Share This Page

Social Security offices closing as Internet access expands

| Wednesday, June 18, 2014, 7:39 p.m.
A former Social Security Administration office is boarded up in Houston, on Wednesday, June 18, 2014.

WASHINGTON — Budget cuts have forced the Social Security Administration to close dozens of field offices even as millions of baby boomers approach retirement, swamping the agency with applications for benefits, a senior agency official told a Senate panel on Wednesday.

Better Internet access and more online services are easing the transition, said Nancy Berryhill, the agency's deputy commissioner for operations.

“We are fully committed — now and in the future — to sustaining a field office structure that provides face-to-face service for those customers who need or prefer such service,” Berryhill said. “We also understand, however, that customer expectations are evolving due to changes in technology, demographics and other factors.”

Senators appeared unconvinced.

“The fact of the matter is, millions of seniors and disabled Americans are not accustomed to doing business online,” said Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the top Republican on the Aging Committee.

The panel held a hearing on Wednesday after issuing a bipartisan report showing that Social Security has closed 64 field offices since 2010, the largest number of closures in a five-year period in the agency's history.

In addition, the agency has closed 533 temporary mobile offices that often serve remote areas. Hours have been reduced in the 1,245 field offices that are still open, the report said.

As a result, seniors seeking information and help from the agency are experiencing increasingly long waits, in person and on the phone, the report said.

“They don't do any kind of analysis on what would happen to a community when their field office closes, including figuring out how the most vulnerable populations would make their way to the next-closest office,” said Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., chairman of the Aging Committee.

More than 47 million people receive Social Security retirement benefits, nearly a 20 percent increase from a decade ago.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.