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Kadner: Social Security’s blurred vision

Updated: August 2, 2014 6:11AM



Cut services, close offices and eliminate government jobs.

That’s been the Republican Party’s battle cry for decades, but when it comes to the Social Security Administration, it’s the Obama administration that’s doing all the above.

For more than a year now, the Social Security Administration has rather quietly been trying to shift the public from obtaining walk-in services at its field offices to the Internet.

In internal memorandums, it announced last year that as of April 1, 2014, it would no longer provide benefit verification letters or Social Security number printouts, which can be used as temporary identification, at its field offices.

A negative response by many congressmen when word got out resulted in SSA officials delaying the implementation of its plan.

The schedule has been pushed back to October for benefit verification letters and August for Social Security number printouts.

More than 100 congressmen, led by U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-9th) of Evanston, and including U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, (D-3rd) of Western Springs, signed a letter addressed to Carolyn Colvin, acting commissioner of the Social Security Administration, urging her to reconsider the decision.

“Last year, 11 million people used field offices to request copies of Social Security numbers (Numi-lites) and/or benefit verification statements from SSA offices, where they can be printed out immediately,” the congressmen stated.

Although demand for services has skyrocketed as the Baby Boom generation enters retirement, a recent congressional report revealed that the Social Security Administration has been closing a record number of field offices.

The SSA has closed 64 field offices since 2010, the largest number of closures over a five-year period in the agency’s history.

No public hearings are required to close the offices. Decisions are made with little or no input from the communities affected.

As for the planned cuts in services, the government is merely doing what many private companies have done in recent years.

They want people to contact Social Security through their personal computers, iPads and smartphones. If they absolutely need to talk to a human being, the government provides a toll-free telephone number.

Many seniors, of course, have difficulty hearing others during phone calls.

When I asked about senior citizens and poor folks who might not have computer access in their homes, Social Security Administration officials told me they could use a computer at a public site, such as a library.

Most public libraries have signs cautioning patrons not to use their computers to conduct personal business because their information may not be secure.

Not every smart business practice makes good sense when it comes to government.

About 47 million people receive Social Security benefits, a whopping increase of nearly 20 percent over a decade ago. About 11 million people receive Social Security disability benefits.

And both of those numbers are expected to increase in coming years.

The Social Security Administration calls its plan to cut office services “Vision 2025.”

But the agency is turning a deaf ear to anyone who says the obvious: This is lousy customer service.



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