AFGE, Social Security Works and the Alliance for Retired Americans on Thursday submitted half a million signatures of people who demand that Social Security offices remain open in local communities across the country. In total, four rallies took place across the country in Columbus, Ohio, New York, Oakland, Calif. and Washington, D.C.
Chanting “No more closed offices,” activists gathered in front of a Social Security office in Washington, D.C., condemning the disastrous 'Vision 2025' plan that was created for the Social Security Administration by the National Academy of Public Administration. Budget cuts and sequestration have forced the agency to made sweeping cuts – in the last three years, the Social Security Administration has closed 80 community offices and 500 contact stations – not to mention service cuts and reduced hours.
'Vision 2025' proposes that the agency cut face-to-face customer service and direct people – the elderly, the disabled, people with limited resources – to the agency’s website where they have to wade through 2,728 rules governing benefits, a tangled web that causes people to lose benefits. SSA’s budget has been frozen and cut, resulting in 11,000 fewer staff to handle an increasing workload of retirement and disability applications.
“Many people who rely on Social Security are the least likely to have knowledge, ability, and resources to use the Internet services,” AFGE Council 220 President Witold Skwierczynski told the crowd. “Moreover, 95 percent of people who’ve filed for benefits online have to be re-contacted because of missing information. People need experts to guide them.”
Skwierczynski added than 70,000 My SSA accounts have been subject to some kind of fraud as people fall victim to identity theft. SSA is aware of the problem but chooses to play it down. Alliance for Retired Americans Rich Fiesta said it’s outrageous that SSA is closing offices when baby boomers are retiring in massive numbers and need the aid of experienced Social Security Administration staff.
Fiesta said it’s not just retirees that will need services provided by field offices; everyone in the U.S. will need these offices and the employees who provide services. Campaign for America’s Future Co-Director Roger Hickey said closing offices is indeed a benefit cut and that Social Security needs to be protected for the next generation.
Retiree Dianne Flemming also joined the event. She credited Social Security for keeping her family together when he father passed away while she was three years old. She said that the employees at the Social Security Administration again played an important role in her life when United Airlines, where she had worked for 19 years, went bankrupt.
Flemming applied for Social Security benefits when she was 62 and the office she goes to always has 30-40 people deep waiting for service as its operation hours have been reduced.
“Social Security representatives give people different options, something they haven’t considered,” Flemming said. “They don’t know what type of benefits they are eligible for.”