In 2020 Social Security closed all of its more than 1,200 field offices due to the pandemic. The field offices reopened in April of this year, but Social Security is still struggling to properly serve the American people and to return to pre-pandemic levels of service. Data the Social Security Administration recently provided to Congress shows that nearly 20% of the field offices have had 40 or more customers in line on multiple days. There have been reports that people have slept in line outdoors all night at some field offices to get a favorable place in line the next morning.
This is especially troublesome for our most at-risk population—the disabled. Although the lengthy office closures caused applications for disability benefits to plummet (the data shows that SSDI awards to workers who became disabled fell 15% last year which is addition an 11% drop in 2020), the average wait time to process initial disability decisions now stands at an all-time high of 198 days.
Social Security says they have has been struggling due to staffing shortages and insufficient budgets. Acknowledging “delays in service and long waits for disability decisions,” the Social Security Administration has asked for an extra $800 million in funding. The plunge in service has caught the attention of Congress. Senator Susan Collins (R-Me) has pressed the SSA to provide details about when the agency will return to pre-pandemic levels of staffing and numbers of customers served. She also asked for details of how Social Security will improve its customer service. Only time will tell whether the attention from Congress and the additional money (if they get it) will bolster Social Security’s customer service.