partlycloudy
Monday May 25th, 2015 3:45PM

Senators grill Social Security official over office closings

By The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) -- 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 Congress Wednesday.<br /> <br /> Better Internet access and more online services are easing the transition, said Nancy Berryhill, the agency's deputy commissioner for operations.<br /> <br /> "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 told the Senate Special Committee on Aging. "We also understand, however, that customer expectations are evolving due to changes in technology, demographics and other factors."<br /> <br /> Senators appeared unconvinced.<br /> <br /> "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. "Even as computer and broadband technologies become more widespread, the idea that the Social Security Administration can serve beneficiaries primarily online ignores the very real needs of the senior and disabled populations."<br /> <br /> The committee held a hearing 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.<br /> <br /> 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.<br /> <br /> As a result, seniors seeking information and help from the agency are facing increasingly long waits, in person and on the phone, the report said.<br /> <br /> "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.<br /> <br /> The closings come as applications for retirement and disability benefits are soaring, a trend that will continue as aging baby boomers approach retirement.<br /> <br /> More than 47 million people receive Social Security retirement benefits, nearly a 20 percent increase from a decade ago. About 11 million people receive Social Security disability benefits, a 38 percent increase from a decade ago.<br /> <br /> The Social Security Administration has been encouraging people to access services online. The agency has upgraded its website in recent years, including secure connections to access confidential information. People can apply for benefits without ever visiting Social Security offices.<br /> <br /> In 2013, nearly half of all retirement applications were filed online, the report said.<br /> <br /> But the committee report notes that many older Americans lack access to the Internet or might not be comfortable using it to apply for benefits.<br /> <br /> Last year, more than 43 million people visited Social Security field offices. About 43 percent of those seeking an appointment had to wait more than three weeks, up from just 10 percent the year before, the report said.<br /> <br /> About 10 percent of visitors to Social Security offices are applying for benefits, Berryhill said. The largest group, about 30 percent, are seeking new or replacement Social Security cards.<br /> <br /> Berryhill said Social Security officials do annual reviews to determine whether offices should be expanded, reduced or closed.<br /> <br /> "Once we make the decision to consolidate an office, we discuss the changes with stakeholders," Berryhill said. "We hold town hall meetings or other forums that allow the public to voice their concerns. We contact key community leaders."<br /> <br /> Like many federal agencies, Social Security has faced budget cuts in recent years. After two years of shrinking budgets, the agency got a 6 percent increase this year, to $11.8 billion.<br /> <br /> Social Security has cut its workforce by 11,000 employees over the past three years, Berryhill said.<br /> <br /> She said the agency saves an average of $4 million over the course of a decade for every field office it closes.<br /> <br /> "I can hire a lot of employees with $4 million," Berryhill said.
© Copyright 2015 AccessNorthGa.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Judge denies motions to move, delay Tsarnaev trial
Lawyers for Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev asked a federal appeals court Wednesday to overturn a judge's decision to not move his upcoming trial out of state.
10:02PM ( 4 months ago )
High court to adopt electronic filing of cases
The Supreme Court is belatedly developing an electronic filing system similar to those used in courts around the country, Chief Justice John Roberts said Wednesday in his annual end-of-year report.
7:57PM ( 4 months ago )
Storm brings snow, cold to West for New Year's
A blustery winter storm dumped snow and ice across the West on Wednesday, making driving treacherous in the mountains from California to the Rockies and forcing residents and party-goers in some usually sun-soaked cities to bundle up for a frosty New Year's.
5:19PM ( 4 months ago )
U.S. News
State DOT awards $48M contract for NE Ga. road project
The state Department of Transportation has awarded a $47.8 million contract for nine miles of work on a northeast Georgia road.
9:37AM ( 4 months ago )
Business News
Grass fire impacts rush hour traffic on 985
Rush hour traffic on I-985 was slowed by a grass fire Wednesay afternoon with one lane closed while firefighters fought the blaze.
10:19PM ( 4 months ago )
Hall County conviction, sentencing to be reviewed by SCOGA
The State Supreme Court has agreed to hear the appeal of a Hall County man when they reconvene in January.
2:37PM ( 4 months ago )
Maysville man dies from Banks County wreck
The Georgia State Patrol reports that alcohol and/or drugs were factors a single-vehicle wreck that claimed the life of a Maysville man in Banks County Tuesday night.
11:07AM ( 4 months ago )
Local/State News
GOP leader regrets talk to white supremacists; party leaders rally around him
House Republican leaders rallied around one of their own, Whip Steve Scalise, on Tuesday after he said he regrets speaking 12 years ago to a white supremacist organization and condemns the views of such groups.
6:08PM ( 4 months ago )
Conviction of Putin foe sets off protest in Moscow
President Vladimir Putin's chief political foe was convicted along with his brother on Tuesday in a fraud case widely seen as a vendetta by the Kremlin, triggering one of Russia's boldest anti-government demonstrations in years.
6:03PM ( 4 months ago )
More Georgians signing up for health insurance
A federal report says more Georgians have selected health insurance plans through a federally facilitated marketplace.
4:16PM ( 4 months ago )
Politics
US rejects nuclear disarmament document over Israel concerns
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United States on Friday blocked a global document aimed at ridding the world of nuclear weapons, saying Egypt and other states tried to "cynically manipulate" the process by...
9:33PM ( 2 days ago )
Obama again avoids calling 1915 Armenian killings 'genocide'
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama will once again stop short of calling the 1915 massacre of Armenians a genocide, prompting anger and disappointment from those who have been pushing him to ful...
1:00PM ( 1 month ago )
Ex-NFL star Hernandez convicted of murder, sentenced to life
FALL RIVER, Mass. (AP) — Former New England Patriots star Aaron Hernandez was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison Wednesday for a deadly late-night shooting, sealing the d...
8:54PM ( 1 month ago )
Clinton kicks off 2016 campaign online, heads next to Iowa
WASHINGTON (AP) — Hillary Rodham Clinton jumped back into presidential politics on Sunday, making a much-awaited announcement she will again seek the White House with a promise to serve as the "champi...
7:56PM ( 1 month ago )
Hall, White, Jefferson schools recognized nationally for use of technology
Three school districts in northeast Georgia - Hall, White, and Jefferson - have received national recognition for their use use of innovative technologies. They earned top spots in the Center for Digital Education's and the National School Boards Association's 10th annual Digital School Districts Survey.
By Staff
1:00PM ( 1 month ago )