in-person services in April, at the beginning of reentry. Since then, long lines outside have not been an issue for most of our offices.
Beyond the initial re-entry period, we are taking steps to improve service for customers who do find themselves waiting outside. We provide outdoor canopies and fans when possible, always permit visitors to use our bathrooms and water fountains, and we will begin allowing more people to wait inside, following changes to distancing restrictions. We continue to expand mobile check-in, so we can notify customers on their cell phones when it’s their turn. That way, people who have an alternative place to wait can return to the office when we notify them.
Local SSA offices are doing even more to help customers. Most offices have been offering document drop-boxes, where customers can securely deposit personal information without an appointment. Within 3 days of receipt, in 99.9 percent of offices, documents are sent back to customers through certified mail to allow their delivery to be tracked. Further, many offices assign employees to help people waiting in line by checking that they have the information or documentation they need.
Accessing benefits is critical for millions of households who depend on Social Security, SSI, and other benefits to survive. Beyond our programs, SSA helps recipients and potential applicants get access to, and learn about, other benefits and credits that they might not learn about otherwise.
People who receive SSI are among the most at-risk in the country, and without SSA’s guidance, too many might think that they had to choose which benefits to seek. SSI is a gateway to many benefits, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which provides financial help to buy food, the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), that provides discounted internet service, and Medicaid, a health insurance program for people with little or no income.
Without SSA’s voice, many SSI recipients wouldn’t know that getting SSI automatically makes them eligible for ACP and SNAP. SSA currently works with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service and over 3,000 community-based organizations nationwide to increase the number of SSI participants who apply for SNAP.
SSI recipients also might not realize that Economic Impact Payments (EIP) never affect their SSI, or that we only count Child Tax Credit (CTC) payments as a financial resource after 12 months. SSA was among the top three referral sources to the online CTC tool for non-tax filers. Our campaign directly led to an estimated $56 million of tax benefits paid to nearly 16,000 households – and there is still time for traditional non-tax filers to claim the CTC and a missing EIP. Thanks to the Biden-Harris Administration, and in partnership with Code for America, people who were not required to file a tax return can visit www.childtaxcredit.gov/ssa to claim the CTC.
SSA gives people the information they need to confidently, and successfully, apply for these benefits and credits. This allows people to provide for their families and prevents them from having to choose between food, medicine, clothing, or a roof over their head.
Our employees have worked hard throughout the pandemic to provide the best possible service to people in need. But our efforts have been impeded by insufficient funding. In FY 2022, SSA received $850 million less than President Biden’s budget request. As a result, we were unable to hire the level of staffing needed and had to delay the modernization of some aspects of our legacy information technology system. Without adequate staffing and overtime hours, the backlog in workloads prompted by the pandemic rose. We proactively formed a special operations team to reassign existing staff across the agency to help reduce the backlog. However, we will need sufficient funds in the coming year to ensure we can process all our workloads efficiently.
SSA’s employees have been carrying heavy workloads, given the staffing shortage, and this has weighed on morale. I have visited over 25 offices including local offices, hearings offices, and regional offices to meet and hear directly from managers and staff. These visits included offices in small cities, rural communities, and a tribal reservation that have never received a visit from a commissioner before.
Our goals are for every person who needs our help and who is eligible for SSA benefits to receive them timely and accurately, and for every SSA employee to advance in their chosen career path. We are committed to helping maintain the well-being and protection of the people we serve – older Americans, workers who become disabled, wounded warriors, and families who suffer the loss of a spouse or parent.