During the COVID-19 pandemic, when Social Security Administration (SSA) field offices were closed, those who needed help from the agency turned to the SSA’s toll-free phone number only to be frustrated by long wait times. Even before the pandemic, though, wait times were on the rise. In 2010 the average wait time was about three minutes and in 2021 that had increased to 13 minutes on average, but for some the wait times were much longer.
Many Americans are voicing their frustrations about Social Security to Washington lawmakers representing both parties. Last month Congress held a hearing to try to identify fixes for the customer service problems at the agency. The chief debilitating factor singled out at the hearing was—you guessed it—not enough money. The SSA’s budget has lagged behind. In fact, since 2010 the SSA’s budget has plunged 14%, adjusted for inflation and as a result has 13% fewer employees. The agency also permanently closed 67 field offices, cut its hours at existing offices, and put off updates to its technology and phone systems.
President Joe Biden’s proposed budget for 2023 includes increased funds for the Social Security Administration. Additionally, a bill which would set stricter requirements before field offices are closed has been proposed.
Among other ideas put on the table at the hearing include: the creation of a beneficiary advocate position so the concerns of ordinary Americans are heard at the agency, a reduction in the delays for disability coverage, and making it possible to apply for SSI benefits online.